Iceland without renting a car?
April 22, 2017 10:37 PM   Subscribe

Did you go to Iceland without renting a car? If so...did you feel your trip was limited by not having a car? Or dId you find other ways to get to awesome places?

Please tell me about what it would be like to visit Iceland without renting a car. Is it worth it? This if for travelers who want to be in beautiful and amazing natural and cultural places but aren't going to be doing any rigorous hiking (just pretty easy hiking.)
posted by flourpot to Travel & Transportation around Iceland (12 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
This here is an excellent resource.

I've always rented a car there, but I am aware that plenty of people don't.
posted by MonsieurBon at 11:05 PM on April 22, 2017

You don't mention where/when you're thinking about staying. If you're on a 2-day layover in Reykjavik, you'll be fine without a car. More than that (either in time or in distance), and you'll want a car.
posted by The Notorious B.F.G. at 12:03 AM on April 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

More details are needed; Iceland in December is a very different beast to Iceland in July. A 5 day trip is totally different to a 14 day trip, etc.

That said, some general points:
Public transport is not sufficient to get to all the tourist spots because it's there for the locals; it'll take you to the nearest town or settlement but you may have a couple of miles still to walk. Depending on the time of year, you may find that it's not possible to get to places and back (or make connections). It will require detailed planning, luckily there's a reasonable public transport website here.

Hitchhiking is common and Iceland is one of the safest places to do it. General common sense applies though: it'll be easier to get to popular places, and it will be almost impossible to fix a schedule firmly enough to book accommodation anywhere (unless you're hitching in/out of the same place every day). Since you cannot hitchhike in winter (e.g. Oct-April) because you will die on the side of the road in the cold*, you'll need to be happy camping, as accommodation books out solidly in the summer months in advance, and you can't rely on being able to find a hostel room wherever you turn up.

Coach and private tours: massively common, most visitors use these, they go to loads of places, there are a zillion to choose from. The downside is: it's a coach tour, some people hate them, and wherever you go you'll be guaranteeing that there will be 10-100 other people there with you. tbf, though, if you're visiting popular sites in the high season (Jun-early Sept), there will be 10-100 people everywhere popular you go anyway, unless you decided to do night-time-only tourism.

Car-sharing: there is a lively thread on the reddit VisitingIceland board for people to meet up to car share, etc. There is also a national carpooling website which is run in English (and lots of hostels/campsites also have carpooling noticeboards for ride shares).

Are you going in WINTER? Then unless you are a confident extreme-winter-weather driver, forget the car, book TOURS.

Are you going in SUMMER? Then:
if you are going for ABOUT A WEEK - choose two or three areas of the island you are interested in, book accommodation (e.g. Reykjavik & Vik). You should be able to do a lot with PUBLIC TRANSPORT, TOURS and HITCHHIKING (if you want to)

if you are going for MORE THAN A WEEK - there's the potential to do a lot more exploring around the island. Personally, this is the point where I think you should HIRE A CAR. But if you are adventurous, and wililng to camp, you can figure out a combo of other options, especially HITCHIKING to see as much as possible.

Shorter summary: if you like meticulous planning OR freewheeling 'who knows where we'll be tomorrow' experiences & do not mind possibility of missing things in the end: HITCHHIKE, PUBLIC TRANSPORT. If this sounds like anxiety hell or too much effort: TOURS, HIRE A CAR.

* this is a slight exaggeration, maybe for Oct and April, but don't do it.
posted by AFII at 1:09 AM on April 23, 2017 [11 favorites]

Went for a week in September, and we didn't rent a car. Did the coach tours. We're both fairly experienced travelers and he had rented a car in other countries before, but we didn't feel like driving. It was fine! And I usually hate guided tours. There were a few times where I thought, I'd really like to pull over to see that xxxxx better, but mostly I was glad to leave the driving to someone else.
posted by umwhat at 3:37 AM on April 23, 2017

Response by poster: Thanks for all this so far! To clarify: Thinking of going for one week in the summer.
posted by flourpot at 4:46 AM on April 23, 2017

We went thinking we weren't going to get a car but arrived in a hailstorm and were wet and blown around by the time we made it to our hostel. When we were checking in they offered us a good deal on a car and we went for it. I'm really happy we did- lots of stopping by the road picnicking and wandering in the middle of nowhere in total peace and quiet. We found certain places particularly captivating and being able to hang around as long as we wanted to was wonderful.
posted by hotcoroner at 5:38 AM on April 23, 2017

We went to Iceland in winter and found renting a car absolutely necessary to get around the ring road. No fancy driving skills needed.
posted by Pantalaimon at 8:28 AM on April 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

Booked coach tours in Dec.


> No fuss. No need to worry about safe driving on slippery ice and steep slopes or getting lost
> Sleep while driving
> Icelandic tour guide sharing insights, tips.


> Limited action, since based in Reykjavik.
posted by appleses at 8:29 AM on April 23, 2017

I went for a week last year (winter), did coach and minibus tours to get out of Reykjavik. Worked out great, but it all depends on how much independence and flexibility you want/need. It was ideal for us, hitting the main highlights without any pressure of winter driving, getting lost, et cetera.
posted by Gordafarin at 7:52 AM on April 24, 2017

While, as others above have mentioned, it is certainly possible to do Iceland via coach or similar there are some caveats. You'll certainly see many of the main sites but one of the nice things we did with a car was to discover things not on the coach tour and these proved to be some of our favorite moments. We could spend as little or as much time as we wanted in a location without contending with the large crowds (summer is high season) at the main sites or we could go down a road that look interesting to wait out the crowds or find something as equally interesting. To clarify, it was never much of a choice for us as we traveled with a 7 year old and a sometimes prickly friend who needed to stop for coffee & pastries about 4 times a day so, for us, a car was essential.
posted by Ashwagandha at 9:32 AM on April 24, 2017

We booked big coach and small van trips for a 5-day stay in Reykjavik in October.
posted by emelenjr at 9:40 AM on April 24, 2017

Hey there! I'm originally from Iceland so happy to help with some questions. From what I can understand, you are looking for nature and cultural experience in Iceland. It is definitely possible to do Iceland without a car during spring/summer/fall. You can take buses (see here) or organized tours. However, it is a very different experience from driving on your own - which allows you to be more flexible with your schedule and go to some more off-the-beaten path places to explore the nature. I recently started Travelade to help visitors make the most out of my beautiful country :) Hope it can help you in your research - and don't hesitate to ping me if you have more questions!
posted by andri at 11:13 AM on April 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

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