Getting around in Iceland
December 5, 2006 3:28 AM   Subscribe

Can you recommend a car rental firm in Iceland? (Or have you travelled around Iceland using public transit? In February? How'd it work out for you?)

Planning a five-night stay in Iceland at the beginning of February. (Only £80 return from London, including taxes!!!) Obviously the country is very, very expensive. We're trying to figure out the best way to get around on a budget. Places like Avis and Hertz want £200-£300 for 4 days of rental, which is prohibitively expensive. We'd be happy to use the Icelandic coach/bus system, but I've heard anxiety-inducing tales about how few of their coaches run in winter. Is it feasible to get around outside Reykjavik in February with anything other than a car? And if we are to rent a car, any particular recommendations of rental firms?

(I've read about the need for a 4X4 to travel inland from the ring road, but to be honest I think we'll be able to stick to the outer ring and be fine.)

Come to think of it, if anyone has recommendations for sights outside of Reykjavik and the Golden Circle tour, they're welcome. (I've heard good things about Vik.)
posted by Marquis to Travel & Transportation around Iceland (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
My gut feeling is no, you can't really get around on a 4 day trip without a car. We were there for three days a few years ago right before new years, and bus times / connections were very bad. You could well burn a whole day just getting where you want.

We rented a small car (Toyota Yaris) from Holdur. They were quite helpful, meeting us at the airport. When we left we just put the keys in the car and left it there. We had no driving problems at all with a tiny car.

Right now they are showing about 180 pounds / 4 days but keep an eye on their "special offers" tab. They are currently good for January but are much better deals. I can't think that there will be great demand for rentals in Feb, so you may have some luck.
posted by true at 5:53 AM on December 5, 2006

In the wintertime, stick to the outer ring. The inland is impossible/dangerous to travel. You do not need a 4X4 on the outer ring.

You can find the bus routes here. However, I am not sure if they drive in the winter time.

My recommendation is to rent a small car.

(traveled four times, only summer)
posted by Eirixon at 6:20 AM on December 5, 2006

I third the car recommendation. In the winter many outlying bus routes are once a day affairs. I bit the bullet and went with Hertz. Some other options:


As for ring road sights, the 4-5 hr easterly drive to the glacial lake at Vatnajökull is well worth it, and you can stop at the giant falls at Skaftafell along the way. Snaefellsnes in the northwest should also be somewhat accessible, with small towns along the route and impressive coastal scenery.

I also found the Rough Guide quite useful.
posted by dickyvibe at 8:09 AM on December 5, 2006

Unfortunately, I'm going to buck the trend and recommend not hiring a car. This is based on a trip I took with a friend about 4 years ago. We stayed in Reykjavik at the beginning of the darker season (can't remember the exact time of year). This meant that the temperature dropped rapidly after 2pm, and the roads became exceptionally difficult to travel. The locals didn't necessarily drive 4WD, but they did all have permanently spiked tires. Our hire car didn't have these. Maybe they would have helped, but I doubt it, since we simply weren't used to driving on sheet ice. Inside the city and on the main roads it was fine, but we tried driving to Geysir, and it wasn't fun. The locals are amazingly adept at driving on thick sheet ice, and think nothing of the vehicle slipping around all over the place. The ice was so slippery that even when our car was stationary the camber of the road caused it to slide inexorably towards the steep ditches either side. And of course, this was in the middle of nowhere, miles from any housing, in the dark of night (actually the afternoon, but you get the picture). We flagged down the one passing motorist that happened upon us. She was a housewife doing the school run. She shrugged and suggested we keep it in 2nd gear, then nonchalently drove off, sliding from lane to lane. We gave up just 5 miles from Geysir, since it had taken us hours to drive from Reykjavik at our tortoise pace, and we really didn't want to get stranded. The landscape is beautiful and magical, but not the sort of place you want to get stuck in a car at night. We made it back, but by then the day was over and we'd spent it driving.

Of course, if you're not planning on driving far inland then you may be fine. I'm not really sure what "far" means in this context, though.

Another trip we took by car, to the Blue Lagoon (which is great) resulted in driving through a snowstorm on a motorway (or a busy 4-lane road anyway). Visibility was down to about 15ft, but the locals didn't seem to mind. We found it all quite disconcerting, being sandwiched between them and hence having no choice but to career headlong into the darkness.

Oh and one off-topic word of advice: if you go snow-mobile driving on a glacier, you are very unlikely to be insured for damaging the snow-mobile. If you manage to ding one, you may have several burly Icelandic farmers surround you and ask for several hundred pounds of payment, while they prevent your car from leaving by parking a tractor behind it. Equally, if your experience is like mine you can brave this out, insist on calling the police, get a few cups of tea from the farmer's wife, and end up paying nothing, and agreeing that everyone has learned a lot from the experience. I've no idea if all such operators manage their affairs in the same way, but I think that there aren't that many of them.

It's a great place, I'd quite genuinely love to go back, but at a different time of year.

Of course, you may be perfectly happy driving at night on thick ice in a driving snowstorm. In which case you should hire a car. Then again, I've little experience of the public transport, which may be unreliable.
posted by ajp at 9:08 AM on December 5, 2006

You can find the winter timetable of the Coach system here. They go 1-5 times per day in the winter time, depending on routes.

The roads are not always icy in february, if they're not, you're likely to escape the horror story that ajp described. Last winter, the weather was fairly mild and above 0°C most of the time.
posted by svenni at 3:45 PM on December 5, 2006

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