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Car Rental in Iceland
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Car Rental in Iceland: Where Fire Meets Ice
Iceland is a wildly unique country, bursting with culture and volcanic activity along the borders of the Arctic Circle. Though populated with only about 330,000 inhabitants, the people of Iceland host hundreds of thousands of visitors each year and they offer a never-ending list of sights and cultural experiences to take advantage of, from iceberg kayaking trips to treks across new lava fields to celebrations of an ancient Nordic culture. Particularly as flights are becoming less and less expensive, now is an excellent time to get intimate with this country via car hire in Iceland.
The best hiking season in Iceland is July to August, though if you’re headed to the country to see the northern lights, February, March, September and October are your best bet. Do note, however, that many mountain roads are impassable before June.
Icelandic is the official language of Iceland and a real source of pride for the islanders, as it has undergone remarkably little change over the past 600 years. Both English and Danish are compulsory in public schools, however, so many Icelanders will speak at least basic forms of these languages – though any attempt to speak Icelandic by visitors is always much appreciated!
The currency is the Icelandic króna and credit cards are widely accepted throughout the country.
Visitors arriving via air from anywhere other than Greenland or the Faroe Islands will arrive at the Keflavik International Airport in Keflavík, 40 km west of Reykjavik. The airport is an excellent place to pick up a rental car, though cheap car hire in Iceland is also available in Reykjavik, Akureyri, or Egilsstaðir.
There is a great deal to see throughout Iceland, though many outdoor experiences will require some travel on gravel roads. Paved travel to Kirkjufell Mountain just outside of Grundarfjörður from Reykjavik will take about two and a half hours. You can reach Skaftafell, the gate to Vatnajökull National Park, in about four hours from Reykjavik.
Driving in Iceland
Exploring Iceland by car is truly an excellent way to explore the country. A 1,330-km-long road circumnavigates the entire island. Called the Ring Road, this highway is mostly one-lane and is in great shape, providing a comfortable ride to some of the most unique and diverse landscapes in the world. Don’t make the mistake that so many visitors do while in this incredibly unique country and stick to Reykjavik. Some of the most jaw-dropping sights await you via rental car.
- Traffic drives on the right-hand side of the road.
- In cities, the speed limit is 50 km/h.
- Paved rural roads have a 90 km/h speed limit and gravel roads an 80 km/h limit.
- A sign reading “malbik endar” indicates that a paved road will be turning into a gravel one.
- Speed cameras regulate the limit throughout the country and fines can quickly reach 50,000 to 130,000 króna!
- There is very little reason not to just rent a car for the entirety of your stay in Iceland, as parking is fairly easy in downtown Reykjavik, and many parking garages make their services available for quite a low price.
- Your domestic driver’s license will be valid in Iceland.
- There is only one tolled road in Iceland, which is the Hvalfjardargong tunnel 30 km north of Reykjavik.
- Typically you will have to be at least 20 or 21 to rent a car in Iceland, with one full year of driving experience. Many rental companies require that you are at least 24 years of age to rent a car with four-wheel drive.
- Most nationalities will need a Schengen visa to visit Iceland, though citizens from Australia, Canada, and the US can enter Iceland visa-free for up to 90 days.
- Headlights must be on whenever the car is running.
- Off-road driving is highly illegal in Iceland.
- Keep an eye out for free-roaming sheep, which cross roads at will throughout the country, including the Ring Road!
- A sign reading “einbreið brú' indicates that you are approaching a one-way bridge. Yield to any vehicles that have already approached the bridge.
- Read the fine print on the car insurance offered by the rental provider, as the parts of a car that are likely to break on gravel roads (such as windshields and tires) are unlikely to be covered.
- You’ll want to book four-wheel drive vehicles designed for travel into the interior well in advance of your trip, as they are in high demand. Interior treks should only be undertaken by experienced trekkers or with a guide. You’re in luck if you want to fill your tank in the middle of the night, as there are numerous 24-hour self-service gas stations throughout the country, but in order to use them, you’ll need a card that uses a PIN.