Guide to Renting a Car in Iceland: All You Need to Know
When visiting Iceland, many travellers aim to see as much of our beautiful island as possible — and it’s easy to see why. From gorgeous beaches to mammoth glaciers, breathtaking fjords to wide open night skies filled with the northern lights, there’s so much to see and do in Iceland.
But seeing it all requires renting a car in Iceland. Don’t make the mistake, though, of assuming that renting a car in Iceland is just like renting a car in the U.S. or U.K., or whatever country you may be visiting from. There are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind. We’re breaking down all the considerations for you, in our easy guide to renting a car in Iceland.
Why Rent a Car in Iceland?
You arrive in Iceland, at the airport in Keflavik, and then take a bus into Reykjavik. Then what? Without a rental car, you’re stuck in Reykjavik. That’s not to say that Reykjavik doesn’t have plenty to offer — you can find amazing museums, cultural attractions, dining, and lodging all in Reykjavik.
You could take public transportation, but the public buses aren’t frequent and won’t always take you to where you need to go. Some spots around the country simply aren't accessible by bus or public transportation. The Westfjords, for example, are only accessible via car.
Additionally, while you could feasibly book a guided tour to take you around the island during your stay, this option can be expensive, as well as limiting. You're stuck doing what the tour guide wants you to do, when they want you to do it.
There are so many reasons why you should consider renting a car in Iceland. Keep reading to know all the advantages of doing so!
The top reason our clients love renting a car in Iceland? Doing so gives them a huge amount of freedom when it comes to planning their itineraries. They can choose what to see and where to go, and when to go there. They can do everything on their own schedules, without being beholden to a tour guide.
Similarly, many tour guides only go to the top spots around Iceland. If you want to see some of the amazing geological features and the tiny fishing towns, for example, you’ll have to travel there yourself, which means a car is necessary. Don’t make the mistake of travelling to Iceland and assuming you’ll just take public transportation everywhere. This is very much a destination where, if you want to go somewhere, you’ll need to get there yourself.
- Comfort and Safety
Especially recently, travellers are caring more and more about health safety and the ability to social distance from other travellers while in a destination. Renting a car in Iceland allows you to socially distance yourself while still seeing all of the sights. Additionally, the privacy and space that a rental car affords you is much more comfortable than what you’ll find on public transportation options, like buses and taxis.
If you’re travelling with close friends or even a partner on a romantic trip, then you’ll appreciate the additional privacy that travelling via rental car in Iceland allows for.
- Flexible Costs
There are rental car options that fit a wide array of budgets. You can pick a more affordable, budget-friendly economy car if you’re looking to save a little money in your travel budget. If, though, you want a more luxurious experience, you can go with an extra-roomy vehicle that comes with all the bells and whistles. Even if you don’t go with the most affordable rental option, though, you’ll still find that renting a car provides some level of savings, as renting a car is much more affordable than travelling by tours or public transportation and, if you're travelling with a group of other people, you can split the fuel and rental costs among you.
- Saved Time
If you’ve ever taken public transportation before, or taken a tour while travelling, you know that these options are definitely not your fastest. If you only have a limited amount of time in Iceland and you want to see the most you can, a rental car can really cut down on the travel time needed to get between Point A and Point B.
- More Memories
And, lastly, when you have the flexibility that a rental car provides, you can make more memories during your Iceland trip, more easily. Chase the northern lights during the winter months. Stay up late and see Iceland’s summertime Midnight Sun. Or even camp under the stars, surrounded by Icelandic nature, when you rent a camper van.
How to Choose the Right Rental Car When Visiting Iceland
But choosing the right rental car for your Iceland trip is important. When picking your Iceland rental car, here are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind.
If you’re planning to visit the Ring Road, a very popular route that takes you around the entire island, with stops along some of the most inhabited areas and at some of the most popular points of interest, you would generally be safe to pick just about any type of vehicle (so long as you're travelling in the summer, spring or fall — but more on that below). We see many travellers renting camper vans for Ring Road trips, if they want to camp along the route; economy cars if they want to save a bit of money; or 4x4 vehicles, particularly during the winter months.
If you want to visit the Westfjords, all vehicles are still permitted, but we generally recommended renting a 4x4 vehicle for these trips. The Westfjords are, all in all, a little more rugged than other parts of Iceland, so you’ll want to be properly prepared for whatever conditions come your way.
Similarly, if you want to visit the Icelandic Highlands, you’ll definitely need a 4x4 vehicle, as the roads there are particularly treacherous under certain conditions — so much so that they’re not even open during the winter months!
During the summer, mid-May through August, you can take all types of cars along the Ring Road route of Iceland and feel pretty confident that you won’t run into any trouble. Camper van, 4x4 vehicle, or economy car — they’ll all work just fine.
If, though, you’re visiting the Westfjords or Highlands during the summer months, you’ll still want to play it safe and rent a 4x4 vehicle. Even during the summer months, the roads in these particular regions can be a little uncertain, and we always advise our customers to put safety first.
During the Iceland winter, however, November through March, we recommend our customers choose a 4x4 vehicle no matter where they’re planning to travel in the country. The Icelandic road conditions during the winter months can be icy, snowy, and hazardous, and a 4x4 vehicle is necessary.
Keep in mind, too, that many areas and roads in Iceland are closed during the winter months. This is extremely common in the Westfjords and always the case in the Icelandic Highlands, which are closed completely to visitors through the winter.
As for the shoulder seasons of spring and fall, April–May and mid-September–October, it’s still advised that you rent a 4x4 vehicle for both the Ring Road and Westfjords. You can, though, rent a 4x4 camper van through the shoulder seasons, if you don’t mind sleeping out among the elements, which will give you some added flexibility and the ability to travel and stay wherever most is convenient for your itinerary. The Highlands are still closed during the spring and fall.
If you’re a travelling family with children, you’ll likely need a little extra space, so you may want to choose a regular-size economy car or a 4x4 vehicle. These can usually fit about four to five passengers.
If you’re a travelling couple or pair of friends, you can save a little extra cash and opt for a small economy car suitable for two travellers, plus luggage. You can also find smaller, more suitable 4x4 vehicles, as well as smaller camper vans suitable for two travellers.
If you’re a travelling group, you can find larger vehicles such as our Nissan X-Trail.
Regardless of how many people you’re travelling with, if you’re the adventurous type, you might prefer a camper van, so you can stay overnight, wherever the wind takes you. Lava Car Rental offers camper vans suitable for as few as two, or as many as five, travellers.
If, however, you’d rather choose comfort over adventure, you might be more interested in renting a luxury vehicle, such as our Toyota Land Cruiser, which fits seven passengers and offers a range of desirable features, such as heated seats (which you’ll absolutely love coming back to after spending a morning or afternoon exploring the chilly Icelandic landscape!).
Whatever type of traveller you are, Lava Car Rental offers a range of vehicles to suit a variety of needs, so everyone can find the perfect fit for their Iceland trip.
The Rental Car’s Transmission: Automatic vs. Manual Cars in Iceland
Rental cars in Iceland come with both manual and automatic transmissions. You’ll find that when visiting just about anywhere in Europe, a manual transmission is the standard option; however, since that’s not the case everywhere in the world, you may not feel comfortable driving a vehicle with a manual transmission. If that sounds like you, be sure to verify that the car you're renting comes with an automatic transmission.
Are rental cars in Iceland manual or automatic?
When you rent a car in Iceland, you’ll discover that the majority of the available options are manual vehicles. This is the case in not only Iceland, but anywhere that you travel in Europe. Manual cars are just the norm, as opposed to the automatic vehicles that are most popular in North America. However, if you can’t drive a manual vehicle and need an automatic vehicle during your trip to Iceland, rest assured that you can usually find one via your rental car provider, so long as you book far enough in advance.
Can you rent a car with automatic transmission in Iceland?
Yes, while manual cars are the most popular vehicles on the road in Iceland, you can still find automatic transmission vehicles at car rentals in Iceland. At Lava Car Rental, we offer a variety of automatic transmission 4x4 vehicles, a few automatic transmission economy vehicles, as well as automatic transmission campervans.
Before finalising your car rental in Iceland, make sure to verify that you’re reserving a vehicle with an automatic transmission. If you’re unsure based on the information on the rental company’s website, contact the company to confirm.
Are automatic cars more expensive to rent?
Yes, automatic vehicles are slightly more expensive to rent. You can expect to see about a 10% increase over the cost of a manual transmission vehicle. However, if you’re not comfortable driving a manual transmission vehicle, you definitely don't want to risk a car accident just to save some money. Book an automatic rental car for your safety and the safety of your fellow drivers. Just be sure to book quickly! Automatic transmission rental cars are very popular in Iceland and usually book up fast.
Is it better to drive a manual or automatic car?
It all depends on your comfort level. If you’ve never driven a manual vehicle, the time to try it is not while you’re on vacation. Additionally, automatic cars are generally considered more comfortable to drive and they’re also easier to drive in cities, where changing traffic makes changing gears rapidly a necessity.
However, if you are fairly comfortable with driving a manual vehicle, you may find some other benefits in renting a manual car, if you’re driving in more remote areas, and especially during certain times of the year. For example, a manual vehicle provides safer driving conditions during the winter months, when the driver can anticipate oncoming slippery or icy road conditions, and adjust the transmission accordingly, on their own.
Any Extra Features
Certain rental cars come with certain extra features that you may want (or even need) during your Iceland trip. For example, Icelandic law requires that all child passengers ride in a booster seat or child car seat, so you’ll likely want to rent a car that comes with one already installed.
Other extra features that you may want include GPS navigation systems, a portable WiFi router, or a luggage box that sits atop the vehicle. A very popular add-on for many travellers is an additional driver, which allows another person in your party to drive your rental vehicle.
While those renting a car from Lava Car Rental have the option to add on extra “kits” like sleeping or kitchen kits that include everything you’d need to cook or sleep on the go, when you rent a camper van with us, all of that is already included in your rental price. Sleeping kits, kitchen kit, electric cooler, gas stovetop, foldable chairs, and table — you get it all, a perk you won’t find with many other rental companies in Iceland.
When you rent a vehicle with Lava Car Rental, a collision damage waiver (CDW) and theft protection are always included. This will protect you in the event of damage to the rental car. However, you do have a few more options to consider, if you want additional insurance coverage.
With Lava Car Rental, you can pick an insurance package, which includes a range of protection, but you can also pick and choose individual types of insurance and protection, to create your own personalized coverage package. We offer insurance for issues such as damage from volcanic ash and sandstorms, damage caused by driving over gravel, and more.
Our Platinum Insurance Package includes all the protection below, with no self-excess:
- CDW: Collision Damage Waiver
- SCDW: Super Collision Damage Waiver
- GP: Gravel Protection
- SAAP: Sand and Ash Protection
- TP: Theft Protection
Our Premium Insurance Package includes all the protection below with 120,000 ISK self-excess:
- CDW: Collision Damage Waiver
- SCDW: Super Collision Damage Waiver
- GP: Gravel Protection
- TP: Theft Protection
Every car uses fuel a little differently, and if you’re wanting to save cash where fuel is concerned, you’ll want to take a look at how many kilometres per litre of gas your rental car will go. Then, to get an idea of how much you can expect to spend on fuel while in Iceland, you can check out the current prices at some of Iceland’s primary gas and service stations, including Orkan, OB, and N1.
Cancellation and Change Policies
While you might not think you need it now, a cancellation and/or change policy can come in handy just in the event that you do unfortunately need to reschedule or cancel your trip to Iceland. Look into the cancellation and change policies that come with your rental car before you book.
Lava Car Rental allows you to pay a down-payment for your booking and the rest after you arrive in the country, and our flexible change and cancellation policy allows you to change your booking for free up to 48 hours before your scheduled pick-up. You can also cancel your booking up to 48 hours before the scheduled pick-up and then receive either a full refund or a voucher that’s valid for four years from your cancellation date.
What You Need to Rent a Car in Iceland
There are a few things you’ll need to provide to your rental car company when you rent a car in Iceland.
For those travelling to Iceland from another country, you’ll need to provide a driver’s license from your home country which is (a) written in the Latin alphabet or translated into English and (b) a full driver’s license (not a learner’s permit or the equivalent). If you’re not sure whether your driver’s license matches these requirements, check with your local government before your arrival in Iceland. If it does not match these requirements, you may need to apply for an international driver’s license ahead of your trip. Additionally, all travellers in your party who plan on driving the vehicle will need to provide the same.
In addition to your driver’s license, you’ll need to present your rental car company with a valid credit or debit card. At Lava Car Rental, we only ask to see this card upon your arrival and then we hold an imprint of the card during your rental period. Other rental car companies may hold a security deposit; if this will be an issue for you, you’ll want to verify with your rental car company before making your reservation.
Lastly, you’ll need to bring your voucher with you when you pick up your rental car. This voucher is typically provided when you complete an online rental car booking. You’ll receive a confirmation email with all of your booking details, including the voucher. You can either present this voucher on your phone or another mobile device, or you can print it out and bring a physical copy with you. Even if you did not book directly with a rental car company, and went through a travel agent instead, you’ll still need to show a similar voucher.
In addition to all of these requirements, it’s also important to note that Icelandic law only allows drivers to rent vehicles if they’re 20 years old or older, and if they’ve held a driver’s license for a year or longer.
Rent a car with a debit card in Iceland
As we mentioned above, you do need to present a credit or debit card when renting a car in Iceland. However, it’s important to note that not every single car rental company in Iceland allows you to rent a car with both types of cards. Many require a credit card and will not accept a debit card, or if they make an exception and accept your debit card, they may require you to purchase their largest insurance plan, just in case, or they’ll place a hefty deposit on your card.
Lava Car Rental is one of the few car rental companies in Iceland that allows travellers to rent a vehicle with a debit card only. We accept debit cards both when you book online and when you pick up your rental car. We accept all major debit and credit card brands, including Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Diners Club and Union Pay (and if you have a card that does not fall into one of these categories, just send us an email to ensure your card will be accepted). The only extra requirements are that your debit card includes 16 digits and that it be valid through the entirety of your rental period.
How to rent a car in Iceland
In order to rent a car in Iceland and guarantee your reservation, first, you will need to make a booking online. Contrary to other countries where you can go to the car rental company’s desk and book directly from there, in Iceland you will need to make your reservation online. If you have decided to rent a car with Lava Car Rental, you can do it from the website here: https://www.lavacarrental.is/
During the booking process, you will need to indicate your contact details, the pickup/dropoff time and location and the driver’s information. You will also be able to add extra items and additional insurance. If you are not sure yet about it, don’t worry - you can always add them when you pick up your rental car if you wish to do so.
After you have finalized your booking, you will receive a voucher confirming your Iceland car rental reservation. In the receipt, you will find the booking reference that you will need to present on arrival to collect your rental vehicle.
If you have any questions before, during or after the booking process, you can reach out to us at email@example.com. We will be happy to assist you.
Driving Rules in Iceland
But beyond the requirements for renting a car in Iceland, what are the driving rules in Iceland? Depending on your home country, the road rules in Iceland may be a little different than what you’re used to.
Here in Iceland, we drive on the right side of the road. Everyone in the car must be wearing a seatbelt. Headlights must be on at all times. All mobile phone usage is prohibited while driving. Off-road driving is also prohibited.
While speed limits vary, the speed limits on urban roads are typically 50 km/h (31 mph); the speed limits on paved roads are typically 90 km/h (56 mph); and the speed limits on gravel roads are typically 80 km/h (50 mph).
Want to learn about the various road signage you’ll find throughout Iceland? Here’s a quick guide to this and other rules of the road.
The weather in Iceland is volatile. It can change very quickly and very drastically. Both before your trip and during, check your regional weather forecast and then adjust your plans accordingly. You don’t want to be caught unawares in some bad Iceland weather.
The road conditions likewise change with the Icelandic weather. Before you drive anywhere, check the road conditions. You can even subscribe to Safe Travel SMS updates during your trip, so you can easily be alerted anytime the weather or road conditions might interrupt your travels.
Iceland Car Rental Emergency Services
While you never want the worst to happen, sometimes it’s just the case that you run into an emergency situation while travelling. When you rent a car during your travels, these emergencies can range from a car accident to theft, a simple flat tire to weather-related damages to the vehicle. If you come across one of these situations while travelling in Iceland, here’s what to know.
There’s no “official” road assistance service in Iceland. However, if you rent your car through Lava Car Rental, you’ll enjoy access to 24-7 roadside assistance, available for emergencies that make it impossible for you to drive your car further (such as a flat tire). In these instances, you’ll want to stay in your car, call Lava Car Rental, and then use your GPS to inform us of your location.
A roadside assistance representative will then meet you and either remedy the issue or tow you to the nearest partner mechanic shop. If the vehicle is unable to be fixed in a timely manner, Lava Car Rental will provide you with a replacement vehicle.
If you are able to drive the vehicle but are still having issues, you can call or email us, and we’ll let you know how to proceed. If you need to visit a mechanic, we’ll provide you with directions to our nearest partner provider.
Do note that Lava Car Rental’s rental insurance policies do not cover towing. Tow fees typically begin at around 55,000 ISK ($430 USD or 383 EUR).
If you do need official emergency services, such as police, ambulance or fire services, you can call 112. This number will direct you to a call centre, where a representative will decide the best emergency personnel to send to your location and get you help as soon as possible. If you find yourself in need of these emergency services, call 112 first, then call your car rental company as soon as possible afterward.
Renting a Car During COVID-19
Of course, currently, COVID-19 is a worry for travellers all over the world. Luckily, Iceland is open for visitors. While COVID-19 travel restrictions are always changing and we encourage you to visit Iceland’s primary COVID-related information page while preparing for your trip. The requirements are apt to change, and you can always find the most up-to-date information on Iceland’s main COVID-19 traveller information page.
Once travellers have completed the necessary requirements, they’re ready to start exploring Iceland. Travel providers like Lava Car Rental are taking all of the necessary precautions to keep our visitors safe. You can rest assured that all of our vehicles are properly sanitised between each rental and our staff takes care to social distance and keep you and your family safe during your rental car pick-up and return.
Ready to Book Your Iceland Car Rental?
Booking a car rental for your trip to Iceland can be one of the best decisions of your entire visit. Enjoy the flexibility and freedom you need to the island’s best sights on your own schedule — and without breaking your travel budget. When you take all the right factors into consideration, picking the right rental car for seeing Iceland is easy.
Need more info? Check out the Lava Car Rental website and don’t hesitate to get in touch. We’re here to help you make the most of your Iceland vacation.