The contemplation whether we should drive ourselves or take tours from Reykjavik has been in my mind ever since we decided to go to Iceland. If you read Trip Advisor they will strictly advise not to drive in winter unless you have winter driving experience. I have also read multiple blogs and facebook group posting on people experiences until I finally decided to take the plunge to rent a car and just drive ourselves.
Here’s my thought on this
I don’t recommend driving in December and January. Not only the daylight is very short but also I have observed that these two months have the largest share of snow storm and a very strong wind. In fact if you can choose when to go and you don’t have many days to spend I suggest to go for other months because if you are unlucky and come when bad weather hits, not only roads can be closed but all tours will be cancelled and you will be stuck in your hotel room or even at the airport.
I have followed stories where tourist came in mid Dec and January and were stuck in Keflavik airport because there was a snowstorm that day and road to airport was closed. Of course you can get lucky with a very good weather but this is a worst scenario you should be aware of, especially if you are only visiting for few days. Weather in Iceland also changes as you move places. It can be sunny in Vik but when you are driving to the North you can be hit with a snow storm.
We traveled mid March where winter is less harsh but we still get a lot of snow and also have our share of bad weather. During our time in Iceland we experience all kind of weather: nice sunny day with 2 degree Celcius, snowing, snowing with rain, rain and snow blizzard with low visibility. I felt we made a good decision to self drive as we got to see more of Iceland and enjoy it with our own pace. But we were also prepared for the worst and willing to be flexible when the weather turns to the worse.
The bright side is weather forecast in Iceland is reliable 2-3 days before so you can plan your itinerary accordingly. Being flexible with your itinerary is the key here.
These are the website you must check everyday before you start driving:
1. en.Vedur.is for weather forecast
2. SafeTravel.is to see if there is bad storm coming or bad weather alert
3. Road.is to see whether the road is accessible or not
BE FLEXIBLE and ADJUST travel plan when needed. If you have to forgo hotel cancellation because of safety then be it. Always put safety first!
Don’t underestimate Icelandic wind. I have never experienced a wind as strong as the wind in Iceland. Always be extra careful in opening your car door. A strong wind can rip the door from your hands and force open the door giving it more than it can handle, leaving you with a crooked door, a big dent in the car and a not-so-good time when you return the car, having to pay for the damages caused by the wind and not all insurance covers that. Always open the door with your right hand while holding the door in it’s place with your left, if there’s even a chance of harsh winds. Another thing to keep in mind is to park against the wind. It’s a good habit to prevent this type of accident.
ALWAYS rent 4X4 in winter and GET that platinum car insurance which covers door damage because of the strong wind. I read too many horror stories about car door got wrecked and their insurance didn’t cover for it. Always read carefully the clauses on what the insurance covers.
We rented our car (4X4 VW Caddy (A/T) from Fara.is which I highly recommend. The car is brand new and they provide platinum insurance from RentalCover.com Fara crew picked us up at the airport and drive us to their shop which is close from the airport. Another favourite car rental people are recommending are Blue Car Rental and Lotus.
You can familiarize yourself with what driving in Iceland is like from https://safetravel.is/driving
Another reason why your choice is only self drive or take a tour is because Iceland doesn’t have a public transportation which covers tourist attraction outside Reykjavik. If you are not confident in driving and prefer taking a tour do take the multi-days tour and don’t base yourself in Reykjavik.
A day tour from Reykjavik can only take you up to Jokulsarlon and it is a 14 hours day trip which will leave you tired. Too many hours spend on the road and too little time at each attraction. The disadvantage of taking multi-days tour is that it is expensive. Because you don’t get to choose the accommodation and you can’t do self catering as you won’t know whether the accommodation has kitchen or nor and whether you get to do grocery shop along the way. But if you can’t drive or going solo then it is still the second best choice vs taking day tour 😄