Can you travel around Iceland without renting a car? Is it possible to have a good holiday without driving yourself? Can you still travel to remote reaches of Iceland without a car? Read ahead to learn all about travel to the Land of Ice and Fire for non-drivers.
The incredible landscapes of Iceland beg to be explored in depth, but for many non-drivers, they seem to be somewhat out of reach.
After all, Iceland is a reasonably sized European country with a small, sparse population, two thirds of it clustered in the south-eastern corner. Much of the terrain is rugged Highlands, requiring four-wheel-drives to even begin to penetrate, and some of the most impressive sites are in the East and Westfjords, hundreds of kilometres from the capital.
These guests, however, will be thrilled to discover that a range of options exist for them, which will allow them to access the far reaches of the country as easily as any who chooses to rent a car.
Whether you book a vacation package, in which you will be guided all around this magnificent country, multi-day tours that allow you to enjoy certain areas in depth, bus passports that let you travel on your own, or internal flights to reach distant destinations, you’ll find no limits to the sites you can access.
There are many reasons guests chose one of these options rather than renting a car. Some simply cannot drive; others are not used to driving on the right; many do not want to risk operating a vehicle in wintery conditions that they are not used to; and, of course, a few simply want to relax and not worry about the stresses that come with taking the wheel.
Whether you want to base yourself in Reykjavík, camp through the Highlands or encircle the country, this article will help you make the most of your holiday in Iceland without renting a car.
Keflavík International Airport, the main point of arrival for the vast majority of travellers to Iceland, is not located in the capital city; it is, in fact, about fifty kilometres away. Getting between the two, however, does not require a rental car.
Airport transfer buses run between the destinations every half-hour or hour depending on flights, and many of these have additional services that will drop you off as close to your hotel as possible.
It is possible to get a direct bus to the capital and back to the airport, although those seeking to maximise every opportunity in Iceland should consider stopping off the Blue Lagoon en route. Available on your outward and return journeys, these buses will allow you to spend as long as you like at one of Iceland’s most famous sites.
The Blue Lagoon, after all, is a spectacular place, due to the unique colour of its water, its healing qualities, and its abundance of therapies, not to mention its incredible location amongst the lava landscapes of the Reykjanes Peninsula.
Please note, however, that these transfers do not include entry into the lagoon, which must be booked well in advance due to its ever-increasing popularity.
While these buses are comfortable, affordable, regular and efficient, they can involve a little bit of queuing and waiting, and you will likely have to change bus once in Reykjavík if you want to be taken straight to your hotel. Those who wish to travel more directly and in more luxury can instead elect to book a private driver.
Such an option also provides you with the chance to speak with a local at the very beginning of your holiday, who can offer you some tips and tricks on how to make the most of your time in Iceland. They may also be able to point out some sites en route, and tell you about the nature and history.
Those on a very tight budget could alternatively elect to take city buses between the two locations, although this will likely take at least two hours from door to door, and is not preferable for those with heavy luggage.
Once you have arrived in Reykjavík and explored its fascinating local culture and history, you’ll no doubt want to get out into nature. While, of course, you could take city buses to nearby sites such as Mount Esjan to the north and the Blue Mountains to the east, day tours and multi-day tours greatly extend the scope of your potential adventures.
Sightseeing routes such as the Golden Circle, South Coast and Reykjanes Peninsula, for example, can all be enjoyed in a few hours, and the vast majority of tours around these areas offer pick-up and drop-off from locations as close to your accommodation as possible.
Throughout winter, you can book Northern Lights tours that will depart in the evening and return late at night, often finding more success than those who set out in hunt of them on their own.
This is because Northern Lights guides are experts at locating the auroras, know all of the country’s darkest, most isolated spots, and are often knowledgeable in catching them on camera. They will also have access to the weather website and contact with other guides on the search.
You can also take a day tour in Reykjavík that requires no driving at all; whale and puffin watching tours are conducted on boats from the harbour, and certain city sightseeing tours are done by bike or scooter.
Those seeking to plumb the deeper reaches of nature, however, and to reach the same places those with a car can easily access, should instead look into taking a multi-day tour.
This two-day ice cave tour, for example, will allow you to see far more sites of the South Coast than those who head out in a day; this region is somewhat of a microcosm of Iceland, with volcanoes, glaciers, black-sand-beaches and diverse waterfalls, culminating in the iconic Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon.
Ice caves - or more correctly, glacier caves - are incredibly rare features that only appear for a few months each winter; plumbing their depths is an opportunity no winter traveller should overlook, regardless of whether or not they have a car.
This six-day Laugavegur Trail is the most popular multi-day hiking route in the country and takes you to a region where driving is not even allowed.
Going from the geothermal highland area of Landmannalaugar and finishing in the forested valley of Þórsmörk, the route will provide you with an unmatched experience of the country’s wilderness and leave you in no doubt as to why it is nicknamed the Land of Ice and Fire.
Multi-day tours leaving from more remote towns, such as Ísafjörður in the Westfjords, can also be reached by travellers without a car by booking domestic flights. There are over a dozen domestic airports in the country that serve commercial passengers, the most significant being Akureyri in the north, Egilsstaðir in the east, and Bíldudalur and Ísafjörður in the Westfjords.
By flying to such locations, you can organise trips to places such as Hornstrandir, a wild land of dramatic seascapes and abundant Arctic Foxes, and the East Icelandic Highlands, an awe-inspiring world in the shadow of Europe’s largest glacier, Vatnajökull.
Those planning a holiday to Iceland who do not wish to or cannot drive have an excellent opportunity in vacation packages. By booking one of these, everything about your trip will be arranged for you prior to arrival, such as your accommodation, airport transfers and tours. In the majority of these packages, you will also have a driver/guide escorting you from location to location each day.
As such, vacation packages allow you to fully unwind on your holiday, confident that your journey ahead has been thoroughly planned and you have nothing to worry about other than enjoying yourself. These come in a wide variety of forms, to suit groups of all budgets, sizes and interests.
Those taking a short holiday in winter, for example, could look into this six-day package that will introduce them to the Northern Lights, Golden Circle, South Coast and crystal blue ice caves.
Those seeking to enjoy the trip on a shoestring can opt into affordable accommodation and focus on sightseeing, while those with more to spend could choose comfort or quality hotels, and add on additional excursions such as horse riding, snorkelling, snowmobiling and whale-watching.
This package is largely conducted from Reykjavík, but many take you further afield. This twelve-day summer package will take you all around the ring-road and Snæfellsnes Peninsula, with loads of time at some incredible locations such as the Eastfjords and Lake Mývatn.
If you want to see as much as possible, but don’t have as long a trip, consider this week-long package around the south, east and north, with flights back to the capital from Akureyri.
Many vacation packages also tailor themselves to niche interests. Fans of Game of Thrones, for example, will love this eight-day package, designed to bring you to the locations where many of the most dramatic scenes of the series were filmed. Photography lovers, meanwhile, will find a range of tours designed to help build their portfolio, whether they want to focus on the midnight sun, winter landscapes or highlands.
Some vacation packages even involve a day spent exploring a magnificent village in Greenland, as well as a wealth of sites in the Land of Ice and Fire.
While guided vacation packages and tours are excellent ways to make the most of Iceland without a car, there are two reasons why some travellers elect to get around another way: budget, and a desire for independence. Both of these conditions can be met if you choose to book a bus passport.
One of the most affordable ways to get around, these passports will allow you to either take sanctioned buses over a certain route, hopping on and off somewhat like a city-sightseeing bus, or else to use them an unlimited amount over a certain length of time.
This South Coast bus passport, for example, will allow you to journey from Reykjavík to the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon and back at your own leisure, with stops at some incredible locations such as Seljalandsfoss waterfall and the Skaftafell Nature Reserve. Such an option is perfect for those eager to camp, as there are many sites en route with some fantastic hiking paths leading away from them.
Those who are passionate about trekking and want to embark on the magnificent Laugavegur trail between Landmannalaugar and Þórsmörk can alternatively look at this Golden Hiker’s Pass.
You’ll be dropped off at one of the aforementioned points, can spend as long as you like exploring the mighty Highlands, before heading back to the capital on a bus leaving from the other.
Bus passports are only available in the summer months.
The most affordable way in which you can travel to and from the major sites in Iceland is by hitchhiking along the main roads. The country has a culture where hitchhiking is very common and considered safe, although should only be done in summer.
Not only will waiting an indeterminate amount of time in freezing conditions in winter pose a significant risk to your safety, but you also endanger drivers who should not be pulling up on the snowy banks of an icy road.
Considering the long, dark nights of Iceland in this season, you also have only a few hours in which you’ll be visible to be picked up, and could get into serious problems should you be stuck out in the evening.
Though Iceland is considered one of the safest countries for hitchhiking, there are, of course, inherent risks all visitors must consider. It should go without saying that hitchhiking is only recommended during the day in the countryside, not in Reykjavík after a night out, which in spite of its low crime rates is still a capital city where incidents can occur.
Coming to Iceland without the ability or will to drive need not be any impediment on your holiday. By utilising day tours, vacation packages, bus passports and an array of other options, you will find that you can explore just as much of the country’s incredible nature as those who have a car.
Iceland’s infrastructure and tourism industry are there to cater to your needs, allowing you a stress-free holiday, where you do not need to worry about reaching Iceland’s unbelievable sites yourself.
Have you travelled to Iceland without a car? How did you get around? Do you have any recommendations for non-drivers? Let us know in the comments below!