Travel can be defined in many ways. As a verb: To go from point A to point B. But I tend to view travel as a noun: To experience new things while in a new place. When traveling, we must balance the time it takes to get to a destination versus the amount we can experience before we get to our destination. If we chose to fly from location to location, yes, it’d be very quick, but we would miss everything between points A & B. If we walked, we would see everything from the cracks in the road to the beautiful mountains that reach into the clouds, but we may spend our entire time just getting to point B. What if we want to see point C, D, or even Z. It’s a given, one will never be able to experience it all, but when I travel, I damn sure try.
There are many methods travel to get around Iceland, and I will write this with the assumption that you’re planning on going for a few days up to two weeks. It’s been said, the best speed to view a country is by bike, but I am aware that takes a lot of energy and time. So if that’s not your style, there are a few more options: Walking, rental car, tour bus, public transit, helicopter, motorcycle, horseback, or even hitchhiking.
I will flat out say that renting a car is the best option to see Iceland with a constricted time frame. There’s one major highway (road) that circumnavigates the country, and it has an lightly enforced speed limit of 55mph. With that being said, we hopped off our plane, rented a compact car from the AVIS desk at the airport, and made off like bandits into the night (since it was only 4AM when we landed. We had no idea where we wanted to go or what we wanted to see, but we knew we had a full tank of gas and that could get anywhere. Luckily for us, the roads outside the city were pretty desolate, making for easy navigating. Even within the city limits, traffic was a minimum and easily manageable. Far from the horrendous traffic in other major global cities.
We were originally worried about finding gas stations, but that was quickly dissolved when realizing every single town on the map had a gas station. The golden rule for tourists is usually to fill up when you see one, because you might not make it to the next one; however, that is not the case here. One issue we had with filling up here, was it required a cash or a card with a pin. So, unfortunately I had to use my debit card, which isn’t that big a deal but a risky one when traveling abroad. The gas itself is a more expensive than the States but it’s Europe, which always is more expensive. I think each fill-up cost us around $40, and we had to fill up every other day.
The best part about the car was our freedom. Once our bags were put in the back, we could go anywhere at any time. I cannot tell you how many waterfalls we stopped to check out. Even if it was for a couple seconds or a few hours, we stopped for everything and anything. This came in handy when other travelers gave us tips and suggestions on what to go see next, putting us back in the car and onto the next adventure. Without the car, we would never have seen the hot spring we went to, played with horses named Steve, hiked the endless sets of waterfalls, made it into some of the smaller towns, and simply would not have been able to experience all that entails 4 dudes stuck in a car for 6 days.
Like I’ve said before, the country is very easy to navigate. Simply put, you’re either going in the right direction or the wrong direction since it’s 1 highway that goes in a circle. Even though the names of the towns on the sign can be confusing, they’re clearly labeled and very hard to miss where you’re going. The locals seemed to be friendly every time we stopped to ask for directions, willing to help us in any way they could. Overall we circumnavigated about half the island and only got lost once which was shocking to all of us. The roads during non-winter months are paved and smooth, but most cars are equipped with studded tires that can handle even a little bit of off-road travel.
Don’t get me wrong, you would definitely be able to see 90% of the country via tour groups or tour buses, because everywhere we went they would pass by. They might even be cheaper than if you were to rent a car and have to pay for your gas, but you will not have the freedom (and the struggles of navigating in a foreign country).