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The pros and cons of taking tours versus renting a car in Iceland

One of the first things you will need to consider when planning your Iceland itinerary is whether to rent a car or whether to take tours. Some will find this an easy decision to make, whilst for others it might be more of a dilemma. This list of ‘pros and cons’ is designed to help the latter camp.

In examining this conundrum, I have ignored the issue of cost as this is dependent on a variety of factors – whether you take a group tour or a private tour, how many trips you plan on making, the kind of car that you hire, how many there are in your party, and so on. You will be able to assess which is the most cost-effective option for you, but of course cost isn’t everything. There are also the following factors to consider.

Taking tours

Day tours or multi-day tours are a popular option when travelling in Iceland. You can choose to go on tours of certain geographical areas such as the Golden Circle or Snaefellsnes Peninsula, or themed tours such as glacier tours or volcano tours. And there’s a multitude of companies offering tours, with everything from private customised tours to larger scale coach trips.


  • You don’t have to worry about driving routes, or indeed about driving and Icelandic driving regulations. You simply show up, relax and enjoy the view and excursions.
  • With a group tour, as opposed to a private one, it’s also an opportunity to meet like-minded travellers.
  • You could have a sneaky lunchtime drink if your fancy takes it, and not have to worry about alcohol limits.


  • More often than not, you’ll be tied to a rigid timetable that dictates when you must leave and where you will stop.
  • The days can be quite long, depending on the nature of the tour and the distances being travelled.
  • If you are part of a larger tour, you may find yourself waiting for people who are not as punctual as you… or make yourself unpopular if you are the one making others wait!


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Hiring a car

An alternative to taking an organised tour is to hire a car. You could still follow a specific itinerary – a so-called self-guided tour – or you could take your own pre-planned trip or just decide what you fancy on the day. Just as with an organised tour, though, there are a number of issues you might wish to consider.


  • You are in charge! You can choose when to set off, where to stop, how long to spend at different places, and so on.
  • You can arrive at locations early (or stay later) to beat the crowds.
  • You can adapt your plans in accordance with the weather – take an early lunch if it happens to be raining, for instance.


  • You (or someone in your party) will have to do all the driving.
  • The roads and driving conditions might be very different to what you’re used to, particularly if you venture on to Iceland’s F-roads.
  • Unless you have experience of driving in snow and ice, you might not wish to rent a car in Iceland during the Winter months. Also, note that some roads in Iceland may be closed in the winter due to weather conditions.

In balance

For me and my family travelling in the Summer, it felt that car hire was the best option and we went with car hire with Icerental 4×4 to give us more flexibility and independence. For us, this proved to be a great experience and we would do the same again. If we happened to be visiting in Winter, our conclusion might well have been different, given the reduced daylight hours and more challenging driving conditions. You need to decide what is best for you and your circumstances, but I hope the considerations presented above will give you plenty of food for thought, and enable you to make the right decision for you.

Have you been to Iceland? Did you take tours or hire a car? Or perhaps a bit of both? What was your experience and would you do the same again? Please tell us in the comments!

Planning a trip to Iceland yourself? You can watch a video from our trip to Iceland here:

YouTube video

Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Icerental 4×4. Our trip to Iceland was also sponsored by Helly Hansen.

Paul Johnson

Paul Johnson is Editor of A Luxury Travel Blog and has worked in the travel industry for more than 30 years. He is Winner of the Innovations in Travel ‘Best Travel Influencer’ Award from WIRED magazine. In addition to other awards, the blog has also been voted “one of the world’s best travel blogs” and “best for luxury” by The Daily Telegraph.

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  1. Like a lot of my friends I go on holiday to get some freedom. The last thing I would want is to be on a tour where I’m told that I’ve got to be back on the bus in 5 minutes. For the rest of the year every last minute is scheduled for me at work. When I’m on holiday, for once I want to be in charge of how I spend my time. For me the rental car over the organised tour wins hands down.

    1. Thanks, Nick… and I’m sure you are not alone in that view. I am certainly one who would sooner have the freedom to plan my own time also, although thankfully my work schedule is unlike yours!

  2. I’m not really sure that they are that comparable.
    You learn so much more on a tour as long as the guide knows his or her stuff.
    The problem comes when you’ve got to pay. A days tour for a family of 4 is always expensive and probably even more expensive in Iceland.
    I’d guess that you’d probably get about 3 days car hire for the price of a day tour for a family.

    1. That’s if you can trust the tour guide. Before visiting a museum near Copenhagen I read the museum’s website which directed me to a couple of other sources. Within 5 minutes of starting his blurb the tour guide had made 2 big factual errors. Of course it could have been the museum’s website which was incorrect. Whatever they ought to be singing from the same hymn sheet. Before anyone else joins in the discussion I accept that 99% of guides are brilliant.

    2. You both raise an important point that I should have covered in my article, and that is the importance of guides with the tour option. As you say, the vast majority of guides are great and do add value. At the same time, though, there can also be something special about discovering about places through your own research and reading. Plus nowadays you have digital audio guides that you can carry on your smartphone – maybe not the same as a ‘real life’ guide, but a potentially useful addition all the same.

  3. And don’t forget that when you hire a car for the week it’s 24 / 7. If on a Sunday morning you want to get to a lake before everyone else wakes up then you can. Later in the day if you want to head off to catch the sun rise you can. You’re not dependent on someone else’s timetable. It all comes back to that idea of having freedom.

    1. I drive my fair share of miles in the UK (up and down to the south coast from Cumbria) so I’m not sure I feel the same sentiment towards driving being a treat! I can see how it could be if you didn’t get to drive very often, though. Thanks for raising this, Ben!

  4. There was a TV programme that used to compare a package holiday v independent travel. Would be interesting to do that for this case too.

    1. Yes, although very different to draw the same comparisons, I would have thought. With a package holiday versus independent travel, you could be buying the exact same things (flight, transfers, hotel, etc.) and draw a conclusion based on how much each cost. With a car rental versus a tour, you’ll really unltimately not comparing the same thing, I don’t think…

    2. Yes, you are getting very different experiences. The thing is that it’s a choice that people are going to have to make. Do we go down the hire car route for a week or do we look to see a place through organised tours? At the end of the day it’s probably not just a matter of budget, it’s also about how adventurous you are and what you want to get out of your travels.

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