Iceland Car Hire
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Iceland is a Nordic island nation in the North Atlantic, 280km east of Greenland, 400km north west of the Faroe Islands and 950km north west of Denmark. It has a land area of 103,000 square kilometres and is Europe’s second-largest island after Great Britain.
Despite its reasonably large size, Iceland’s population density is low ̶ only 320,000 people live here, over half of whom reside in and around the capital Reykjavik.
This is a country of exceptional natural beauty where large tracts of territory are uninhabited and you’ll find glaciers, lava fields, sand and stone deserts, active volcanoes, geothermal pools and clean skies offering clear views of the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights). The weather can be changeable and but it’s more moderate than many visitors expect thanks to the Gulf Stream, which produces cool summers and reasonably mild winters. Due to its location just under the Arctic Circle, Iceland is known as the Land of the Midnight Sun as for much of June the sun never sets in its far northern regions. Its culture mixes traditional and contemporary elements in an eclectic blend and it’s a progressive nation where every visitor receives a warm welcome ̶ once you’ve visited once, you’ll definitely want to return time and time again.
Prices for hiring a car in Iceland start at €28 per day for an economy car like a Peugeot 208 if you book off-season, a small vehicle like a Suzuki Jimny is €38 a day, and a Toyota RAV4 SUV ̶ ideal for road trips in the rugged countryside ̶ is €60 a day. Hire a car in Iceland with Enjoy and amazing adventures await, but first, here are a few fascinating facts about this cool country:
- About Iceland: to the casual observer, this country is probably best-known for its dramatic topographical features moulded by volcanic activity and geothermal energy ̶ from bubbling mud pools to gushing geysers and rumbling volcanoes to gorgeous glaciers dividing majestic mountains, Iceland is a nation where the land itself is always in a spellbinding state of flux. Popular attractions include the Blue Lagoon geothermal pool in Reykjanes Peninsula, the Westfjords with their sheer sea cliffs, multicoloured beaches, Arctic foxes and bird colonies, and Reykjavik’s uber-cool craft beer bars, artisan coffee shops, chic boutiques and fascinating museums.
- Famous Iceland: well-known sons and daughters of Iceland include Sugarcubes singer and solo artist Björk, politician Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, who was elected as president of Iceland in 1980 and was re-elected a further three times, poet, journalist and playwright Halldór Laxness, and astronaut and scientist Bjarni Tryggvason.
Guide to Iceland
Despite its small population and isolated position, Iceland is anything but a global backwater ̶ it has more natural attractions than many much larger nations, punches above its weight in global sports, has a distinct and well-developed culture and leads the way in many progressive socio-political spheres.
With geysers, mountains, volcanoes, glaciers and more, perhaps no nation does dramatic nature better than Iceland.
For starters, if you’re based in Reykjavik, Thingvellir National Park is only 40km away and it’s home to some of Iceland’s most arresting natural scenery. A UNESCO heritage site, highlights here include the Silfra gorge, the tectonic rifts where the North American and Eurasian continental plates are split, Iceland’s biggest lake, Ϸingvallavatn, and amazing bird species like Merlins and Great Northern Divers.
Lake Myvatn is another magical area you shouldn’t miss. Located in the north of lceland and close to the city of Akureyri, this geothermal lake is blessed with bubbling mud pools, volcanic craters and ancient lava formations, which mean that in the height of summer, under the midnight sun, it’s more reminiscent of Mars than Earth.
Just as Iceland’s volcanic underbelly means its terrain is always remaking itself, Iceland’s artists, thinkers and regular citizens are endlessly creative. The entire country, from capital Reykjavik to fishing villages packed away at it’s most remote corners, is packed with galleries and museums, and The Reykjavik Arts Festival and music festivals such as Airwaves showcase local and international talents to guests from all over the world. But you’ll find live music here all year round, in genres that span rock to funk and hip-hop, and Iceland has spawned many popular contemporary acts which have progressed to international success, such as Kaleo, Emiliana Torrini and Of Monsters and Men. Meanwhile, fans of classical music shouldn’t miss visiting the Harpa Concert Hall to take in a pitch-perfect performance from the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra.
There’s also a vibrant visual arts scene in Iceland, with ground-breaking artists like painter Johannes Kjarval and sculptor Einar Jonsson at its vanguard, and Iceland has a proud literary heritage, exemplified by writers like Einar Már Gudmundsson and Andra Snær Magnusson, as well as seminal bodies of work like the Icelandic Sagas.
The most popular sports here are golf, handball, athletics, equestrian, badminton and, last but not least, football ̶ the men’s national football team has enjoyed amazing success in recent years, reaching the quarter finals of UEFA Euro 2016 and becoming the smallest nation ever (by population) to qualify for a FIFA World Cup, in 2018.
Certainly since the economic crash, Iceland has fostered a reputation as an inclusive society with a string sense of civic duty and commitment to the principles of good governance and accountability ̶ this is possibly best personified in its current Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir, who at 44 is one of the world’s youngest national leaders, is a mother to three boys and is passionate about environmental issues, feminism and pacifism.
Ingolfur Arnarson was a Norwegian Viking and is widely regarded as the first permanent settler in Iceland, having made his home in the area of present-day Reykjavik in 874AD. The Althing, the world’s first parliament, was founded by Viking settlers in 930AD and a constitution was drafted based largely on land ownership and individual freedom. Another early Viking visitor was Erik the Red, who arrived here from Norway after being expelled for murder, only to be banished from Iceland for the same crime, but not before fathering Iceland’s most famous son, Leif Eriksson, also known as ‘Leif the Lucky’. Eriksson became the first European to reach North America, in 1000AD, nearly 500 years before the exploits of Christopher Columbus.
Iceland also adopted Christianity as its main faith around the year 1000AD and prosperity followed, but Norwegian King Haakon imposed punitive taxes and trade embargoes in 1262AD and these damaging economic impositions were maintained when Iceland was subsequently taken over by Denmark. The next six centuries were a dark period during the nation’s history, during which natural disasters, poverty and disease threatened its very existence. However, an independence movement started in the early 19th Century under the leadership of Jon Sigurdsson eventually provided hope for a national renaissance, the trade monopoly ended in 1854, domestic autonomy was in place by 1874, home rule by 1904 and limited sovereignty by 1918. Iceland finally broke all ties with the Danish crown in 1944 and established independence ̶ Icelandic Independence Day is celebrated annually on national here Sigurdsson’s birthday, June 17th. Iceland was one of the first nations to be impacted severely in the economic crisis of 2007/08 which became the Great Recession, but recovered remarkably well compared to many larger nations and today it’s a sophisticated nation with a lively arts and cultural scene that complements its sublime natural scenery and rich history.
What to visit in Iceland?
From natural attractions to social distractions, you’ll never be bored in Iceland and there’s plenty of entertainment to be found for all ages and tastes.
See the Northern Lights
For many nature lovers, seeing the Northern Lights (or Aurora Borealis) is a bucket list wish they can’t resist. This dancing display of green, blue and purple light hues has to be seen to be believed, and Iceland is perhaps the world’s best place to witness its wonders. You can see the Aurora Borealis from Reykjavik despite its higher comparative levels of light pollution, but sweet spots for spectacular selfies include the Hvolsvöllur church in the small town of the same name some 106km east of the capital, the Skógafoss waterfall on the southern coast and the Kerid crater in the south west, where the lightshow is magnified to magnificent proportions when it’s reflected on the crater’s lake.
Chill out in a hot spring
The tradition of taking a dip in a volcanically heated pool stretched back to Viking days and you simply can’t leave Iceland without trying it for yourself. You won’t struggle to find hot springs, but some of the best examples are Nauthólsvik geothermal beach in Reykjavik and the iconic Blue Lagoon at Reykjanes located off the highway between Reykjavik and Keflavik airport, where the electric blue water is striking, the white silt purifies the skin and there are endless grottoes and steam rooms to relax in.
Party like a Viking!
If you really want to let your hair down and get your horns out in Iceland, there are plenty of places to have a night out that the wildest Viking would be proud of. For instance, Pablo Discobar in Reykjavik is a wonderfully kitsch after hours spot where you can dance like no one’s watching amidst the outlandish décor and Olstafa Akureyrar in Akureyri is a friendly Icelandic bar serving superb local beer.
Getting to and from Iceland
Traditional Icelandic delicacies include dishes like plokkfiskur (mashed fish stew), salted cod flatbreads and skyr, a creamy dairy product that’s somewhere between cottage cheese and yoghurt. However, you’ll find both local and international dishes, so there’s something to suit every palate.
Gourmet hot dogs
Although hotdogs are usually regarded as American fare, patrons of Reykjavik’s famous Bæjarins Beztu hot dog cabin near the waterfront will swear that their version of this fast food classic is the world’s best and since it’s open until 4am, it’s a favourite pitstop for late night revellers. These dogs taste best served with the full monty of remoulade, ketchup, onions and mustard ̶ they’re around €3.50 each, but order two because they’re so tasty that one is never enough!
Dill restaurant in Reykjavik was the first in Iceland to be awarded a Michelin star and when you dine here, you’ll understand why. Specialising in fresh, sustainable and delicious local ingredients, it’s a real treat for foodies ̶ try the salted cod with pork belly, potatoes, pearl onions and angelica and you’ll be in seventh heaven. For around €57 you can order a seven-course feast packed full of divine local delicacies.
If you’re a fan of sushi, don’t miss Rub 23 in Akureyri, Iceland’s second city. This is a laid back but super-stylish spot where the tuna hosomaki is really something to write home about. Main courses cost around €30.
Hiring a car and getting around Iceland
Airports and access
The main airport in Iceland is Keflavik (KEF). It’s located 3km west of Keflavik and 50km southwest of Reykjavik. KEF processes around 10 million passengers annually from many international locations, but most visitors come from the United States, followed by the United Kingdom and Germany in second and third place.
Driving around Iceland
With such mind-blowing scenery on offer, you won’t be surprised that there’s some spectacular driving available in Iceland. Take a look at some of our favourite road trips:
If Route 1 sounds a little too ambitious, the Golden Circle is a more manageable road trip in close proximity to Reykjavik and its 300km can be completed in around three and a half hours although you should give yourself a full touring day of around 10 hours if you want to pace yourself. This route is a loop that takes you from the capital into the southern uplands and back and the main stops are the Thingvellir National park, Gullfoss waterfall and Haukadalur geothermal area which includes the Strokkur and Geysir geysers.
You always drive on the right side of the road in Iceland. Speed limits are 50 km/h (31mph) in towns and cities, 80 km/h (49mph) on country roads and 90 km/h (55mph) on major roads.
Seat belts are obligatory for the driver and passengers, mobile phone use is prohibited unless it’s hands-free and there’s zero tolerance for drink driving.
Public transport in Iceland is delivered by buses only and although the service within Reykjavik is reasonable, the standard across the island doesn’t quite meet the standards of some other European nations, therefore travelling by car is probably preferable. However, the Reykjavik City Card is quite convenient and provides you with 24, 48 or 72 hours unlimited travel on the bus system.
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