If you've got a driver's license, two working legs and eyes to keep on the road, then why the heck not? You might be thinking "Oh, but it's so expensive to rent a car in Iceland."
Well you're right. It is.
But you know what's also expensive in Iceland? Public transportation... along with food, drinks, clothes, sand and air (if you find yourself in some giftshops).
Allow me to break it down into pros and cons and you can decide for yourself.
The Pros of Renting a Car in Iceland
Pro Nr. 1 - FREEDOM!!
The most obvious pro is the vast amount of freedom, and in a strange land like Iceland, the freedom to explore is essential if you want to make this time in your life memorable. If you're bound to bus schedules, you're putting yourself at the mercy of the public transport system, which is cruel at best. Time is a valuable commodity and shouldn't be wasted on waiting in a line, or standing at the side of the road in wind and rain. You deserve better.
Pro Nr. 2 - Comfort
Imagine yourself inside a crowded bus, driving along route 1. The man sitting next to you reaches into his backpack for something resembling a featherless pigeon that's been sitting in a glass jar for a few weeks. He starts snacking and offers you a bite while the 8 year old in the seat behind you is screaming at her mother and kicking the back of your seat at the same time. Suddenly, the bus hits a bump in the road and the gentleman's pigeon jar splashes its yellowish liquid onto your brand new pants and shoes. Your face is red, your pants are wet and you find yourself wishing you had chosen that vacation in Siberia over this.
Now, on the other hand, imagine yourself behind the wheel of a brand new Dacia Duster, with the open road in front of you and no one eating strange, vile, questionable things next to you. You've taken control of your holiday and with help from your trusty GPS, all of Iceland is now your oyster.
You saw an abandoned pool in the shadow of a mountain that is still steaming due to some natural thermal source? Well, pull over! It's your journey and you hold all the cards now.
Pro Nr. 3 - Flexible Costs
It can be expensive to rent a car in Iceland, but it can also be done on a budget. Doing your research is the key to success. Of course, I don't mean turning to a rent-a-wreck type rental, as that only leads to problems down the road. But I mean looking at different types of vehicles, even sacrificing a few years off the model. Just because it's an older model doesn't mean it's any worse, as long as the supplier has taken good care of it.
You might be looking at 230 EUR per day for a new Land Cruiser while a 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee sits at a comfortable price of 125 EUR per day. You can look around at various types and often see a massive price difference, a difference you won't often see in the heavy costs of public transportation.
A bus ticket from the Intl. Airport to your hotel in Reykjavík is about 20 EUR per passenger. If you have a five person family then that's 100 EUR in the very first day. Fact is, buses and taxis in Iceland are expensive and, in the long run, you'll get more for your money by renting a car.
Pro Nr. 4 - Time is Precious
As I said before, when you rent a car you don't have to worry about standing in lines or waiting for scheduled departures. Plus you move at your own pace. A journey that takes a bus 2 hours may only take you 1.5 hours of legal driving.
The Cons of Renting a Car in Iceland
Con Nr. 1 - I'm 19 so I can't rent a car
Can't you? Don't be so sure. Some companies offer an alternative known as a Young Lessee option. Usually that means you'll have to pay a bit extra, but it's good to know you have an option, amirite?
Con Nr. 2 - You Can't Be Drunk Like All The Time
That may be a dealbreaker for some, but if it is, then it may be time for a good hard look in the mirror.
Con Nr. 3 - Insurance Issues
Yeah, we all know the horror stories with car rental agencies and people being charged for things they weren't responsible for. There's an easy way to avoid this, though.
First of all: drive responsibly!
Secondly, take your own photos of the car when you arrive and have the rental representive observe as you do it. Photograph every dent and scratch you can see and produce the photos as proof if you are being held accountable for any of these damages.
Here's a fact I'm sure you weren't aware of: Most rental car companies do not turn a profit on insurance sales. This is due to the high number of incidents that lessees get involved in and the gargantuan costs that are involved in repairing the cars over and over. So no, insurances are not scams or ways for rental companies to produce additional profits. These insurances are there to cover you and the company against any damages that might occur during your rental period.
I'm not saying there are no bad apples out there. I'm sure there's a company or two out there that have no honest bone in their body and only wish to take your money, but this is rare, much rarer than people realize.
You don't have to rent a car to enjoy Iceland, but it sure helps.