tours or car iceland

Guided Tours or Rent a Car in Iceland?

Should you rent a car and self-drive around Iceland or take guided tours? The answer is not straightforward and depends on what you want, what your budget is, and what type of comfort you expect.

Guided tours vs. renting a car is a dilemma many travelers face when visiting Iceland. It’s also one of the most frequent questions we are getting about Iceland. That’s why we decided to write a detailed comparison of both of these options, covering all aspects you should consider.

We’ve personally tried both choices several times over the past years and we have our personal favorite. But let the facts speak for themselves 🙂

Guided Tours vs. Self-Drive

Here’s a quick comparison of renting a car vs. taking tours in Iceland:

Guided Tours Self-Drive
Plans They plan everything for you You have to plan everything
Freedom You have to follow the group all the time You can go wherever you want and whenever you want
Price Typically 30% to 100% more expensive Cheaper, when accounting for all expenses
Safety Icelandic guide will handle all the safety for you You have to drive and follow all the warnings yourself
Crowds Most of the tours will take you to touristy places You can try to find the non-touristy spots yourself
Pace Tours set the fixed pace of their excursions You can slow down, speed up or skip places as you want
Winter Local guide handles driving and weather issues You have to follow the road and weather info yourself
F-roads Easy to access with guide's super jeep Hard to access with a rental car

This website may contain affiliate links and we may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. This helps us cover running costs of this website.

Self-Drive Pros and Cons


  1. You are your own boss. Feels like this place is too crowded? You are free to leave whenever you want. Want to stay your entire trip in the north? Why not, just do it. Was it too tiring yesterday, and you would rather spend a day in a hot spring? Go for it.
  2. It’s cheaper. Some argue it’s not, but we are sure it is cheaper to book everything yourself. Considerably cheaper.
  3. Higher privacy. You don’t have to follow any group. Privacy is all yours.
  4. Crowds and timing. You can arrive early in the morning or late in the evening at a potentially crowded spot to avoid these crowds.
  5. Weather flexibility. You can change your itinerary at any time based on the current weather forecast. Is it raining in the south? You can visit the West! And vice versa.


  1. You have to plan. What car to rent, which company to choose, what insurance to take, where to go, where to eat, where to stop for the toilet. You know what I’m saying.
  2. You are responsible for yourself. You have to follow the road conditions, weather forecasts, all Icelandic rules, etc. There’s no excuse for not knowing any of these.
  3. You need to drive. Well. Driving in Iceland can be difficult if you are not used to driving in the countryside. And it’s especially difficult in winter when roads are icy or full of snow.
  4. Handling winter is challenging. The more so if you have to handle it alone without a local.

Guided Tours Pros and Cons


  1. Everything is planned for you. The next stop, meal pauses, toilet pauses, parking, stop lengths, and more.
  2. A knowledgeable guide. You will learn much more about Iceland from a local guide than by reading signposts next to the most famous attractions.
  3. A helpful guide. A guide will quickly explain to you where you may go and where you shouldn’t. He’s your walking guidebook and rulebook.
  4. A worry-free trip. The tour company handles literally everything, so you have to do virtually nothing. Including potentially tricky driving.


  1. You pay for the guide and organization. Due to that, guided tours are more expensive.
  2. You can’t change the schedule. You have to stick to what is planned for you, no matter what.
  3. You have to follow the group and be on time.
  4. Chances are, you won’t be alone. Tour companies rarely go to really off-the-beaten-path places. Except for pricier Super Jeep tours.
nice travel guided tour

Multi-day guided tour in Iceland by NiceTravel, 5% discount code: EPICICELAND

Price Comparison

Let’s assume two travelers in July are considering taking a 7-day ring road guided tour or renting a Dacia Duster (cheaper 4×4), self-driving, and staying in hostels.

A self-drive trip consists of the following major expenses:

  • Car rental (roughly 130USD/day)
  • Car insurance (roughly 35USD/day)
  • Gas (roughly 25USD/day)
  • Accommodation (roughly 180USD/day)

This adds up to around 370 USD per day per two travelers, with meals and optional tours excluded.

A guided multi-day tour would cost you around 250-300 USD per day per person, i.e., on average, about 550 USD per couple.

Using this specific example, a guided tour in Iceland is roughly 50% more expensive than a rental car with a self-drive.

Fellabær camp rooftop tent

Us Renting a car and self-driving around Iceland

Day Tours vs Multi-Day Tours

You can take two different types of tours in Iceland – a Day tour or a Multi-Day tour.

Day Tours

A day tour lasts just one day, leaves from one place, and arrives back at the very same place. 90% of the day tours in Iceland start and end in Reykjavik. Transport may or may not be included in the day tour.

Some examples of fantastic Icelandic day tours are:

north sailing whale watching

Whale-watching Day Tour by North Sailing from Husavik, 10% discount code: EPICICELAND

Multi-Day Tours

A multi-day tour lasts at least two days. This means, it always includes also accommodation! That’s the main reason why it’s more expensive than two separate day tours. A multi-day tour, of course, also includes all the transportation. Meals and optional add-on tours are typically not included in the price.

Some examples of excellent Icelandic multi-day tours include:

arctic adventures multi day guided tour

Amazing multi-day guided tours by Arctic Adventures, 5% discount code: EPICICELAND23


The month you plan your trip for is an important factor in deciding between renting a car and taking a guided tour. Winter in Iceland is notoriously known due to unpredictable weather. This makes winter driving difficult, especially for those with no winter driving experience.


Are you planning your trip for the summer months of June, July, or August? This is the time when all campsites are open, and roads are the easiest to drive. So, if you are unsure about driving in Iceland, better visit the country in summer.

What should you consider in summer when it comes to self-drive vs. guided tours?

  • A lot of tourists everywhere.
  • Frequent and unpredictable rain, fog, and wind.
  • Campsites are open, and roads are much easier to drive compared to winter.
f261 iceland

Self-drive in Iceland on F261 in the highlands with our “super jeep” Modified Land Cruiser


On the other hand, if you want to observe the northern lights and you plan your trip to take place in winter, you should take special care. Get yourself ready for possible:

  • Road closures. You may not get to your next accommodation.
  • Snow, black ice, wind, rain, and weather alerts.
  • More frequent plan changes.
  • Shorter daylight hours.

Trip type

Another factor worth considering when choosing between guided tours and renting a car is how you want to spend your time.

Seeing the Main Highlights

If your aim is to experience mainly the most well-known spots in Iceland, you should be well off taking a guided tour. Are you looking for a Golden Circle, South Coast, Blue Lagoon, or the Ring Road in 7 days? All of these are perfectly covered by tour companies.

When visiting the main attractions, you will see basically the same with the tour company as well as when going by yourself. That means plus one point for guided excursions in this case.

iceland winter 4x4 car

We decided to rent a car and self-drive also in winter. This requires winter driving experience, some flexibility, and a bit more planning.

Seeing the Remote Places

If you want to primarily explore the Icelandic hidden gems, you would be better off renting a car and going on your own. Another option is to take pricier super jeep tours or hire a private guide. That is by far the most expensive option.

Harder-to-access places, or the spots off the classical tourists’ routes, are typically omitted by guided group tours in Iceland. There are several reasons why it might be so:

  • It simply takes too much time to reach them.
  • There is no infrastructure nearby (toilets, restaurants, etc.).
  • They may not be as shiningly beautiful compared to the places everyone visits.


If you are more sociable and you instead enjoy talking to other people than sitting somewhere alone, you would most likely enjoy guided tours much more, opposite to self-drive. Icelandic tours are typically reasonably limited when it comes to the number of attendees. A typical guest limit is 19 persons, but it, of course, varies among companies.

local guide ice cave tour

Fantastic Vatnajokull Ice Cave and Glacier hike tours by Local Guide, 5% discount code: EPICICELAND

On the other hand, if you came to Iceland for its remoteness and isolation, bus excursions most likely wouldn’t be your thing. Iceland is a great country if you want to enjoy silence and some time to spend just with your fellow travelers and no one else. There are many places around the island where you will be alone. But only in case you rent a car and self-drive.

Our Experience

Long story short, our ideal combo is to rent a car, explore Iceland on our own by self-driving, and occasionally take day tours where it makes sense. Why?

Well, we are young, adventurous, and enjoy freedom and flexibility. Moreover, the biggest part of Iceland’s charm, for us, includes experiencing remote places far away from everybody else.

Some of our favorite activities include hiking somewhere in the middle of Iceland at a place nobody would Google or bathing in a wild hot spring that used to serve as a sheep-cleaning facility.

F235 towards Langisjór

Driving by yourself around Iceland may be magical and tough at the same time

On the other hand, for some activities in Iceland, like hiking glaciers, visiting ice caves, or watching whales in the open ocean, you must take a tour with a professional guide. And we happily do that! In that case, we prefer really small groups, sometimes also called “semi-private,” and rather pay a bit more to not be on the bus with 30 other people.

That being said, not everybody is like us! I can imagine many visitors simply don’t enjoy wild and dirty hot springs without any dressing rooms. So, please choose whether to go for guided tours or rent a car in Iceland based on your personal preferences.


Is it better to drive or take tours in Iceland?

If you prefer freedom, flexibility, fewer crowds and want to save some buck, then self-drive may be your best choice in Iceland. On the other hand, if you don’t want to plan anything, want a local guide or you are visiting in winter and don’t have a winter driving experience, then taking tours might be your best option.

Is it cheaper to rent a car or buy guided tours in Iceland?

Most of the time, renting a car is significantly cheaper than buying guided tours in Iceland. It’s typically 30% to 100% cheaper to rent a car.

Remember, though, that for some activities like ice caves, glacier hikes, whale-watching, or snowmobiles, you must take a guided day tour, and there’s no other option.

thorsmork winter super jeep tour

Best super jeep day tours in Iceland are run by Midgard Adventure, 10% discount code: EPICICELAND10

Do you need a guided tour in Iceland?

You have to take guided tours in Iceland only for specific activities, like whale-watching, hiking a glacier, visiting an ice cave, riding a snowmobile, an ATV, or a horse. You don’t need to take guided tours for sightseeing, driving, and hiking around Iceland. But you can, of course, use guided tours if you don’t want to plan or explore independently also for sightseeing.

Are guided tours in Iceland worth it?

Most of the guided tours in Iceland are of very high quality with friendly and knowledgeable local guides, so they surely are worth experiencing. The tours are not cheap in Iceland, though, so you need to decide which tours to take based on your budget and preference.

Should you rent a car in Iceland?

You can easily rent and drive a car in Iceland if you are used to driving in the countryside. Iceland’s main roads are paved and well-maintained one-lane roads. In winter, they often get icy and snowy, though, so you need a winter driving experience to stay safe.

When should you rather buy guided tours in Iceland?

You should buy guided tours in Iceland if you don’t want to plan anything or drive and you prefer an experienced local guide to take control of everything.

snowmobiling from gullfoss

Best Snowmobiling day tours in Iceland are offered by Mountaineers of Iceland, 5% discount code: EPICICELAND

Is driving in winter in Iceland safe?

Driving in Iceland in winter requires a winter driving experience. Icelandic roads are fully paved and well-maintained, but in winter, they often become slippery or covered with a snow layer.

Do guided tours take you to hidden gems?

Most of the time, only super jeep tours in Iceland will take you to the so-called “hidden gems”. These are the places far away from the usual touristy routes, that are hard to access.

What are the Best Guided tours in Iceland?

There are many fantastic guided tours and fabulous tour companies in Iceland with top reviews. We wrote a list of the best summer guided tours in Iceland, where we feature only such companies. We also wrote a list of the best winter guided tours in Iceland with the same criteria to include only the best providers.

What is the best way to travel around Iceland?

The cheapest and most flexible way to travel around Iceland is to rent a car and stay in various accommodations around the country. Another great option is to rent a campervan if you like camping and don’t want to book lodgings in advance.

If you don’t want to plan or care much about your trip, or if you are visiting in winter without any winter driving experience, then the safest way to travel around Iceland will be to take guided tours from Reykjavik or multi-day guided tours around Iceland.


epic iceland facebook group ask questions or get inspired in our community

Posted by Igor

Igor has spent months exploring every inch of Iceland over several years. He specializes in the Highlands, F-roads, hiking, hot springs, and less touristy places. He loves Iceland and keeps coming back.

Leave a Reply