Self Drive tours vs. Guided tours in Iceland


If you’re planning a trip to Iceland (or even if it’s just on your “bucket list” for now!) you’ll probably know that our country is home to some of the world’s most impressive natural attractions and plenty of charming villages…so you’ll definitely want to venture outside of Reykjavik!

Now for the tough decision: should you opt for a self-drive tour or a guided tour?

Well, are you an experienced adventurer, or just getting started on your world travels? Do you love to plan and prepare, and enjoy the thrill of navigating on your own, or are you more the “sit back and take it all in” type of adventurer?

I’ll talk you through the basics, the details to consider, as well as the “pros” and “cons” of each style of trip. There’s a perfect way to see Iceland for everyone, and I’m here to help you choose which is right for you!

Self-Drive Tours in Iceland: Freedom and Flexibility

If you’re an experienced driver and enjoy road trips and long drives, then a self-drive tour in Iceland could be a joy!  But before we go any further, let’s address the most important thing: driving in Iceland is probably quite different from driving in your home country, for several reasons…

  • The rules of the road may be very different from what you’re used to
  • The terrain is rugged & varied
  • The weather can be unpredictable and can change very suddenly
  • You’re likely to encounter wind, fog, rain or snow…or even all four!
  • The winter is very dark, and the weather is also at its most challenging.
  • You’ll need to watch out for sheep (Yes, seriously)

Still undaunted? Then a self-drive tour might be right up your alley. You’ll enjoy the freedom to go where you choose and create a totally unique trip that’s as “off the beaten path” as you want it to be. You’ll be the captain of your ship!

Just for reference, Iceland has one main road that goes all around the island: the Hringvegur or “Ring Road,” aka Route 1. At about 1,332 kilometres long, it is almost entirely paved and passes through some of Iceland’s most incredible landscapes. Technically, you could drive the entire length of the Ring Road in about 13 hours…but what fun would that be? The best part of a self-drive tour is the ability to stop, explore, and check out those side roads!

Let’s look at the “pros” of a self-drive tour.

Self-drive tour: PROS

-No set itinerary or timetable: you’re on your own schedule!

-Maximum flexibility: have you found a great location and want to stay a bit longer to shoot more photos or have lunch? Go ahead- no one is waiting on you.

-You can totally change plans or add stops and explore anything that catches your fancy as you go. See an intriguing side road? Go check it out!

-Successfully navigating unfamiliar terrain can give you a great sense of accomplishment.

-Self-drive tours can’t be beat for enjoying that sense of exploration and adventure.

-You’ll have ample opportunity to meet Icelanders & discover local hotspots.

-Sounds pretty great, right?  Read more about self-drive tours in Iceland! But keep in mind, there are some “cons” involved as well:

Self-drive tours: CONS

-You’ll have to stay alert as you’re driving…no “cat naps!”

-You’ll need to plan ahead AND as you’re driving, since weather can make some roads unpassable, meaning you’ll need to find an alternate route and think on your feet.

-You won’t have a local guide to educate you about the history of the places you visit.

-Gas is really expensive in Iceland!

-It’s very dark in Iceland during the winter, and the weather is challenging- self-drive tours are NOT good for beginner drivers.

-You may break down or have an accident- make sure you know what to do in case of an emergency.

-If you don’t do enough research ahead of time, you might miss out on some awesome locations and activities.

-There are some locations you just won’t be able to get to with your car!

Now, let’s talk about guided tours. Once considered “old people’s travel,” the guided tours of today are nothing like their predecessors. Especially in Iceland, you’ll find guided tours to fit any preference and interest, and tours suited to all levels of physical fitness!

Guided Tours in Iceland: Top Spots and a Fun Atmosphere

On a guided tour, you just pack your things, hop on the plane, and then sit back and relax as a local takes you to all the best spots in Iceland. It can be incredibly liberating to hand over responsibility to someone who knows the area so well! And in many of today’s tours, free time is planned in- so you’ll have the opportunity to get out, stretch your legs, and explore.

Some of the pros of a guided tour are:

Guided tours: PROS

-Relax as the tour guide drives you- take in all the scenery along the way. I promise you won’t get bored! Iceland’s landscape changes moment by moment, so there will always be plenty to see out your window.

-You can feel confident that your experienced guide knows the terrain in and out, and will make sure you’re safe at all times.

-Don’t fret about the weather: your guide will be skilled at reading Iceland’s unique weather and anticipating changes.

-You’ll get to experience many of the top sights in Iceland in a shorter amount of time.

-Your guided tour will partner with the alternate transportation needed to get to hard-to-access places, so you see more!

-Your tour will be attended by lots of other foreigners- a great opportunity to make friends.

-Your tour guide will do their best to make sure the trip is exciting, interesting, and tailored to your needs. That’s their job!

As with all things in life, there are a few cons to consider, as well:

Guided Tours: CONS

-You’ll be on a pre-planned schedule, which can sometimes feel rushed.

-No changing plans along the way!

-You may enjoy the company of your fellow travellers so much that you don’t end up meeting many local Icelanders along the way.

-You don’t get to decide the itinerary or help plan the adventures.

-If the tour is very large, you may not get a ton of personal attention from your guide.

-Though free time is usually scheduled in, it will almost certainly be less than you’d have on a self-drive tour.

-Your meal locations will most likely be planned- no stopping at that interesting-looking restaurant!

How to choose between a self-drive tour and a guided tour in Iceland

In the end, there’s no “right answer.” The decision between a self-drive tour and a guided tour comes down to your own abilities and personal preferences! If you’re an experienced driver and love spontaneity and the ability to change plans on a dime, then you will probably LOVE a self-drive tour.

If this is your first trip to Iceland, and you’re looking to make the most of your time and see all the top spots with a knowledgeable local guide, then a guided tour is definitely the way to go.

Either way, you’re sure to have an unforgettable trip full of stunning vistas, great food, fun challenges, and memories to last a lifetime. But be careful… you may just fall in love with our unique country, in which case you’ll want to come back again and again! 🙂

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