This summer we’re highlighting sizzling international locales, where guests can now book cars on Turo! For local, insider travel tips from awesome Commercial Hosts, check out all of the guides here, and visit this page to see all the places around the globe you can book on Turo.
Iceland is in the midst of a massive tourism boom, and it’s not hard to see why. The North Atlantic island nation is blessed with a bounty of natural wonders — the rugged volcanic landscape is littered with geysers, glaciers, hot springs, and no fewer than 10,000 waterfalls. If you’re into outdoor activities and adventuring through real-life desktop wallpapers, Iceland is a veritable dreamworld.
Jón Óli of Go Car Rental (you can call him Johnny) has seen the explosion in visitors to his country firsthand. Johnny reckons that Iceland’s economy, formerly dominated by fishing, is now peaking thanks the international exposure of the internet era, and Reykjavík is booming because of it. Reykjavík, Iceland’s capital, contains about two-thirds of the country’s small population and all travel goes through the city.
Reykjavík is located on the West coast and offers great restaurants, museums, and a bustling nightlife. But to do Iceland right, Johnny says, you have to get out and drive through the countryside. That’s where Go Car Rental comes in. They’re a small company of knowledgeable locals that offers incredibly personalized service, and Johnny says they encourage all visitors to see as much of the island as possible.
Go Car Rental has a very nice range of SUVs and hatchbacks to haul you around the epic Icelandic highways, from the Subaru Forester to the Volkswagen Golf to the Suzuki Jimny. And, just for you (us) Americans, many of them have automatic transmissions.
One of the many special things Iceland offers is the chance to see the spectacular Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights. Johnny notes you need three things to see the lights: an active aurora (duh), minimal light pollution (just about anywhere outside of Reykjavík), and clear, dark skies (summer nights are too light). You can check up on the weather and aurora forecasts on the Icelandic Meteorological Office’s website.
If you only have a few days
If you’re limited to a few days, the Golden Circle will get you the most bang for your buck. The Golden Circle is maybe the main tourist route, right next to Reykjavík and easily completed in a day or two. There are up to a dozen popular stops you can make along the Golden Circle, so maybe give yourself a couple days and take it all in.
Thingvellir National Park features rugged geologic attractions and volcanic lakes. The park is very close to Reykjavík and is an easy visit for a day trip. Further East is Geysir Geothermal Field, which contains an incredible concentration of hot springs and geothermal pools. The Great Geysir is the oldest documented geyser in Europe and has been recorded launching boiling water over 500 feet into the air, though it’s largely inactive today as the frequency and strength of its eruptions are deeply dependent on recent earthquake activity.
If you have a week
To properly see Iceland, you need to drive the ring road. Johnny says you need a week at minimum to complete a trip around the legendary Highway 1, which circles the island. It’s technically possible to drive the 800-mile route in a day or two without stopping, but you will be stopping. A lot.
A Highway 1 road trip will take you through otherworldly scenery full of stunning lakes, blue glaciers, jagged peaks, violent coasts, and more — there are far too many worthy stops to include here. We’ll cover just a few of Johnny’s favorite highlights.
Just couple hours drive from Reyykjavík looms Skógafoss, a classic giant Icelandic waterfall more than 200 feet tall fed by two melting glaciers. And right next door is Reynisfjara, a world-famous beach of volcanic black sand. Its enormous and iconic basalt stacks are a must-see for any trip along the south coast.
Farther east, where the Vatnajokull National Park meets the Atlantic Ocean, sits Johnny’s favorite lagoon, Fjallsárlón (good luck pronouncing any of these places). Fjallsárlón is a serene glacial lake with floating icebergs, less popular than nearby Jökulsárlón. The absence of other tourists means you can sit quietly and hear the occasional ice chunk crash into the lake.
In the North, the ring road runs into Mývatn, a naturally-heated mineral-rich volcanic lake with plentiful wildlife and diverse natural features. The area is one of the country’s jewels and is home to hot springs, impressive waterfalls, caves, and craters. Not too far away is Dettifoss, the most powerful waterfall in Europe. Dettifoss is surely worth the detour off the ring road but is hard to reach in winter, so make sure you take a capable vehicle with four-wheel drive.
If all this sounds like the setting of a surreal fantasy series, that’s because it is. Game of Thrones has shot on location in Iceland for multiple seasons of the show, all over the island.
Icelandic food and culture
Though Iceland has a small population of less than half a million people, the country is surprisingly huge. Those that live in the more remote regions sometimes see few other people, so feel free to stop at small villages during your travels — Johnny says the locals are more than happy to have a nice long chat.
The restaurant scene in Reykjavík is expensive and competitive, and Johnny reckons bad restaurants simply cannot survive. You can’t go wrong eating out in the city, but be sure to try Icelandic lamb soup.
The traditional cuisine includes lots of fermented food. “It’s strange stuff,” says Johnny. “People used to eat it here because there was nothing to eat in the freezing cold winters.” A popular pairing is fermented shark and Brennivín, a regional unsweetened spirit that is Iceland’s signature distilled beverage. “It’s awfully disgusting,” says Johnny. “But if you want to try it, go for it.”