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Westman Islands take or leave rental car

Hello! We are planning to take the 3:45 PM ferry to the Westman Islands July 1. We will have a rental car, but I was wondering if it is safe to leave the rental car at the ferry terminal and just be a foot passenger. Are there bikes to rent on the island?

I'm a little stressed about driving a car onto a ferry. 1. I've never driven in Europe before and directions in a different language to get on the ferry seem like a bad combination 2. I'm traumatized from childhood when my Dad's alternator died on the Bremerton to Seattle ferry when I was in middle school and all the car drivers glared at us because he blocked and delayed their departure and we made the ferry late for its return trip because they had to get a tow truck.

Has anyone who was a novice European driver taken the car on the ferry and was it easy or hard and would you recommend it?

Posted by
7636 posts

We didn’t get to the Westmans on our trip a few years ago, because it was in early April and the ferries weren’t running yet. So I can’t confirm bicycle availability, or if you’d want to bike there, once you arrived. If/when we make it back to Iceland, though, the Westman Islands will be on the itinerary!

For what it’s worth, we have taken car ferries in Ireland, Italy, Scotland, and, just this past September, in Norway. There was always space near the docks for parking, if you decided to go on foot or maybe with bikes you rented on the mainland. At least Iceland drives on the right side of the troad, so even if you haven’t driven anywhere in Europe before, you won’t be dealing with a steering wheel on the right side. Also:
1) Just as Iceland has its own language (as does Norway), the population in both speak English pretty fluently. Printed signage at the shouldn’t be a problem at the ferry terminal. More important, someone on the ferry will direct parking, including hand signals for “move forward,” “go left (or right),” and “stop.” If you drive at home and follow the directions of the ferry staff, you’ll do great. You may just wind up following the car in front of you, so it’ll be that easy.

2) Your rental car company will have thoroughly checked out the mechanicals and electrical on your car. They don’t want you stranded, and will ensure the alternator will be working. There shouldn’t be any glaring to endure.

Posted by
2241 posts

It is perfectly safe the leave the rental car at the ferry terminal, but I suggest your take it on the ferry. Westmann Island is larger than you realize at about 4 miles in length. It is really nice to have vehicle to get down to the puffin lookout which is at the far end of the island. The puffins there are flying around during the day, but late at nigh and very early in the mornings, they are at their nests thee by the lookout, so that is when you want to come to see them. Much easier with a vehicle:)

I am giggling, not at you but with you, about your ferry experience here in WA. My husband used to commute on the ferry for work, and one time on his way home, the car died. Yes, he was THAT person, like what you remember. But truly, don't worry about the car and the ferry for Westmann, it is easy and they are super friendly there and will direct you to exactly where to go.

Enjoy your time there!

Posted by
187 posts

If your only concern is driving onto the ferry I wouldn't give it a second thought. Done it many times on many different types of ferries, I've never seen an incident. Go and enjoy the puffins!

Posted by
7565 posts

I forget if my Iceland car rental prohibited ferries. But it happens in Western Europe.

Posted by
358 posts

Our day trip to the Westman Islands was our favorite part of our week-long Iceland trip last June. To get the most out of a day trip there you will want to have a car.

We did take our rental car on the ferry. It's easy getting on and getting off, no different than doing so at home. The lines to board (on the mainland and island) are orderly, and there is staff there to address questions (but there won't be any).

Also, there's a small town (Vestmannaeyjabær) at the ferry landing on Heimaey and you can find parking in and around that area. There are shops and restaurants to visit too, but the real joy of the island to us was getting out to the edges and finding the hikes, beaches, seascapes, wildlife, etc. on this tiny island, which is made much easier by having a car.

It's a beautiful place to visit!

Posted by
6659 posts

The official language in Iceland is Icelandic and based on Google's images it seems like the instructions in the port are in Icelandic only: https://maps.app.goo.gl/53bxDo9sNTYEPf3x9 (If you don't speak Icelandic, the sign roughly says "Attention! Only drivers go on the car deck, passengers are asked to use the gangway.") You can rent bikes on the island and the island is pretty small so you can easily explore it via bike, especially if you rent an electric bike.

But you can of course also take the car on the ferry if you want. The risk of it breaking down on the ferry is probably very small and no reason to worry. Although I certainly can understand that your childhood experience has created some fears that are not at all logical.

Also, if you've never driven in Europe before, make sure you learn all the road signs and the rules and laws of the road. And keep in mind that you need to follow the laws.