Camping in Iceland: How to enjoy a hassle-free camping holiday to Iceland
Updated: Jan 8, 2021
Trips to Iceland are all about discovering its stunning landscapes and elemental beauty. What better way to get more closely in touch with nature than by choosing a camping holiday in the great outdoors? Taking the time to slow things down, setting up camp and cooking your own meals can really help to connect you with the moment. You’ll see the changes of light and weather and detach a little from the busy pace of modern life. Nothing quite compares to sleeping under the stars and waking up to the sights and sounds of the natural world. Whether you hire an RV Iceland or pack your own tent, camping is also a brilliantly budget way to visit Iceland. Here we’ve put together some of our top travel tips for a hassle-free camping holiday to Iceland.
The best time of year for camping in Iceland
The summer months from June to August are the best time of year for taking a camping trip to Iceland. Although weather here is notoriously unpredictable and there might be some rain, days should be mostly dry and mild. You’ll also enjoy the benefits of the midnight sun, so there will be no worries about setting up camp before nightfall. And you’ll have more daylight hours to explore the country. Travelling during spring, autumn and winter will give you the opportunity to hopefully see the incredible Northern Lights. If you’re camping in rural areas you are much more likely to see them than if you spend your nights in hotel rooms.
How to camp in Iceland
There are two ways to camp in Iceland. Firstly by hiring a live-in vehicle equipped with beds and cooking equipment. The second is to hire a car and pack your own tent and camping gear. If you’re driving the ring road in summer, then consider tent camping. It’s the most budget-friendly option and a lot of fun too. If you opt for a winter trip you will be better off hiring a camper van. That way you will have more protection from the elements. Of course you can always bail and book into a hotel for the night! Spring or autumn trips would suit either way, depending on your priorities, budget and love of camping.
Campsites in Iceland
Lots of locals choose to holiday in the different parts of Iceland themselves, so there are plenty of campgrounds with great facilities. There is a great network of well over 150 public campsites. Most will offer showers, electricity and a restaurant and basic shop, but some will be simply a designated field or stretch of coast cordoned off. Most campgrounds are only open in summer, but a few will open earlier or close later in the year. So do a little research and plan ahead by checking availability and opening dates. Public holidays are a popular time for Icelanders to holiday themselves, so campsites might book up quickly. Camping is a great budget option, especially if travelling as a family. Children under 12 generally go free, while teenagers under 16 usually have a discounted rate too.
Wild camping in Iceland with a Camper
To protect Iceland’s natural habitats wild camping is now illegal right across the country, unless you have written permission from the landowner. This has been a gradual and fairly recent change brought about by the increase in visitors to the island. Much of Iceland is carpeted by delicate haunting moss, which is very easily damaged and slow to grow back. So for the sake of keeping the wilds of Iceland intact, as well as for the safety of travellers you must only camp in designated areas. This includes parking up in a campervan. On a similar note, you must be very careful where you drive in Iceland and keep to the marked roads and tracks. Always take your litter away with you and don’t light fires. In short, tread lightly on this beautiful land.
Staying safe on your road trip
As mentioned, the weather in Iceland can be pretty fickle, so it’s a good idea to be prepared. Do make sure that you have wind and rainproof gear and plenty of warm layers of clothing. And keep an eye on the weather forecast before planning the next stage of your trip. Part of the charm of Iceland is that it is very sparsely populated with huge swathes of uninhabited lands. This means that services can be few and far between in certain areas. With this in mind keep a stash of food, water and fuel in your vehicle in case you become stranded. Keeping a charger, mobile phone and torch in the glove compartment is another must for staying safe on your road trip. If you’re sticking to Route One or the South Coast, this is much less of an issue, but better safe than sorry!
Cooking on your camping trip
Cooking your own meals is a great way to keep your travel budget down and enjoy some alfresco dining. If you hire a camper van then you’ll have a built in cooker and fridge. However, if you are tent camping then we suggest that you invest in a camp stove and some simple cooking gear. Be aware that lighting a campfire anywhere in Iceland is strictly forbidden. The country’s plant life is very delicate and could be easily damaged by fire. A contained camping stove or grill is fine, but be careful how you dispose of any embers. Grocery stores can be few and far between in Iceland. It’s a good idea to stock up on long-life staples such as cans of soup, snacks, hardy fruits and dried foods.
What to pack
This is more of a consideration if you are tent camping in Iceland, but a few points apply to camper van road trippers too. First of all it’s important to get proper cold-weather camping gear. Your tent should be fully wind and rain proof and not too complicated to erect. You should make sure that you take quality cold weather sleeping bags, preferably down. Sleeping mats are a must as the ground in Iceland is decidedly cold and hard! You’ll also need cooking gear, including a stove, saucepans, kettle, cups, plates and cutlery. And don’t forget the bottle opener and can opener! Consider taking dry bags and travel towels, which dry easily. A torch is useful outside of the summer months and a mobile phone for safety.
Hot showers in Iceland’s campgrounds
Most of the campgrounds in Iceland offer hot showers to their guests at a small extra cost. They are generally heated by Iceland’s natural hot springs! So they may have a particular smell, but rest assured you’ll be receiving the benefits of those mineral-rich waters. Schedule in stops at some of the country’s many geothermal pools and hot springs too. It’s a great way to stay sweet smelling on your road trip!
Don’t try to do too much
When you’re excited about visiting a new country it’s tempting to try and see everything. But cramming too much in can defeat the object of your holiday. Iceland’s beautiful national parks are best explored at a slower pace, leaving space for exploring somewhere you like in more depth. Consider choosing a smaller area to get to know, such as Reykjavik and the South Coast or just the Golden Circle. You might be inspired by Reynisfjara, one of Iceland’s most stunning black sand beaches and spend your time walking the coast there. Perhaps you might head north to the remote Hornstrandir Nature Reserve and revel in the beauty of this less-visited region. Or you might park up near your favourite glacier lagoon and make a few day trips form there. However you choose to travel in Iceland, give yourself some space for spontaneity.