Do you dream of waking up to the sunrise across a magnificent fjord? Or of falling asleep amongst a range of beautiful mountains with the Northern Lights dancing overhead? If so, there are no better options for you than taking a camping holiday to Iceland.
Taking guided tours to visit the sites, or driving from accommodation to accommodation around the island, are excellent ways to see the country, but camping is the only true way to fully immerse yourself in the incredible nature of Iceland. Although the uninhabited landscape and unpredictable weather raise certain challenges, never before has this option been more accessible or inviting. If the idea of such a life-changing experience appeals to you, keep reading for the best tips on camping in Iceland.
Photo credit above: Philip Gunkel.
- See also: Tips for backpacking in Iceland
Why camp in Iceland?
Camping is a passion of many Icelanders. It is somewhat of a national tradition every summer to pack up one’s belongings and join friends and families at one of the many unique campsites across the country.
The same appeal that brings locals out of their homes and into their tents extends to visitors. Camping in Iceland is cheap, which is invaluable to travellers on a budget considering the relatively high prices in Iceland; it is sustainable, so you can fall asleep amongst the nature knowing that your trip is having a minimal impact on it; and it allows for more independence than a hotel stay.
It is Iceland’s incredibly diverse scenery that draws most visitors, and without a base that must be returned to, a whole scope of sights become instantly more accessible.
More than any of the reasons above, however, camping in Iceland gives you a special perspective of the character of the landscape surrounding you. From the insides of a hotel, you cannot hear the rustling of the breeze through fields of heather, nor the winds howling down the valleys of a mountain; you cannot taste the pure air as you wake up, nor feel as rosy and refreshed from sleeping through cool of the night.
The experience is magical, and there are many options out there to make it as easy and stress-free as possible.
- See also: What to do & where to go
Camping made easy
Although camping in Iceland is exhilarating and rewarding, it can be quite a hassle to organise all the equipment needed and to plan which campsites will serve you best in advance. Thankfully, there are a number of options available that cover most of these issues for you.
The best is undoubtedly an eight-day self-drive tour, which will take you all around Iceland’s famous ring-road. With this package, you’ll be provided with a 4X4 vehicle, allowing you to traverse almost every road in the country, complete with a rooftop tent, camping equipment such as chairs and tables, a USB charger and a cooler. All vehicles come insured, and with a GPS navigation system. This tour also comes with a camping card, which allows you to stay at over 40 different campsites across the country without paying on the spot or pre-booking. It basically provides the thrill of camping with the convenience of a hotel.
This tour also comes with a custom-made itinerary that guides you to the country’s must-see locations, as well as many lesser-known sites where you can escape the crowds and still enjoy the wonders of Iceland’s incredible nature. It is also tailored to guide you to the many geothermal pools across the country, so you can bask and relax, no matter where you are heading, after a long day of travelling.
Photo credit: Breathe Iceland
Of course, there are many more options for those wishing to camp in Iceland. Visitors with their own equipment and plans simply need to rent a vehicle to set off. Travellers put off by the risk of sleeping outdoors in inclement weather have a wealth of campervan options to choose from. Regardless of which of these you choose, it is still a wise idea to purchase a camping card, to save money and help guarantee a place to settle down for the night.
If going down one of these routes, however, you need to make sure that you know where you are going, particularly regarding local services; no one wants to run out of fuel in the middle of the highlands.
- See also: How to pack for travel in Iceland
Staying safe while camping
As thrilling and easy as camping in Iceland can be, there are a few risks that you should take into account. The most notable of these is, of course, the country’s notorious weather. Even in summer, it is unpredictable, with the potential for high winds and all sorts of precipitation.
This can make sleeping an impossibility and roads inaccessible. It is thus important to check the forecast before setting out or settling down, although please note that being a far-flung rock in the North Atlantic means that weather forecasts are never 100% reliable here. It is always better to have some idea of what is ahead, however, than no idea at all. The Icelandic Search and Rescue team also has a website that warns travellers of closed roads or roads exposed to weather-related risks.
Another thing to bear in mind while camping around Iceland is to ensure you are aware of the services en route. Iceland is a sparsely populated country with enormous stretches of uninhabited land; while this is a significant part of its magical appeal, it can leave the unprepared stranded.
It is therefore always essential to ensure you travel with enough food and water, to have a charged phone in your vehicle, to possess several layers of warm clothes, and, if possible, to have a container with spare fuel.
Those following an itinerary, or sticking largely to Route 1, are much less likely to encounter this problem, but it never hurts to take precautions.
A final issue that you need to be aware of is, essentially, how to camp. Before setting off on a camping trip around Iceland, you should be aware of the basics, such as how to erect your tent, and how to use a gas cooker. It seems simple, but a few practice rounds with unfamiliar equipment can save you from avoidable problems further down the road.
- See also: Travel Etiquette in Iceland
Campsites in Iceland
Although much of Iceland’s nature is completely uninhabited and barren, it is encouraged to only camp within designated campsites. This helps preserve the wilds and ensures your safety.
The campsites in Iceland are as diverse as their settings; most have a full range of services, including showers, bathrooms, electricity and nearby restaurants or shops, but many are simply a cordoned off field or a stretch of beach with no amenities available.
The campsites to which you can access free admission on self-drive tours usually have decent facilities, and the services at each can be seen on the camping card website.
Before setting off on a trip, it is also important to check when the campsites you plan to attend are open. Naturally, they are only open during the summer months, but the specific dates vary. Many are open all the way from May to September, but a few, especially those in more remote areas, or areas susceptible to inclement weather, may only be accessible from June to August.
Festivals at certain locations in summer can also mean that campsites will fill up, and camping cards may not be valid, so it is a good idea to check up on each location before visiting it.
It is legal to camp outside of dedicated sites, but only under certain circumstances. If you only have a tent, you are welcome to camp on uncultivated land on public roads for one night at a time, without needing to worry about asking anyone for the right to do so. If you wish to stay on farmland or private property, you must first obtain the permission of the landowner.
You are not permitted to camp outside of designated areas within any of Iceland’s three national parks.
If you are in a campervan, caravan, tent trailer or something similar, including a 4X4 vehicle with a tent on the roof, the rules are much more restrictive; you must retire each night to a campsite.
If you just have a tent and choose to settle out in nature, then, of course, ensure that you leave it exactly as you found it, and do not set open fires. Also ensure you do not leave behind any waste, regardless of whether it is biodegradable or not, and never drive off-road to reach a site, under any circumstances. Off-road driving is strictly forbidden in Iceland.
It is also imperative that you do not lift up or shift around the haunting moss that covers much of the landscape, as it grows incredibly slowly and the impact you make on it could last decades. Icelanders are very protective of their moss, and if you appreciate it as you should, you will quickly learn why.
- See also: Dumbest things to do in Iceland
The camping experience of a lifetime
To be able to travel around this beautiful country with very few restrictions is a liberating and thrilling experience. From the beautiful fjords and dramatic mountains, to the stretches of twisted lava and fields of volcanic sand, a camping trip around Iceland will bring you wonder after wonder.
Whether taking our self-drive packages for your convenience or going it alone, so long as you respect the nature and take all necessary precautions, this trip promises to be the adventure of a lifetime.