Iceland is a country made for road trips. In fact, one of the most popular things to do in Iceland is to drive the 1332 kilometer long Ring Road, while discovering many of this island nation’s most popular attractions along the way. With so much more to do outside of the capital and the Golden Circle, a camper van trip around Iceland is the perfect way to see the land of fire and ice.
It’s true that Iceland can be an expensive country to visit, though many of Iceland’s attractions are free. The biggest costs you’ll experience in planning your trip to Iceland are a car rental and accommodations. Renting a camper van combines transportation and accommodation costs in to one, leaving you a bigger budget to splurge on some of Iceland’s most unique experiences that can only be seen or done on a guided tour like glacier hiking on Sólheimajökull.
Ready to set out and explore Iceland by camper van? Use this complete guide to help plan your camper van trip in Iceland.
Camper vans are a popular way to travel around Iceland and these days there are a lot of different options. So where do you even begin to know which is the right option for you?
There are several things to consider when choosing your camper van for your trip in Iceland:
1. How many people are you traveling with?
Your camper van needs to be able to comfortably fit you, your travel companions and your stuff. Camper vans are ideal for 2 – 4 people. Motor homes can accommodate 4 adults or a family with kids of up to 6 people.
2. Do you plan to drive on F-roads or go into the Highlands?
Iceland’s Route 1, or the Ring Road as it’s popularly known, is an excellent and almost entirely paved two-lane road. With the exception of a small gravel section in the East Fjords, any type of vehicle is suitable to circumnavigating Iceland during the summer months.
Iceland has a classification of roads called F-roads and the Highlands are only accessible by F-roads. You need a 4x4 vehicle to drive on F-roads. You can encounter all conditions even in the best summer months, and you might have to cross rivers or streams.
There are some camper vans and 4x4 vehicles with roof tents that are suitable for F-roads and the Highlands. Rental car companies mean business and know what they’re talking about when they specify that a particular vehicle is not suitable for F-road conditions. And your insurance won’t cover you when – yes, WHEN – something goes wrong because you took an inappropriate vehicle on an F-road.
Carefully plan your itinerary and look at what roads you’ll need to drive on before you choose the right camper van for your trip.
3. Do you want to sleep inside the camper van, in a roof tent or a motor home?
There’s a saying in Iceland that if you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes. You will experience every kind of weather in any given day. And Iceland does experience high winds.
The weather, no matter what time of the year you decide to visit Iceland, should definitely be a consideration in choosing the right camper for your comfort level. It may very well be too windy to use a roof tent on more than one night of your trip. We’ve seen the wind ravage and topple over top-heavy motorhomes.
4. What time of year will you be visiting Iceland?
Most campsites are open from May – September and campsites in more remote parts of Iceland like the Highlands and Westfjords have an even shorter season from June – August. There are very few year round campsites in Iceland.
While it is possible to plan a winter camper van trip, and many camper vans come equipped with powerful heaters, winter camping isn’t for the faint of heart. Complete white outs and extreme cold are very real possibilities – even probabilities – of traveling in Iceland in winter.
One thing to note is that it’s illegal to spend the night in tents, camper vans or motorhomes outside of designated campsites. So no, you can’t just park your camper van or pitch a tent anywhere. This is a more recent change in the law as Iceland continues to try to deal with the influx of tourism.
Iceland has many campsites, with the majority located around the Ring Road and in the Westfjords and Snæfellsnes Peninsula. The center of Iceland, known as the Highlands, does not have many campsites and you can wild camp.
Iceland’s Campingcard is a company that’s been around for more than a decade. You can purchase the Campingcard, which is shipped to your home address ahead of your trip, and gives you access to 40 campsites around Iceland without the need to pay on the spot or book ahead.
Each campsite in Iceland is unique. Check out the facilities of each, which can include bathrooms, swimming pools, hot tubs or natural hot pots, kitchen facilities, wifi and more.
If you go the route of booking your campsites individually in advance, you’ll pay a fee for the use of the campsite. Fees typically are the price for two adults, caravan, car, power and local taxes per night.
No matter if you decide to purchase the Campingcard or book campsites individually, be sure to check the opening dates for each one you plan to visit. Even in the summer season, campsites can be closed during festivals or inaccessible.
Each year the Institute for Economics and Peace and the Economist Intelligence Unit calculate the Global Peace Index by ranking 163 countries on a variety of factors. Iceland consistently comes in first place as the world’s safest country.
Iceland is very safe and there are no land predators. The Arctic Fox is Iceland’s only natural land mammal, so there are relatively few dangers to contend with when visiting Iceland.
The thing to be aware of is weather. Possibly the only thing more unpredictable than Iceland’s weather is winning the lottery.
The notorious weather can suddenly shut down roads because conditions have made them impassible. Bookmark road.is, which is updated in real-time and make a habit of checking the website regularly.
Also download the 112 Iceland app before your trip. This app is run by the Icelandic Search and Rescue Team and has two functions: a 1-click emergency button and a check-in feature.
The check-in feature, which you’re encouraged to use, stores your last five check-ins and can aid the Icelandic Search and Rescue Team in getting to you if something does go wrong. Feel free to check-in often through the app.
The final safety concern is being aware of services and being comfortable with changing a tire. Outside of the capital of Reykjavik, there are only three persons per square kilometer. That so much of Iceland is wild and uninhabited is definitely a huge part of its magic and allure. But that also means no one may be around to help if you run out of fuel or get a flat.
Don’t let the fuel run down too low in your vehicle. Gas stations can be few and far between, or non-existent if you venture into the Highlands.
Being one of the world’s most popular travel destinations does have its fall backs, and Iceland is currently trying to combat irresponsible travelers. Don’t be one of those travelers.
1. Don’t just stop in the middle of the road.
Look, we get that there’s something jaw dropping around just about every bend of the road in Iceland. Keep in mind, though, that you’re not the only vehicle on the road and Iceland’s two-lane roads simply can’t accommodate you stopping as you please.
2. Leave no trace.
Iceland has a public swimming pool in every town and village. Swimming is a huge part of their culture and these swimming pools typically have shower facilities. Between swimming pools and campsites, there’s little reason you should have to bathe yourself in Iceland’s lakes, streams, rivers, waterfalls or hot pots.
If you do find the need for a natural bath, be sure to use organic soap.
And no matter what you do, do not relieve yourself and leave your natural waste behind.
Be sure to place all rubbish in the bins at campsites. If there’s not a rubbish bin around, take your rubbish with you until you can dispose of it properly.
3. Be respectful of private lands.
Some attractions are located on private land and in recent years landowners have been forced to close off these attractions to the public. Don’t be that person that ruins it for everyone else by being disrespectful, trespassing or leaving anything behind like rubbish and graffiti.
4. Never go off-roading.
It’s illegal to go off-roading in Iceland. The environment is very delicate and off-roading can destroy the fragile environment.
Now that you’ve chosen the right type of camper van for your trip, understand a few laws of the land and have taken some safety precautions, it’s time to pack for your epic adventure in Iceland.
Some basic essentials we recommend for your camper van trip in Iceland:
A quick-dry towel – a regular towel won’t dry efficiently and can stink up your camper. A quick-dry towel also packs much easier and can be stuffed in a daypack for use at a natural hot pot.
A daypack – you’ll probably do at least a little hiking even though your 4x4 camper can take you just about anywhere. Bring a daypack that you can put some things like your quick-dry towel, flip-flops and carry water in while you’re out and about.
Flip-flops – camper vans are a popular way to travel and a lot of other feet could have used the bathroom and shower at campsites before you. Pack a pair of flip-flops that you can wear in the shower.
Car chargers for your phone and any electronics – if you already have car chargers at home, bring them along and save a little money on renting these.
Sleeping bag – you can rent sleeping bags, but if you have one at home that is suitable to -7°C, bring it along and save money on the rental.