I traveled to Iceland four years ago. It was the third time I had traveled alone and was my very first stop on my world tour after college graduation. After booking the cheapest flight I could to Reykjavik and Couchsurfing my way around the capital city I realized I really hadn’t seen much of the country. I made a classic mistake of only basing myself in a capital city and later regretted it and knew I needed to return to go camping in Iceland.
So when we recently had the chance to visit Iceland we jumped at it. Iceland is a land full of natural, raw, and untouched beauty. It’s a place that doesn’t even look real, which is probably why so many movies have been filmed there in recent years.
To make the most out of a trip to Iceland and getting to these rugged destinations I suggest camping Iceland’s ring road. A road trip to Iceland is the perfect way to get to know the land. Here are a few tips to help with your planning and preparation.
Camping in Iceland: 25 Tips
Rent a vehicle
If you want to do any extensive Iceland camping and sightseeing you need to rent a vehicle. The glory of camping Iceland’s ring road is the ability to explore and spend some time in nature. This freedom is lost on a group tour of the Golden Circle or Ring Road.
We suggest you rent a campervan with Happy Campers, that is how we camped around Iceland in comfort. It will save you from the hassle and cost of booking hotels individually or having to set up a tent every night. If you want to travel with a Happy Campers van like we did (and you should!) make sure to read our full review. You can easily book using this link, but make sure to book well in advance during high season.
Our campervan from Happy Campers was perfect for what we wanted out of our trip. It provided great freedom and comfort at a reasonably affordable cost. A campervan will serve as your transportation, accommodation, and kitchen for your trip to Iceland – which is pretty much all you need.
You can’t camp just anywhere
We came to Iceland expecting to pull up to waterfalls, cliffs, and oceans and camp at Iceland’s most stunning locations. We had our own gas stove and kitchenware, could shower at public pools, and use public toilets. We’d wake up at every destination with one of those killer #vanlife shots. We should have done more research. It is now the law that all campervans must have written permission to camp on the property, or in other words, a receipt from a designated Iceland campsite.
Given the explosion of tourism in Iceland, it was bound to happen. There are just too many tourists and campervans parking all over the country to allow anarchy. The legislation is targeted at vehicles and land rights, not specifically tents or camping. You can still pitch a traditional tent in the Iceland wilderness, but that means you have to be on foot.
So where do you camp in Iceland? There are plenty of campsites around the ring road. Most of these campsites provide basic facilities like a toilet, shower, communal area, and maybe if you’re lucky some WiFi. Campsites in Iceland charge between 1000-2000 ISK per person per night. If you are traveling between October and May you may find many Iceland campsites are closed. Don’t worry too much because a number of the sites allow you to camp for free in the offseason, with the lack of facilities as they’re locked.
Gas is hella expensive
I thought I was only going to have one heart attack this year when we paid $2 a liter for fuel in the middle of nowhere Zimbabwe. We just hadn’t traveled through Iceland yet. Fuel in Iceland is expensive at about $2 a liter – that’s roughly $8 a gallon for all my American friends out there!
If you want to save what you can on the fuel then opt for a fuel-efficient vehicle. If you’re traveling in a campervan or 4×4 like us be prepared to buck up and pay. We spent $400 on fuel to drive our campervan around the country for 10 days. Check out our Iceland ring road trip itinerary (plus some detours).
So is everything else…
If you came to Iceland for a cheap trip then you are in the wrong country, but I’m sure you knew that already. Just about everything in Iceland is crazy expensive. Accommodation and food are exorbitant, heck even a cup of coffee from a machine can run you close to $6. So make sure to budget for your ring road trip accordingly.
Don’t just stick to Iceland’s Ring Road
Some of Iceland’s best sites and attractions are not on the ring road. We suggest looking up the sites you want to see online and through guidebooks. Once you have an idea what you want to see, save it all to an offline Google Map. Regions that are worth mentioning not on the ring road are the Snaefellsnes peninsula, Landmannalaugar, Husafell, and Dettifoss. Everyone also recommended that we travel and camp in Iceland’s Western Fjords, as they are the least traveled place in the country. We, unfortunately, didn’t have the time to make the most of that detour.
Ditch the GPS
While we are on the subject of Google Maps – don’t bother with paying for a car GPS. Instead, download an offline Google Map on your phone. You can do this via their app. If you’re unsure how to do this check out Google’s tutorial.
We download offline maps everywhere we travel and it rarely leads us astray. Just be warned it may eat up some space on your phone memory, but it’s well worth not getting lost and knowing where you are going. It’s the most efficient way to plan your routes in between campsites.
But get the WiFi
Our Happy Campervan had built-in WiFi that cost €40 for the entire rental period. Having WiFi in the car was fantastic for when we wanted to check emails, social media, and browse for things to see in Iceland. If the internet is part of your daily life I would highly recommend adding it to your rental.
Allocate enough time for your Ring Road trip
How long should you spend driving the Ring Road? It depends. The Ring Road or “Route 1” is 1,332 kilometers, so technically you could do it in less than 16 hours and never stop – but what’s the point of that? We did our Iceland ring road trip clockwise in 10 days. We felt that it was the perfect amount of time to see all of the main sites.
Sure, we missed some things, but we never felt too rushed or that we hung around for too long in a place. In an ideal world, I would suggest 7-10 days to drive the Ring Road, but we met people doing it in 3-5, which just sounds exhausting.
Learn to love instant coffee!
Are you a coffee or tea drinker like us? You should consider picking up tea and instant coffee at a grocery store in Iceland for your trip. Remember when I said Iceland is unimaginably expensive? Well, those costs trickle down to even the coffee and tea so if you want your caffeine it’s best to buy some instant coffee. There is also the option to bring a French press or Aeropress with your favorite roast from home.
Download a good playlist
You will spend a lot of time in the car so a good travel playlist is essential. Download one to your phone before you go so you are ready to roll!
There are no bathrooms!
Aside from the high cost of everything in Iceland, our other complaint with the country is the lack of public restrooms. There is almost nowhere to do your business on Iceland’s ring road so plan accordingly. Obviously, hotels will have bathrooms, but outside the Golden Circle tourist stops of Geysir and Gullfoss, we found public bathrooms few and far between. This obviously isn’t a huge problem for number one, but for number two what to do you do?
A good option is to head for gas stations, but you will likely have to buy something. Food and other amenities come with a high price in Iceland gas stations, but it doesn’t hurt to always have a full tank of gas should you not need any knick-knacks. If you are traveling in the summer most campsite toilets will be open, but you will have to be staying there to use them. The other option is to bring a shovel, dig your hole, and burn your tissue paper which reminded me a bit of our overland trip across Africa in a way! But Iceland is not Africa – far from it actually. There are a lot of people on the road, especially in the summer months, meaning it can be difficult to find privacy.
Iceland has seen a boom in tourism in the last 10 years. With massive amounts of tourist dollars flowing into the country, it baffles us that the government or tourism board has done nothing in terms of facilities for actual visiting guests. Instead, locals choose to shame tourists that are visiting and pay for funny videos to attract more visitors on social media… In case you were wondering the country has a long history of corruption.
There are 334,000 Icelanders and more than two million tourists (a year)
There is a reason for this huge tourism boom. Yes, Iceland is one of the most stunning countries in the world. That should not be a surprise given the number of photos and video on the internet. We came expecting beauty and surreal locations, and so does everyone else. The beauty of Iceland is definitely not a secret anymore. Did you know there are more American tourists visiting Iceland than Icelandic people? And that’s just one nationality! Almost everyone we saw while driving around Iceland’s ring road was a foreigner, and it wasn’t until Reykjavik that we finally found ourselves among the local people.
The sheer number of tourists here may even disappoint you at first glance, especially if you’re traveling during the summer months. I know we kept feeling that there were too many us floating around the country, but then I remembered how many people visit Rome, Thailand, and freaking Disney World each year and the numbers aren’t even comparable.
There are some hidden gems you can get to that are not popular with tourists in Iceland though. Most notably the East and West Fjords, so go ahead and get off the beaten path!
Watch where you step!
One thing you will notice about the landscape in Iceland is the iconic moss. It is everywhere and the locals cherish it. For good reason too – it’s a fragile part of Iceland’s gorgeous landscape. It’s important not to step on the moss, and god forbid don’t trample it, write your name in it, or pull it up from the ground like Justin Beiber. It can take up to 70 years to grow back and make sure to stick to the paths and admire the moss from afar.
This goes for driving down roads as well. Many of the most majestic campsites and regions in the country are down F roads in the center of Iceland. There is no development here and lots of open ground. We witnessed first hand the harmful effects of tourists driving off-road and “having fun” doing donuts in the moss. It’s a sure fire way to end up with heft $5,000 fine if caught or a broken nose from a local.
Drink the water!
Just about everything will cost you money in Iceland, except one thing. Water! The water in Iceland is some of the best drinking water in the world so there is never a reason to buy bottled water. Bring a travel water bottle and fill up from the taps, rivers, streams, and glaciers – it’s all okay to drink! Seriously, save plastic waste and your money by avoiding any sort of bottled water. The Icelanders will secretly be laughing at you if you spend money on those stupid plastic bottles.
Almost every gas station in Iceland has a tap and hoses for you to clean your car or fill up your campervans water tank. Yes, it is free as well!
Northern Lights = Winter. Midnight Sun = Summer
If you’re going to Iceland for a chance to see the Northern Lights you will need to travel there when it is actually dark. If you are heading to Iceland to see the Midnight Sun then you will have to go camping in the summertime when it is light at midnight. Northern Lights in Iceland = September to mid-April. Midnight Sun in Iceland = May to August.
Just make sure you have a great packable down jacket because the winter months can be freezing at night! If you want to learn more about the best time to visit Iceland we have a post for that!
Practice proper pool etiquette
Most towns in Iceland have a public swimming pool. It’s considered a public necessity and an important part of Icelandic culture. It is a place where Icelanders get active, relax, and socialize. They aren’t just for locals though, foreigners are welcome too. We made an effort to go to as many swimming pools as possible when camping on the ring road.
Swimming pools entrance fees run between 600-1000 Icelandic Kroner, which is a fraction of the price of a Blue Lagoon or Secret Lagoon ticket. News Flash – The Blue Lagoon and Secret Lagoon are just for tourists and Instagram photos anyway. Public pools are fed by geothermic water. They all will have at least one main pool for swimming and two different hot tubs for relaxing. Some pools even have saunas, ice tubs, water slides, and steam rooms!
When you’re on a camping trip in Iceland you will probably want to shower. We had several instances of campsite without a shower available. That’s not a problem as you can head to the local pool for a hot shower and swim. But…
You Will Need to Get Naked
Speaking of pools in Iceland, you must get naked and wash before you enter a pool. Casual nudity is a normal part of the Scandinavian culture and taking a shower before swimming is the law in Iceland. (No, seriously it is the law that you must get naked and scrub.) Showers are divided by sex and they are open air in the locker rooms. The proper way is to undress, lock up your belongings, place your bathing suit and towel in the convenient cubbies, take a shower, put on your bathing suit, and leave your towel behind for when you return to the locker room.
Icelanders take their hygiene very seriously and the pools use minimal chemicals so entering clean is important. If you don’t feel comfortable getting naked in front of others of the same sex then going to a pool in Iceland is not for you. Showering with your swimsuit on, or worse – not showering, will likely get you scowls and maybe even a good scrub from an Icelander in the shower… they’ll do it! There’s no need to be shy and we consider visiting a local pool a must for anyone visiting Iceland.
There are ways to save money
Iceland is one of the most expensive countries to travel, but there are ways you can save money! The first would be not to eat out. A basic meal for two can run about $100 USD at a restaurant. Stick to the grocery stores if you are on a budget. We found Bónus to be the cheapest grocery store in Iceland followed by Krónan.
Our campervan had a fridge to keep veggies frozen and milk cool, but depending on when you travel you may not need it. The temperatures in mid-October to be around 1 C at night, if you buy perishable items without a fridge stick them outside while you sleep!
If you want to drink while in Iceland then be sure to either bring your alcohol with you or shop at duty-free before you enter the country, or you may be paying for the most expensive cocktail of your life.
If you travel in a group it will save you money on the car rental and gas. However, campsites charge per person and range from 1000 ISK to 2000 ISK (and some charge an extra 500 ISK if you want to use the shower).
The number one thing to remember is that enjoying nature is free! There are plenty of trails, viewpoints, and waterfalls in Iceland. All of those don’t cost a penny (yet).
Credit cards rule
The country pretty much runs on credit cards and we never once had to pay with cash in Iceland. From the grocery stores to campsites, even bathroom attendants have a credit card machine. You can even pay for an apple at a gas station with a credit card! This is great news for travel hackers like us and helps us rack up some serious travel points. Check out our favorite travel credit cards or how we handle banking while we travel abroad!
I’ve traveled to Iceland in both the summer and winter, and both times it was pretty windy and cold. I would recommend packing clothes that layer well. Must haves are a good rain jacket and hiking boots. Even in Reykjavik, people dress pretty casually so there isn’t much need to be super fashionable. Pack comfortable, quick drying, and waterproof clothing for a good time. Read more about what to pack for Iceland here.
Don’t overestimate your rental!
Rental cars and vans are just that – rentals. They should be treated with care and caution because if you damage the car you will be the one paying for the repairs. Sure, you can always take out insurance in a rental car, but even that doesn’t fully protect you and it is a pricey add-on.
Another thing to mention about that is no car rental insurance will cover you on Iceland’s “F” roads. F roads are cut through the center of the country. They are rough, gravel, mud, and fit for tough 4×4 vehicles with experienced drivers. When we picked up our Happy Camper we were informed that we could not drive on these roads under any circumstances, and most other rentals have the same policy.
We still wanted to get to places like Mount Hekla and Landmannalaugar though, so we decided to go on a tour. Moonwalker tours are super fun and personalized for the guest. They’re run by an Icelandic, Bessi, who knows how to tackle the rough terrain. Why am I telling you this? Because on our Moonwalker tour, we saw at least 20 rental cars that were unfit to drive on these rough roads, but tourists had decided to drive on them anyway.
We even came across a car waiting to be picked up after busting their oil pan and overheating the engine. So, they had to wait in the cold for a tow truck only to be stuck with the bill afterward (because they were on an F road). Not only is this foolish, but it’s dangerous as you could easily get stranded in the freezing cold with nowhere to turn. Just stick to the nice paved roads unless you are an experienced driver with a heavy duty vehicle.
Oh, yea – and there is A LOT of wind in Iceland. So hold the door or it could blow right off the hinges – that’s not covered by most insurances either…yes, I’m serious.
Don’t forget to bring a camera!
Everywhere you look on your Iceland ring road trip will be anything but ugly. Make sure to bring something to capture the moment with. We personally traveled Iceland with a DJI Mavic and a Canon 80D. You can check out more our favorite photography equipment here. Popular places to photograph and visit in Iceland are the Black Sand Beach near Vik, JökulsárlónGlacier Lagoon, and Vatnajökull National Park.
Bring your own bed
Whether your camping in a tent, car camping in Iceland, or campervanning being comfortable is a priority for sleep. When we camped in Africa we invested in heavy duty sleeping mats and our backs thanked us every single night. Make sure to bring the right gear. We traveled through in Iceland in October and temperatures were already around freezing. If you’re in a campervan or tent it never hurts to invest in a good sleeping bag. If coming from the US, we suggest checking out REI for camping equipment as they only carry quality products.
Towels are a lifesaver
We always carry a travel towel. It doesn’t matter if we plan to hop between hotels, camp in Iceland, or head to a beach resort. They almost always come in handy. Especially if you’re camping and using the public pools of Iceland, because they will charge you around 500 ISK for a towel rental. You can check out our favorite travel towels here!
Learn to cook basics
Learn to cook a few easy meals. We’ve spent a lot of time camping this last year so it’s been a process of learning simple meals that be done with one burner.
- Wraps: These are super simple. Cameron made hot wraps by cooking a stir fry in a pan using vegan hoisin duck, frozen veggies, and mushrooms. Dish it out in some wraps and top with vegan cheese. (You can use the real stuff too!)
- Rice: It’s a staple and finding a way to make it your own will take you for miles. We like to top our rice with peas, corn, avocado, eggs, and a sweet Thai chili sauce. (There are hundreds of variations of this!)
- Soup: We love to make soup because it’s delicious requires one pot and it fills you up. For an easy and healthy soup, Cameron recommends the following: Saute onions in a pot until translucent, add mushrooms, tomatoes, vegetable stock (bouillon cubes to save space), rice, potatoes, carrots, and season with paprika. If you’re a meat eater cook it first with the onions. The key to a soup is layering flavors and letting it simmer for a long time.
- Pancakes: Who doesn’t love pancakes? They’re dead simple and when you top them with peanut butter they’ll keep you going for hours. For camping, we suggest the premade mix from the store.
- Pasta: Roasted red pepper, pesto, avocado, or mushroom stroganoff there are countless variations of pasta you can make. We love to mix them with frozen veggies when camping in Iceland. Fresh produce is expensive!
It’s no longer a secret
Chances are if you’ve heard of the destination in Iceland so has everyone else! You’ve probably seen photos of that abandoned plane sitting out in the middle of nowhere Iceland. It’s still in that same location, but it’s now surrounded by tourists and littered with trash (including tourist poop). More importantly, it’s in the middle of nowhere! The hike is well known for being in a flat desert area with no vegetation, it used to add to the mystique. Now, you’re just in a line behind the other tourists trying to get that same photo. Iceland is well explored, asides from the middle where most people can’t get. You should think about what you really want to see in the amount of time you have.
Plan Your Trip to Iceland
We rely on a few trusted websites that help save us money and time when booking hotels, flights, and car rentals. Check out some of our preferred partners below:
- Get Around Iceland: Book a camper! If you want to travel with a Happy Campers van as we did (and you should!) make sure to read our full review. You can easily book using this link, but make sure to book well in advance during high season.
- Accommodation in Iceland: To feel more at home we use Airbnb you can check out some tips and read more about getting an Airbnb coupon code here. Or just take this coupon for your first stay!
- Flights to Iceland: Compare airlines, dates, and prices all in one place with Skyscanner.
- Travel Insurance: We never travel without travel insurance with World Nomads. Natasha is a bit of a worry wart and would rather stay safe than sorry. World Nomads offers incredible flexible and great plans!
- Water: We found the water in Iceland amazing to drink, if you want extra assurance then we love traveling with our Lifestraw Go reusable water bottle.
- Guide Book: Sometimes it’s nice just to have a real book in your hands when traveling. We recommend Lonely Planet to get you through those wireless nights.
- The Best Travel Cameras To Buy For Your Next Trip
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- 13 Tips to Survive Iceland in a Camper Van • Read This Before You Go!
- A 12 Day Iceland Road Trip Itinerary (Ring Road + Snaefellsnes Peninsula)
- 20 Iceland Travel Tips • Things to Know Before You Go
- The Black Sand Beach in Iceland: All You Need to Know about Reynisfjara
- Best Time to Visit Iceland • Don’t Let the Weather Ruin Your Trip
- 30 Things to do in Iceland • The Ultimate Iceland Bucket List
- 11 Waterfalls in Iceland You Have to See to Believe
- 15 Iceland Honeymoon Ideas You Should Consider