As you’ve probably seen in famous scenes from Game of Thrones, Iceland boasts some of the most strange and captivating landscapes in the world. From moss-covered rocks to striking mountains, volcanic beaches to glacial lakes, it’s every nature-lover’s perfect playground. Camping in Iceland is a must for every nature-lover who visits this beautiful island.
Also, if you’re on a budget (or simply love being outside!), one of the best ways to experience Iceland while saving money is – you guessed it – camping. All around the country, there are designated camping areas that range from free (yes, seriously) to ~$15 per person. To help you plan your trip around the Ring Road, I’ve compiled everything you need to know to go camping in Iceland in this giant guide.
Why Should You Go Camping in Iceland?
If you’ve ever read posts on the internet or heard friends talk about Iceland, you’ve probably heard things like “it’s so beautiful” or “it’s a new up-and-coming destination.” What you probably haven’t heard as much is that pretty much everything Iceland is ridiculously expensive, especially accommodation. With hostels costing $40-50 USD per person per night for a dorm bed, bare-bones guesthouses starting at over $100 USD, and hotels costing over $200 USD, you can probably imagine that costs rack up super quickly here.
Camping can help drastically alleviate the costs of traveling in Iceland. Since most campsites are only around $10 USD per person per night, it is the cheapest way to travel in Iceland save for Couchsurfing. See these sample 2-person accommodation budget comparisons (for a 5-night trip) below:
- Hotels: Average of $100 per night per person x 5 nights = $500 for the whole trip
- Guesthouses: Average of $50 per night per person x 5 nights = $250 for the whole trip (not including linens)
- Campsites: Average of $10 per person per night x 5 nights = $50 for the whole trip
As you can see, camping is around 10% of the cost of staying in hotels. Cool, huh? I thought so too.
An even better perk of camping in Iceland is front-row access to the country’s most beautiful landscapes and sights. Who wouldn’t want to sleep right next to a raging waterfall, or a black sand beach, or a striking rock formation? There’s really nothing like waking up to the sounds, sights, and smells of nature all around you, and this perk is exclusive to camping in Iceland. Campsites near interesting landscapes and views are abundant, whereas finding other types of accommodations in those same places is nearly impossible. Take that, hotels and hostels!
When to Go Camping in Iceland
The high tourist season in Iceland is late May to August, so campsites will be pretty crowded during this time with both vans and tent campers. However, the campsites are open from spring to early fall, so any time from April to September is fair game for camping.
If you’re planning on camping in a tent, I recommend planning your visit during the summer months to maximize the chances of warmer weather. However, if you’re going to rent a campervan, you can visit any time from April to October and just park in the parking lots of the closed campsites (these typically remain open in the off-season). In the winter, several roads in Iceland are closed and therefore are not very conducive for camping of any kind.
Safety While Camping in Iceland
In general, Iceland is a pretty safe country. You should not be concerned with violent crime or burglary while camping and driving around. That being said, if you are going solo, it would not be a bad idea to let somebody else know your itinerary. Safety from the environment and nature will be your top priority while camping in Iceland. Use common sense judgment when picking a camping spot and keep a close eye on the weather. Even in the Summer, you can find yourself stuck in a blizzard while camping, so come prepared and bring warm layers, rainproof equipment, and food for emergencies.
How to Get Around Iceland
The easiest and most cost-effective way to get around Iceland is by renting a car. Many people rent 4WD cars, but this can get expensive quickly and you don’t necessarily need one if you are just planning on driving around the Ring Road. I used Avis to rent a car in Iceland and had a great experience. If you’re under 25, underage fees might apply (but you can learn how to avoid them here!).
If you’re like me and don’t know how to use a manual transmission, be sure you book an automatic vehicle ahead of time. These are typically a little more expensive than the basic manual shift vehicles, but it’s worth it to have a car you know how to drive properly.
If you like the idea of camping but cringe at the thought of sleeping in a tent, a campervan may be the best option for you. These typically range in price from ~$100+ per day in the high season and are equipped with basic facilities. During my visits to Iceland, I have never used a campervan, but many travelers recommend GoCampers Iceland.
Biking, Buses, etc.
There are plenty of other ways to get around Iceland, including biking, taking buses, and hitchhiking. However, I can’t recommend these as they give significantly less flexibility and safety than renting a car. Unless you are an avid mountain/road biker and want to travel that way for the adventure/fitness aspects of it, I recommend saving yourself the trouble and simply renting a vehicle.
What to Pack
Clothing and Gear
For clothing, be sure to pack plenty of layers and some waterproof gear, as the weather in Iceland is super unpredictable can can change from clear skies to storms in a matter of minutes. If you’re going in the summer, I recommend bringing some merino wool or synthetic baselayers to sleep in as well, as it gets pretty cold in the evenings. Also, be sure to bring waterproof hiking boots and slip-on shoes for showers.
If you’re planning on tent camping… Be sure to pack a tent, rain fly, sleeping bag and mat, and all of the other camping essentials you’ll need. Not sure what to bring? Head over to our handy camping packing guide for some more guidance.
If you’re planning on staying in a campervan… Bring linens or sleeping bags and fold up chairs (in case you want to sit outdoors). Also, be sure to check with your van rental company for any other recommended items to pack.
Food and Cooking Items
Food in Iceland is really expensive, with sit down restaurants costing over $20 USD per person for a very basic meal. In our opinion, it’s worth trying a traditional Icelandic restaurant once, but not for every meal during your trip. I recommend bringing or buying some Clif bars or granola to tide you over for breakfast, and using a camping stove to cook for the rest of your meals. If you don’t feel like hauling your food around, most grocery stores and gas stations sell prepared food items as well. Shopping at these instead of going out to eat can save you a lot of money and help you not break the bank on food in Iceland.
Because many campsites offer additional amenities like laundry and showers, bring your shower gear (toiletries, towel, and shower shoes) and some detergent in case you want to wash anything. Also, it’s wise to have some car adapters to charge your electronics (cameras, phones, etc.) since many campsites do not have places to charge. Some other camping hacks that I typically find useful are plastic bags (for organizing trash, dirty clothes, etc.), wet wipes (for washing your face or sponge bathing), and a head lamp.
What Are Iceland’s Campsites Like?
When you arrive at a campsite, you’ll usually find a parking area next to a large, grassy expanse. Here, you’ll find van campers and tents pitched around the designated areas. Most campsites have a small building where the rangers collect fees, and if there are indoor facilities, they’re usually connected. Be sure to check in with the ranger or manager before pitching your tent to ensure that you’ve paid in advance and that there’s adequate space for you.
While some campsites are fairly bare-bones, many of them are equipped with indoor seating areas, hot showers, and running water. Some even have free Wi-Fi, charging stations, and laundry facilities. They’re pretty bougey by camping standards and are perfect for the first-time or beginner camper. Check out the individual websites of the campsites in Iceland (listed below) for more information.
What About Wild Camping in Iceland?
Wild camping in Iceland is technically permitted on uncultivated land for one night at a time. This means that on unowned lands, you can camp with up to three tents in one place for one night at a time. However, it is strictly prohibited on owned land/farms, so if you’re going to this you have to be careful. If you want to try wild camping, be sure to keep an eye out for posted signage, and don’t jump any fences or gates to find a campsite. These areas are likely off limits.
Because it’s difficult to tell at times where land is owned or uncultivated, I recommend avoiding wild camping whenever possible. This site has some more information on the regulations surrounding wild camping in Iceland.
Other Tips for Camping in Iceland
- If you go camping in the summer, the midnight sun will be in full-force. If you’re sensitive to light while trying to sleep, bring a sleeping mask or other eye cover so you can get a good night’s rest.
- There’s practically no dangerous wildlife in Iceland. Don’t worry about bringing bear spray or things like that – you won’t need them.
- There aren’t many trees in Iceland, and the ones that exist are very short and thin. Don’t expect to find places where you can hang a hammock or camp in a hammock tent.
- Near some of the lakes in Iceland, you’ll find hordes of midge flies. These little guys are harmless but get EVERYWHERE, so if you aren’t okay being near bugs, avoid camping near lakes.
- When the weather is really bad, you might be tempted to stay in a guesthouse for a night. If you do this, you can save money by waiving the use of linens and just using your sleeping bag instead.
A List of Campsites in Iceland on the Ring Road
This is a preliminary and growing list of campsites in Iceland that are accessible in areas many travelers would visit. Prices are per adult, per night, not including extra amenities or fees. We’ll continue updating this list as we find more!
- Reykjavik Eco Campsite – located in Reykjavik near Laugardalur swimming pool; 2,200 ISK
- Hafnarfjörður Campsite – small campsite located on the outskirts of Reykjavik; 1,700 ISK
- Mossfellsbaer Campsite – small camp located in a town outside of Reykjavik; 1,200 ISK (as of 2016)
- Mosskogar Campsite – located outside of Reykjavik; 1,500 ISK
- Thingvellir Campsite – located in Thingvellir National Park; 1,600 ISK
- Skjol Campsite – located in Southern Iceland overlooking the Geysir area; 1,300 ISK
- Seljalandsfoss (Hamragardar) Campsite – campground located right next to Seljalandsfoss; 1,300 ISK
- Skogar Campsite – bare bones campground located right next to Skogafoss
- Vik Camping – campsites located in the vicinity of Vik
- Thakgil Campsite – beautiful campsite location situated between some jagged mountains; 1,700 ISK
- Ulfljotsvatn Campsite – located near the Golden Circle; 1,300 ISK
- Vatnajokull National Park Camping – located in the Vatnajokull National Park/Skaftafell; 1,700 ISK
- Höfn Campsite – located in the town of Höfn; 1,500 ISK
- Eyjolfsstadir Campsite – located in a mountainous remote area on the East side of Iceland; 1,500 ISK
- Egilsstadir Campsite – located in the city of Egilsstadir; 1,500 ISK
- Seydisfjördur Campsite – located in the town of Seydisfjördur; 1,600 ISK
- Hallormsstadaskogur (Atlavik) Campground – located near the town of Atlavik; 1,700 ISK
- Vöpnafjordur Camping Ground – lively campground located in Northeastern Iceland; 700 ISK
- Systragil Campsite – located east of Akureyi
- Akureyri Campsite – located in Akureyri; 1,400 ISK
- Sigridastadir Campsite – located in the mountains near Akureyri; 1,000 ISK
- Siglufjördur Campsite – located in the town of Siglufjordur; 1,200 ISK
- Dalvik Campsite – located near Siglufjordur; 1,700 ISK (per tent), 2,200 ISK (per campervan)
- Sauðárkrókur, Hofsos, Varmahlíð Campsites – located on Troll Peninsula (operated by same management)
- Skúlagarður Campsite – located on the Northeast coast of Iceland
- Hlíð Campsite – located at Lake Myvatn
- Gladheimar Campsite – located in northwestern Iceland
Snaefellsnes Peninsula and Western Iceland
- Budardalur Camping Ground – located in the town of Budardalur; 1,200 ISK
- Hvammstangi Campsite – located just outside the town of Hvammstangi
- Stykkisholmur Campsite – located on the north side of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula in the town of Stykkisholmur; 1,400 ISK
- Grundarfjordur Campsite – located on the north side of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula
- Olafsvik Campsite – located on the tip of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula; 1,300 ISK
- Hellissandur Campsite – located on the tip of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula; 1,300 ISK
- Varmaland Campsite – located in Varmaland village; 1,200 ISK
- Selsskogur Campsite – located near Borgarnes
- Akranes Campsite – located in Kalmansvik, north of Reykjavik
- Þórisstaðir Campsite – located about an hour north of Reykjavik
- Camping for the first time? Here’s our guide on what you need to know.
- Need help packing for your trip? Here’s our preferred gear list for camping.
- Want to be a smart and secure traveler? Be sure to pick up some travel insurance before you go.
- Want to narrow down your choices? Here are 9 campsites on the Ring Road to help you get inspired.
- Guide to Iceland has a pretty good overview of camping options in Iceland for more information.
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Have you gone to any of these campsites in Iceland? If so, where was your favorite campsite? Share your tips in the comments.
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Featured Image Credit: ReneBoinski – Pixabay