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Everything You Need to Know Before Camping in Iceland

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, Iceland is a must-see for people who love beautiful and unique views. (That’s pretty much everyone, right?)

Iceland is an especially compelling destination for the nature lover. Nearly all of the activities to do there, including hiking, snorkeling, and swimming, require spending copious amounts of time outdoors. With several hours of daylight in the summer and hundreds of kilometers of trails to explore, why wouldn’t you want to spend the majority of your time in fresh air?

If you’re on a budget (or simply love being outside!), one of the best ways to experience Iceland 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 for camping in Iceland in this giant guide.

seljalandsfoss iceland
Photo Credit: 12109 – Pixabay

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 access to 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 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. 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).

How to Get Around Iceland

Rental Car

The easiest 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 car. These are typically a little more expensive than the basic stick shift vehicles, but it’s worth it to have a car you know how to drive properly.

Campervan

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. I have never used a campervan before 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.

Related:  Everything You Need to Pack for a Camping Trip

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 my opinion, it’s worth trying a traditional Icelandic restaurant once, but not for every meal during your trip. I recommend bringing some Clif bars or granola to tide you over for breakfast, and using a camping stove to cook for the rest of your meals. There are typically grocery stores and gas stations that sell prepared food items in most of the towns. Shopping at these in lieu of going out to eat can save you a lot of money.

Other

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.

camping in iceland
Photo Credit: piviso – Pixabay

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.
campsites in iceland
Photo Credit: Barni1 – Pixabay

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!

Near Reykjavik

Southern Iceland

Eastern Iceland

Northern Iceland

Snaefellsnes Peninsula and Western Iceland

Additional Resources

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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

Kay is a full-time media professional located in Washington DC who takes every spare day of time to travel the world. In the last year alone, she’s visited over 10 different countries and taken a dozen short trips in between. You can typically find her wandering the streets of a city, taking ridiculous self portraits, or hiking a mountain somewhere. Connect with Kay: Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

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