Iceland has many beautiful hotels and guest houses. However, visitors to Iceland often choose to travel around the ring road with their tent or in a camper van. And why not? Iceland is expensive, and camping offers an affordable and flexible way to see the country at your own pace. Here is everything you need to know about camping in Iceland.
Camping in Iceland – When is best?
With Iceland’s weather, it should come as no surprise that the summer months are the window for camping in Iceland. Normally June to early September, but ideally July and August. The sun does not set in the summer, so the days are endless. However, in the evening, temperatures can drop by quite a few degrees. Make sure that you have warm layers, three-season sleeping bags, and insulation mats. Many campsites have lots of facilities in the summer. This includes basic washing-up stations, communal grills, toilets, and recharge points.
Some are even part of larger complexes that have cafés, restaurants, bars, and even swimming pools. Although there are campsites that are open all year round, many have no staff outside the summer seasons, and so will be free of charge. Normally, campsites will cost somewhere between €15-30/$20-30 per person, per night.
We do not recommend camping in winter unless you are fully prepared. Whilst you may be equipped for very cold nights, the wind can be extremely dangerous, and it can come without warning. Therefore we recommend that you only camo during the summer. Unless, of course, you are in a camper van, but always check weather conditions no matter where you are going.
Camping in Iceland – Where is best?
Fortunately, Iceland has campsites placed all around the ring road, and in the Westfjords. There are no campsites in the highlands other than on marked hiking routes, such as the Laugavegur Trail. On more remote routes you can find small, basic huts. You have a great deal of choice, whether you want to be somewhere that is quieter, with fewer people, or close to small towns, where you can feel closer to the local community. In most cases, you do not need to make a reservation. Simply show up and set up camp, and pay at the office, or someone normally comes around to collect payment from you. You can almost always pay by card. It is quite easy to plan your route around Iceland because you should never be far from a campsite with at least some basic facilities.
You can buy a camping card, that covers your entry to almost all the campsites in Iceland for up to 28 days. This is really great if you are planning on a longer trip around the island.
Camping in Iceland – Dos, and Don’ts
Please remember that wild camping in Iceland is not permitted, and it is only allowed under very few circumstances. If you are in the wilderness, you may spend one night on uncultivated land, but you must not be close to a registered campsite. Unless you plan on hiking in the middle of nowhere in the highlands of Iceland, you are unlikely to find yourself in this position.
You may only camp on private land provided you get the landowner’s permission. However, this is difficult to obtain, and many farmers do not take too kindly to trespassers. Wild camping can damage the very vulnerable and fragile nature of Iceland, and damage can take months or even decades to recover if it ever recovers at all. To remain safe and do the right thing, always make sure that you spend the night at a registered campsite. This includes camper vans, or even if you just want to sleep in your car, you can only do so at a campsite.
Wildfires in Iceland are not permitted. However, small fires can be okay on beaches and caves. It is best to seek permission before you plan on doing this. The Environmental Agency of Iceland can answer all of your questions if you are ever unsure. When in a campsite, wildfires are strictly prohibited, so make sure that you use a travel grill or a gas stove. Also, make sure you do not place your grill directly on the ground. If you can, there are often large stones where you can place your grill. Many campsites also have communal grills for cooking.
Camping in Iceland – Staying Safe
During high summer, you should not have to worry so much about the weather. However, during early summer and towards the fall, the temperature can drop in the evenings. It is always best to wear thermal base layers at night and an appropriate sleeping bag. Always use an isolation mattress to put some distance between yourself and the ground.
Don’t wear cotton clothing at night. Cotton will not keep you warm, always opt for wool or other thermal layers.
Always make sure that you keep your phone charged. Keep it inside your sleeping bag at night. Your body heat will ensure that the battery does not drain as quickly as it does in lower temperatures.
Try to choose a campsite that is close to a town. If the weather turns suddenly, and you need to pack up, it would be easier to be closer to somewhere where you can get inside a building to keep warm, have a hot meal, possibly even book a room.
Camper vans do offer better protection from the weather, and they should also come equipped with heaters. No matter how you are traveling, it is always best to be prepared for all weathers.