If you want to take your RV lifestyle into another country, Iceland is a great place to do it. Not only is the rugged island closer to the U.S. than the rest of Europe, but the camping infrastructure is excellent.
In addition, dozens of camper van or motorhome rental companies are available right next to the Keflavik airport in Iceland. The choices range from economical cars with rooftop tents to luxurious Class Cs with full kitchens and bathrooms.
Many rentals are smartly designed van conversions from companies such as KuKu Campers and Happy Campers. An average cost for a medium-sized camper van is about $100 per day, which is incredible since an average hostel price is about $100 per night per person. The van is both your transportation and your bed for the night.
Iceland does not allow boondocking, or what they call “wild camping”, unless you get written permission from a landowner. However, nearly every town on the island has a campground with access to kitchen facilities, bathrooms, and showers. Some are even located next to hot springs, public pools, or towering waterfalls.
The website, Tjalda.is, lists all available campgrounds and the prices. In Iceland, they use the term campsite to refer to the entire grounds.
Speaking of prices, just about everything in the country, including fuel and food, is double what it is in the U.S. However, staying in campsites is fairly reasonable. The average cost per person per night is about $10. So, if you are on the search for waterfalls, tundra landscapes, or the Northern Lights, check out these five tips for a more successful and less expensive camping trip to Iceland.
1. Shop around for campsites and the best spots.
There are so many campgrounds around the country, you will have the freedom to shop around. For example, on the small Gardur Peninsula near the airport there are four campgrounds about 15 minutes from each other.
You are allowed to drive into a campsite and check out the facilities before you decide to stay. Some campsites are better than others. For example, some locations have showers included in the price, but at other locations showers may cost extra.
This is also a great time to scan for potential parking spots. You are allowed to park just about anywhere in a camping area. There are no designated sites. Some campgrounds may offer electrical hookups and a sewage dumping area, but that’s about it.
During your search, check where the prevailing winds (notoriously strong in Iceland) are coming from and any great views. The most efficient way to search for potential campsites is to rent a mobile hotspot, and use Google Maps to search for campsites. Reading the reviews from other travelers will help you make a better decision.
2. Campsite payment is a little unusual.
In the U.S. we are used to either paying for a campsite online, an RV park front desk, or a forest service envelope kiosk. Not so in Iceland. Each campground is completely different and it may not be readily noticeable where or how you need to pay.
Many of the sites are unmanned and may instead be run by a local community center, a small store or restaurant, or by a landowner or farmer. If you don’t see a place with an office to pay, just park, relax and keep an eye out.
Eventually someone will either come to the office or out to your rental RV to collect payment by either cash or credit card. You will get a receipt with the location of the campground. Place it on your dashboard.
3. Don’t grocery shop right away—forage instead.
At the campsites closest to the capital city of Reykjavik and the Keflavik airport, other travelers will drop off any food or camping supplies they didn’t use before they board their planes home. These are the places to check out first before going grocery shopping.
You are allowed to forage through these supplies to pick up items such as cooking oil, salt and pepper, canned goods, paper towels, and even butane or propane canisters.
Just about every camper van rental company provides a stove and basic cooking gear, but you may also be able to pick up much of your supplies for no cost at all.
4. Travel in the shoulder season.
With 24 hours of sunlight in the summer and the dark sky swimming in aurora in the winter, Iceland campsites can get crowded quickly. Plan to travel in the spring or fall when less people visit the island.
You will get more unpredictable weather, but you will have more even days and nights. In addition to traveling in the shoulder season, try to get to a campsite before 5:00 in the afternoon.
While campgrounds never really fill up, any kitchen facilities and bathrooms can get crowded in the later evening and early in the morning. Do most of your cooking and bathing when you arrive at the campsite to have the place to yourself.
5. Don’t try to see the entire country at once.
Iceland is about the size of the state of New York, so it’s tempting to try to see the entire country in one shot. In fact, much of the interior is full of volcanic soil “F-roads” that only allow 4-wheel drive vehicles, so don’t even try it.
Most travelers stick to the coastline and drive along the famous Ring Road that goes around the island, but avoid the rugged Westfjords to the north. Pick one or two sections of the country to visit and really get to know them well rather than being stuck in a vehicle for your entire trip.