We all know by now that travel in Iceland can be expensive. However, knowing where to eat on the cheap, what to look for in a vehicle rental, and many other ways to save money, you CAN travel to Iceland on a budget!
Enter camping! Camping is a great way to fully enjoy nature and an affordable option for accommodation.
Do you dream of waking up, looking across one of Iceland’s most beautiful fjords or falling asleep under the Northern Lights? If you do, sounds like camping might be perfect for you.
If you are new around here, welcome. My name is Jeannie, and I am your Iceland virtual tour guide. Today, we are talking about camping in Iceland because let me tell you, there is nothing that I love more than Iceland, and a close second being camping. I’ve been camping my whole life, but camping in Iceland is a totally different animal. If you are thinking about camping in Iceland, then don’t even worry because today, I am going to talk to you about all of the camping things. We are going to talk about the who, what, where, when, why, and how of camping in Iceland. So, let’s get into it!
Who can camp?
Anyone of all shapes, sizes, ages…camping is for everyone! If you’re a nature lover or if you’re just looking for a way to save money, then camping is going to be a perfect fit for you. More specifically, camping can be done in a tent, a camper van, an RV or motorhome, or your vehicle (under very specific regulations, but we’re going to get into that in just a minute).
The first thing is, it’s cheap. It’s going to save you money to camp because you don’t have to fork out the expensive costs for a hotel, guest house, any kind of accommodation. It’s cheaper per night to camp, hands down.
Next is, you are able to experience some of the most beautiful sceneries in Iceland by just parking. So, you’re parking in nature, you’re waking up to this beautiful scenery, it’s so amazing, rather than just waking up in some random hotel room. You’re really able to be one with nature, so you’ll be able to hear the birds and the sound of the wind or the rain, and also, just the peacefulness of nature in Iceland.
Another reason why I really like camping is flexibility. Camping gives you a lot more freedom over your days. You don’t have to be so rigid on where you’re going to stay per night. If your sightseeing is going a bit slower than you had expected, then you can easily just camp when you’re done for the day, or if you’re kind of flying through your itinerary and maybe not staying at certain sites as long as you thought, easy, then you just kind of camp along the way. The flexibility is so nice when you’re traveling in Iceland.
Why NOT camp?
This is just as important as why to camp, right? The reasons you might not want to camp: number one…the weather. Iceland is cold, it’s rainy, it’s super windy, the weather’s unpredictable, even in the summer. You can never count on easy weather in Iceland. If this is something that might affect your ability to enjoy camping, then you might want to think twice because there have been nights when I thought our tent was going to blow out of the campground. There have been other nights where it rained so much overnight that the rain started leaking in through the seams.
Another reason you might not want to camp is the facilities at the campgrounds. We’re going to talk about this later when I talk specifically about what’s included in the campgrounds, but let me tell you that not all campgrounds are alike in Iceland. There might be some really nice facilities at one campsite and clean bathrooms, whereas you go to the next one, completely different place. If this is something that might really ruin your day and you’re just not someone that can roll with the punches when it comes to things like that, you might not want to go camping in Iceland.
The last thing is if you’ve never camped before. I’m telling you that if you have never slept in a tent, rolled out your own sleeping bag, cooked your own food, and anything like that, maybe just don’t start it in Iceland because, like I said, with the weather and the craziness, like all of the unpredictability that would have to factor in, if you haven’t practiced setting up a tent in crazy weather, this is just not the place to start it.
When can you camp?
Really, the answer is year round. There are over 170 campgrounds in Iceland, that’s a lot. Basically, every village has its own campground. You can essentially camp any time of the year. I’ve even camped in the winter! However, there are specific campsites that are only open during the summer. This means that the facilities are open, running water, access to a toilet and shower, access to an inside cooking area, things like that. If it’s a summer only campsite, then those facilities will be closed down outside of these months. Camping in the summer is peak tourist season, so campsites are going to be a lot more full during this time. It’s really, really important, depending on which month you come, to check the availability of each campsite.
I can’t give you an answer on a certain location or campsite, which is open, which has which facilities. But in general, all of the campsites in Iceland that have facilities open will be from June until August or September. For your reference, in terms of campsites that are open in the winter versus year-round, tjalda.is is the best campsite resource, which leads me to my other point.
I recently reached out to you guys asking you what kind of questions that you want to know about Iceland, and you answered, “what is the camping like in September, what is the camping like in October?” Here’s the short answer, it’s cold. Colder than the summer months, right? So, you can camp in those off-season months, absolutely, but just note, you have to be way more prepared for cold. It’s going to get close to freezing overnight. You have to have the right gear for that, you have to have the right clothing. You might want to consider not tent camping during some of the off-season months. If you’re traveling and you’re planning on camping in October, it might be more beneficial for you to upgrade to, say, a camper van rather than a tent.
Remember, there aren’t a lot of trees in Iceland, so you can’t even rely on like putting your tent by a tree to shield some of the wind, it’s not a given! The weather in autumn, especially, is getting really, really windy, really, really rainy, so, if that’s going to put a damper on your trip, then really maybe consider forgoing the tent.
Where can I camp in Iceland?
A big question that I hear all the time when it comes to camping is, where are we allowed to camp?
LET ME MAKE MYSELF EXTREMELY CLEAR:
It is illegal to camp in a tent, camper van, RV, or vehicle anywhere outside of a designated camping area.
Illegal, against the law, disrespectful, and completely unacceptable, so please, please, please do not do it.
The only exception to this is if you get written consent from a landowner to wild camp on their property. But you can’t pull your vehicle off on the side of the road or stay in a rest area overnight or stay in the parking lot of a waterfall. This is completely against the law, and it’s really, really bad for the environment and nature because you’re going to be making this impact from where your vehicle was and maybe if you’re leaving food waste or dumping out water, this is just really not good. Don’t do it. Make sure if you’re going to park overnight, even if you want to sleep in your vehicle, that’s fine, but just do it in a designated campsite area.
How to camp
- The first thing that you’re going to do is look for a campground on a map. Whether you have a paper map, my digital map in my e-book, or you have a map that’s provided to you from your camper van company, you’re going to want to locate the campgrounds in Iceland. As I said before, all the villages have some sort of camping area, and a lot of times, as you’re driving into the village, you’ll see a sign for camping. Just follow the signs, park in that area.
- Next, you can just arrive at any time. There’s no check-in or check-out time, and you don’t need to prebook your reservation for the campsite, you just show up when you get there.
- Next, you’re going to look for a place to pay, and this could be either at a reception office or by leaving money in a pay box, just depending on, again, the time of year or if the reception is open. If there seems to be an area where there is a reception but it’s closed for the day, then just make sure to pay the person in the morning before you head out. A lot of times the attendants of the campsites will go around quite early in the morning and just knock on your window and make sure that you pay before you leave, so make sure to just do that before you go.
How much does it cost?
Good news is camping is cheap! Prices are generally given per person and range from 1,000 to 2,000 Icelandic krona ($8-$18 USD). Cost includes access to bathroom facilities. Typically for the more expensive campsites, it also includes the use of showers, sauna, and geothermal pool (if they have them). Cheaper campsites may have showers for an additional fee (typically around 500 krona, $4).
Campsites are able to take either cash or card. Obviously, the cash would be in local currency, the Iceland krona.
An alternative for your showering needs is just going to one of the town pools since you are required to shower before getting in. Almost every town has one (heated by geothermal energy!) and they are typically pretty cheap (500-700 krona, $4-$6 seems to be average, although some are free and some up to 1,500 krona, $12).
What are the campsites like?
Let me tell you, friends, they are all drastically different. No two campsites are the same.
In general, you can expect a wide range of facilities, including toilets, showers, laundry facilities, running water, wifi, charging stations, I mean, it’s not all guaranteed, but some of the best ones have all of that.
But you really can’t expect anything. You just have to either, a) go with the flow, or, b) you’re going to have to get access to some sort of camping map that will give you some insight into what to expect from each place.
Now, you guys know that I personally recommend Happy Campers as the best camper van rental in Iceland, and they have put together the most beautiful campground map that I’ve ever seen. It details year-round vs. winter vs. summer campgrounds. It also tells you what to expect for amenities, and how much each site costs.
Another thing that some places have is a washing station or big outdoor sink where you can bring your dishes to wash. Some places that I’ve stayed have an indoor kitchen facility, a stove that you can cook at, and a nice indoor place to sit with a few tables. But again, I’ve also stayed at some basic campsites where there are just a few toilets, and nothing else.
Let’s talk more specifically about food and water. In terms of food, you can do a couple things:
- You can bring your own food – grocery shopping
- bring a lot of like dry, prepackaged meals
- cook for yourself if you have the gear to do it
- eat at restaurants
In terms of water – most all campsites have water facilities onsite. You can fill up your water tank there, or you can usually fill up nearby at a fuel station. Tons and tons of free water in Iceland, please don’t buy it! Just get your water either at the campsite or fill up at a gas station.
Charging your devices. If you’re sleeping in a tent and you have a vehicle, then you’re going to have to make sure to charge those devices as you’re driving or some campsites also have electricity. You would have to pay more for that, but it is available for that. Another option is if the facility has a kitchen, then you can maybe use some of the outlets in the kitchen.
Showers and toilets. Toilets are the standards at campsites. They are free, no extra charge to use the toilets. However, showers: I’ve stayed at some places that have free use of the shower and it’s beautiful with a little changing area, and then the shower stall and hot water, and it’s free and it’s all great. Then, I’ve stayed at some places where you do have to pay extra to use the hot water in the showers. This is usually by a coin-operated machine, so make sure that if you’re planning on camping to take out some local currency and get some coins, so you can get a hot shower.
If you are familiar with camping in the United States, camping in Iceland is pretty similar but there are some major differences.
- It Isn’t Secluded
- There aren’t a lot of trees in Iceland. Most campsites are just a big, open field where everyone pitches their tent (or parks their camper) wherever they want. If it’s busy, this may mean you are super close to other people without anything in between. Also, sometimes campsites are on the outskirts of town, sometimes they are right in the town center, but rarely are they in the middle of nowhere.
- You Can’t Build a Fire
- There are a couple of things working against you on this one:
1) Lack of firewood (see tree comment above)
2) Fragile ecosystem
- Some campsites have metal grills set up, but most just have picnic tables where you can use a camp stove
- There are a couple of things working against you on this one:
- Running Water
- Camping in the US usually means pit toilets and (maybe) running water, sometimes a shower, and the facilities are often dirty. In Iceland, almost all campsites have flush toilets, running water, and most have showers. Also, the facilities are clean! And, added bonus, you don’t have to negotiate with a giant spider for use of the toilet.
- If you are camping for at least seven nights around Iceland, then I would suggest getting a camping card. This can be found at utilegukortid.is, and you can buy this camping card, which allows you to stay at over 40 different campsites around the country without paying on the spot or pre-booking. I highly recommend this if you are staying for seven nights or more.
- Get a campervan. I said this before, I’ll say it again, I made a whole video about how much I love camper vans, highly recommend them. I think they’re very, very economical. It’s your vehicle, your accommodation, your meals all in one! You can’t go wrong, and tent camping in Iceland is intense, pun intended!
- Do not ever under any circumstances leave behind food waste or carelessness with dumping your water. Make sure to find a trash bin or a designated area for dumping this water if you’re staying in an RV. Let’s try and keep Iceland as beautiful and preserved as possible.
- If you are camping in the summer (May-August) do not forget to bring a sleep mask with you. There is SO much daylight, and you are not going to be able to sleep if you’re camping in summer because it’s going to feel like it’s the middle of the day.
- If you want to camp in Iceland but you don’t have all the gear, it is possible to rent gear for camping in Iceland. All you have to do is head to iceland-camping-equipment.com, and they can totally take care of you and get you everything you need to set up shop.
Gear to Bring
If you are wondering what to bring on your camping trip:
- Tent – most people have one where the rain cover completely covers the tent because of high wind
- Ground tarp
- Extra stakes
- Sleeping bag – I’d recommend one that is rated for cold weather as it still gets pretty cold at night during the summer
- Sleeping pad – the ground is actually pretty soft, and I felt really good with just my Thermarest
- Camp Stove – I recommend a small backpacking stove
- Cookware – this depends a lot on what you plan on doing for food. I did mostly freeze dried backpacking meals so I brought 1 pot, 1 spork
- Water Jug
- Eye Mask – if you are camping during the summer, it never gets dark. Like, not even close. If you plan on sleeping, you need to cover your eyes
- Ear Plugs – it never gets dark, so the birds never shut up.
- Fast dry towel
- Headlamp – for cave exploring! That’s the only place it’ll be dark enough for one in the summer
- Food – this is up to you. If you plan on cooking using fresh ingredients, I’d buy them in Iceland. If you plan on going the backpacking food route, it’s much cheaper to buy in the US and then bring with you (you can bring in up to 3kg of food excluding raw meat, eggs, and some other things)
- Things you’ll need to rent in Iceland
Money saving tip!
All right, my friends, my last camping pro tip is to invest in my Iceland eBook + map, which is the best money saving tip that you can make for your whole trip. If you are looking to travel to Iceland on a budget, then I promise, this is the best resource to do so. Not only do I go through all of the planning tips and everything that you would need to know to make your trip amazing, but it also includes my digital map around Iceland, so you don’t miss any of the hidden gems, best places to eat, and all of the best places.
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