Guide to Van, Tent, and Car Camping in Iceland (+ the Best Campsites!)
If you’re planning a road trip around Iceland, I think camping is the absolute best way to see it all! It’s a great way to get out in nature each day, to enjoy Iceland on a budget, and to have total freedom and flexibility.
If you’re curious about camping in Iceland, whether it’s in a tent, car camping, or renting a van, this guide will tell you everything you need to know – where you can legally camp, how to prepare for your trip, and a few of the best campsites in Iceland!
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Wild Camping: Can You Camp Anywhere in Iceland?
This one’s important! If you read a blog post that tells you that wild camping in Iceland is legal and that you can set up camp anywhere – it’s an outdated blog post. Travelers used to be able to wild camp in Iceland, but as it’s become a much more popular travel destination, this has taken a toll on the environment, and you are no longer allowed to just camp anywhere you want to!
Today, you can only camp in designated campgrounds. I know this is kind of a bummer, and where I am in the US we’re spoiled with plenty of options for free wild camping, but this rule is there to protect the environment in Iceland, so please, be respectful and stick to designated campgrounds! It’s what’s best for preserving the beautiful nature, and as a visitor, it’s really important to respect the wishes of the people who actually live there.
So, to make this long answer short, no, you can’t wild camp in Iceland – you have to camp in designated campgrounds.
Where Can You Camp in Iceland?
You can’t wild camp in Iceland, but there are plenty of campgrounds where you can! Whether you’re van, tent, or car camping in Iceland, you must go to a designated campground to sleep at night. Luckily, there are lots of campsites all over Iceland, so you won’t have any trouble finding a place! Many of the hotels also have an area for campers.
Here is a map of all the campgrounds in Iceland – I got this map from Go Campers. Later on in this blog post, I’ll talk about some of my favorite campsites in Iceland!
The Cost of Camping in Iceland
To stay at the campgrounds in Iceland, there is a fee – and this fee depends on where you’re camping. But, the fee is usually not too expensive, and definitely less expensive than staying in hotels! The cost of camping in Iceland typically ranges from 1500 ISK to 2500 ISK (which is about $10-$20 USD), but a few of the campsites in national parks can be pricier. You can always check out pricing ahead of time for each campsite you consider staying at.
To save money on campsites, it might be a good idea to get a Camping Card. This card can be purchased online or at any Olís gas station when you’re in Iceland, and it’s accepted at some campsites around the country. For €159 (which is, at the time that I’m writing this, about $159 USD), two adults can stay at a Camping Card campsite without any additional fees.
About Camping in Iceland
Campgrounds in Iceland are really different from campgrounds here in the US! Here’s what you need to know, and what you can expect at campsites in Iceland.
Do You Need Reservations for Campsites in Iceland?
You do not need reservations for campsites in Iceland! They are first come first serve, but don’t worry – it’s pretty unlikely that they’ll run out of spots for you. In the US, established campgrounds typically have numbered sites that are reserve-able, and when they’re out, they’re out. But, in Iceland, the campgrounds are really just one huge parking area – no official spots, and no reservations required.
How Do You Pay for Campsites in Iceland?
My first night car camping in Iceland, I was actually really confused about this! At many of the campsites in Iceland, there is no office and no attendant, and no way to pay. Instead, a ranger comes and knocks on your door (tent, camper, or car door) and asks for payment.
They do this in the evening – times vary, but for me, it was usually between 7 and 9 PM, and after you pay them (all campgrounds take credit cards, so no need to worry about cash) they’ll give you a receipt to put on your dashboard. They come around again in the morning (again, times vary – this only happened to me once, and the ranger came at 8:45 AM), too, for those who get to the campground later in the evening.
Some of the campsites (usually the bigger ones that are adjacent to a hotel) will have an office, so you can go there to pay instead of waiting for the ranger to come around.
What Amenities are available at Campsites in Iceland?
Campsites in Iceland are honestly pretty fancy! At minimum, they all (all the ones I went to anyway, maybe there are exceptions, but not very many) have a bathroom – a real one that flushes – a hand washing sink, and a bigger outdoor sink for dishes. Water was also available at every campsite I went to.
Many of the campsites also have showers – sometimes they were included in the camping cost, but sometimes there was an additional fee. One campground I went to even had a washer and dryer! So overall, the campsites in Iceland are really established and have all the necessary amenities. You’re not exactly roughin’ it!
Ways to Camp in Iceland
When you camp in Iceland, there are a few different options for how you do it – you can rent a camper van, car camp, or just pitch a tent. No matter what you choose, you’ll go to the same campgrounds!
Camper van Camping in Iceland
Renting a camper van is a really popular way to explore Iceland – it’s the most comfortable option, but also the most expensive way to camp. This is great for families or people who need more amenities, like heat or a fridge.
Car Camping in Iceland
Car camping in Iceland was the option I chose – if you’re renting a car and driving in Iceland anyway, this is a budget friendly option, and there are a lot more 4×4 options available than if you were to go with a camper van. I went with a car with a rooftop tent, but you can also get a spacious car and fold the seats down to sleep inside.
I had a good experience with the rooftop tent. If you’re alone you may need a warmer sleeping bag or maybe some layers to put on, but with two of us it was perfect, and honestly it was even a little too warm some mornings! Having the rooftop tent allowed us to have plenty of room in the car to store all of our stuff, without worrying about moving it all at night.
The only negative thing about it was that if the wind was strong, the noise of the tent flapping was awful! There was only one night (out of the 14 days I spent in Iceland) where it was really bad, but this is something to be aware of if you decide to rent a car with a rooftop tent.
Pro tip – find out if your car automatically locks before you leave the keys inside the car and close all the doors when going to the bathroom in the morning… ask me how I know :).
Tent Camping in Iceland
The last option is tent camping in Iceland. This is great for folks who want to rent a smaller car, or those who are planning to motorcycle or bike, or even hitchhike around Iceland – I don’t have any advice on any of the above, but I did see quite a few people doing it, so if you’re feeling really adventurous, it does sound fun!
A lightweight tent would be ideal, and at home I use the Big Agnes Tiger Wall tent, which weighs less than two pounds! Or, you can rent a tent once you’re in Iceland.
What You Need for Camping in Iceland
The gear you need will depend on what kind of camping you’re planning to do – if you rent a van, you’ll likely have everything you need, but if you decide on tent or car camping in Iceland, you’ll probably need some more stuff!
You can rent pretty much any camping gear that you’ll need in Iceland, but here are my recommendations in case you want to bring some of your own gear.
A tent is, of course, one of the most important things you’ll need for tent camping in Iceland. I have the Big Agnes Tiger Wall tent, which is amazing and weighs less than 2 pounds. The Stoic Madrone Tent is a more budget friendly, but heavier option.
Bonus Tip: A lot of these links are for my favorite place to buy outdoor gear – Backcountry. If you install the free Lolli extension on your browser, you can earn free Bitcoin when you shop online at certain retailers, including Backcountry. You can transfer it to a crypto wallet, or just cash out to USD in your bank account.
When you choose a sleeping bag, you’ll need to make sure it’s warm enough for your trip, along with being lightweight and packable if you’re bringing it with you to Iceland.
I use an ALPS down sleeping bag, which is really affordable compared to most down sleeping bags, but it’s light enough for me, and has kept me warm! The Marmot Ultra Elite 20 is a great synthetic bag that’s lightweight.
If you really want to keep your pack weight low, the Big Agnes Torchlight weighs less than 2 pounds!
A sleeping pad is a necessity for comfy nights, whether you’re in a tent or if you’re car camping in Iceland.
I have the Sea to Summit UltraLight Sleeping Pad, which packs up small and weighs less than a pound.
The NEMO equipment Switchback Sleeping Pad folds up small and is also great for backpacking, and if you’re going to be camping in colder weather, the NEMO Insulated Sleeping Pad helps with staying warm.
Having a camping stove allows you to have hot meals, and hot coffee!
The Jetboil MiniMo Stove is probably the lightest option there is, and it’s really popular with backpackers. I use the MSR Pocket Rocket stove, which packs up nice and small! Propane and butane for camping stoves were really easy to find in Iceland – almost every gas station and grocery store sells them.
You’ll also need some cooking utensils, and I recommend the GSI Outdoors Cook Set.
When you’re camping in Iceland, water is really easy to find – every campsite I went to had water, so you don’t really need to stock up at the grocery store or anything. But, I do recommend having some way to store water, for drinking or cooking during the day in between campsites.
We brought a collapsible water cube, which was a really great decision! It folds down flat for easy storage in your luggage, and you can refill it at the campgrounds and always have plenty of water with you.
I also recommend bringing something more portable for when you’re away from the car! For hiking, the CamelBak water reservoirs are convenient and easy – they can fit in your hiking backpack for water on the go. Nalgene water bottles are great for day to day.
At night, when you’re at your campsite, I definitely recommend layers! Iceland often gets windy and cold, especially in the evening.
A rain jacket is a must, and the Marmot Minimalist Jacket is a great lightweight, waterproof option. For the cold, I love my Columbia puffy jacket – it’s lightweight, but keeps me warm – and it also makes a good pillow for backpacking and camping! For added warmth and layering, a Patagonia fleece is always a good addition.
I really recommend bringing a headlamp with you! It’s really handy once it gets dark, useful for everything from nighttime trips to the bathroom to looking for something in your tent after the sun sets.
The Black Diamond Storm 400 Headlamp is a powerful one good for technical hikes, while a Petzl Tikka Headlamp is good for more casual outdoor adventures. I prefer a rechargeable headlamp (instead of using batteries), so I have a rechargeable BioLite Headlamp.
The Best Campsites in Iceland
When you’re planning your Iceland itinerary, it can be helpful to decide which campsites you want to go to ahead of time. The campsites in Iceland vary a ton – some are simple parking areas close to towns, while others are gorgeous places that are a little bit more remote. Here are a few of the best campsites in Iceland – the ones that were extra amazing, and ones that I really recommend visiting if they’re on your way!
This one was one of the absolute best campsites in Iceland! The views were gorgeous, with lots of greenery and huge boulders sticking out of the fields. There were a few other people here, but it was really spacious and peaceful. Getting here can be a little tricky – the map didn’t bring us quite there, but if you zoom out a little, you’ll see the dirt road on the map that goes up to the campground.
Heydalur was one of my favorites, not so much because of the campground itself, but because of the hot springs! The campsite is located right next to the Heydalur Hotel (so you can stay in one of the rooms too), and for a surprisingly small camping fee, you’ll have access to the incredible hot springs – a warm pool inside the greenhouse, two man-made outdoor pools, and one secret natural hot spring that you can have all to yourself (when you pay for your campsite at the restaurant, ask them how to get there)!
Getting to Dreki was a challenge – but so worth it! This campsite is on the way to Askja and Lake Víti, and it’s the only place to camp in this area. You can stay in one of the mountain huts, or camp in the camping area. It’s so quiet and truly in the middle of nowhere – and a great place to see the Northern Lights! This place is deep in the Highlands, so you’ll need to take the F-roads.
If you want to explore Thingvellir National Park (and snorkel between tectonic plates), the national park has a campground with gorgeous views. It’s just a few minutes away from where you can see the tectonic plates, with mountains and an incredible sunset!
This campground is right next to the Hotel Skógafoss, and it’s one of the best campsites in Iceland because from the parking area, you can see the waterfall! It’s a popular campsite, but a great one.
Planning on Van, Tent, or Car Camping in Iceland?
If you’re planning a trip, or if you have any of your own tips for van, tent, or car camping in Iceland, leave your questions or advice in the comments below!
For more Iceland tips, be sure to check out these posts next:
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