Iceland Campervan guide
Exploring Iceland by campervan is the perfect way to be ultra flexible and cram in as many sights as you please! In our view it’s a much better way than relying on hotels/hostels where you may have to prebook in peak season and then your plans are more ridgid. We also think it’s preferable to car and tent camping as the weather is very unpredictable and can be foul at times! At least in a camper you can get one with heating and take cover if the weather really sets in.
Best time to visit Iceland
Peak Season - June - August
Peak season in Iceland is between June and August and this is when you can explore pretty much anywhere on the island including the highlands if you have a 4x4 vehicle.
As it’s peak time expect a lot of tourists and for everywhere to be busy. If you are visiting during these months then campervan hire prices will be highest and you will need to be prepared to get up early to get any spots to yourself of photography is your aim.
Pros of visiting during peak
- Better weather
- Campsites/huts/hotels all open
- Highland roads clear of snow and accessible
- Longer days with midnight sun
Cons of visiting during peak
- Much busier
- Vehicle hire more expensive
- Northern lights unlikely to be seen due to midnight sun
Shoulder Months - May & September
For us the ideal time was to visit Iceland during the shoulder months so it was a bit cheaper, less people and we had a chance of seeing the Northern Lights.
We visited for the first 2 weeks in September and expected to have a lot of rain after doing our research. We got lucky and only had 2 days where we were had to bunker down in the van. One day was that foul (gale force winds and torrential rain) that we abandoned ship and got a hotel room. Iceland is very windy on the whole and there is a real risk of damage to campervan doors which is very hard to avoid without a loo in the van!
There were a few campsites that had shut when we arrived and therefore no facilities were open. Whilst that’s not normally a problem for us we had a micro camper with no space for a loo or a proper wash. We did find it difficult without a loo as Iceland is very flat with not many spots to pop behind for some privacy. There are also a real lack of public toilets which made this even more tricky! Lesson learnt - hire a van with a loo next time!
Whilst touring Iceland in the winter is possible you would have to have a campervan which is fully winterised and capable of going over thick snow and ice.
The main ring road should all stay open however the smaller roads off may be tricky. You would also have to be pretty hardy to cope with the temperatures and lack of facilties as many campsites will be closed.
If you want to go to Iceland in the winter it may be a better option to hire a 4X4 and use hotels!
Can you wildcamp in Iceland?
You are not allowed to wild camp in a campervan in Iceland and most pull ins off the main ring road have no overnight parking signs on them.
If your main priority is doing the ring road tour in a campervan then you will need to factor in a campsite stay every night. The good news is the campsites are very reasonable at around £10 pppn.
We did managed to wild camp one night as we were right off the main ring road and we also stopped at a few campsites which were closed but you could still park there so saved a bit of money that way.
Take your own Campervan or Hire a campervan?
We only had a short window to do our Iceland tour due to work commitments at home so taking our campervan wasn’t really an option when we factored in the time it would take to get there and back. Also when we realised would have to pay for campsites most nights it would be very expensive to stay longer in our own van anyway.
If you have more time and have a 4x4 campervan then it would definitely be amazing to go in your own and you could probably find a lot of stealth camp spots off the main road.
When we go back we will definitely be hiring a 4x4 van (with a loo!) so we can explore the inside of Iceland better.
What’s the weather like in Iceland?
Cold, wet and windy! I joke but don’t expect blue skies everyday because it’s very unlikely! It tends to be cloudy which to be honest adds to the drama of your photos!
It felt a bit like the Scottish weather to us but colder at night when the skies were clear.
Basically make sure you take waterproofs and lots of warm layers.
How long do you need to do the Iceland Ring Road in a Campervan?
2 weeks - do not try and do it any shorter than that if you want to do the whole ring road. You need to factor in time for the odd bad weather day and so you have time to explore the island rather than dashing around trying to cram everything in with the driving too.
You could definitely do the golden circle and south side of the island in a week if that’s all you had and if you are short of time it would be better to focus on an area of the island to explore rather than doing the whole ring road.
We took 2 weeks which was just enough time for us to see everything we wanted. We still had to skip a few areas to make sure we weren’t rushing the bits we really wanted to do and we do plan to return in a 4x4 to explore more places in the future.
What are the roads like in Iceland?
The main ring road is an absolute doddle and was really quiet when we were there in September. Everyone tends to be doing the same things so you mainly just see traffic at the attractions.
The roads off the ring road can often be gravel (even if main roads). We took a main road over a mountain pass as a change of scenery and were surprised to be going up the side of a mountain for miles and miles on gravel!
What you can’t do is go on F roads unless you are in a 4x4 - your insurance will not cover you.
Iceland Campervan Hire Insurance
A word of warning - if you think you have a good deal on a hired campervan then make sure you check how much the excess is and what the potential cost to lower that is with the campervan hire company. We paid just over £600 for our tiny micro camper for 2 weeks and ended up paying half that again on CDW insurance to lower the excess to a sensible amount.
A friend of ours managed to take a UK excess insurance policy out for £60 for the year which applied to overseas hire (wish we had known before!) so that may be worth checking out too.
Essential things to take with you to Iceland
Iceland does't have many shops and we found things quite expensive over there compared to the UK. It's not as bad as Norway but you can save yourself a lot of money by taking some things with you.
There are also some items which we would class as essential to enable you to get the best out of your trip around Iceland. We recommend taking the following items with you:
- Iceland Road Map - Don't rely on google as it may take you up some unnecessary long gravel roads.
- Iceland Walking Guide Book - We used this cicerone book which served us well.
- Aeropress Go - If you like fresh coffee then the Aeropress Go is ultra portable and is the perfect travel coffee maker. We also took a coffee grinder and coffee beans with us as they were pricey over there.
- Freeze dried food - we took almost 2 weeks worth of Firepot freeze dried meals which were all vegan. We saved ourselves so much money taking these and because these meals are really nutrient rich we still felt full of energy. We also weren't sure how easy it would be to get vegan food over there so this saved the hassle of doing too much shopping.
- Warm Jackets - Ideally down/primaloft jackets to keep you warm. It can get bitterly cold at night and if you want to stay up and see the northern lights these are essential! We tend to use RAB jackets and Alpkit.
- Waterproofs - Take a waterproof jacket and trousers....you will need them at some point! We tend to use Gore-tex Mountain Equipment and RAB.
- Sleep bag - This may seem an odd thing to take as most hire companies provide sleeping bags but if you are anything like us we prefer to sleep in our own! We use ours for wild camping in the mountains so know we are going to be super warm wherever. We use cumulus sleeping bags.
- A good camera - The are so many truly stunning places to visit and take photos of you will want a decent camera. We used a mixture of an Iphone 10 & 12, Sony A5100 and a Canon RP. We bought the Canon RP over there due to not getting on with the Sony that well and we absolutely love it.
Enough of the practicalities - what you really want to know is what to go and see right?
The best places to visit In Iceland in a Campervan
The Golden Circle
Geldingadalir Volcano - Grindavik
In March 2021 the Geldingadalir volcano erupted and has been active since. It’s a great hike in and if you are lucky (if the volcano is active) you can watch it spew out molten lava down the mountain. Even if the cloud is down and you can’t see the volcano itself it’s still worth a visit to see the amazing fresh lava field.
This amazing Geysir shoots up once every 5-8 minutes and puts on quite a show! It's great because you are guaranteed to see it explode even if you are dashing by and only have 10 minutes to spare! You need to be quick with the camera though or you might miss it!
Gulfoss is one of Iceland’s many amazing huge waterfalls and is only 10 minutes up the road from Geysir. It's well known for it's multi step cascades and has a 90 degree bend where it shoots off down an impressive canyon.
The Secret Lagoon
This fantastic low key hot springs is well worth a visit after Gulfoss and Geysir. It was by far the hottest springs we went too and didn't smell too much like sulphur either. It also has a cute little geysir next to it which explodes every 10 minutes.
This is an awesome waterfall where you can actually park for the night and have a the most amazing view! Be warned - you will get soaked from the spray if you get too close so put on your waterproofs. Apparently you can go behind it but we arrived late at night and didn't fancy getting soaked and then try to dry off in a micro camper!
Sólheimasandur Plane Wreck
Get here early if you want photos on your own and be prepared for a long boring flat walk in! It takes about 45 mins-1 hour to walk in to the plane and it really is very dull! We arrived at about 7am and managed to get the place to ourselves so the walk in was worth it. It's a photographers dream and is very surreal. Luckily all the pilots involved in the crash survived too!
This was a lovely glacier to visit as it was much quieter than the ones further east. You can walk right up to edge of the glacier with not much of a walk in and if you have the right kit (axe & crampons) you can have a potter about on it.
It's very dark due to being covered in volcanic ash and sediment so don't expect a pretty blue glacier like you get in other countries but this one is super impressive none the less.
Reynisfjara Beach (Black sands beach)
Wow - this place gets insanely busy! If this is top priority for you to see we would recommend arriving early or late to get photos without hoards of people. If you walk away from the main rock formation next to the car park you can escape the majority of them and get some impressive shots.
The black beach is amazing and the sea stacks are very eerie looking so this is well worth stopping off for.
This beautiful canyon is stunning and perfect to get some amazing photos. It was shut for a short period recently to enable work to be done on the footpath up the side of it but that's now all finished and it's really accessible. The road to it is part tarmac and part gravel but was easy enough to access in our little micro camper.
Another lovely waterfall - this time in the Skaftafell national park. This 20m cascade runs down the side of hexagonal basalt columns and is another great photo opportunity.
Kristínartindar Mountain Hike
This is also in the Skaftafell national park where we spent 3 days exploring. This hike was absolutely breathtaking - you walk up next to the Svínafellsjökull glacier which is enormous. You then go steeply up some fairly exposed ground to reach an impressive col overlooking 2 valleys. You can then choose to go up to the summit of Krstinartindar which is very exposed but honestly - the views from the top blew our minds! Well worth going up if you have a good head for heights. If not you can go down and do a circular walking down next to the other valley back down to the campsite.
Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon
This is the deepest glacial lagoon in Iceland and is also the only one where it meets the sea. That means it contains gigantic icebergs which have broken off from the glacier which eventually meander their way down to the sea often ending up being beached on the diamond beach below. We spent all day here and went out on the a boat trip to get up close to the icebergs and glacier. It's also a great place to see seals who use the lagoon as a bit of a sanctuary away from predators.
This is where the icebergs from the Jökulsárlón lagoon end up being washed up on their way to the sea. It's a bizzare place where ice lies around on black sand - as you can imagine the perfect place to get typical icelandic photo shots! It's very busy here so don't expect to get it to yourself unless you get there very early.
Another place which you can't fail to get stunning images at. You have to pay to enter at the viking cafe but you can also camp there the night. The facilities are good so it's worth the money and it's a perfect spot to get epic northern lights photos. We frustratingly had a clear night and a decent aurora forecast but they were a bit shy so we ended up playing with some starry night shots instead.
This is a relatively new attraction for tourists and so has a very long gravel track drive to the parking area. The canyon itself is amazing with huge basalt columns. Ideally it's best to do when there has been less rainfall as more of the columns are uncovered and the water tends to be bluer. It's stunning whenever you go though.
Europes most powerful waterfall apparently and it's huge! It's usually got a rainbow in it's spray so a great photo spot and you have to be there to really appreciate quite how powerful this one is. It also features in Prometheus and Oblivion films.
This place stinks......I mean really stinks! The intensity of the sulpher knocks your socks off but it's worth it for the insane landscape that is Hverir. It has bubbling pools of mud and steam rising from every orifice which looks like it should be on Mars.
We loved this place and nearly missed it off due to being short on time not realising it had lava fields to visit alongside the crater. Make sure you visit Leirhnjúkur and the krafla lava fields which were much more interesting in our opinion than the crater itself. The lava is still steaming and you can walk right over it wherever you want. The photos really don't do it justice as it was hard to get a sense of scale of this place.
Myvatn Geothermal Baths
Myvatn was recommend to us over the blue lagoon as it's less touristy and has better views. It's perfect for an evening soak in pure milky blue waters. It was nowhere near as hot as the secret lagoon but had great facilities with a decent restaurant and they will bring drinks to you if you bought a drinks wristband.
Just a word of warning for the shy ones amongst you - they insisted in both geothermal baths that you shower naked in open rows of showers.
If you have only ever seen one mountain photo in Iceland it will be this one. It sits out on a north west peninsula so can get very windy. It was gale force winds and heavy rain when we made it over there but still managed to get some lovely photos. We will admit we resorted to a hotel room for the night as didn't fancy having the campervan doors being pulled off by the wind getting in and out!
Snæfellsjökull National Park
After visiting Kirkjufell you can take a drive around Snaefellsjokull which is very scenic and has some lovely coastal features to take a look at. Snaefellsjokull has been made famous due to journey to the centre of the earth when the passage to the centre starts at the mountain.
This one of the many fantastic sea stacks along the west coast of Iceland and you pass by it if doing a loop around Snaefellsjokull. Here you can see a lighthouse and the stack itself from different angles and is great on a wild day when the sea is bashing up against the cliffs!
There we have it - just a short snippet of information we can unfold on our wonderful trip around Iceland. We plan to do a very affordable E-book with much more comprehensive information in about van hire options, taking your own van, even more places to visit, road conditions and parking at the beauty spots which will be packed full of photos and helpful maps/diagrams. We will also include google pins, information on campsites that we stopped at and budgeting information for vehicle hire, food and travel costs. We also plan to go back and hire a 4x4 and do the f-roads so will have a chapter dedicated to that too.
If you would be interested in the E-book we would love to hear from you and will help us gauge potential interest levels - drop us a line here.