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jon

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Just got back from an 8-day road trip in Iceland

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Europe > Iceland > Useful Info
Updated on Nov 15, 2018 Useful Info

Everything you need to know about camping in Iceland

There are 3 kinds of camping you can do in Iceland

  1. Old school camping: pitching a tent in a designated campsite. There are tons of camp sites all over Iceland
  2. Campervan: rent a special van that's designed for comfortable sleeping, and park them overnight at one of the designated camp sites. Read my comprehensive guide on campervans here
  3. Wild camping: camping outside of designated camp sites in traditional tents (not campervans as that's generally illegal), can be on the side of the road or literally in the wilderness


When can you do a camping trip in Iceland

  • Any time of the year
  • But, different seasons mean different camping styles and different gears
  • In the summer (April-mid October) you can pretty much do any kind of camping
  • In the winter (late October - March) most people will do campervan. Tent camping is rare but still doable, you just need to make sure your equipment (not just the tent) are designed for the low temperature and are waterproof. If you rent them from a shop in Reykjavik they'll take care of everything


What about sleeping in a regular car?

  • It's fine to do in the summer, but don't do it between mid October and early April as it's just too cold and not safe. Campervans have special batteries that crank out really hot air when the van is not moving, this is something that regular cars can't do
  • It'll be cheaper for sure, as a regular cars are 50-75% cheaper than campervan
  • But keep in mind how uncomfortable it will be, especially since you'll be doing it on multiple consecutive days after doing a lot of outdoor stuff in the day.
  • There's also no curtain for privacy or to block out the sunlight at night (yes in the summer the sun never sets in Iceland and it's never fully dark)


Where can you camp

  • If you plan to sleep in your vehicle (e.g. campervan or even a regular car), you usually must camp in one of the designated camp sites
  • If you plan to pitch tents, you can camp in either a camp site or wild camp (see Wild camping rules below)


Wild camping rules

  • Since 2016 Iceland has introduced rules specifically for camping. It can get somewhat complex. Here's my summary of the rules:
  • You don't need to ask anyone's permission for a spot you've found if ALL these criteria are met:
  1. You're sleeping in a traditional tent and not a vehicle of any kind (you can still drive in a vehicle, just can't sleep in it)
  2. You have 3 or fewer tents in total in your group
  3. You're not camping on a cultivated land (i.e. farms)
  4. There's no camp sites around you
  5. You only plan to spend only 1 night at that spot
  6. You're not right next to farms or houses
  7. There's no signs specifically prohibiting camping at the spot
  8. It's not one of the protected areas
  • If you don't meet any of these criteria, the law says you need to ask for permission from the landowner. Check with closest building you can find that's probably the landowner. If it's one of the protected areas (point 8), you're not allow to camp there, period
  • Here's the full list of rules from Iceland Environmental Agency's website
  • My recommendation is to stick to camp sites when you're on the ring road. In the interior, find camp sites if you can, but if not just wild camp anywhere away from people


Where to find the camp sites

  • The best online resources I found for a list of camp sites are the websites of campervan rental agencies. This is the camp site list from Go Campers (the one I used), and this is the camp site list from Camp Easy
  • Alternatively, you can just drive. There's usually a camp site in any town all over the ring road. You just need to look for the sign below, which is the standard sign in Iceland for camp sites. I saw this sign in pretty much all the towns I drove through:User submitted photo of Iceland


How much do camp sites cost

  • Camp sites usually cost no more than 2,000 ISK (US$17) per night to use all their facilities. Some are even cheaper
  • You can pay by credit card (Visa or MasterCard)
  • In the winter, which is from late October to March, many camp sites will nominally close down, but they'll leave the lot open for people to park in. In this case, they're free for you to use, but they won't have any facilities open aside from the restrooms. If you're camping in the winter, the best way to know if it's free is to find the camp site management building when you get in, if it's not staffed, you can use it for free


Do you need to make reservations for camp sites

  • No you don't
  • Most camp sites don't have websites and their contact info is rather hard to find
  • Most camp sites are not divided into individual lots. Rather, they're just giant open air parking lots. So that means there's practically no limit in how many people they can hold


What to expect at camp sites

  • Amenities:
  • All campsites provide restrooms and at least one shower stall (some have many shower stalls)
  • Many also have kitchen space for you to use and power outlet to charge your electronics with
  • A smaller number even have common area, wifi, and laundry machines
  • Cleanliness: from my experience, most of the camp sites are generally very clean. I didn't have issues with any of the ones I stayed at


How do you check in to camp sites

  • Pull up your car next to the management building. These building will be very obvious because they'll likely be the only buildings in an otherwise empty lot
  • Go into the building and tell the staff you want to camp there, tell them how many nights and they'll tell you how much you need to pay. That's it


What about camping in the winter

  • When I went in late October, I didn't see anyone camping in tents, everyone was in a campervan. This makes sense because it's simply too cold to camp in tents in the winter
  • Like mentioned above, a lot of camp sites will nominally close down in the winter but they will still keep their lots open for campers to use. They'll have the restroom open, but other amenities are likely unavailable
  • But, there are also lots of all-year camp sites that provide amenities 12 months a year. The websites I referenced above from campervan rental agencies (this and this) list the locations of all the all-year camp sites


What to bring with you to camp sites

  • Toiletry: bring your own body wash, shampoo, toothbrush, tooth paste, etc. as camp sites don't provide them
  • Towel: I read that some camp sites rent them, but I didn't come across any. Bring your own to be safe
  • Credit card (Visa or MasterCard) to pay
  • Food: most camp sites will give you kitchen space to cook, but they won't sell you food. Most of them are also far from grocery stores. So it's smart to stock up on food when you drive past by any grocery stores (gas stations don't sell food in Iceland since most of them are not staffed and don't have convenience stores attached to them). The best place to get cheap groceries in Iceland is a chain of discount grocery stores called Bónus
  • Sleeping mask: in the summer (April-September), because the sun never sets, having a sleeping mask will help you sleep better


Other camping tips

  • Don't build campfires. They're a hazard and illegal
  • You can rent tents and other camping gears from Reykjavik. Just Google "Reykjavik tent rental" and you'll see a bunch (like this one)
  • Camping is safe in Iceland: camping is very safe in Iceland. There are no dangerous wild animals there. No bears, wolves, polar bears, snakes, wasps, or anything of the sort. There's basically no indigenous large animals in Iceland