I had an interesting conversation with a friend recently. We were talking about traveling to Scandinavia, and she said: “Wow, I don’t think I’d even know where to start if I was planning a trip to Iceland”! I found this a little surprising but then realized I had the same initial thoughts and reservations when I wanted to plan trips to Morocco and Thailand. Maybe people feel this way about Iceland because of the “otherness” of it. Maybe it’s because it seems so far away or that it’s an island. Or perhaps it’s because we speak a different language. Maybe it’s a combination of all of these factors. Tack on the added logistics of organizing a camping trip and I can see how someone might feel intimidated, overwhelmed, or unsure where to begin. I decided to write this step-by-step guide to planning your Iceland camping trip in order to help.
You’ll see pretty quickly that it’s not that difficult to organize everything. You really just need to ask yourself the right questions and make a few key decisions. Then book everything, and you’ll be on your way.
Planning A Trip to Iceland – When is the Best Time of Year to Go?
This is your first big decision. What time of year you decide to go will have a considerable impact not only on the types of activities you can do in Iceland but also where in the country you can go. There is no “best time” to go to Iceland as there are advantages and disadvantages to each month and each season.
Traveling to Iceland in the Summer
If you choose to visit in August (or any other summer months), you’ll have really great weather and almost non-stop sunshine. These are the days of the Midnight Sun in Iceland, which means lots of time to explore, take part in festivals and adventure activities, and just be outside in general. Not to mention the fact that the country’s F-Roads (mountain roads) re-open during the summer months. You’ll be able to access the Highlands using a 4×4 vehicle. Summer camping in Iceland is just a really pleasant experience overall.
While there are plenty of reasons for visiting in the summertime (hiking in Landmannalagar, whale watching in Husavik, etc.), there are some drawbacks to coming during high season. Mainly, you won’t be alone. Before the tourism boom, Iceland was pretty relaxed in the summer months. Now hordes of tourists crowd a lot of the more popular attractions and hot spots like the Blue Lagoon and are all over cities like Reykjavik. You’ll not only have to face the crowds, but prices are at their peak during this time of year. Also, one of the coolest things to do in Iceland is to go on a Northern Lights excursion. In the summer you can’t do it.
Traveling to Iceland in the Winter
The winter months are also a great time to visit. Prices are low, with up to 50% off of rental vehicles, hotels, and other necessities related to tourism. The Northern Lights are on full display, and you won’t be battling the crowds of the summer. The trade-off of visiting Iceland between October and April is the weather. These months are colder and wetter, and storms happen more frequently. You need to be prepared with the right wardrobe if you come at this time of year. We’ve written about this to help guide you. One of the bonuses though is all of the cool activities. Glacier hikes along with ice caves and glacier caves will be one of the most memorable experiences of your life.
Planning Your Iceland Camping Trip – What Type of Vehicle Should I Rent?
Now that you know what time of year you want to go, it’s time to decide on your vehicle. Do you want a car, campervan, or motorhome? This is entirely dependent on personal preference and factors like your budget. If you’ve decided to come in the summer, you’ll be just fine renting a car and tent camping. If you’re here during the colder months, perhaps a vehicle with overnight heating and sleeping arrangements already built in will be more suitable. The last thing you want is to arrive at a campsite in the middle of a snowstorm and have to fiddle with driving tent spikes into the ground and setting up your tent. You can go tent camping in Iceland in the winter, but you need to make sure that you’ve got the right equipment to keep the cold and damp out. Many people rent equipment here rather than bringing their own.
If you decide to go the campervan or motorhome route, there are tons of options. Some vehicles even have expandable tents on their roofs! Decide which features you absolutely have to have (4-wheel drive, a shower, a toilet) and pick accordingly. We wrote about some of the best campervan and motorhome rental companies in Iceland if you’d like to take a look.
Planning a Trip to Iceland – Decide On Your Itinerary
This is the last but very important step. Decide how long you are going to visit and what you want to see and do. What are your priorities? Do you want to take a quick trip around the Ring Road and see the main sights? Maybe you want to focus on a particular zone, like the South Coast. Or perhaps you want to have a more extended trip to really explore the whole country in depth. Iceland24 wrote a great article that lists all of the main attractions in Iceland going counterclockwise around the Ring Road. Most people only have time for a 5-day or 7-day itinerary in Iceland, but if you’ve got ten days, two weeks, or even a month to spare, it could be worth your while, especially if you get a camping card.
Once you’ve decided on your route, there are a couple of practical things to take care of. The first is to determine which campsites you are going to stay at along the way. While campsites in Iceland almost never accept small party reservations (the receptions are usually open 24 hours a day, and you just show up), you do need to plan in advance where you are thinking of laying your head at night. Show up early and have a backup plan if you are camping near a popular site in Iceland in June, July, or August. The second tip is to plan your gas station stops. Some stretches of the Ring Road can get quite remote, and you don’t want to worry about running out of gas and having to walk an hour (or more) to the nearest petrol station. Know where the gas stations are and keep your tank topped up.
How to Plan Your Iceland Camping Trip
Hopefully, these steps will get you started on planning an amazing Icelandic adventure. Be sure to check out our Ultimate Guide to Camping in Iceland for even more in-depth information. Then all you need to do is book your vehicle, purchase your plane tickets, and show up at the airport. Have a great trip!