We want to share with you a great guide with detailed steps on how to plan your camping trip. It was made by the amazing Erica Meyer who runs the blog As Her World Turns, a travel photo blog that covers many great locations.
"I spent one week on a camping road trip around Iceland, staying in some of the most scenic places I’ve ever laid eyes on. In this post, I’ll describe exactly how I planned the trip, along with tips and resources for anyone building a similar itinerary. I’ll focus primarily on camping here instead of sightseeing but will detail each destination in depth in future posts (for a preview check out my Iceland at a Glance missive for my best images from the whole country)."
- Erica Meyer
Shortly after booking my ticket to Iceland, I take a long look at the map. How can I schedule an itinerary that will make the most of my time in this country? I have to decide between two options:
(click through to check out this map in greater detail)
After talking it over with my sister, who had just completed her own camping road trip with friends the month before, I make up my mind. I want to see it all. Iceland is too beautiful to skimp on certain destinations just because they’re far away from Reykjavik. By purchasing my airline ticket I’ve already made the commitment to come all the way from the States, so I might as well properly see as much of the country as possible, even if it’s a little expensive and inconvenient to reach certain spots.
I make a reservation with Iceland Car Rental, and BOOM — about two weeks later I snapped this photo of my car mid-road trip, near letter D on the map above (on route 94 towards the puffin colony at Borgarfjordur Eystri). This area is gorgeous and very much off the beaten path; I would not have gotten here without a car.
FYI… keep an eye on the speed limit because there are cameras along the Ring Road (although I only remember seeing them in Reykjavik and on Days 1 and 2 between Reykjavik and Myvatn).
TO CAMP OR NOT TO CAMP?
Having settled that, it’s time to make one more big decision… do I camp, or stay in hostels?
Almost immediately, I know the answer. I will camp. Hostels run about $50 per night and some of the towns I plan to pass through don’t even have hostels, in which case I’ll have to spring for a higher level of accommodation in those places. But camping is always an option and a cheap one at that. I’d read online that you can legally camp anywhere in Iceland for free unless there is a sign saying otherwise. (Addendum: You can pitch a tent mostly anywhere, apart from national parks, cultivated land, and insight of private houses. You can only camp in each spot for one night and there can’t be more than three tents in any given place. Take care not to leave anything behind when you leave, including human waste. On clearly private land try to get permission from the owner. This article explains more and is worth a read.) Clearly, the only downside is that if you camp on the side of the road for free you won’t have a toilet or running water. Most campgrounds charge around $12 USD a night per person to camp on their property and use bathrooms, cooking facilities, car park, etc. And some of the campgrounds have views like this… that is my green tent in the foreground:
Heck, you can’t get that view at a hostel!
So now I have determined that I will travel around Iceland on a camping road trip. But do I bring my own gear from home? It’s expensive to bring bags on the budget airline I scored a cheap ticket with — around $50 per checked bag on WOW Airlines. That deters me from wanting to bring my own tent, sleeping pad, etc. Again, I find an answer in following my sister’s footsteps — a month earlier, she and her friends used a company called Iceland Camping Equipment to rent gear during their trip. I love this idea because aside from the benefit of avoiding the airline checked baggage fees, I won’t have to lug my camping gear around Spain and Portugal after I depart Iceland. It would be super inconvenient to carry that stuff around mainland Europe. Renting is the way to go.
Another benefit: Iceland Camping Equipment is located a mere 3-minute walk from KEX Hostel, where I am splurging to stay on my first and last nights in Iceland. This is perfect: I will wake up at KEX, walk over to pick up my camping gear, and take off on my road trip. It’ll be just as easy when I return: park and drop off all camping gear, then check into the nearby hostel, and return the rental car. Done and done.
Here is the exterior of Iceland Camping Rental — their office is located on the second floor, but they have a storage room on the ground floor that is accessible 24 hours a day via an access code. So if you make arrangements ahead of time, they will leave your gear available for pick-up at any hour of the day or night. This is helpful for anyone arriving into (or departing) Reykjavik in the wee hours of the morning.
Here is a peek at the storage room — the reserved gear is labeled and ready for pick-up. I snapped this photo when dropping off my own stuff at the end of my road trip.
A few thoughts about Iceland Camping Equipment:
They are great. The owner Delphine is especially kind and will go above and beyond to give everyone a good experience. When my sister and her friends rented gear the month before my trip, they had pre-paid for an item they ended up not needing at the last minute. The person behind the counter was happy to allow them to swap that item for any other one they wanted around the same price, which was a big help.
If you are checking out prices on their website, just keep in mind that the cost is per day (not per night), so if you’re camping for 4 nights, you will pay for 5 days. Prices are structured so that if you rent an item for longer, it’s a little cheaper. They advertise the lower price based on renting for a longer period of time (“from 5 euros per day”) — so if you only plan to rent for one week instead of three, then you’ll pay a little more. It’s all clear on the website once you select the items you want.
Their equipment is in perfect condition. All gear is thoroughly reviewed and cleaned by employees upon drop-off, so it’s ready to go in top shape for the next guest. Personally, I rented a tent, a self-inflating air mattress, a pillow, two fleece blankets, a camping mug, and a plate, bowl, and utensils. I brought my own sleeping bag and portable camping stove from home because they are light-weight enough to easily fit into my luggage. Here is everything in the back of my rental car:
Those are the groceries I picked up at Bonus supermarket in Reykjavik — I bought $30 worth of food to last for most of my week-long road trip. Over 6 days, I only ate at a restaurant once for lunch and once for dinner. All of the other food I ate came from this one-time $30 grocery stop. *pats self on back* … As someone who likes to spend money on food, I’m proud of that.
Here’s the exterior of Bonus supermarket — they are the cheapest place to buy groceries. Just beware that their hours are not extensive; they are open most days from 10am-6pm.
So what exactly do I eat while camping in Iceland?
This is my breakfast each morning — granola and rice milk, with a pack of raisins tossed in. I don’t have a cooler to keep items cold, but it is chilly enough that the rice milk does fine in the trunk of the car all week.
This is my lunch every day except one: peanut butter and jelly sandwich on 7-grain bread. The quality of these ingredients is really high — the bread is substantial, and the jelly is far chunkier and full of fruit compared to most I’ve had abroad.
I got a few cheap snack items like these rice cakes covered in chocolate and caramel. YUM.
And this is my dinner every night except one: plain ramen noodles and pesto sauce. Delicious and I didn’t get tired of it (I had flavored ramen on stand-by in case I did).
CAMPING IN REYKJAVIK
Highlights: Hallgrimskirkja, Blue Lagoon, Inside the Volcano, KEX Hostel, coffee, restaurants
As I mentioned, I stayed at the KEX Hostel in Reykjavik for my first and last nights in Iceland instead of camping. If you look at my KEX Hostel post you’ll see why I made that decision. But if $50 per night is too pricey for your budget, it is totally doable to camp in Reykjavik, and that’s just what my sister and her friends did. They stayed at the Reykjavik City Hostel campground on the outskirts of town. It’s a great spot, but it takes about 30 minutes to walk to the heart of Reykjavik from here (it’s a pretty walk along the water and very safe coming back at night, just chilly). Of course, if you already have a rental car, then it’s only a five-minute drive, and parking is cheap and plentiful in the city — just pay at one of the machines located on each block and put the print-out on your dashboard, or on some streets, there are individual meters.
The Reykjavik campsite is located right next to Laugardalslaug thermal baths — these are WAY cheaper than the Blue Lagoon (around 5 euros instead of 50 euros) so my sister and her friends enjoyed lounging in the hot baths into the wee hours of the night. The baths are open late in the summer because there is daylight practically all night long. Here is the Reykjavik City campground; that structure in the distance is where the baths are located:
Below are some of the common areas at the campground — guests can cook food or relax in these spaces.
This is where I have to admit to something sneaky. My sister tipped me off to the free pile of leftover supplies at this campground. Since lots of travelers start and end their trip here, they often leave behind essential camping items like fuel for cooking, dishes, and even mattress pads and sleeping bags. If you’re willing to take partially used items, you can save a few bucks by perusing this pile. I’ve come for one thing: fuel for my camping stove. For obvious reasons, you can’t bring this item onto an airplane (even in checked luggage), so if you plan on using a stove you HAVE to buy the fuel once you arrive in Iceland. But that is a pain — there is a camping supply store on the far side of Reykjavik near the docks called Ellingsen and it costs maybe 10 euros for a fuel canister. So I decided to swing by the campground first… and just as my sister had told me, there’s a mountain of partially used fuel canisters left behind. I pick up two, just in case one of them runs out during my trip. Do I feel guilty about this since I’m not a paying guest of the campsite? Yes. But it’s so convenient and I’d rather finish off two used canisters than purchase a whole new one only to leave that behind at the end of my trip. I write it off as being an environmentally conscious decision. And I take these photos to give a shout out to this campsite on my blog, because from what my sister says, it’s a great place to stay in Reykjavik and a much cheaper option than KEX Hostel.
UPDATE: Iceland Camping Rental now has gas cans, too. This is a much less sketchy option than sneaking onto a campground.
Remember how this hostel is a 30-minute walk into the center of Reykjavik? Well, they have bikes available for rent to make the trip faster — it’s a scenic route right along the water:
- Includes information about campsites.
DAY 1 – DRIVE TO AKUREYRI
Highlights: Hraunfossar and Barnafoss waterfalls
The first stop for me is Akureyri in the north. I planned to depart Reykjavik early but the sun is out so I make the decision to spend a few hours sight-seeing in the capital and then finally leave around 1:30 pm after lunch. This is a long drive — 6 hours plus time for stops — and I detour to visit two waterfalls that are not directly along this route (Hraunfossar and Barnafoss). Both are cool but I get lost while trying to find my way back to the main road and dead-end in someone’s private farm. I’m using GPS but Google Maps is not always accurate in this region and I curse myself for not bringing along a special map my sister offered that shows which roads are gravel and which are paved. I lose at least an hour back-tracking and am near the point of tears as it gets later and later in the day and I still have four hours of driving ahead of me. I call my sister on the Viber app and she talks me down. I listen to podcasts, fill up the car with gas, and keep chugging along.
I arrive in Akureyri at around 9 pm just as the sun is setting. I check into the very basic campsite located on a city block, directly next to Icelandair Hotel if you’re looking for it on Google Maps. It takes me nearly TWO HOURS to set up my tent for the first time, in the dark. I am so frustrated and tired. It’s raining a little and the wind is howling — my tent nearly blows away multiple times as I try to stake it into the ground — and I seriously doubt my decision to camp for the next five nights. If it’s going to be this hard the whole time, I’m screwed.
Around 11 pm it’s all set up. I park my car in the nearby lot and boil hot water to make ramen noodles. By midnight I’m ready for bed, and I snap the first and only photo of this frustrating night — I smile for the camera despite feeling very unsure if I’ve made the right decision to camp.
After a good night’s sleep, things are looking up. It got very cold overnight (around 32 degrees Fahrenheit / 0 degrees Celsius) and I was so glad to have rented two fleece blankets. I woke up freezing in the middle of the night because the blankets weren’t properly arranged; I discovered that wrapping them around me mummy style and then burrowing into my sleeping bag is most effective.
Here is a shot of my tent in the morning at the Akureyri campground. It’s the most basic campsite on my trip, but it’s located within decent proximity to downtown Akureyri.
I walk about 10 minutes to the main street in town and it’s utterly charming — I look forward to sharing more details in a future post. At a coffee house, I sip a vanilla latte while charging all my battery-depleted devices and uploading photos from the previous day onto my laptop. One challenge to camping is that it’s hard to keep up with digital maintenance, and I fall woefully behind on my camera homework during this trip. Usually, during travel, I weed through my photos every single night to get rid of the bad ones. That did not happen in as timely a fashion on this trip.
DAY 2 – DRIVE TO LAKE MYVATN
Highlights: Akureyri main street, mountain drive, Godafoss, pseudo craters, Lake Myvatn Nature Baths
The drive from Akureyri and Myvatn is very short, which allows for lots of stops. The scenery is outstanding. Since I’m limiting this post to just the campgrounds, I won’t go overboard talking about each destination here, but I will detail all these places in depth over the coming weeks.
Note that while the map above depicts taking the northern route around Lake Myvatn, I actually took the southern route once I got to the lake because of the craters down there.
Lake Myvatn has the best campsite of the whole trip. It’s called “Camping Myvatn” if you’re looking for it on Google Maps. It’s located directly on the lake and the views are incredible. I am glad I got here early to set up my tent in the warm sunlight — this is so much more pleasant than the previous night!
It takes me only about 15 minutes to put up the tent and wind cover. SO much easier and faster since I worked out all the kinks the previous night. I am relieved, because I was concerned that every night could be a struggle. Lesson learned: budget extra time for tent set-up on the first night, and try to get everything done before sunset when it’s still warm out. Once the sun dips below the horizon it gets cold quickly.
Also worth noting — I set up my tent behind a tree because that helps shelter it from the wind. Luckily, the only night that wind or rain bothered me was the first night in Akureyri. The weather turns out to be more mild the rest of the trip.
Here’s my tent and waterfront view… not bad for $12 a night!
Basking in the sun, soaking up this view:
A look inside the tent — this is meant for two people, and it would hold extra gear (backpacks, etc.) too. Very spacious. The best part is the little “foyer” in the front — it’s an antechamber of sorts where I can sit down to take off my hiking boots before I move into the main tent compartment. This makes it easier to climb in and out without dirt getting everywhere.
Okay, time to cook dinner. Since this is the most scenic campground, I take lots of photos here.
I set up the Jetboil and one of the partially full gas canisters I lovingly borrowed from the Reykjavik campsite.
Within three minutes or so the water is boiling. I add plain ramen noodles and cook until tender.
Now I pour on a very generous helping of pesto sauce and voilá — instant dinner. I’m a happy camper. Literally.
I enjoy dinner while the sun sets. I boil more water to brew mint tea.
After dinner, I zip up my tent and drive a very short distance to the Lake Myvatn Nature Baths. I don’t leave any valuables inside my tent; just my sleeping bag, mattress pad, and some clothes. Everything is safe when I return a few hours later. There seems to be an unspoken agreement among campers that we’re all in the same boat, so no funny business.
This ends up being the most magical night during my time in Iceland — I even glimpse the Northern Lights while soaking for three hours in the outdoor hot baths. I return to my tent all toasty and ready for a comfortable night of sleep.
One last shot of the campgrounds as I enjoy breakfast the next morning:
DAY 3 – DRIVE TO SEYDISFORDUR
Highlights: Grjotagja cave, Hverir geothermal area, Viti Crater, Dettifoss, Borgarfjordur Eystri, Seydisfjordur
If I had to narrow it down to my two absolute favorite days of this Iceland itinerary, one of them would be the drive from Lake Myvatn to Seydisfjordur. I saw so many mind-blowing vistas on this drive, especially on an afternoon side excursion up to the puffin colony at Borgarfjordor on the coast (highlighted in yellow on the map above).
I stay at a campsite right in the middle of town next to a few cafes and a church (editor’s note: in a previous version of this post I misidentified this campsite as being in the neighboring city of Egilsstadir — my apologies, as I meant Seydisfjordur). The setting is outrageously beautiful — the town is situated on a small port, surrounded by fjords and cascading waterfalls on three sides. I hear sheep bleating nearby when I wake up the next morning. There are a couple of great restaurants, bars, and cafes within walking distance.
View of my tent looking to one side:
And view of my tent looking to the other side:
DAY 4 – DRIVE TO SKAFTAFELL VISITORS CENTER
Highlights: Jokulsar icebergs, Fjallsarlon Glacier Lagoon
Today’s drive is crazy scenic.
I arrive at the Skaftafell Visitors Center right at sunset and quickly put up my tent. They have several fields open for camping but it’s really hard to stake a tent — there are rocks everywhere just under the surface. It’s not so bad that I feel them while sleeping; it’s just hard to get my tent anchored to the ground. Luckily the wind isn’t too bad this particular night so my tent doesn’t blow away.
Here’s a shot of my tent the next morning. There is an enormous glacier just over that hill to the left:
Today is a big driving day, so I have only two hours or so to hike and explore the park. There’s a famous waterfall known for its basalt columns, several turf houses built into the hills, and views of the glacier.
I snap a shot overlooking the entire campground from the trail:
DAY 5 – DRIVE TO SKOGAFOSS
Highlights: Svartifoss, turf house, Kirkjugolf, Fjadrargljufur, airplane, Skogafoss, Seljalandsfoss
Today’s drive along the south coast is my other favorite day on the whole road trip.
I do not actually spend the night at Skogafoss because my schedule is too tight and I have to push through to Thingvellir National Park, where I have plans to snorkel at 9am the next morning. But I highly suggest staying overnight at Skogafoss for a few reasons:
I admire the campgrounds while climbing to the top of this impressive waterfall. I bet I’d sleep like a baby next to the roar of these falls.
View from the top of Skogafoss looking down over the campsite, with the ocean in the distance:
DAY 6 – DRIVE GOLDEN CIRCLE BACK TO REYKJAVIK
Highlights: Thingvellir, Geysir, Gullfoss, Fridheimar
Instead of stopping at Skogafoss, I press onward and it’s totally dark by the time I arrive at Thingvellir.
There is nothing wrong with the campsites at Thingvellir, it’s just too far to travel in one day from Skatafell given how dense the tourism highlights are along the South Coast. (Plus I have to backtrack to get to Gullfoss, Geysir, and Fridheimar, so I regret scheduling that snorkel for 9am.) There are two campsites here: Vatnskot by the lake, and Leirar right next to the Information Center (not the Visitors Center). I stay at Leirar only because I spot it first from the road and immediately pull in to set up camp. By that hour, the Information Center is closed so I can’t pay $12 USD for my campsite. And since I have to leave early in the morning for my snorkeling trip, they are not yet open then. I wasn’t trying to avoid paying but that’s what happens when you arrive late and depart early.
I snap this shot around midnight just before going to sleep. I wonder if the cloud cover wasn’t so heavy if I might be able to see the Northern Lights.
Another shot the next morning:
At certain campsites you can park alongside your tent, which makes unpacking and repacking gear much easier. Just make sure the ground isn’t soft from recent rain — at various campsites I saw drivers get their tires stuck in mud, which was usually my cue to park in a paved lot nearby. But the ground here is solid during my trip:
After my snorkeling excursion I hop in the car and drive to a few sightseeing spots along the Golden Circle, including geysers and Gullfoss waterfall. And then I make it back to Reykjavik in time to drop off my camping gear and return my rental car in town before they close at 6pm.
Then I take the longest, hottest shower in the history of showers at KEX Hostel. Because I showered approximately once over the previous five nights, in the locker room at the Lake Myvatn Nature Baths. Most of the campgrounds charge a few dollars for a timed shower (some places were out of hot water by the time I arrived), but that’s not the only reason I skip them — it’s the horrible thought of going to bed in the freezing cold with wet hair. It gets so cold at night that I just want to put on all my layers and burrow into my sleeping bag and fleece blankets.
Even after that first miserable night, I am so glad I made the decision to camp around Iceland.
By spending $12 per night camping instead of $50 for a hostel, I saved a bit of money. Same goes with cooking my own meals — my food budget was incredibly minimal over these six days of camping.
But the best part was being outside in nature… even during freezing temperatures, and I hate being cold! Sleeping in a tent outdoors felt like I was really embracing Iceland, getting closer to it than if I were staying inside. The sounds of wind or sheep or waterfalls soothed me to sleep each night. I woke up to the warm sun on my tent. It was lovely.
The minor inconveniences were just that — minor. I didn’t get to shower every day. Sometimes it was a pain to wrap up the tent in the morning if it was still wet with dew. I couldn’t always find a place to charge my iPhone or laptop or camera battery at night, although I brought along a car charger from home so I could recharge those devices during the long drives.
All worth it for views like this one:
Let me know if you are planning your own Iceland camping itinerary and have any questions! I squeezed a lot into a very shot time span and wish I’d had an extra day for this itinerary. In truth, I did the bare minimum by circling the country via Ring Road — lots of travelers rent a camper van for a month or more during the summer to drive ALL over Iceland. I only got to the exterior, and totally skipped the peninsula in the west called Snæfellsnes that is considered by some to be the most scenic area in the country. Clearly I’m meant to go back in the future for further explorations.