Camping is a wonderful way to explore Iceland on a budget.
There are hundreds of lovely campsites all over the country. In the heart of lovely towns or surrounded by spectacular mountains, you can explore nearly everywhere in Iceland with your tent or camping car.
If you want to save tonnes of money and prevent getting into any trouble with the police, make sure you read this ultimate guide to camping in Iceland!
Pros of Camping in Iceland
Iceland is an expensive country to visit.
Camping is a much more affordable option than staying in a hotel, leaving your hard-earned money available for an epic horse ride or glacier hike instead.
(If you’d like to learn more about saving money in Iceland, you should check out this article!)
Meeting like-minded people
If you love adventure and being outdoors, you’re much more likely to meet like-minded people on a campsite than in a luxury hotel.
Many campsites have communal kitchens and dining rooms where you can get chatting to the other campers over your meal.
The best thing about camping in Iceland is that it’s safe!
Crime rates are extremely low in the county and there are no dangerous animals for you to be worried about. You can sleep soundly knowing that you’re camping in one of the safest countries in the world!
The Great Outdoors
Iceland has got some stunning hiking trails for you to explore.
By camping somewhere like Skaftafell, you will maximize your time on the mountainside. It is also possible to wild camp in some circumstances, but it is generally discouraged.
We will tell you everything you need to know about that later on in the article!
(For more about hiking in Iceland, check out this article!)
Cons of Camping in Iceland
Although camping is much cheaper than staying in a hotel, it is still expensive compared to many other European countries. It costs around $15 per person per night to camp in a tent.
In the rest of Europe, campsites often come with a lot of facilities like swimming pools, tennis courts, and even restaurants. Whilst it is sometimes possible to camp near good facilities, campsites in Iceland are normally not so well developed.
This can make paying for a grass pitch with nothing but a toilet seem quite expensive. However, it is not possible to just camp anywhere to avoid paying this fee.
Iceland has over 2 million visitors a year, and wild camping was causing serious damage to the local ecosystem before it was strictly regulated from 2015.
If you want to save even more money, you can find out about the very popular Camping Card scheme later on in this article.
Camping in summer does not guarantee you will have warm and dry weather.
The weather in Iceland is very changeable and you can expect rain and wind all year round. It’s important to bring warm, waterproof clothes and the best quality sleeping bag and tent that you can afford.
You should also bear in mind that the climate varies greatly between Summer and Winter. Many campsites are closed in the wintertime, and we do not recommend that any beginners attempt camping at this time.
Whilst some people love camping in a tent or campervan, it can be a bit of a shock if you aren’t used to it.
You are unlikely to get as good a night of sleep as you would in a real bed. If you are planning on a reasonably long camping trip, we suggest that you try an evening camping at home first to make sure you will be comfortable enough!
Transporting the Gear
Camping gear can take up a lot of space.
If you are packing your tent, sleeping bag, and cooking equipment, you will have a lot less space for some of the other things you might like to bring along. If you’re used to backpacking, this shouldn’t be a problem for you, but it is worth bearing in mind!
In some campsites, it is possible to rent camping equipment, but if you are driving the whole Ring Road route it’s a much better idea to bring your camping gear along with you.
Summer Camping In Iceland
Most people choose to go camping in the summer months.
Between May and September, almost all of the campsites are open. You are more likely to meet fellow campers and you should be a lot warmer than you would be in the wintertime.
That being said, you are still going to need lots of warm and waterproof layers. Even in the height of summer, temperatures regularly drop below 10 degrees celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit).
Thanks to the midnight sun, there are very few hours of darkness in the summertime.
It’s a good idea to bring an eye mask with you to help you sleep at night. The light can penetrate the tent and keep you awake if you don’t have something to cover your eyes.
In June and July, for example, the sun frequently rises at around 3 am and doesn’t set until near midnight. The birds will be singing bright and early, so it’s a good idea to pack some earplugs with you too!
There will be a lot more people camping in the summer than in the winter, but you should still be fine without pre-booking. In the unlikely event that a campsite is fully booked, there are hundreds moroe that you can choose from anyway!
Winter Camping In Iceland
The majority of Iceland’s campsites close in the wintertime.
Even when the campsites are open, that doesn’t necessarily mean that all the services will be available. Sometimes you are paying for just the land to pitch your tent on legally in the wintertime, and there aren’t enough campers to justify keeping the showers and other facilities running.
Some winter campsites do keep their facilities open though.
The best way to check is to make a phone call in advance. The facilities and policies can change every year, so the online lists of which campsites remain open in the low season quickly get outdated.
You can expect the campsite staff to be English speaking, so don’t worry too much about a language barrier on the phone.
Winter Camping Gear
If you’re going to be camping in the wintertime, you’ll need some good quality camping equipment.
Don’t forget to bring:
- an insulated camping mat to stop your body heat being sucked into the ground (or even 2 mats if you’re going to be camping in the coldest months)
- a cold-weather sleeping bag (consider a sleeping bag liner for extra warmth)
- a good quality tent that can cope with strong winds
- warm thermal base layers and mid-layers
- waterproof coat and trousers
- thick warm socks
- waterproof hiking boots
- hat and gloves
- head torch for the long hours of darkness (and extra batteries)
- a battery pack for your phone (it will run out of charge more quickly in cold conditions)
- calorie-rich meals and tonnes of tasty snacks for morale
- foil emergency blanket
If the campsite facilities are closed in winter, you can easily get a hot shower by visiting one of the local swimming pools. The less touristy geothermal swimming pools are not expensive at all. You will be glad to heat up in the lovely hot water, and then take a refreshing shower in the changing rooms.
To find out more about the hot springs and swimming pools of Iceland, you can check out this article.
Campervanning In Iceland
Campervanning is a really good alternative for people who want to save money and connect with nature, without sacrificing on all the comfort.
Considering most people hire a vehicle to explore with their tent anyway, it’s not that much more expensive to upgrade to a campervan.
Remember: You must stay at an official camping ground if you hire a camping car.
It is also possible to bring your camping vehicle to Iceland on the ferry from Denmark. This won’t be a quick journey though! The ferry from Denmark to Iceland takes up to three days to arrive.
There are several different campervan companies in Iceland, and you can often arrange a pick up at the airport for an easier trip.
How to Choose Your Campsite
Most campsites in Iceland are fairly basic.
People normally choose where to stay depending on their travel plans, rather than searching for a particular campsite they want to visit. For example, for people who want to do a lot of hiking, camping at the base of Skaftafell is a great idea.
For those who want to take a self-drive tour of the Golden Circle or the Ring Road, it’s a better idea to choose strategic locations along your planned route.
There are hundreds of campsites in Iceland, so you’re bound to have somewhere convenient to pitch up. From campsites in the suburbs of Reykjavik with bus connections to the city center, to quiet woodland camping spots well away from civilization.
Whatever you’re looking for, there’s a campsite for everyone in Iceland!
Camping Card in Iceland
If you’re camping for a longer trip, you can save a lot of money by buying a camping card at a tourist center or gas station. You can also buy them at camping car rental company headquarters, post offices, and participating campsites.
This card allows you to stay at one of 42 campsites all over the country for 28 nights after it’s first use. It costs $159 at the time of writing and is valid for up to 2 adults and 4 children.
This means that 6 people can camp each night for a combined price of around $5. That is seriously cheap!
Please bear in mind that you still have to pay for any services like showers that other campers have to pay for. You also need to pay the lodging tax on arrival at your campsite. The lodging tax costs 3 USD per night per unit (camping vehicle/tent.)
The camping card pays for itself within a few days when used by a couple. Over a month this adds up to some serious savings.
For more information, you can visit the official Camping Card website.
Wild Camping In Iceland
In the past, it was easy to park your campervan or pitch your tent outside of registered campgrounds.
Unfortunately, this caused a lot of damage to the Icelandic nature. Litter and human waste were left behind and fragile ecosystems were destroyed. Because of this, wild camping is now heavily restricted.
Whilst not technically illegal, wild camping is highly discouraged and there are many regulations that people must follow.
You can only wild camp if it is not possible to stay at a campsite where you are. For example, if you have hiked many miles into the mountains with your tent in your backpack, and you are going to camp before continuing your hike the following day.
It should also not be done on private land unless you have written permission from the landowner.
If you are in your car, you must drive to one of the many hundreds of campsites. Campervans must always go to an official campsite.
Wild camping can sometimes be done in the wilder places where there are no camping facilities available. This is to allow mountaineers and long-distance hikers to enjoy the Icelandic wilderness.
The basic idea is this:
- you should leave no trace that you were there
- you should camp for no more than one night
- you should not camp in a group of more than 3 people
- you should not camp close to a farm or home
- you should ask permission of the landowner wherever possible
- you should not camp on cultivated ground
What does it mean to Leave No Trace?
Leave No Trace is a philosophy that limits the damage we make when enjoying wild places. It means that no one should be able to tell that you were there after you have left.
- Leaving no rubbish behind, including toilet paper and biodegradable food waste. Food waste might be biodegradable, but it is also unsightly and could make wildlife sick.
- Either carrying out your poo or burying in at least 6 inches deep well away from paths and water systems. If the ground is too hard or cold to bury your poo, you have to pack it out with you.
- Not having any fires, which can not only spread through underground root systems, but also leave ugly fire scars on the earth which take a long time to heal.
- Not making too much noise, so that you don’t disturb people or wildlife.
- Making a discreet camp away from houses and farms.
- Camping a respectful distance from streams and lakes so you are less likely to disturb wildlife.
Wild camping is not encouraged in Iceland. It is much better for you to stay at an official campground to rule out any doubts that you might have.
If you want to explore the Icelandic wilderness, you can book to stay in one of the isolated mountain huts instead.
Icelandic mountain huts
Whilst wild camping is highly discouraged, it is still possible to escape into the gorgeous Icelandic scenery by staying at a mountain hut.
These small buildings offer very simple accommodation. There is usually a kitchen area, a dorm room, a toilet, and a shower. The toilet may well be in an outhouse, and sometimes you have to collect water from a nearby stream.
These huts are in place to help people explore the more isolated hiking trails. You usually have to take all your rubbish away with you.
Many mountain huts are managed by the Icelandic Touring Association (Fí). On their website, you can explore the different huts depending on region and price. You must pay in advance to guarantee your spot in one of the huts, and the Fí prices vary between 6000 IKR (43 USD) to 9000 IKR (64 USD) for a night in a bunk.
It is also possible to tent camp by some of the huts and use the toilet facilities for around 2000 IKR per night (around 14 USD). If you are tent camping by a mountain hut, you are expected to use your own kitchen equipment and only have access to the bathroom.
Showers usually cost around 500 IKR (3.50 USD) and are available to purchase with coins for anyone staying at the huts. Of course, not all huts will have showers. Make sure you double-check details for the specific hut you choose to visit!
There are also many more Icelandic huts which are not managed by Fí. You can find these on this website, along with contact details to find out more about prices and any other important information.
See You Soon!
We hope this article about camping in Iceland was helpful!
You can explore our website for lots more up to date resources to help you plan your trip. We also offer some awesome self-drive tours to make your trip to Iceland as hassle-free as possible.
We look forward to welcoming you to Iceland soon!