This year I set out to experience the ultimate camper van road trip: driving around the entire Iceland in 7 days.
Iceland has become a very popular tourist destination in the last few years, and for a good reason. Filled with waterfalls, glaciers, mountains, geysers, and hot springs, there are endless things to see and do in Iceland.
There are many ways how to travel around Iceland, but an increasingly popular option is renting a camper van and trying out the “van life” lifestyle. Driving around Iceland in a camper van is great for those who like minimal planning, preparation and prefer to go with the flow.
Traveling in a camper van is so much easier because you don’t have to worry about getting to your hotel or bus at a certain time and you can adjust your schedule as you go. If you find something you like, it’s easy to spend more time there instead of rushing to your next destination.
You could spend a few weeks in Iceland on a vacation and not run out of stuff to do, but you can also be ambitious like me and drive around the entire island in a week.
If you are set on exploring Iceland in a camper van, there are some things you should know before your trip. This guide will cover everything you need to know in order to best prepare for a van-life trip through this beautiful country.
Some Things You Should Know Before Visiting Iceland:
- What Is The Best Rental Camper Van To Choose For Iceland?
- What To Bring For A Trip Through Iceland In A Camper Van?
- Where Can I Park The Camper Van At Night In Iceland?
- What To See In Iceland?
- What Should I Wear In Iceland?
- What Is The Currency Used In Iceland?
- Is It True That Everything In Iceland Is Expensive?
- What Is The Language Spoken In Iceland?
- A Few Icelandic Laws To Keep In Mind
- What Else?
What Is The best Rental Camper Van To Choose For Iceland?
The best rental camper van to choose for your trip is one that will keep you comfortable. Iceland has multiple van rental companies, but for this trip, I went with Happy Campers and their mid-sized green camper van. I chose Happy Campers because of their excellent reviews and it also appealed to me that it was a family run business. And during my trip, it did feel like I became a part of a big family! Whenever a Happy Camper driver would see another one, there was always a friendly wave or a chat. It was almost like a bonding experience with other travelers, like being a part of a big, fun happy family.
Beyond that, the camper van was also very comfortable which was a must for me. It was my first “van-life” experience and I wanted it to be memorable and fun, not struggle with it. The camper vans were very spacious and equipped with everything I needed to spend a week driving around Iceland.
The green mid-size camper vans come equipped with a couch that converts into a bed, kitchen, and plenty of storage. The kitchen comes with a sink, stove, kitchen utensils, cups, plates, silverware, even can openers, cleaners, and towels. Besides food, there wasn’t much that I needed to buy on my trip which was very convenient.
The rental van came with all the necessities for the cold nights in Iceland like extra blankets and pillows. It was also set up with a heater that would keep the van comfortably warm during the night. On a low setting, the heater would run all night up until 8 am when it was time to get up. If you are concerned about staying warm at night, you can also rent extra sleeping bags at the van rental shop but I didn’t find them necessary.
Whenever you pick up your camper rental, make sure to get gravel protection or insurance. Just about every 2 out of 10 rental cars need their windshields replaced from gravel rocks so your chances of getting you rental’s windshield cracked or broken are pretty high.
Just like a lot of other things in Iceland, fuel is very expensive. During the trip, gasoline was about $7.50 a gallon and diesel was $7.15 a gallon. Thankfully, the van had a diesel engine that was very efficient and saved us a lot of money in fuel, especially driving in Eco mode. The entire distance of Iceland’s Ring Road is around 800 miles, but in the 7 days I ended up driving 1400 miles around Iceland and spent only $300 in gas. Make sure to keep this in mind when renting a van because the cheaper rentals will come with gasoline engines that use twice as much gasoline and end up costing you much more.
But by far, my favorite part about traveling in a Happy Camper van was how little planning I needed to do ahead of time. Instead of spending months planning routes and booking hotels, I was able to just arrive and get going. Realistically I only spent a few hours preparing for the Iceland trip which was mostly just researching places to see along the Ring Road.
What To Bring For A Trip Through Iceland In A Camper Van?
If you decide to go with a Happy Camper van, the only things that you will need to bring with you that are not provided in the van are toiletries and a shower towel. Here is a list of suggested toiletries for a van-life road trip:
- travel size soap
- travel size shampoo and conditioner
- wet naps
I also recommend bringing a water bottle that you can refill or buy one when you get to Iceland. Water bottles can be refilled in most visitor centers and campground stops so you can save money by refilling the same one. Don’t be afraid to refill a water bottle from a bathroom sink since tap water in Iceland is safe for drinking.
For electronics, it’s always wise to bring a power adapter on international trips. But since I knew I would spend most of the time in a van, before my trip I bought car chargers for all of the electronics such as my laptop, phone, camera, and drone. The van had a few plug-ins so I was able to charge all of my electronics without any problems.
Where Can I Park The Camper Van At Night In Iceland?
A huge misconception about renting a camper van in Iceland is that you can park it and sleep just about anywhere at night. THAT IS NOT TRUE.
Iceland has a very fragile eco system so to protect its wildlife and nature with the increased amount of travelers, a law was passed in 2015 that only allows camping at designated campgrounds. Staying overnight at random locations can potentially get you a fine.
Thankfully these campgrounds are located all over Iceland and are not too far apart. If you do take a chance of parking the van overnight at a random location, you are taking a risk of getting a pretty hefty ticket.
Below is a list of Iceland’s campgrounds where you can camp and park your camper van at night.
The campgrounds usually cost around $15 per person and are mostly private lands that owners have turned into campgrounds.
Some campgrounds, especially on the south side, come with a pretty nice view. My favorite was the Skógafoss campground that was located right in front of the breathtaking waterfall.
Most campgrounds come with showers included, but some charge separate for the showers. The amenities and fees just depend on your host.
The campgrounds typically have bathrooms but many will have a single bathroom for 100 guests. It can get crowded and sometimes lines can form to take a shower or use the toilet. That’s just normal for Iceland’s busy summer season.
What To See In Iceland?
The most popular route that the majority of people choose to drive in Iceland is its famous Ring Road, also known as Route 1. This road is a huge circle around the island and for the most part, it is in excellent condition.
If you are looking for a quick Ring Road itinerary, I have created a list of top things to see on a live Google Map. You can click on the “View Larger Map” option below and get the live version directly on your Google Maps.
Most stops along the Ring Road are well marked, have paved roads leading up to them and have designated places where you can park and hike. Think of Iceland more as a National Park instead of the Wild West that it is often portrayed as. Although there are many hidden gems in Iceland too, don’t be too disappointed to find out that Iceland is quite structured, has good roads but also tons of people trying to see the same things as you are.
A week is about the minimum time you should take to drive the Ring Road in a rental car or van. If you have less than a week, the best bet is exploring the southern part of Iceland. There are so many great things to see in southern Iceland and you won’t tire yourself spending a lot of time behind the wheel.
What Should I Wear In Iceland?
When it comes to clothing, think comfortable and waterproof. The weather in Iceland can be somewhat unpredictable so you should bring a good waterproof jacket because it constantly rains on and off. A good pair of hiking shoes is also a must.
Nights do get a bit chilly so you want to bring multiple layers to keep you warm while making dinner and hanging out.
If you’re pondering on bringing cute outfits for dinners or photos, I would advise against it. While driving around Iceland in a camper van you will value more clothes that are waterproof and warm over cute. On my trip, I brought along a dress for photos and it just sat in my bag. I wish I would have taken that space to bring extra t-shirts or another jacket.
One of the coolest things about traveling around Iceland in a camper van is that you have the freedom to visit tons of outdoors hotspings and hot pools. Make sure to pack in a bathing suit for those awesome Iceland hot springs!
What Is The Currency Used In Iceland?
The currency of Iceland is the Icelandic Krona. The current 2017 conversion rate is 1 USD to 105 Krona.
The best way to convert Icelandic price into USD is to remove the last two zeros. For example, if you see something at the store for 800 Krona, that item equals to approximately $8 USD
Is It True That everything In Iceland Is Expensive?
If you have heard the rumors of $30 burgers in Iceland, yes that is absolutely true. Iceland was hit very hard with inflation during the economic downturn and has experienced price increases that are double or triple of anywhere else. On top of that, Iceland has to import just about everything into the island. Because of these factors, things just cost much, much more in Iceland than anywhere else.
BUT, you can still find ways to save money on food. The biggest money saver for a week-long trip is buying food at the local stores and supermarkets versus eating at restaurants, fast food places or gas stations. The two most popular supermarkets in Iceland are Bonus and Kronan.
Not everyone had the luxury of doing this, but because the Happy Campers van came with a good-sized fridge and fully stocked kitchen, I was able to buy groceries for two people for an entire week for about $150. My shopping list looked something like this:
- sandwich meat
- brie cheese
- peanut butter and jelly
- lamb chops
- mac and cheese
- ramen soup
- ground beef, buns, and sauce for burgers
- ground beef and beans for a stew
Every once in a while I still let myself indulge in snacks like chips, chocolate, and some candy too.
Make sure to stock up on food and water whenever you can. Some portions of the Ring Road are less inhabited and can take a while until you reach the next town.
Local tip: For $10 you can also try out Icelandic fermented shark called Hakarl and a local Viking beer. The taste of the fish is not very pleasant so you’ll need the beer to wash it down, but it’s a local tradition that should be tried at least once. Just make sure to do it outside because the smell will definitely linger.
What Is The Language Spoken In Iceland?
Icelandic is the official language spoken in Iceland. It looks something like this:
Icelandic language sounds nothing like English but don’t worry — most people in Iceland speak English and language is not a huge barrier while traveling around.
A Few Icelandic Laws To Keep In Mind
Iceland has a lot more laws and restrictions than you may think.
For example, it’s illegal to even have one drink and drive. With a legal limit of .02%, you should wait until you get to a campsite at night before having a sip of alcohol. Even going to a restaurant and having one drink will likely set you over the legal limit.
In Iceland, it’s illegal to go off-roading or to go on “F” roads without a 4×4. Passenger cars are not insured when driven off major roads in Iceland and any damage caused by driving on F-roads will not be covered by your rental insurance. Most tourist attractions can be reached without going on an F-road so this is only a concern if you’re truly going off the beaten path.
- One of the cheapest Icelandic airlines is WOW Air. I used Wow Air to fly to Iceland on my trip and I paid under $450 for my ticket round trip. I even added a week long layover in Ireland for free! It is the most economic airline flying to Iceland at this time but there are a few compromises like small and stiff seats, only one personal item (small carry-on), and no complimentary snacks on the plane.
- Download music or podcasts ahead of time for the Ring Road drive in Iceland. Some parts of Iceland, especially throughout the north, have very limited reception. Instead of driving for hours in silence, download some songs on your phone or podcasts to listen to before your trip.
- While driving on Icelandic roads make sure to watch out for sheep crossing. The wild sheep tend to roam around Iceland without any fences to keep them off the roads and sometimes they get injured by oncoming cars and traffic.
- Reykjavik is the capital of Iceland and about a third of Iceland’s population lives in Reykjavik. If you have extra time on your trip, it’s worth a visit, although it is very expensive especially to dine out in a restaurant.
Driving around Iceland is the perfect way to submerge yourself into its beauty, nature, and culture. There’s no better way to experience Iceland than by road tripping in a camper van. By following our guide and tips you will be ready to conquer Iceland and the famous Ring Road in a camper van!
Written by Laura Sausina