Iceland is having its moment as a top travel destination. Cheap flights, free stopovers, and an abundance of insanely stunning photos inundating our Instagram feeds have placed it at the forefront of nearly everyone’s travel plans. And deservedly so. Iceland is a spectacular country with unsurpassed natural beauty at every turn, and with a paved road that encircles the entire island, it’s pretty much the place that the road trip was made for.

With a trip quickly approaching we were still uncertain of how we wanted to experience Iceland. Should we rent a car and stay at guesthouses and hotels along the way? Or should we nix that and commit to the full on camping experience instead? We ultimately decided on a hybrid option of the two, electing to travel the country in a Go Campers camper van. Looking back, it was the best decision we could have made, and recommend that anyone going should take an Iceland road trip in a camper van.

And don’t miss my Iceland Packing List and Iceland Road Trip Guide & Ring Road Itinerary (with lovely photos!) to help you plan the best trip ever.

Iceland Road Trip By Camper Van

Why Road Trip Iceland by Camper Van?

Camping experience without tenting.

Iceland has a strong camping culture with most small towns having a public and/or private campground. These grounds often have separate areas for tents and camper vans or RVs. Even during the summer when Iceland is at its busiest you don’t need to book a camping space in advance, all you have to do is show up.

We went in early September, an unseasonably warm early September mind you, and it was still frigid in the early mornings and evenings. I always felt for campers who arrived at the grounds in the rain and had to spend time setting up their tent before they could get some shelter and begin to warm up. Exploring Iceland by camper van gives you the best of both worlds – a camp like experience but with the comfort of a mattress, instant protection from the elements, and a buffer from noisy campers.

Be spontaneous.

If you’re traveling during peak season, you will likely need to plan out most of your accommodations in advance to ensure space if you’re going the hotel route. Having a set place where you need to be every day cuts down substantially on your ability to be spontaneous. The true magic of an Iceland road trip is stumbling upon unexpected, spur of the moment detours that beckon you to explore, which can be hindered with a rigid schedule. An Iceland road trip in a camper van allows you the flexibility to do what you want as you always have your accommodation with you wherever you go!

Save money.

Accommodation in Iceland isn’t cheap and even hostel dorms can run $100 per night per person. Most campgrounds in Iceland cost $20 to $40 per night per van. While you’ll shell out more for a camper van than a standard car rental, you’ll come out on top from avoiding separate accommodations. Food is also a premium in Iceland, particularly in restaurants. Being able to cook your own meals in your camper van or in the communal kitchens available at most campgrounds will be a significant money saver.

Your hotel on wheels.

While not something you might think about in advance, there’s certainly a bonus to sleeping in your car. There’s no need to haul your luggage in and out of hotels and the added benefit of avoiding the cycle of packing and unpacking. The risk of leaving something behind that you’ll later need is eliminated, like that rain jacket you opted to leave back in the hotel as there wasn’t a cloud in the sky but now your stuck in one hell of a storm. Having all of your stuff in the camper van allows you to quickly grab whatever you might need like camera equipment or extra layers.

Another bonus is if you get hungry mid-drive you can just pull off at the nearest rest stop and make a snack instead of waiting for the nearest town, which can be quite a drive depending on where you are. If you’re feeling lethargic post meal, draw the curtains and hop in the back to rest for an hour or two.

Great service.

We received tremendous service renting with Go Campers, from the moment we picked up our vehicle to support during our travels. We were given all the information we needed to have the best experience possible as well as Go Campers 24/7 roadside assistance in case anything happened to go wrong during our journey. We had a few questions for Go Campers while on the road and they responded quickly and thoroughly.

It’s a one of a kind experience.

Although I was eager to experience Iceland by camper van, I was worried that seven nights in such tight quarters would be tough for the two of us. But I was so wrong. It was hands down one of the best experiences I’ve had through my years of travel. Sleeping in the van was such a cozy and peaceful experience, even when the wind howled and rain hammered down. Waking up to some truly epic views was the most energizing way to begin the day while finding a stunning spot each day to pull over and make our lunch was a delight.

Iceland Road Trip By Camper Van

How to Have an Iceland Road Trip by Camper Van:

Decide on when to go.

What you want to do in Iceland will give you a good idea of when you should visit. While the summer months of June, July and August are prime tourist season, complete with the higher prices that accompany hordes of travelers, the midnight sun provides more hours for exploration and the perpetual sunrise and sunset are the perfect backdrop for your photographs.

The infamous northern lights are most prominent during the winter, particularly November to February. However the unpredictability of Iceland’s weather doesn’t guarantee you’ll actually glimpse the elusive lights even if you time your visit accordingly. Traveling to Iceland during the winter will provide considerable savings as accommodations and camper vans are less expensive during the low season, although some businesses catering to tourism close up shop during this part of the year.

If you want pleasant weather without being bombarded by tourists, consider going during shoulder season – April and May or September and October, you might even catch a glimpse of the northern lights during these months.

Determine how long to go for.

The amount of time to spend in Iceland varies. Some travelers spend upwards of two weeks while others only a few days, the latter often as a stopover with Icelndair or WOW Air. If you have less than four days, basing yourself in Reykjavik and exploring the Golden Circle and the Reykjanes Peninsula is a good way to spend your limited time in Iceland. If you have more days but less than a full week, add in a couple of spots on the island’s south coast like Vik or Hof or explore the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. The minimum amount of time you’ll need to complete the Ring Road properly is seven days but add a few more if you want to include the West Fjords.

Book your camper van well in advance.

With Iceland being such a hot destination coupled with an increased interest in traveling by camper van, you should book as far in advance as possible. At the time of writing, many of the camper van companies are increasing the size of their fleet but ultimately it’s unlikely to match the demand. To avoid disappointment, book as soon as you decide to take an Iceland road trip in a camper van.

Iceland Road Trip By Camper Van

Decide on 2WD or 4WD.

There are more route options available to you with a 4WD vehicle, such as the interior F roads, but it can be substantially cheaper to go with a 2WD option. When we booked, only 2WD camper vans were available and at first I was a bit bummed that we would inevitably miss some things. But with only seven days on the Ring Road we wouldn’t have had much time to venture off the standard roads even if we were able to. The beauty of traveling in Iceland is that there are just an endless amount of awe-inspiring sights so you won’t be at a loss if you miss a couple. If you’re heading out in the winter, a 4WD is certainly recommended, especially if venturing further than the south shore. If you’re traveling in more moderate weather, take some time to think about whether a 4WD is truly worth it. Even if you have a 4×4 SUV, the interior highland roads can still be challenging and cumbersome, and not to mention time consuming, to traverse.

Arrange some extras.

Most camper vans come equipped with mattresses, pillows, cooking equipment and standard utensils. When you book or when you arrive to pick up your camper van, you can chose from a number of add-ons. I strongly recommend booking a few extras like thermal sleeping bags, camping chairs, cooler, and wifi. Other items that you can rent include a power inverter, tent, grill, and child car seat, among others. For those traveling with carry-on only, renting what you need when you touch down is a life-saver. Also, when we picked up our camper van at Go Campers we perused the free items that other renters bought but didn’t use on their travels, which was a great way to stock up before heading off.

Figure out your insurance.

Iceland is an unpredictable country and while car accidents are rare, they can happen. Take the extended CDW or ensure that your travel insurance is sufficient in advance. You will also have the option of additional insurance options for Sand and Ash protection as well as Gravel damage. You should be able to make the decision on additional insurance when picking up your van so you can decide based on the weather at the time. And aside from car insurance, make sure you’re covered with sufficient travel insurance.

Iceland Road Trip By Camper Van

Get a good map.

We’ve all become a little too reliant on Google Maps these days, and while it’s a useful tool to have in terms of route planning and distance between towns, it does have its limitations particularly if you don’t have consistent wifi or cell service. Don’t leave Reykjavik without a proper road map (or grab this onebefore you leave) as it will include information on the terrain and type of road, as well as markers for gas stations, campgrounds, swimming pools and sights.

Another handy resource is the Áning guide, which can be found all over Iceland. This handy booklet covers the accommodation and camping options across the country, lists all of the swimming pools on the island, and provides practical information and tips to make the most out of your trip.

Don’t try to cram it all in.

While the entire Ring Road is only 1,300 kilometres, you’ll add in extra milage taking detours to see interesting sights and backtracking when you inevitably take a wrong turn or two. And if you’re like me, you’re going to be stopping several times an hour to take photos. So even if you could drive the whole thing in 17 hours, in reality it’s going to add up to a lot more than that. Although we heard how stunning the West Fjords were, we opted to save them for another trip as we would’ve had to rush to fit them in, which just isn’t worth it.

Pick up groceries ASAP.

Most of the camper van companies, Go Campers included, are located just south of Reykjavik in the town of Hafnarfjörður. Just around the corner from the pick up point are budget grocery stores Krónan and Bónus, which have everything you need for a successful Iceland road trip. As you travel further from Reykjavik, the stores become few and far between. Stock up on non-perishable foods such as pasta and rice as well as go-to snacks like granola bars, crackers and nuts. If you’ve opted for a cooler, you’ll be in a good position to store other essentials like fruit, skyr and cheese.

Based on our experience, and all of the extra food we saw on the Go Campers shelf, it’s easy to get carried away at the grocery store before heading off. Instead of inevitably wasting food, buy only what you’ll need for a few days and plan to stop again at a grocery store in one of the larger towns like Akureyri or Vik.

Iceland Road Trip By Camper Van

Stay on campgrounds.

Utilizing Iceland’s extensive camping network is an enjoyable and affordable way to road trip the Ring Road. Most campsites are officially closed during winter, with many winding down at the end of August or mid-September. Although they might not be staffed during the off-season, many campsites will leave their gates open allowing visitors to use them. Sometimes there is a lock box where visitors are asked to pay despite there being no one to monitor – respect the honour system!

There’s a lot of conflicting information on free camping, or rather camping in nature rather than at a proper campsite. In the years past there was greater tolerance towards this in Iceland, however given the huge influx of tourists, many of whom are camping, it’s no longer as accepted. Although technically it is legal to camp in a tent (not a camper van) on uncultivated land if there is no sign to the contrary, locals discourage it as it can damage the fragile terrain, increase waste, and likely infringe on someone’s property. All in all, if you’re traveling Iceland by camper van, always stay at an official campsite.

Eat the local favourites.

The food in Iceland is delicious. Hearty meals of fresh fish, meats, and vegetables can be found at eateries along the Ring Road, although they are expensive relative to what you may be used to. While you have the option of making every meal in your camper van, it’s nice to experience some local cooking as well. A memorable meal during our travels was a decadent bowl of fish soup at the quaint family owned Geitafell Restaurant on the Vatnsnes Peninsula.

Stock up on some skyr, Iceland’s traditional yoghurt like snack, which comes in a multitude of flavours and is available in grocery stores and gas stations. A popular fast food item you’ll certainly encounter on your Iceland road trip is the hotdog, served up Icelandic style with one squirt each of ketchup, remoulade, and sweet mustard and topped with both raw and fried onions. And these aren’t your mystery meat varieties – these hotdogs are made of high quality and organic ingredients. If you need a snack, stop at the nearest gas station for a hotdog fix.

Develop an organizational system for the van.

This is critical especially at the onset of your road trip. With all of your luggage, sleeping and cooking gear, and the knick-knacks you acquire along the way, the camper van can soon become a mess. Having everything strewn about makes it not only difficult to find something when you really need it, but also a nightmare to transition from driving to sleeping, and vice versa. Having a place for everything from flashlights and chargers to photography gear and pyjamas makes the things you might need in a pinch, or in pitch black, easily accessible. And ensure that everything is more or less secure as things can fly around on the bumpy roads.

Iceland Road Trip By Camper Van

Follow the weather.

Perhaps the greatest advantage of an Iceland road trip in a camper van is that you don’t have to choose your route before you go. You can check the weather when you arrive and choose to go either north or south from Reykjavik based on which has the better forecast. Vedur is a terrific resource showing the seven-day weather forecast across Iceland all in one map, making it easy to see which direction is best. While most travelers embark on the Ring Road counter-clockwise starting with the south, we saw that the north was going to be full sun at the beginning of our trip so chose to go that way instead.

If you’re traveling in the winter and have your heart set on seeing the northern lights, Vedur also has an Aurora forecast, providing information on where to go for your best chances are of seeing the phenomenon.

Bring the essentials.

First things first, you’re going to need a jacket no matter when you visit. Other less obvious essentials include a travel towel that is quick drying (we picked up two of these super compact microfiber towels), a bathing suit for the pools and hot springs (even in the dead of winter), a sleeping mask if you’re traveling during the midnight sun, sunglasses for the strong sun year-round, a head lamp or flashlight (we used this headlamp every night), and gloves. Take a look at my Ultimate Iceland Packing List for more packing inspiration.

Dress in layers & don’t skimp on warm clothing.

This is pretty self-explanatory. The weather in Iceland is notorious for changing dramatically with little to no notice. The temperature fluctuated between 0 and 16 degrees in early September, but direct sunlight or heavy winds can push the outer limits of that range and make it feel much hotter or much colder. Some waterfalls require quite the uphill hike to view, so being able to remove layers as you climb will also make your journey more comfortable. I bought this down jacket before my trip and loved how lightweight and compact it is. It’s my go-to jacket in the winter!

Iceland Road Trip By Camper Van

Have the right footwear.

Iceland is rugged. A lot of the walking and hiking you will be doing will be across uneven, rocky, and slippery terrain. Even the grassy campgrounds can have their fair share of holes and divots from a never ending barrage of campers. Waterproof footwear is also critical as there are a number of sights where you may be wading through water like the black beach in Vik or Raudfeldar Canyon in Snaelfellsness. Odds are too that it’ll either rain or snow at some point during your trip. I splurged on these ones (I swear I have a cabin in the woods where I get good use out of them!) but I looked at so many other good ones on Amazon.

Bring the right gear.

The amount of tech and electronics we travel with seems to be increasing every trip, and it’s always a struggle to ensure all are charged up and ready to go. While you should add a USB charger and/or a power inverter to your rental, it’s not nearly enough to keep everything charged. We brought along two external batteries (these are the ones we have that hold up to seven charges), which were exceptionally handy. Bringing extra battery packs for your camera is recommended as there’s nothing worse then your camera dying right when you’re taking an epic one-chance shot.

To capture the best photos, don’t forget a sturdy tripod (my favorite) for those waterfall and nighttime sky photos, a polarizing or ND filter, and a wide angle lens to capture the vastness of it all. There are an abundance of resources online for photographing Iceland, but this comprehensive guide is the best, in my opinion. GoPros are also a popular accessory and while we didn’t use one, we encountered many other travelers who did. Our Lifeproof iPhone case (which is fully waterproof!) proved invaluable not only for taking photos in the Blue Lagoon and hot springs around Iceland, but also using our phone outside during periods of unrelenting rain.

Pull over safely to take photos.

Iceland is like one giant photo op. Amazing scenes and views await you at every turn and while it can be tempting to either pull over to the side of the road or slow down and pop your camera out the window, it’s dangerous. We encountered a lot of drivers pulling some precarious moves to ‘get the perfect shot’ but often there was a dedicated pull off space close by that would’ve been safer and more appropriate.

Iceland Road Trip By Camper Van

All you need is a credit card.

This was something I had heard before venturing to Iceland but I couldn’t believe it was as true as it was. Not once during our ten-day trip were we in possession of any Icelandic currency. Everyone took credit card.

Recycle and dispose of your trash properly.

Environmental sustainability is important everywhere, and Icelanders take their role in preservation seriously. In addition to protecting the land and delicate habitats, properly disposing of trash and an extensive recycling regime are rigidly followed here, and visitors are expected to follow suit. Littering or leaving garbage along your travels are not tolerated whatsoever so ensure that you leave no trace as you drive around the country. Read more about it here and here.

Ask a local.

Icelanders are extremely friendly and are easily approachable if you need help, so don’t hesitate to ask. Everyone we came across during our travels was ready and willing to help, and nearly all spoke English exceptionally well. Icelanders are also a great source of insight into what to see and do in their country, often offering suggestions that are off the typical tourist track. Before you go, tap into the recent tourism campaign Iceland Academy for some witty ‘how-to’s’ when visiting Iceland.

Iceland Road Trip By Camper Van

Take a dip at the local swimming pools.

Hitting up the public swimming pools is a local ritual in Iceland. Even small towns have swimming facilities, and for a small fee of $5 to $10 you can have access to the pools, hot tubs, steam room, and shower facilities. Some pools have indoor and outdoor options, waterslides for kids, and epic views. It’s a great way to relax after a long day of driving. But respect the rules, which you can read up on here.

Public swimming pools can also serve an important second purpose for campers: bathing. It’s almost guaranteed that the showers at the swimming pools will be better than what you’ll find at campgrounds where it’s a crapshoot whether you’ll have clean facilities or hot water. Additionally, some campgrounds charge around $3 for a shower anyway, so hitting up the nearby swimming pool isn’t too much of a premium.

Stock up on booze at the airport.

Iceland is one of the only countries where you can buy duty free after you’ve arrived in the country. There’s a duty free shop in Keflavik that seems to be open whenever an international flight rolls in. The prices for wine, liquor and beer are substantially lower than what you will find elsewhere in the country. We were originally modest in what we bought, but the woman at the cash register strongly recommended we buy more given the time we were spending in Iceland. She is so wise.

Sample the local beers.

While drinking in Iceland can break the bank depending on how hard you go, make sure you try some of the local craft beers. Borg makes a wide array of beers from Snorri, an Icelandic ale, to Leifur, a nordic saison, which are sold across the country. In Reykjavik don’t miss Skulí, which is owned by Borg, and Kaldi Bar, a lively spot that serves their own namesake beers in a cool setting. Check out my craft beer guide to Reykjavik on the beer & travel site Prostly for more cool spots.

Iceland Road Trip By Camper Van

Decide on adventure experiences in advance.

Iceland offers a tremendous amount of activities for the intrepid traveler: glacier hiking, ice climbing, helicopter rides, scuba diving and snorkeling, ice caves, snowmobiling, ATV drives, whale watching, fishing, skiing and snowboarding, and sledding. Many of these experiences are seasonal so if you’re dead-set on doing something specific, you may need to arrange the timing of your trip to coincide. Also, to ensure availability, it’s a good idea to book these types of experiences in advance. If you don’t think about it until you’re on the road, you’ll be bombarded with options and it may make it difficult to choose. Before we left, we spent hours on Viator looking through all of the activities and tours offered until we found one the perfect one.

Drive cautiously.

The roads are quite narrow, twisting and bending with the terrain. Local drivers are, as expected, much more confident driving the roads than newbies so will often come up quickly behind you and pass. There are many raised one-way bridges so pay extra attention and ensure nobody is coming towards you before driving on. And watch out for the sheep, who are prone to jumping out in front of your car without warning.

Some detours even on marked roads that veer off of the Ring Road are more challenging than others and you will soon feel out what you’re comfortable with. Trust your gut at the end of the day – if it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. Avoid off-roading as it’s not only illegal, you could end up in a precarious situation like the RV we encountered that was stuck on a sandy beach.

Keep an eye on the weather and road conditions as you go.

Like a true maritime climate, the weather in Iceland can change at the drop of a hat, which can impact the road conditions. It’s a good idea to check, the official site of the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration, which outlines the current road and weather conditions as well as features over a hundred live webcams from across the country so you can actually see what the roads look like.

And get used to not being able to pronounce anything.

A final, light-hearted tip to leave you with. Icelandic is a difficult language, full of strange and unusual letters like these oddballs: Þ, æ, and ð. We definitely butchered the pronunciation of most towns, sights, and names but had some fun trying, without success, to say them properly. And don’t feel too bad about it during your Iceland road trip; Icelanders are keenly aware of how challenging, and at times peculiar, a language it is.

Have any of your own tips for an Iceland road trip by camper van?

Iceland Road Trip by Camper Van photos by JP Bervoets

We received a discount from Go Campers for our Iceland road trip, although all of the opinions are completely our own. 

Some of the links in this article are for affiliates, though we only advocate for businesses and brands that we know and trust. Affiliate income helps us limit the number of ads on the site while allowing us to continue bringing our readers high quality travel content. 

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Lauren Barth co-founded Departful in 2012 and is the Managing Director of Departful Media. Since then she has worked between North America and Europe and has published content in partnership with a variety of tourism boards and businesses based around the world. Lauren is currently based in Toronto, Canada.

Departful is a full service travel agency for busy professionals seeking unique and transformative custom travel experiences. We create memorable holidays that are 100% tailored to our clients, saving them time and energy by handling all of the little details while providing value by leverage our expertise and network of travel partners. We are based in Toronto.


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Departful is a full service travel agency for busy professionals seeking unique and transformative custom travel experience. We create memorable holidays that are 100% tailored to our clients, saving them time & energy by handling all of the little details while providing value by leverage our expertise and network of travel partners. We are based in Toronto.

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