We all know that Iceland is not the cheapest of all destinations. However, it is possible to visit Iceland on a budget and one of the best ways to do so is by camping. Though wildcamping is no longer permitted in Iceland, you can still enjoy waking up in Iceland’s most amazing sceneries, or fall asleep under the Northern Lights. Still, fair to say, camping in Iceland is different than camping in any other country. Therefore we have written this first-hand guide of everything you need to know about camping in Iceland.
First of all, camping is by far the cheapest way of visiting Iceland, because accommodation such as hotels, hostels and guest houses is very expensive. Secondly it is one of the best ways of experiencing natural vistas. Some campsites are located near waterfalls, others in mountaineous surroundings. Also camping gives you more flexibility as you don’t need to book in advance and can plan your schedule as you go.
The downside however is the Icelandic weather. It can get very cold in Iceland, even during summer months. Besides, if you are not used to pitching tents, sleeping in a sleeping bag, cooking on a gas stove, it’s better to wait. Iceland is not ideal for a first camping experience.
When to camp?
Year round basically. However not every campsite is open during winter, so you need to do a bit more research in advance. Still, it is fair to say that all campsites are open from June till September, as this is peak season.
This means you won’t have access to most facilities such as kitchen, toilets, showers, etc.. Also, winter months tend to be a lot colder. Expect freezing temperatures during the night, so it might be worth considering not to tent-camp during winter. But if you do, bring proper gear and be well prepared for the cold.
The recommended option hower is to upgrade to a rental van during winter months.
Where to camp?
There are 170 campsites where you can pitch your tent, rent a cabin or park your van/mobilhome. You can check them on the website https://tjalda.is/en/.
This is the only place where it is allowed to camp as it is illegal to camp in a tent, camper van, RV, or vehicle anywhere outside of a designated camping area. Wildcamping is not only against the law, but also is a sign of disrespect towards Iceland nature. Which probably is the reason why you visit Iceland in the first place.
Even sleeping in a van on a parking lot is going to make an impact as you will probably leave food waste or dumping out water and therefore is not allowed either.
The cost of camping
The good news is camping in Iceland is relatively cheap. In my experience, spending a night on a campsite doesn’t cost more than in any other European country. Expect to pay in between 1,000 to 2,000 Icelandic krona ($8-$18 USD). This includes access to kitchen facilities and toilets. The more expensive campsites often also grant access to showers, while in the cheaper ones you often have to pay with coins by minute. Expect around 100 kronas per minute.
In most campsites you can pay by card.
What to expect at campsites?
There is a huge difference in facilities campsites offer. In general you can expect a beautiful setting with indoor kitchen, toilet and shower facilities on the grounds, wifi, laundry facilities and even the option of electricity.
However, except for the toilets, wifi and kitchen facilties, most come at an extra cost. If you just need to charge your phone, you can just use one of the outlets in the kitchen or shower facilities.
Water is always available as tap water is good to drink. So don’t waste money by buying water in the supermarket.
Showers and washing facilities
If you want to take a shower during your stay, we recommend bringing coins in the local currency. There usually is a coin-operated machine to give you (hot) water.
Pitching your tent
Keep in mind that there are very few trees in Iceland, so most campsites are nothing more than an open field where everyone pitches their tent (or parks their camper) wherever they want.. If it’s very windy or it rains hard, you will need a decent rainproof tent.
Rules at campsites
- Campsites are mainly just open fields where everyone pitches their tent or park their van wherever they want.
- Building a fire is not allowed (there is hardly any wood either). This is to avoid damaging the fragile ecosystem. Some campsites do however have metal grills you can use.
- Don’t leave food waste behind.
What gear to bring
Camping in Iceland means you will need to be well prepared.
- Tent – most people have one where the rain cover completely covers the tent because of high wind
- Ground tarp
- Extra stakes
- Sleeping bag – make sure your comfort temperature is low enough to deal with the freezing cold at night.
- Sleeping pad – the ground is actually pretty soft, so a Thermarest should work fine
- Camp Stove
- Water bottle
- Eye Mask – if you are camping during the summer, it never gets dark.
- Ear Plugs
- Fast dry towel
- Headlamp – not necessary in summer
- Food – check out our post on visiting Iceland on a budget to learn about the best places to buy groceries.
- Things you’ll need to rent in Iceland
If you want to camp in Iceland but you don’t have all the gear, it is possible to rent gear for camping in Iceland. Check out this website to be fully set up.
- If you are camping in the summer (May-August) do not forget to bring a sleep mask with you. There is so much daylight, and you are not going to be able to sleep if you’re camping in summer because it’s going to feel like it’s the middle of the day.
- Are you camping with a family for more than 7 days? Then the camping card could be good for you. The Icelandic Camping Card is a smart card that gives two adults and up to four children access to around 40 campsites around Iceland. The idea is simple: get one card, gain access to around 40 campsites around Iceland and save a considerable amount of money. Each card is valid for 28 nights for the whole group.
Each card is valid for a tent, caravan, motorhome or other camping units.