Iceland is experiencing a tourism boom right now, and for obvious reasons – it’s an entire country filled with breathtaking scenery and opportunities for truly unique experiences. If you’ve never been, then it’s probably a smart bet that Iceland’s right at the top of your list of must-visit destinations. And if you’ve already been there, then you’re probably counting the days until you can go back and experience more of its wonder.
There is simply no better way to see Iceland and experience it in all its glory than to road trip it in an Iceland campervan. We’ll go over the whys and the hows, and even the downsides, of renting an Iceland campervan.
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Why Rent an Iceland Campervan?
If you haven’t already clued into what makes Iceland so special then let us clarify it perfectly for you: The entire country feels like a National Park of the highest caliber. What better way could there possibly be than to get out into it all; to drive through the endless volcanic tundra; around massive fjords backed by absolutely stunning, glacier-capped mountains; camp in the middle of everywhere and sleep under stars and the elusive Northern Lights; and wake up to a natural hot spring all to yourselves?
In addition to being the best way to experience Iceland’s stunning landscapes, campervanning allows some other unique freedoms.
- Your Iceland campervan is both your accommodation and your rental car in one booking. This allows you to take everything with you that you’ll need while out in the backcountry.
- You don’t have to have a plan set in stone. You are your own tour guide. This means you won’t have to plan your trip to anybody else’s schedule if you don’t feel like it. We’re not sure about you, but that’s pretty refreshing to us.
- You don’t have to drive back to a hotel at the end of your day; you can camp virtually anywhere and you don’t need reservations for campgrounds. This frees up an enormous amount of time; you’ll be able to stay out longer and explore so much more at your own pace. Trust us, you’re going to go home wishing you had more time available to you, so why not give yourself as much as possible?
- You can start or end your day at specific locations you want to experience with fewer crowds. How would you like to soak in your very own hot spring under the stars or Northern Lights or start your day at an extremely popular tourist spot before the throngs of people make their way from Reykjavik? Campervanning not only makes this possible, but it’ll become one of your favorite things to plan for each day – it was for us.
How Does Renting an Iceland Campervan Work?
Do your homework and reserve an Iceland campervan well in advance for the dates you’re going, the number of people going, and with a reputable company like Happy Campers (it’s who we chose to rent from!) Be sure to leave some time available for picking up your Iceland campervan as there’s quite a bit more to go over versus picking up a standard rental car.
A good company will pick you up/ drop you off at the airport and shuttle you to their offsite facilities to get you checked into your Iceland campervan. Happy Campers picked us up from the airport as early as 8:15 am and had a sign with our names on it when we arrived. We gave them our flight info and they even monitored our progress in case we were delayed. If you decide to go with a different company, you might want to inquire about how you are getting to their facilities as their methods might be a little different.
Once we were at their rental offices, they went over our order confirmation with us and got us all the “extra” items we had purchased with our rental (more on that later). We then walked around the vehicle and inspected it for previous damages, went over some safety features, and got a tour of the features and workings of our new home on wheels. Before we left, they gave us several online resources to help us with driving and road conditions, weather conditions and forecasts, and even a Northern Lights Tracker and forecaster!
Check out was pretty easy; Happy Camper will shuttle you back to the airport as long as you arrive before 4:30 pm. We needed to check out much earlier than they opened but we were able to do a key drop in their mailbox and call a taxi to the airport ($30). Be sure to clarify the checkout process in advance so you don’t end up missing your flight home!
PRO TIP: Load up on free food, condiments, cooking equipment, and other supplies that they have at their offices – this will save you so much time and money rather than going to the grocery store!
Specs of a Typical Iceland Campervan
- Sleeps 2 to 6 adults depending on Van size
- Kitchenette (storage, sink, counter)
- Kitchen supplies (stove and gas, plates, coffee mugs, eating utensils, a pot, a pan, cups, bowls, cooking utensils, cutting board, Kitchen Knife, dish soap)
- Small broom and dustpan
- Fire Extinguisher
- Towel, washcloth, sponge and a dish scrubber
- Running water with an easy-fill water jug 5 gallon-ish
- Heating system (operates even when the engine is off)
- Great fridge/freezer (operates even when the engine is off)
- Solar Panels
- Bed folds up for additional seating and floor space
- Bed and linens and pillows (sleeping bag extra)
- 2 wheel drive
- Manual transmission (So you’ll need someone who knows how to drive stick)
- Diesel Gas Engine
Cost of Campervanning Iceland
You may be thinking that renting an Iceland campervan would be a cheaper option, unfortunately, it’s not. We don’t tell you this to discourage you, but to fully prepare you of the cost upfront. It cost us a total of $4,618 US dollars to explore Iceland in a campervan for one week. We’ve broken these expenses down below by the rental cost, food, gas, campgrounds, activities, parking, souvenirs, taxi to the airport, and foreign transaction fees. All expenses below are identified in US Dollars.
Happy Camper Rental:
The biggest expense of campervanning Iceland is the campervan itself. After taxes and all add-ons, our Iceland campervan cost $2,856.
- Happy 3 van: $263 per day or $1,839 for 7 days
- Premium insurance: $57 per day or $400 for 7 days (covers collision damage, gravel damage, sand and ash damage, theft, and tire damage)
- 2 Extra Drivers: $80 per rental
- Wifi: $46 per rental (4G wifi with unlimited data up to 5 devices)
- Power inverter: $23 per rental (allows you to charge your electronic devices using the cigarette lighter) Be sure to also bring a converter if your electronics do not have European plugs.
- BBQ grill: $34 per rental
- Folding camp table: $23 per rental
- 4 camp chairs: $66 per rental
- 4 sleeping bags: $114 per rental
The next biggest expense of an Iceland campervan is food. We spent about $750 on food.
- Groceries: $156
- Restaurants: $370 (A nice sit-down breakfast for four cost about $130 and a nice sit-down dinner with wine for two cost about $120)
- Cafes/Bakeries/Gelato: $125.50 (For two people, coffee and pastries cost about $20)
- Alcoholic drinks: $94 (a glass of beer averages $11 for one person)
In order to get around and see Iceland and all its beauty, you’re going to have to drive. With that comes the expense of gas. We spent a total of $348 and drove a total of 1,048.5 miles (1,687.4 kilometers). A 3/4 tank of the campervan cost us about $95. In September 2018, it cost $1.76 per liter of gas, this equates to about $7 per gallon. Gas in Iceland is not cheap.
We stayed at campgrounds 4 of our 7 nights and spent about $160. Each campground one night stay averaged $52 for 4 people.
Our miscellaneous expenses include the different activities we did, any parking fees, souvenirs, taxi to Keflavik airport, and foreign transaction fees. These miscellaneous expenses added up to $504.
- Activities: About $400 (Blue Lagoon was our most expensive activity which cost $82.50 per person for the cheapest ticket)
- Parking: $20
- Souvenirs: $40
- Taxi to Keflavik Airport: $30
- Foreign Transaction Fees: $14
Where to Stay in your Iceland Campervan
Anywhere really – Don’t camp if there are signs prohibiting it – use common sense. The further you get from Reykjavik the easier it gets to “free camp.” There are Dozens and dozens of paid campsites with amazing facilities around the island. Pro tip: use this Google map to find the nearest paid campsite.
Where to Bathe (and poop)
One thing you’ll have to figure out when campervanning in Iceland is where you’ll shower and shit.
- Paid campsites have amazing facilities with showers, toilets, laundry, and even a kitchen as part of your camp fee (so use it!)
- EVERY community around Iceland has a public pool with excellent shower facilities (and hot pots) Pro tip: Stay tuned for a future post about pool etiquette in Iceland – it’s a great way to meet the locals!
- “Shower” in the various natural hot springs around Iceland – it’s the best place to camp and an awesome way to wake up!
- Paid Restrooms are available to the public in every restaurant, gas station, pool, etc… (about $2 or just buy a coffee or other item)
- Don’t poop on the side of the road – clean up after yourself if you have to!!! Keep Iceland Beautiful
Eating in an Iceland Campervan
Everything in Iceland is expensive and eating presents the biggest hidden cost to your trip as well as being one of the biggest pains to overcome. You can absolutely find plenty of restaurants around the country but expect to pay double, or even triple the price you would in the US or Europe. Food quality is excellent in Iceland though, so don’t be afraid to splurge when you feel like it.
Your best bet will be to raid each and every campsite you come across for free food and supplies that other campers have left behind!
- Don’t forget these items – salt, pepper, paper towels, toilette paper, cooking oil, condiments, peanut butter and jelly, seasonings, and COFFEE! (this stuff is great to find FOR FREE at the campsites around Iceland)
Your second best option will be to buy your food at grocery stores.
- There are two main grocery store chains in Iceland: Bonus and Kronan – they are essentially the same.
- Avoid pasta and rice – it takes way too long to cook because the stove they provide isn’t very powerful
- The best foods to buy are hot dogs, Sausages, Pre-made soup, Hamburgers, sandwich items, oatmeal, cereal, granola bars, easy snacks, trail mix, nuts, chips, jerky, dried fruit
There are some awesome opportunities to eat out across Iceland too!
- Be sure to eat Gelato at the Efstidalur Dairy Farm on the Golden Circle
- Iceland Street Food in Reykjavik has all you can eat soups in bread bowls that are to die for
- Great opportunities for pubs and taverns across the country (Olstofa in Reykjavik has some nice beers, friendly staff, and a really cozy atmosphere!)
PRO TIP: get the extra grill add-on with your camper reservation as it’s much better to cook on than the little stove they provide and acts as a second burner for more complex meals.
Driving an Iceland Campervan
Iceland’s roads and infrastructure are very similar to North America and Europe which makes driving very easy, but there are a few unique instances that you should be aware of.
- Campervans drive slower than most other vehicles – be patient and courteous
- Distances and Speeds are in Kilometers
- Speeding cameras placed in random areas – don’t speed (you’ll enjoy the scenery anyway)
- Transmission is manual so you’ll need to know how to drive a stick
- Fill up the gas tank at halfway point – stations can be far apart further away from Reykjavik
- Gas must be diesel – diesel is black, and regular is green – this is opposite for American pumps
- Gas pumps require RFID Chip Cards WITH A PIN – so be sure to get a pin from your bank for your credit cards prior to departure
- There are a lot of roundabouts – so know how to use them
- People like to tailgate – When oncoming traffic is clear, put on your right turn signal to signal cars behind you it is safe for them to pass you
- There are a lot of one-lane bridges especially in the South – people flash their headlights to signal THEY are going to cross – etiquette seems to allow about 5 cars to cross the bridge in one direction before the opposite side crosses
- Driving distances and times are much longer than you think they are – This is a big one, and one of the reasons campervans are a great way to see Iceland. Don’t expect to drive from Reykjavik to the South Coast and back in one day and think you can still see everything you’ve planned. The country of Iceland is still huge, despite how it appears on a globe; don’t be misled into thinking you can drive willy-nilly all over the place without consequence. Driving times are in the hours – plural, not singular so it’s best to have a plan and a list of top sights should you need to start cutting things off your itinerary.
Parking an Iceland Campervan
- PRO TIP: park the van facing away from prevailing wind and rain so you can crack the door to cook without wind and rain getting inside.
- Park level when sleeping
- Back into parking spaces for a much easier exit
- Parking in Reykjavik is hard in a large van so you may have to circle around a lot before you are successful
- There are many parking garages in Reykjavik, but they have very low clearances – be sure you know how tall your van is (including the solar panels) before you leave the rental office and attempt to pull into a parking garage – this could be a very expensive mistake!
- Pull off the road completely – don’t park where passing vehicles can hit you
Iceland Campervan Pro Tips
- Bring your own Sleeping Bag – The one they provide runs small and frankly isn’t warm enough.
- Bring a microfiber towel – You’re going to get wet. A LOT! These towels pack and dry incredibly efficiently!
- Buy paper towels – The best tool for cleaning and drying a dirty, wet van.
- Bring the plug adaptor for Europe – Iceland uses standard European outlets.
- Upgrade to the power inverter – you will definitely need this to charge multiple electronics.
- Purchase the Wifi – Don’t waste time buying a SIM card at the airport, the wifi in our Iceland campervan was all we needed for four people for a week.
- 4 people max – even in a 6 person van – Otherwise you’ll be extremely cramped.
- Sweep often – You’re going to need to utilize all the space you have available to you, and that includes setting things on the ground you’d rather keep clean.
- Bring some “s” hooks, clothes pins and a clothesline for drying wet clothes and towels – It rains a lot, and you’re going to need places to hang wet clothes out to dry – especially towels.
- Bring a Scrubba Wash Bag for doing laundry on the go.
- Buy some cheap hand towels for your trip – These are great to have as backup towels and they’re cheap to buy at any grocery store; no need to bring them from home. Hey, they even make a practical souvenir if you wish to bring them home!
- Check out our future post on packing for Iceland to travel more comfortably!
- Charge your camera batteries as you drive, and clear your memory cards every night before you sleep, or while you drive – Get into the habit of doing this every time you pull out of a parking space so you’ll never run out of memory or batteries at the worst possible time!
- Upgrade with table and chairs – table comes in handy for the grill – Move your cooking outdoors when the weather is nice and free up space inside your van.
- Free food and cooking supplies at all campsites and Iceland campervan rental office – check before you buy from a grocery store. Raid each and every pantry at all the campsites you stay at – it’s what they’re there for! You can save so much money and time finding things to make meals out of from some of these pantries.
- Avoid cooking pasta and rice – it takes way too long on the puny stove they provide.
- Cook a lot of hot dogs, sausages, hamburgers, and pre-made soups – these cook and reheat much faster than pasta or rice, and will have you back out in the action quicker.
- Don’t forget to buy snacks to hold you over – There’s no need to starve yourself in order to cook a large meal, eat a lot of snacks to hold you over between meals.
- Google maps for happy camper campsites – Find a full-facilities campsite nearest you for all the creature comforts of home – namely a shower and toilet.
- Download offline maps prior to your trip – Google maps allows you to download maps for use on a mobile device when you have no service.
- Find and save must-see sights in google maps prior to your trip – we can, and will write an entire article on this amazing feature in Google Maps, but essentially it allows you to customize and share your own map of sights, restaurants, tours, etc. and is fully functional within Google Maps. You can create and save your entire travel itinerary using this one app!
- Camp near must-see sights and wake up early to enjoy them before the crowds – If you’re like us, and wish to experience the beauty of Iceland sans crowds, then get around them by showing up when they are all in Reykjavik. You’ll have major tourist sights practically all to yourselves and you’ll be able to enjoy them for much longer than most people get to!
- Don’t try to drive the ring road unless you have 2 or more weeks and this is your first visit – Don’t do it! PERIOD! Can you do it? Technically, yes, but you won’t see shit – you’ll be in the car the entire time and hating the experience! 1 week wasn’t enough for us to see Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Reykjanes Peninsula, the Golden Circle, and the South Coast, and we were going at a ridiculous pace – what makes you think you’ll be able to see the entire country in the same timeframe?
- Additional insurance – all coverage – The wind in Iceland is brutal, and one of the first things you’ll hear about when you get there is how it can rip a car door off its hinges. Couple that with pot-holed gravel roads and hail that seems to come from nowhere and you can see why protecting ones-self financially is a really good idea.
- Turn on the heater about an hour prior to sleeping, and then turn it off or else you’ll overheat – This will have you sleeping comfortably in all but the most extreme cold.
- You can use the heater to dry your wet gear if someone is willing to sit in front of the vent – This saved us on more than one occasion when an important article of clothing was soaked through and we didn’t have a backup.
- Keep it clean – keep it dry – Just trust us on this one; do your absolute best to keep the inside of your van clean and dry and you’ll have a MUCH better experience for it.
The Cons of Iceland Campervanning
As with all things in life, nothing is perfect – and campervanning in Iceland is no different. Here are a few small issues you’re going to have to deal with that we really hope doesn’t dissuade you.
- You stand out as a tourist – A big, brightly painted vehicle just screams, “I’m here from another place – judge me harshly!” As we stated at the start of this post, Iceland has had a massive increase in tourism in a very short period of time which is always going to have its negative drawbacks for locals. Luckily, this hasn’t seemed to affect Islanders’ warm, welcoming, and generous spirit, but eventually, that is more than likely going to change – especially if everyone keeps pooping where they’re not supposed to! Do your best to be an arbiter of everything it means to be a good visitor and remember that people live in Iceland.
- Driving distances and times are much longer than you think they are – Yes, we mentioned this above, but we feel the need to place it here as well in case you missed it before. This is a big one, and one of the reasons campervans are a great way to see Iceland. Don’t expect to drive from Reykjavik to the South Coast and back in one day and think you can still see everything you’ve planned. The country of Iceland is still huge, despite how it appears on a globe; don’t be misled into thinking you can drive willy-nilly all over the place without consequence. Driving times are in the hours – plural, not singular so it’s best to have a plan and a list of top sights should you need to start cutting things off your itinerary.
- The campervan is big and has a high center of gravity – that makes it a little more difficult to turn and reacts to wind
- It’s cramped for more than two adults – While we still think this is manageable, personal space and privacy is practically non-existent – choose your companions wisely!
- Campervanning in Iceland is not a “Cheap Alternative,” it’s still very expensive – After gas, rental, and insurance, your bank account is going to show some serious signs of strain. Sadly, there’s no way of getting around this fact – accept it and don’t let it keep you from having a great adventure!
- Finding time to cook all your meals becomes a chore – This was the single greatest thing we struggled with during our trip, and to be honest, we probably starved ourselves a bit. Each day you have to drive to your destinations, set up and take down your sleeping arrangements, and still find time to do all the things you want to see and do in Iceland. Quite frankly, cooking and even eating becomes a huge chore! For this reason, you might want to consider budgeting for eating out more often than you’d think…
- You have to arrange your beds every night and then clean up in the morning – Like we just stated above, this becomes yet another chore you have to do twice, every single day. You’ll need the space for your daily activities, and every little bit of it goes a long way for your sanity.
- Forces you to constantly be organizing, sweeping, drying, etc… – Noticing a theme yet? You’re going to be tired, cold, dirty, and certainly wet most of your time in Iceland. We don’t want that fact to discourage you from going; quite the opposite, it’s all part of the fun of road-tripping it across Iceland! So keeping your living space clean and organized, and your stuff dry, is going to make your trip so much more enjoyable and comfortable. But man is it literally the last thing we want to be doing!
- You cannot bring a ton of suitcases – Space is extremely limited (see above) and you’ll need to be able to move items around inside the vehicle in case it’s raining outside. We like soft-sided, carry-on size luggage and have found the Patagonia Black Hole Duffle and the Osprey Meridian Wheeled Backpack work great.
- You constantly have to be thinking about charging camera batteries, drones, cell phones, and other electronics – This is a very easy aspect of campervanning that’s easy to overlook: you need to plan out and pay attention to keeping all of your electronics charged. The power converter that the rental companies provide will only work while the engine is running, which means you can only charge stuff while you’re driving or if you have the gas money to burn sitting idle. You’ll have to constantly be aware of whose electronics need to be charged before you leave each destination in order to maximize charging times.
- You’ll need a good navigator – The Icelandic language is notoriously difficult to read and pronounce so you’ll need someone who’s good at directions to get you around efficiently – especially in Reykjavik, where decisions need to be made rather quickly when parking or driving.
- Everything ends up wet, dirty, smelly – Did we mention space was limited? Iceland is a country of extremes – particularly the weather. Clean, dry places to put stuff disappear quickly. It’s also impossible to get away from the smell of your stank-ass boots and dirty socks.
- Food particles don’t drain down the sink – (at least was the case with our Happy Campervan) so keep that in your mind when doing dishes
Final Thoughts on an Iceland Campervan
As you can probably tell by now, there’s quite a bit of planning and effort that goes into campervanning in Iceland; it’s more than just showing up and driving off into the sunset. We hope what we’ve written here helps you in some way achieve your goal of exploring such a beautiful country in the best possible way. More than anything though, we want to make your trip less stressful so you can focus on having fun!
If you found this article helpful in any way, or if you’ve already experienced Iceland by campervan, tell us all about it in the comments, or by dropping us an email! We would love to hear about it.
Further Reading for Your Trip to Iceland
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