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We finally completed our long-awaited Iceland campervan trip – two weeks making our way all the way around this fascinating (but small) island, checking out all the incredible (but mostly wet) scenery along the way. Truly one of the most scenically impressive places we have ever been. And we’ve been to Lloydminster, so we know a thing or two about scenery.
For such a small place, maybe the most impressive thing was the diversity of the landscape. There were waterfalls (so many waterfalls), stunning canyons, endless coastal scenery, volcanoes, craters (which are basically just volcano leftovers), glaciers, beaches, sea stacks, icebergs, whales and – drum roll, please – puffins!
Ok, fine, puffins don’t exactly compare with, say, whale sharks or cheetahs or something like that. I mean, they’re pretty small, roughly the size of a man’s hiking shoe, or maybe a tasty schooner of draft beer. Cuter than both, though.
Iceland is located way up north (at one point we were just 60 km from the Arctic circle) and, while it is never a particularly balmy place to visit, the sun never really sets (so the days are basically endless) and it is most definitely more pleasant in summer. Which is the main reason it took us so long to get there.
We don’t normally travel much in summer since our home country (Canada, in case you’re new here) is also far more pleasant in summer (what little we get). But we decided it was finally time to make an exception for Iceland and, ooh baby, it was worth it. And not just because seeing puffins up close made us respect our giant Canadian crows so much more.
So, enough of the preamble, let’s get to the good stuff. First off, all the best and biggest highlights of our Iceland campervan trip, broken down into “the very best”, “pretty cool” and “interesting enough”. Those aren’t the official titles but they do give you an idea of how we rate them.
Obviously, this is all very subjective, not to mention weather-dependent, but this is basically what we would tell anyone who asked us for our Iceland road trip recommendations. We mostly stuck to the main Iceland Ring Road with many, many small detours along the way.
We managed to visit the vast majority of the best and most popular attractions, although, in Iceland, there is virtually and endless list of viewpoints or natural attractions to see (most of which are waterfalls) so no list is going to be completely comprehensive.
What we didn’t see, however, were the Highlands of Central Iceland which are only accessible by 4×4 (those 4×4 vans fall into a completely different, panic-attack inducing price range) or the West Fjords (basically because we didn’t have the time).
And if you decide to rent a regular vehicle instead of a campervan (either to save money by tenting or for the added comfort of staying in hotels) we recommend Discover Cars. We have used them in many different countries and they usually have the cheapest deals and have always been very reliable.
Everybody that visits Iceland ends up in the capital of Reykjavik (where 120,000 of the country’s 370,000 people live) at some point. Keflavik International Airport is actually located about half an hour outside the city but you’ll still want to head into town for a look around.
In all honesty, Reykjavik is fine. Nice enough, not too busy, kind of pleasant to look at. But no big attractions or historic old towns or anything like that. The main sight is probably the massive, weird Lutheran church that, to its credit, is very unique. Unique mainly in that it seems like it could be the grandiose headquarters of a fanatic astrology cult, but unique nonetheless. For a fee you can climb the tall tower for big views over the city, although in the dreary grey rain of our visit it felt pretty easy to pass on that.
But at least there are a lot of good places to stay in Reykjavik, and some of the other notable stops include a variety of colourful houses, a handful of semi-interesting murals, some metal art pieces on the malecón and, of course, the famous Icelandic hot dogs at Baejarins Beztu Pylsur street stand. We tried them and, yes, much like Reykjavik, they were fine.
Altogether, if we did it again we wouldn’t have set aside a night and two whole days for the city, especially since it cost us €50 each for return bus tickets to and from the airport after dropping off our campervan, plus €120 for a basic room with a shared bathroom in Hostel B47. It would have been enough to spend a couple hours in Reykjavik after picking up our van, then continuing out of the city to the bigger, better Iceland attractions.
One interesting thing we did while in Reykjavik was join a whale-watching tour which was pretty cool, didn’t quite live up to some of our previous experiences in Mexico or the Maldives, just to name a couple, but we did see a bunch of dolphins frolicking and several humpback whales from a bit of distance (or one humpback whale several times – it’s hard to say for sure).
At the time we visited, these were the approximate exchange rates to Icelandic krona (ISK):
$C1 = 100 ISK
$US1 = 135 ISK
€1 = 150 ISK
All right, now on to the good stuff! As I mentioned, Iceland is one of the more consistently scenic places we’ve ever visited. Part of that is due to the bizarre topography of the island which mainly seems to be flat, flat, flat, flat, huge rocky hill! Flat, flat, flat, canyon! Flat, flat, flat, volcano!
Sure, we’ve been to lots of very photogenic areas that are filled with hills and mountains but when 80% of the terrain is absolutely flat it really adds a wow factor to the dramatic changes when you find them.
Anyway, after checking out Thingvellir and spending the night in Geysir after leaving Reykjavik, we spent the next day (our first full day in Iceland) gawking at amazing scenery from morning till night. The upcoming forecast didn’t look great so we wanted to squeeze in as much as possible while the sun shone. And, honestly, I think that will go down as one of the best sightseeing days of our lives.
This terrific waterfall is one of the top attractions on any Iceland campervan trip, and for good reason. This massive waterfall (for future reference, “foss” means waterfall in Icelandic) tumbles down off a high cliff – extremely photogenic from all angles – but the really cool part is that you can actually hike in BEHIND the waterfall on an easy dirt path, for exceptional views back out through the heavy curtain of water.
Keep in mind, though, if you do that you will get very wet, which is why only about 10-20% of visitors ventured that far. This was really the only time on our Iceland Ring Road trip that our full sets of rain jackets and pants came in handy.
Parking costs a fairly hefty 950 ISK, plus there is a “donation” box at the start of the trail and, while there is a bathroom, the door features a sign saying no hiking shoes/boots – what? Are we supposed to bring special bathroom slippers to the waterfall?
Either way, don’t miss this gem (and dress to get wet). And while you’re there you may as well walk 10 minutes down to Gljufrabui, a narrow canyon with a “hidden” waterfall tucked inside. You’ll have to do a bit of easy rock-hopping to get back there but once you do there is a huge posing rock that works perfectly for photos.
The biggest waterfall in Iceland by volume, it is intensely powerful and has some great viewpoints.
Yep, another waterfall. Or, to be clear, another huge, very impressive waterfall. Skogafoss is one of the most famous stops in Iceland and features a wide entrance area and several sandbars that make it easier than most to get good photos without a bunch of people in them.
We camped in the parking lot with views of the waterfall right from our windows and took advantage of the endless sun to hike some of the Fimmvorduhals Trail that starts at the top of Skogafoss and follows a beautiful canyon inland past many, many more waterfalls. I think we saw 5 more in about 3 km before turning back. I’m pretty sure this was also a Game of Thrones filming location (one of many around Iceland).
This stunning canyon (“jufur” means canyon in Icelandic) is truly, well, stunning. Steep, narrow, green and winding, it is easy to see why it earned a starring role in a Justin Bieber video, as well as a huge surge in popularity afterward. Not to mention the new nickname, “Bieber Canyon”, which we used simply because we had absolutely no chance of properly pronouncing the real name.
We spent the first night of our Iceland campervan trip in Geysir campground, checking out the fascinating geothermal highlights and periodically spurting hot springs. And, before you say, isn’t calling it “Geysir” kind of unoriginal, well, no, actually it is the definition of original. As in, this is the geyser that all other geysers around the world are named after. Pretty cool, even if Geysir itself last erupted about 20 years ago.
Nearby Stokkur, though, still puts on a show every 5-10 minutes like clockwork. Fun stuff. Plus, there is a nice, scenic 30-minute loop trail with good views of the area.
A perfectly round crater with a trail around the rim that only takes 15 minutes or so. They charge 450 ISK to park here even though there are no facilities (a bathroom is “five minutes that way on the highway”, apparently).
We enjoyed a short stop where we hiked the loop, ate lunch by the little lake, peed in a bottle in the van, then moved on. Just your average Iceland campervan trip day.
A much quieter waterfall than most about 15 minutes off the Ring Road, it was just us and two other girls there admiring this unique waterfall dropping down (and out of) a stone chute.
Some great views down over black sand beaches in both directions, plus some scenic cliff walks. It was here that we saw our first few puffins, which we may have missed if not for the intense photographers with their tripods and giant zoom lenses piquing our curiosity. In hindsight, this paled in comparison to our later puffin experience in the northeast but at the time, it was pretty exciting.
Just east of Dryholaey Lighthouse (and visible from the cliffs) this wonderful area features black sand, photogenic sea stacks, sheer cliffs and climbable basalt rock columns. It was also crazy busy and might be worth trying to see either early or late in the day (not at 1 pm like us).
Vik Church and the Lupins
Although this may sound like an edgy garage band from the 90’s, it is actually a very worthy photo op in southern Iceland. Vik is the main town in the area, with a good campground, pleasant beach and a surprisingly pretty church.
The nearby fields were absolutely bursting with bright purple “lupins” in full bloom in early June, allowing us to check off one of Laynni’s big Iceland campervan trip bucket list items (although she hides it well in this photo).
This amazing valley is tougher to recommend as it is located a 45-minute drive inland from Vik on a rough, dirt road. However, we did it in our regular 2-wheel drive campervan and found it to be fine, especially compared to some of the much rougher gravel roads we faced later on our Iceland Ring Road trip.
If you do visit, the scenery is truly remarkable, with amazing valleys surrounded by steep, sharp green hills and black lava moonscapes. The campground is simple but has a gorgeous setting and there are several different marked trails to help enjoy the area. It poured almost the entire time we were there but we did manage to sneak in a mostly dry 2-hour hike on the fairly new “Blue Trail”.
Guided Tour Option
For many people, including us, one of the main reasons to do an Iceland campervan trip is to avoid the group tours. However, we decided to make an exception once to get a chance to visit the magnificent and highly unique Katla Ice Caves. If you’re willing to splash the cash (we paid €170 each), you’ll be treated to a fun, memorable journey through some wild terrain to one of the more unusual sights we’ve ever seen.
The entire area around the Katla Ice Cave is phenomenal (including a mountain that featured in the opening scene of Star Wars: Rogue One) and the caves themselves are very cool. They are also the only natural caves in Iceland that can be visited all year-round (there are some man-made ones out west and some others that can only be visited in winter).
We went with Troll Expeditions and can highly recommend them, especially our guide, Joao, who clearly knew his stuff and didn’t take any of the safety shortcuts we saw from one of the other companies who entered ahead of us.
To read a detailed description of our visit to the caves, check out our review:
Other Stops if You Have Time
Thingvellir National Park
One of the most popular national parks in Iceland, it costs 750 ISK to park and there are some nice viewpoints, a basalt canyon that featured in Game of Thrones and the small but impressive Oxararfoss.
Not far from Skogafoss, this quiet, little waterfall is just a short detour off the Ring Road in a lovely green crescent.
More commonly known as the Yoda Cave, it isn’t very deep and won’t take long to visit. Just step inside, take a few photos and go. There is even a handy posing rock at the entrance which didn’t seem like a huge accomplishment to climb at the time, at least until the lady after me tried three times before giving up and doing a celebratory pose for the camera next to it instead.
We recommend stopping off at the liquor store in Vik to get some advice on Icelandic beers from a delightfully enthusiastic teller. Her recommendations were right on the money (Brio for Laynni, Viking for me, obviously).
For all the amazing highlights we enjoyed in other parts of Iceland, the overall scenery in Eastern Iceland was definitely our favourite. Just constantly beautiful along the entire coast, whether driving, camping or exploring.
Following curving roads along the ocean – occasionally perched on steep slopes – past stunning fjords with majestic mountains looming just inland, the drive alone was worth the visit.
It is worth braving the rough road to the trailhead to enjoy this beautiful hike up along the ridge of this awesome canyon with views of huge Hangandifoss. It is all uphill but a relatively gentle slope. The whole hike to the end and back will take 2-2.5 hrs but there is a pretty nice viewpoint about halfway if you want to save time or energy. One of our favourite spots on our Iceland campervan trip.
For a complete guide, check out:
This very famous and very busy Glacier Lake is also very blue and very much full of icebergs broken off the nearby glacier. So it is definitely well worth a stop. For one thing, it is literally right on Ring Road.
And while there may be loads of tourists, buses, boat tours, kayaks for rent and no fewer than three food trucks, the views are incredibly unique and memorable. Ice everywhere, mountains and glaciers in the background, occasionally a misguided young lady posing for an intense Instagram shoot wearing a flesh-coloured dress (choices, my girl, choices).
This was also where we had our very first Icelandic hot dog and it was undeniably… fine. Maybe I would have enjoyed it more if we hadn’t shared one hot dog between us and, sadly, suffered from a mustard seepage incident. It left me dreaming of the day I would – fingers crossed! – gleefully get to enjoy my very own hot dog, condimented up just how I like (only ketchup, of course, I’m not a monster).
Right next to Jokulsarlon is the equally popular Diamond Beach, called this because these two lengthy stretches of black sand are where the glacier droppings, as I like to call them, eventually end up after they ride the short stretch of river between the lake and ocean. The wildly scattered and oddly varied chunks of ice collect on the sand like a bag of diamonds dropped on a cashmere carpet in the throes of a drug-induced seizure. Or something like that.
The west/south side was far more impressive when we were there but that could easily change depending on the wind and currents.
Just a couple minutes south of Jokulsarlon and immeasurably quieter is another lake full of photogenic icebergs which is, in our opinion, far superior to its chaotic neighbour. Its location a few minutes drive off Ring Road on a rough gravel road is apparently enough to deter 95% of the tourists and we happily spent 20 minutes completely alone exploring a tiny bay full of ice, the glacier looming even closer from here with some amazing snow-capped mountains in the background.
As far as we could tell, the only way Jokulsarlon is better is that it features bright blue water, while Fjallsarlon’s is less photogenically grey. But in every other way, this is the better choice. Luckily they are only a few minutes apart so it is easy enough to see both. In fact, you could park at Jokulsarlon and walk to Fjallsarlon and back in probably half an hour.
And if you have a little extra cash to spend, you might be interested in setting aside a night at the most unique and cool place to stay in Iceland. Fjallsarlon Overnight Adventure offers stays in a comfortable floating mobile home right among the icebergs on Fjallsarlon lake with closeup views of the glacier. No, it is certainly not cheap (although meals are included as well). But cruising through the icebergs with the glacier looming right next to you as you enjoy a drink on your deck? Well, that is exactly the sort of memory that lasts a lifetime.
Borgarfjordur is a nice, little fishing village tucked away in the far northeastern corner of Iceland. That, however, isn’t quite enough to earn a spot on this list. What makes it a must-visit is the extraordinary Puffin Island (Hafnarholmi), where we got to see hundreds (maybe thousands?) of adorable little puffins, sometimes within a metre or two.
This picturesque little islet is free, easily accessible and features several boardwalks and even a covered viewing area. Outside of these small tourist spots the multitudes of puffins gather to squawk and preen and dig their goofy little burrows, all without a care in the world, apparently.
In order to see them you’ll need to visit between April and early August, when they gather here for breeding and nesting and, presumably, just lying around enjoying the afterglow.
Another of the most popular waterfalls in the country, this one is surrounded by impressive basalt rock columns and involves a short, scenic hike to reach it from Skaftafell National Park campground, one of the larger, busier sites we ended up in.
It costs 1000 ISK to park, although that is waived if you camp here. We arrived on a Saturday and the place was unusually rowdy, especially a group of wasted Icelandic youths ripping it up at 2 in the afternoon, playing loud music and lounging around, the shirtless guys and stumbling girls seemingly oblivious to the families camping around them and later, I suspect, having sex in the communal showers.
This is a weird one. It costs 1000 ISK per person to visit the beach, dunes, lighthouse and Viking village. However, the lighthouse is kind of blah and the Viking village – leftover from a 2009 movie set – is mildly interesting, at best (although history buffs can easily envision some peasants being raped and pillaged). Which makes that fee pretty steep.
On the other hand, the black sand dunes and long, flat beach backed by huge cliffs are pretty exceptional. And if you choose to camp there the fees (2500 ISK per person) include two entries to the beach – one for night and one for the next morning.
Other Stops if You Have Time
An easy stop along the Iceland Ring Road, the lighthouse is bright orange with big views, big winds and, if you time it right, it can be an excellent place to take a sneaky pee.
Just a weird photo op along the highway, the only reason we even considered this one is because of the whole “red Adirondack chairs in Canadian national parks thing”. It seemed like something we, as Canadians, were required to acknowledge.
But when we arrived it seemed like there might actually be a lineup for the iconic photo, or possibly just a weird woman lounging in it – either way, it no longer seemed worth an extra five minutes of our time.
The day we drove to Seydisfjordur we had declared it a “no waterfalls” day, just to see if we could pull it off. Turns out, no, as I ended up randomly next to one at a cool, valley viewpoint on the way to the town and I simply couldn’t resist.
Interesting town, though, that requires a 30-min each way detour from Ring Road, up and over a mountain, all feeling extremely remote and off-the-beaten path until we crested the hill to see a massive cruise ship docked in the harbour.
So we shared the next half-hour with a broad spectrum of cruise ship tourists crawling all over the place like ants on the face of a tortured cartel snitch in the desert (sorry, we’ve been re-watching Breaking Bad lately and it’s all I can think about). Nonetheless, Seydisfjordur is nice place – very colourful with some unique buildings, interesting church and a very prominent Pride rainbow sidewalk. Awkward for any conservatives on board.
Much quieter than the rest of our Iceland campervan trip, the north seems a bit shorter on true highlights but offers a more off-the-beaten-path vibe, even longer days (if that is really possible in June) and, apparently, better weather.
The guy running the campground on severe north point of the island where we had our best weather of the entire trip (20C, sunny and dead calm) assured us that the weather is always better in the north – fewer clouds, less rain and less wind – something we shrugged off as obvious bias at the time. However, we paid closer attention after that and, in the VERY small sample of our time in Iceland, he seemed right on the money.
Sometimes you could literally look both ways and see clear skies to the north while clouds gathered ominously to the south. Now, could this have just been an odd week? Absolutely. Does it matter much to us? Nope, it sure doesn’t.
Either way, the north has very different, intensely volcanic terrain, more subtle highlights and, for now at least, fewer tourists. Not sure how long that will last, though, as it seemed as though all the infrastructure was shiny and new up north, from the smoothly paved highways to the extensive walkways to the bathrooms currently under construction (and therefore still completely useless to us, maybe you will be luckier).
They certainly seem to think the tourist boom is just around the corner. And even if it’s not, there’s always a few more waterfalls to pass the time.
Another gorgeous canyon, this one with the added bonus of being completely accessible on foot. While the crowds gather at the excellent viewpoints up top, there are many different paths leading down into the canyon where you can explore all the fun nooks and crannies, and we easily found ourselves completely alone on several occasions.
The main parking lot is about 4 km from the canyon so it is worth driving the very rough road to the second lot, saving you about 2 km of dull road walking. This road gets a bad rap in the reviews but we did it in our campervan (very slowly) without issue (along with every other type of vehicle).
It is also possible to follow a much better road on the west side of the canyon to a viewpoint, although you can’t get to the bottom from there and, in our opinion, will miss out on the best part.
Even though we had become fairly jaded about waterfalls at this point on our Iceland campervan trip, Dettifoss still amazed us. In particular, the fabulous rainbow that arced entirely across the mist above this roaring behemoth.
We went to the west side which is accessible by a decent road and has pay bathrooms, designated paths and, in our opinion, more panoramic viewpoints. To see it from the east side you have to take another rough dirt road but the benefit is that you can walk almost right up to the falls themselves – which certainly looked fun – but I don’t think you’d get as good a view from above. As always, both is probably the way to go if you have time.
Camping North 66.12
This is the campground I mentioned earlier, a place where we enjoyed probably the best night of our entire Iceland campervan trip. Sure, a lot of that had to do with the weather, something that obviously can’t be counted on from hour to hour in Iceland, let alone year to year.
Still, the location is magnificent, on a bluff overlooking the north ocean. With a warm evening, clear blue skies and eerily calm water, it was like a movie version of camping. No mosquitos, either.
The owner is a friendly, chatty guy who told us about a nearby cliff where we could spot more puffins. Alas, we were satisfied with our puffin experiences and were more interested in soaking up the sun and, eventually, a number of different Icelandic beers. However, we did find time to use the extremely handy washer and dryer, have a hot shower and cook some completely adequate noodles.
We then spent the night documenting the bizarre movement of the sun as it… tried… ever… so… hard… to set but couldn’t quite finish the job, making it halfway below the horizon around 12:30 am then just hanging out there for a couple hours as it slowly drifted sideways before eventually starting back up around 2:30 am. Night’s over, fools, hope you don’t mind if I shine directly in the windows of your van.
While “Rhino Rock” seemed well off the usual Iceland Ring Road trip itinerary, there ended up being a fair few tourists there after all, despite the 22 km, half-hour dirt road trip to get there. The big sea stacks (famously resembling a rhino drinking ocean water, apparently not a very smart one) surrounded by nesting seabirds are fascinating enough but we were particularly enthralled with the rest of the area, full of walking paths, beaches and viewpoints. Well worth the detour.
If you visit after June 20th, you might want to consider continuing all the way around Vatsnes Peninsula. It will add another 30 km or so of dirt road but is supposedly very scenic and on the western side there is a spot famous for its seals. However, that little gem is closed until summer because of seabird nesting so we gave it a pass.
A picturesque lake full of volcanic rocks and tiny islands, it is a popular place for families and campers (although apparently campers find the midges are awful in early summer). It also has a couple of interesting spots close by, including:
It only takes about 15 minutes to hike to the top. Or an hour if you’re as wildly out of shape as some of the tourists we saw inexplicably torturing themselves for what I would describe as a mildly interesting photo op. If you have the time, though, you can extend your hike all the way around the rim in another half-hour or so. There are also some good views out over Lake Myvatn.
The parking lot is technically free, although you are directed to a QR code that gives you the option of paying €5/7/10, apparently as a donation for upkeep, although it does not make the optional part very clear. I’m not opposed to paying entrance fees to support attractions but I never appreciate it when they try to trick us.
As we headed south and west the sky clouded over and the wind picked up, as though to prove to us just how much better they have it up north. Which is why, along with the fact we had now seen somewhere between 20 and 2000 waterfalls, that this waterfall – which is pretty cool, in fairness – earned just a cursory stop.
Other Stops if You Have Time
Asbyrgi Canyon Loop
A pleasant, mostly flat hike along the rim of a scenic canyon in a national park roughly halfway between Dettifoss and Camping North 66.12. You pass a very basic golf course, traverse a short stairs/ladders/ropes section to the top, then follow the cliff edge to a photogenic lake tucked into the end of the canyon.
The loop then takes you around through some interesting volcanic landscape to another river and another canyon viewpoint before circling through some thickets and shrubs back to the visitor centre. Allow a few hours for the whole loop.
Another Iceland campervan trip attraction right next to Lake Myvatn, this tiny grotto features crystal-clear water and almost no room to move once you get even 5 or 6 tourists in there. Its main claim to fame is as the filming location where Jon Snow and Ygrette got “intimate” in Game of Thrones.
Unfortunately, the prominent “no bathing” signs at the entrance didn’t stop the young, American guy with the pale skin and impressive red afro who was determined to very slowly and very creepily immerse himself in the famous pool, weirdly rubbing water on himself like he was doing ablutions or something. I assume it had something to do with Jon Snow’s semen, although I can’t be sure, and it was certainly weirder that he seemed to be there with his mom.
Things We Learned in the North
Big sunny days with big warm temperatures immediately bring out all the big Icelandic guys with their big, shirtless Icelandic bellies.
Every few hours we would pass a pair of swans hanging out near the road, then one time we saw THREE swans hanging out near the road, with one kind of off to the side staring at the other two. Awkward.
For us, the west basically consisted of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, which was a pretty amazing place, basically Iceland in miniature, with versions of all the main highlights we saw other places packed into one small area.
Anybody planning a visit to Iceland but short on time should seriously consider focusing on this tremendously diverse peninsula.
We got going by 9 am and were the first people to make it to this fascinating black sand beach and wild lava fields. We walked west for about 15 minutes to Dritvik Beach (highly recommended) and by the time we returned the place was packed with campervans and three tour buses.
Managing to stay just ahead of the 3 buses, we enjoyed another short walk (15-20 minutes) to these spectacular cliffs/sea stacks that were absolutely teeming with birds. There is also an easier viewpoint just off the road to the east but if you have time it is well worth a closer look.
We had been planning to hike from Arnastapi to Hellar (3 km) but became so enthralled with the views, sights and topography around Arnastapi that we spent over an hour exploring there and skipped the hike (although you can tell it would offer even more excellent cliff scenery).
There is a large parking lot and visitor centre at the start of the village and another small parking lot right beside the harbour. From either one it is easy to wander past the arches, cliffs, sea stacks, photogenic harbour and this adorable little house that seems specifically built for the harbour/cliff/house/mountain/glacier photo op. There is also a “pumpa”, which is not at all what it sounds like, more just a very narrow inlet and tiny beach.
This gorgeous stretch of paved road connects the south and north sides of the peninsula and whatever route you have planned for Snaefellsnesnes Peninsula, try and work this drive in. Unfortunately, there were very low clouds (and sometimes thick fog) during our drive but every now and then you could tell just how amazing the scenery would be if it was clear.
Stykkisholmur / Sugandisey Island
A very cute little town with another pretty harbour and beautiful Sugandisey Island, where you can check out a lighthouse, wander on a myriad of trails and enjoy good views back over town. It also served as a handy provisions stop for us (milk, two buns, two bananas, if you must know).
This rugged dirt road (fine in a campervan as long as you go slow) parallels the main highway for several kilometres through some amazing lava fields, full of jumbled volcanic rock mostly covered in thick green moss. There are three access points for this road (all marked on our map) so it can easily be included in your Iceland campervan trip in either direction.
One of the most famous Instagram photo spots in Iceland, “Church Mountain” is best seen from the small waterfall just south off Ring Road. It is a pretty impressive sight, although because of its increased popularity most of the most interesting spots are now behind protective ropes. In addition, the private parking lot is a bit of a scam that you may want to avoid.
We have no problem paying entrance fees or parking for upkeep and maintenance but in this particular case there is no sign telling you it is a pay parking lot until you pass through the gate, where there also happen to be cameras recording your license plate so that even if you change your mind and leave immediately (maybe after learning about the excessive 1000 ISK price tag) they will still track you down. It all feels very sinister.
So, instead we recommend you drive about 200 metres west and look for a spot in the small 7-vehicle free lot on the north side of the highway. If this is full, those with decent clearance could probably get to the small dirt road on the opposite side. No official spots but you’d probably be fine parking there long enough to see the waterfall and take a couple photos.
The final option is the slightly larger free parking lot about a kilometre or two east of the main lot – there is a maintained path from here to the waterfall.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before but it is accessed by a rough, narrow dirt road. It is slow going but worth it for the orange lighthouse and panoramic viewpoint, plus you can explore further along the cliffs and get a closer view of the main rock arch. As always, we were surprised at how many people bothered with the inconvenient drive then didn’t venture beyond the main viewpoint.
Other Stops if You Have Time
Literally steps off Ring Road, the very developed Grabrok Crater is a classic cone with good views of another nearby crater. There are stairs all the way up and good paths around the top. It is all very civilized, at least as long as you don’t get stuck behind a large French tour bus group who, rather predictably, weren’t all that interested in sharing the trail.
Keep in mind, Google Maps also shows a “Grabrok” a little further inland but that just led us to a driveway marked “private property”. It must be extremely frustrating for the people who live there, having people show up in front of their house all day, only to turn around and leave. Not frustrating enough to put another sign at the start of the road, though, apparently. Anyway, just go to the very obvious crater you can see from the highway.
Another pair of picture-perfect volcanic craters that are accessed by a flat, easy hike from Snorrastadir Farm (6km / 1.5 hrs). Of course, the flat part ends once it is time to climb the crater but you probably guessed that already (and it only takes 5 minutes to reach the top).
A long ridge of columnar basalt cliffs where we mainly stopped to take photos for our geologist friend. And for a quiet place to pee, in the middle of nowhere, with no one as far as the eye could see, which is why it was so alarming to zip up, turn around and practically run into this random woman with white hair and a long, snow-white puffy jacket, someone you’d think it would have been impossible to miss. I’m not a big believer in sorcery and such, but every now and then…
We almost didn’t stop here as – 12 days in – our enthusiasm for waterfalls was starting to wane, but we were glad we did since it was a fairly cool one. You can enjoy the view from the main spot or scramble up the dirt slope for a closer look (we stopped when Laynni reached a “freeze her legs” drop-off).
Just a couple minutes down the road from Svodufoss, Kerlingarfoss is much smaller, still nice, and you can get to bottom of actual falls, although the most interesting part was the very dead ram – very much rotting and covered in flies.
Possibly planted for the tourists to enjoy much like the suspicious, unmoving koala in the tree next to Koala Café in Australia? If so, I’d suggest they’re doing it wrong.
Some impressive street art, some not so impressive, mostly drive-by photos, one of white walkers and a half white-walker woman, plus a giant ram. So, you know, the usual.
Another intriguing beach with a mix of black and gold sand and a few cool rocks right where the road starts to Svortuloft Lighthouse.
Yup, another perfect volcanic crater that you can climb up. Also just off the road. Enjoy.
A tiny, narrow wedge of a canyon that requires some agility to enter as there is only room for one person at a time rock-hopping up to a small opening near a little waterfall.
The last waterfall of our Iceland campervan trip, Bjarnafoss wasn’t the biggest or the best but it was certainly no slouch and it’s within easy reach of Ring Road. Since it was our last stop I opted to tackle the steep, muddy path all the way up to the base of the falls (15 minutes extra).
The Highlands of Iceland
Sorry, didn’t make it there. The good people at Go Campers wouldn’t have been pleased if we had attempted the rugged F-Roads of central Iceland in our very functional but hardly off-road-worthy campervan.
If the wild centre of Iceland is high on your list you can either pay the extra cash to rent a 4×4 or just settle for a guided day trip or two. One very popular one is a monster truck tour of Langjokull glacier.
Along with spectacular scenery, sketchy weather, obnoxious heavy metal Eurovision bands and elves (it’s a whole thing), Iceland is also known for being VERY expensive. And I don’t really have a follow-up to this other than to confirm that, yes, it is. Very expensive.
Nonetheless, we still chose to spend roughly the GDP of New Brunswick to rent a campervan for 2 weeks so we could enjoy our Iceland road trip on our terms, with no real schedule and no need to plan out our stops in advance. One of the other great things about Iceland is that it is has hundreds of campgrounds.
And, while most of these campgrounds aren’t much more than a big open field next to a communal bathroom/kitchen, this “design” means it is almost impossible for them to run out of space. So we could just explore to our hearts’ content throughout the day and pick a campground wherever we happened to end up. A level of spontaneity that is very unusual for us these days.
Our first foray into #vanlife went really well, providing us with an amazing amount of freedom while still serving as a safe, cozy haven when the skies opened up or the wind kicked into high gear. Are we considering joining the increasingly popular vanlife revolution and abandoning the comfort of hotel beds, private bathrooms and the ability to drop everything and fly somewhere new? Not bloody likely. But it was a fun change of pace and we could certainly see ourselves doing it more in the future, at least in short stints like this.
So, here is a brief overview of the campgrounds we ended up in, listed in the order we stayed. We can’t say if they are the best campgrounds or not, although we often made our decision based on Google reviews so chances are they were among the better ones.
1. Geysir (2000 ISK/pp + 500 ISK/pp shower)
Nice bathrooms, almost no hot water for dishes (lots in the shower, though), just a couple minutes walk to Stokkur geyser, electrical hookups, some trees for separation and shade (if that happens to be a consideration while you’re there). Nice half-hour walk up to a viewpoint that loops back past the geysers.
2. Skogar (1800 ISK/pp + 400 ISK/pp shower)
You just camp in the parking lot here but you can see the waterfall at all times from everywhere. There are ok bathrooms, ok showers and a woman shows up to collect fees and make change around 8 pm.
3. Vik Campground (1950 ISK/pp + 300 ISK/pp shower)
Large, sectioned campground with good facilities, wifi close to building, common area with stove, 3 sinks, outlets, microwave, kettle, tables and chairs, no heat but big windows which could warm it up if there was any sun. The sign says 1950 ISK/pp but they charged us 1500 ISK/pp so maybe we weren’t quite in high season yet?
4. Thakgil (2300 ISK/pp incl shower)
Good shower, heated bathroom, they also have cabins, one tenter gets the coveted cave site, there is an impressive valley location, great scenery and nice hikes right from the campground.
5. Skaftafell National Park (5000 per vehicle incl showers)
Good showers, washing stations, bathrooms, etc. and many different sections including one for just tenters (no cars allowed past rope) and another more organized area for electrified RVs.
6. Vestrahorn Campground (2500 ISK/pp incl shower)
Kind of bleak as you just pick a spot in the main parking lot. It was also kind of loud with day visitors showing up and leaving until surprisingly late but the camping fee includes 2 days entrance to the beach area (1000 ISK/pp) so if you’re planning to visit Stokksnes Beach anyway then camping here too is a pretty decent deal. At the end of a smooth gravel road 5 minutes from Ring Road and there is wifi and a cooking/washing shelter (with burners but no hot water).
7. Borgarfjordur Eystri (1500 ISK/pp + 400 ISK/shower)
Nice grassy area with a rocky hill in behind, very scenic, windy, ended up going with a slightly sheltered spot on a sidehill. There is an enclosed cooking/eating/cleaning area, washer (no dryer), a couple showers, a bunch of bathrooms with the mirrors apparently removed (vampire problems, maybe). From the campground it is less than a 5-minute drive to see the puffins.
8. Camping North 66.12 (1800 ISK/pp incl shower)
Had really high reviews (4.9) and we saw why as it was easily our favourite campground of our entire Iceland campervan trip. An amazing oceanfront location and it just happened to be sunny and dead calm for us. The owner is a very friendly, helpful guy who loves to chat with the campers. He said that our day wasn’t that unusual, that they normally get less wind than most places in Iceland, which seems weird considering how exposed it is but it’s hard to argue with our experience.
We did laundry (600/washer + 600/dryer, not timed) – suddenly with clean underwear, clear skies and no wind, it felt like the possibilities were endless. There is a puffin nesting area nearby but it was closed to tourists while we were there. Apparently it is sometimes possible to spot a few puffins down the road on the cliffs but after our amazing Borgarfjordur puffin visit we chose to drink beer and stare at the ocean instead.
9. Varmahlid (2000 ISK/pp incl shower)
Unusual in that it has actual trees for shelter, it kind of reminded us of a Canadian campground, although they still employ a very Icelandic “wait for someone to find you” system for paying. There was a lukewarm shower, at least one sink with hot water for dishes (4 in total) and wifi but only close to the office.
There were kids everywhere and the entire place seems popular with Icelandic families in RVs. which probably explains the massive inflatable jumping mat.
10. Snorrastadir Farm (3000 ISK/per vehicle, showers included)
This working horse farm has a basic parking area, cabins for rent, a small creek separating the camping area from the house/barn, a big warm common area with a bunch of leather couches, outlets, kitchen, tables, etc. and a couple good showers, decent bathrooms and, apparently, occasional wifi (we had a good phone signal so didn’t try it).
11. Hellissandur National Park (1800 ISK/pp incl shower)
At the entrance to the national park with good bathrooms, nice cooking and cleaning area and sites partially separated/blocked from wind by rocky hills.
12. Vogar (3600 ISK/pp incl shower)
This basic field backs a soccer pitch and felt pretty grim when it was just us and one other van, although it filled up as the night went on. The bathrooms are in a little portable trailer but the common kitchen area is absolutely full of leftover food and gas and condiments – nearly impossible to make an actual meal out of any of it but lots of stuff to add to whatever you still have with you.
Staying here at the end of our Iceland campervan trip worked well for returning our van early the next morning but I would also recommend those just starting out to stop here on their way past to stock up on some of the things you might like but don’t need a whole container of (salt, sugar, condiments, etc.).
Iceland Ring Road Trip Map
Red = Must-See Highlights
Blue = Recommended Stops
Green = If You Have Time
Yellow = Campgrounds
Click the star to save this map to your Google Maps – then find it under Saved/Maps (mobile) or Your Places/Maps (desktop)
Campervan and Road Trip Tips
Now, spending two weeks on an Iceland campervan trip hardly makes us vanlife experts. Nonetheless, we did learn a few things that might be helpful when planning your Iceland road trip.
We booked with Go Campers and were very happy with the van and the service. We also liked that it just had a normal logo and understated colours (white with some orange touches).
The most common campervans on the road (and presumably the cheapest) were Rent.is and Kuku Campers, the latter of which usually had a whimsical phrase written on the side – specifically either “Don’t Stink and Drive” or “Don’t Worry, Be Sexy”. Funny sayings on the van are a questionable strategy to begin with, then the fact that they immediately ran out of ideas after coming up with just two? Pretty weak, Kuku.
Having a campervan meant we could save money by getting groceries in the supermarket and making our own meals (restaurants in Iceland are, unsurprisingly, extortionate). Still wouldn’t call it dirt-cheap or anything but it definitely saved us money and it was nice to have breakfast right there for us when we woke up and be able to stop at any scenic place that caught our eye for lunch.
We had a 20L water jug that pumped through a tap in the van and were able to fill it up at any of the campgrounds.
It is important to develop a packing system so everything is easily accessible. We didn’t actually accomplish this but I can tell that it would have been really cool if we had.
Having a heater in the van was very important as the temperature dropped as low as 2C one night (and around 7-8C most nights). The van did not hold heat as well as you’d expect but we usually only needed 15 minutes at a time to warm things up. It would be worth asking the rental company if there is a gauge or any way to tell how much battery is left since we were always just guessing and hoping (although it never ran out so we were probably overly cautious).
In general, for our entire Iceland campervan trip it seemed like we were always either too cold (Jacket on! Turn on the heat!) or too hot (Jacket off! Turn off the heat!) which, in hindsight, might just be vanlife in a nutshell.
You’ll need gas canisters for cooking (and making Laynni’s tea, all the time, apparently). We had one included and bought 3 more and this was about perfect for 2 weeks.
This isn’t strictly related to travelling in a campervan but in Iceland be prepared to be constantly on the lookout for the next bathroom. Especially if you’re middle-aged and drink far more water than is strictly necessary to survive. This is often an issue for Laynni but I’m used to being able to sidle up to a tree or shrub just about anywhere. However, trees are few and far between in Iceland so just be alert to the possibilities and take your chances when they present themselves.
We had cell service everywhere on the trip, although it did get a bit weak in a couple places up north. You can buy SIM cards at the airport or in any convenience store, although we stuck with the KeepGo eSIM cards we’ve been using for the last couple years that work just about anywhere in the world. They were compatible with the two best networks in Iceland and worked great, as usual. If you do opt for a local SIM, the most consistent signal (especially up north) was from Siminn.
Not so much a tip as a universal truth, few things feel better than the first few seconds on a smooth, paved highway after time spent driving on slow, rough dirt roads.
We rented a table and two camp chairs – we used the chairs all the time but the table only once. Of course, we had the 3-person van with enough counter space for eating. If you have a smaller van the table would be more important.
Between Reykjavik and Akureyri the highway is wider but there is much more traffic. The farther east and north you go the narrower the roads are but there are hardly any cars so it is easy to pass.
On windy days, tuck in beside a bigger RV for shelter. And if the wind is really strong, park facing it so your doors don’t snap off the hinges when you open them.
One day a strange girl opened our sliding door and started to come in before realizing she had the wrong van – with all the white vans in the campgrounds I’m surprised it didn’t happen more often.
Iceland Campervan Trip Summary
Our two weeks spent traversing the country on our Iceland campervan trip was definitely one of our most unique and memorable trips. I can’t actually think of anywhere else in the world with as consistently phenomenal scenery as you’ll find in Iceland. Whether driving, hiking, beachcombing, scrambling up yet another waterfall or exploring glaciers, ice caves or volcanic craters, there is constantly something to see, marvel at and, of course, take photos of.
Truly a beautiful place. Expensive, too, but easy to navigate, friendly and so what if the temperatures in mid-summer are way colder than wherever you happen to live? It’s probably only for a couple weeks and the incredible vistas of your Iceland campervan trip more than make up for it.
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