Iceland campervan tours are becoming increasingly popular and it’s easy to see why. In this article I will give information that could be useful to anyone who is considering such a trip. I’ve visited Iceland many times before, both for hiking and photography. Hopefully this article will help you decide if an Iceland campervan tour is right for you.
One of the first things you need to do is decide if a campervan tour will be better than a car and budget accommodation for your personal circumstances. I’m going to assume you are planning to visit Iceland in the summer months. Whilst it is also a popular winter destination not many people will want to undertake a campervan tour in the winter. I suppose one of the first things you need to think about is how long you plan to visit Iceland for. Most of my previous trips have lasted about a week. It’s certainly possible to see the main sights in a week. If however you like your holidays at a relaxed, slower pace then you might want to consider going for 2 weeks.
Your next decision is whether to do a campervan tour or instead hire a regular car and use normal accommodation. What are the benefits of an Iceland campervan tour, is it simply about being cheaper than regular accommodation? In my experience hotels can be expensive in Iceland. However if you are considering a campervan tour chances are you are the sort of person who would normally consider budget accommodation, like hostels and cabins. Depending on how many are in your party I would expect the campervan to be cheaper than renting a car in Iceland & hostels combined. The difference might not be huge though and I don’t think cost alone explains the popularity of Iceland Campervan Tours.
Rental cars in Iceland can be expensive regardless of whether it’s a regular car or a campervan. The problem is the alternatives can be even more expensive. I’ve met people who based themselves in Reykjavik for their entire visit and did coach tours to see the main sights. These tours can be eye wateringly expensive and you will be spending more time on coaches than seeing the sights. If there are two or more of you in your travel party you will quickly realise that Iceland car rental is not so expensive after all and an Iceland campervan tour really does begin to make financial sense.
Iceland Campervan Tours – Complete flexibility
For me the main advantage of an Iceland Campervan tour is the flexibility. Most people who visit Iceland try and see a decent amount of the country. For some that is just the entire south of the country. For others it’s a complete circuit of the main ring road.
This involves moving from hostel to hostel as you travel the country. Hostels need to be booked in advance. In the south east of the country hostels are usually sold out so don’t expect to find a bed by just turning up. When you book accommodation in advance it limits your ability to stay longer in one location. The weather in Iceland can be changeable. If you arrive at a location you’ve wanted to visit for years and it’s raining, what do you do? Chances are you can’t wait for the weather to improve as you are on a schedule and have mileage to cover to the next accommodation. This is where a campervan gives you more options.
The population is so low in Iceland that you can always find somewhere to park overnight and it’s totally legal. Depending on the type of campervan you rent you may find you have a shower and toilet onboard. This limits the need to use campsites. Even if your campervan has no shower you could always use hot springs and public baths instead. In the height of summer it barely gets dark. This allows you to wait at a location until the weather or lighting improves. It also means you could have the place to yourself as the regular tourists leave, headed for their accommodation. The fact that your transport is also your accommodation allows you to travel when you want and sleep when you want.
Iceland Campervan Tours – Take your own campervan or hire?
Much of what I have said so far assumes you will hire a campervan when you fly into Iceland. Whilst this is the normal state of affairs it’s not completely impossible for you to take your own vehicle. From the UK ferries leave Scotland and visit the Faroe Islands before reaching Iceland. This option adds valuable time on ferries and isn’t cheap. I think therefore it would only apply to those thinking of visiting Iceland for an extended time for whom hire costs would mount up.
Assuming you’re planning to rent an internet search for terms like ‘hire campervan Iceland’, ‘rv rentals in Iceland’ ‘campervans Iceland’ or ‘motorhome rental Iceland’ should reveal some of the following companies.
Some of the above companies will have a fleet of 2wd drive vehicles. If you plan to visit places like Landmannalaugar then I would advise that you would be better to type in ‘iceland 4×4 camper rental’ into your search engine of choice.
Iceland Campervan Tours – What to see
The majority of visitors to Iceland will fly in to Reykjavik and collect their campervan. As such in this ‘what to see’ section we will start in Reykjavik. If you own your own motorhome there are options to arrive by ferry. For those living in the UK this would mean a ferry from Scotland that stops in the Faroe Islands. It’s not a cheap ferry so I’m not sure it would be economical for a one week Iceland Campervan tour.
Reykjavik is by far the largest city in Iceland but that’s not saying much. The population is about 120,000 in the centre. The area known as the Capital Region has a population of just over 200,000. The total population of Iceland is around 320,000. The main sights in Reykjavik can all be seen on foot. Finding parking for the campervan should not be difficult. The harbour area is popular for the whale sightseeing tours and it’s also where some of the reasonably priced restaurants can be found. From here you cannot fail to see the Harpa Concert Hall. It’s a relatively new building and can be photogenic from outside as well as inside.
A little further along the harbour you will come to a sculpture known as Sólfar or Sun Voyager. Many believe it to be a viking ship but the artist actually envisaged it to be a dreamboat. In the right weather it makes a good photo opportunity.
From almost everywhere in Reykjavik you can see Hallgrímskirkja. It’s the largest church in Iceland. Construction began in 1945 and it was completed in 1986.
The above sights are all in the centre of Reykjavik. A popular location on the outskirts of the city is The Blue Lagoon. I usually visit the Blue Lagoon at the end of my trip as an enjoyable relaxing reward after lots of driving and sightseeing.
The Golden Circle Tour
If Reykjavik keeps you busy for the first day of your trip then an ideal way to spend day 2 is to do The Golden Circle. Many organised tours consider The Golden Circle to consist of Thingvellir National Park, the geysers of Geysir and Strokkur and Gullfoss waterfall. With your own transport I would advise to also include Brúarfoss (image at top of article) waterfall which is in some ways more photogenic and certainly less of a tourist hotspot. The Golden Circle Tour is something everyone who visits Iceland seems to do, not just those doing an Iceland campervan tour.
The South of Iceland from Hella to Vik
If you plan to do the entire ring road on your Iceland Campervan tour you will need to decide whether to do it in a clockwise or anticlockwise direction. Since I believe most of the main tourist sights are in the south I would do it in an anticlockwise direction. This way if you find things are taking longer than expected you will see the most popular sights early in the tour and not miss them. So what sights are there in the south?
An increasingly popular place is Sólheimasandur beach where you can find a crashed DC-3 plane. The first time I visited you could drive right to the crash site providing you had a 4WD vehicle. In 2016 however I found the gate to be locked which results in a 4km walk from the ring road.
There are also two very popular waterfalls in this part of Iceland, both close to the ring road. Seljalandsfoss is a waterfall you can walk behind and further along the ring road you will come to Skógafoss.
Other places worth stopping at include Reynisfjara beach which has black sand and basalt columns and also Dyrhólaey.
If you happen to hire a 4WD campervan then I also strongly recommend visiting Landmannalaugar. The roads for the last part of the drive are unsurfaced. It’s also not unusual for the road to be closed until sometime in June so plan accordingly if this is somewhere you ‘have’ to see.
Vik to Jökulsárlón
Vik is a decent sized town, ideal for visiting a supermarket or stopping to fill up the campervan with fuel. The next likely stop could be Skaftafell. There is a large visitor centre here and a couple of tour companies who organise walks on the glacier. The Vatnajökull glacier is the largest outside the polar regions and forms part of the largest national park in Europe. Skaftafell is also where you can start a short walk to a popular waterfall called Svartifoss.
Once you have finished at Skaftafell the next logical destination is Jökulsárlón. For many people Jökulsárlón is a highlight of their trip to Iceland and it’s not hard to see why. There is a boat tour you can take to get closer to the icebergs. From the parking area you can get lots of good photographs so the boat tour is not essential. The icebergs slowly make their way under the road bridge to the sea.
Heading to Akureyri
The east of Iceland does not hold much interest for me personally. They have some fjords where the passenger ferries and cruises arrive. The fjords don’t compare to those in Norway though and Iceland has much more interesting places to see.
So what would I visit between Jökulsárlón and Akureyri? Well it’s quite a distance so you would want to schedule at least one overnight stop somewhere. Hofn is a large town where you might decide to stop for supplies or to refuel. When doing an Iceland Campervan tour you will almost certainly have some form of cooker onboard. Buying supplies from budget supermarkets like the Bonus chain and self catering will help your budget go further. Not far from Hofn here you could also head to Stokksnes for a great view of the Vestrahorn mountains. Unfortunately when I visited the mountains were shrouded in cloud.
After you pass the east of the country and arrive in the north east you could visit Dettifoss waterfall. It’s an easy short walk from the car park. Waterfalls are often not that easy to photograph due to the spray and mist. Also sometimes the light is not in the right position. However it’s a scenic place generally and I was able to get the following photograph with my back to the waterfall, looking in the opposite direction.
Further round the ring road you will pass the very geothermally active area known as Hverir. It’s popular with tourists due to the bubbling hot mud pots and the steaming fumaroles.
Finally another waterfall worth a visit before you arrive in Akureyri is Goðafoss.
Akureyri – Iceland’s 2nd city
If your Iceland Campervan Tour takes in the entire ring road you will almost certainly decide to stop in Akureyri. A small but scenic city, Akureyri has a surprisingly mild climate considering it’s just 100km from the Arctic circle. It has a cool vibe about the place and there are some good restaurants and shops to visit. Below are a couple of photographs to give you an idea what the place is like.
Back to Reykjavik
Again you will want to stop overnight somewhere between Akureyri and Reykjavik. What are you likely to pass between these two cities though? Well at Skagafjörður there is Víðimýrarkirkja, a turf church. It’s one of the oldest and best preserved examples of its kind.
Another town that the ring road passes through is Blönduós. Its church is an altogether more modern looking thing.
As the ring road takes you to the west of Iceland you need to make a decision. Many guidebooks state the Snæfellsnes peninsula as a highlight. It’s a diversion from the ring road though so it could depend on what time you have. The roads are good and I decided to do the detour, mostly to photograph the popular Kirkjufell.
From here Reykjavik is a relatively short drive away. Our Iceland campervan tour comes to an end. Hopefully this article will show you what a stunning country Iceland is.