Updated: Nov 3, 2020
With its stunning vistas and quiet roads Iceland very much lends itself to a road trip. Exploring by campervan or motorhome gives you the freedom of the open road. You will be able to explore completely independently deciding when and where to stop and for how long. This allows for total spontaneity and that sense of freedom and escape that we all look for on vacation.
In this article we will explore the many advantages of a road trip in Iceland. And especially a trip taken by rental campervan or motorhome. We will also look at the practicalities of hiring and driving a campervan. As well as how to go about planning the perfect road trip to suit your travel style.
Seven big advantages of a road trip in Iceland
There are so many great campsites to choose between
Icelandic people have a real affinity with the natural world and the incredible environment that surrounds them. So much about life and leisure time in Iceland is about communing with the great outdoors. As such there is a strong culture of camping and road trips in Iceland. Exploring and simply being in nature is a national pastime. This means that there are quality campsites galore right across the country.
Iceland’s campsites are equipped for all types of camper
Iceland's campsites are very well organised. Weather you are renting a car in Iceland and tent camping or hiring a plush motorhome. The majority of campgrounds will cater for all your needs.
For tent campers there are nicely laid out grassy areas to pitch up in and hot showers to enjoy. There are often washing machine facilities and drying rooms for wet clothes. Given Iceland’s proclivity to short, sharp showers this is very useful indeed! Very often there will be communal cooking areas too, and BBQ facilities for those long summer evenings.
For those travelling by motorhome there will be designated areas to park up and recharge batteries. You will also be able to simply and easily replenish water tanks and empty waste. You can make use of outdoor cooking areas as well as the indoor facilities. Camping is easy in Iceland!
Many campsites lie within Iceland’s national parks so the views are nearly always excellent. And there is a nice camaraderie at the campsites. You will often meet likeminded locals and visitors and share stories and travel tips.
Unparalleled freedom to explore
Hiring a campervan gives you absolute freedom to explore at your own pace. A guided tour can be fun and has its benefits. But if you travel independently then you have the freedom to change and adapt your plans as you go. If you fall in love with a place then you can stay an extra day. If you hear about somewhere incredible nearby then you can take a detour to explore. Travel under your own steam brings invaluable flexibility and freedom.
It’s all about the timing at Iceland’s busy beauty spots
Many of Iceland’s top tourist attractions can get quite busy during the high season. Places such as the three main sights along the Golden Circle or the beautiful Seljalandsfoss waterfall. If you are road tripping then you have the opportunity to visit them entirely at your leisure.
For example, the Golden Circle lies within easy reach of Reykjavik. This means that many a day trip runs from the capital. So from about late morning to late afternoon there will be buses arriving at these beauty spots. If you have your own transport and schedule then you can make the most of the quieter times. Many of these South Coast beauty spots have campsites nearby. So you could wake up at 6am and visit before the tourist buses. Alternatively stroll over for a twilight view under the Midnight Sun.
Photography safaris on your own schedule
Iceland’s wild beauty and incredible light makes it an amazing place to photograph. You’ll likely be tempted to snap at almost every turn and with every change of weather and light. Iceland’s is not a quiet beauty. Its tremendous glaciers, volcanoes and waterfalls are so magnificent that they demand attention.
If you are an avid photographer then you are likely to want to take your time. You might even choose to plan your trip specifically for the photo opportunities. The light in Iceland is incredible and makes a huge difference to a shot. You might well want to plan your visits during the Golden Hours. When the sun is low in the sky and the colours light up the landscape. With a motorhome you can camp right next to that waterfall or lava field. Set your alarm clock or brew a cuppa and hit it at just the right time. For more visit our Top tips for photography in Iceland.
Keeping a rein on expenses
One huge benefit of taking a road trip and camping in Iceland is that it is perfect for budgeting. You will have your travel, accommodation and living expenses pretty much covered in one set price. This means that you can budget very well in advance without too many hidden expenses to surprise you.
Hotels are on the pricey side but most areas will have a campsite as an alternative. If you are planning a few days city break there is even a campsite in Reykjavik. To save money you could arrange to pick up your camper at Keflavik Airport and head into town from there.
One of the more significant expenses in Iceland is eating and drinking especially if you are a large group. And whether travelling by campervan or motorhome you will have cooking facilities available to you.
This means that you can stock up on supplies at supermarkets or gas stations as you go. You will be able to put together snacks and sandwiches where other options might be limited. The evenings can be spent leisurely cooking outdoors. And if you are going out you might like to enjoy a drink at your camper before you go. Every little helps!
More chances to see the Northern Lights
One of the most incredible sights in Iceland is a fickle one. The Northern Lights can only be seen in dark skies. And only then when conditions and luck all align. If you are visiting in the winter months seeing the Aurora will likely be high on your agenda.
You may like to join a guided tour in search of the Northern Lights. However, if you are camping in Iceland then you will have so many more opportunities to see them. The very nature of a camping road trip means that you will be out in nature at night. Aside from a few city campsites most of them are based in dark sky areas. So most nights you will have a good view of the sky. And the likelihood is that on one of those nights the Aurora will put on its show.
How to plan your Iceland road trip
The first stage of organizing a road trip in Iceland is to decide on what you would like to do. Are you hoping for a gentle weeklong vacation with plenty of time to relax? Alternatively, you could have set your sights on a comprehensive month-long exploration deep into the wilds of the country. Or does your ideal trip fall somewhere in between? All of these decisions will impact the planning process.
Another factor to consider is who will be joining you on your travels. Will this be a solo adventure? Will it be you and your partner sharing the experience, or a family of young children or teens? Would you be comfortable in a smaller campervan or better off in a more spacious motorhome? Again your individual set-up impacts on the choices you make.
What time of year to visit Iceland
When it comes to the best time to visit Iceland the general consensus is during the summer months. This is when the majority of people choose to visit, and with good reason.
The summer high season runs from June to August. This time of year is blessed with the phenomenon of the Midnight Sun. During the height of summer the sky doesn’t ever get completely dark. Instead there is a half-light as the sun dips briefly before rising again. This means that there are so many more hours in the day. You can easily stay out hiking into the night or set off early for a morning drive. It just gives you so many more hours to play with.
Another factor is the weather in Iceland. Storms, high winds and blustery snow and rain are commonplace. The weather blows in from the Artic and it is changeable to say the least! Having said that it is at its most settled during the summer months.
There is a flipside to travelling in Iceland in the summer. Its popularity means that you will be sharing the roads, the campsites and the beauty spots with other visitors. Far more people visit in the summer, so you might need to book ahead at the busier campsites. And you will certainly need to pre-book a time to visit the Blue Lagoon if that’s on your list!
None of this will hinder your trip and for many people the summer break is the only time when they can realistically travel. However, if you are able to travel at other times it is worth considering.
The shoulder seasons just before and after summer can make an excellent choice. And winter is also a wonderful time to visit. There are so many winter activities in Iceland to choose between. From glacier hiking to riding a snowmobile or visiting an ice cave. Driving in Iceland in winter can be a little more challenging. But if you stick to South Iceland it is perfectly manageable.
Whatever you choose to drive and whenever you visit Iceland you are guaranteed an amazing adventure. Road tripping is most definitely the way to go!