Updated: Jan 23
Much has been written about the advantages of campervan rental in Iceland, but what happens in winter when the temperatures drop? Is it still a good idea? And how do campervans and motorhomes compare? Which should you choose? If you’re asking what you should know about Iceland van rental, then we’ve got it covered in this beginner’s guide.
What’s the difference between a campervan and a motorhome?
There’s a simple answer to this one, and that’s the size. Both are essentially a home on four wheels. They both have a place to sleep, wash and prepare food, but campervans tend to be more basic. Because a motorhome is larger, there’s more space and less need for the space to be multi-purpose. Also, it’s likely to have a cab that’s separate from the living space behind, unlike a campervan which is likely to have no separation between the two.
Is bigger always better, then?
Bigger is not necessarily better, however. If you’re traveling solo or as a couple, there’s going to be more than enough space for you in a smaller rental. Cosying up can be romantic and fun. There’s likely to be a wide selection of suitable vehicles, especially in the winter months when demand falls. But if you’re traveling as a family or as a larger group, then a motorhome rental provides that little bit extra space and potentially more privacy.
Remember, too, that larger vehicles will be more tricky to park and maneuver. Narrow lanes and tight turns might be a bit challenging until you get used to the extra width and length of the van compared to the size of the car you’re used to driving back home. Give yourself a bit of time to get used to it in daylight and practice parking in a large car park until you’re confident.
Other advantages of renting a camper or motorhome
Camper van rental in Iceland is a good way of merging the money you’d have spent on car rental with the cash you’d also have shelled out for a hotel or guest house. Opting for a campervan or motorhome is a good way to stay on budget while maintaining a certain level of comfort. In the offseason especially, you can go as you please, booking a site over the phone or on the internet at the last minute so you can be as flexible with your itinerary as possible. “Have credit card, will travel,” as they say. If you find yourself in a part of Iceland that really speaks your language, you can stay a while longer – though be warned, those parts of Iceland that you really like are going to be thick on the ground. It’s hard to choose which to leave out.
As with tent camping, renting a campervan or motorhome is likely to get you closer to nature than if you were staying in a hotel room behind drawn curtains. In summer, the almost 24-hour daylight streams in through your van windows and opens a world of fabulous views. We’d recommend you pack an eye mask to get a little more sleep, particularly if you aren’t a heavy sleeper.
From September to April, you might catch a glimpse of the breathtaking Northern Lights. The Aurora Borealis is shy of light pollution and happy to light up dark skies. In cities such as Reykjavik, you’ll have a harder time seeing them unless they are especially strong. The good thing about being behind the wheel of a campervan or motorhome is that you can drive out into the countryside, find a safe spot to park up, and watch them from the comfort of your seat. From that campervan, Iceland just got a whole lot more awesome, if that could even be possible!
But is it a good idea to rent a campervan in winter?
Camping in Iceland during the winter isn’t for the fainthearted. Neither, however, is it something to be ruled out, though you do need to be honest with yourself and manage your expectations. Many of the country’s campsites are closed during the winter months, though around 26 stay open year-round for hardier clients. Some of these are family-run affairs and will give you an especially warm welcome. With careful planning, there’s still going to be a campsite that’s close enough to where you need to be. In summer, you may wish to opt for the Camping Card, which is accepted at some of the country’s campsites, but in winter, it’s not valid. You can still reserve and pay directly with those campsites that are open, however.
The cold weather isn’t likely to entice people to want to spend the night in a tent, but there’s no reason why that shouldn’t rule out camping.
Campervans and motorhomes have heating systems, though they vary from model to model. Customer service agents will be more than happy to answer your specific queries so that you can be sure the level of heating in the vehicle you choose is going to be sufficient for your needs. It’s still possible to explore Iceland by day and then head inside your vehicle at the campsite to thaw out and warm up. Some people will want to pack a sleeping bag too, just in case. That extra layer will ensure you stay toasty and happy even on the coldest of nights.
Choose the right model for your road trip
The type of roads, length of trip, and the amount you intend to be driving are all going to factor into your decision-making when it comes to choosing the best camper van rentals for your Iceland trip. Campers come in 4x4 or 2WD permutations. In Iceland, 4x4 van rental is strongly advised if you plan to tackle steep or gravelly roads. Opt for the former, though think carefully about taking a camper or motorhome up, especially on potholed or uneven surfaces. Some models are permitted on F-roads but think carefully about tackling such rugged terrain, particularly if this is the first time you’ll rent a camper van in Iceland. If you’ll be content to explore Reykjavik, tour the Golden Circle and loop the ring road (Route 1) on your road trip, then a 2WD is perfectly adequate.
We hope this answers at least some of your questions about camper van rental in Iceland. With the freedom of the open road tempting you to book, and the flexibility this budget-friendly option affords, why wouldn’t you rent a campervan or motorhome for your next trip? Your home on four wheels is waiting for you to make that Icelandic dream a reality.