There’s no getting away from it, accommodation in Iceland is expensive. Be it a hotel, guesthouse or even AirBnB, you will pay more for it there than most other European destinations. With this in mind we chose to camp and, having weighed up the savings of hiring a car and bringing a tent from home, against the cost of a campervan, even the lowest specification, we took our chances with the weather. Fortunately lady luck was very kind to us.
For any of you considering camping in Iceland, whether under canvas or in a van, part 1 takes a look at the sites we stayed at and part 2 gives some general tips that might help you with your stay.
Night 1 – Reykjavik campsite
- Location – The site is located in the suburb of Laugardalur, next to a large municipal swimming pool and about 3km from the city centre. It is well sign posted from the main road from the airport and easy to find.
- Facilities – The reception building includes a number of information boards and leaflets and maps that you can take away, handy as many people will start their trip here. There is also an indoor cooking area and plenty of seating, vital for Iceland’s changeable weather, with free WiFi and charging points. The toilet and shower facilities are large though whilst we were there they weren’t particularly clean.
- Price – At 2,100ISK per person (roughly £12 at time of writing), this was by far the most expensive site we stayed at. You pay a premium for a night in the city.
- Lay out – The campsite consists of two fields for tents and a rougher, gravelly area for campervans and caravans. If you are staying in a tent you cannot bring your car in to the field and must leave it in the car-park which is small. We were there at the very start of the season and struggled to find a space. This also means that you have to make a couple of trips to and from your chosen pitch in order to set up, not ideal in the rain.
- Location – The third negative will, for some, be a positive and, if we’d thought about it a little more in advance we probably would have been prepared; Reykjavik is a party town. Not all of your fellow campers will want to sleep particularly those gap year travellers who are desperately looking for companions and, in some cases, wishing to showcase their guitar talents. In addition to those who want to be up, the city is the first/last stop for almost all visitors to Iceland and therefore people will be leaving and arriving at all times of the day and night to travel to the airport.
Night 2 – Thingvellir National Park
- Location – The site is within minutes of all the main points of interest at Thingvellir and we had chosen it purposefully to get a head start on the coaches of day trippers that tour the Golden Circle. Slightly confusingly, the online directions say that the site is near the information centre. As we discovered, this means the smaller hut on the road to Geysir and not the larger visitors’ centre on the rise above the continental fault, which is about a ten minute drive back along the road to Reykjavik.
- Price – After Reykjavik the price was a refreshing 1,300ISK per person (£7).
- Showers – There were only two to choose from but the showers were free (which is not always the case), hot (again, not always the case!) and very powerful.
- Covered seating/cooking area – Although not indoors, the site has a roofed area with two picnic benches, a cooking area (for coals, no electric/gas) and sinks (cold water only). This was invaluable to us as it was too wet to cook outside by our tent.
- Facilities to space ratio – The facilities were more than adequate for us and the handful of other campers who stayed the night. However, we were there, in the rain, on the second day the site was open for the season. The field and the one adjacent to it, are very large, capable of holding hundreds of tents and if it was busier the three toilets, two showers and two outside sinks would not have been enough.
- No hot water to wash dishes in (unless you boil it yourself).
- Lack of rubbish disposal – Whilst there were recycling bins for certain drinks cans and bottles on which money could be claimed back, there was nowhere at the site to get rid of general rubbish or other recyclables.
Night 3 – Seljalandsfoss Campsite
- Location – Here you can sleep in the same field as Gljúfrabúi waterfall and just a few minutes walk from Seljalandsfoss meaning you can enjoy crowd-free access late in the evening or first thing in the morning.
- Facilities – The service hut has a kitchen area, sinks and seating together with coin operated laundry.
- Atmosphere – Perhaps influenced by the surroundings the atmosphere was very calm and relaxed. There is even a resident pet rabbit to be-friend.
- Price – As with the National Park, the price was 1,300ISK per person and you get a lot more facilities for your money.
- Showers – I did not use these so can not speak to the quality or the cleanliness but they were pay to use which is always a negative for me.
Night 4 – Svinafell Campsite
- Location – Be warned, you are remote here so stock up on provisions first, but the setting is absolutely beautiful, and very peaceful. The site is an excellent alternative to the more expensive and less well equipped National Park campsite at Skaftafell.
- Price – At 1,500ISK (£8) per person per night, it was a little more than the previous two nights but included free WiFi and free showers.
- Facilities – The site has a massive indoor seating and cooking area (the largest of all the sites we went to). There is also a fridge to store food which was not common. For those not wanting to camp, or for anyone seeking a night of respite, there are also eight cabins available.
- Showers – Although free, they were freezing.
Night 5 – Höfn Campsite
- Location – The site is on the main road in to town, about a 5 – 10 minute walk to the large Netto supermarket, with great views of the mountains and sea.
- Price – This was the cheapest of all the sites at 1,100ISK (£6) per person per night, and was the best equipped.
- The staff – When we arrived we were greeted by a lady I assumed to be the owner who spent a good 20 minutes chatting with us about where we had been and where we were going next, showed us the weather forecast and tipped us off about a festival that was happening in the town that day.
- Facilities – The site is large so you do not have to camp too close to your neighbours. There are three different shower and toilet blocks, a relatively small indoor seating area, a covered outdoor seating area, cooking equipment, fridge and microwave. There is also a camping supply shop in the reception.
- Showers – You have to pay for showers at this site, 50ISK for 2 minutes. I’m not a fan of the concept of making people pay for hot water but I guess in a site that is large it keeps queues down which is no bad thing.
Night 6 – Mosfellsbær campsite
- Location – Mosfellsbaer is a small town just north of Reykjavik, near the turn off for the road to the Golden Circle. It makes a great alternative to a night camping in the city. Because most tourist gravitate to Reykjavik the site is mainly used by local families for weekend trips.
- Facilities – The site is run by the local council and is very basic for the 1,200ISK per person price. There are two toilets and two outside sinks with no hot water. Showers can be had, for a fee, at the nearby swimming pool. There is no reception and no staff, though a council worker does come round to collect fees in the evening.
Night 7 – Hverinn campsite
- The staff – The site, and the adjacent restaurant, are owned by an ex fishing boat captain who is very friendly and welcoming. We didn’t eat at the restaurant but did buy some drinks and snacks. As this was at the end of our trip, we were trying to use up our coins. When we didn’t have quite enough we were given an impromptu discount to save us breaking a note.
- Location – The site is on the road from Borgarnes to Rykholt, an area where I don’t think many people stop overnight. It was nice to be in such a rural setting and experience what felt like the ‘real’ Iceland. The hamlet is in a geothermal area which heats the modern outdoor pool where you can swim for roughly £4 a person.
- Showers – Yes, it’s those showers again, this time not because they were cold or because you had to pay for them, but because the water was incredibly sulphurous. This meant we had a warm shower to get clean followed by a cold shower to get rid of the smell. It was an invigorating experience, and perhaps a little harsh to describe it as a con.