What to know before you go! Driving a Campervan around Iceland

We learnt a lot of different things during our two week tour which we thought would be helpful to share. Camping and driving experiences can vary from country to country and Iceland is no different; we had a great time but there were a few things that would have been helpful to know before we went. We have therefore summarised some of our learning below.

Choosing your Campervan/Camping Equipment

We undertook a lot of research online into different camper hire companies. There were some significantly cheaper than Rent.is; however when we read reviews we realised that there were a lot of hidden expenses such as the basic equipment you would need, cookers, seats, bedding etc. When we saw this camper we were grateful we paid that little bit more!

When it comes to Rent.is we can’t fault their communication; they responded to email enquiries prior to our arrival and didn’t require payment up front. They were also available through Whatsapp whilst we were travelling if we had any queries.

The vehicle itself was fit for purpose and coped well with the roads and various terrain we faced; although we did have a few issues with the side doors at times which would sometimes not open properly. We even took the camper back to the hire company to look at but typically they started working ok then. It was more of an inconvenience than a hinderance as there were several doors to exit the vehicle but sometimes they just wouldn’t open from the inside. All in all however we were happy with Colin the VW Caddy and we had enough room for us to sleep and for Ginny to travel with us during the day.

We opted for the full insurance package which included cover for incidences such as sand blasting which could damage the vehicle and any damage. It was a little more expensive but if you got that package you also got wifi thrown in for free which was handy. Whilst everything with the hire and the driving went smoothly you can never be sure what may happen due to the dramatically changing weather in Iceland.

Many people wouldn’t think about hiring camping equipment but this was pretty easy and there are a few companies that offer it. The tent came with everything we needed and the staff were helpful we had no complaints; although obviously you pay over the odds for the convenience of not lugging your camping equipment on a plane with you. We used Iceland Camping Equipment, and would recommend them.

Camping gas was something we got through quite a bit of and you can generally buy them in gas stations. The prices do vary significantly however the cheapest we paid was through our campervan hire company. For the aerosol canister type gas it was about 1070isk (around £6.15) per can but 990isk if bought with the rental. I was buying these in england 4 for £9.99 so that was quite a shock.

Fuel

Petrol stations don’t always take foreign debit or credit cards; however you can ask for the pump to be open if its manned or buy pre paid fuel cards for N1 stations; the most popular stations around the island. If you’re travelling to remote areas it would be wise to consider purchasing a couple of these; usually available in shops or restaurants near to the self service pumps.

Also worth noting is the fact that you can get a keyfob with your camping card which gives you a discount on fuel from Orkan stations and we were provided with a discount fob for N1 on the keys to our van.

Food & Drink

Food and drink in bars and restaurants is very expensive; for example 3 soups and 3 small beers cost us £58. If you are considering self catering options then you generally can find two main supermarkets Bonus and Netto.

Bonus was definitely the more affordable supermarket and we visited here more than Netto; although Netto did have a good bakery section.

In terms of alcohol you can’t buy it in general stores or supermarkets but only in state run stores called Vinbudin which are found in most main towns. They dont particularly have long opening hours so you need to check each branch. Most close at 6pm.

Expect however alcohol to be expensive; as an example we spent £30 on two bottle of wine which would have cost about £7 in the UK. Spirits were even more shocking with a 70cl bottle of Smirnoff costing the equivalent of £34! We would strongly recommend getting your duty frees either from your departure airport or when you arrive in Keflavik.

Campgrounds/sites

Iceland is abundant with campsites with over 400 to choose from. They aren’t open all year round but from around mid April to mid September. If you have a camper you must stay on a site as there there is no ‘wild camping’ allowed.

If like us you decide to buy the Camping Card, this limits your choice to only 40 sites and there appears to be no way to reserve a space in advance; therefore always turn up as early as you can or you may (like us) be turned away. This is especially true at weekends or on main ring road sites with good facilities. In all we managed to use the card 12 out of 14 nights and buying it did save us quite a bit of money; however if you were only staying for a few days it would be cheaper to pay as you went.

Icelandic campsites are not like UK campsites and the facilities offered at each varies dramatically. There are normally only 2 toilets and sometimes a shower or two but most sites are pretty scarce on washing and toilet facilities. It was getting a little pongy in our van at times 🤣🤣. Read up on each site before you arrive to make sure you are happy with what’s on offer or look for an alternative.

One big tip for campers on a budget is to visit our last campsite first. Sandgerdi is one of, if not the nearest site, to Keflavik airport and usually campers last stop before they leave the country; therefore anything they have left they leave for other campers.

We managed to get some gas and some vodka for our last night and someone else used our kidney beans for their dinner. If you want free staples such as pasta, tins, sauces etc this is the place to start and you could also save quite a bit on camping gas, or if you’re lucky like us get a free tipple! We left a lot of stuff for others when we left including pasta sauce, rice and spaghetti.

The Roads

The majority of the roads including the main ring road number 1 have tarmac however if you venture a little off track for example like we did into the fjords this is where the terrain changes. In general the lower the number of the road the better condition it is in.

Triple digit figure road numbers can be mud or dirt tracks with potholes but generally drivable with care. The ‘F’ roads are the ones that are more challenging and you can often be faced with crossing rivers without bridges, huge holes in the road or muddy terrain. This is why unless you hire a 4wd you arent covered by insurance to drive on these roads.

Identifying which roads are ‘F’ roads aren’t always easy; for example I googled one road and it was previously an ‘F’ road but had been upgraded with tarmac. Google maps doesn’t have an option to avoid them either and we ended up having a long diversion in the west fjords because it tried to lead me down one. Waze does have an option of ‘avoid unpaved roads’ so this is likely to include ‘F’ roads; we just didn’t discover this until we were at the end of our trip! If in doubt ask a local or your hire company like we did.

Tolls

Surprisingly to us there is a toll road in iceland and that is the Vaðlaheiðargöng tunnel, near Akureyri. It is on the main 1 road and can be avoided but we decided to go that way anyway. What we hadn’t realised however is that you only have 3 hours to pay it. Luckily we checked into our campsite straight away and saw the below notices so paid in time …phew!

Speed Cameras

Yes there cameras and a lot of them, especially round bigger towns and the Golden Circle so be warned. The fines are also hugely expensive so make sure you stick to the limits as even if there aren’t cameras there could still be mobile units. Reykjavik Cars have a really good guide to speed cameras and parking fines.

Journeys take a lot longer that you expect

This is an important thing to note especially if you are planning a long drive in a day. Quite often you can get stuck behind a tractor, the weather can turn and you’re in heavy rain or cloud or you can’t do the speed limit due to the conditions of the road and potential damage to your vehicle. The other major reason of course is that Iceland is so spectacular you will want to stop and take pictures all the time 😁

Headlights

You have to drive with your headlights on at all times, with no exceptions 24/7, all year round. It makes sense given how quick the weather can change but one to be aware of.

Beware of Animals

Sheep, goats and even horses can run out into the road so you have to be on high alert even in really desolate places.

Laundry

There are no public launderettes/laundromats in Iceland so really you have to consider this with your campsite selection; does it have laundry facilities? can you handwash stuff? We managed to find a couple of sites on our way which had a washing machine and dryer and luckily managed to get our stuff washed and dried but something you need to consider especially if its wet and muddy out.

I think that’s it, it could have made our life a little easier if we had known all of the above but we still had a fabulous time which you can read about here. If anyone has any questions please leave them in the comments below.

Carol & Nigel x

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