About the size of Ohio, Iceland is home to roughly 300,000 people, the vast majority of whom live in capital city of Reykjavik. While Reykjavik is certainly fun to explore, miles and miles of open road and breathtakingly beautiful scenery lie beyond the city; think black sand beaches, glacier lagoons, natural swimming holes, and stunning waterfalls (more than you’ll know what to do with!). The landscape makes Iceland a dream for photographers, nature lovers, or anyone who just needs a break from city life.

It also makes the country in the middle of the Atlantic the perfect backdrop for an epic road trip. No matter if the time you’ve got is short or endless, here are some tips to help you make the most of your adventure on the road:

1. Rent a campervan.

Even if you’ve never campervan-ed before, do it in Iceland – it’s without a doubt the best way to explore the country. The scenery grows more astonishingly beautiful the further you go from civilization; one of the most spectacular things about it is possibly the solitude. Campervans allow you to venture off to untouched corners and still be able to stop for the night to get some rest, whether in a small town or in front of a waterfall.

2. Follow the Ring Road.

Navigating your route in Iceland is easy: there’s one main road and it loops around the entire country. Although a few of the more remote (and awesome) swimming holes can only be accessed by detouring from the Ring Road, most towns and scenic points are within spitting distance. Really, no map required! The entire loop can be completed in about 10 days; if you’ve only got five days, you should plan to head to Hofn and back, or up to the fjords.

3. Know the Law of Survival.

The Law of Survival states that you can stop on any man’s land for a night and eat anything that grows on that land. That means that it’s completely acceptable – and legal – to sleep in your car, whether you’re on private property, in a national park, or at a designated rest stop. You can literally fall asleep and wake up to million-dollar views—for free.

4. Bring Snacks…

Food in Iceland is incredibly expensive and not that great, especially once you leave Reykjavik. Hit up the grocery store before your departure and stock up on lots of snacks: trail mix, almonds, jerky, wasabi peas, instant oatmeal, raisins, and Cliff and Lara Bars. Not exactly glamorous, but they will keep you satisfied – especially when you’re on the road without a town in site.

5. But Eat the Hot Dogs…!

The most iconic Icelandic road trip food has to be the hot dog! Sold in gas stations, they cost $4-5 dollars each but are well worth it. Don’t miss the bacon-wrapped hot dog in a warmed bun with mustard, raw onions and dry onions. Followed with a soft serve (they have caramel dip!), it’s one of the best meals you’ll find along the Ring Road.

6. Don’t Forget A Swimsuit.

Your first destination from the airport should be the Blue Lagoon. The Fly Bus has a package that includes transport straight there, and then from there to Reykjavik’s city center, for approximately 20 Euros. The Blue Lagoon itself can be pricey (35-60 Euros depending on service) and crowded—it’s often described as the Disneyland of the Icelandic hot springs—but it’s priceless in that it will help you achieve vacation-bliss from the moment you step off the plane. Once you’ve checked that off the list, get off the beaten path and head to Seljavallalaug Swimming Pool or Hrunalaug Natural Hot Spring.

Related:  Prypyat Mon Amour: Portraits of a Ghost Town

7. Go Public.

Iceland is big on hot springs, hot tubs and saunas: if a town is big enough for a grocery store, it is likely to also have a public pool. On average, entry costs about $4 dollars and that usually includes the use of two hot tubs (one hot, the other hotter), a swimming pool, a steam room, and public showers. Some even have waterslides! Heading to a public pool is a great way to start your morning and totally beats paying for a public shower at a campground. In fact, it makes living out of a campervan feel super luxurious.

8. Chase the Midnight Sun.

The only reason to go to Iceland in winter is to see the Northern Lights—and that’s never guaranteed. But 24 hours of daylight in the middle of summer? That is guaranteed, and it allows for perfect road trip conditions. You can drive all day and into the night, then fall asleep to a never-ending sunset. Just don’t forget your eye mask!

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C’est Christine started when Christine Amorose moved to Nice, France, and then continued as she worked and lived in Melbourne, Australia and backpacked solo through Southeast Asia. Since “settling down” in New York City, she’s sailed the San Blas Islands, road-tripped around Iceland and Puerto Rico, and eaten her way through Jordan and Montreal. She currently lives in Brooklyn and works in brand partnerships at Vimeo; in her spare time, she blogs about travel, fashion and creating an intentional lifestyle as a twenty-something.

48 COMMENTS

  1. I went to Iceland last summer and could not agree more with these tips. We didn’t rent a campervan, but we brought our tents and sleeping bags, and rented a tiny car to get us around. There’s nothing quite like going to bed / waking up in the morning to the sound of a waterfall right out your tent window!

    The one thing I would chip in with, though, is that while the Ring Road does offer you easy access to some of Iceland’s best attractions, you really should take a few days off the beaten path, rent a 4WD vehicle and hit up the highlands. They’re constantly in danger of being destroyed by dams and such, so even more important to see it in all its untouched glory! Driving through 6 hours of lava fields, feeling like you’re on the moon, and then hiking to Víti to swim in a volcanic crater… Yeah. That’s totally in my Top 5 Best Memories Ever! 🙂

    • Ah-mazing! We only had five days there, so didn’t have quite enough time to really get off the beaten path–but I would LOVE to go back and explore more in the center of the country.

  2. Christine, these pics and tips are awesome! I have had Iceland on my bucket list for a while and cannot wait to go. @Kim thanks for these awesome trip ideas as well, can’t wait to get there!

    • Remember, the whole country is only the size of Ohio–so it’s actually not TOO much driving. There were definitely gas stations regularly along the Ring Road, and we usually filled up every day just so that we were never in a compromising situation!

  3. Would like to find out if we should make Reykjavik our base as we explore iceland for the 7 days in August that we will be there, or should we book accomodation according to where we will be headed?
    Will appreciate any advice you have on places that we should cover since its our first time to Iceland, and we will love to travel off the beaten paths!
    Thank you!

    • I think that Reykjavik is a great base for the first 2-3 days, but then you want to be able to explore and stay along the way. I’d head out along the Ring Road–we were there for about the same amount of time, and drove out to Hofn and back. That was just enough and we were able to see some really cool parts of the country–black sand beaches in Vik, glacier lagoon, etc. Have fun!

  4. Hi! This sounds amazing. Heading to Iceland for 10 days in December. Do you think the camper would still be a good idea? Which rental company did you rent with? Did you encounter any rivers that you had to cross? Could you also give me an idea of the cost
    Thanks do much!

    • Eek! I think that a camper is definitely a better idea in the summer, just since there are so many more hours of daylight. You would only have about four hours to drive in December, and I don’t think you’d be able to cover quite enough ground to really make it worth it. We rented with Kuku Campers, and didn’t have to cross any rivers. That trip was a few years back, so I’d check in now to see how much it costs. Have an amazing time, it’s a beautiful country!

    • Hello,
      We were going to camper van it in early May, and no campgrounds were actually open yet! And the law of camping anywhere is purportedly changed, making it no longer legal. We chose to go the hotel route since it wasn’t summer.

  5. Hi, your photos look awesome! I’m heading to Iceland in the first week of April, hoping to catch the last bit of northern light before summer. Undecided on how many days to stay yet, probably between 7-10 days. Will the daylight be too short for campervan to be feasible? I also heard that the highlands and most offtrack roads are closed so my entire trip will be confined to the ring road. Is it still a good idea to rent a campervan?

    • hey! It looks like the sun will rise around 6am and set around 9pm in April, so I think you’ll be totally fine with daylight hours. And yes! Still rent a camper van. The best way to get around by far!

    • You definitely will only get a fraction of daylight and it might be too cold to sleep in a camper van. I’d stick to the road trips in camper vans during the spring/summer/fall months!

  6. Love your post and your photos! It makes me even more excited about going to Iceland! 🙂
    My husband and I are going for one week in May. I was leaning towards renting a small motorhome, because they have a toilet and shower. But I don’t know if we can get down as many roads, etc. Did you have any problems with roads in the little campervan? Thanks!

  7. hi christine, im going to iceland between this end oct to early nov. thinking of renting campervan to explore entire ring road in 7 days for 2 of us.
    i’m not an experience driver in snow & in big car.
    is the driving in winter safe for a big camper van?
    since my daylight is between 10 hours in Oct & 8 hours in Nov, do u suggest me to use campervan?
    do u think i can travel entire ring road in 7 days or should i just travel the south coast will do?
    the weather will be 0 degree celcius minimum, is this too cold to sleep in it?
    apparently there’s no WC in the campervan, so we shower & poo at public WC? is there any entry charges?

    • Granted, I’ve only been there in the summer so can only speak to that. But if you’re not an experienced driver, I don’t think it’s a good idea to drive a camper van in in the ice or snow. I also don’t think it’s quite as fun to do the camper van if you have fewer hours of daylight. I would stick to the South Coast if you only have 7 days. And I think it will be too cold to sleep in a camper van! As for the WC, we went to public pools every morning and paid an entry fee and used the shower and toilets there.

  8. hi Christine, lovely blog and you are so helpful! thank you for all your advise. I only wanted to ask one thing – to make sure sleeping in a car is legal in Iceland? Do people not make problems out of it? Even the land owners…? or Parks? Are there no legal fees? In UK you have to be veeery careful of those things. We can’t afford campervan so will be hiring normal car in mid May and trying to sleep in it for 2-3 nights in the middle of our journey, we were also thinking if the rental companies stop you in any way from sleeping in normal cars? some weird T&C etc. Has anyone heard anything in this matter?
    Thank you in advance for any help 😉
    Izabela

    • I’m not sure, Izabela. I think I’d recommend renting a campervan–I don’t think it’s a good idea to be sleeping in a regular car, and I definitely don’t think the rental car companies would recommend it.

      • Hi Christine, I’m headed to Iceland in a few weeks and will be traveling via camper van 🙂 Kind of a dumb question, but what is the hair dryer situation at the pool/campsite showers? I have a lot of hair and if I don’t dry it, I will have a wet head for half the day and I’m worried that it will be pretty cold… Wondering if I should bring one? Buy one there? Or do they have hair dryers for use there? Will I look like a weirdo if I’m in the bathroom doing my hair? 🙂

        • I can’t say for absolutely sure, but I’m pretty sure there were hair dryers! They were all like normal gym locker rooms, so it definitely wouldn’t be weird to blow dry your hair/do your makeup there. We got ready there every day, and it was totally fine.

  9. It’s the perfect freebie, where you can set up camp and explore the Cairns region. There is running water and basic toilets and it is an ideal camp to enjoy for free in a popular tourist area.

  10. Have a kuku camper for 5 days with my son. Hopefully he will be able to skateboard down the walter mittty hill.
    Avoiding reykjavik (too many people) Hope to see enough of the main attractions.
    August should be just right to sleep in the camper and plenty if daylight to drive.

  11. Hello! I’m rental a KUKU in July, and am curious – what are a few things you’d recommend bringing? I’m trying to start planning a shopping/packing list, and am wondering, what might I forget?

    Love the blue lagoon suggestion. We’re going to head there for our first afternoon to get a good shower in before hitting the road. Where do you recommend camping for the first night?

    • I’d bring an eye mask! That’s one thing I forgot and it was tough to fall asleep when the days were so long. I also really liked that we brought trail mix, almonds, etc. on the road with us–I’d make the first stop a grocery store 🙂

  12. Hi! This is such a helpful and inspiring blog for Iceland travel!
    My husband and I have decided to sell our second vehicle to take a trip to either Iceland or Ireland. We aren’t sure which will cost less or which will be a better adventure.

    We will have $3,000 and not a penny more. Do you mind if I ask if that’s realistic for airfare, camper van, gas, and food??? (We found through WOW airlines $250 for each round trip ticket, so that leaves us with $2500 for time on the island)… not to mention we may need to purchase some gear to stay warm at night.

    • Depends on how long you’re staying, but I think that’s doable as long as you’re frugal. I’d pack most of your own meals–it can be pretty cheap if you’re camping/driving/making your own meals!

  13. Hi, I am going for 6 days in end of August 2016. Spending only a day in Reykjavik, rest 5 days, with 2 of us alternating, hope to circle the entire ring road! I know-does it sound crazy or what? Need your opinion. We are staying in hotels all along so we can be fully recharged in the mornings and have a good breakfast. 5 dayon circling in 5 days will be appreciated. Thanks!s for 800 miles seems doable, if I dont make too many side trips. Your opinion

    • Awesome! That is going to be a very quick trip around the Ring Road but probably doable–just won’t give you much time to really hang out and enjoy the waterfalls, hiking, etc (which was our favorite part).

  14. We went to Iceland last spring, it was really amazing! Thank so much for your work and info! It was my second time i have visited Iceland but after reading your inspiration and want to jump on the plane again.

  15. Admittedly, I did not read ALL of the questions. I’m wondering if you have a reliable update on the “Law of Survival” – do you now suggest staying only at ‘official campsites’? We’re going at the end of May into early June. We don’t know if now going next to waterfalls/caves, etc. is not possible which could maybe make the campervan idea less beneficial. Thank you!

    • “The Law of Survival” was put in place when there were appr. 2.000.000 fewer tourists (none!) in Iceland, around 1000 years ago. It should be plain to anyone that this is not something that can be taken literally in this day and age!! Besides, “it’s completely acceptable – and legal – to sleep in your car, whether you’re on private property, in a national park, or at a designated rest stop” is just plain FALSE and a serious moral offence to propagate! According to this ancient and outdated law you cite, you can WALK and pitch a TENT on any land, private or public, for one night. Parking your “camper” is STRICTLY FORBIDDEN on public or private land outside designated areas.

      Welcome to Iceland and have a great trip!!

  16. Thanks for all the advice! We decided to rent a campervan from KUKU campers and ABSOLUTELY LOVED our experience. We opted for the one that’s slightly bigger than the one you guys used and it was way more room than 2 people could possibly need. Thanks so much for all the tips 🙂 We did get some warnings about how hte laws have changed and you can’t just park anywhere you want for a night anymore. They recommend just using campsites for getting permission from the land owner first. We made a video to show the inside of a bigger campervan made for 4-5 people. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pf37LAZ-BkE Thanks!!

  17. A few friendly words that I hope you will take into consideration and modify your article accordingly::
    1) “Campervans allow you to venture off to untouched corners and still be able to stop for the night to get some rest, whether in a small town or in front of a waterfall.” This is not at all true and considered VERY inconsiderate by locals, who are, quite frankly, starting to lose their patience with regards to these so called “campers” – which are no campers, since they don’t have on-board toilets – and all the shit and toiletpaper many of their users leave behind.
    2) Please do not encourage law violation. The first photo shows a “camper” who’s driver (you?) decided to thwart the law and park where it is CLEARLY not allowed – there’s even a SIGN!! It’s there for a reason and the locals are getting tired of such inconsiderate attitudes by “free spirited” travellers. Whatever social carrying capacity capital there’s left with regards to Iceland’s tourism boom, is quickly being used up by inconsiderate drivers of these “campers” who think anything goes in Iceland.
    3) Lastly, “The Law of Survival” was put in place when there were appr. 2.000.000 fewer tourists (none!) in Iceland, around 1000 years ago. It should be plain to anyone that this is not something that can be taken literally in this day and age!! Besides, “it’s completely acceptable – and legal – to sleep in your car, whether you’re on private property, in a national park, or at a designated rest stop” is just plain FALSE and a serious moral offence to propagate! According to this ancient and outdated law you cite, you can WALK and pitch a TENT on any land, private or public, for one night. Parking your “camper” is STRICTLY FORBIDDEN on public or private land outside designated areas.
    Please take this very important points into consideration and alter your article before more damage is done by people who mean no harm, but cause it unwittingly! Thanks.

  18. Thanks for the tips Christine. We are planning a trip in March with kids -ages 10 and 12 and my parents so a group of 6. Not sure my parents are up for camping. Can you recommend whether we should still try to drive/camp on our own or whether it might be more advisable to book tours. Also should we use Reykjavik as a base for the whole time (6 days) or should we hotel/camp it elsewhere for some of the time? Thanks!

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