Iceland in a Happy Camper
Last year when my boyfriend and I booked tickets to Iceland I couldn’t wait to start planning the trip! We had both heard such amazing things about it. Fast-forward to us arriving back in Canada after a whirlwind two weeks and I can say we were definitely not disappointed. With everything fresh in my mind I wanted to share a lot of what we learned during the planning phase as well as how our itinerary came together. Hopefully it will be useful for anyone else planning a trip to The Land of Fire and Ice.
Transport and sleep
We booked our trip many months in advance so we had time to do quite a lot of research on the different options for getting around the country. In terms of transport it came down to three options for us:
- Rent a car and stay at hostels and hotels along the way
- Rent a camper van and sleep in the van
- Rent a car and camp at camping sites along the way
Each option had its pros and cons but we decided to go with option 2 and rent a camper van. The main reasons were that we didn’t want to have to book accommodation in advance as our plans might change along the way (this ended up happening a lot and it was hard to know exactly where we would end up each night) and it was still a little too cold in May for us to camp comfortably.
After deciding we would rent a camper van I started looking into the different companies. The one that stood out for us was Happy Campers as they had a lot of great reviews and their vans included a heater, bedding, and airport pickup. A lot of their campers are painted bright red with designs down the side which made them very easy to spot. We found ourselves waving to all the other Happy Campers we saw on the road 👋
There are campsites situated all around Iceland with all the facilities you need including washrooms, showers, laundry machines, and areas to relax and cook food. We decided to buy the Camping Card for our trip so that we could stop and stay at any of their campsites. I would recommend buying this if you are going between June and August but for us a lot of the sites were closed in May. We ended up having to pay to stay at other campsites not included on the card.
We decided to travel in May because we wanted to be in the quieter shoulder season. We definitely didn’t realise how unpredictable the weather would be so it’s important to be prepared. Bring an extra fleece to keep warm. We experienced intense winds and a lot of rain (but also some beautiful sunny days!). I was glad we packed an extra sleeping bag as there were some pretty cold nights towards the start of the trip. The main Ring Road can sometimes be closed in spots due to bad weather — we were lucky this didn’t happen to us. There are some great websites for keeping up-to-date on the conditions. You can check the weather on http://en.vedur.is/ and the road conditions on http://www.road.is/
If you are travelling the ring road in a camper van I would recommend doing a lot of the cooking yourself. It is super expensive to eat out in Iceland so we mostly stuck to buying our food at grocery stores. A lot of campsites had facilities for this and there was also a gas cooker provided in the vans. Some essential items we bought along the way:
- Skyr yogurt
- Paper towels
- Sandwich ingredients (cheese, meats, lettuce etc)
- Ramen soups
- Pasta, pesto, meatballs
- Pre-cooked meals
- Cooking oil
- Plastic bags
- Laundry powder
Day 1 —Keflavík to Skjol
We arrived into Keflavík airport around 5am on our WOW Air flight. Happy Campers picked us up from the airport at 8am so we had a few hours to kill. The first thing we did was buy a SIM card from the convenience store just outside of arrivals. It was about $40 for 1GB of data and included calling. We found a cafe to get some food and tried to get some sleep on the comfy chairs for a few hours. We were picked up and taken to the Happy Campers headquarters where the friendly staff gave a rundown of the ins and outs of the van.
Our first stop from there was the Blue Lagoon spa where we relaxed for a few hours — this was much needed after the overnight flight. We even managed to get a couple of hours of sleep afterwards in our convenient camper van bed before we started heading towards the Golden Circle. We stopped in Reykjavik on the way to stock up on groceries. Our first stop on the Golden Circle was Geysir which is a geothermal area with the most active geyser Strokkur going off every few minutes.
We were pretty exhausted after a long day and decided to relax for the rest of the night at our camping site in Skjol.
Day 2 — Skjol to Vík
- Gulfoss waterfall was our first stop of the day just north of the campsite
- Skálholt is a small historical settlement
- Kerið volcanic crater. You can walk right around the crater and the entrance fee is 400 krona
- Seljalandsfoss waterfall was our second waterfall of the day. You can walk behind this one which was a really cool experience — but remember to take rain gear as it gets pretty wet!
- Seljavallalaug is one of the oldest outdoor swimming pools in Iceland. It’s about a 15 minute walk through a stunning valley. You can’t see the pool until you are almost there as it peeks out from behind a corner. The water is lukewarm but it’s worth the walk even if it’s too cold to swim
- Skógafoss is another beautiful waterfall. You can walk pretty close to it and there is also a path which leads to a viewing point above
We spent the night in Vík, a cute little town in southern Iceland.
Day 3 — Vík to Höfn
- We skipped the Sólheimasandur Plane Crash the previous day due to weather but we decided to head back and see it early the next morning. It’s about a 40 minute walk each way with nothing to see except gravel. With that said I’m happy we went as we were the only ones there for a while. We were able to explore the wreckage alone and take some nice photos
- Dyrhólaey is a small peninsula just before Vík where you can see a massive arch with a hole in it
- Vík black sand beach is really unique and has some cool rock formations
- Mossy Lava Rocks are visible from the car on the drive so keep an eye out 👀
- Jökulsárlón is a large iceberg lagoon. Tours of the lagoon are possible by boat. We were there on a really foggy day so we didn’t get a great view
Unfortunately the weather was too bad for us to check out the glacier or crystal ice caves in the south. We spent the night in Höfn.
Day 4 — Höfn to Seyðisfjörður
- Djúpivogur is a nice fishing village with some unique egg sculptures down by the water called Eggin í Gleðivík. We stopped in at quirky sculpture studio called Bones, Sticks & Stones. The owner was super friendly and gave us some great advice on places to visit
- We took the coastal road all the way to Reyðarfjörður. Day four was mostly driving and admiring the stunning scenery from the car
- Seyðisfjörður was our final destination for the day. It’s an artsy coastal town with a lovely church. We had been cooking our own meals up until now and decided to treat ourselves at a restaurant called Skaftfell Bistro. The pizza was delicious 🍕
Day 5 — Seyðisfjörður to Lake Mývatn
- Dettifoss is a spectacular and powerful waterfall. If you keep walking along the path from Dettifoss you will reach Selfoss which is a smaller waterfall upstream
- The Krafla Power Station is home to a lot of geothermal activity. Take the road up to see the Viti Crater and then back down to the road is the Hverarönd geothermal area
- Grjótagjá is a cave featured in a scene from the Game of Thrones with Jon Snow and Ygritte 😉
- Hverfjall is a huge cone crater. It’s a steep walk up to the top where you can walk right around it
- We drove around Lake Mývatn and found a nice spot by the lake to cook our dinner before heading to the Mývatn Nature Baths for a relaxing evening
We spent the night at Heidarbaer campground which is on the road towards Húsavík.
Day 6 — Lake Mývatn to Hvammstangi
- We were booked to do whale watching with Gentle Giants in Húsavík early in the morning. We managed to see a minke whale, some humpbacks, dolphins, and a few puffins 🐳
- Goðafoss is majestic waterfall and is very easy to get to. You should check it out from both sides
- Akureyri is Iceland’s second largest city. We had a nice time walking up to the church and admiring the artwork around the town
We spent the night in Hvammstangi.
Day 7 —Hvammstangi to Hólmavík
- Hvítserkur is a rock in the ocean with a huge hole in it and is just a short drive from Hvammstangi (down a gravel road). It’s best to arrive at low tide so you can walk around it
- We began our drive into the Westfjords stopping in Hólmavík and then onto Drangsnes. Driving into Drangsnes you will see three natural hot tubs on the side of the road looking out into the ocean. Showers and change rooms are provided across the road for free, but it’s nice to leave a donation
We spent the night in Hólmavík.
Day 8 — Hólmavík to Breiðavík
- Just after Flókalundur is Garðar BA 64 which is an old steel ship that was beached
- Rauðisandur beach can be reached down a windy gravel road. It’s a beautiful red beach in a very remote part of Iceland
- Látrabjarg Cliffs were a highlight of the trip. It’s home to millions of birds, including puffins which we were lucky enough to see
We spent the night in Breiðavík.
Day 9 — Breiðavík to Saelingsdal
- It was a slow gravel drive up to Dynjandi waterfall. It was slightly out of our way but it was the most unique waterfall of the trip with water flowing like a bridal veil
- We spent the whole day driving back to the bottom of the Westfjords where we ended up staying in Saelingsdal
Day 10 — Saelingsdal to Ólafsvík
- There is a tiny natural pool in Saelingsdal called Guðrúnarlaug with a small waterfall running behind it
- Stykkishólmur is a lovely small town at the start of Snæfellsnes peninsula
- Helgafell is a holy mountain with a stunning view over the Breiðafjordur Bay. It’s tradition to walk up without looking back or speaking and at the top you will get three wishes
We ended up in Ólafsvík for the night where we treated ourselves to fish and chips by the harbour 🐟
Day 11 — Ólafsvík to Sandgerð
- We drove right around Snæfellsnes Peninsula stopping at Saxhóll crater. We also walked down to the black sandy beach at Djúpalónssandur which is a beautiful place to visit
- Hellnar is an ancient fishing village on the edge of the peninsula
- Arnarstapi is the next village along where we stopped for lunch by the ocean
It was a long drive to Sandgerð campsite which was very close to the Happy Campers base near Keflavík.
Day 12 — Sandgerði to Reykjavik
- After returning the camper van at 9am, Happy Campers were kind enough to drive us back to the airport so we could catch the Flybus into Reykjavik. It’s about a 40 minute drive. We weren’t able to check into the Airbnb until 2, but luckily the bus station had storage lockers where we left our bags
- We had breakfast at Café Babalú which is a cute vintage cafe with good food and coffee plus it has the most amazing Star Wars themed washroom I’ve ever seen!
- Reykjavik Coffee Roasters was another great spot for coffee
- There is a lot of great street art and small boutiques around the city
- The Laundromat Cafe was a nice casual spot for dinner
Day 13 —Reykjavik
- Hallgrímskirkja is a church in Reykjavik you can’t miss. The view from the top over the city is beautiful. Admission is ISK 900
- Bæjarins Beztu is the famous hotdog stand. We enjoyed our hotdogs, but by this point we were pretty hotdogged out 🌭
- Harpa concert hall is really nice to walk around, the lighting and design of the building is pretty unique
- Braud & Co is a bakery with delicious bread and pastries
- Sundhöllin local pools are the oldest public pools in Iceland and a great place to unwind
- Messinn is a seafood restaurant and was our favourite meal of the trip. We saved dining out at a nice restaurant to the last night and we were not disappointed!
Day 14 — Reykjavik to Montreal
- We spent our last morning in Reykjavik at Mokka cafe for coffee and on to Sandholt bakery for delicious croissant 🥐
- We organized a Flybus pickup to get back to airport and on our flight to Montreal ✈️
Things we learned
- Take an AUX cable and AV car charger if you are travelling in a campervan
- A headlamp is very useful if you are staying at campsites and need to go to the washroom during the night
- Icelandic people are extremely nice and helpful 😃
- Take an eye mask (because it never gets dark in the spring/summer months)
- Hot dogs are cheap, delicious, and available at every gas station
- Skyr yogurt is super addictive
- Be prepared for a lot of gravel roads if you deviate off the main ring road
- Download podcasts or audiobooks for the drive
- Sheep are everywhere and will walk out on the road right in front of you. Farm dogs will also run alongside the car
- Buy wine and beer at duty free when you arrive — it’s much cheaper
- Every town (even tiny ones) have a local pool and hot tub. They are inexpensive to visit and are really relaxing after long days of walking. They have showers which we utilized when the campsites weren’t open yet.
- Be careful opening car doors when it’s windy as it can blow it right off 🌬️
This was one of my favourite trips so far and I’m really looking forward to visiting Iceland again some day!