Jessi and Kyle’s Icelandic Campervan Trip
For my thirtieth birthday my younger sister gave me the book, “1000 Places to See before You Die.” I looked through the book and was set to go to Norway when I came across the Icelandair stop over deal. I thought “Wow, kill two birds with one stone.” My husband and I planned to do 2 night stopover in Iceland then proceed to Norway. I made a list of the places and things I wanted to do in both countries but as I researched the excursions and attractions, my Iceland list became longer than my Norway list. Due to our family life and work schedules, eight days was the longest our trip could be. I decided to cut out Norway and focus our travels on Iceland.
Our trip to Iceland way out did our expectations. We saw the rugged and vibrant green mountains and glaciers of east Iceland, the beautiful black beaches of the south, the volcanoes on the Westman Island and city life in Reykjavik. We hiked to secluded geothermal pools and to the top of mountains. We met people from all over the world but also were able to reconnect as a couple. We helped cheer on Iceland’s soccer team vs. England at Arnahόll Park in Reykjavik along with an estimated 10,000 Icelanders and visitors and sat on secluded black sand beaches without another person in sight. Our camper van allowed us to travel more freely and see all the places on our list within our budget.
Our rental Camper van
My husband is relatively tall at about 6’1” and he had no problem sleeping in the camper van bed. There was storage under the bed that fit our two large suitcases, and large backpack, along with all the supplies provided by the rental company including 2 containers of cooking utensils, a gas grill, a small refrigerator and a water container. It was quite easy to keep the camper van organized and tidy. The camper van had blacked out windows and curtains. It took a couple nights to get used to the lack of darkness as we were in Iceland on the Summer Solstice (we brought eye covers to help with the sunlight at night).
We traveled about 1000 miles and with their Garmin GPS and maps we picked up along the way, it was so easy to navigate to country side. We only spent about $150 USD on diesel fuel for our camper van and an average of $18 USD per campsite for two people. The roads are not like 4 lane highways and interstates that we have in the US. I was nervous about driving a camper van on their small 2 lane highways but it wasn’t hard at all. On a few occasions we passed over one lane bridges but had no difficulty navigating it with our camper van.
Plus, the camper van had it’s own free WiFi which allowed us to face time with our son, post to Instagram and send snapchats of our journey to all of our friends and family.
Itinerary and Icelandic Campsites
Day 1 – The Blue Lagoon
We picked up our camper van from Go Iceland at the Keflavik airport and drove to the Blue Lagoon for a 12 o’clock reservation. We were a little early so we drove past the Lagoon to the small seaside town of Grindavik. After a quick look around, we headed back to the Lagoon where we had a fun time together. I loved sticking my feet in the silica at the lagoon’s edge. The entire facility was quite large and they are in the midst of expanding. We applied the two facial masks that were included in our ticket and drank a smoothie from the drink bar. At 1:30 we had lunch reservations at the LAVA restaurant. It was a lavish main course meal of Icelandic Catfish which I was skeptical of but it was really delicious. We drank our sparkling wine and returned to the Lagoon to take some pictures.
We drove to Þingvellir National Park where we hiked, cooked and slept. We saw a snorkeling excursion at the Silfra fissure that we wished we had time to do.
Campsite: Þingvellir – Nyrðri Leirar Campsite: Bathrooms, Showers, Café
Day 2 – The Golden circle
The Golden Circle was our plan for the second day in Iceland. After our homemade breakfast, we left the campsite early and headed straight for Geyser. The weather was terrific for viewing the landscape on the drive. There were lakes, creeks, and mountains that we passed on our way. We pulled up to Geyser and checked out the shop and information center. The clothing was beautiful but expensive. We hiked up to the geyser just as it exploded into the air. Everyone clapped. We proceeded to the tops of the highest peak along with others who wanted a spectacular view of the area. We decided to hike along the top ridge then down the other side of the mountain. We were the only ones who decided to do this and were alone on the mountainside to take in the views.
Next, we proceeded to Gullfoss which was surprisingly exceptional. We live near Niagara Falls and thought it couldn’t get better but Gullfoss, with its natural beauty, was breath-taking. We left Gullfoss and stopped for lunch at Fridheimer Greenhouse for their homemade tomato soups, tortillas, bread, and Bloody Mary drinks. Last on our sightseeing tour of the golden circle was Kerid. On a whim, we decided to headed for the coast past Selfoss where we were staying for the night. I got my first glimpse of black sand beach. We went north to Hveragerði where they were having a flower festival and checked out the geothermal park. We ended with home cooked dinner and a soak in the hot tub at the campsite.
Campsite: Selfoss Campsite: Common room, Kitchen, Bathrooms, Washer and Dryer, Showers, Café, Hot tubes
Day 3 – Inside the volcano
Day three was full of activity. We left early for our 8am guided tour at Inside the Volcano. A group of 16 embarked on a foggy and wet morning. Our hike was pretty simple and we moved fast. Our guide gave insightful information about the volcanoes. We arrived at the base camp right below the volcano after about a 3 km hike through the lava fields. We descended with 1/3 of the group members into the volcano while the others waited at base camp. I thought it would be terrifying to enter the volcano but the beauty of the colorful volcano walls distracted me. I could have spent days in the volcano. I really had to hold myself back from taking a gorgeous rock as a souvenir, which was discouraged. Once we returned to the surface, we ate their delicious Icelandic lamb stew while we waited for the other two groups to return from inside the volcano. We headed back to the starting point at which time our guide lead us into a cave formed by the magma and sang us a beautiful Icelandic song.
Our goal was to make it to Skaftafell and hit all the attractions on the way. We stopped at 2 waterfalls, Seljalandsfoss which is the one that has a trail behind the falls, and Skógafoss, which is large and striking and is worthy of the stop. We turned off Route 1 to view Dyrhólaey, which I was so excited for but it was rainy and foggy so we did not stay long. We continued on our way to Skaftafell campsite where we ate a home cooked meal.
Campsite: Skaftafell Campsite: Café, Outdoor Common Area, Bathroom, Showers, Washer and Dryer
Day 4 – Skaftafell
We woke early, cooked breakfast and coffee and immediately departed on a hike toward the closest glacier. I was more than excited as I have never seen a glacier before. We hung out at the glacier lagoon then returned to the information center, got a trail map and departed on Svartifoss Trail. This hike was hard and I was all up hill and I was surprised so many people were hiking it. We left Skaftafell for Hofn for lunch which was further than we expected. On our way we stopped at Jokulsarlon and thought about doing a boat tour. We decided against it and returned to our drive toward Hofn. Once we arrived, we were so hungry. Pakkhus was our restaurant of choice where we feasted on Norwegian lobster. We visited the information center and walked around town before departing back to Vik. Once we arrived in Vik we visited Revnisfjara to see the basalt columns and black sand beach. We cooked our dinner on the grill at camp and hand an Icelandic hot do with all the fixings for a late night snack.
Campsite: Vik Campsite: Common Room, Bathroom, Showers, Washer and Dryer
Day 5 – Westman Islands
We left the campsite early to make our 9:45 ferry for the Westman Islands. The ferry process was easy and quick. We drove to the southern portion of Heimaey and completed the Stórhöfði trail where we saw so many Puffins along with other birds. The hiking was refreshing and easy to navigate. We then drove to the back side of the Eldfell volcano and hiked the rim. Hiking boots were important on all the hikes but would have been nearly impossible to climb Eldfell without them. We registered at the campground and cooked lunch in the campground kitchen. We checked out the seaport and walked the main road stopping for ice cream and ate dinner at Tanginn.
Campsite: Westman Island Campsite: Common Room, Kitchen, Bathroom, Showers, Washer and Dryer
Right after breakfast we hiked the trail from the campground to find spectacular views of the ocean and mainland Iceland. It was by far the most challenging hike but completely worth it. We took the 11am ferry back to mainland Iceland and proceeded to the Seljavallalaug pool. We swam for a bit and fought off the cold and rain on our return to our camper van. We drove to Reykjavik just in time to partake in the fun for the defeat of England by Iceland’s Soccer team. We walked Laugardalur Street and stopped in many shops and restaurants.
Day 7 – Driving in Reykjavik
On our final full day in Iceland we checked off the sights in the city and went on a sea angling tour. We saw the Perlan, the Church of Iceland, the Harpa Concert Hall, The Pond, Nauthólsvík Beach and the Old Harbour. The sea angling trip with Special Tours was so fun. The best part of this tour was that crew cleaned and grilled the fish we caught along with potatoes and it was divine. We went back to the shops in town and bought a Viking hat and sword for our son and Icelandic wool blankets for our parents as a ‘thank-you’ for watching our son during our trip.
Day 8 – A journey’s end
We woke up early, stopped at a little bakery for croissants and coffee, filled up our fuel tank and drove the 45 minutes back to Keflavik Airport, returned our vehicle by 8 am and flew home.
Campsite: Reykjavik, Common Room, Kitchen, Bathrooms, Showers, Washer and Dryer, Game Room, TV
Camping in Iceland
The thought of staying at a camp ground may seem too crude or unpleasant to some but the campgrounds are so different than what I am used to in the US. Most had common rooms with sinks, stoves, washers and dryers, some had hot tubes, and individual showers. European bathrooms are also different and at a campsite is no exception. We are used to the simple, no privacy stalls but most camp grounds that we visited had individual full door and wall rooms some with their own sinks.
Depending on how social you want to be, you could meet people from all over the world or you can keep to yourself and enjoy the company of your camping companion or the nature that surrounds you.
Read more: Camping in Iceland
Cooking while camping
Our camper van came equipped with a small refrigerator to store more than enough cold food for our trip, a gas powered grill, and all the utensils that are required for cooking. We ate pasta, soup and grilled ham and cheese, lamb skewers, fresh cod, fish and rice, oatmeal with raisins and maple syrup, peanut butter toast, and coffee with a French press. We were able to splurge on restaurants on occasion but we could have sufficed with cooking for ourselves throughout the trip.
Excursions in Iceland
Driving to the Blue Lagoon from Keflavik you pass miles and miles of lava fields. They were unlike anything I’ve ever seen. As we pulled up to the Blue Lagoon, there was bright baby blue water flowing between the black basalt rocks. The actual Lagoon was focused on keeping environment and nature the focal point. It was relaxing and beautiful. The facility is clean but busy; reservations are required.
We hiked with the company, Inside the Volcano, from the ski resort Bláfjöll to Thrihnukagigur volcano. Our guide, Harpa, was amazing. She was knowledgeable about everything involving the land, volcanos and Icelandic history. She taught us about the glorious and varying colors of the volcano. She explained the importance of taking care of nature in Iceland especially the importance and how delicate moss is in their environment.
North Atlantic Fish Angling
We used the tour group, Special Tours, off the old Harbor to fish for cod in the North Atlantic Ocean. We started off slow but we found a great spot. All eight of us on the tour were pulling up 1-2 large cod every few minutes. Not only did we get to fish but the crew cleaned and grilled the cod on the boat along with potatoes for some of the best food we ate throughout the entire trip.
Read more: Fishing in Iceland
Hiking in Iceland
The hiking options available in Iceland are exceptional. One day we hiked 11 miles! I was so surprised when I looked at my step counter on my cell phone. 11 miles! There were hiking trails at every attraction we stopped at but my favorite was from our campsite in the Westman Islands. This particular trail wasn’t on any of the maps that I found and had we not been at the campsite we would have never climbed it. Other hikes we enjoyed were to Seljavallalaug geothermal pool as well as in the many trails in Vatnajökulsþjóðgarður National Park near Skaftafell information center.
Honestly, the best decision we made was to rent the camper van. It gave us freedom to explore the countryside, independence to choose our own route, all while staying in our travel budget. If I could only recommend one thing to people looking to explore Iceland, it would be to rent a camper van! Hopefully we will return in the winter to ski and see the Aurora Borealis and rent another camper van.
Jessi and Kyle
Read more: Wintercamping in Iceland
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