For the last three years in a row, I’ve camped in Iceland. It can be a joy – but equally, sleeping several nights in a one-man tent can be a less-than-joyful experience.
The thing about camping in Iceland in summer is that it’s pretty light all night long. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is up to you, really. I like it to be really dark when I’m trying to sleep but on the other hand, it’s much easier to stumble across the campsite at 3am if you can actually see where you’re going and it’s nice to not have to rely on a torch to find your glasses.
It’s also not as cold as you might expect. I generally found I was much warmer in my tent in Iceland than I’ve ever been in a tent at Guide camp in the southern UK. We do our Guide camps in summer and I remember very few nights when I didn’t think I was going to die of hypothermia overnight. But Iceland, for some reason, is much warmer. It’s going back to the ancient question of “why is Iceland green and Greenland icy?” Iceland is green and deceptively warm.
So let me introduce you to a few of the campsites I’ve stayed at.
In 2013, I got a bus passport and travelled all the way around Iceland in a circle.
Well, it’s a bit of a weird circle, since it stretches out to Skaftafell but Skaftafell is a wonderful place to camp.
It’s Iceland’s largest campsite but because Iceland is a pretty small place with an even smaller population, it’s a correspondingly small campsite and it’s perfect. The grass is soft, the soil is… well, it’s a little bit stony, actually. There are two shower blocks, powered by pre-pair cards available from a machine and a cafe-thing in the visitor centre. And there’s a backdrop of mountains and glaciers.
I admit, I did have absolutely perfect weather. It was hot and sunny but there’s a cool breeze blowing down off the glaciers – natural air conditioning!
After three nights at Skaftafell, I boarded my next bus and headed for Landmannalaugar in the Highlands. This is Iceland’s most popular campsite, but it’s not quite as friendly as Skaftafell. That is, the site itself and the setting, not the staff. I mean, Landmannalaugar is a little green oasis perched on the very edge of a lava field in the middle of nowhere, with a great gravel plain next to it that has to be a glacial floodplain. The site itself is an infinitessimally thin layer of soil over gravel, and it’s famously windy, so there are boxes of rocks everywhere – except that everyone is using those rocks, so they’re just scattered all over the site. What Landmannalaugar lacks in comfort, it makes up for in luxury – there’s a spa on site, by which I mean there’s boiling water pouring out from under the lava which meets the cold river to make a very nice natural pool.
I planned to spend one night at Landmannalaugar but ended up spending two, because I didn’t read the bus timetable carefully enough. Landmannalaugar’s showers are powered by coins and some idiot didn’t have the right coins to use them after bathing in the hot spring. There are two old American school buses parked there and they function as a little mountain shop, with camping-style food, gas canisters & basic camping essentials (more along the line of stoves than tents) and hot drinks facilities – that is, they’ll sell you a cup and a right to make your own drink. That was one of my favourite moments, sitting on the bench outside the buses with a cup of nice milky hot chocolate.
After my unexpected second night, I moved on across the Highlands and up to Mývatn. By then, quite honestly, I was sick of camping but my luggage was so heavy that it was all I could do to haul it to the hotel next door to the campsite, where they didn’t have any rooms. So back to my tent I went.
Bjarg is a lovely campsite! The grass is soft and totally stone-free, it goes down to the lakeside, so there are ducks waddling around, quacking you awake in the morning and the hot showers are free.
In 2014, I hired a car and took to the east of Iceland, where I spent two or three nights at the lovely, lovely Fossatun. Lovely until the weekend, when my solitary pitch was invaded by several noisy families in caravans who saw fit to box in my little car – who saw fit to shove me out of the site I’d been enjoying. Not that I wasn’t glad to go – it had rained and my tent was half flooded, and I had some hideous thing that made the world spin like a tornado. The highlight of Fossatun was that it had two hot tubs and I very much enjoyed spending evenings in there.
And finally, last summer I camped at Egilsstaðir. Idyllic.
Look at that little lava cliff behind the campsite. And less than five minutes’ walk away is a roadhouse, so I generally went there first thing in the morning for my breakfast juice and some chocolate before I set off for the day. I don’t think I used the showers at Egilsstaðir. Don’t judge me – I went swimming every day, either in Egilsstaðir itself or at Eskifjörður.