A travel blog about Iceland

Iceland winter camping – a guide for absolute beginners

Nathalie Staub & JoHey, guys! That´s me, Nathalie. And the handsome guy on my left is Jo. We are students from Germany.
Jo turned 30 this January, so I wanted to make him a special gift. And what could be more special than visiting Iceland, the so-called island of fire and ice, the island of Vikings and Game of Thrones shooting locations?
So, here we go…

Day 1: Monday, 28th of February 2017. Start. 

– Getting there
– Thermal bath @Blue Lagoon
– Dinner @Lebowski Bar (Reykjavik)
– Overnight stay @Reykjavik
On approach Iceland welcomes us with best weather conditions. In bright sunshine and under a clear blue sky we get a pleasant view at the island. But…wait… With a slightly queasy feeling we recognize that really every corner seems to be covered with snow. For sure, it´s winter. But somehow, we haven´t expected it to be that wintry (the weather prospects the week before made us think it´s going to be pretty much like in Germany). It is becoming increasingly clear that this is going to be an adventurous trip. Not later than making the first step out of the terminal it´s certain: we need to put on the long underwear immediately and not remove it for the rest of the week. Plus: warm snow boots instead of trekking boots would have been a desirable choice, too (we are going to have cold feet for the rest of the week).
Anyways…The camper, our home for the next week, is ready to go.
After relievedly recognizing that the Ring road, on which we want to circuit the island during this week, isn´t snow-clad at all, we are heading for our first destination; the Blue Lagoon, since our defined goal for this vacation is to visit one thermal bath a day, to keep our Wellness level as high and our bodies as clean as possible. The Blue Lagoon is just around the corner of the Airport and one of the tourist hotspots. Probably that’s the reason why the charmless young woman by the entrance counter makes us face the truth, that the Blue Lagoon is booked up for the next 176524 days!
So here is our first tip for you: Iceland travelers: If you want to visit the Blue Lagoon, book your ticket before your journey.

Day 2: Tuesday, 28th of February 2017. West. 

– Thermal bath @Lýsuhólslaug (Lýsuhóll)
– Overnight stay @Akureyri, parking place across the city
Akureyri Camping
On the second day, we are heading for the Lýsuhólslaug thermal bath, on the peninsula Snæfellsnes. Instead of a tourist attraction we want to try it with an insider tip today to promote our wellness plan. Our guidebook promises us a “dolphin smooth skin after a bath in the seaweed broth”. Upon a two-hour drive and just arriving in Lýsuhóll, I come up with the idea to read the guidebook article about Lýsuhólslaug again, just to recognize that it is opened from June to August! Are you serious?! Some woman picking up their children confirm us, that the thermal bath is used as a school during winter.
Second tip: Always keep in mind: On a road trip, the journey is the destination, so there are no detours.
Nevertheless, we decide to plan our next destinations more efficiently to make sure that we do not end up stinky and frustrated.
Proceeding to Akureyri we get to see our first Northern lights. Not more than a greyish shadow, I first mistake them with a cloud. Even caught on picture, they are barely to see. Unfortunately, this is the best catch we make. Two days later, we meet a Canadian couple. He shows us some of his pictures, showing beautiful Northern Lights in green and pink meandering over the whole sky at Goðafoss the night before. Damn! We´ve been there, just the same day as them, but a couple of hours before.
They admit, that she forces him to stay up every night and wait for Northern lights to show. OK. Such commitment had to be rewarded.

Day 3: Wednesday, 1st of March 2017. North.

Hófsós swimming pool in panorama
– Thermal bath @Sundlaugin á Hofsós
– Lunch @Hamborgarafabrikkan (Akureyri) -> best burgers in the world!
– Stop @Goðafoss
– Overnight stay @Vógar Camping Ground
This day is full of highlights: pure sunshine all over the day, our first successful thermal bath visit at the most amazing spot you can imagine (an absolute must-see!), beautiful Akureyri (our favorite town in Iceland so far), the best lunch of the holiday and our first night on an official Camping Ground. Perfect day!

Day 4: Thursday, 2nd of March 2017. North East. 

– Stop @Grjótagja + Hverfell
Thermal bath @Mývatn Nature Baths (Jarðböðin)
– Overnight stay @Berunes Camping (beautiful campsite by the
  sea with the very nice owner Ólafur )
Camping in Berunes
So, as the nature bath just opens at 12 o´clock, we spent the morning exploring the region a bit. Today it is cloudy and foggy (the only day without sunshine during the whole vacation!). The sight is quite bad, so we don´t really get to see the beauty of Mývatn. As confessing Game of Thrones fans, we are lucky to find out that there is a shooting location just around the corner of the camping site. At the steaming crevices of Grjótagja we find ourselves staring into the cave where John Snow lost his virginity. After climbing on top of the pseudo crater of Hverfell, we enjoy the sulfurous water of the wonderful Mývatn Nature Baths.

Day 5: Friday, 3rd of March 2017. South East.

– Stop @Höfn
– Stop @Jökulsárlón
Panorama over Jökulsárlón glacier lake
– Stop @Skaftafell (Svartifoss)
– Dinner @ Suður-Vík (Vík í Mýrdal)
– Overnight stay @Skogár Camping Ground
The track between Berunes and Lón is our favorite part of the whole ring road. The wide blue sea on the left, amazing rock formations and glaciers on the right, reindeer herds and seabird colonies, the curvy road´s up and down, the roughness and vastness, and far and wide nobody than us. How can you not fall in love with this island?

Day 6: Saturday, 4th of March 2017. South+South West.

– Thermal bath @Gamla Laugin (Secret Lagoon, Fluðir)
– Stop @Reykjavik, tattoo time @Irezumi Ink Iceland
– Dinner @Hamborgarafabrikkan (We had to come back! and don´t want to leave )
– Overnight stay @Þingvellir Visitor Center, parking lot
Throughout the week, we are thinking of getting an Icelandic stave tattoo as a souvenir. Today is the day, to get it done! After enjoying our last thermal bath for this holiday, spontaneously, we call at Irezumi Ink in Reykjavik and luckily Angelito, the owner and artist, has time for us. One hour later we sit in Angel´s studio getting our tattoos, a nice massage on his massage waiting chair and having a lot of fun chatting with him. Great guy, great studio, great tattoos! We are happy We can´t imagine a more appropriate finish for this lovely day, than going to burger paradise Hamborgarafabrikkan one more time XD

Day 7: Sunday, 5th of March 2017. 

Gullfoss waterfall
– Stop @Golden Circle (Alþingi + Öxarafoss, Geysir, Gullfoss)
– Delicious cake @ Gullfoss Visitor Center
– Dinner @Ráin (Keflavik) (this location is like time travelling on a cruise ship of the 70´s, in a bad   way)
– Overnight stay @Keflavik Airport, parking lot
Total: 2423 km.

Day 8: Sunday, 5th of March 2017. Flight home.

So, to summarize our Iceland experience, here are a few fun facts and quirks we observed during our stay and some (hopefully) useful tips for a winter camping adventure in Iceland
Luggage. Don’t use a suitcase for your luggage (like us)! The suitcase trouble will start on your way from the Airport to the car rental. The way is full of snow or snow mud and you are pulling it through this wet sh*** And of course, one of you is going to lay the dirty suitcase on the mattress instead of the storage space beneath it. The trouble then continues periodically when you try to get something out of the suitcase, because you can´t just lay it on the street because everywhere is snow. So you have to put it on the passenger seat then to be able to open it. And then all the doors are open, you and your companion are freezing to death and that just because you forgot to take out fresh underpants the five times you did this luggage juggling before… Use a backpack or bag. It will make your trip significantly easier.
Drying. Drying your wet bathing clothes and towels on a road trip in winter can be challenging. One of our guidebooks described special devices for that use which are installed in the changing room area of the thermal baths. We don’t know if they do exist, we didn’t see one or where too stupid to recognize them. So, we helped ourselves by putting our stuff on the dashboard and tried to dry it by means of the heating system and the greenhouse alike climate the burning sun produced under the windscreen. The auxiliary heating did the rest throughout the night. Luckily, that worked out surprisingly well. (For those, who aren´t stingy like us: you can avoid all this, and just borrow swimsuit and towels at the thermal baths.)
Survival food. The perfect Icelandic camping menu: start with Skýr. Continue with the Icelandic flatbread “flatkökur”. Enjoy it pure, or topped with Skýr or thumb thick slices of cheese. To keep the doctor away, end with sliced apple. Repeat as often as your tummy tells you to. Fits for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Affordable, healthy, and really yummy. No cooking, no dish washing.
Foodporn. Go to HAMBORGARAFABRIKKAN! Get one of their delightful burgers (we recommend the factory mini burgers – 4 for one person of course) and a slice of the Oreo Skýr cake and find yourself in paradise. We decided to never eat burgers somewhere else again and even considered to cancel the rest of the trip and just move in there.
Keeping yourself clean, warm and relaxed. Try to go to a thermal bath as often as you can. So yes, another challenge we found ourselves confronted with, was finding a suitable place to stay overnight. During winter a lot of campsites are closed and so are the bathrooms they offer. No bathroom, no shower. Thankfully, Iceland is not just an island of ice but of fire, too. Fire which makes it possible to enjoy the luxury of a naturally heated outdoor bath in polar cold. And luckily the Icelanders love bathing as much as us, so you find such thermal baths even in the most remote places.
Safety first. Bring some crampons or borrow some. We couldn´t make it to the beautiful Svartifoss, because the path was so icy, that Jo slipped and fell on his head. After one hour hiking up the hill, we then had to cancel on half way and go back to the car and Jo was cranky for the rest of the day.
Game of drones. What is it with these drones nowadays? It seems as if the simple selfie stick has gone out of style. Drones are the new must-have. If you thought these high-tech futuristic toys were reserved for military operations or high-end movie productions, you were wrong. They are everywhere. Drone squadrons circle above every sight, ruthlessly humming like an apocalyptic bee plague. So please people, do yourself a favor and leave your spyware at home.
Major. We think Andy (Little Britain) would find himself in paradise, if he visited Iceland. The Icelanders have brought the monster truck to an unseen level of craziness. Take a normal car, Jeep, transporter, bus or whatever else vehicle comes to your mind, install some ridiculous humongous tires, add self-made looking steps to make sure you will still be able to get into the car – et voilà! The result will even make Americans jealous.
Minor. We have never seen such perfect snowflakes before. They look like you expect a snowflake to look like. Somehow, snowflakes in Germany don’t look like snowflakes.
Icecold. Even if the thermometer showed around -5°C, for us it felt much colder. Despite several layers of warm clothing, we froze miserably within minutes after getting outside. The Icelandic cold feels different. That makes it even more astonishing how the Icelanders cope with the cold. You can easily distinguish the tourists from the locals by their outfit. While the ones try to cover every inch of their body with outdoor functional clothing, moonboots, fur caps, ski gloves and down coats, for the others it seems to be the right time to welcome summer in knuckle free joggers, sneakers and a shirt.
In this sense, that definitely hasn´t been our last Iceland trip. We will come back, experience another Icelandic adventure and collect more fun facts. But next time in summer
See you soon Iceland!
Happy Camping!  #CamperStories

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