Canadians in a Camper van
7 Days, 2 Canadians & 1 Campervan
Hello! Our names are Ryan and Pam and we recently traveled to Iceland for a 7 day adventure driving around the country in early June. We are from the east coast of Canada, and expecting our first baby this fall. This trip seemed like it would be the perfect combination of a relaxing vacation and an exciting adventure as our first ‘babymoon’.
We both love to travel and love all of the details involved in the planning – so fair warning this is going to be a long one! We are hoping our camper story helps others with their own planning when visiting this unique and beautiful location. We took a lot of good points from reading other people’s blogs before visiting Iceland and we just hope we can return the favor!
Day 1 – The Golden Circle
We arrived first thing in the morning after an overnight Icelandair flight (direct!) and headed right to the Rent.is pick up location. We had noticed a tip on an earlier blog that it was a quick walk over, and so instead of waiting for the shuttle we grabbed our backpacks and were off. This worked out really well because there was only one person finishing up checking in when we arrived, and it really was just around the corner.
We were checked in and shown the VW Caddy Camper that would be our home for the week. The individual working took us through all of the features of the camper and explained how to operate the cooler and heater. He took his time to explain the curtains we would put up at night, and how the bed folded down. Everything was brand new on our camper, with only 74 kms! There were really warm sleeping bags, pillows, and a sheet as well as a tote with dishes and pots. We were pleasantly surprised to see all the little storage areas in the camper; great to tuck away our things for the week!
There is a 24-hour Subway just a few minutes from the airport, so we swung in there for breakfast and then were on our way to the Blue Lagoon. Because of its proximity to the airport, it makes a great stop on either your first or last day. And for us, it was a great choice on day one to wake us up and refresh us after the night of travelling. Yes, it is touristy and probably overpriced, but it really is such a unique experience that it is worth including! The water is beautiful, and there were areas that were warmer than others so you could move around and find a comfortable spot. It did not seem at all crowded despite the number of people there. With Pam being 5 months pregnant, she had to be mindful of the water temperatures she was in, but felt really comfortable here.
After about an hour and a half we were heading towards the capital, with plans to go to the Garðabær area first for (the newly opened) Costco, Bónus (a national grocery store chain that is well priced for Iceland) and IKEA for supplies for the week. We were hoping to keep trip costs down by cooking our meals and taking advantage of our supplies and cooler. However, this was the first snag in our trip because everything was closed! A quick Google search showed it was a National Holiday (Whit Sunday) and basically everything was closed including all grocery stores.
We re-jigged our planned schedule and decided to see the sights in Reykjavik and the Golden Circle all in that day. Parking was free in the capital as it was a Sunday, and so we were able to park across the street from the Harpa concert hall. We browsed the inside, continued on to see the Sun Voyager sculpture on the waterfront and then wandered into the city to see the Hallgrímskirkja church. We stopped on the way for snacks from a local bakery, Braud&Co (very busy but so worth the short wait in line). Both the pretzel and cinnamon bun were absolutely delicious! Ryan grabbed a coffee next door at Reykjavik Roasters as well.
You are able to go to the top of the church for views of the city, but we didn’t end up doing this; instead sitting on the benches outside to eat. We meandered through the city and spotted a 10-11; a small convenience style grocery store. We knew it would be a bit pricey but took advantage of it being open and stocked up on some food until we could get to a bigger location the next day.
From here we set out to find the famous Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur hot dog stand (apparently Bill Clinton ate here once). There was a bit of a line but it moved pretty quickly and was worth the wait. Order it with everything for both raw and fried onions!
We then left the city to drive the Golden Circle route. First stop was Þingvellir National Park to walk to the Öxarárfoss waterfall and then continued on to Geysir/Strokkur. Strokkur ‘spouted’ several times while we were there, every 5 minutes or so. Next was Gullfoss waterfall (part of this road was a little rough due to some road work) but great views so it was worth it. We then turned back to stop at the Faxi waterfall on the way to Selfoss.
We had originally planned to stay the night in Selfoss, but we backtracked to the city to stay at the Lava Hostel campsite. It had a bonus of free laundry (so we were able to dry our towels from the Blue Lagoon), free hot showers, and access to a cooking facility.
Lesson Learned: Check for national holidays in advance as part of your planning! Also, having Wi-Fi is invaluable!! Rent.is vehicles all come with Wi-Fi included and we would have been lost without it. Similarly, Google Translate was a really handy app for us. You are able to download Icelandic as an offline option and we used it when looking at signs and product labels even when walking around on the go.
Day 2 – Driving to Kirkjubæjarklaustur
We made it to Costco! Unfortunately – so did everyone else. There was quite a line given it was the day after a holiday (and we think the Monday was a holiday for some as well) but it was worth it for us.
We were able to stock up on fruit and snacks to get us through the week, and didn’t have to worry about it in the camper with our included cooler. It runs while the camper is running, and you can flip a switch if the vehicle is off to keep it going. As some ideas – we found apples, oranges, bananas, bread, peanut butter, hummus, bread sticks, fresh ravioli, pesto, bagged salad and Skýr. With this haul we didn’t even need to go to the Bónus next door for any extras at that point.
We decided to run across to IKEA for an extra set of towels and a set of fleece throws, just in case we needed them (spoiler alert, we didn’t) as well as some plastic containers and baggies for some lunch / snack storage. We also grabbed lunch here of the standard IKEA fare.
This was when we could officially start our Ring Road island tour! If you are just starting planning, the Ring Road is Route 1, and it circles the entire country.
On to see more waterfalls! First off was Seljalandsfoss. It was a chilly day but still worth getting wet to walk around and behind the waterfall; a very neat experience. Not too much further down the road was Skógafoss. Another must see waterfall just off the main road.
Unfortunately we did not take in the Sólheimasandur airplane wreckage, despite it being one of our highlights that we were looking forward to coming into the trip. It was raining quite a bit, very cold, and getting late in the day. We read it is an hour hike each way and although it looked well marked from the parking lot, we decided against it.
Thankfully the rain stopped and we had enough energy to visit the basalt columns on the Reynisfjara black sand beach. This would make a fantastic stop for nature loving photographers (as does the majority of the island!)
After these stops, we quickly ran out of gas (as in we were tired, not our car). It was very reassuring to have a fuel efficient diesel vehicle that told you how many kilometres were left in the tank. We stopped at Kirkjubær II campsite which had a heated kitchen area and good bathroom facilities, but no free showers.
Lesson Learned: The Icelandic weather really is as unpredictable as they say. We thought we were prepared, but really did not expect it to be quite as cold as it was with the added dampness. We were fine in the camper, but still wanted to stop at the sites and it really was chilly getting out of the car.
Fuel is expensive in Iceland (along with most things on the island when compared to Canada). Prices varied from gas station to gas station and we also noticed some of the cheaper prices were on the East side of the island (except for Costco gas, if you have the time to endure the line-ups).
Day 3 – Southeast Iceland
We were up early as usual and off to the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon.
As throughout our trip, we made several stops along the way for extra picture taking.
You could see the landscape change in front of your eyes when driving along the highway and had our first glimpse of the massive glaciers in the distance.
Read More: Travel apps for Iceland
We pulled into the three different parking lots around the lagoon and beach area to get photos of the floating ice and also chunks that were washed up on the beach on their way out to sea.
Next up was a little pit-stop in Höfn for a snack (this was likely the only named area we were pronouncing correctly all week, sounds like ‘hup’).
We parked at end of the harbour peninsula area (Ósland) to eat our packed sandwiches with a nice view. There are lots of birds in this area as it is a conservation area.
There was a portion of the ring road that was not paved (around the Berufjörður fjord) after we left Höfn; approximately 8 kms or so of unpaved road. Just had to take our time and it was fine!
Our next stop was a small roadside café/restaurant at an organic farm called Havari. We had previously read about this place and wanted to try their vegan sausage (pulsur). It did not disappoint! Delicious coffee as well. We noticed the menu included waffles that smelled really good. Don’t be deterred by the lack of signage, it is open!
We had read that the 92/96 route was actually bit of a better option than staying on the 1. Plus, it was closer to the coast with some more chances of ocean views. We choose this route on the way Egilsstaðir.
From Egilsstaðir we decided to go to Borgarfjörður Eystri, about an hour drive away. This was one of our more interesting drives as it was a mix of paved and gravel roads that went through some pretty high snow covered mountains. Again, taking your time it was fine but just to keep in mind!
The main attraction for us in this small village was the puffin colony about 5 minutes past the campsite that we stayed at that night. There is also a turf house in the middle of town that provides cute pictures (but not as cute as those puffins!)
The main campsite has an amazing landscape backdrop with those snow covered mountains, and had a cute kitchen / eating area (although unheated) and good bathrooms.
Lesson Learned: Buy all of the Skýr! We brought instant oatmeal for breakfasts, and the Skýr gave us such yummy and filling extras each morning. Costco carried quite a few flavours, and we went through 3 tubs (baked apple was so good!)
Also, get the gravel insurance. We think it’s a personal choice for how much risk you are willing to take with the various insurances, but for us having the gravel protection at such a reasonable cost made us much more comfortable the entire week. It is near impossible to avoid gravel roads (and we don’t mean F-roads) when in Iceland, and you don’t want a gravel road to stop you from getting to some of these amazing sites.
Day 4 – From Egilsstaðir to Akureyri
Although we had been over to see the puffins the previous evening, we decided to quickly run back this morning. It had been a bit rainy the day before, and it was worth the trip back as more of the little birds were out around the cliffs, ducking in and out of their nesting burrows.
They have the cutest orange webbed feet that they lift up as brakes when they come in for landing, and would hop quite close to you to pose for photos.
Read more: North Iceland Travel Guide
We headed back out of town the way we came, back over the mountains to Egilsstaðir and then on towards the northern Iceland highlights.
This route took us over a mountain range we really weren’t expecting as part of the landscape, between Egilsstaðir and Dettifoss. You climbed quickly through the green farmlands of sheep (have we mentioned the sheep yet? No? Because there are sheep – everywhere! And, at least this time of year, there are also small baby sheep jumping and playing) and all of a sudden we were surrounded by the most amazing snow covered landscape with even higher mountains around us.
There was one particular large pull-off (look for the small signs with a picnic table / tree as advance notice of the pull-off areas) to the left with a great spot for pictures of the landscape.
We opted for the western road (862) to see Dettifoss, and it was nice and paved the entire way to the falls (although the road changed to what looked like rough gravel afterwards if you were to continue on past). There was a short walk from the parking lot to the viewing areas, but a number of platforms gave you great views. We could see people on the other side who had taken the first turn off, but they didn’t seem to have the same built up areas as our side.
Soon after returning to the ring road you can access Krafla’s Viti Crater, on the site of the geothermal power station, and then continue on to Mývatn. We decided not to spend time here, seeing sun in the distance and deciding to instead chase after that. The lake did look beautiful, with lots of geese flying in the area. We also saw (and heard) all of the midge flies hitting the windshield as we drove though!
Goðafoss is right on the main road and really worth the stop. For these two Canadians, it was like a mini Niagara Falls spot, with a nice set up / viewing platform.
Akureyri is not much farther, and provides some great views as you head towards Iceland’s second largest city. After all the small towns you have recently gone through, Akureyri seems quite big! We wanted to take a peek at the church, Akureyrarkirkja, and then strolled through the nearby garden park. Unfortunately, that sun we were chasing was still being quite elusive, so it was chilly!
We found the Hamrar campsite, with its very modern clean washroom facilities and settled in for the night. The showers were free, but seemed busy in the morning so you may want to plan ahead if you are looking to take advantage. There was also a reasonably sized kitchen eating area, which again seemed to be quite busy with later diners arriving as we cleaned up our things and left.
Lesson Learned: Weather can change unpredictably – be flexible in your schedule! The mountain ranges in the North East are awe inspiring but can bring snowy weather!
When there are spots to pull over for photo opportunities; do it! There are not really shoulders on the road, so take advantage of pull-over areas to safely take in the scenery and take some pictures. We had several days that included quite a bit of driving but we are used to driving a lot and didn’t mind it at all. We did, however, stop often to take pictures of our beautiful surroundings.
Day 5 – From Akureyri to Ólafsvík
Leaving Akureyri, we turned onto the Vatnsnes Peninsula to head up to the Ósar seal colony. We took the 716, joining onto the 711, which again were both decent gravel roads (although covered our camper with dust!). The seals were out, but a bit too far to really see well. You could just see them laying all over the sandbar, and playing in the choppy waves.
Just past here is the parking area for the Hvítserkur rock formation. As an added highlight, we noticed a number of horses running in the field next to the parking, and when we walked over to take some photos they all ran over and lined the fence to say hello. Similar to the sheep, we were surprised with how many horses were spotting the landscape over the country. They seem to be a bit stockier than the horses we are used to, but really handsome and with the most dramatic sweepy ‘hair’ in their manes.
After rejoining the ring road, we turned on to the Snæfellsnes peninsula and towards Stykkishólmur. Along the way, we were granted some amazing views; did we mention the sun was out? The car was finally reading 10 + degrees and we were so happy to feel some warmth in the air. When you pass the islands of Hvammsfjörður, you can even spot a rusty shipwreck if you look closely and the tides are cooperating.
The town of Stykkishólmur is really cute, with a lupine covered hill as a backdrop to the harbour and colourful buildings lining the area. You can climb the hill and see the short orange lighthouse building right on top.
We again made it further this day than planned, heading past the Kirkjufell mountain (stop at the parking lot near the base to walk around the triple waterfall for that infamous shot), and on to Ólafsvík and the campsite there.
Maybe it was because it was such a beautiful day, but the setting for this campsite was lovely. The mountains and surrounding fields were lush and green and the sun was very welcome. The kitchen was clean and new, as well as the washroom facilities.
Lesson Learned: This applied to the whole week, but we found by getting up a bit earlier than the other campers – we had the kitchen and/or shower facilities all to ourselves. Just made it that little bit easier to clean dishes and cook without worrying about getting in anyone else’s way.
Day 6 – From Ólafsvík to Mosfellsbær
Up early (can you see a theme?) and on the road to see Sjómannagarður, two small turf houses in Hellissandur. You can pay to go inside the small museum, but we were a bit too early and really just wanted to see the outside. After this, you drive right past the Hellissandur radio tower at Gufuskálar which is apparently the tallest structure in Western Europe (although it didn’t really seem that tall…).
Arrived at the Djúpalónssandur black sand beach, and were the only ones there in the parking lot. Headed down past the lava formation landscape to the beach and checked out the lifting stones (there is a descriptive signboard with all of the details). This beach is also home to the remains of a shipwreck, so be sure to see these pieces as well.
After this we stopped at Lóndrangar for a few pictures of the distinctive rock formations. You can park and walk from each side but one also has a neat lighthouse. We were fortunate to have great weather again; blue skies making a great backdrop.
The next stop was Arnarstapi; a cute little village with many modern rental cottages. There is also a picturesque setting of an adorable house with majestic mountains in the background. This is similar to what you can see in many different areas of the Ring Road, but this one seems popular for pictures as we had come across pictures of this exact house before (and of course we had to make our best effort to capture that same shot).
We also strolled around the coastal paths and got a great view of the Gatklettur rock arch. Again, great photo ops with gorgeous weather!
Continuing on, we stopped at Búðir, with a unique black church. Yet again, this one of those photos that we had come across in our research before coming to Iceland and we wanted to get our very own picture.
Soon after was the Ytri Tunga beach, known for its seals. Our timing wasn’t great at this stop as there was also a huge tour bus pulled into the small parking area but that seems to be more common as you get closer to the capital city. The seals were not close to shore, but we could see them in the distance.
The next natural wonder on our list was the Gerðuberg basalt columns. And from here you could also see the Eldborg volcanic caldera in the distance. We did not hike into the crater but had a good view from the side road near it.
Our last planned stop on our Snæfellsnes peninsula tour was Borgarnes. We stopped at the park in the center of town to eat our sandwiches on the picnic tables and enjoy the continuing nice weather. After this, however, was one of the low points of our trip as a local, elderly man backed into our camper van, slightly scraping the front bumper. Adding to our stress in the situation was that he left before working anything out with us, but fortunately we got a picture of his license plate. Luckily for us, a police officer appeared soon after and we were able to file a report and give him all of info. He assured us that everything was okay, but we were still very anxious about our rental return the next day.
We left Borgarnes with worried thoughts and found the Mosskógar campsite in the Mosfellsbær area. This campsite was really cute, with small rows of hedges dividing the camping spaces. Note, it was cash only, so we were really thankful to have just enough to cover it (it was the first and only cash we spent all week; chip-enabled credit cards are widely accepted). There was a well-stocked cooking area inside of a greenhouse and two free outdoor shower stalls.
Lesson Learned: In any type of accident situation, get as much info as you can! Even though the other individual was uncooperative, getting his licence plate info was vital for us. And also, remember the police are your friends! The officer called the Rent.is office and explained the situation for us while we were still there on scene.
Day 7 – Driving to Keflavik
Our car return was still heavy on our minds. Both because it meant the trip was over but also because we were so unsure of the implications of the damage from the day before.
Likely because of this we didn’t do much on the final day; headed back to Reykjavik to walk around Lake Tjörnin and then went back to IKEA just to stroll through the store as well as check out the local offerings of the Bónus grocery store chain.
Read more: Camper pickup & dropoff
We are very happy to say that things could not have gone better at the car return. We brought the car into the gravel parking lot across the street marked with a car return sign, and Ryan went to grab someone working to see what we needed to do. They came out to look at the car, but because we had the police report and the individual’s information who hit us – we did not have to worry about insurance issues. We were so relieved! You just don’t know what will happen when you are in those situations, but we were so pleasantly surprised with the treatment by Rent.is. They were professional and took it seriously, but still very friendly and courteous. The shuttle was busy so we made the short walk back to the airport and were on our way back home.
Lesson Learned: Check with Rent.is during check-in but we learned you do not clean the car on your return. We stopped at a gas station to wash it down after noticing it was so dust covered, but they would much prefer to do it themselves to help protect the car.
Lastly, buy some Icelandic Liquorice! We read that you should look for the ‘authentic’ stuff that is made in Iceland.
Thanks for making it all the way through our camper story (maybe we should have called it a camper novel?). Enjoy your vacation and we hope this helped you with your own planning!
– Ryan and Pam
Read more: Elli on Camper Tour
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