4 Campers, 4 Nights, endless summer days

Thinking of an Iceland stopover? If you’re heading to Europe or North America, it’s the perfect way to get a taste of Iceland.

For our family’s second trip to Iceland (my third), we wanted the freedom to explore South Iceland without a rigid itinerary. With the midnight sun on our side, we had plans to spend long days experiencing all that Iceland has to offer. So, we booked a Happy Camper van to get the flexibility we wanted on the road. It was the ideal choice.

Here are some tips for planning a short family stopover in Iceland and getting the most out of your experience:

1. Book your Happy Camper well in advance. There’s no need to pre-book your campsites, even in high season. We typically pulled into campgrounds between 10 and 11 p.m. when we were ready to settle in for the night. Campgrounds average around 4.500 to 6.000 Krona for a family of four in a Happy Camper.

Our Happy Camper 3 van – perfect size for a family of four. Extra bonus: There’s room to stand as you prepare your meal or do your dishes at the sink.

2. Do some advance research. With a short stopover of 3 to 7 days, focus on one area of Iceland you might like to explore. While you can feasibly drive the Ring Road all around Iceland in 4 or more days, you might find it’s not quite enough time to breathe in the beauty of Iceland. A better option, especially if you are travelling with children, is to pick a corner or section of Iceland. We chose Southwest Iceland, including the wild and untouched Reykjanes peninsula, Thingvellir National Park, the geothermal area at Hveragerdi, countless waterfalls, nature baths at Laugarvatn and a beautiful hike to one of Iceland’s oldest swimming pools.

The Secret Lagoon in Flúðir offers a mystical setting for soaking your weary bones after a day of hiking.

People enjoying a soak at Laugarvatn Fontana

At Laugarvatn Fontana, enjoy the natural steam baths, mineral pools and saunas. You can also do a bakery tour to see how Icelandic lava bread is baked in the hot sand.

3. Find out what’s at the top of every family member’s wish list. Do you have a daughter who’s been dreaming of riding an Icelandic horse or a son who wants to walk on a glacier? Perhaps you want to soak in a geothermal pool or snorkel between the North American and European tectonic plates. You may wish to book these experiences in advance to make sure you don’t miss out.

A family poses at Seljavallalaug pool

A short half-hour hike through beautiful countryside will get you to the not-so-secret (but well-hidden) Seljavallalaug pool. It was built in 1923. Bring a donation to contribute to the maintenance of this treasure.

Dramatic landscape by Seljavallalaug pool
The dramatic scenery around the Seljavallalaug pool will make you want to stay for hours.

4. Pack for all kinds of weather. Keep in mind that the weather in Iceland can be unpredictable. Summer days can get cold, windy and sometimes wet. But as Icelanders say, there’s no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing. Bring warm jackets, hats, gloves, fleece, rain jackets and rain pants. That way, there is no stopping you from enjoying nature.

A gorge at Thingvellir National Park

Thingvellir National Park offers short and long hikes through moss covered lava rocks and gorges.

Happy Campers at Thingvellir National Park

Four happy campers hiking in Thingvellir National Park.

5. Have a plan B ready. If you encounter a very rainy day and the kids just don’t want to go for your planned hike, Iceland’s geothermal pools, hot springs and nature baths offer the perfect alternative. It’s a great way to mix with the locals and meet other travellers. We made a point of finding a pool, hotpot or geothermal river to soak in every day in Iceland.

Overlooking Reykjadalur hot river

The Hveragerdi Hot Spring River Trail will lead you up the mountain to this magical geothermal river. Hike up early in the morning to avoid the crowds. And don’t forget your bathing suit!

6. Remember that nature never sleeps. The beauty of visiting Iceland in summer is that the days go on forever. It means that your short stopover will feel like a longer getaway if you take advantage of the longer days to keep exploring. Be sure to visit museums and historical sites, shops and grocery stores during business hours. If you plan to go swimming, most community pools close between 9 and 10 p.m. But nature? It is open all day and all night, giving you the freedom to hike and view waterfalls, geysirs or Iceland’s rugged coastline at any hour of the day. There’s nothing better than sipping hot chocolate made on your Happy Camper stove next to a black sand beach or moss covered lava field.

So if your family is thinking of Iceland, don’t hesitate. Each of you will be rewarded with something you’ll love, whether it is learning about Viking history, experiencing the thrill of a backcountry trip, watching the landscape ooze and transform right before your eyes, or simply soaking up the beauty around you.

2 boys sitting in front of Öxarárfoss waterfall

Öxarárfoss waterfall in Thingvellir National Park is one of 10,000 spectacular waterfalls to discover in Iceland.

A view along the Reykjanes peninsula coastline

A drive through the Reykjanes Peninsula, a UNESCO Global Geopark, offers many jaw-dropping moments. Explore the rugged coastline, haunting lava fields and historical lighthouses.

A boy standing in front of Reykjanesviti

The pretty town of Garður sits on the tip of the Reykjanes Peninsula. On a clear day, you can see the impressive Snæfellsjökull glacier in West Iceland.