Iceland has a broad range of accommodation, but demand often outstrips supply. If you're visiting in the shoulder and high seasons (from May to September), book early.
- Campgrounds No requirement to book, so camping allows some degree of spontaneity – but also exposure to the elements. Campervans are very popular.
- Hostels Popular budget options, spread across the country.
- Guesthouses Run the gamut from homestyle B&Bs to large hotel-like properties.
- Hotels From small, bland and business-like to designer dens with all the trimmings (and prices to match).
- Mountain huts A basic option for hikers and explorers, but book ahead.
The Lowdown on Iceland Accommodation
Iceland's accommodation ranges from basic hikers' huts to business-standard hotels, hostels, working farms, guesthouses, apartments, cottages and school-based summer rooms. Luxury and boutique hotels are predominantly found in Reykjavík and tourism hot spots in the southwest, with a select few in regional pockets.
There's been a boom of new hotels and guesthouses, and many existing options have expanded and upgraded to cater to the rapid increase in visitor numbers. Even still, demand often outstrips supply in popular tourist centres (eg Reykjavík, the south and Mývatn). Summer prices are high, and getting higher with increasing demand.
For the cost, accommodation is often of a lower standard than you might expect from a developed European destination, though that is changing in newer hotel construction. In older places, rooms are generally spotless but they are usually small, with thin walls and limited facilities.
Please note the following:
- Between June and August travellers are recommended to book all accommodation in advance (note there is no need to prebook campsites). May and September are following this trend. Reykjavík is busy year-round.
- Tourist information centres and the regions' official tourism websites generally have details of all the accommodation in their town/area. Larger centres might have a booking service, where they will book accommodation for a small fee (usually around 700kr). Note, this service is for walk-in visitors, not for prebooking via email. And don't rely on it – areas can and do book out quickly, or you may find the nearest available room is miles from your intended stop.
- The best rate can often be found by contacting the property directly. Some properties don't have their own websites, however, preferring all bookings via third-party websites. These properties may also have a Facebook page – it's worth checking.
- Prices for summer 2018 are generally listed in reviews. Travellers must expect that prices will rise from year to year. Websites list up-to-date prices.
- From September to May, most guesthouses and hotels offer discounts of 10% to 50% on their summer prices. Check websites.
- Some hotels and guesthouses close during winter; where this is the case, opening times are given in reviews. Many hotels and guesthouses close over the Christmas–New Year period, though that is a second high-season in Reykjavík, with most hotels open there. If no opening times are given, accommodation is open year-round.
- Some accommodations list prices in euro, to ward against currency fluctuations, but payment is made in Icelandic krónur (kr).
- Guesthouses and farmstays can offer numerous options, eg camping; rooms with/without bathrooms, with made-up beds or sleeping bags; cottages with/without kitchen and/or bathroom. Check websites for full coverage.
- Reviews indicate whether a private bathroom is offered; whether linen is included or if there is a sleeping-bag option; and if breakfast is included in the price.
Tjaldsvæði (organised campsites) are found in almost every town, at some rural farmhouses and along major hiking trails. The best sites have washing machines, cooking facilities and hot showers, but others just have a cold-water tap and a toilet block. Some are attached to the local sundlaug (swimming pool), with shower facilities provided by the pool for a small fee.
Icelandic weather is notoriously fickle, and if you intend to camp it’s wise to invest in a good-quality tent. There are a few outfits in Reykjavík that offer rental of camping equipment, and some car-hire companies can also supply you with gear such as tents, sleeping mats and cooking equipment.
With the increase in visitors to Iceland, campgrounds are getting busier, and service blocks typically housing two toilets and one shower are totally insufficient for coping with the demand of dozens of campers. If the wait is long, consider heading to the local swimming pool and pay to use the amenities there.
It is rarely necessary (or possible) to book a camping spot in advance. Many small-town campsites are unstaffed – look for a contact number for the caretaker posted on the service block, or an instruction to head to the tourist information centre or swimming pool to pay; alternatively, a caretaker may visit the campsite in the evening to collect fees.
A few things to keep in mind:
- When camping in parks and reserves the usual rules apply: leave sites as you find them; use biodegradable soaps; and carry out your rubbish.
- Campfires are not allowed, so bring a stove. Butane cartridges and petroleum fuels are available in petrol stations. Blue Campingaz cartridges are not always readily available; the grey Coleman cartridges are more common.
- Camping with a tent or campervan/caravan usually costs 1200kr to 1900kr per person. Electricity is often an additional 800kr. Many campsites charge for showers.
- There's a ‘lodging tax’ of 333kr per site; some places absorb this cost in the per-person rate, others make you pay it in addition to the per-person rate.
- Consider purchasing the good-value Camping Card (www.campingcard.is), which costs €149 and covers 28 nights of camping at 41 campsites throughout the country for two adults and up to four children from mid-May to mid-September. Note that the card doesn’t include the lodging tax, or any charges for electricity or showers. Full details online.
- Most campsites open mid-May to mid-September. Large campsites that also offer huts or cottages may be open year-round. This is a fluid situation, as an increasing number of visitors are hiring campervans in the cooler months and looking to camp with facilities – ask at local tourist offices for info and advice.
- If camping in summer, be aware that if the weather turns bad and you'd like to sleep with a roof over your head, you'll be extremely lucky to find last-minute availability in guesthouses or hostels.
- Free accommodation directory Áning (available from tourist information centres) lists many of Iceland’s campsites, but is not exhaustive.
New laws regarding camping were introduced in late 2015, primarily to curtail the boom in campervans and caravans pulling over on roadsides or in car parks for the night instead of at organised campgrounds. This habit is offensive to locals, and has resulted in a big increase in people using nature as their bathroom – not cool.
The laws are outlined under the heading 'Where can I camp in Iceland?' on the website of Umhverfisstofnun, the Environment Agency of Iceland (www.ust.is). The bottom line – if you have a camping vehicle of any type (campervan, caravan, tent trailer etc), you must camp in proper, marked campgrounds.
Laws are slightly more relaxed for hikers and cyclists, but there are still rules to follow regarding obtaining landowner permission, being an acceptable distance from official campgrounds, ensuring you don't set up more than the allowed number of tents, and ensuring you're not camping on cultivated land.
Bright-orange survival huts are situated on high mountain passes and along remote coastlines (and are usually marked on maps of the country). Huts are stocked with emergency rations, fuel and blankets (and a radio to contact help). Note that it is illegal to use the huts in non-emergency situations.
Many rural farmhouses offer campsites, sleeping-bag spaces, made-up guestrooms, and cabins and cottages. Over time, some ‘farmhouses’ have evolved into large country hotels.
Facilities vary: some farms provide meals or have a guest kitchen, some have outdoor hot-pots (hot tubs), and many provide horse riding or can organise activities such as fishing. Roadside signs signal which farmhouses provide accommodation and what facilities they offer.
Rates are similar to guesthouses in towns, with sleeping-bag accommodation around 7500kr and made-up beds from 11,000kr to 18,000kr per person. Breakfast is usually included in the made-up room price, while an evening meal (generally served at a set time) costs around 7000kr.
Some 170 farm properties are members of Hey Iceland (www.heyiceland.is), formerly called Icelandic Farm Holidays. Its website allows you to helpfully search by area, type (hotel, B&B, self-catering, hostel etc) and to further narrow down the search with categories such as farmstay, or meals on-site. The company also arranges package self-drive holidays.
The Icelandic term gistiheimilið (guesthouse) covers a broad range of properties, from family homes renting out a few rooms, to a cluster of self-contained cottages, to custom-built blocks of guestrooms.
Guesthouses vary enormously in character, from stylish, contemporary options to those with plain, chintzy or dated decor. A surprisingly high number only have rooms with shared bathroom.
Most are comfortable and cosy, with guest kitchens, TV lounges and buffet-style breakfasts (either included in the price or for around 2200kr extra). If access to a self-catering kitchen is important to you, it pays to ask beforehand to ensure availability.
Some guesthouses offer sleeping-bag accommodation at a price significantly reduced from that of a made-up bed. Many places don’t advertise a sleeping-bag option, so it pays to ask.
As a general guide, sleeping-bag accommodation costs 7500kr per night, double rooms in summer 17,000kr to 26,000kr, and self-contained units excluding linen from 19,000kr. Guesthouse rooms with their own bathroom are often similarly priced to hotel rooms.
Iceland has 34 well-maintained hostels administered by Hostelling International Iceland (www.hostel.is). In Reykjavík, Akureyri and a handful of other places, there are also independent backpacker hostels. Bookings are recommended at all of them, especially from June to August.
About half the HI hostels open year-round. Check online for opening-date info.
All hostels offer hot showers, cooking facilities and sleeping-bag accommodation, and most offer private rooms (some with private bathroom). Most prices now include linen, but if they don't, the price to hire linen is around 2000kr per person per stay.
Breakfast (where available) costs 1700kr to 2300kr.
Join Hostelling International (www.hihostels.com) in your home country to benefit from HI member discounts of 10% per person. Nonmembers pay from about 3800kr to 6500kr for a dorm bed with linen; single rooms start at 7500kr, and double rooms range from 10,000kr to 18,000kr (more for private bathrooms). Children aged four to 12 get a discount of 1500kr.
Every major town has at least one business-style hotel, usually featuring comfortable but innocuous rooms with private bathroom, phone, TV and sometimes a minibar. Invariably hotels also have decent restaurants.
Summer prices for singles/doubles start at around 20,000/28,000kr and usually include a buffet breakfast. Rates for a double room at a nice but non-luxurious hotel in a popular tourist area in peak summer can easily top 34,000kr. Reykjavík high-end hotels and luxury country lodges top 50,000kr.
Prices drop substantially outside high season (June to August), and cheaper rates may be found online.
The largest local chains are Icelandair Hotels (www.icelandairhotels.is), Íslandshotel (www.islandshotel.is), which includes the brand Fosshótel, Keahotels (www.keahotels.is) and CenterHotels (www.centerhotels.is).
Many international hotel chains are opening in the growing Reykjavík market – Hilton recently added to its portfolio in the capital, and a new Marriott five-star Reykjavík Edition is set to open in 2019.
Once the summer school holidays begin, many boarding schools, colleges and conference centres become summer hotels offering simple accommodation. Most open from early June to late August (some are open longer), and 10 of them are part of a chain called Hótel Edda (www.hoteledda.is), overseen by the Icelandair Hotels chain.
Accommodation tends to be simple: rooms are plain but functional, usually with twin beds, a washbasin and shared bathrooms, although a number of summer hotels have rooms with private bathroom, and a handful offer ‘Edda Plus’ rooms of a higher standard, with private bathroom, TV and phone.
A couple of Edda hotels have dormitory sleeping-bag spaces; most Edda hotels have a restaurant.
Expect to pay around 4000kr for sleeping-bag accommodation in a dorm (where available); from 21,000/13,500kr for a double room with/without private bathroom; and around 2400kr for breakfast.
Private walking clubs and touring organisations maintain skálar (mountain huts; singular skáli) on many of the popular hiking tracks. The huts are open to anyone and offer sleeping-bag space in basic dormitories. Some huts also offer cooking facilities, campsites and have a summertime warden.
The huts at Landmannalaugar, Þórsmörk and around Askja are accessible by 4WD; huts in Hornstrandir are accessed by boat; many other mountain huts are on hiking trails and accessible only by foot.
GPS coordinates for huts are included in reviews.
The main organisation providing mountain huts is Ferðafélag Íslands, which maintains 40 huts around Iceland (some in conjunction with local walking clubs). The best huts have showers (for an additional fee, around 500kr), kitchens, wardens and potable water; simpler huts usually just have bed space, a toilet and a basic cooking area. Beds cost 6000kr to 9000kr for nonmembers. Camping is available at some huts for 2000kr per person.
It’s essential to book with the relevant organisation, as places fill up quickly.