What You Need to Know about Right to Roam in Iceland
Updated: Dec 16, 2020
Camping, in general, is one of those forms of traveling which does not suit everyone. Many travelers need some more comfortable ways of spending their time abroad in a foreign country. They just don’t see themselves spending their holidays inside of a van, with limited space and continuously on the road. Instead of enjoying a pleasant patio in a lovely hotel. Other travelers cannot conceive a different way of traveling. Those are the so-called camping lovers! And for them, the right to roam in Iceland is something essential.
Camping has, indeed, many benefits; we could make an endless article about how much freedom and sense of adventure you can get when traveling with your RV in Iceland. As you can imagine, you will not get the same sense of adventure on one of those organized agency trips, where every minute of your time is planned down to the last detail, and you need to stick to the itinerary strictly. One of the main advantages is that camping is considered the best way to travel around Iceland. As you probably know, Iceland’s infrastructure might not be what you expect; it is rather poorly developed.
However, it is more challenging to travel by public transportation as Iceland has no trains. Although most of our road network is in good condition, making your RV trip an enjoyable one. If you are planning a road trip in Iceland, note that you will need to drive some long distances between one attraction and the other. Sometimes it would even take one whole day to get from one point to the next. Having the possibility to stop and rest, and also stay anywhere you wish for a night is a blessing in this case. There is, however, a need for a precise preparation before heading to the road. The thing you should know more about before planning your journey is the right to roam in Iceland, and that’s exactly what this post is about.
Iceland wild camping laws
There is some confusing information about wild camping in Iceland. We keep getting many questions regarding Icelandic wild camping laws as it is not clear for most travelers. It is an excellent idea to develop this topic, that is why we decided to put some more light on this.
In 2015 in November, to be more precise, the Ministry of Environment approved a new law. It defines the areas where you can set up a camp and park for a night within the Icelandic territory. From this date on, wild camping with motorhomes, campers, and even tents is no longer allowed. Since that day, when camping in Iceland, you can only park for a night and set a camp in designated areas such as authorized parking areas and campsites.
This decision was mainly pushed forward by the increasing concern for our environment. During these last years, Iceland became a very famous travel destination. Hundreds of tourists are coming every year to explore our country. Unfortunately, there are still some irresponsible tourists who do not always remember the fact that the Icelandic nature is fragile and can take years and years to recover after it is damaged.
Iceland is one of the Nordic countries, and just like them, it gives freedom to roam and even pick wild berries in the forests, but there are still some regulations you need to keep in mind. From 2017 on, in South Iceland, it is not only legal to camp in the camping sites. If you are planning to stay outside the designated place in the inhabited area, you can do that. However, you will need the landowners’ permission, which in some cases can be easy to get and in some others, not that much. Remember always to use common sense. Icelanders are very happy to welcome tourists in their home country, but as long as they still respect their privacy. That is the only way to preserve nature and also respect the privacy of the farmers, so we highly recommend to camp at the official campsites.
Can you camp anywhere in Iceland?
It is much recommended to stay at the nearest campsite, which is quite cheap and offers all types of facilities. From hot showers to laundry and kitchen amenities and even the dump station. This way, you avoid the stress of uncertainty, not knowing if you are allowed to park in a specific area or not, and in the worst-case scenario- getting a fine. It is then reasonable to plan your RV road trip according to the available campsites around Iceland. You will find a map of them so you can calmly plan each day of your trip, including the places where you will camp.
As already mentioned above, in South Iceland, you can be fined if caught on camping outside the designated campsites with no express permission. That includes private properties and even roadsides, so pulling over for a night is as well forbidden. If there is a campsite nearby, you are obligated to stay there. The excuse that you were not able to find any place nearby when there are almost two hundred campsites all around Iceland is not an option here.
We have a piece of good news for those who are eager on wild camping, and staying on the campsites is too much of a limitation for them. There are some places where you are legally allowed to camp.
You are allowed to camp on uncultivated land that is not a state-owned area or private but only for one night. That is only for camping with less than tree tents.
There are several places in Iceland where camping is forbidden both for motor vehicles and tents. These include National Parks and all the places where it is clearly stated that camping is not allowed.
Camping under the Northern Lights in Iceland
What to do then when you have already planned on camping under the fantastic show of the Northern Lights? Well, nothing is lost yet! The fact that you are staying on a campsite does not mean you cannot enjoy the outdoors. No one will limit your personal space so you can be sure you will feel very comfortable and as if you were in the wild. You can easily organize hunting for the Northern Lights. Simply set yourself up, prepare some warm blankets, grab something warm to drink, and wait for the show to start.
There are, of course, some places which simply make better scenery for some amazing auroras’ photography, we get that! If you would like to capture them on a photo with the beautiful mountains in the background, make sure that you park your vehicle in a permitted area. Always check well that the place where you will pitch a tent is uncultivated, and no signs are prohibiting such activity. Remember that along the public routes; it is possible to can camp in uninhabited areas.
Many tourists who rent a motorhome or a campervan, choose to follow the well known Ring Road, where you can find many campsites in lovely scenery. If you, however, give up on the Northern Lights and decide to travel in Iceland during the summer, you will be able to enjoy the magic of the Midnight Sun. You will have even more daylight hours for camping and exploring our magical island too!