Iceland Camping Law Explained
Updated: Feb 24
Waking up to the sights and sounds of the natural world is one of the many joys of camping. That closeness and connection to nature in something many people crave these days. The sheer busyness of modern life and the constant buzz of technology all gets a bit much sometimes. The action of disconnecting for a few days and sleeping under the stars makes for a fantastic antidote. And Iceland is an excellent place to do just that!
Camping in Iceland is a much-celebrated pursuit. It is in fact somewhat of a tradition for many Icelandic people. Nearly everyone has fond memories of childhood camping trips. The whole extended family packing tents and sleeping bags, pots and pans into the trunk and heading outdoors. This means that Iceland’s many campsites are very well equipped. Whether you are tent camping or hiring a camper, trailer or motorhome you will be well catered for.
Iceland camping law and wild camping
In the quite recent past it was possible to spend the night wild camping in Iceland. You still couldn’t just camp anywhere and there were some simple rules that you had to follow. Such as only camping on uncultivated land and refraining if the landowner requested you to do so. And in towns and cities you were obliged to camp at organised campsites or urban camper parks.
When out in the wilderness simple common sense and consideration had to be applied. Wild campers were charged with taking all their litter and waste away with them. They should always respect the natural world and be sure not to harm Iceland’s delicate plant life. As they are in campgrounds today the obligations were similar outside of organised campsites. Simple really!
Changes in camping regulation
However with the sharp increase in visitor numbers to Iceland wild camping became more and more problematic. Inexperienced campers along with a few inconsiderate ones meant that the relaxed Icelandic approach just wasn’t working anymore.
So in November 2015 a law was passed via the Environment Agency of Iceland making camping regulations much stricter. It is now illegal to wild camp in a trailer, tent, camper, motorhome, camper vans or similar. To do so you would need explicit permission from the landowner. Similarly within Iceland’s National Parks you must only camp in a designated campsite.
Why go camping in Iceland?
Despite these new rules camping in Iceland is still very much an excellent choice. Wild camping might not be an option but there are dozens of organised campsites to choose between right across Iceland. One of the many great things about camping is that it is a fantastic moneysaving option. If you are travelling in Iceland on a budget then without a doubt this is the way to go. Campsites offer a really cost effective way of seeing the country. As well as a bed for the night you will also be able to cook your own meals.
If you’re hiring a motorhome then you will have a full kitchen out back. Complete with cooker, fridge and cooking utensils. If you are traveling by camper van or tent camping then things are a little more rustic. But you will still be able to rustle up some tasty meals on a camp stove. Not to mention how much better everything tastes when enjoyed in the great outdoors.
Another wonderful thing about camping in Iceland is that you get to experience the landscape much more intimately. You will see the weather and the light change across the landscape as you prepare for bed. In the morning you will hear the rustle of leaves and birds as you wake. By camping at places such as the Golden Circle you will have a head start on the tour buses too. Whenever the Midnight Sun is shining you will be able to enjoy the sights. So by visiting either earlier or later than the rest you will have more space to enjoy the beauty spots.
Campsites in urban areas are also really useful. The cost of a hotel in Reykjavik can be a little prohibitive. But by staying in an organised urban campsite you will be right on the doorstep of the action. You will be able to explore the highlights of the city and then head back to your camper to sleep.
Campsites in Iceland
There are upwards of 170 registered campsites in Iceland so you will be very well catered for. If you are planning a road trip around the Ring Road then there will be campsites at really regular intervals. Most welcome camper vans and tent campers as well as motorhomes. In summer the south Iceland campsites can get busy so you may well need to book ahead.
If you are travelling by motorhome there will be hook ups and waste disposal facilities. Most campsites have a convenient shop to stock up on the basics in. They will likely have hot showers as well as washing, cooking and barbecue facilities. Iceland is a country of happy campers so the campsites are all really well equipped to cater for that.