The Right to Roam in Iceland
Updated: Jun 8, 2020
In many Nordic countries, the right to roam the countryside and enjoy wild camping is enshrined in law. Until recently this used to be the case in Iceland too. However, as visitor numbers have increased quite dramatically in recent years this law has now been amended.
Visitors still have complete freedom to roam through the wonderful landscapes of Iceland. In fact, nearly 14% of the country’s landmass is designated national parkland. However, the laws around wild camping have now been changed to better suit the present-day circumstances. So the right to roam in Iceland has changed. But this is a good thing!
What does the Right to Roam law entail?
The Right to Roam is a set of laws allowing people to freely engage with nature in a responsible way. Each country and area will have a slightly different set of rules depending on their specific circumstances. All of them will entail a synergy between enjoying and respecting the natural world. Whether on state-owned land or private property the person exploring must always be respectful. These rules and recommendations ensure that this remains the case.
On uncultivated land, the rules will likely be a little freer. While on private farmland there will be more stipulations around exactly where to set up camp. Setting up a camp of course does not apply in Iceland anymore. But as well as hiking and wild camping Right to Roam laws cover some other areas too. These include activities such as building fires and foraging. Certain endangered plants or flowers might be protected while gathering mushrooms or to pick wild berries will be fine.
Can you camp anywhere in Iceland?
In Iceland, it is no longer possible to wild camp in 99% of the country. As already mentioned this is down to an influx in tourists visiting this relatively small country. With a population of fewer than half a million and a lot of open countries, wild camping was welcomed. But as more and more visitors came to enjoy the beautiful landscapes of Iceland this had to change. This happened purely to protect and preserve the natural beauty of Iceland for all.
Even though you can no longer pitch up or park up wherever you like camping in Iceland is still extremely popular. In fact, it is pretty much a national pastime for many Icelandic people. And for visitors, it is, without a doubt, the very best way to experience the country. Taking a road trip and camping out either in a campervan or a tent is a wonderful option. Putting you right in the middle of all that fresh air and the natural wonders of Iceland.
Iceland wild camping laws
The laws around wild camping in Iceland extend to overnight parking in motor vehicles. So spending the night in the parking lot of a beauty spot is also not an option.
In actual fact, there are some very particular circumstances where wild camping is allowed in Iceland. But please don’t think that we have deceived you on this. The circumstances are VERY precise. You can only camp on uncultivated land far from any settlements where there is no campsite available. With some 180 campsites across the country, this makes it very unlikely. So it is pretty much only possible if you are backpacking and carrying your own tent. You will also need to be deep in the wilds of Iceland where there are no facilities within reach. It is not completely impossible but it is extremely unlikely that you will find yourself in this situation.
Campsites in Iceland
So with wild camping out of the picture visitors must rely on the official campsites instead. And there is no cause for concern there. With around 180 campgrounds of all shapes and sizes, there is literally no shortage of spaces to camp.
You might start your trip to the busy city campsite in Reykjavik before heading out of the capital. From there you could drive to more tranquil campgrounds within national park areas and nature reserves. You will find places to pitch up right around the Ring Road and the Golden Circle driving routes. As well as in more remote corners of the country like the Westfjords.
You’ll be able to park up beside lakes and rivers and within sight of glaciers, volcanoes, and waterfalls. There will be campsites where you can walk to some of Iceland’s outdoor natural hot springs and pools. And others from where you’ll be able to hike off into the wilderness without setting a foot on the tarmac. In short camping in Iceland still feels very wild and free. The landscapes are incredible and when you camp they are right there outside your window or tent zipper!
These campsites are also very well equipped to welcome campers of all types. If you have hired a motorhome for your travels you will find plenty of facilities for recharging and emptying waste. Campervans will find lots of level ground to park up on with hot showers and BBQ equipment available. While tent campers will enjoy grassy secluded areas with beautiful views. So when it comes to campsites in Iceland you really are spoiled for choice and very well accommodated.
Camping under the Northern Lights in Iceland
One of our favorite camping experiences has to be seeing the Northern Lights from the comfort of a camper van. Of course, most people visit Iceland for a road trip in the summer months. This is definitely the best time of year to hire a motorhome and explore. With the Midnight Sun shining late into the night there is simply far more time to enjoy the great outdoors. You won’t need to worry about driving to your destination before nightfall and will have plenty of time for sightseeing.
Having said that there is something very special about camping during winter. Snowy landscapes and quieter roads create a dreamy quality to a winter trip. Of course, you won’t want to be pitching a tent in the depths of winter. Hiring a camper van equipped with a Webasto like heating system and sleeping bags is definitely the way to go. And for seeking out the Northern Lights a campervan with a specially installed skylight is the ultimate. Snuggle up in bed with a hot chocolate and drift off to sleep with the Aurora dancing through your dreams.