Almannaréttur – the right to roam and set up your camp for the night everywhere. Well, at least this is what many people think it is about. But it’s way more complicated and there are some specialties you really want to know in order to avoid being fined.
1. Camping in a tent
If you are going to travel around in Iceland without a car, you have great possibilities for camping.
The above-mentioned right to roam allows you to stay and camp in a tent on uncultivated land for one night which includes private land as long as it is uncultivated. There probably are people who are actually doing this. It is not an idea I could acquire a taste for. Iceland is windy, rainy and can get cold. A combination I would not state as “optimal” for camping in a tent. By the way, there can be specific regulations in nature reserves and you always have to respect not to harm nature in any way.
2. Camping in a car / van / caravan
Most likely you are interested in driving around with your own or rented caravan or campervan in Iceland. Unfortunately, there are some bad news if you have thought that you could camp everywhere you like. The Almannaréttur, the right to stay on uncultivated land for a night, does not count for any vehicles. In Iceland, since 2016 it is forbidden to stay anywhere else than at campsites overnight with your campervan or your caravan. Almost all parking lots are equipped with signs telling you that overnight parking is not allowed and will be fined. The reason is that tourism exploded during the last years and campers left their rubbish and their human excrements everywhere. As a result, parking lots were full of rubbish and excrements, which harmed both nature and people. Therefore, they adopted the law and forbid overnight stays at most parking lots on the island. Even if you find a parking lot without any prohibition signs, it is possible that locals honk at you while driving by or knock on your door in order to send you away. I am talking by experience. We’ve been to Iceland with a caravan with a water tank, waste water tank, toilet and would never leave any kind of rubbish in nature. However, some locals have a huge aversion against campers in general, thus we decided we could sleep way better if we would just move onto a camping site.
The problem with all of this is, in my honest and personal opinion, the following two things. Firstly, there is no differentiation between caravans with own sanatory facilities and camper vans or cars without these. Of course, people camping in vans and cars will have to do their business in nature and I could understand that locals would not accept this in regard to almost 2 million tourists per year. Secondly, camping sites are really expensive in regard to what they have to offer. 15-20€ per person and night on a muddy space and often dirty sanatory facilities?
However, that’s the way it is and tourists have to respect the rules if they want to enjoy the beautiful landscapes. Believe me, all of this won’t affect your great feeling of roaming the country with your own camping car.