Almannaréttur: The Right to Roam in Iceland Posted on January 12th, 2024 by

Like other Nordic countries, the Icelandic law, Almannaréttur, stipulates that all people have the right to travel and freedom to roam across the country, so as long as they are cautious to not damage natural resources and landscapes. This law ensures the general public’s right to cross public or uncultivated private property, including land, rivers, and lakes without needing special permission. This is often for the purpose of recreation or exercise. Additionally, Almannaréttur was created to grant people the access to freely engage with Iceland’s natural resources in a responsible and respectful manner. Rules and regulations are put into place to ensure that a synergy is maintained between enjoying and respecting Iceland’s nature and landscapes. Cultivated land has fewer regulations than private farmland, which mainly refers to hiking and other recreational activities outside of wild camping.

“Wild camping” refers to camping outside of designated camping areas unless the individual is using a traditional tent. While Almannaréttur is in full effect in Iceland, wild camping is generally not permitted and if it is, the circumstances are extremely precise. Wild camping is permitted on uncultivated land that is far enough away from other settlements where no campsite is available. While the circumstances are very unlikely due to Iceland’s 180 campsites across the country, it is not technically impossible. Due to the high influx of tourists visiting the relatively small country among the previous decade, wild camping has no longer been welcomed since 2015. This occurred as a result of the need to increase protection and preservation of Iceland’s natural beauty.

Apart from wild camping laws, Almannaréttur also includes the right to access uncultivated private property without seeking special permission from landowners, but routes may be limited with signs or additional markings. Landowners, however, may not hinder the passage of hikers along side paths, rivers, or lakes. Land that is owned by the state is open to everyone with few exceptions including special growth periods or breeding seasons. Additionally, it is permitted to collect berries, mushrooms, seaweed, and other plants for immediate consumption on public lands and highland pastures.

The concept of Almannaréttur raised discussion on the January term trip to Iceland after a day of hiking at the Seltún geothermal area and observing the Grindavík eruption site. While the key aspects of this Icelandic law include access to nature in a responsible manner extending to both public and private lands, how non-destructive really is it? As our group of 17 was venturing upwards towards the highest point of the valley, we realized that we had gone off the designated trail and onto a different partially paved trail. The trail that we had been hiking had been so worn down by hikers constantly traveling up and down the valleys that it created a deceiving separate path. This raised the discussion surrounding the ethics of Almannaréttur and if it is truly as non-destructive as we would imagine it to be. Not only does the law imply that individuals are liable for their own actions, but there is also a responsibility that falls on the individual to treat Iceland’s natural land with respect and leave the area as untouched as it was found.

What do you think about Almannaréttur after reading this blog?


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