In recent weeks several reports of tourists staying overnight in a variety of parking lots and other public spaces around the country, have received significant attention.
Yesterday two people reportedly set up camp in the parking lot outside of the University of Reykjavík.
A parking lot outside the University of Reykjavík where two travelers appear to have camped out — Facebook/Þorbjörg Helga Vigfúsdóttir.
Then earlier this month, a jogging group which had met up for an early morning run, reported seeing a group of tourists sleeping outside the elementary school Krikaskóli in Mosfellsbær.
“They weren’t even sleeping on the grass, but on the concrete by the dumpsters. I’m wondering if campsites need to be better labelled or something,” one of the joggers, Kristín Einarsdóttir, told Morgunblaðið.
Travelers in sleeping bags outside of Krikaskóli elementary school on the morning of July 10 — Droplaug Magnúsdóttir.
That same morning, Mosfellsbær resident Jóna Dís Bragadóttir, observed another group of campers at the parking lot by the Varmá athletics and aquatics center.
Camping equipment, including a drying rack, spread around the parking lot outside of Varmá athletics and aquatics center — Facebook/Jóna Dís Bragadóttir.
This unprecedented behavior appears to be based on a widespread misunderstanding of Iceland’s camping laws.
While it is legal, though not necessarily encouraged, to set up camp anywhere in the rural backcountry, the same does not apply in urban areas.
“It is not permissible to stay overnight in tents, RVs, campers or trailer tents in public areas within town or city limits, apart from specially marked campsites,” says in a police ordinance on the matter.
The illegal camping issue then been mentioned in the context of another problem—public defecation.
“Iceland has been marketed as a place where you don’t have to pay for anything,” Ásdís Kristjánsdóttir, manager at Gullfoss Café, told Morgunblaðið last week.
“If there isn’t a guard on duty by the toilet area, people just jump the turnstile. Our problem is that no one wants to staff the guard post, because the tourists are so rude to the guards. We’ve employed young boys who don’t want to do it because people are so verbally abusive. They yell at them over having to pay, because everything is supposed to be free in Iceland.”
René Biasone, consultant at the Environment Agency of Iceland, is sympathetic towards business operators at popular tourist spots.
“Revenue from bathroom fees mostly goes towards buying toilet paper. I’ve heard that the toilet paper alone can cost millions each year and the fees sometimes don’t cover the costs.”
Ásdís says that she’s encountered many tourists who find the toilet fees disagreeable, even opting to do their business outside rather than pay.
“I have a staff cabin by the café, and there are often travelers peeing and defecating behind there. The staff sees this and knocks on the windows, but many just smirk and run off.”