Iceland Mag

-2 Reykjavik

Iceland Mag

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Icelandic churches unsure how to tackle travellers who camp in cemeteries, on church grounds

By Staff

Some foreign travellers seem to be under the impression that Icelandic church grounds are campsites, causing disturbance for the churches and their staff. The Icelandic National Broadcasting Service RÚV reports that this strange misunderstanding can be traced, at least partially, to Europe's biggest motorhome parkings website.

Baffling advice

Camper contact church camping
NOT a campsite The photo on the campercontact.com website should alert users to the fact that the site is offering questionable recommendations. Photo/Camper contact

The website Campercontact lists at least three churches on its list of motorhome parking sites in Iceland, despite the fact that church parking sites are not intended as overnight parking areas for motorhomes. The photo which accompanies one of these listings even includes a sign which states that overnight parking by motorhomes is forbidden. 

The manager of the cemeteries in the town of Akureyri in north Iceland told RÚV that hardly a morning goes by without the cemetery staff discovering someone camping on cemetery grounds, the parking lots frequently being occupied by several camper vans and motorhomes. "On several occasions we have had to ask people to leave in order to make way for traffic which has business in the cemetery."

Other churches in North Iceland have similarly struggled to deal with campers. The greatest concern is that if large groups of people start using the cemeteries or church parking lots as campsites it will become harder to keep the grounds clean. Church and cemetery authorities are particularly concerned over the fact that cemeteries and churches are not equipped with public lavatories which campers could use. "One wonders where these people go if they need to relieve themselves," one told RÚV.

One of the churches which has struggled to deal with campers is Víðimýrarkirkja church in Skagafjörður fjord in North Iceland. Not only do travellers driving camper vans often block the parking lot of the church, but travellers frequently pitch their tents on the church grounds and inside the cemetery. "They have never camped right on top of the graves, but we have on several occasions encountered people who have camped right inside the graveyard."

The church has installed a sign alerting travellers to the fact that the parking lot is not intended for overnight parking. This sign has not managed to deter campers, as Víðimýrarkirkja is listed by campercontact.com as an ideal campsite for motorhomes. The photo which accompanies the listing even includes the sign alerting people to the fact that overnight parking is banned at the site. 

Illegal and in bad taste
Camping in cemeteries or on church grounds is not only in extremely bad taste, it is also against the law. 

Camping inside city limits in Iceland is always illegal, except at designated campsites. The only exception is that people can camp on private property with the permission of the property owner. Camping outside urban areas is only permitted on uncultivated land, and only for groups counting fewer than three tents. 

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