Wild camping for many has the scent of adventure. In the "civilized" wilderness of Europe - it's not permitted to just pitch a tent anywhere. Which European countries allow it? Here's our overview.

More than 1.7 million people in Germany according to ADAC travel monitor prefer using a tent or travelling with a caravan when on holidays, to a hotel or holiday-apartment. Many are looking specifically at staying at a camping ground – some of which are now almost as expensive a night as a hotel and just about provide as much luxury. In many of these camping sites, one can find not only a sanitary place to pitch the tent or park a caravan, but will also find leisure attractions such as; swimming pools, supermarkets, mini golf courses, with television and Internet reception usually thrown in for good measure!

The laws concerning wild camping in Europe differ from country to country. The amount of the penalty for infringement also. | Photo: Heiko gardener
The laws concerning wild camping in Europe differ from country to country. The amount of the penalty for infringement also. | Photo: Heiko Gärtner

As thirsty as one camper may be for the luxury-type scenario of camping, there are still plenty that intend to keep it simple. Looking for places off the beaten path,  searching for peace, tranquility and being as close to nature as possible – with the added bonus of not having to fork out too much money.

Are there countries in Europe where wild camping with a tent is allowed or at least tolerated?

The legalities of wild camping in Europe

In most European countries, wild camping is generally prohibited. However, this doesn’t mean that there are no opportunities on offer for an adventure holiday in the great outdoors. Let’s start first with the countries where it IS legal to pitch a tent and sleep under the stars. These include countries like Sweden, Norway, Ireland, Estonia, Latvia and Spain. In these countries, it’s even permitted to pitch a tent and leave it standing on the same spot for several days. Obviously, this general permission only refers to state land and not private property.

Wild camping in Spain

A few obstacles arise when wanting to pitch a tent in Spain. Firstly, just about every piece of land in Spain is privately owned. Secondly, especially inland, the ground consists almost entirely of rocks and sharp stones, which makes it near impossible to set up camp. And if you’re really lucky enough to have discovered a spot without rocks and stones, then it’s sure to be full of thorns. On the bright side, caravans are permitted an overnight stay in Spain in designated areas.

Wild camping in Sweden

Tent Camping in Sweden’s great outdoors is free, legal and encouraged.  The same applies to all the Nordic countries who have a great affinity for nature. You can pretty much pitch a tent anywhere outside of town for a maximum of 2 days. Campfires are not permitted, but living without fire if it means a free nights stay in an otherwise expensive country is a fair compromise for most. Interestingly enough, the law holds true, only for hikers, cyclists and people who are traveling with canoes or horses. Anyone traveling by car, is out of luck. Those traveling with caravans, may park them at least in public car parks, at the end of streets and on the beach.

Wild camping in Norway

Wild camping in Norway is enshrined in the Allemannsretten – every man or woman’s right of public access. There are some beatific wild pitches in Norway – a commuter ferry across the inner fjord to Langøyene island from Oslo is just one of them and the wooded area around Sognsvann lake, north of the city, is also a popular spot. A more adventurous summer destination is the dramatic Lofoten islands, inside the Arctic Circle, where camping comes with the added perk of midnight sun.

Wild camping in Denmark

In Denmark, it’s a whole different ball game again. Expect to pay penalties If you stay outside campgrounds with a caravan. Camping is permitted in at least 40 approved forests. Tourist beaches there are penalties of up to 75 euros to incur, if you let yourself get caught wild camping.

Wild Camping in Romania

There are no laws in Romania to prohibit wild camping. Almost everywhere in the nature or rural areas in Romania you can camp (tent). If you ask the locals, you’ll often hear that camping is not a problem. They’ll tell you that you’ll have a very hard time finding an owner who’ll become upset just because you’ve raised a tent for one night. Our advice is still to ask permission on privately owned land – better to be safe (and polite) than sorry!

Wild camping in France

Especially in the north (Scandinavia, Baltic States) and in Spain wild camping is allowed. In most other European countries one must contact a friendly private landowner or an obliging official. | Photo: Heiko Gärtner
Especially in the north (Scandinavia, Baltic States) and in Spain wild camping is allowed. In most other European countries one must contact a friendly private landowner or an obliging official. | Photo: Heiko Gärtner

In France camping is officially permitted only on private land with the consent of the owner. As people in general are very friendly and especially very open to hikers and cyclists, you’ll usually find a place soon enough. Along the coast, in specific protected places, such as national parks and regional nature parks (parc naturel régional) wild camping is prohibited here in general. The same applies to places in the immediate vicinity of sights. Not advisable to pitch directly under the Eiffel Tower – this can cost you a heady penalty of 1,500 euros if you are caught! Anyway there are many local rules, so the best is to find the city hall of the village where you want to camp and ask there. An alternative to city hall is church, where the priest might be able to tell you whether the local church owns some field in the country side.

Wild camping in Poland

Poland, is not quite as strict. In the last 20 years, there hasn’t been one single sentence imposed for wild camping – at least in the northern area. It’s tolerated. Nevertheless, precaution is advised to staying unnoticed, who wants to risk being the first wild camper in Poland in 20 years to be fined! Asking a local farmer for a campground on their pastures is a safer bet and there’s still the chance of being lucky enough to be invited to lunch or a cup of tea.

Wild camping in Germany

In Germany one may only "privately" camp, on public land, a bivouac is tolerated without a tent for one night. | Photo: Tobias Krüger
In Germany one may only “privately” camp, on public land, a bivouac is tolerated without a tent for one night. | Photo: Tobias Krüger

Camping wherever you like in Germany is illegal. As is applicable in both Austria and Switzerland,  a maximum of one night with a caravan on a serviced area is permitted. Otherwise,  a one-night stay in camping vehicles, if not marked otherwise, on designated state parking areas is permitted.
Without a tent (e.g bivy sack) you may sleep almost anywhere for a night outside on private property in Germany. Excluded are specially marked areas and nature reserves. Whether an awning or a tarp is to be deemed a tent, lies at the discretion of the local official who’s discovered you. Also a good idea, is to pitch a tent on private land after you’ve gained permission. Normally in rural areas  it’s a formality to give a quick knock at the door asking if it would be OK.

Wild camping in Switzerland and the rest of Europe

Extra caution should be taking for wild camping in Switzerland. Fines of 10,000 euros or even more are handed out for wild camping and lighting of fires.  It is s advisable to look for a campsite early enough. Stories told of climbers and other outdoor enthusiasts of meeting up with Swiss law enforcement at 4am is something to be avoided!

Particularly stringent rules for wild campers are in the Netherlands, Hungary, Portugal, Russia, Croatia, Serbia, Greece, Bulgaria, Czech Republic and Slovakia. It is not even permitted to pitch on private land. Even rest periods with caravans in parking lots or at stop areas is prohibited in these countries.

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