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Camping legally

Wild camping in Europe: where it’s allowed and where not

7 minutes read
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.

There was a time when it was the order of the day to stay in expensive boutique hotels, book all-inclusive if possible, and be looked after from early in the morning until late in a tourist resort. These times are past. Holidaymakers today no longer want the comprehensive service package; they want adventure, do-it-yourself and back to bush experience. Over the past few years, the number of camping vehicles sold has been rising; there are increasing magazines celebrating life in nature and camping products becoming fundamental lifestyle essentials. In short: Camping is trending. In the age group 65plus, especially young city dwellers are becoming more and more attracted to the outdoors. And those who like it even more individual prefer to go wild camping. Park your car or pitch your tent wherever you are. However, it’s not as easy as it sounds. That’s why we’ve taken a look at the legislation in Europe and found out where wild camping is allowed and where not.

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

You don’t necessarily have to pitch a tent to camp in the wild; even spending the night in your car falls under wild camping. | Photo: Therm-a-Rest

The legalities of wild camping in Europe

In most European countries, wild camping is mainly prohibited. However, this doesn’t mean that there are no opportunities to offer 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. You may pitch a tent in these countries and leave it standing on the same spot for several days. 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, making it nearly impossible to set up camp. And if you’re fortunate enough to have discovered a spot without rocks and stones, then it’s sure to be full of thorns. On the bright side, you can stay in a caravan overnight 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 that 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, only for hikers, cyclists, and people travelling with canoes or horses. Anyone travelling by car is out of luck. Those travelling 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 to public access. Some beatific wild pitches in Norway – a commuter ferry across the inner fjord to Langøyene island from Oslo- are 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 the midnight sun.

Don’t just go wild camping because it looks good in your Instagram feed, and remember that sharing a location in social media can also impact the natural environment at your campsite. | Photo: Unsplash/Christopher Jolly


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 allowed in at least 40 approved forests. There are penalties of up to 75 euros on tourist beaches 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 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 tough time finding an owner who’ll become upset just because you’ve raised a tent for one night. Our advice is to ask permission on privately owned land – better to be safe (and polite) than sorry!

Wild camping in Europe: For many a dream, but in most countries, some laws forbid overnight stays in nature. | Photo: Unsplash/Daniel Nainggolan

Wild camping in France

In France, camping is officially permitted only on private land with the consent of the owner. As people, in general, are very friendly and incredibly very open to hikers and cyclists, you’ll usually find a place soon enough. Along the coast, in specific protected areas, such as national parks and regional nature parks (parc Naturel régional), wild camping is prohibited here in general. The same applies to places near 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 in the village where you want to camp and ask there. An alternative to city hall is the church, where the priest might tell you whether the local church owns some field in the countryside.

Wild camping in Poland

Poland is not quite as strict. In the last 20 years, there hasn’t been one single fine imposed for wild camping. From  2021 onwards a publicly available map was published, highlighting the numerous wild regions where camping is officially tolerated. Check out the governmental website. Nevertheless, be considerate and keep your impact to a minimum; who wants to risk being the first wild camper in Poland in 20 years to get a  fine! If in doubt,  asking a local farmer for a campground on their pastures is always a good idea. And who knows you might be invited in for 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
One may only “privately” camp on public land; a bivouac is acceptable without a tent for one night. | Photo: Tobias Krüger

Camping wherever you like in Germany is illegal. As in Austria and Switzerland,  you can spend a maximum of one night with a caravan in a serviced area. Otherwise,  a one-night stay in camping vehicles, if not marked otherwise, is allowed on designated state parking areas.
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. The local officials will decide whether an awning or a tarp is deemed a tent if they discover you. Also, the good idea is to pitch a tent on private land after you’ve gained permission. Generally, it’s a formality to give a quick knock at the door in rural areas 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 more for wild camping and lighting of fires.  It is advisable to look for a campsite early enough. Avoid being another storyteller of a climber and other outdoor enthusiasts of meeting up with Swiss law enforcement at 4 am!

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. Rest periods in a caravan parking lot is restricted in these countries.

More tips and reading regarding camping and adventure:

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