Simply grab your tent, go outside and set up camp anywhere with a nice view. That would be amazing… but it’s unfortunately not as easy as you might imagine. In many European countries, wild camping is prohibited or is subject to strict regulations. Plus, since there is no single Europe-wide rule, so you may get into some trouble with the local law enforcement agents. We’ve decided to take a closer look at Germany’s extended neighbouring countries and will give you a few tips on how wild camping is regulated in the individual countries.
In some cases, however, the legal situation is unclear and it’s sometimes hard to keep an overview without having spent years in law school. In addition, different municipalities or regions within individual countries have different regulations. So, in extreme cases, what was clearly allowed is now completely forbidden and vice versa. Our list is by no means complete. And, if you don’t feel like ruining your vacation budget with a hefty fine or locked up for a night, you should definitely inform yourself before your trip on your destination’s rules.
Camping or bivouacking?
This question is often the heart of the matter. As our colleague Anni has already mentioned in her article on wild camping in Germany, there’s often a considerable difference. For example, setting up a tent for one night in a field, forest or meadow in Germany is prohibited (with some exceptions). However, setting up an (emergency) bivouac, i.e. staying overnight only with a sleeping bag, a sleeping mat and, if necessary, a tarp, is not explicitly regulated by law in Germany. So, is bivouacking permitted or forbidden? But, we’re only talking about bivouacking here, not camping!
Where wild camping is allowed
Hurray, they still exist: countries where wild camping is generally permitted. However, there is an exception to every rule. The statement does apply to these countries, but you should properly inform yourself about the special local specificities before travelling.
Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania
Wild camping is permitted in the Baltic States. Camping is only allowed outside of national parks, nature reserves and private properties. However, there are a few things to be taken into consideration. Noise is taboo and animals shouldn’t be disturbed by it. And, you should avoid harming the nature around you. Although wild camping is generally permitted throughout the Baltic States, regional or temporary restrictions may apply. It’s prohibited to camp or bivouac in both national parks and nature reserves.
Finland, Norway, Sweden
Scandinavia (except Denmark, see below) is probably an absolute paradise for many wild campers.
Bivouacking and camping is allowed there based on the everyman’s right. This rule also applies to private properties, but not to agricultural areas and you should also make sure that the tent is not set up near individual homes. For example, it’s permitted to pitch your tent on private land for up to two days at a distance of at least 150 m from inhabited houses in Norway. However, stricter rules may apply in nature reserves and national parks.
Camping is permitted for up to two nights in all areas that fall under everyman’s right. Plus, the same applies here as everywhere else: don’t break anything and take your rubbish with you. You can find more information here: Finland, Norway, Sweden.
In Great Britain, there is no general regulation on wild camping. This means that England, Wales and Scotland have completely different laws. However, wild camping is only explicitly permitted in Scotland. There, wild camping is regulated by the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. This code states all important do’s and don’ts. There are places like nature reserves or private lands that are subject to special regulations, of course. Outside these areas, camping and bivouacking are allowed for one night.
Where wild camping is partly tolerated
In countries such as Germany or France, wild camping is actually prohibited and is punishable by fine. But, there are legal (!) ways to go around these rules.
For the time being, wild camping is also prohibited here. So, you can expect controls and possible fines in touristy areas. However, you can camp at some places (outside typical campsites) without a problem. For example, there are many forests in Denmark where camping is legal. But, it’s important to follow the rules that apply there. Here are the rules at a glance:
- You can only stay one night in the same place
- A maximum of two small tents (with a maximum of 3 persons each) may be set up in the same spot
- The tents must be set up out of sight of houses, streets, etc.
- If at all, fires are only allowed at designated fireplaces.
- Due to the risk of forest fires, only very safe storm-proof stoves may be used. Individual areas can be closed if there’s a high risk of forest fires.
In addition, Denmark has designated natural campsites with (occasionally) running water, a simple toilet and fireplaces. Further information on this subject is also available (only available in Danish) by the Danish Nature Authority. Here, you can find a link to the list/map of the approved-for-wild-camping forest areas.
Belgium and the Netherlands
In both Belgium and the Netherlands, the situation with wild camping is similar to that of Denmark’s. Camping is not allowed anywhere on the plains and you may even get fined.
The good news is that especially in the Netherlands, but also in parts of Belgium, there’s a legal way to set up your tent city in the wild: the Paalkamperen, literally “pile camping”. Although it may sound like it, it doesn’t require you to set up your tent or bivouac on poles. Rather, it says something about the legal campsites themselves. Whenever you see a pole with a special sign that isn’t in the vicinity of a campsite, that means that you can camp. So, you can set up your things at around a 10-metre radius around the pole. There are some other important rules that must be noted:
- The stay may not exceed three days or 72 hours. In some areas, you’re only permitted to stay for one night.
- A maximum of three small tents may be set up at the same time.
- You must take your rubbish with you.
- Open fires are absolutely prohibited. However, you may use a gas stove.
These are the basic rules, but you’ll find specific regulations that apply to the site you’re at on the pole. Here, you can also find overview maps for Belgium and the Netherlands (only available in Dutch).
As already mentioned, the legal situation in Germany is quite confusing. However, those who only bivouac (i.e. stay overnight without a tent) usually don’t violate any laws. You should always inform yourself in advance on the regulations of the specific state. More detailed information can be found in our blog post on wild camping in Germany.
The situation in France is just as confusing as in Germany. Basically, wild camping is forbidden here. The authorities control tourist centres and borders and may give out some hefty fines.
Some communities do however have designated areas for wild camping. Signs that say “Camping reglementé – s’adresser à la mairie” indicate exactly this. This means that you should contact the town hall/mayor’s office for more information about wild camping. Then, you should receive a list or a small plan with information on where to put up your tent for one night in the extended urban area.
However, camping is absolutely prohibited in national parks. So, it’s similar to Germany, but not when it comes to bivouacking. In other words, bivouacking at an adequate distance from the exit of a National Park (at least one hour on foot) is tolerated between 7 pm to 9 am. You can usually find information about bivouacking at the entrances to the national parks.
In Austria, wild camping is regulated differently from state to state and you can even receive extremely high fines. Plus, the tent can theoretically also be confiscated.
For this reason, it’s very important to know the local rules. A general rule of thumb: camping in forest areas is not allowed under any circumstances. Camping on private property is also prohibited without the owner’s consent. However, there are exceptions to this rule, especially on barren alpine land above the tree line. Plus, in some states, such as in Burgenland, small groups may camp for up to three days, but in other states, such as Lower Austria, it’s strictly forbidden to set up tents outside of designated campsites. Another important thing to note: unplanned, emergency bivouacking (for example in the event of an injury or bad weather) is tolerated everywhere, but deliberate bivouacking is punishable by hefty fines, just like camping.
Even in Switzerland, wild camping is not uniformly regulated, so different restrictions apply from canton to canton. In addition, entry restrictions or stricter nature protection laws may apply to individual areas and may automatically exclude camping. In general, camping and bivouacking becomes less problematic with the height of the location, so you should follow the below mentioned rules:
- Camping and bivouacking is prohibited in these nature reserves: Swiss National Park, federal hunting reserves (game reserve), various nature reserves, quiet zones (during the closed season).
- These areas should be avoided: forests, meadows and wetlands.
- In these areas, special consideration is required: in the vicinity of mountain huts (consultation with the owner required) and close to climbing areas (note the breeding season of cliff-breeding birds).
- Wild camping is safe here: above the tree line, alpine pastures, rocky terrain.
Important information on wild camping in Switzerland as well as how to behave can be found on the SAC’s homepage (only available in German).
Where wild camping is prohibited
Wild camping is generally banned in Europe. In some countries, punishments are only to be expected at the borders and in touristy areas, while others are subject to stricter controls. In general, camping, etc. is not allowed outside designated campsites in most countries. However, things look a little different when it comes to private property. For example, you can camp on a farmer’s meadow after consulting with them. A little tip: either knowing a few words in the local language or gifting a good bottle of wine can work wonders. If you’re staying on a self-sufficient farmer’s land for example, it’s both practical and helpful to buy some milk, eggs, fruit, etc. from them. Not only does this help break the ice but you’ll even receive something tasty in return.
Here are two more examples of how prohibitions are dealt with.
In Italy, wild camping and bivouacking are strictly forbidden and are subject to hefty fines. Borders and touristy areas are strictly controlled for this reason. Anyone who decides to set up a tent or bivouac should expect to be fined. The fine usually costs as much as a good-quality hotel room. In the backcountry, things are a bit more laid-back. However, this does not mean that it isn’t also prohibited there. If you know a few words in Italian and have money left to buy a good bottle of wine, then simply ask the next farmer. With these small tips, you’ll increase your chances of success and can then camp legally.
Wild camping is also prohibited by law and can be punished with a fine of up to 150 €. This is taken very seriously in national parks and regular controls are carried out. However, outside these areas, things are a little different. Here, wild camping is also prohibited by law, but many places don’t take it too seriously.
It shouldn’t be a problem if you want to camp for only one night out in the wilderness. Wild camping is also widespread amongst locals. But if you want to be on the safe side, you can also contact the respective landowner and ask for their permission. Farmers are usually very helpful, especially outside of touristy regions.
Luckily, it’s still possible to set off and spend the night somewhere in Europe’s wilderness. However, you should inform yourself beforehand about the “somewhere”. In some cases, the legality is not very clear. This blog post is by no means complete. Now, we’d be super interested in knowing: What is your experience with wild camping in Europe? Have something you’d like to add/share with us? Then leave us a comment!