Wild camping with a camping van
15. May 2020
WHAT THE LAWS SAY
In Europe, there are various regulations for overnight parking (sometimes called “wild camping”) in your camper van. It can be difficult when it comes to overnight parking or camping on the side of the road or in the wild. In Germany, each federal state has its respective laws, and a fine of up to 5,000 Euros can be imposed for breaking these laws.
Let’s take a closer look at individual countries and their regulations on camping outside of campsites.
In Germany, you are allowed to spend one night in your camper van in places where it is not explicitly forbidden. This “interruption of the journey” officially serves as a means to “restore the ability to drive”. This means if you are too tired to continue driving, you may – at any time – stop in a suitable parking lot and rest until you can continue driving. For this reason, you shouldn’t give the impression that you want to camp there. Taking out chairs, extending the awning, and preparing for a barbecue will give the impression of a long term stay. It’s a good idea to arrive as late as possible and continue early the next day. Overnight parking of maximum 10 hours is tolerated.
This regulation also applies in Belgium, where stopovers for a maximum of 24 hours are allowed if no road traffic is obstructed. Unfortunately, many parking lots have parking restrictions.
Particularly in France, Austria, Poland, Italy and Switzerland, the regulations are somewhat confusing. Wild camping is only allowed with permission of the authorities. Many regions or towns also have their own regulations. For example, in the Austrian regions of Tyrol and Vienna, wild camping in your camper van is forbidden. The same applies to the Swiss regions of Ticino, Graubünden, Geneva and Vaud. Wild camping is generally prohibited in nature reserves, forests, national parks and on lakeshores.
The Netherlands are the number one camping nation. Yet, in the Netherlands and in Luxembourg the regulations are very strict and long stopovers are prohibited. Here it is wise to find a campsite or an officially designated pitch. In Denmark and Finland long stopovers are only permitted on private grounds.
The situation is quite different in Sweden and Norway. The ‘everyman’s right’ states that nature “belongs” to everyone, including visitors. However, wild camping is also subject to certain rules. Staying overnight outside an official campsite or a parking lot is limited to one night. It is also forbidden to drive on forest paths, pathless terrain or nature reserves. Regardless, these countries are absolute camping paradises. Even in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania it is allowed to spend a night outside of towns.
In Great Britain there are regional differences. Overnight parking is only allowed with permission. In Scotland, if you keep a reasonable distance (around 15-20 metres) from public roads, do not disturb anyone and have obtained the landowner’s permission (if necessary), you are on the safe side. In England and Wales the rules are stricter. Many parking lots explicitly prohibit parking overnight.
In Spain, overnight parking is only allowed with a permit. However, there is no nationwide regulation, which makes the legal situation rather confusing. For example, you may not park in residential areas, on beaches and closer than 1000 meters to campsites. You are also not allowed to stay more than three nights and a maximum of ten people are allowed to stay overnight. It is easier to find official pitches or campsites. In Portugal, camping in the wild or standing freely is generally forbidden; however, they are pretty relaxed. Surfers on beaches are often tolerated.
In the following countries you can forget overnight parking with your camper van: Czech Republic, Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Greece, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Ukraine and Hungary. Overnight parking is absolutely forbidden, even on private ground! That means: Even if you have permission to stand on someone’s land for a night, camping remains illegal and can lead to being woken up by the police. We recommend that you look for a campsite.
CHECKLIST FOR OVERNIGHT PARKING WITH A CAMPER VAN
No matter what local rules apply, here are a few Dos and Don’ts:
- Avoid nature reserves
- Always be respectful of flora and fauna
- Do not break or damage anything → Damage to property
- Take your garbage with you ALWAYS and any other litter you find
- Do not drain waste water (with detergent etc.) in nature
- Exception: when you use biodegradable detergents and toothpaste.
- Arrive late, continue your journey early
- No loud music, noise or other disturbances
- Never without permission on private property → trespassing
- No open fire or barbecue → Arson
- Camping stoves are also considered “open fires”.
- Informing yourself on what is permitted and where.