Wild Camping in Sweden:
Q: Is wild camping in Sweden illegal?
A: No, unlike many other European countries there is no general ban on wild camping in Sweden. In fact, under certain conditions which are stated in the Right of Public Access, the so-called “Allemannsrätt” (Everybody’s Right) it is officially allowed!
There is however a strict ban against driving with any kind of motor vehicle off-road.
Q: By the way, what is “Wild Camping”?
A: In the English language the term “Wild Camping” usually means spending a night outside of official camp sites. However, in most European countries a clear distinction is made between “Wild Camping” and “Overnight Parking”.
Q: And what is this difference?
A: As long as you simply pull up onto a car park where it is legal to park your van and spend one night there this is Overnight Parking. If you have a drink or dinner before bedtime and take a shower and have breakfast before leaving next morning this is still fully OK.
If you put anything outside of your van (like camping furniture), roll out an awning, run a generator, fire up a barbecue or do anything else like that then this is considered as Wild Camping. It is also considered as Wild Camping if you stay on the same spot for more than 24 hours. As a rule of thumb one can say that as long as you could drive off at any time without leaving the vehicle or leaving anything behind, then you are Parking.
Q: What else should I consider?
A: You should always keep a low profile and avoid too large gatherings of motorhomes. The maximum number of motorhomes depends of course on the size of the car park, the proximity of inhabited houses (anyway, “Wild Camping” close to inhabited houses is a contradiction in terms, isn’t it?) and the “sensitivity” of the surroundings. Especially if you are travelling in a group of motorhomes you should seriously consider to only pull up onto camp sites and official motorhome sites.
Q: What is the “Allemannsrätt” or “Everybody’s right”?
A: The “Allemannsrätt”, or “Right of Public Access”, allows inhabitants and visitors of Sweden to exercise a lot of outdoor activities, even if they take place on private ground. Land owners must respect this right and may not undertake any actions to prevent the public from access to land that falls under the Allemannsrätt.
Such activities are for instance pitching up a tent on non-cultivated ground, hiking or skiing pretty much anywhere, horse riding on public and private roads, picking wild berries, flowers and mushrooms, etc. All this is allowed under certain conditions, of which the most important is: “Don’t disturb – don’t destroy!”.
Warning: Hunting and Fishing are not covered by the Allemannsrätt!
Q: Is this Allemannsrätt valid all over Sweden?
A: Basically yes, however certain National Parks and Nature Protection Areas are explicitly exempted from it, here any kind of overnight stay is prohibited. At the entrances to these areas you will find signposts and maps with a clear display of the protected area.
It is also not valid within a perimeter of 150 metres around any inhabited house, except with permission of the owner. On sports grounds, leisure parks and public parks in urban areas it is also not valid.
Q: So what does this Allemansrätt mean for me with a motorhome?
A: So far the answer would have been: “Nothing.” But during 2007, Naturvårdsverket published new information about how motorhomes are actually affected by the Allemannsrätt. The strict ban on driving off-road with motor vehicles was emphasised, and the situation regarding overnight parking was clarified: The basic rule is now that on all lay-bys and signed parking areas along public roads it is allowed to “wild-camp” with a motorhome for up to 24 hours, on weekends and public holidays until the next weekday. Exceptions from this basic rule are locally signposted.
Q: What is meant with driving “off-road”?
A: For the protection of nature it is not allowed to drive any kind of motor vehicle on off-road terrain. This includes beaches, pastures, meadows and any land that has a natural vegetation cover. Driving or parking of motor vehicles on such land is a punishable act.
Q: What about public and private roads?
A: Besides the public road network, numerous private roads exist in Sweden. On these the sign posts indicating directions and distances are yellow with a red border, not blue with white border as on public roads. Private roads are in general open for all traffic, and the same traffic rules as on public roads apply. The land owner can however – in accordance with local authorities – declare a ban on certain kinds of motor vehicles. Such a ban can be declared by practical measures (barriers), by official road signs (e.g. ban for vehicles over 3.5 tons to reduce road wear), but also by unofficial, “hand-made” signs.
Road Lay-bys and Motorway Service Stations:
Q: Am I allowed to spend a night on a road or motorway lay-by?
A: Yes, you may stay there for up to 24 hours unless restrictions (or extensions) as mentioned above. are signposted. In fact on some new lay-bys along recently (re-)built road stretches you even find dedicated motorhome pitches.
Q: What about safety and security there?
A: Keep in mind that road and especially motorway lay-bys are not always the most pleasant places to stay, because of traffic noise, exhaust fumes etc. And especially some lay-bys along major tourist routes and close to urban areas in the south of Sweden seem to attract certain unpleasant, if not illegal, nocturnal activities. Especially from the E6 in the vicinity of Gothenburg an increasing number of nightly raids on motorhomes has been reported over the last years.
Q: But these lay-bys are illuminated and many other motorhomes stay there as well. Isn’t there “safety by numbers”?
A. Even though Sweden is still one of the safest countries to travel and the risk can not at all be compared to e.g. motorway lay-bys in southern France, you should better not do it!
In fact illumination seems to help these low-lifes, probably because they do not have to use torches. And the more motorhomes there are the higher is the probability that they find what they are looking for. In addition the ever-present traffic noise covers their activities, and the nearby motorway allows them a quick and easy escape. So, instead of “safety by numbers” there is “safety by solitude” in many areas of Sweden.
Car Parks and Signposts:
Q: I have found a nice picnic/swimming/sight-seeing place and parked my motorhome on it’s car park. Am I allowed to spend the night there?
A: If not signposted otherwise, then the “24-hour-rule” as described under above applies. There is however an exception: If the car park is within the protected area of certain National Parks then check the local regulations. Such car parks do exist, an example is the “Tiveden” National Park. The boundaries of National Parks are marked with a sign showing a white star on blue background.
Other restrictions may come from the following signs:
Q: The official “Stopping Restriction” sign with an additional motorhome symbol?
A: Motorhomes may not park here at all, other vehicles may. This is an official traffic sign and must be observed. Otherwise you may be fined or wheel-clamped.
Q: Similar to above, but with an additional time definition (e.g: 22:00-06:00)?
A: Motorhomes may not park here during the specified time. Again this must be observed.
By the way: If there is more than one time definition, then the definition in black or white letters without brackets is valid on normal weekdays, a definition in brackets on Saturdays and weekdays before a public holiday, and a definition in red letters on Sundays and public holidays.
Q: Crossed-out caravan symbol or “Ej husvagn”?
A: You may not place a caravan here. Does not affect motorhomes. This sign is usually only placed to prevent a quite common Swedish habit: Placing a caravan at a scenic spot for several weeks if not months during the summer.
Q: Crossed-out tent?
A: You may not pitch a tent here. Has no meaning for motorhomes.
Q: “No Camping” or “Camping förbjudet”?
A: This is a difficult one. You find it usually in the vicinity of camp sites, which already gives you an indication who has placed it… Many of these signs are hand-painted and do not look very official. And as long as you are simply overnight parking, you are strictly speaking not camping! However many of these signs seem to deliberately aim at nightly motorhome stopovers. So it is again up to you to decide whether you stay nonetheless. Legally you are on the safe side, even on private roads, however there have been reports about raging camp site owners trying to chase away motorhomes in the middle of the night.
Q: “Privat” (also in combination with any of the above):
A: This is private ground, so you should not park there even at daylight, unless you have the owner’s permission. Normally you will only find this sign at places which are close to a house, but where this is not obvious from the road side.
Q: Crossed-out motorhome symbol or “Ej Husbiler”?
A: This means “No Motorhomes” and should be obeyed.
Q: The letter “M” on blue or white background?
A: This is a passing place on a single-track road, not a car park! No parking at any time!
In Towns and Cities:
Q: I want to spend a night in a town. Where can I do that?
A: You will not (yet) find many dedicated motorhome stopover sites similar to the German “Stellplatz” or French “Aire” in Sweden. But their number is increasing. Also some city car parks explicitly allow overnight parking, usually via Pay&Display. Ask at the local tourist office or look into this site’s database if you need information about sites on specific locations.
If there is no official stopover site you could check at local sports grounds. Follow signs to “Idrettsplass”. Usually they are located in a little distance from inhabited houses, provide large car parks and are quiet at night, except if there is an event taking place.
Q: What about car parks at churches or graveyards?
A: Strictly speaking it is not illegal to spend the night there, however it is sometimes considered as very rude behaviour to stay at such sacred places. Same goes for a habit of some motorhomers, refilling their fresh water from graveyard taps. Better go to petrol stations.
Q: And what about museums, restaurants, marinas etc?
A: No problem, as long as you have the owner’s permission. Some places, especially marinas, meanwhile explicitly allow motorhome stopovers, but then usually charge a fee.
Q: May I simply stay in a residential area?
A: No, as you will not be able to stay out of sight from inhabited houses.
Q: And in an industrial area?
A: This is not illegal, but in Sweden you will almost always find more pleasant surroundings for an overnight stopover.
Rubbish, Fresh and Waste Water:
Q: If I am not going on camp sites, where can I dump my waste water?
A: Other than in Norway there are only very few dedicated motorhome sanitary stations in Sweden. However, having a long caravanning tradition, there are many places at road lay-bys where you can empty transportable grey and black water containers. Look out for a lay-by with toilets, and at most of these toilet buildings you will find a special basin for emptying portable toilet holding tanks behind the door marked “Latrin”. Here you can also dump your grey water into, if you have a portable container for it or use the emptied toilet cassette.
For some large motorhomes or RVs this is however not an option because the basin is mounted too high. These have to go to camp sites from time to time where ground sinks are available.
Q: Where do I get fresh water?
A: Usually at petrol stations. Look for “Vatten”. Practically all manned petrol stations offer water. There is normally a locker with glass doors where you find a bucket of water for washing the windscreen and the device for checking tyre pressure. And in this locker there is usually a water tap. Provided that you refuel you will get fresh water in most cases for free.
Q: And where do I get rid of my garbage?
A: You will find dust bins on practically all car parks, picnic sites etc.
Keep in mind that for bottles and drink cans (bought in Sweden) a refund system is in place, so do not throw them in the dust bins but bring them back to the shops and collect the deposit. At supermarkets there are machines that accept bottles and cans and print out a receipt for you to get the refund from the cashier desk. A similar refund system exists in Norway, however the two are not compatible.