There’s something truly liberating about wild camping — deciding on a whim to forgo the journey you had planned and stay one more night in a place you never knew existed. There needn’t be a strict plan or itinerary, just a map, a tent and that exhilarating sense of solitude. It’s something Europe does particularly well, be it sheltering on the shores of a Hebridean island, gazing out towards a lighthouse from an Estonian archipelago or dozing under the glow of the midnight sun in Norway. Here we reveal five of the best wild camping destinations to discover Europe’s bountiful countryside.
The Swedes have a word for the freedom to roam. Allemansrätten translates as ‘all man’s right’, meaning all can move freely through the country’s vast, empty spaces and pockets of wilderness, sleeping beneath the stars for a night before moving on. Strike out to Skåne in the south and explore its wilder fringes along the 800-mile Skåneleden walking trail, threading together national parks, dark and damp primeval woods and golden fields of rapeseed. Ringsjöstrand Camping, situated along the shores of Lake Ringsjön, is a site nearby to pitch your tent — here, guests have access to great facilities and can laze in the shallows of the lake on long, hot summer afternoons. From Ringsjöstrand, you can pick up the trail or veer off towards the waters of Knäbäckshusen beach, near Stenshuvud National Park, and to the tip of the wind-sculpted Kullaberg Peninsula, where you might even spot bottlenose dolphins playing in the inky swells as you abseil down its cliffs.
Wild camping is actively encouraged in Norway, where the mountains soar and the waterfalls thunder. There are plenty of spots to pitch up by water, gazing over glassy lakes with your morning coffee. But for an experience that’ll truly make you feel like you’re in the depths of rural Norway, head towards Gløshaugen — a small peak close to Tromsø. On the high pass towards Rekvik, a back-to-basics camping spot has been scratched out of the earth. There are no facilities but there’s a fireplace if you bring kindling. Once you’ve settled yourself in and admired the surrounding expanse of Tromvik and the island of Vengsøya, walk to the top of Gløshaugen at night to gaze over the scene. Arrive in winter and the Northern Lights might just put on a show for you, too.
Cross the Sea of the Hebrides to Barra and drive along the causeway towards Vatersay, the southernmost inhabited island in the Outer Hebrides. Here, you’ll feel like you’ve landed at the end of the world. Drive south for around three miles and you’ll wind up on the bleached-out sands of Vatersay Bay, ebbed by Caribbean-turquoise waters. There’s no official campground here, but that’s the beauty of wild camping in Scotland — it’s perfectly legal as long as you remove all trace and stay no longer than three nights in one location. As settings go, camping beside the sheltering dunes and waking for revitalising dips in its improbably blue waters takes some beating. Spend a couple of nights here, exploring the beaches of the southern half of the island, before taking on the Hebridean Way: Vatersay marks the start of this iconic walking and cycling trail spanning nearly 200 miles across a trickle of 10 islands.
The Portuguese are stricter on the rules of wild camping and you’ll be asked to move on if you pitch your tent in a nature reserve or on a beach. Download the Roadsurfer Spots app to find unique, isolated pitches let out by private landowners that’ll cost you just a few euros for the night. Take Quinta do Sol Poente — a private farm on the Algarve, where you can erect your tent in any of its quiet corners with views of the imposing Monchique mountain chain. There are just a handful of pitches here, so you can reap all the bucolic joys of sleeping beneath canvas with a few extra frills thrown in too. These include a swimming pool in a former reservoir, hot showers and a home-cooked breakfast each morning on the terrace, plus you’re a short drive from the town of Silves and the honey-coloured sands of Carvoeiro.
Anyone with a love of finding a temporary wild home for the night should look to Estonia. Beyond the endlessly photogenic architecture of Tallinn lies a vast, forested wilderness where bears, elk and wolves skulk in the shadows and in-the-know locals forage for wild berries and mushrooms. There are no restrictions either on pitching your tent in the wild, as long as you leave no trace. Over on the island of Saaremaa in the West Estonian Archipelago, vast forests smother its interior and its coastline is broken with jagged cliffs and endless golden sands. Follow the seven-mile Harilaiu hiking trail, which skirts the namesake peninsula from the Harilaiu recreation site, through pine forests and dunes. It runs to Kiipsaare lighthouse which appears to grow out of the water. After a restorative swim around the lighthouse, stop to pitch overnight at the free camping spot by Laialepa Bay where there’s facilities and a quaint picnic ground.
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