Fancy getting close to nature? You could stay in one of Sweden’s rural hostels or hotels. But when camping is so easy – and often completely free – why bother?
Spending the night under canvas in Sweden is about as good as camping gets. You can fall asleep to the sound of howling wolves and a crackling campfire, and wake up to magnificent views of the sunlight stretching through the trees.
But what’s the best way to try camping in Sweden? And where should you pitch up?
The first thing to decide is whether you want to camp wild or pitch up at an organised campsite. Wild camping gives you the flexibility to set up almost anywhere, but facilities are limited to what you can carry with you (and perhaps a lake for getting washed in). Campsites offer a bit more comfort and maybe a Swedish sauna, but you’ll usually have to weigh this up against the fact that – with kids running wild – it won’t feel like much of a ‘back to nature’ experience.
Wild camping in Sweden
Sweden is one of the best places in the world to go wild camping. Unspoilt areas of forest abound and Allemansrätten (the freedom to roam) is enshrined in Swedish law. In simple terms this exists to give everyone access to nature, including areas of privately owned land, but there are still certain rules about what you can and can’t do.
The golden rules for camping wild in Sweden:
- Show respect towards the environment. That includes wild plants, any animals you encounter, and any other people who are also out trying to enjoy the Swedish countryside. Don’t walk over or camp on crops, or any other areas that can be easily damaged. Don’t litter.
- The law says you have a limited right to cross another person’s land or stay on it for a short period of time, even if the owner hasn’t given specific consent. But you cannot pitch up anywhere near their buildings, or otherwise disturb the owner or their business interests. Gardens and other areas that look like they are part of a plot of land around a building are always off limits, even if forested.
- You must obey any specific bans on camping, campfires etc. These might apply in areas where rare species are found, or where there’s a big chance of forest fires. If there’s a maximum stay of one night, make sure you only stay for one night.
- There’s no problem with camping for a night or two in forested areas, so long as you are far enough away from any houses. Don’t stay for so long that people think you’re squatting and might never leave.
What about cycling and skiing?
The same rules apply for cycling and skiing as for walking – avoid crops and areas near buildings and you won’t go far wrong. Obviously you should take care not to ski or go cycling if there are signs forbidding it. There’s more info in our guides to skiing and cycling in Sweden.
Can I bring a car or motorbike?
The basic rule is that you can only bring your car or motorbike to the point where marked roads ends. If a track is fenced off, don’t try to go along it. Snowmobiles are often permitted in rural areas, but you should always try to stick to marked trails.
Can I swim in lakes?
Yes, as long as you respect the rules about not getting too near to private homes. If you have a boat or kayak, you can usually take that onto the lake without any trouble (motorboats are sometimes banned for environmental reasons). Likewise, when lakes freeze over, you’re free to ice-skate or ski across them, providing it’s safe to do so.
Is it okay to jump from someone else’s jetty?
Yes, as long as the owner isn’t using it. If there are slides or more elaborate platforms overhanging the water then they may be able to charge you, but in reality it’s unlikely that they will.
Can I go fishing and eat what I catch?
If you’re at sea or on one of the big lakes (Hjälmaren, Mälaren, Vänern, Vättern or Storsjön) you’re free to fish and eat what you like, as long as you catch it with a rod or small net – leave the trawler at home. On smaller lakes and waterways, you’ll almost always need a permit.
Can I go foraging?
With some exceptions (like saplings, for example) you’re free to pick what you find in the forest. This means that you can liven up a camping trip with some delicious wild berries, herbs and mushrooms. Be certain that what you’ve picked is safe to eat – you really don’t want to poison yourself a long way from the nearest hospital.
Can I pick wild flowers in Sweden?
Yes, but do not pull up saplings or remove bark from trees for your campfire.
Can I make a campfire?
Unless there is a specific rule against it in the area you are camping, yes. Make sure you keep an eye on the fire so that it doesn’t spread – fines for starting fires that get out of control can be hefty. Take extra care in the summertime when things dry out and the risk for forest fires becomes serious. You can collect as much dead wood to get your fire started as is necessary but don’t fell timber or borrow bark from any living trees.
Is hunting allowed in Sweden?
Hunting is allowed in Sweden but it’s not a part of the freedom to roam. There are also strict rules determining who can carry a weapon and what can be hunted – the Swedish Hunting Association has information in English.
Can I bring my dog camping?
Yes – just make sure it doesn’t cause alarm to other animals. From early March to mid April, dogs should be kept on a lead so as not to scare off livestock. If you spot reindeer or think there’s a chance you might encounter them in the area, you should keep your dog on a lead regardless of the time of year.
What about caravans?
You can usually overnight in a caravan or campervan as long as you’re off the road and parked safely in a layby. If there are signs that expressly forbid staying overnight, carry on until you find somewhere else. The rules are similar to those for camping – don’t get too near to private houses and you should be fine.
Is it possible to camp wild in the winter?
It doesn’t appeal to everyone but camping in the winter is possible in Sweden. It goes without saying that you should be prepared for snow and very low temperatures – you’ll need a good tent, a sleeping bag that’s designed for extreme cold (ideally with a built-in hood) and proper winter wear. The key to staying warm is staying dry. Keep anything wet (clothes, shoes, etc) outside the tent. You’ll also need to insulate yourself from the ground as best you can – bring foam roll mats to lie on.
Where do I go to the toilet?
Do your business away from any walking trails and at least 50 metres away from the nearest water source. Dig a hole for your number twos, or at very least cover them (along with any corresponding paperwork) using sticks, dirt, stones or leaves.
Where can I buy outdoor gear?
Good quality camping gear is expensive at the best of times but in Sweden it’s especially costly; don’t come expecting to find super-cheap down jackets just because it’s cold. The best advice is to buy what you can before you arrive. Amazon and eBay usually have good deals.
What about organised tours?
If you don’t fancy going it alone, consider joining an organised trip that involves a bit of wild camping. On this guided trip in Sweden you can fall asleep listening to the sound of howling wolves.
Campsites in Sweden
If the idea of trudging off to the forest for a night under canvas fills you with dread, don’t worry – there is another way. Organised campsites are found right across Sweden, providing a more civilised (and some would say less adventurours) alternative to camping wild.
The size and quality of Swedish campsites varies enormously. Some are little more than empty fields with a block of toilets and a couple of showers, while others are big, family friendly resorts with a mix of static caravans, cottages and hotel rooms, all connected to a whopping great waterpark or pool, plus self-catering kitchens and a restaurant.
How much you pay will depend of the facilities but a typical price for a tent and two adults is around 175–250 SEK per night. Sometimes showers are included in the price but otherwise you may have to buy a ‘shower card’ that’s loaded with money – you hold the card up to a reader near the shower itself and are then charged by the minute.
Some Swedish campsites stay open for tents all year round but most close off those pitches when winter rolls around, so your only alternative is to camp wild or pay up for a bed in a cottage or dormitory.
Where to book
You can check prices for campsites across Sweden and Denmark on Booking.com. Annoyingly, some Swedish campsites will only let you stay if you are a member of Camping Key Europe. Listings on the Booking.com website will tell you if this is the case; look under the section called ‘fine print’ at the bottom of each listing. If you decide that it’s worth joining you can usually do so when you arrive at the campsite (150 SEK for a year).
Five special campsites in Sweden
Mora Camping, Dalarna
Right near beautiful Lake Siljan in Central Sweden, Mora Camping (part of Mora Parken) has lovely grass pitches surrounded by tall pines. When the weather’s good you can hire a kayak from the campsite and paddle out into the lake.
Visby Strandby, Gotland
Marvellous sea views and a good location near the medieval stronghold of Visby make this campsite a popular choice among Swedish families visiting the Baltic island of Gotland.
First Camp Malmö, Malmö
On a clear day you’ll see Denmark from the beachside plots at First Camp Malmö, which is within easy photo-snapping distance of the Öresund Bridge. It’s a bit of a bus ride from Malmö’s town centre, but close to a couple of nice swimming spots.
Camp Ripan, Kiruna
Kiruna’s relatively big by northern Swedish standards, but it’s still relatively easy to escape the industrial sprawl. At Camp Ripan, on the edge of the city, you can camp under the midnight sun.
Smögens Camping, Bohuslän
You don’t need to drive far from Gothenburg for the classic west coast images of fishing boats, red cottages and smooth granite boulders to roll into view. This coastal campsite near the holiday island of Smögen has nice flat pitches for tents and caravans.