Wild camping, or free camping is where you park your vehicle in an acceptable place, such as a beach car park, and camp for free. Camping is perhaps a misleading term. In most countries erecting a tent is not accepted, and you should ensure that all of your things remain in your vehicle. Sitting outside with a table and chairs is fine, as is hanging out your washing. The key thing is to make no noise and mess, leave the spot as you found it.

The ups and downs of wild camping

Free camping is a great way to reduce your daily costs, by not paying campsite fees. The downside is that you do not have the facilities that the campsite offers. For smaller vehicles, such as camper vans, the biggest problem is normally that you will not have a toilet or shower at the free camping location. Many beach side areas have cold water showers, and some have toilets. You can of course get a chemical toilet to store in your vehicle. Large vehicles often have a toilet and shower room. It is possible to work around the lack of facilities by using the beach showers and using toilets in local places such as bus stations, train stations, supermarkets and of course public toilets. If you have the nerve it is possible to enter a larger restaurant, when it's busy, and just use the toilets. It is unlikely anyone will notice or challenge you. You must respect the free camping area to ensure it's continued use.

Security when wild camping

Your vehicle is always at risk from thieves and damage not mater where you are. Free camping spots are known by locals and most leisure vehicles are very obvious. Always park sensible, never leave anything on display, and always lock your vehicle. If others are parking in the area park next to them, not just close to them. A vehicle is safer when in a pack of vehicles, rather than a lone vehicle on the edge of the pack. When you park up chat with the people camping around you. Don't be put off by people with dreadlocks or by surfers, which you will find in seaside areas. These people are normally very nice, friendly and also looking for a secure place to park.


You should always get permission before free camping. This is not always easy as it can be hard to determine who to ask. It is made more difficult when travelling in a country where you do not speak the primary language. If you do not seek permission when you must accept that you may be awoken by the police or land owner, moved on or issued with a fine. This is very rare though. In acceptable or designated free camping areas very few troubles occur. In my experience I have had no trouble, meet lots of nice people and saved a lot of money.

In France there are many official free camping sites, knows as aire de camping. These may charge a small overnight fee during peak months, but are free during off-peak times. Responsible free camping is generally accepted elsewhere.

In Spain and Portugal free camping is tolerated in most car parks around beach areas. In some areas it is not tolerated, and will be signposted. Note: free camping is illegal in the Algarve region of Portugal.

Be considerate

Free camping is accepted in many areas as the local people accept that the visiting travelers will spend their money on supplies, fuel and restaurants in local establishments. It is important to not upset the local people, police and authorities. If you do upset people you, and everyone else there, will almost certainly be moved on. This may also jeopardise the future of the free camping location. If you follow the simply rules and use your common sense you can enjoy free camping in lots of lovely areas, meet lots of nice people and save money.

Suitable wild camping areas


Beaches are a great, and for many, the best place to free camp. You can normally park up in a sandy or dirt car park, facing the sea. Beach areas are normally quite and have beautiful views and sounds. Some have toilets, and some have cold water showers. It is often possible to get water from the showers to use for washing, etc.

Truck stops

Many cross-country main roads have truck stops where truckers stop overnight. Almost all are free, some not being much more that dirt areas to the side of fuel stations. These areas can be good places to stop for the night. Safety is generally good, as you will almost always find at least 1 truck parked up. If you do stop stay out of the way of the trucks. The trucks need a lot of space to turn, and won't be happy if you are parked in the way. Look on the dirt surface to see their tire tracks, this will indicate where they turn and park.

Road laybys

It is often possible to find nice road laybys in which to park. Often around lakes or mountain areas. Parking next to a busy road isn't a good idea. Crime can be high in roadside areas.

Supermarket car parks

Some supermarkets allow vehicle to park overnight. Tesco in Britain accepts a few vehicles when parked out of the way. ALWAYS ask permission before stopping for the night.

City parks

Many city parks have large roads or avenues around them. It is often possible to find somewhere to park for the night.

Urban areas

If you have a small vehicle, such as a camper van, you can often park in urban areas. Always be aware of your profile though, crime is everywhere. If you have a stealth camper your chances of a free nights stop are much better. I have done this many times and had no problems. However, friends have had people try to pick their locks.

Wild camping etiquette

  1. Never leave any rubbish or waste behind.
  2. Never make excessive noise. If you are playing music ensure only you can hear it.
  3. Park sensible, so that people can use the parking bays around your vehicle.
  4. If you have to run your engine to charge your leisure batteries, do so during the day, and not at night or early morning.
  5. Don't ever use a generator, as they are noisy and everyone will hear it. If you need mains electricity then you probably need a campsite.

Comments (101)

  • Joel's picture

    In Portugal there is many free municipal parking sites with facilities.
    Online you can find detailed maps and the security level.
    Also in the Algarve region there is lots of motorhomes parking freely.
    Portuguese law classifies motorhomes as vehicles so parking is allowed anywhere.
    If you see a forbidden sign posted, its municipal law and you will get a fine from the local council, GNR and PSP police will not usually enforce local laws...

    Nov 14, 2016
  • KevinMc12345's picture


    We have the use of a beautiful little campervan for the weekend at the end of October. Does anyone know a beach in Kent we can park up at for a couple of nights, perhaps light a small campfire? We are completely self contained, we don't need running water or electricity, just a nice view.


    Oct 03, 2016
  • Kate Llyn's picture

    I have recently acquired a campervan and have had trouble mapping places to park overnight for free. I am in Kent close to the Sussex border. Does anyone have any suggestions of destinations?
    Thanks for help

    Nov 07, 2015
  • Anonymous's picture

    Any good wild camping sites for a motorhome between Almerimar and Malaga. Please

    Sep 28, 2015
  • Dave Hamer's picture

    Im off to north Norfolk, does anyone know of any good free camping spots?
    Cheers People x

    Mar 31, 2015
  • louise's picture

    any one know were there is any free camper van sites or tenting areas around greater london ??

    Mar 30, 2015
  • mark stone's picture

    hi all , just a bit of wild camping info , if u like the idea of enjoying a free camp , with clean water and toilets try Fenworthy reservoir in dartmoor national park all the fresh air wildlife and freedom u need , ive been going theur regular for the past twenty years and can still find no other place quite like it , its a step back in time and the local police are exelent they even knocked to inform me that there had been some car crime in the area and not to leave valubals on dissplay while away from the camper, you just dont get that king of service in kent lol ,there are shops about 3 miles away which are amaizingly cheap and good quility in chagford the closest village there is also a fresh water tap in main square to fill bottles ect, wild trout in the lake taste exelent fried , there are wild mushrooms everywhere but dont be tempted as most are fatal and some edable ones look like the poison ones, DONT chance it . plenty of deer about and if ur lucky or unlucky wild boar , not to be mistaken for the nice friendly pigs on tv they will have a go .
    Ive been their sun rain and snow and its the one spot ive found to be unspoilt by industry and profiteers , please if u go leave it as u found it clean and unspoilt,

    Mar 15, 2015
  • nicolas's picture
    nicolas (not verified)

    It certainly is a shame that people abuse these parking spaces and ruin it for others.
    I hope the UK adopts designated parking spaces for motorhomes, just like France.
    This will go a long way to resolving this problem.

    Nov 20, 2014
  • Mags's picture

    Have any of you happy campers ever considered that you might be unwelcome to park in the AONB I live in? Considered that your ugly vans might just detract from that beauty? Would you like a bunch of travellers setting up camp at the bottom of your garden? And let's get down to basics - if I have to 'bag it and bin it' or risk a hefty fine when I take my dogs for a walk don't you think you should do the same? This summer I have watched campervans transform a beautiful remote headland into a visual nightmare and a serious public health risk with human waste (dogs don't use lavatory paper!) lurking everywhere along with barbecue remains, crisp packets etc etc etc. Pay for a campsite.

    Sep 13, 2014
  • carolynne sinclair's picture

    Little Roodee in Chester on the River Dee. Cheap as chips for overnight stops.right on cycle path for chirp and N. Wales. Even if you stay all day it's £6 max. Lots to see and places to visit. 2 minutes walk from historic Roman city centre. 20 minutes cycle ride into Wales along the R.Dee.

    Aug 06, 2014
  • Andrea 's picture

    We are looking to camp in Bruges in mid August and I have not found a site available :(
    We have a campervan that we can sleep in so we were wondering if anyone knows if it is ok to park there like it is in France?
    Can anyone recommend what places and in what areas if so please.
    Many thanks

    Jul 10, 2014
  • Cornish Countryside Lover's picture

    We Live in Cornwall and not far from the SW Coast Path, near where we live there are about 6 parking areas along the cliffs joining the SW Coast Path. In the spring and summer these car parks are NO GO areas for local people and walkers, as the car parks are full of Motor Caravans, these car parks are owned by the National Trust and every park has a CLEAR 'NO CAMPING' sign. I actually contacted the NT about this and the mess and rubbish left behind by Motor Caravanners. I had a reply back from a Mr Pope the NT area manager who said in his e-mail to me that the NT are aware of the problem of Motor Caravanners parking and emptying there chemical toilets in the bushes.

    Do we really need this? If you can afford to buy a Motor Caravan then why can't you afford to park in proper camp sites, or is that the reason for owning a motor caravan, just so you can camp for free.

    Camping for free in 'OUR' beauty spots bring nothing to the local economy, you fill with diesel when you leave home, you also go to your local supermarket to by your food, you then come here, park for free all weekend (or longer), you buy nothing from local shops you buy no diesel from local garages and you pay nothing to camp.

    What you do, is leave carrier bags of rubbish piled up for the council (that we pay for) to get rid of, you empty your chemical toilets in the bushes that our kids are likely to touch, and you let your brown waste water just empty out onto the ground, not including the eyesore of seeing upwards of 8 or 9 motor caravans parked in a beauty spot.

    We own a caravan and always park in campsites we buy our diesel and food where we camp so adding to the local economy

    Nov 01, 2013
  • Biffo's picture

    It is a shame to here the bias rant from the CCL above. All people with motorhomes, campervans etc, tarred with the same brush unlike the people with caravans who are all green and wonderful. When I say "green" I don't mean envious, that some people can afford a motorhome and caravan owners cannot. All caravan owners shop locally and all motorhome owners don't. It does make me wonder how you get your car and caravan to YOUR beauty spot without any fuel in the tank if you only buy it once you have arrived. I know I'm being silly......and so are you. Please look at what you have written. I bet if I wrote all caravan owners leave old cookers, fridges and old scrap cars behind....and what is a view if not to share with others. It is not yours alone. I would be interested to know what "brown water" is perhaps you could enlighten. I will not condone emptying toilet cassettes as you described obviously. Washing up water on to flower beds or down a drain is no better or worse than washing your car on the street or on your drive.
    Please try to keep in touch with reality.

    Nov 21, 2013
  • Darren's picture

    It certainly is a shame that people abuse these parking spaces and ruin it for others.
    I hope the UK adopts designated parking spaces for motorhomes, just like France.
    This will go a long way to resolving this problem.

    Nov 01, 2013
  • GRAHAM BUNTON's picture

    I live in France so I can tell you what the situation is like.
    Our village is required by law to provide sites for travellers. I understand this is a law imposed by the EU.
    However travellers need not be those amateur car dismantlers who are expert in turning a picturesque layby into a rubbish tip before moving on to pastures new. They can be motorcaravanners too.
    The French are no more keen on the antisocial variety than anyone else so they provide sites, as demanded by the law, but aimed at genuine caravanners who TRAVEL. They are limited in size, provide water and dumping points for waste water and restrict the number of days you can stop.
    As they are run by the local commune the locals benefit and campers get a nice clean site.

    Oct 17, 2016
  • Teresa's picture

    I am to be made redundant next May 2014, i am seriously looking at buying a camper, mid range VW BAY WINDOW hopefully, then take my time and travel the coast of britain.... not religiusly to the coastal road, but having been inspired by the COAST BBC programme, i feel it is essential that i take the oppotunity that may never re present itself again :-)
    I will be a travelling femail alone and mostly want to concentrate on wild/free camping the the obvious benefits of the occasional stop.
    Scotland is somewhere i want to concentrate on but England and wales also.
    If anyone has any advise to add, i am loving this site/blog and have picked up loads of tips already.
    Thank you all in advance!

    Aug 22, 2013
  • Brent Westbrook's picture
    Brent Westbrook (not verified)

    Hi Teresa

    I was looking for heating for my T4 when I came across this forum!

    Anyway, I got made redundant in 2010. I used my experience (IT project manager) and went contracting. Earned more in 3 years than I did as an employee in 20 years. I've used that cash as a backup to start my own website business and online marketing. Think about your skills and how you can start out on your own. I've never looked back.

    I live in Torquay and have a T4 for touring in the South West - right on my doorstep - but still a huge area to discover. I put a motorcycle in my T4 to enjoy the sunny days with. I can go when I like. Just need my laptop and my mobile phone.

    Good luck with your trip and I hope something good comes of it

    Oct 09, 2013
  • Rab's picture

    Hi Teresa, sorry to hear you will be made redundant but at least you are not down in the dumps about it. Your plan is great, you will love the VW Bay Window. You will really enjoy the lifestyle and everyone you meet will be friendly. Scotland has fantastic scenery and Free/ wild camping is legal in Scotland, I come from there. I own a 1966 VW Splitscreen and I am currently living and working in Holland and drive around Holland, Belgium and Germany and I love it. I hope you live your dream and have loads of happy memories. I plan on driving back to Scotland next year to first see my kids and then take off up North around Loch Ness and the Highlands.

    Sep 05, 2013
  • busaboy's picture

    The Brook Inn Pub in Plympton, Plymouth have FREE secure camper parking at the rear of the pub. Simply inquire within or check the site. I highly recommend the Brook Inn Plympton as a great quiet FREE stop over if traveling the English West Country.

    Nov 26, 2012


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