Everyone in Norway can enjoy vast areas of the countryside and engage in a wide variety of outdoor activities, free of charge. Access rights are a common good that is an integral part of the Norwegian cultural heritage. They allow us all to visit Norway’s mountains and forests, seashore, lakes and rivers, regardless of who owns the land.
The Directorate for Nature Management has overall administrative responsibility for statutory access rights.
Access rights in Norway were codified by the Outdoor Recreation Act, which was adopted in 1957. The Act gives people free access to uncultivated land on foot and on skis, and in many cases on horseback or bicycle, and allows walking and skiing on farmland that is frozen and snow-covered. You are also allowed to picnic, put up a tent for the night, and pick berries and mushrooms. For rules on recreational fishing, see the right-hand menu.
These opportunities to enjoy outdoor life provide major benefits for people’s health and well-being.
It is very important to realise that access also involves responsibilities. The Outdoor Recreation Act is intended to strike a balance between the interests of the general public and landowners’ control of their own property, and to clarify what is and is not included in access rights.
One of the most important points to remember is that you must always show consideration and respect for other people, and make sure that your activities do not inconvenience other users, either visitors or people living and working in the area. The Act is designed to regulate access so that damage to the environment is minimised and conflict is avoided. It specifically states that visitors must behave with due care and make sure that they do not cause damage.
In defining the scope of access rights, the Outdoor Recreation Act distinguishes between “uncultivated land” and “cultivated land” (utmark and innmark in Norwegian). You need to be aware of this distinction when visiting the Norwegian countryside. As a general rule, you can go anywhere you like on foot or on skis on uncultivated land. Access to cultivated land is much more limited.
Cultivated land includes tilled fields, meadows and pasture, but it also means private plots round houses and holiday cabins, farmyards, plantations, and other areas where public access could cause damage or be a nuisance for the owner or user. Small areas of uncultivated land surrounded by tilled fields and meadows or within a fenced area of farmland are also considered to be part of the cultivated area. And the right of access does not apply to areas zoned for industry or other special purposes where public access would cause problems.
Uncultivated land includes all areas that are not farmed and not otherwise classified as cultivated land. In practice, this means most beaches and rocky shorelines, lakes, bogs, heaths, forest and mountain areas throughout Norway. There is more than enough space for everyone to enjoy a varied outdoor life.
Many people enjoy walking, picnicking, swimming, sailing and sunbathing along Norway’s coast. But many parts of the coastline are just as attractive for other purposes, and there is constant pressure for development of housing, holiday homes or industry. As a result, public access is being lost in a number of coastal areas.
Competition for space along the coast often leads to conflicts, and it is particularly important for everyone to show consideration for others. If you are visiting an area to walk, swim or sunbathe, you must be careful not to disturb other people, take all your litter with you, and respect the environment.
But this does not mean that people who live and work or have holiday homes in the area are allowed to obstruct your access rights. This has become a problem in some of the most popular areas, where it is not unusual for people who own property to try to exclude visitors from coastal areas to which the public has access rights. For example, fences may be extended right down to the shoreline, “private property” signs put up, or jetties and other structures built without permission. The fact that someone has paid for the land does not give them the right to exclude others from areas defined as uncultivated land. It can be difficult to know what the legal position is if you meet barriers to access, but you are normally within your rights to walk along the coastline and to picnic and swim as long as you are not so close to houses or holiday homes that you invade people’s privacy.
Visitors who are using motorhomes or caravans should note that there is a general ban on off-road driving in Norway. However, under the Outdoor Recreation Act you are generally allowed to park on rough ground alongside public roads, provided that you do not cause damage or inconvenience. You may also park alongside private roads unless the owner has forbidden this. These rules mean that you can spend the night next to the road in most areas. Overnight parking is also allowed in most lay-bys and car parks outside built-up areas, but check the signs to see whether special rules apply. Please always use proper waste disposal points at campsites or petrol stations when emptying the toilet, and make sure that you have taken all your rubbish with you when you move on.
In the sea (including fjords), you are free to use a motor boat as part of your access rights. Please remember that weather conditions are often difficult and can change very fast at sea, and that much of the Norwegian coast is exposed to wind and waves. There have been many accidents involving people fishing from small boats, especially foreigners. We urge you not to take risks – please use life jackets and other safety equipment, listen to advice from the locals, check the weather forecast and do not let yourself be tempted to go too far out to sea.