Here’s a secret that anyone coming to bike tour or hike in the Netherlands needs to know: you can camp for free, legally and in some beautiful natural settings.
The way to do it? Head for one of the many paalkampeerterreinen or (loosely translated) pole camping sites, spread around the country. The name comes from the fact that these simple tenting sites are marked only by a wooden pole and a sign that confirms their status as a free camping spot.
You can see the locations on this map.
If you don’t want to plan ahead, then just keep your eyes out for this sign as you’re cycling through nature areas. You might get lucky but beware: these spots are supposed to be discreet and can be hard to find if you don’t have a GPS. If you don’t have a GPS, then take a good picture of their location on Google Maps (at a high zoom level) before you go, so you can spot the little track leading off into the woods or a field.
What you’ll generally find is a small cleared area where up to 3 tents can be placed for up to 72 hours and a water pump (good for washing but not drinking).
You can’t have an open fire but you can use camping stoves. Keeping with the rustic theme, there won’t be toilets either and you’ll have to carry your garbage out with you, following the leave no trace principles.
The simplicity of these sites is what we love best about them. There may not be many facilities but that also means they’re tranquil (no cars ever show up because you can only access these sites by bike or on foot) and they offer a great chance to enjoy nature in one of Europe’s most densely populated countries.
*Note: in earlier versions of this article we linked to this map of free camping sites in the Netherlands and this similar Google map of free Dutch camping sites but they may not be as up-to-date as the link now included in the main body of the article.