Swedish word of the day: allemansrätten

Becky Waterton
Becky Waterton - [email protected]
Swedish word of the day: allemansrätten
The Swedish right to roam is enshrined in the constitution. But where does the term come from? Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

With the first signs of spring appearing in Sweden, you may be wanting to get out and explore nature and what it has to offer. Today's word of the day explains your rights in the great outdoors.


Today's word of the day is allemansrätten. Allemansrätten is often referred to in English as the "right to roam", and it is often seen as a uniquely Swedish right, even regarded as somewhat of a national treasure. It is closely linked to another Scandinavian concept - friluftsliv, roughly translating as "life in the open air".

So, where does the word allemansrätten come from? 

For much of Swedish history, forests were seen as shared property for those in nearby towns or parishes - areas which were referred to as allmänningar, similar to English commons: pieces of open land for public use.


The word allmän in modern Swedish often refers to something public, such as in allmän plats ('public space') or allmänna sammankomst ('public gatherings'), which often came up in questions over Swedish Covid-19 regulations.

The allemansrätt, therefore, can refer to "the right to common public spaces", although nowadays it refers specifically to what you can and can't do when out enjoying Swedish nature.

The Swedish allemansrätt has been enshrined in the Swedish constitution since 1994, with the word allemansrätt first appearing in 1940 in line with authorities wishing to make it easier for urban dwellers to enjoy the countryside, while ensuring that an increase in visitors to rural areas would not pose a risk to nature.

It wasn't a new idea then, though - precursors to the allemansrätt can be traced back all the way to the 1200s.

The Östgötalag, a medieval law covering Östergötland in south west Sweden, as well as parts of Småland, stated that travellers were allowed to harvest hazelnuts in the Swedish forests, but only enough to fill a glove up to the thumb.

Travellers in the medieval province of Skåneland, encompassing Skåne, Halland and Blekinge, had the same right - under Skånelagen, they were allowed to pick enough hazelnuts to fill a hat.

Curiously, although the Swedish constitution protects your right to "access nature according to allemansrätten", allemansrätten is not actually defined anywhere in Swedish law, leaving it up to interpretation.


The Swedish Environmental Code (Miljöbalken) states that "all who exercise their right to roam or are otherwise present in nature must show consideration and caution when interacting with it", and the Environmental Protection Agency (Naturvårdsverket) usually define it as inte störa - inte förstöra ('don't disturb, don't destroy').

In practice, though, allemansrätten gives you the right to roam freely through Sweden's countryside, with the exception of homes and private gardens. You are also allowed to forage in the same areas, providing you respect nature and give consideration to other people (and animals!) hoping to do the same.

As a rule, you can pick wild herbs, flowers, berries and mushrooms, although some plants (such as rare flowers) are protected, meaning you aren't allowed to pick them.

You can only forage the flowers and berries which grow back each year – no digging up plants or roots in a way which will damage the plant.

In contrast to medieval Sweden, you're not allowed to forage nuts or acorns without the landowner's permission, unless they've already fallen to the ground.


Camping is also covered under allemansrätten - a couple of tents can camp for one or two nights, as long as they are placed away from farms, pastures and planted areas, as well as far enough away from private homes so that they don't disturb residents.

Those wishing to camp for longer or in a larger group must ask the landowner for permission first - and if you're not sure if you legally need to ask for permission or not, it's probably best to do so anyway, just to be on the safe side.

You aren't allowed to camp just anywhere in national parks or nature reserves either - only in specifically signposted areas, and some national parks don't allow camping at all.

Local municipalities may have their own rules about camping in parks and areas often used for outdoor sports, too - you can usually find information on this by contacting the local municipality or the police.

Be careful about fires, as well. Allemansrätten doesn't give you any specific right to start a campfire, and if you do so, choose an area where there is no risk of damage to land or vegetation, and no risk of the fire spreading. In terms of kindling, you can take fallen pinecones, loose twigs and branches you find on the ground, but you're not allowed to cut down or take branches or twigs from living trees for your fire.

Don't chop up dead trees either - they're important for biodiversity and provide a home for many different kinds of insect.

Popular outdoor recreation areas often have designated fire or grill areas where you are allowed to start a fire, although summer dry spells often result in fire bans, so it's a good idea to double check before you go to make sure there are no bans in effect.

Example sentences:

Allemansrätten är inte bara en rättighet, man har också ett ansvar att värna om naturen.

The right to roam is not just a right, you also have a responsibility to look after nature.

Den svenska allemansrätten är en nationalskatt!

The Swedish right to roam is a national treasure!

Villa, Volvo, Vovve: The Local’s Word Guide to Swedish Life, written by The Local’s journalists, is now available to order. Head to to read more about it. It is also possible to buy your copy from Amazon USAmazon UKBokus or Adlibris.


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