Relatively few Americans take advantage of Europe's 10,000-plus campgrounds. While often more functional than scenic, these campgrounds can be the cheapest way to see Europe and a great way to meet European families. Here are your tips on the best places:
Speaking as a European (British but fully supportive of European unity), I have thoroughly enjoyed reading these comments on camping within the EU. May I just say that you really should consider camping in the UK, especially the Lake District in England and Glencoe in Scotland.
Glasgow, Scotland 11/22/03
Camping in France
Our family of 4 (with girls 12 & 15) spent 24 days in July 03 touring France. We rented a car in Versailles and did 1/2 hotels & 1/2 camping. I loved it: more space/freedom/and our own beds (sleeping bags). We ate out the entire time (lots of pastry shops & juice/water/milk at markets) and did not cook in the campgrounds. Only used them for sleeping/bathing/relaxing. We took the L.L. Bean Extra Large Duffle with wheels & the Large Bean Duffle for our camping stuff: 6 person Eureka tent, 4 pads, 4 sleeping bags in compression sacks, and 4 bath towels.
I spent lots of time on the internet before the trip scoping out campsites but it turned out not to be helpful or necessary (except for the Versailles site). Having reservations was actually bad in one case (St. Tropez, which was a disaster). I was amazed: once we got to France I saw signs in every town for campgrounds. On our next trip we will take our gear and not worry about reserving places. We never had trouble finding availability. Bathrooms/showers were clean. Though we didn't stay in any - saw lots of signs along the Normandy coast for campgrounds going south from Honfleur.
France was very costly this summer with the poor exchange rate. But camping allowed us to do our trip on the budget we had planned before the dollar dropped. Example: family of 4 hotel averaged 160 E/night and campground for 4 averaged 25 E/night.
Our only disaster was trying to get from Cassis to St. Tropez on the scenic road near the water. We saw a wonderful looking campground in the hills and should have stopped there. But no, we went on as we had reservations at a place on the beach in St. Tropez. This campground was packed with tons of other campers in a tent/trailer city, inches apart, next to a scummy harbor. Do not camp along this area!
The next morning we left by 8:00 am for Antibes. Beautiful city - but impossible to get into and then find parking! Finally gave up on the Riveira and drove back to Cassis via the toll express road. Camped back in Cassis. Nothing fancy - small city campground but 10 minutes from the water. We loved Cassis! We should have just camped there for a week! Skip the Riviera in July - it was horrible trying to drive there. We had planned on going to Nice and possibly into Italy but skipped it due to traffic. Would love to spend our next trip camping along the Normandy beaches. They were awesome and sandy.
Here was how our trip shaped up: Paris - 2 nights hotel; Versailles-
2 nights campground; Bayeux - 1 night hotel; Chenonceux - 2 nights hotel;
Chambord - 1 night hotel; Macon/Cluny - 4 nights campground; Le Baux -
1 night hotel; St. Tropez - 1 night campground; Cassis - 3 nights campground;
Chamonix - 3 nights B&B; Paris - 2 nights hotel.
Mt. Vernon, WA USA 10/04/03
We just returned from a fantastic 3 weeks of driving/camping our way through southern Germany and Italy. Our tips:
1. Write to each country's travel office to ask for camping maps. We also ordered the British Automobile Assoc. Guide to Camping and Caravaning in Europe - very helpful.
2. Get A/C in your car - Europe is having a heat wave! We did our driving mid-day, sightseeing late afternoon/evening.
3. Prepare your kids for a variety of toilets - no seats, coin-operated, just a hole, no tp! Buy tp when you arrive and keep it in the car - most campground bathrooms don't have it!
4. Plan on about 6 Euro per person per night, plus 6-8 Euro for your car and tent. We paid on average about 25 Euro per night for a family of three.
5. Wal-mart in Italy and Auchan in Italy are good discount stores where you can find your pots, dishes, chairs, table etc. We gave all these items away at our last campground and made our neighbors very happy!
6. Keep ingredients for at least one dinner and a bottle of wine in the car. By the time you get where you are going or finish sightseeing, it is sometimes difficult to find an open market. Buy your groceries each day before siesta, and don't buy anything you need to keep cold for long - ice does not exist! All our campgrounds had small markets and restaurants - very nice.
7. In Italy, women will feel more comfortable with a skirt or dress in the evening. Even in the campgrounds people dress for the evening "passeggiata" - stroll.
8. Go to the Cinque Terre in Italy - it is "oh my Gosh" beautiful and was our favorite day.
9. Don't plan on meeting other Americans in the campgrounds - people were pleasantly surprised to see us camping - "you are not typical Americans" they said!
10. Smile and start conversations - we found everyone very helpful and
friendly. Camping in Europe is awesome - have fun!
Harpers Ferry, WV USA 07/23/03
We camped in the UK, Scandinavia, Germany, and Netherlands. It was great, but differs a bit from the camping you would expect based on experience in the USA. Most of the campgrounds are in settings we would think of as city parks. You will not be allowed to build a fire. There is only a small chance that a picnic table will be available. You will have a terrible time finding ice for an ice chest. If you bring a backpack stove that uses "Coleman" fuel, the fuel will be hard to find and very expensive. You can do well by purchasing "blue" ice packs. Many campgrounds will refreeze these for you. Buy a stove that uses the Camping GAZ cylinders. These seem to be easily available. You can also burn unleaded gasoline or kerosene in some stoves.
Remember that you have to fly back, and you want to clean the stove so that it does not smell of fuel. You can buy inexpensive tables and chairs at the european version of home centers. We got a long skinny table made for putting paste on wallpaper. Yes it was ugly, but we could stand up and cook. You may want one large tent rather than two small ones, as you may be charged for each tent.
A camping card might save you money, and acts as an ID when checking
in. The camping host is required to have some documentation for each group
these days. Make a point of talking to the neighbors. They will likely
be from all over the world. Much of eastern Europe is now traveling in
the west as well. They had to take all those English classes, and can
just as well practice on you! You will find food in grocery stores more
expensive than at home, but a lot cheaper than eating out. If you are
pinching pennies, think about the foods produced in the country you are
visiting. These tend to be cheaper than imports. Enjoy!
Mesa, AZ USA 07/13/03
As per the question about the campsite in Florence, there is a website, and you can reserve tents ahead of time (no reservations for regular camping) The website states: "In Piazzale Michelangelo, which looks out over the city of Florence, you can find Camping Michelangelo, which is open all year round. The campsite, which is easily reachable by car, camper or bus, is situated in an excellent position, close to the city centre, which is only a short walk away, or should you prefer, buses pass every 10 minutes." http://www.ecvacanze.it/michelangelo/ingl.htm
San Diego, CA USA 07/08/03
I found a great site called Camping Cheque (off season travel). You pre-pay for any number of certificates for campsites at 13EUR each (plus a flat 6EUR service charge). Each cheque includes 2 persons+car+tent or camper and showers). They are good at over 300 sites and all campgrounds seem to be 3-4 star places. This seems to be about 25-50% savings in price. Usually just July and August are excluded. The website has details on every campsite: http://www.campingcheque.com/ Unfortunately, there is no US distributor. The British office will not send cheques outside Britain, but the French office will. I emailed (in English) and they sent them out promptly along with a nice directory. Here is the email: firstname.lastname@example.org Happy Camping!
San Diego, CA USA 07/08/03
Camping in Europe
Myself, my husband and two teenagers recently returned from a three week driving/camping tour of Europe. We covered alot of ground and usually only stayed one night or two in one spot. Campsights are plentiful and varied, from one star to four star camps with complete water parks. We really enjoyed being able to jump in a pool at the end of a hot day of driving (we had no AC in our camper van, a big mistake!) We stayed in the Dutch countryside, at Punta Sabbioni directly across from Venice, in a small terraced camp on the Italian coast near Cinque Terre and a crowded, loud camp near Barcelona. Each camp had it's own charm and one even had a disco! I can't say which was my favorite but we stayed at one in the town of Rocamadour, France and the people were extremely nice and the old village on the canyon wall was amazing. I would recommend camping to anyone, it is convenient and much cheaper than hotels.
Chico, CA USA 07/01/03
Camping in Denmark
There are 700 private campsites in Denmark, many for only 15 Danish kroner per person per night (about $2.50). Look on www.teltpladser.dk.
Århus, Denmark 05/11/03
Camping is the Best!
Camping in Europe is a fantastic experience. Staying in a camp for three weeks is much more "intensive living" than the ten-city tours we all see hyped.
We have made friends for a lifetime just by going to the same camp at the same time every year. At our table in the evening we'll have friends from England, France, Belgium, and Spain. Relationships are what make Europe special, and camping is a special way to build relationships.
Basically we go there to live, or maybe we're practising for retirement? Our camp has it all: market, bar, laundry, very nice restaurant, take-away, 3 pools, tennis courts, playgrounds, petanque court, disco every other night for the kids, 5 minutes to golf, incredible local sights and cuisine. It's on a completely isolated hilltop, so kids can run free with no worries. There's a hypermart (grocery store) in the nearest town. Every year we have a competition to see who can get the best bottle of wine for the least amount of money. The all-time winner cost the equivalent of $3.18 and it was marvellous.
We stay in a mobile home, which is a lot like having a suite out in the woods. I like the days where I have exactly three decisions to make: breakfast, lunch and dinner.
After awhile you get to know the owners. This year in December we received
an email with a photo of our campground completely snowed in. How different
from August! That he took the time to share the photo speaks volumes about
how relationships are valued.
Dallas, TX USA 04/17/03
Euro Camping Card
I was able to obtain a Camping Card International from CAA (AAA's sister agency in Canada) by emailing them. This is the message they sent back to me:
"We invite you to click on the link below to access the CAA-National
Website. http://www.caa.ca/e/travel/id/camping-aaa.shtml. You will find
all the information about the Camping Carnet and the application form
at the bottom of the page."
Pittsburgh, PA USA 04/17/03
Camping with Eurocamp
My family of 4 did a Eurocamp vacation, beginning in Paris and going as far south as Rome. Mostly we stayed in the mobile home type trailers, however a few nights were spent "under canvas," in nice tents! The campsites were very well maintained, and the three weeks we spent were awesome.
Dallas, Tx USA 03/18/03
my husband and i are planning our fourth european camping trip this spring and can't wait! we chose to try camping rather than small hotels and b&b's a few years back and now we are hooked. we love it for the total freedom it offers, the outdoor atmosphere, and the european people you meet. we have felt completely safe and welcome everywhere we've gone. some camp owners have never had canadians at their site! on the topic of theft at campsites, we have had absolutely no problem and we've camped in 7 western european countries. we just zip up our tent in the morning, go sightseeing, and return to our site, never even a hint of theft or intrusion. if you love the freedom of roadtripping and curling up next to castles and historic sights, do not hesitate to give camping a try.
Kamloops , BC Canada 03/18/03
Camping in Firenze
I am surprised I have not seen a listing anywhere for the campsite located near Michelangelo plaza in Florence. I was in a real pinch, walking in the rain, looking for a place to sleep, when an American living in Florence told me about this place. It is a great place, cots and tents are provided and showers and bathrooms are provided. The tents are small but I was by myself and had a two cot tent for 18 euro. It is just down the road from Michelangelo plaza and ask for Camping Michelangelo. I would like to see anyone elses comment on this place.
Escalon, CA USA 02/23/03
My girlfriend and I went to Amsterdam this summer and stayed at Camping Zeeburg, it was conveniently close to the city (only a 15min. tram ride) and fairly cheap. Our first night we rented a cabin because we just got off the plane and wanted a good night's sleep, and it was very clean. However, make sure you lock everything-twice! I'm sure this goes for everything in Amsterdam, but in particularly when you're camping...
Ottawa, Ontario CAN 11/01/02
Camping on Mykonos
I ended up camping on Mykonos to save money. There were two campgrounds to choose from and I was directed towards Mykonos camping on Paranga Beach. It was quite pleasant, scenic and most importantly it doesn't have music on at all hours of the night unlikethe other Mykonos campground.
Berkeley, Ca USA 06/16/02
Camping in Europe
I went to Europe in April/May and camped 25 nights out of the month. While in Amsterdam we camped at Vligenbous, north (norde) of the city. Just take a bus from Ams. central and ask the driver if he's going there. Make sure you go north through the tunnel or u took the wrong bus. Its a good place to camp, a little expensive for europe at $8 a person. You can burn all u want to there.
R.P., CA USA 02/20/02
Camping: back door travel guaranteed!
If you are on a shoestring budget and can't afford the "stocking-feet-cozy" places Rick loves, consider camping.
My daughter and I traveled across Europe for three weeks. We had a 4-person backpack tent (weighs only 7 pounds), a plastic ground cloth, and two down sleeping bags that we carried in a duffle bag (a wheeled duffle would have made life easier). We each carried a regular pack with our clothes and personal items. There are laundry facilities everywhere so you don't need a ton of clothes. We each had a 3/4 length foam pad that compressed into a tight roll we would tie to our packs or to the duffle, making sleeping on the ground comfortable. The 4-person size tent gave us room set up house and store all our stuff inside with us.
How we stretched our budget: we stayed in Vienna for $12 a day. The camping in Vienna was typical: it was smack-dab in the middle of an upper-middle class neighborhood and a quick bus/metro ride to the city center. Our tent was pitched on a lawn. Campground had beautiful shower/bathroom facilities, a well-stocked market, and a cafe that was open early until late. There was a communal kitchen available, too, and with minimal effort, a friendly smile and a few groceries you can organize a pot-luck.
Many of the campings we visited also had rooms-with-a-bunk available for just a little more than the cost of a camp site. We didn't stay in them, but I recommend them to budget minded travelers. We didn't camp in all the cities we visited. Saving money in Vienna allowed us to "splurge" on a nice room in Venice, for instance, where the camping places were father away from town than I wanted to be.
In the places we stayed we felt very safe, and we simply locked the tent
door when we left each day. Any valuables were kept in my security belt.
Cambridge, MA USA 02/15/02
Camping in the Dordogne
Yes, we love to camp. A few years ago we bought a big cheap caravan tent and some "cots"; drove to the Dordogne region in SW-SC France and stayed a week each in two big campgrounds, which we used as a base of operations. It was cheap. The people were really friendly and from many countries. The places had all the facilities you would ever want, cafe, restuarant, plus the usual. The French were not snobby, but they don't speak great English. I think this region is well known for camping. Many families. A delightful atmosphere.
Copenhagen, DK 01/04/02
Camping with a view: Sorrento
After spending a hot and dusty day in Pompeii, we drove south to Sorrento and found one of the best campsites we've ever been to in Europe - Camping Fortunato. The camppsite is located on a terraced hillside in a lemon grove!. The smell of lemons (there's netting around the trees to prevent the fruit from falling on your heads and to prevent campers from picking them) and the view from the top is outstanding. There's a steep winding path the leads down to a little inlet with a pebbly beach. A small fishing boating was just pulling in its net and if you swim out a little you have a great view of the sunset over Mount Vesuvius. Don't miss this one if you're near Pompeii/Sorrento.
Toronto, Canada 10/31/01
We spent 3 weeks camping in Denmark this August. Had a great time! It never cost over $15 a night. A great option for those who don't want to tent is camping huts which are available at most campgrounds in northern europe these days. Our best investment before leaving was to get an international camping carnet ($10) from CAA (I think AAA in US can request through the canadian office as this is not available in US at this time). This provides the third party liability insurance most campgrounds require in europe. It also gives discounts and campgounds accept this in lieu of your passport. This is the second time we've tented in Europe, a few years ago we spent 2 months in Germany, Italy and France. The best times we've spent have been when we stayed in campgounds. The people are friendy and these are europeans also on their vacations. Camping is a safe and inexpensive way to see europe for women. My sister and I had no problems.
Camping in Slovakia
The jewel in the crown of Slovakian campsites for atmospheric situation and pure chilled outness has to be at a place called Cerveny Klastor (red monastary) on the banks of the Dunajec river which separates Slovakia and Poland north east of the High Tatras. Thank God it's not easy to get to
none - still roaming, 09/11/01
General Camping Tips
Camping is where it's at! Some consider camping "roughing" it. I consider camping loads of fun and a great way to meet some really awesome people.
Depending on your geographic locality and the time of year, make sure you are properly equipped to take on the weather. Campsites are abundant just about anywhere you go in Europe. They will range from 2 to 8 dollars per night per person. Alot of them do have showers, laundry, and some even have bars and restaurants.
If you are ever stranded, or lost and need to set up camp, be smart about it. Get away from the road; if in the woods, watch for animals, etc. I have camped in campgrounds: this is the ideal place to be — safe, clean, fun, etc. I have stayed on private land — always, always, always get the permission of the landowner first. I payed a farmer 10 dollars to let me pitch a tent on his land for almost two weeks. However, make sure you are smart and courteous about this. Leave without a trace, i.e. keep the place clean, and respect his land.
I have stayed in the woods — when I do this I feel safer, or more comfortable if I do not pitch a tent. I just throw down my sleeping bag. Just be smart about this (animals, water, etc.) I have also stayed in public parks — I do NOT recommend this. It can be very unsafe. This is where most of the gang activity will take place in the middle of the night. Not to mention that it is against the law in Europe.
And last but certainly not least — be safe and have a blast, cause your
Lexington, KY USA 07/18/01