When Americans picture “camping”, many will picture a remote area in the great outdoors, far from the hustle and bustle of the cities. Or perhaps they will think of backyard tent sleepovers, Boy Scout forest expeditions, or summer vacations in their family RV.
However, for many Europeans, camping brings up a slightly different picture. Sure, many campgrounds in Europe are nestled in an area of natural beauty, perhaps by a lake or among hiking trails. However,, they are also usually close to something else – the nearest tourist destination! Budget-savvy European travelers know this is one of the best, wallet-friendly ways to see the continent without sacrificing location, comfort, or amenities.
“Many campgrounds have full-size cottages.”
1. Bang for Your Buck
Europe is famous for having very cute, very tiny hotel rooms. It isn’t unheard of to have little more than a double bed in your room, and often due to capacity laws, families with children over a certain age must split the family into two or even three rooms. With a campground, space is not at a premium.
Many campgrounds have full-size cottages with two or three bedrooms, bathrooms, and kitchens, often with a full deck out front to enjoy the evening sunsets. These cottages range in price depending on location and size, but we found a two-bedroom cottage with a bathroom and fully equipped kitchen at a campground in the 16th arrondissement of Paris (just across the river from the Eiffel Tower) for 140 euros a night.
Of course, it’s not just the roof over your head and space to spread out that makes this option budget-friendly. If you have an equipped kitchen, you have the opportunity to shop for your own groceries and cook some of your own meals, cutting the cost of travel significantly.
2. Location, Location, Location
Unlike in America, many campgrounds are extremely close to a corresponding major city or destination.
In Switzerland, those wanting to see the Jungfrau region can stay in well-equipped campgrounds with full-size cabins, within a ten-minute walk to the Lauterbrunnen train station or the Schilthorn Gondola that whisks passengers to the adorable alpine towns of Mürren and Gimmelwald.
In Strasbourg, the CityKamp location feels remote, but it is a short bicycle ride from their famous Cathedral. No bike? a light rail stop is directly outside the campground and will whisk you to the Cathedral in 12 minutes.
Even for campgrounds that are further out from the city center, having less expensive accommodations means that a rental car may be able to fit into the budget. Having wheels of your own means that you can explore things off the beaten path.
“many campgrounds are very close to public transportation and their corresponding grand cities.”
3. Get Out of the Tourist Areas and In with the Locals
While many campgrounds are very close to public transportation and their corresponding grand cities, staying out of the tourist areas and having a car gives you access to some of Europe’s less well-known, but no less extraordinary, sights. You may find you have more of an opportunity to live and travel like a local, without feeling like every experience is catering to Americans.
You’ll also see many Europeans with their own caravans and cabins, out to play with their families on holiday. Many speak English and are usually eager to tell visitors about their favorite sites and restaurants in the area and beyond. It can be a wonderful way to bring some cultural exchange and make unique memories.
“Even at smaller campgrounds, daily fresh bread service, playgrounds, and cafes with local brew and fresh espresso are de rigueur.”
4. Think Nature, not Rustic
You may be amongst the trees and hiking paths at a campground, but these areas are far from the rustic and utilitarian campsites Americans are familiar with. European travelers often expect many perks and activities to entertain during their stay, and some amenities will feel as luxurious as the best hotels.
In the peak summer months, there are often thermal spas and children’s clubs to entertain the young ones while their parents relax at the on-site restaurant. Some campgrounds even provide occasional entertainment with local bands. Activities such as swimming pools, mini golf, and table tennis are available to entertain in the long summer evenings and prove a great way to meet and chat with other vacationers.
Even at smaller campgrounds, daily fresh bread service, playgrounds, and cafes with local brew and fresh espresso are de rigueur. Rather than providing a “get away from it all” experience, European campgrounds aim to bring the amenities and relaxation of a hotel to a natural, easy setting.
“most campgrounds have wifi.”
5. Kid (and Pet!) Friendly
With so many on-site activities, camping often makes for a wonderful family vacation in Europe. Small, romantic hotels on the town square may have been great for that pre-kid honeymoon, but every parent will tell you kids are happiest when they have space to run and play.
I’ve found children are much more amenable to touring (“another?!”) cathedral or walking through a (“boring!”) art museum when the promise of pool, pizza, and playgrounds back at the campsite is in the mix. For those with little ones that have boundless energy, the campground offers a safe place to run around and often make buddies with other vacationing kids (never mind any language barrier, tag is a universal game!).
Teens will appreciate having their own space in the cabin to spread out, and the freedom to go for a walk on the trail paths – not to mention most campgrounds have wifi for those necessary texts and FaceTime calls back to friends at home. Of course, it goes without saying that your pooch will appreciate the sights and smells of nature trails, and you’ll save yourself the headache of trying to find a spot for them in the local kennel.