In our article
we discuss staying overnight with a camper in Spain. Unfortunately, there is no general regulation in Europe and sometimes not even within a country. However, finding a place to stay is easy if you observe a few rules and if you adjust your requirements to the country, location, and the moment. Time plays a role in the season as well as arrival and departure times.
The first important thing is to be aware of the purpose of the motorhome trip and the overnight stays. Some motorhome travellers go to the Costa del Sol for months and others take a real road trip and do not sleep twice in the same place. If you are planning to go cycling on the Moselle River in Germany for a long weekend for example or go on a motorhome trip through Spain for 3 weeks, the requirements will of course change. Sometimes you are looking for the perfect place to stay for a few days, with toilet, shower, views, and restaurants and sometimes you just need a place to sleep for the night.
Especially around larger cities, the motorhome parking area is often no more than a concrete parking lot where the motorhomes are packed without facilities. Fine to spend the night, but not really a place to enjoy your view or watch your children play. Of course, the only purpose of that area is a place to stay overnight and to visit the city, nothing more, nothing less. If you are looking for a quieter place to spend the night in your camper, look for a smaller town or a campsite nearby with a good rail or bus connection to the city centre. That way you have the best of the two. Various motorhome apps can help you with this.
Before you leave, you can read about the camper customs of the country. Take the season into account. For example, during the busy summer months and school holidays, enforcement will be much stricter than at other times of the year. Especially in tourist areas. However, the advantage of those areas in low season is that you often find very good facilities and the rules and signage are clear. The authorities also often turn a blind eye in low season. If you go with an older motorhome, do keep in mind that more and more environmental zones are being introduced. For example, the German Ruhr area, Madrid, Barcelona, Paris, Strasbourg, Rome, Florence and Milan etc.
The arrival and departure times are also relevant. For example, most day-trippers leave after breakfast and arrive after lunch in the afternoon. Keep this in mind at busy times. If you really want to be somewhere, make sure you arrive early or book a campsite.
As you can see, there are some restrictions in and around the large cities and tourist areas. Fortunately, more and more large, and smaller cities are responding to this by creating fantastic motorhome pitches with very good facilities. Sometimes it is just best to just look for a campsite and pay a little more. That way you know that your belongings are safe, you can put your tired legs in a fresh swimming pool or take a nice long shower after the city visit. Outside the busy areas it is usually quite easy to find a place to stay. Below is a summary of the options.
As a rule, we can divide the overnight accommodations into:
- (Mixed) Motorhome areas
- (Highway) mixed parking spaces
- Free (non-regulated) camping
1. (Mixed) Motorhome areas
The pure motorhome pitches, usually described in the well-known apps as www.campercontact or www.park4night.com, are specifically aimed at motorhome owners. You can find them everywhere these days. Sometimes privately owned and sometimes publicly owned. Some municipalities facilitate a parking lot to spend the night and sometimes you camp between grape vines or apple blossoms at a farm. Most have some facilities to call themselves a camper stop, but to what extent and in which physical state, often depends on the manager. Prices vary from free to “camping prices” for the more luxurious motorhome pitches. Fortunately, it is all transparent thanks to the apps mentioned above. Location, price, facilities, and ratings can all be read before and during your vacation planning. In addition to the pure motorhome pitches, there are so-called mixed parking spaces. For example, a general parking lot with extra camper facilities.
Thanks to the steady increase in RVs, many campsites have now set up special motorhome pitches and built motorhome facilities in addition to the regular camping pitches. They are often slightly more expensive than regular motorhome pitches, but cheaper than a camping pitch; Nice to take a nice long shower, let the children play and to relax and stay in the same place for some days.
3. (Highway) mixed parking spaces
We often find overnight (trucking) areas along the motorways. Referred to as ¨Aires¨ in France, Raststätten¨ in Germany or ¨Area de Servicio¨ in Spain. You usually park there between trucks and other holiday traffic. Many are located at gas stations and/or restaurants where toilets and even showers are usually acceptable. Which usually cannot be said for public toilet areas without staff. Due to their easy access, these places are unfortunately also often the working area for delinquents. French motorways are notoriously famous for the number of vehicle break-ins every year.
4. Free (non-regulated) camping
Free camping is staying overnight in places that are not specially designed for campers. This can be in a city, in the countryside and even on a beach. A distinction must be made here between staying overnight and camping. Spending the night is really nothing more than sleeping in your car. Camping is opening your awning displaying chairs and tables and using a BBQ. While staying overnight is often still allowed/tolerated, camping is usually prohibited. The difference is regulated by law in most countries.
Unless not allowed, most people will choose a mix of various parking options during a motorhome holiday. In general, most areas are very safe but in and around the larger cities and on motorways you must keep an eye on your belongings. Just use your common sense. Although free camping or a motorhome area sometimes feels unsafe due to the lack of lighting and the silence, it is in those places where fewest incidents happen. Just always make sure you take your ID with you and travel with as little valuables as possible.
An overview of the regulation on overnight stays in Northern, Western and Southern Europe:
Except for Andorra la Vella, the capital of Andorra, it is allowed to spend the night with the camper on public roads and parking spaces. In Andorra la Vella this is prohibited, and campers are requested to leave at 23:00. Wild camping is prohibited, as is camping behaviour.
In Belgium it is regulated locally, and it can therefore vary, but unless indicated per prohibition sign, it is generally allowed in Belgium to stay in the same (parking) place for 24 hours. In Antwerp and on the Belgian coast, however, it is prohibited to spend the night outside the designated motorhome pitches. Wild camping is prohibited, and camping behaviour is not appreciated.
In Denmark, free overnight stays are prohibited, so you must go to campsites or motorhome areas. This is allowed on private property if you have the owner’s permission.
Unless it is expressly prohibited by means of signs, you can stay overnight everywhere in Germany with a camper, but a distinction is made between parking (and staying overnight) and camping. Wild camping, on the other hand, is prohibited. You can always stay overnight at Raststätten and Autohofen.
France is the perfect country to visit with your motorhome. Every self-respecting village has a motorhome or a city campsite. It is also formally allowed in France to stay 7 days with your camper in a parking lot. So, if you can park there: then you can stay there. Along motorways however this is only 24 hours. Although municipalities also place prohibition signs in France, they are technically illegal. With the permission of the owner or the police you can also camp free with your camper at, for example, a winegrower or agricultural farms. (https://www.france-passion.com/en/
Free standing and wild camping with the motorhome are prohibited by law in Italy. It is, however, permitted, unless expressly prohibited, to spend the night in parking spaces. Do not stay more than 24 hours and do not show camping behaviour. Particularly in the tourist and coastal areas, strict enforcement is enforced with heavy fines if you spend the night outside the designated zones. Of the coast however, it is not so black and white, and often tolerated. Just like in France, you can stay ‘free’ with a camper at more than 400 ¨agriturismi¨ in Italy. You don’t pay anything for the stay, but you do have to be a member of ¨Fattore Amico¨. The system is similar to the well-known France Passion, where you can spend the night with a motorhome at French winegrowers.
Here we can be brief. Overnight stays on public roads and with private individuals and camping in the wild are prohibited, even with the owner’s permission. There are many motorhome areas and (mini) campsites. Check the camper apps for their locations.
Norway has excellent facilities for campers. Campsites and motorhome areas, but also wild camping is legally permitted in Norway on unfenced grounds and at least 100 meters from houses. You may not stay in the same place for more than 3 days and do not show camping behaviour.
Austria has excellent campsites, motorhome areas and mixed parking spaces. You can spend one night outside camping and motorhome areas with your camper, except in Vienna, Tirol, and the national parks.
Due to the sprawl, it has recently been prohibited by law to camp free and camp in the wild in Portugal. However, this is tolerated in many places outside the high season. Of course, there are good motorhome areas and cheap campsites in the country.
Switzerland has many excellent motorhome areas and camp sites. You can stay overnight on motorways. Free standing is in principle prohibited but staying overnight is often tolerated. However, this is arranged per Canton. You can spend the night at winegrowers, cheese makers and chocolatiers for a fixed amount per year.
Although many people have heard of ¨Allemansrätten¨, this does not apply to motorhomes. In Sweden you can spend the night outside the designated parking spaces provided you do not stay more than 24 hours. Driving/overnight stays are prohibited in nature reserves and permission from the owner is required for overnight stays on private property.
Due to the popularity of the motorhome, it is sometimes busy, especially in the high season and in coastal areas in Europe. Fortunately, more and more communities are responding to this and create special motorhome areas. If you want to stay in a tourist area in the summer, it is probably wise to book a campsite. Fortunately, it is our experience that people always manage to find a place for their RV in any country in Western Europe. Mind that you are a guest and that you always represent ¨the motorhome community¨ when you are on the road with a motorhome or camper van. Do not make unnecessary noise, clean up your mess and act as a good guest to a friendly neighbour. In this way we all contribute to our community and we will always be welcome, everywhere.