Concerned about the rules for campervan & motorhome parking in Europe? Wondering how to find free motorhome overnight stopovers near you as you travel? Here's everything you need to know about finding and using camper parking in Europe.
Overnight Motorhome Parking in Europe- the Options
If you're heading to Europe with your motorhome or campervan, you have several options for overnight motorhome parking:
- Aires du service for motorhomes (camping cars)
- Other approved overnight motorhome schemes (like France Passion)
- Wild camping/ staying off-grid
As this post is about finding FREE motorhome parking and camper stops in Europe, let's ignore campsites for the moment and focus on how to find the rest.
Long-term Motorhome Parking
There are of course other options for motorhome parking if you're going to be leaving your camper for a while, such as storage facilities, airports and on the street/ people's driveways, but for now let's focus on how to find overnight motorhome stopovers near you as you are travelling around Europe.
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Finding Free Overnight Stopovers in Europe for Motorhomes & campervans
If you're more of a visual person, you can watch the video on how we find free motorhome stopovers near us as we travel around Europe- both for aires or wild camping places. If you enjoy the video, don't forget to subscribe 🙂
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Aires in Europe- are they really free motorhome stopovers?
Aires are magical places for anyone who wants to explore Europe in a motorhome or camper. And they are unlike anything we have in the UK for motorhomes (although a few are springing up here and there, especially as an alternative to motorhome wild camping in Scotland.)
If you're used to UK motorhome holidays, you might find the concept of Aires a bit strange. But here's the important thing to remember: Europeans like motorhomes. Heck, Europeans LOVE motorhomes. They make room for them, they encourage them and…wait for it… towns and villages want you to bring your motorhome there. So they create places for you to park with your motorhome or campervan. And it doesn't cost more than a few pounds a night at most.
When we're touring France in our motorhome, we use Aires ALL. THE. TIME.
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What is an aire for motorhomes??
One thing to understand is that ‘aire' just means area in French. Literally. There are many types of aire in France- not all suitable for motorhome parking, such as aire de jeux- which is a childrens play area!
Also, the motorway rest stop areas are also called aires (aires de repos)
Now, these aires are BRILLIANT for getting fresh water and emptying waste, but we don't recommend sleeping overnight in your motorhome here, even in the designated motorhome parking areas.
There are many stories of vandalism and theft to motorhomes camped overnight at motorway services- even while people are sleeping inside.
So, when we say ‘aire', we mean places provided for motorhome parking near towns and villages, sometimes called ‘aire de camping car' or aires de service.
Some tips for using Aires for overnight motorhome parking
- Aires are first-come, first-served, like a car park. You CANNOT book in advance (except for a few in the mountains in winter if you're going motorhome skiing)
- However, there are so many of them around that we’ve rarely had a problem finding a space. Try to arrive early afternoon if there’s a specific one you want- most people are situated by 3/4pm.
- They cost anywhere from FREE to 15€/night. Signs on the payment meter or notice board are very clear and easy to understand. Normally, you buy a ticket like at a car park and display it in your windscreen. Sometimes you pay at the shop or restaurant or business nearby.
- Aires often have services like fresh water and waste disposal for an additional fee.
- There normally isn’t a barrier or reception and you normally won't find electric supply, although some do for a fee.
How to find Aires for Camping cars in Europe
We find Aires using a couple of apps on our phone or iPad:
You can also find aires in Europe using motorhome books which are updated and re-released every 12-24 months
We prefer the apps to the books as changes are reflected more quickly- for example if an aire is closed down for resurfacing or something.
Having said that, you will need internet in your motorhome to use the apps. But if you don't want to use the internet, a book is your best option and can be useful to carry with you.
Other places for free overnight camper stops in Europe
If you're looking for free overnight parking spots for a motorhome or campervan, but are not quite ready for motorhome wild camping, then a parking scheme might be for you.
Many countries in Europe have created a list of businesses in their country which allow free overnight campervan parking- very similar to Brit Stops in the UK. These are places such as vineyards, restaurants, farms, chateaux and even a snail farm in France! Staying ‘free' is in return for you spending some money at these businesses, in the form of a meal in the restaurant, buying some wine (or snails!) or doing a tour of the chateau.
Don't expect services at these places – it's normally just a parking space in a car park or on someone's field. Occassionally, there might be an electric hookup or somewhere to get fresh water from.
Planning to take your motorhome to Europe?
Depending on the country, you might be sent a book when you join, which will tell you more details about each place and how to book (just like if you join a motorhome club with sites). You need to continue your membership for each year you want to use the facilities.
For us, we didn’t like the ‘expectation’ of the owner- and there is DEFINITELY an expectation that you spend money.
Perhaps we’re too ‘British’, but we felt uncomfortable on the times we just wanted a drink in the restaurant and not a 3 course meal. We’re also not big drinkers and don't visit a lot of vineyards, so it limited our options somewhat.
HOWEVER, if you love vineyards/ farms/ snails, these places are PERFECT for you- free overnight parking and the chance to do something you enjoy. Maybe buy a France Passion book (or whichever country you're visiting in Europe) and see if you use it enough to buy another one.
Schemes for Free motorhome and campervan overnight stopovers in Europe
Here is a list of the schemes in Europe for free motorhome parking overnight:
- FRANCE- France Passion france-passion.com
- GERMANY- Landvergnügen
- GERMANY- WinzerAtlas
- ITALY- In Camper con Gusto (Emilia region)
- ITALY- Agricamper Italia (read our complete guide to motorhoming or campervanning in Italy)
- SWITZERLAND- Swiss Terroir
- SPAIN- España Discovery (see our complete guide to motorhoming or campervanning in Spain)
- PORTUGAL- Portugal EasyCamp
- SWEDEN- Swedestops.se
- DENMARK- Pintrip
- NORWAY- Don't think they have (or need!) one. Wild camping is allowed almost everywhere- it's one of the things we love most about motorhoming in Norway.
Motorhome Wild Camping in Europe
Ah, finally. Our favourite option.
It’s hard to explain what I love so much about wild camping with a motorhome- the freedom, the feeling of no-one else in the world knowing where you are. The night sky. The quiet. Being self-sufficient (with a bed and a fridge and wifi 😉 ).
I just LOVE it. I’d rather wild camp than anything else.
Yet, I was not always like this. The idea used to intimidate me completely. Over the years, we've built our confidence and experience until we're totally comfortable being off-grid.
There is some ‘discussion’ in the van life community that it should be called ‘free parking’ or ‘off-grid’ camping. Call it whatever makes you happy. I call it all three, which honestly, is probably incorrect of me.
There's a big difference between ‘overnight parking' and ‘camping'. Overnight parking is tolerated in many places, whereas ‘camping' (getting outdoor furniture out, using a washing line, having a fire etc) is often banned and reported to the authorities.
Some places are much more tolerant than others- if you're campervanning in Scotland, it used to be fairly tolerated (and still is, away from the NC500), but if you're campervanning in Portugal, you'll find the rules have recently changed and it's nowhere near as tolerated.
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How to find motorhome wild camping places in Europe
Our favourite way to find spots is again to use the free camping in Europe app Park4night (There's also a website). We prefer the app whilst we are driving as it's easier to see where we are on the map, and then look for suitable overnight parking places along our route.
Also, we don't tend to research where we want to stop for the night until about an hour before we want to stop driving. That way, we know where we are, how fast we're moving (if there's any traffic etc) and whether we need a campsite or aire with electric to charge batteries or deal with waste, or if we are prepared for a night off-grid.
READ MORE: Learn how to prepare yourself and your camper for off-grid motorhome parking.
NOTE: If you are planning a motorhome or campervan holiday to Portugal, please be aware they passed a new law (January 2021) banning wild camping for vans- with severe fines if caught. We no longer recommend staying anywhere other than approved sites in Portugal.
How to wild camp with a motorhome or camper in Europe
Wild camp is tolerated in most countries in Europe with a motorhome or campervan, providing you follow these rules:
- Stay well away from areas where wild camping is prohibited
- Stay away from private land and buildings, unless you have the owners permission (eg- almost all land in France is privately owned)
- Arrive late in the day (late afternoon at earliest) and leave by mid-morning.
- In most places, do NOT light a fire or BBQ. At all.
- Don't put out tables/ chairs/ awnings. This is not a campsite (NOTE- we have used our outdoor chairs and BBQ a few times when we've been wild camping in the middle of nowhere. Use your judgement.)
- Don't make loud noise/ play loud music
- Clear up ALL litter and waste
- Watch children and pets and don't let them wander away- wild camping doesn't mean there is no-one else around
- Be sensible about safety. Lock doors and windows before going to sleep (there's a whole section on security later in this guide)
If wild camping is something you'd like to try but feel a bit intimidated by, there's a step-by-step guide we've created for you, including how (and WHY) we choose to stay at some places and not others. It covers the UK & Europe and includes lots of tips for staying safe overnight.
Motorhome wild camping guides for the UK & Europe
For information on how to find good wild camping places, WHAT to do when you're there and how to stay safe, check out our step-by-step guide for motorhome wild camping in the UK and Europe.
You can also grab our database– 250+ places we've stayed overnight with our motorhome
Don't forget to grab your free wild camping checklist here
Tips for using Campervan free overnight stops in Europe
So, now you know how to find free overnight motorhome parking places near you, here are some final tips to help:
- Don't choose a spot until about an hour or so before you want to stop. Our motorhome route planning changes ALL the time as we're touring, especially if we don't have time constraints. Allow yourself to wander where the road takes you.
- It's always good to have a couple of options for your overnight stop- don't just rely on one. There have been a couple of times when we've turned up somewhere and the place has become a building site, or it's been full. Having a couple of options allows for a plan B.
- For the same reason, try to stop by at least early evening if possible, to ensure you get a space in good time.
- Empty waste and get fresh water along the way, so you don't need to find a campsite or an aire with facilities- this will allow you to take advantage of wild camping spots and free motorhome parking places.
- Trust your gut. If you're not happy- move on
- Think about motorhome security. Don't leave your vehicle unattended at a wild camping spot. If you're going for a long hike or a bike ride, use a campsite or at least an aire with a barrier to protect your van.