Planning a city break? What you need to know about urban motorhoming
Motorhoming isn’t just about finding an isolated spot to get away from it all. Your motorhome gives you the opportunity to sample the brightest and best UK and European cities under your own steam, while avoiding a hefty hotel bill.
From choosing the right spot through to hassle-free urban driving, here’s how to plan your next city-based motorhome trip.
Which cities are possible in a motorhome?
This all depends on the amount of time you have. Logistically, a motorhome city break in Prague takes a little more planning than a trip to Paris, but both are realistic options so long as you map out your route and are clear on your accommodation options in advance.
For most UK cities, and for those locations that are just a short hop over the channel, getting to your city of choice in one day might be achievable. If you are going deeper into the continent, or if you just want to take things at a more leisurely pace, a stopover may be required.
France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Spain are all well-equipped with stopovers, knowns as aires in France, parkingplatz in Germany, and Áreas Autocaravanas in Spain. These overnight spots are geared specifically for motorhomes, and can accommodate all sizes, from campervans right up to American-style RVs. They are run by local authorities and are usually free to use, although services are rudimentary: usually just drinking water and toilet disposal facilities.
An aire can be a useful option for a no-nonsense overnight stay en route to your destination city. Although Eastern European cities are themselves usually served by motorhome and camping spots nearby, this type of convenient stopover becomes less common — which might mean scheduling your overnight stop in Germany, for instance.
Plan out your route, check out a listing site such as All the Aires and identify possible stopovers. Bear in mind that aires operate on a first-come-first-served basis, so you’ll need to have several back-ups on your radar in case your first choice is full. Alternatively, if you want the reassurance of knowing that you’re going to get a spot for the night, there’s the option of breaking up your journey at a fully-serviced site, booked in advance.
Whatever your city and chosen route, you are of course aiming for a stress-free journey, including not finding yourself stranded on an autobahn if a mechanical fault arises. The right insurance cover is a must, and Club Care Insurance for motorhomes can be tailored to suit your needs.
Choosing city-based motorhome sites
Settling in for a weekend directly outside Edinburgh Castle or on the feet of the Spanish Steps isn’t an option as you’ll be moved on by the authorities. However, in many cities in the UK and Europe, there are basic overnight motorhome carpark options available and these can usually be identified by making enquiries with the local tourist board. Do check your vehicle height is suitable as many carparks restrict access to taller vehicles.
With this comes the advantage of a central location, albeit with few or no facilities — so you’ll need to be completely self-sufficient. These spots generally cannot be reserved however, so your chances of securing a space are down to pot luck, and if you go out in your motorhome for the day, you may find the spot is gone on your return.
Pre-booking a site is a safer option, and such sites tend to be on the outskirts of the city. This, though, can be one of the bonuses of motorhoming city breaks: the ability to pop in and out of the centre and also being able to explore the hinterland in your vehicle is a real boon. If you choose a site with good public transport links (or a free shuttle service), you may be able to bypass the need for city-centre driving altogether.
However, if this is your plan, don’t automatically assume that if the address of the site features the name of your city that it is necessarily within easy reach of the centre (“Venice”, for instance, covers an area of 953 square miles). Don’t necessarily take the site’s website blurb about how easy it is to reach the city centre via train or bus at face value, either. Instead, do your own research through Google Maps and reliable travel websites.
Driving and staying safe
Motorhomes in or close to cities are often seen as potentially rich pickings by thieves. Even if your site has video surveillance, don’t forget basic security considerations such as ensuring doors and windows are properly locked and not advertising your valuable belongings by having them on display. Luckily, Club Care Insurance policies include personal effects cover up to £5,000, with discounts available for fitting a tracking system.
Negotiating city streets in a micro motorhome such as the Romahome is obviously a much easier prospect than the much larger ‘A’ Class motorhomes. For larger vehicles, there’s the additional issue of finding a suitable parking space when it’s time to get out and explore on foot. This is another reason why it’s often easier to camp on the outskirts and make your own way into the centre.
If your motorhome is a recent purchase, make sure you are comfortable with tight manoeuvres before your trip. This involves approaching corners with a clear visualisation of where other vehicles and pedestrians are in relation to you and the clearance you require for backing up. The Club offers courses for motorhomers to help build confidence on the road and performing manoeuvres.
A travelling companion can provide invaluable information when driving in unfamiliar surroundings: as someone to get out and guide you into a parking space or to check an unknown street for clearance room before you commit to a turn, for instance. Sat-nav can be invaluable, too, but not all great cities have great mobile coverage, so it’s also worth investing in a paper street map as a back-up.
Planning your route, thinking smart about when and where to take your motorhome when you arrive, and having the right protection in place can help to ensure your city break goes without a hitch.
A number of cities and other urban areas have emission controls, make sure you understand these before travelling as you may need a pass or sticker or in some locations will not be allowed to enter unless the vehicle meets certain emission standards, see our advice here on emission zones.