A handy guide to camping and caravan holidays in Holland
Despite Holland being the most densely populated country in Europe and one of its smallest, the Dutch have a great affinity with camping. It comes from a need to be close to the country’s unusual and fascinating landscape, largely flat but criss-crossed by rivers and canals busy with large barges and punctuated by the numerous windmills and water pumps that help keep the sea at bay.
Holland has around 900 campsites, which are fairly evenly scattered across the country. At one time sites were classified by the ANWB (Royal Dutch Touring Club) using a star rating, but in 2005 that system was replaced by scores to evaluate a site’s various elements. There are up to six categories, the site grounds, pitches, sanitation, swimming pool, shop and restaurant, and sports and entertainment, which each receive a score out of ten, and then an average is taken to give an overall score. The ANWB says the method gives a better idea of the diversity and quality of a campsite’s facilities. Overall, sites are well-equipped, with modern toilets and shower units, and they often have a bar, a well-stocked shop and sports facilities. As well as accepting tents, caravans and motorhomes, many sites hire out cabins. The majority of sites open from April until the end of October, but some open all year round.
Two people staying in a tent or caravan can expect to pay anything from €10 to €35 per night camping in Holland, but there are a handful of sites that charge rather more than that - in some cases up to €45. Some sites also charge a couple of euros or so for a car and two or three euros for electric hook-up. There is also a tourist tax of around €1 per person per night.
Amsterdam is Holland’s most popular tourist destination, and for good reason (check out the Amsterdam Card entitling you to free admission to the city’s many museums and discounts at some restaurants, attractions and shops, as well as free public transport). Visitors to Amsterdam, have seven campsites sites to choose from, either in the city or its outskirts.
But what else does the country have to offer? The south is the most densely populated area, but well-preserved medieval towns like Dordrecht, Gouda, Leiden and especially Delft still manage to stand out proudly from the urban sprawl. East of the modern city-port of Rotterdam, old Holland can be seen at Kinderdijk in the shape of 19 closely grouped windmills, built in the mid 18th century, lining the canals.
Farther north, delightful old fishing villages around the Ijsselmeer like Hoorn, Volendam, Marken and Enkhuizen are now reliant on tourism. At the latter, the Zuiderzee outdoor museum is a recreation of what life was like in a fishing community before so much land was reclaimed from the sea.
To the west, Alkmaar is famous for its weekly cheese market while, beyond, the coast has superb sandy beaches backed by dunes and lively resorts like Scheveningen, Katwijk aan Zee and Noordwijk aan Zee. The latter is close to the dazzling spectacle of the Bloembollenstreek bulbfields, at their colourful best in springtime.
Off the north coast, the Wadden Islands make an interesting excursion on a camping holiday in Holland, especially as not all are accessible by car. East of Amsterdam, Gelderland has Holland’s hilliest landscape, with forests and heathland, plus plenty of foot and cycle paths. A must is the De Hoge Veluwe National Park.
What to take
You’ll need camping gear, of course, and the usual documents like passports, ferry tickets, health insurance including the European Health Insurance Card, driving licence, and Green Card insurance for your car, extended to include caravan or trailer if you are towing. Another useful document is the Camping Card International, which is available to members of the Camping and Caravanning Club, the Caravan Club, the AA and RAC. The card, valid for a year, can be deposited at campsite receptions instead of a passport, provides third party personal liability cover during your stay and can qualify you for a discount on site fees.
Generally, the Dutch, especially younger people, don’t expect visitors to be able to speak their difficult guttural language. Most have an excellent command of English and are happy to use it. A phrasebook would be useful, though, especially for understanding signs, menus etc. And why not take a bike? With a 15,000km cycle track network, much of it well away from other traffic, cycling is a great way to explore the countryside.
For other camping holiday ideas read our guide to camping holidays in France or our guide to camping holidays in Spain.
P&Os camping holiday expert
In the past 20 years, John Lloyd has written extensively on travel and the outdoors in newspapers, magazines and books. He also edited Camping Magazine for 10 years and now writes regularly for the Caravan Club Magazine as well as for Living Spain, Destination France and France Magazine. There are few places in Europe and the US where he hasn't pitched at tent at some point. Whilst he's happy to enjoy the luxuries of a top grade campsite, he also likes camping out in remote wilderness areas.