Bivouac offers tent camping atop the roofs of Brooklyn. (Photo: Mark Römisch)
It’s summertime, and your inner traveler is torn — is it into the woods for stargazing or off to the city for sightseeing? We say why decide, when the prospect of urban camping offers the best of both worlds? While urban camping might sound like an oxymoron, there are some surprising prospects for campsites set within city limits that make for perfect base camps for city exploring while letting you sleep under the stars at night. From waking up in Central Park to viewing Sydney Harbour from your camp, here are some of the world’s most memorable urban campsites.
New York City
Pitch your tent in the midst of NYC’s concrete jungle, courtesy of the Urban Park Rangers camping program. The free, family-friendly, scheduled events sign up participants through an online lottery system for park camping spanning all five NYC boroughs, including Manhattan’s Central Park and Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. Tents and s’mores are included, as are guided evening activities like hiking, nature talks, and stargazing.
Or, look to something edgier, like Bivouac, which launched in 2011 as the brainchild of Brooklyn-based artist Thomas Stevenson, featuring a rotating camp of seven tents that pops up on assorted Brooklyn rooftops; the experience includes a hosted communal dinner, morning coffee, and, happily, a working toilet.
Camp on Grape Island for some sweet views of the Boston skyline. (Photo: Mike Fahey)
For some of the country’s best urban camping, the Boston Harbor Islands come tucked into Boston’s backyard harbor, offering four islands (Grape, Bumpkin, Lovells, and Peddocks) with national parkland campsites. Easily accessible via scheduled ferry service, the sites boast Boston skyline views and beachfront access; Peddocks Island even touts pre-erected yurt rentals, equipped with proper beds and electricity, for some lucky pampered campers.
You can stay up all night with the animals of Lincoln Park Zoo. (Courtesy: Lincoln Park Zoo)
In Chicago, the 91-acre manmade Northerly Island, in the midst of a multimillion dollar urban eco-oasis makeover, stakes a claim on the scenic Lake Michigan shoreline, looking out onto the Chicago skyline. Its Northerly Island Family Camping Program affords campgoers guided programming for nature hikes, fire building, fishing, and even tent pitching (tents are provided).
Or, look to the Lincoln Park Zoo’s family-friendly “Sleeping Under the Skyscrapers” events that allow participants to put up a tent (rentals are available) overnight on zoo grounds and enjoy after-hours encounters with the zoo animals, campfires and s’mores, and terrific city views.
Need a ride to go camping in L.A.? Here you go. (Courtesy: Jucy Rentals)
Angelenos look to Malibu’s 7,000-acre Malibu Creek State Park to indulge their cinematic camping fantasies in the shadows of dramatic peaks and towering oaks. The site, which offers both tent and RV camping options (consider booking a cheery, value-priced mini-campervan rental from New Zealand-transplanted newcomer Jucy Rentals) was formerly owned by 20th Century Fox Studios and has been featured in films and TV shows like “Planet of the Apes” and “M*A*S*H.” Campsites come with fire pits and picnic tables, plus flush toilets and solar-heated showers.
Rob Hill Campground in San Francisco. (Courtesy: Presidio Trust)
In San Francisco, pitch your tent at Rob Hill Campground amid a grove of eucalyptus trees, overlooking Baker Beach, on the Presidio’s loftiest point. Campsites within the national park offer access to restrooms (but no showers), fire pits, barbeque grills, and picnic tables.
Roast marshmallows or rock-climb with the San Diego Metro KOA. Courtesy: Kampgrounds of America Inc.)
In San Diego, the near-perfect year-round temps encourage a lively camping culture. Try the surf-themed San Diego Metro KOA, run by Kampgrounds of America, for overnight camping options from tents (including deluxe rentals) to RVs to deluxe cabins, plus, plenty of onsite activities, including a pool, rock-climbing wall, and bike rentals, along with special events like Friday hayrides and Sunday pancake breakfasts.
Campland on the Bay is another solid bet, a sort of Disneyland of campgrounds, set on the shores of Mission Bay. Campgoers here can enjoy activities galore, including beach volleyball, yoga, concerts, water sports, campfire sing-alongs, and more. The site caters largely to RVs but also provides for limited tent camping, with plentiful amenities for all including Jacuzzis, swimming pools, dining facilities, and more.
Heading north of the border, Toronto's Glen Rouge Campground offers tent and RV camping in the 10,000-plus acre wilderness park, Glen Rouge, scenically set on the banks of the Rouge River. Campers get access to showers, barbecues, fire pits, and a children’s playground; sandy beaches and hiking trails onsite; and close proximity to Toronto’s city sights (it’s just a short walk to Toronto Transit).
Take a baguette to the the Paris Indigo Campsite. (Courtesy: Camping Indigo-R. Etienne)
Even in European metropolises, camping opportunities abound. In Paris, the massive woods on the edge of the city, at the Bois de Boulogne, welcome campers to the Paris Indigo Campsite, along the banks of the Seine, with room for 420 tent pitches (plus cottage rentals), a tourist information center, bike rentals, dining facilities, and shuttle bus service to the Paris metro.
In Brussels, a garden beside the Saint-Sacrament Church — set within walking distance of major city sights like the European Parliament — plays host to the Camping Ciel Ouvert in July and August, hosting dozens of campgoers and providing campers with showers, toilets, and barbecue facilities.
You can get artsy with Urban Campsite Amsterdam. (Courtesy: Urban Campsite Amsterdam)
For a funky twist on traditional camping, look to Amsterdam’s Urban Campsite Amsterdam, where camping meets installation art. Visitors can bunk down in made-to-be-inhabitable objects and sculptures — last year’s edition included a 12-sided treehouse and a giant drainpipe outfitted with a bed — in the midst of Amsterdam’s city limits (2014’s location, soon to be announced, will be unveiled for bookings come August).
Just 15 minutes from Budapest’s city center and primed for city sightseeing (with public transport readily available, even at night), the Camping Haller site comes tucked into a quiet stretch of green near Haller Park and offers electricity, Wi-Fi, laundry, showers, and an onsite restaurant serving up Hungarian specialties.
Rastila Camping Helsinki offers abundant nature less than 20 minutes from the city. (Courtesy: Annika Sivén)
Helsinki has Rastila Camping Helsinki, set in the eastern part of the city, on a small inlet that leads out to the Baltic Sea. Equipped with cabins, caravan hookups, and tent pitches, campers can enjoy swimming at a public beach, hiking and cycling trails (bike rental is available), saunas, an onsite restaurant, and metro access to the city center in under 20 minutes.
Sleep with the animals at Taronga Zoo in Sydney. (Courtesy: Taronga Zoo Sydney)
Further afield, in Sydney, camp out in the midst of scenic Sydney Harbour, on UNESCO heritage-listed Cockatoo Island (a historic convict site), just a 15-minute ferry ride away from the city center. No need to lug a tent all the way Down Under: The island’s campsites offer several easy camping and “glamping” (glamorous camping) packages with several styles of pre-erected tents, complete with all the trimmings (mattresses, linens, and so on). With the tent already pitched and an equipped campground kitchen and onsite eateries, you’ll have more time for kayaking, swimming, and catching the morning sunrise above the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Alternatively, look to the Taronga Zoo’s Roar & Snore program, a fully hosted, splurge-worthy overnight camping experience, complete with a stay in an architecturally designed tent (including bedding and linens), prepared meals, up-close animal encounters, and howl-worthy views of the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge across the water.