Gypsy Caravans

When I was a child, my favorite book was “Danny, the Champion of the World” by Roald Dahl. Danny and his father live in a gypsy caravan in the English countryside in the 1950s and run a small gas station. Adventure ensues when Danny finds out his father is secretly poaching pheasants on a wealthy neighbor’s land. I loved the story, but loved the idea of living in a colorful gypsy caravan even more.


Dahl had a caravan in his garden that was the inspiration for Danny’s home. The typical gypsy caravan has been around for over 100 years and they still evoke a feeling of romance and adventure and can be a tiny, beautiful, ornate house on wheels.

Caravans or wagons built to live in were developed in France around 1810. Gypsies have only been using caravans as their main living and working space since 1850. The gypsy name for a caravan was vardo, from the Iranian word vurdon or cart. Newly married couples would commission a coach builder to create their colorful home on wheels. They took between 6 to 12 months to build and were made of oak, ash, elm, walnut and pine. They were then ornately painted carved and decorated with gold leaf.

There are six main types of caravans: the Brush or “fen waggon” which lacks the ornate wooden carvings, the Reading with sloping walls, the Ledge with a narrower floor and more elbow room, the Bowtop and the Openlot, which use a stretched canvas top over a wooden frame, and the Burton which was for more wealthy travellers. Most caravans were, and still are, pulled by draft horses, but you can design and build a caravan to be pulled by a car.

Though few people would choose to travel in one today, you can experience a fully functional caravan on your own property as a romantic getaway or guest accommodations, a creative studio, a personal meditation or healing space, or just an exquisite conversation piece. If you are traveling in Europe, you can rent a gypsy caravan (including the horses) and travel between campgrounds. Some hotels even have gypsy caravan “rooms” that you can stay in overnight.

If you are looking to build a gypsy caravan or have one built for you, there are several builders and plans available. Again, most of these builders are in Europe.

Gypsy Vans

Windy Smithy

Ingham & Fallon

The New Gypsy Caravan

Gypsy Caravan Company

Gypsy Caravan Built by Brian Schmittling

Daphne’s Caravans

By Christina Nellemann

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34 thoughts on “Gypsy Caravans”

  1. I really like this post because it’s a great reminder that living light is not a new idea at all. We are all just rediscovering it and adapting it to modern life. Great post! Great little caravans!

  2. You can still visit the orginal caravan at Dahl´s home near Great Missenden in the UK (and also the shed where he wrote). It´s not open very often though (usually just a couple of weekends during the summer when it´s open for charity) so you have to plan ahead.

  3. Thanks shedworking! I was in Great Missenden to visit a family friend about 12 years ago. I had heard that the caravan was available for tours, but was not able to go see it. 🙁

  4. These little gems are beautiful and inspiring and well crafted. Thank you, Christina!

    I myself have loved tiny eccentric homes since my hippie days in Marin County, California, where I remember fondly the wildly creative (in both ornamentation and space farming) in handmade houses, buses and trailers of friends, boyfriends and Neil Young’s…

  5. The largest collection of Gypsy wagon in the world can be found at the Gordon Boswell Romany Museum Spalding Lincolnshire. You can have a day out on a tradition ‘vardo’ with an open air ‘Gypsy meal”. Open March to October. weekends.
    The museum is run by the Romany Boswell family and is the best introduction to Romany life and history. Well worth a visit and will make you question the racist opposition whenever a legal Gypsy site is proposed.

  6. Hi,

    theres a photo of the wheels on some sort of frame. I would love to d.i.y my own caravan. Can you tell me where you purchaced the wheel gig photoed above and where i could get the same type of set-up from. So that i can build my own caravan.


  7. This site becomes more interesting the more I read. Vardo, is derived from an Iranian description given to Gypsy housing originating from India?!. The elaborate Vardos are very similiar to the original “painted ladies.” I know painted ladies as derived from the religious revival tent meeting shelters, that over time became permanent camp housing, then regular public housing. Some of our painted ladies became huge behemoths 3,000 square foot and more from the turn of the century as people progressively tried to outdo oneanother… Perhaps the contemporary Vardos can bring us back to scale. This too much reminds me of tiny reptiles becoming huge dinosaurs, only to die off, leaving the smaller more efficient reptiles and mammals to survive. Is this a case of the golden mean, biomimicry or Fibonacci repeating itself??? I hope not, or if so I hope we learn to quickly adapt rather than hold on rigidly to our present system of bigger is better until it is too late.

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  9. alex –

    Gregs Gypsy Caravans in Bristol builds gypsy style bowtops on an Alko caravan chassis. Their website has a photo of the wooden framework.

  10. hi like the sheds and things, some interesting stuff, if you love romani caravans worth a visit has loads of colourful waggons etc.

    parruka tu boro bokti /best luck my friends

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  12. I would like to travel across the country (India)n the Nations all over the World, I am looking for a caravan (Bus).

    pl help me with the design,15 people will travel with us,for a period of 3 years,all in one caravan i m looking for,

    this trip is to create awareness among the youth and the society,




    Dr Paul

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  14. I really like your blog, but can you please stop tagging posts with & using the word “gypsy”. I am a real ethnic Romani “gypsy” woman & that word is a slur. It’s not a lifestyle, but a hurtful word for our ethnicity. It’s a pejorative that has been used to demean, oppress, enslave, and murder us for centuries. I would really appreciate it if you could refrain from using the term. Najis tuke. But baxt thaj sastipe.

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  16. hi,
    I am building a gypsy wagon but I wanted to build it over the top of the tire like in the first photo . does anyone know if this makes the wagon top heavy?


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