7 of the Most Epic Hiking Vacations in Europe
History books tend to depict Europe as all glorious ancient cities, from the canals of Venice to the cobblestone streets of Paris. But across the millennia, paths have emerged—some new, exploring UNESCO sites and charming villages, and some old, commemorating the footpaths of pilgrims and saints.
There are rugged mountains and steep, rocky coastlines; there are immense glaciers and the rivers they carve; there are quiet meadows and crashing seas. And at the end of the day, there’s the corner pub, café, or bistro to rest all weary travelers. To get started planning your hiking vacation in Europe, here are a few ideas that will whet your appetite for on-foot adventure.
Tour du Mont Blanc
France, Italy, and Switzerland
One of the most popular hiking treks in all of Europe, Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) winds for just over 100 miles (161 kilometers) around the Mont Blanc massif, a high subrange of the Alps with 11 peaks over 13,000 feet (3,962 meters). It’s a circular route traditionally broken up into 11 stages across 11 days, normally done counter-clockwise to take in the best of the views; however, it’s simple enough to tackle stages separately, however and whenever you want.
The TMB starts in the village of Les Houches, near the end of France’s Chamonix Valley, though you could also easily start in Les Contamines (France), Courmayeur (Italy), or Champex-Lac (Switzerland)—or just take a day tour from Geneva. Stages 10 and 11 are favorites, with wicked views of Mont Blanc, iron ladders, rock faces, and charming towns for late-night, post-climb celebrations.
Cinque Terre, Italy
Cinque Terre, or “five lands,” is made up of five colorful seaside villages defying gravity. No, really; the ancient villages of Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore—which date from the 11th century, records say—hang off cliffsides on Italy’s Ligurian coast. And one of the best ways to explore between these unlikely, hard-to-get-to fishing hamlets is still on foot.
Today, Cinque Terre is both a UNESCO site and a national park. To hike the 7.5-mile (12-kilometer) Sentiero Azzurro—the footpath connecting all five towns—you’ll need the Cinque Terre card, which doubles as a permit to the national park and can get you on local trains. There are dozens of other day hikes to choose from as well, some concentrating on just one or two towns for travelers looking to settle into the village scene.
Honorable mention: Need an Italian hike nearly 5,000 miles (8,046 kilometers) longer? The country is currently developing Sentiero dei Parchi, a cross-country route connecting all 25 Italian national parks.
El Camino de Santiago
Spain, France, Italy, and Portugal
Easily the most well-documented hike in all of Europe—thanks to works such as Martin Sheen’s The Way—the “Camino” dates back to the Middle Ages, when pilgrims would make the trek to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, northwestern Spain. Because they ventured from their homes, the Camino isn’t just one route; in fact, seven paths wind all across the country and into France, Italy, and Portugal.
The most popular route, Camino Frances, is some 500 miles (804 kilometers) long. Of course, you can break down your journey however you like—hike the last 62 miles (100 kilometers), the minimum requirement for the coveted completion certificate; tackle your trek on horseback; or start at the cathedral and embark on a 3-day journey along the Camino Finisterre to Cape Fisterra, aka the “edge of the world.”
Landmannalaugar and Snæfellsnes Peninsula
In “The Land of Fire and Ice,” it’s important you see both. From Reykjavik, head a couple hours east to Landmannalaugar, a geothermal wilderness rife with lava fields, triumphant geysers, canyons, glacial peaks, green-blue cliffs, and hot springs—if you want, you can even climb the slopes of the Brennisteinsalda volcano. (Did we mention Iceland is an active volcanic hotspot?)
Then, head north to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. This is where you’ll zip up that parka and slap on your crampons to summit Snæfellsjökull, a 700,000-year-old ice-capped stratovolcano, aka a massive glacier. Take in the views of Iceland’s Westfjords, and after the climb back down, sip the best, warmest cup of kaffi in your life.
Bohemian Switzerland National Park
Combined with the adjacent Saxon Switzerland National Park, this area in the Elbe Sandstone Mountains marks one of Europe’s largest wildernesses. It pops up rugged out of fields and meadows, with craggy rock formations splitting forests and anchoring one physics-taunting bridge. Here you can hike under the Pravcice Gate (the largest stone arch in Europe), float through narrow gorges next to tumbling waterfalls, marvel at the ancient Elbe River, and experience a world turned upside-down—alpine climates exist in the fern-clad gorges and canyons, but higher up, the world warms.
This makes for a great day trip from Prague, or you can grab your tent and sleep inside a cave or behind a patch of boulders.
Wild Atlantic Way
While you could drive the world’s longest coastal route—it’s 1,600 miles (2,575 kilometers), after all—it’s easier to connect to this majestic landscape on foot. Traversing the Emerald Isle from Cork to Derry, it’s a trek between and among towering cliffs, charming villages, serene bays and beaches, foggy islands, and countryside that seems to unfold the past.
Over five or six days, you’ll log a view around nearly every turn: national parks, the lakes of Killarney, Torc Falls, Carrauntoohil (Ireland’s highest mountain), the Dingle Peninsula, the famed Cliffs of Moher, and more—including 1,000-year-old churches, abbeys, and Norman castles.
Preikestolen (Pulpit Rock)
From the Lofoten Islands to the Sognefjord to Bergen’s soaring hillsides, Norway (western Norway, especially) is an endless series of hard-to-believe landscapes and rock formations. Along with Kjeragbolten and Trolltunga, Preikestolen (or Pulpit Rock) is one of the country’s most iconic images—a nearly perfect 90º cliff rises some 2,000 feet (609 meters) above the Lysefjord, its top as flat as a table.
It’s a 4-hour hike round trip—not including the time you’ll need to gape at the top and picnic on that perfectly flat surface. To avoid the crowds on this popular hike (and to get an even more incredible view), start your trek just before sunrise. You’ll get back to Stavanger via ferry, a built-in scenic fjord cruise as part of your journey through this land of Vikings.