Snowy altitudes, coastal trails, ancient forests and volcanic terrain- Europe’s hiking is as varied as its countries. 10 mountain ranges and over 500 national parks mean you could spend the rest of your life traversing Europe on foot. For those a little more pressed for time we’ve put together a highlight list below, our favorite European hiking trails from Scotland to Turkey.
Hiking Europe is a choose-your-own-adventure kind of vacation. Do you want spring flowering meadows, icy peaks or windswept highlands? Are you going to refuel on seafood spaghetti or jamon and cider? Some of these trails are long and challenging, others a little easier with some sweet accommodation along the way. Whatever you’re in the mood for, Europe has a trail for you.
Best hiking seasons in Europe
In southern European destinations like Spain, Turkey and France spring and fall are the best times to hike for cooler weather and fewer crowds. High in the Alps and Northern Europe, summer is the best time to avoid any snowed-in paths. Bear in mind August is a holiday month in Europe so trails will be at their busiest.
Cinque Terre coastal trail, Italy
You don’t have to do much training to complete this trail along the coast of Liguria, Italy. Only 11km in length it could be done in 5 hours, but that would be missing the point. Between dips in the shining Mediterranean, wine tastings and seafood you can amble along old mule tracks that link five colorfully painted fishing villages. Cars can’t enter the region so it really feels like stepping back in time as you pass through ancient olive groves and stone terraces. When cruise ships and day trippers hit the area the towns can become mobbed and the coastal trail unfortunately resembles a conga line. Avoid peak summer months- April is a good time to aim for.
Tour du Mont Blanc, France
A wildly different level of fitness is needed for this 170km circuit of Mt Blanc (4809m), that starts in France and crosses mountain passes into Italy and Switzerland through some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. If you are super fit you can complete the circuit in 11 days, which means hiking for 7-9 hours a day. Stay in mountain refuges along the way and add in rest days in Courmayeur and Chamonix to make the most of this incredible alpine hiking area.
Caminho de Santiago, France and Spain
Wherever you start this trail from it is about much more than getting from A to B. A network of trails with starting points in France, Spain and Portugal all lead to the stunning Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, where the remains of St. James are said to be entombed. People from all over the world join at different points along the journey depending how much time they have. While the routes are never too strenuous, the difficult part is walking continuously for 10 or more days. The welcoming refuges along the way offer delicious local food and Basque cider. There is a friendly atmosphere among hikers as you often come across the same pilgrims in each overnight spot.
The Laugavegur Trail, Iceland
You can only access this otherworldly trail in July-September when the weather is mild enough. 55km takes you through hot springs, geothermal activity, volcanic slopes and multi-coloured mountains. Watch steam escape from black lava fierlds and cross the ‘Valley of Thor’ whilst staying in mountain huts along the way. National Geographic voted this as one of the top trails in the world.
Alte Vie, The Dolomites, Italy
The Dolomites are a spectacular mountain range with a wild history and very distinctive character. After the First World War the region became Italian but there still remain areas with a strong Tyrollean culture in the language, architecture and food. The Alte Vie are the highest ranges and there are eight multi-day hut to hut routes linked by some of the most breath-taking trails in the world.
Lycian Way, Turkey
Follow the ancient trading route of the Lycians along the south west Turkish coast, taking in ruins, beaches and unbeatable Turkish hospitality. Over 500 kilometers of mule tracks, stony paths and Roman roads connect 18 historic towns. There are sections you will be far from another living soul, where you have to carry water, camping gear and food on your back, and others that take you through beach towns buzzing with tourists. It’s the contrasts that make this hike so interesting, and the warmth and welcome of the Turkish people is a constant throughout.
West Highland Way, UK
This 155km walk takes about 6-8 days and passes by lochs, wild moorland, mountains and some of the best scenery in Scotland. There are campsites, airbnbs, hotels and cute pubs along the way so you’ll never be short of somewhere to rest your legs. Although July and August usually have the best weather, the warmth and humidity attract the famous Scottish midges, little flies that can bother you all along the trail. May and September are the ideal months to aim for.
Long Story Short
From the high alpine hiking trails of northern Europe to the sunbaked coastal trails of the south, this is just a small taste of European hiking routes. We haven’t even touched on Scandinavia or Eastern Europe so take this as a starting point and get researching. Hiking Europe is one of the best ways to experience the continent.
Written by Laura Sedlak