Europe ranges from salt-sprayed coastlines in Portugal to ice-caked Arctic tundra up in Scandinavia. In the south, mythical mountains like Olympus sprout from olive-fringed Greek peninsulas. In the north, rock-ribbed fells carve and whittle the outer islands of Scotland and Norway. Between the lot are fjords and lakes, glaciers and rolling plains. The result? A hiking mecca, where the best hikes in Europe might just be the best hikes in the world!
This list of the 10 best hiking trails in Europe crosses from the lowlands of Galicia to the snow-mantled Alps. It hops from Iberia to the British Isles to the unexplored Balkans. We cross coves and beaches and takes you above the tree line in the midst of the mountains. It does all that in search of famous trails that’ll challenge and uplift, finding walking routes you won’t forget in a hurry. Let’s get a-rambling…
1. Camino de Santiago, Spain
Pilgrims have been laying shoe soles on dirt on the Camino de Santiago for centuries. Once an ancient Roman trading route, the path was transformed into the stuff of celebrity in the Middle Ages. That’s when it became the revered Way of Saint James, linking churches and religious shrines all across Iberia to the holy cathedral in Santiago de Compostela.
Fast forward to the 21st century and the tradition of the pilgrimage continues on along the Camino. Some travelers opt to complete the route for religious reasons, but others come for the challenge and the comradery. That’s on offer in the countless hostels and church-run dormitories peppering the route, where walkers meet, share stories, and chat the night away after arduous hours of trekking.
The most popular version of this one is known as the Camino Frances (The French Way). It can begin in any number of cathedral towns in Southern France, though most walkers opt to start their journey in the depths of the Pyrenees. From there, it’s virtually a straight line across Castile and León, through stunning Burgos, and out to Galicia.
So, if you don’t know where’s the best hikes in Europe, look no further. Camino de Santiago can easily topped off the list.
2. Via Dinarica, The Balkans
The award-winning Via Dinarica is a relatively new addition to the line-up of the best hikes in Europe. It connects the south-west and northern sides of the Balkan Peninsula through some of the most stunning Europe mountains and reserves. That means going from Albania to the heights of Slovenia, covering Croatia’s Velebit Range and crossing the glistening waters of Ohrid Lake as you go.
Most veterans of the path say that the Bosnia and Herzegovina section of the Via Dinarica is the jewel in the crown. That’s the heart of the Dinaric Alps, where pine woods and sinewy limestone summits crash skywards from deep valleys. Many of the peaks that you’ll see in the region surpass 2,000 meters above sea level. They shroud hidden areas like the Blidinje Nature Park, where wild thyme scents the hillsides and majestic karst ridges tower overhead.
3. Alta Via 1, Italy
Arguably the most famous of all long-distance hikes in Europe, and certainly one of the most iconic routes for anyone hiking in the Alps, the Alta Via 1 is an odyssey that crosses the very heartlands of the Dolomites.
You’ll find it wiggling like an alpine river across the heights of grass-green plateaus and under sculpted mountains like Monte Pelmo. It runs for a total of 150 kilometers from north to south. Most walkers take between eight and 12 days to complete the whole shebang. As they hike, they make use of Italy’s famous high-altitude rifugio (refuges). They serve hearty South Tyrolean and Trentino foods, crisp wines, and beers, and boast some seriously breathtaking views of the Dolomites.
The zenith of the path is said to be at the Rifugio Lagazuoi. It perches on a soaring mountain more than 2,700 meters up, overlooking the chic ski resort of Cortina d’Ampezzo. From there, it’s possible to uncover the history of the Great War (which was fought on the surrounding mountains). Or, you can watch as the sun sets over the so-called 5 Torri peaks and Nuvolau to the south.
4. Scottish National Trail, Scotland
A leg-busting, blister-inducing 864 kilometers of day-to-day trekking awaits on the iconic Scottish National Trail. The first point-to-point trail to link up the whole of Scotland, it was created back in 2011 by veteran rambler Cameron McNeish. The journey begins in the far south of the country, in the tiny hamlet of Kirk Yetholm just west of the English border. It all ends at the very tip of the Highlands some 40 days later, where the lashing swells of the Norwegian Sea crash into the cliffs of Cape Wrath.
Along the way, you’ll get to see some of the most stunning sections of backcountry in the whole of the British Isles. There are lengths that run out of the town of Kingussie. That’s surrounded by the soaring Munros (mountains over 3,000 foot) of the Cairngorms National Park, which rise like sleeping giants to snow-dusted summits. Other parts of the trek pass the long-lost lochs of a’ Chairn Bhain, skirting the salt-sprayed inlets around Ullapool.
5. Tour de Mont Blanc, France
No list of the best hikes in Europe could possibly be complete without at least a nod to what’s probably the most famous of all Europe mountains. Cue Mont Blanc. Crashing above the French Alps to an altitude of more than 4,800 meters, it’s crowned by a glinting glacier and wreathed in snow for the whole year.
The most daring climbers are likely to set their sights straight on the summit. That’s uber-challenging, requiring expertise in crampons and ice picks. However, to really appreciate the majesty of the peak, it’s worth considering the Tour de Mont Blanc. The route rings the whole of the mountain itself, going for more than 170 kilometers as it passes through the valleys of Italy, France, and Switzerland.
The charming village of Les Houches in the Chamonix valley is the favored start point. From there, you break out westwards to take in the flowering meadows of Les Chapieux. Then, it’s on to Rifugio Bonatti in the heights of the Aosta Valley. Finally, the path crosses back into France and under the pinnacles of Tre-le-Champ.
6. Laugavegur Trail, Iceland
The Laugavegur Trail is hailed as Iceland’s most famous hike and best hikes in Europe. It’s easy to see why. The route weaves and meanders through the very heart of the so-called Land of Fire and Ice. It traverses some of the most primeval and untouched backcountries on the island. Oh, and it includes steaming thermal springs, glaciers, volcanos, canyons – you name it. It really is quintessential Icelandic stuff!
In all, the trip takes around three days and four nights. You’ll begin the geothermal hotspot of Landmannalaugar. Between painted mountain ranges, you can learn about ancient Viking myths inspired by these feral landscapes. From there, you move south under the gaze of sleeping calderas and ice fields. Eventually, you come to rest in the Shangri-La of the Thorsmork Valley. It’s a hidden wonderland of blooming meadows and rough grasses, all guarded by moody caps Eyjafjallajokull volcano.
7. Pembrokeshire Coast Path, Wales
In the only UK national park that’s solely on the coast, the Pembrokeshire Coast Path offers a whirlwind tour of coves, beaches, wave-battered cliffs, puffin-inhabited islands, and craggy headlands. It’s hailed as one of the most handsome portions of coastline in Wales. Beginning near the quaint castle town of Tenby in the south, the route clocks up a length of more than 186 miles. As it weaves and wiggles west and north with the contours of the Welsh shore, there are all sorts of natural wonders to see.
First up, there’s the shimmering dash of sand at Barafundle Bay. It’s tinted golden and comes flanked by two rocky headlands dressed in wild gorse. Then there’s rock-speckled Marloes Sands, hiding just around the corner from wind-blasted Skomer – an island where rare seabirds mingle with dramatic cliff vistas. Further north along the hiking trail, you can make a pitstop in cute St David’s town. That’s an ancient pilgrimage site with an enchanting cathedral that dates back to the late 500 AD!
8. Kungsleden, Sweden
Meaning Kings Trail in English, the Kungsleden is perhaps the most iconic long-distance hiking path in Scandinavia. It follows the course of the Scandinavian Mountain Range as it crashes through Sweden from Lapland to the North Sea shores in the south. In total, the trail boasts more than 400 kilometers in length and stops by some of the most jaw-dropping sights in Northern Europe.
It all begins on the shores of Tornetrask Lake. That’s where the pint-sized town of Abisko sits above the boundaries of the Arctic Circle. Moving away from that takes you through fells of bald stone and rock, amid a mosaic of tundra and grass heath. Eventually, you’ll enter the Stora Sjofallet National Park, which comes blessed with gurgling waterfalls and colossal freshwater basins.
Most trekkers opt to complete the Kungsleden during the summer months. That’s when the Swedish backcountry is in full bloom. It’s also when the weather is at its best. However, this is up there with the best hiking trails for winter adventures to boot. That’s because loads of sections can be completed on cross-country Nordic skis, with help from sled dogs, or with snowshoes.
9. The GR10, France
Break out the map and check the borderlands between France and Spain. Where the line runs between the two nations is roughly the route of the famous GR10. It follows the chain of the Pyrenees Mountains as they stretch between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean. Along the way, you’ll clock up the distance in excess of 500 miles, along with altitude gains that dwarf similar long-distance hiking trails that exist in the Alps.
There are some particular challenges worth keeping in mind as you attempt the 52-day path. They include the Chemin de la Mature section – that’s a path cleaved straight into an almost vertical cliff. Then there are the arched bridges that cross the verdant valleys outside of Cauterets. And you’ll need to traverse glacial lakes and scree slopes in the depths of Luchon in the highlands of French Occitanie.
Thankfully, there are plenty of rewards as you cross this swathe of Europe mountains. They come in the form of historic French spa towns fed by glistening natural springs. There will also be hearty mountain refuges that serve taste-bud-tingling Basque cuisine. And you’ll get to see some hidden but stunning parts of the high Pyrenees. Hence, if you’re looking for best hikes in Europe, look no further. The GR10 it is.
10. Haute Route, Switzerland
Quintessential hiking in the Alps – that’s what’s on the menu from this bucket-list-busting chart-topper of long distance-hiking trails! Yes sir, the Haute Route is the jewel in the crown of hiking in Switzerland. But it’s also not limited to the land of the cuckoo clock. Some of its sections extend into France’s breathtaking Chamonix Valley. Others offer broadside views of Mont Blanc as it soars through the mists on the Italian border.
The aim here is to go from Chamonix itself all the way to handsome little Zermatt in the Valais canton. Between those two acclaimed ski towns is one downright awesome stretch of the Alps. Getting between the villages requires treks through remote glacier valleys like the Grand Desert. And it means making ascents of up to 2,400 meters in a single day, to find the gleaming Lac Bleu on high-perched plateaus on the very edge of Switzerland.
Again, one of the real pulls of the Haute Route is the hospitality that’s grown up along the trail. It’s surely one of the best hikes in Europe when it comes to sheer proximity to nature, but there’s still room to find hearty Swiss chalets and romantic French bistros tucked under the summits, serving fondue and frothy beer (well-deserved beer, that is!).
Since you’re traveling to Europe, here’s what else you can do to get the best out of your visit in Europe. Perhaps, a visit to the stunning Swiss Alps?