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20 percent of the European continent is made up of incredibly beautiful and diverse mountain ranges, making it a hotbed for hikers and nature lovers.
The Alps, Europe’s most famous mountain range, covers parts of France, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and Slovenia, and so there is an excellent range of hiking trails there for all experience levels, including the Tour de Mont Blanc, and The Matterhorn Trek.
While the Alps is a sure crowd-pleaser, Europe has plenty more variety to offer hikers. The Malaga Mountain Path in Spain, Europe’s most mountainous country, offers a Mediterranean take to hiking, while the England Cast Path offers a quaint ramble. But it doesn’t stop there.
In this article, we take you across the continent, from Norway to the Balkans, and Switzerland to Greece in search of its best scenic hikes.
Camino de Santiago, Spain
Camino de Santiago, one of the world’s most famous ancient pilgrimages, leads from all directions to the holy tomb of St. James in Santiago, a historic city in northwestern Spain.
A number of long and arduous, yet scenic and rewarding routes can be taken to the tomb. The most popular route is the Camino Frances, which stretches 500 miles from Biarritz in the southwestern corner of France, across the Spanish border, and west through the stunning Cantabrian Mountains that trail along the northern coast.
For some, the hike holds a lot of religious importance to this day, but for others, it’s a test of strength and endurance, and a journey of self-discovery.
Tour de Mont Blanc, France
Tour de Mont Blanc is one of the most popular hiking routes in Europe, and for a good reason.
The route encircles Mont Blanc Massif, a tremendous mountain range on the French-Swiss-Italian border boasting 11 summits reaching over 4000 meters high. At such an altitude, the air is much thinner, but oh-so fresh and pure. Starting and ending in Chamonix, France, the route typically takes 11 days to complete.
Along the way, you’ll be greeted by fields of wildflowers, rocky banks, peaceful lakes, charming mountain villages, and a host of rare wildlife, with enchanting, craggy, snow-capped mountain peaks on the horizon.
The English Coast, UK
From the striking white cliffs of Dover, to the quaint Cornish seaside, and the traditional fishing communities in the north, England’s coastline is a shining example of the sheer variety this country has to offer.
By 2021, Natural England hopes to have completed the England Coast Path, encompassing the country’s entire 3,000-mile circumference, which will officially label it as the world’s longest continual coastal trail. This new path will allow hikers to walk along cliffs, bluffs, and beaches that have never been reachable on foot before.
You can expect to discover the best of England’s nature, history, and probably some excellent fish and chip shops.
The Matterhorn Trek, Switzerland
The Matterhorn, a shark-toothed mountain peak reaching almost 4,500 meters tall near Zermatt in the Swiss Alps, is said to be the world’s most picture-perfect mountain scene.
This, of course, draws in photographers and mountain hikers alike to revel in its magnificence year-round. The Matterhorn Trek itself is challenging, and only for experienced hikers, but the rewards are far greater than the efforts spent.
Along the way you’ll cross the world’s longest suspension bridge, traverse glaciers, pass Stellisee Lake, stay in alpine villages, and summit Pfulwe Peak. For those who aren’t quite ready for this challenge, there are easier alternative trails to take, or you can simply enjoy views of The Matterhorn from the comforts of Zermatt.
Pindus Mountains, Greece
With 6,000 islands surrounding its coast, Greece is typically a destination for sun-worshipers and beach lovers, but if you venture onto the mainland, you’ll find it offers so much more.
The Pindus Mountains are the spine of mainland Greece, cutting directly through its center, and from top to bottom, you’ll be astonished by the beauty it possesses. To cover its entire spine, you can expect a moderately difficult 10-day trek, although shorter, more accessible hikes are available.
Along the trail, not only will you climb three mountain peaks, pass alpine lakes, traditional Greek villages, dramatic gorges, and serene plateaus, you may even pass wild bears. In fact, there are hiking tours available that focus specifically on tracking these majestic mammals!
Norway is notorious for its dramatic and enchanting mountain scenery, as the entire country has been chiseled by inlets from the Norwegian Sea to create tall angular mountains and deep fjords with unbelievable vistas.
The country’s tallest, and most beloved mountain is Galdhoppigen, 250 miles north-east of Bergen, in the belly of the country. Here, there’s nothing but snowy mountains as far as the eye can see, allowing you to feel like you’re on top of the world.
Despite being almost 2000 meters tall, Galdhoppigen has plenty of easy hiking trails because much of the surrounding terrain is already at a similar height. However, there are a number of challenging routes across glaciers for those who dare take them.
The Dolomites Three Peaks Trail, Italy
The Three Peaks take center stage in the Italian Dolomites, but, in fairness, these column-like rocks, standing to attention like soldiers towering 564m from the mountaintops, are difficult to miss.
Hiking trails of all levels surround the famous landmark and UNESCO World Heritage Site, however, the best views are said to be from the Mt. Paternkofel route. Along this trail, not only will you be able to reap the benefits of multiple scenic vantage points, including the peak of Mt. Paternkofel itself, you will also get the chance to explore tunnels and bunkers which remain there from WWI.
Being on the cusp of Germany, many towns and villages around The Dolomites add to the areas’ intriguing convergence of history and culture.
The Glymur Waterfall, Iceland
Iceland is known throughout the world for its whimsical and rugged landscape filled with glaciers, gorges, and waterfalls. At almost 200 meters, Glymur is Iceland’s second highest waterfall, and it’s located just one hour north along the coast from Reykjavik, making it much more accessible than most.
The hike may only be a short three hours long, but it is perfect for the adventurous soul. Its path leads you along Hvalfjordur fjord, passing through caves, over streams on stepping stones, and along hills until you reach the top of the waterfall.
Once you do, you’ll be abruptly met by a cliff face which plummets into a deep mystical gorge carpeted with thick moss and shrouded by mist.
Via Dinarica, The Balkans
Via Dinarica is a route traversing the Dinaric Alps which runs parallel to the Adriatic Coast, crossing Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Serbia, and Kosovo.
There are three main trails along this route; the white trail takes you to the highest peak of each passing country, the blue trail takes you along The Balkans’ coastline; and the green line takes you deep into The Balkans’ forests.
At its longest point, the route is over 1,200 miles long, but hikers can choose a smaller section of the trail to complete based on what kind of terrain they most enjoy, and what countries they would like to visit. But no matter which part of the trail you choose, no other route in Europe offers such richness and diversity in culture and nature.
Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia
After flying under the radar for years, Croatia’s Plitvice Lakes have now become one of its biggest attractions — especially for hikers.
The 16 terraced lakes, which shimmer emerald-green, are fed by a web of streams which congregate along its edge and cascade down it in an impressive synchronized dance. The mesmerizing lakes are surrounded by an alpine forest which bears, wolves, deer, and rare birds all call home.
There are four trails through the park, each offering their own highlights, including caves, bridges, and cliffs, but all of them provide excellent vistas of the lakes. This park is truly a feast of nature all year round, so I hope you’re a hungry hiker!
With steep green valleys sprinkled with wildflowers in the foreground and tall mountain peaks sprinkled with snow in the background, Jungfrau is the epitome of Switzerland’s unique natural artistry.
Jungfrau roughly translates to ‘top of Europe’, which is more than appropriate considering it’s over 4,000 meters above sea level! An extensive train system runs throughout the region, and while it’s tempting to allow the train to do all the legwork for you as you sit comfortably and enjoy the stunning scenery, a hike is much more rewarding.
With the freedom to roam guaranteed in Switzerland, it is perfect for hikers and campers with a more daring sense of adventure.
El Caminito del Rey, Spain
Deep within the Malaga Mountains, the Gaitanes Gorge plummets 700 meters to the river below, and reaches just 10 meters wide at its narrowest point.
A 3km-long wooden footpath which features a narrow bridge across the middle of the gorge, hangs tentatively off the side of the cliff 100 meters above the river. This finger-tingling footpath forms part of the Great Malaga Path, which wraps all the way around the scenic Spanish province.
As you can imagine, the path is not for the faint-hearted — in fact, it is considered the most dangerous footpath in the world — but those who are brave enough to conquer it will be rewarded with breathtaking views.
Slovenian Mountain Trail, Slovenia
The Slovenian Mountain Trail traces 370 miles around the northern and western borders of Slovenia from Maribor to Koper on the Adriatic Coast, following the scenic highlights of each of its stunning mountain ranges along the way.
There are both easy and difficult routes on this trail, and plenty of cozy mountain huts to keep you warm and dry at night. The entire trek takes around 28 days to complete on average, and although every leg of it rewards you with gorgeous alpine scenes, you can pick it up at any point.
Mt. Triglav, Slovenia’s highest and most spectacular peak, easily reached from the capital Ljubljana, and from there you can hike to the famous Lake Bled.
Trolltunga, or ‘Troll’s Tongue’ is a narrow rock overhanging from a cliff face over the scenic Lake Ringedalsvatnet, a deep blue lake surrounded by grey rocky mountains.
At a certain vantage point, the rock appears to be hovering high above the lake and overlooking the surrounding mountains, making it one of Norway’s most lust-worthy picture opportunities.
The uniquely shaped rock actually hangs a massive 700 meters above the lake, and so to reach the viewpoint, you must ascend along a steep 18-mile path, making it a moderately difficult hike.
Although the view from Trolltunga is what everyone comes to see, the scenery leading up to it is nothing short of spectacular either.
About the Author: Emily Draper
Originally from the UK, Emily Draper has lived in Chile, with an Amazonian tribe in Peru, in a Wisconsin trailer park, and on a boat in the Mediterranean Sea. Considering herself, and the rest of us, as global citizens, Emily’s mission as a writer and journalist is to expand global consciousness of the fundamental importance of travel, culture, and diversity.