16 Best Hiking in Europe – Incredible hidden gems in Europe
If the opportunity to go discover some hidden gems in Europe and go on one of the best hiking in Europe makes you want to get your backpack and jump on a plane, read on and prepare to be amazed by these incredible destinations to go hike while you avoid the crowds. Europe attracts a lot of tourism, and for several reasons. It is a magnet for history lovers, outdoor enthusiasts, and foodies fanatics. But Europe is also a paradise for hikers, offering a large array of options from challenging multi-day hiking, to some of the most scenic hikes you can do in as short as a few hours. But if you are questioning if there are still any off-the-beaten-paths left in Europe, fortunately, the answer is YES! and it offers some of the best hiking opportunities in the world. I have asked some of the top travel bloggers and European local experts to share their favorite hidden gem to go hiking, and here are some of the 16 best hiking in Europe to evade the crowds.
Plan, Prepare & be Safe before you go hiking in Europe
Before we get started on this amazing list of the 16 best hiking in Europe, let’s remember to always travel safe:
- Search for travel advice from the local authorities for the location you are planning to travel. Check the weather conditions, best time to visit, safety regulations, and of course, always follow the guidelines for a Responsible travel and help to preserve the environment
- Make sure you have appropriate hiking gear, especially shoes. A good pair of hiking shoes can make or break your hike.
- Always carry enough water with you and healthy snacks during your hike.
- If you are planning to go on a long hike/trek, it’s recommended to have a fitness preparation plan before your hike. Check my YouTube Channel for workout ideas, as short as 20 minutes a day, and you can do it from pretty much anywhere.
- Have travel insurance. There are many options, but my personal preference is World Nomads, since their process is easy and simple, from getting a quote to making a claim.
1- Pico Ruivo – Madeira
Hiking in Madeira is the best thing you can do while spending some time there. Madeira is prominent for having one of the most scenic views over the Atlantic Ocean in the whole of Europe. One of the most famous hiking trails on the island is that of Pico Areeiro. The hiking trail is circular and takes a total of around 8 hours of hiking and is considered to be a tough 45 km (28 miles) trail. The starting point of the trail is at Pico Areeiro, which can be easily reached by car. From there, most of the avid hikers start their adventure to Pico Ruivo, which is the highest peak in Madeira and the endpoint of the trail. While hiking to Pico Ruivo the trail goes through Madeira’s most dangerous peak – Pico das Torres, which is now closed for hiking due to rockslides. Thus, one should be very cautious when passing by the peak, as it is very likely to witness some minor rockslides. Furthermore, one should be aware that hiking to Pico Ruivo can be quite dangerous and a risky journey. Therefore, good preparation for the hike is a must – good hiking shoes, food, plenty of water, and warm clothes. Eventually, after hiking for 4 hours you will reach Pico Ruivo where you will be mesmerized by the breathtaking vista that will be revealed in front of you! Right there, sitting at Pico Ruivo you will feel like sitting at the top of the world!
2- Valbona to Theth – Albania
The Albanian Alps, AKA the Accursed Mountains, offer some of the best hiking anywhere in the world. This part of the Balkan Peninsula is still relatively off-the-beaten-track, which means quiet trails, affordable accommodations, and incredible scenery without the crowds. The most popular trek in Albania is located in Valbona Valley National Park in the country’s north. The single-day walk between the alpine villages of Valbona and Theth is nothing short of spectacular. It’s mildly challenging (you do need a basic level of fitness to make the mountain pass), but the views are well worth the effort. The hike is 9.5 km and takes 6-10 hours depending on your pace (and how many photos stops you make along the way). One of my best tips for the Valbona Theth hike is to start from Valbona. The reverse route is more popular, but if you go this way instead, you can shorten the route by driving to the trailhead. If you get an early start, you probably won’t meet another person on the track until you reach the halfway point. Note that the trail is only accessible in the summer months (late May through September). This is an A-to-B trek, so you need to take everything you need with you on your back. Leave your bags in Shkoder, the nearest city, from where you can transfer to Valbona via minibus and a ferry over the picturesque Komani Lake.
3- Maderanertal Valley – Switzerland
The Maderanertal Valley is a particularly rewarding Swiss hike for families, and the valley is located near the Gotthard Pass in southern Switzerland not far from the border with Italy. The walk has a total of 16 km (10 miles) and it can be done in two or three days, depending on how much walking you’d like to do per day. There is some very inviting lake swimming which may slow your progress! Unlike some parts of Switzerland, this hike is very popular with the domestic market, but it is still an off-the-beaten-track for foreign tourists taking this route. The walk begins at Bristen where there’s a cable car up to Golzern with its wonderful lake. There are a couple of simple guesthouses for an overnight stay near the lake. The following day sees hikers heading through forest and along a river to reach an unusual and historical mountain hotel that has its own little lake for swimming (rather chilly). If you come in summertime, there are blueberry bushes and wild strawberries in abundance. The final day is mostly downhill back to the base of the cable car with an excellent guesthouse café to break the journey with a delicious home-cooked lunch. The whole hike is very scenic and as the cable car takes most of the ascent out of the walk, it is a very achievable hike for young kids. It is the best hike in Europe for introducing children to the joys of mountain hiking without anything too extreme to put them off!
4- GR 221 – Mallorca
Dry Stone Route GR 221 is a beautiful long-distance trail in Mallorca – the largest Spanish island in the Mediterranean Sea. Mallorca is known not only for its beautiful beaches but also for the famous trek GR 221. The trail is nice especially because it leads through the Tramuntana mountain range as well as through picturesque Mallorca’s villages with beautiful views of the Mediterranian sea. Trail GR 221 is over 120 km (75 miles) long and it can be hiked in 4-7 days. It starts in Arrac town and goes all the way to Port de Pollença. We especially liked the part from Valldemossa (lovely mountain village) to Lake Cúber and Lluc Monastery. Don’t forget to stop at Port de Sóller – a picturesque city with a beautiful bay. Even though the trek ends in Port de Pollença, we highly recommend visiting Cap de Formentor – there is a lighthouse overlooking impressive cliffs. The easiest way to get to the Mallorca is by plane. There is an international airport only 8 km east of Palma. You can get by local buses from Palma to GR 221 trek. There are huts called refugees, which can be described as hikers’ hostels. They can be booked in advance and the price is around 15 euro per night. Drinking water can be found in every village and there are marked water sources even in the mountains. Check this Mallorca’s GR 221 trekking guide to find more tips and details of the trail.
5- Cele Valley GR 651 – France
You can find some of the best hiking in Europe, such as an incredibly diverse collection of hiking paths laid out under the GR (Grande Randonnée) system but one of the most beautiful is the GR 651 which travels 55 kilometers (34 miles) along the Cele Valley in southwestern France. A variation of the Via Podiensis path, part of the Camino de Santiago (‘Chemin de St Jacques’ in France) the GR 651 path splits off the main GR 65 route in Beduer and follows the isolated Cele River along ridge tops, carved mountain paths, and the valley floor. The history in this region is staggering. You’ll pass through many small villages either laid out along the river’s edge or precariously carved into the cliff face. Small homes are partially carved directly into the rock with the facing walls constructed from the rubble. This route is a workout as often the path follows the high points above the valley walls giving you soaring views down to the valley floor and away downriver. Breathtaking! The track officially starts in Beduer and runs to Bouzies 3 or 4 days walk away, with beautiful villages to sleep in along the route. Camping was our choice but gorgeous French bed & breakfast accommodation complete with classic French cuisine is an option, book ahead and carry cash. Don’t miss a stay in Marcilhac-sur-Cele and especially Cabrerets. There’s also the opportunity to walk another 5 km after Bouzies and follow the carved out canal towpath south to Saint Cirq Lapopie, one of the most beautiful villages of France, officially, don’t miss it! Access to Beduer is easily made from Figeac, a simple train journey from Paris or Toulouse. Equally the exit after Bouzies is made by heading for Cahors and the train station there. It’s a genuinely surprising journey and a certainly amazing off-the-beaten-track destination for hiking, with incredible views across the countryside along with ancient villages and towns to explore.
6- Trek to Tobavarchkhili Lakes – Georgia
Trek to Tobavarchkhili lakes is one of the best hiking in Europe and one of the many amazing hikes in the country of Georgia. It explores the Egrisi mountains range which separates the famous highlands of Svaneti from lowlands. Egrisi mountains don´t belong to the highest ones in the Caucasus, so what makes this trek special? Of course, lakes themselves come to mind. The most famous ones are Okhoje and Tobavarchkhili – to visit these, you will need to trek for at least for four days. But if you want to visit also secret ones such as Lakamurash Toba or Tshakatskali, reserve at least a week. But be warned – while the main route is in good condition, hidden lakes are hard to reach and require experienced trekkers. But there is one more reason why this walk is so good. In greater mountains, you often look at the same scenery for a better part of the day (only from a different angle). Here, the scenery changes constantly (at least once you climb above the treeline). You will ford rivers, cross marshes and lush forests, climb several almost 3000 meters high mountain passes, wild camp by mountain lakes (each one more beautiful than the other), admire massive waterfalls and gorges and drink with local shepherds, while meeting few other tourists, if any at all. An unforgettable adventure!
7- Teesdale Way – North East of England
While not as famous as the strenuous and more difficult Pennine Way, the Teesdale Way has a unique charm and route of its own and does follow its more well-known neighbor for a small way. The Teesdale Way stretches for 147 km (91.3 miles) and follows the route of the River Tees from its source high on the Cumbrian Fells near Dufton to the end in the North Sea near Middlesborough in Cleveland. From the wild and desolate fells, the route takes in the stunning waterfalls of Cauldron Snout and the highest waterfall in England, High Force, and the pretty Low Force. This 7-day hike with a variety of terrains and passes through small villages, market towns such as Barnard Castle and industrialized areas near MiddleboroughDuring this hiking you will pass through small villages and the famous market town of Barnard Castle before walking towards the more industrialized areas near Middleborough. There are idyllic riverside walks, and fabulous accommodation options in farm bed and breakfasts, campsites, or local pubs en-route. The trail is well signposted, but prepared hikers should use the Ordnance Survey app or the OS Explorer Maps 26, 31, 304, and 306.
8- Samariá Gorge – Crete Island, Greece
Most people come to the Greek island of Crete for its spectacular beaches, but this island has much more to offer when it comes to stunning natural scenery. Hiking through the Samariá Gorge is one of the best ways to experience the natural beauty of this island and should not be missed. Most hikers either join an organized hiking tour or visit with public transport as a day trip from Chania. However, I recommend spending the night in the village of Omalos, near the trailhead, so that you can start walking early the next day and beat both the heat and the crowds. The total hiking distance is 16 km (10 miles) and it takes about 5-7 hours. Your adventure starts with a fairly steep descent down into the gorge. Fortunately, the wooden staircase with handrails, known as the “Xyloskala”, makes this easier. Once you make it down to the bottom, the trail is pretty flat from here on out as you follow the river all the way out to sea. The most dramatic scenery is at the spot called the “Iron Gates”, where the 300-meter-high rock walls feel like they’re closing in on either side of you, leaving a space just four meters wide for you to pass through. As you walk, look out for the Kri Kri — an endangered species of the mountain goat who lives in the gorge and on a nearby island, and nowhere else in the world. The reason the Greek government declared the gorge to be a national park in 1962 was large to protect the Kri Kri. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes and bring snacks and plenty of water, as there are no facilities in the gorge. Also, keep in mind that it is open only from May 1st to October 15th.
9- Pen-Y-Fan – Wales, UK
If you love hiking, Wales will be your paradise! There are 3 beautiful National Parks in Wales: Snowdonia, Brecon Beacons, and Pembrokeshire Coastal. The Brecon Beacons are located in the center of Wales. Often in the shadow of their sister, Snowdonia, they have so much to offer! This range of mountains offers amazing hiking opportunities. The best hike in the National Park is Pen-y-Fan. There are various routes that will take you up to the summit but I particularly recommend the horseshoe ridge walk. This 10 miles loop offers stunning views over the Beacons. There is a car park at the bottom where you can leave your vehicle. As you start the hike, you will discover quite a steep path up to the summit. It is a bit challenging but well worth the effort. Once you get there, you will get breath-taking views over the Cwm Llwch valley. It’s absolutely gorgeous! Especially when it’s sunny! You can then make your way back down and finish the loop. he best time to go on this hike is between May and September. Wales is quite a rainy country so going in summer would be better. Nobody can guarantee it will be nice weather but the chances are higher than at any other time.
10- Lavaux Vineyard – Switzerland
Lavaux vineyards in Switzerland offer the best views of Lake Geneva and an experience like no other. The UNESCO heritage site of Lavaux vineyards offers a deep dive into the Swiss wine culture. If you follow the Terrasses de Lavaux route, you can finish the 10 km (6.4 miles) hike in about 3 hours and 30 minutes, with enough time to click those Instagram photos. The classic hike starts from St. Saphorin and ends at Lutry, though you can do it in any direction. You can reach St. Saphorin with a train or ferry from the lake. Nearest cities are Lausanne and Montreaux. The hiking route goes through many old Swiss villages. Even if you don’t want to hike the full route, you can stop by any of the train stations on the way and take a train back to your destination. The best part of the hike is that since the villages on the route are mainly winegrowers, there are plenty of opportunities to taste the local wine. The Swiss grapes grown in these vineyards are organic and it is not prohibited to use any kind of unnatural material. Even the harvest in done very organically, given the sloped of the vineyards. Sometimes, the harvest is picked up by helicopters, How fancy is that! Do not miss this chance to taste wine here, since it is difficult to get Swiss wine outside Switzerland as the Swiss residents consume almost all the wine they produce.
11- Pulpit Rock – Norway
One of the most looked-forward Norwegian travel experiences is the hike to Pulpit Rock. The place itself is located about 2-3 hours away from Stavanger. You can approach it by car, bus, and short ferry ride(s), depending on the route you choose. It is a spectacular yet easy hike with its 7 km length (4.4 miles) and 350 meters elevation gain. You don’t need to be extremely sporty to complete the hike, but dress sporty and comfortably as it is a 2-5 hours walk, depending on your pace. When we hiked the trail with our then-two-year-old boy, it took us four and a half hours, but he walked quite much on his own. On the steeper sections in the beginning (and end on the way back), while in the middle part around cute little lakes and flat rocks, he managed by himself. The Pulpit Rock itself is the most spectacular part of the trail as it lays over the deep blue Lysefjord. Summertime, the trails are crowded, but late spring or early autumn, you can have a bit more peaceful experience. In April, on a very windy day, you could easily be even alone on the top. We highly recommend this hike to those who are less experienced or would like to see amazing landscapes with small kids in Norway.
12- Birtvisi Canyon – Georgia
If you are looking for off the beaten path hikes, consider Birtvisi Canyon in Georgia. Located only one-hour drive from the capital, Tbilisi, the canyon boasts excellent views of volcanic hillocks. Being so close to Tbilisi makes it a perfect hiking day trip to escape to nature from the hustle and bustle of the city. The total hike is around 5 km (3 miles) that can be done in 5-6 hours. Small vulcanic hills and several independent rocks created millions of years ago due to a volcanic eruption, makes the canyon very charming and interesting to explore. On top of this rocky terrain lies Birtvisi Fortress, which used to be very hard to conquer by the enemies. Therefore, it’s called Sheupovari in Georgia, meaning the “invincible”. Along the hike, you can see the several towers and walls of the fortress covered in green foliage. The best way to do Birtvisi Canyon hike is to either rent a car and drive to Tbisi village in Kvemo Kartli region or take public transport, marshrutka (minibus), towards Tsalka from Navtlughi bus station. Once you get off near Tbisi village, you’ll find signs to the canyon. Hiking the canyon is possible all year round, however, it gets quite hot during the summer months. As the trek is quite easy, you don’t need any special equipment. Though, note that as you’ll be climbing the steep rocks up and down, make sure you wear either hiking boots or non-slippery shoes. Also, be cautious and extremely careful where you step when climbing towards the Birtvisi Fortress. It surely is a bit challenging climb, but the views are utterly breathtaking.
13- El Saltillo Trail
Hidden in the Sierras de Tejada, Almijara, y Alhama Natural Park in Malaga you find one of the best hikes in Spain, a true hidden gem not many foreigners get to experience. In the shadow of the trailhead of the highest peak in Malaga, La Maroma, it’s easy to get lost looking for El Saltillo trail. Your best shot is to ask the locals in the little village both hikes start from, Canillas de Aceituno. Also, known by locals as “the other Caminito del Rey,” El Saltillo trail is hanging on the side of the cliff showcasing the most stunning Andalusian countryside. The linear hike is about 8 km (5 miles) with 4 hours return, and there is not much elevation so anyone can do it easily. Unless you have vertigo, that is! Large parts of the trail the narrow path is winding along the steep walls with several hundred meters drop on the side. The highlights are of course the suspension bridges resembling the ones at Caminito del Rey. Only this hike is without a helmet (unless you bring your own of course), it’s for free, and without the crowds! Can you think of anything better? It is hard to get to Canillas de Aceituno without a car, but there are parking opportunities either in the village or the outskirts. Try to get there mid-week to avoid the locals going to both La Maroma and El Saltillo for better chances of parking. The best time to hike El Saltillo is between October and mid-May as the summer months get too hot.
14- Vienna Woods – Austria
As cultural family travelers based in Vienna, we are convinced the Vienna Woods is one of the best hiking in Europe. A UNESCO Biosphere Reserve that covers 1300 square kilometers of unspoiled nature right next to a big metropolis (seven of Vienna’s districts are literally situated in the Vienna Woods), this unique destination has hiking trails for every level and difficulty. From family-friendly routes in the Sparbach Natural Park or the Laxenburg Castle Park to circular hiking trails, the Vienna Woods offers clearly marked trails of every difficulty, for beginners and advanced alike. Not only are the trails well marked and easy to follow, but they are also punctuated with guest houses offering a hearty Austrian meal, amazing local wines, and a nice chat with locals. Cultural sightseeing abounds in the Vienna Woods, the imperial hunting lodge at Mayerling, Europe’s largest underground lake Seegrotte Hinterbruehl, countless castles, or the Heiligenkreuz Cistercian Abbey is just a few examples, as a stay in Vienna should be mandatory for any outdoor lover. Circular hiking trails usually originate from easily accessible locations, such as the spa towns of Baden or Bad Voeslau. As parents of a toddler, we particularly enjoy the trail that leads through the picturesque Helenental to Mayerling and Heiligenkreuz. The Via Sacra trail that passes through the pilgrimage town of Mariazell is also very popular, as are trails that reminds of the great composers, writers, and royals who were inspired by the Vienna Woods, such as the Beethoven trail.
15- Seven Rila Lakes Hike
One of the best hiking in Europe is the Seven Rila Lakes Hike, which is located about two hours from Bulgaria. The goal of the hike is to get high enough where you can see the beautiful glacial lakes known as the Seven Rila Lakes, though there are actually hundreds of lakes located in the Rila mountains. The hike to the top starts from the bottom and lasts all day, or you can cut your hiking time in half by taking the chair lift to a higher starting point. While the hike isn’t only for expert hikers, expect to spend four hours to a full day on the 11.4 km (7.1 miles) hike, depending on where you choose to start and where you choose to finish. There is one viewpoint that allows you to see five lakes and another an hour higher that gives you the full seven lakes view. To get here, rent a car in Sofia or Plovdiv and drive. The roads in this part of the country are great for driving during the summer and shoulder seasons. In winter, it can get covered with ice, especially in the mountains. There are cabins out here that you can rent ahead of time, but it’s more common for travelers to return to a base in one of the cities at the end of the day.
16- Skaftafell Glacier Hike – Iceland
- Hike Expert: Paula from Paula Pins the Planet
A very unique and without a doubt off-the-beaten-path hiking in Europe is to go ice hiking, and what better place in the world than Iceland, right? Going on a Skaftafell glacier hike in Iceland will allow you to see some of Iceland’s most beautiful glaciers, providing you with the experience of scaling up and down naturally formed ice walls. If you decide to go on this adventure in Iceland, you will need to hire a tour operator. It is very important to have qualified glacial guides for this type of activity, as it can be dangerous. If you are driving your own car, upon arrival at the Skaftafell, you will pay around $50 to park your car (for the day). You will need to geared up and you can rent all the equipment at your tour operator. The Skaftafell Glacier hike starts by waking up the glacier, and the guide will lead you across the top of the glacier while constantly monitoring the group’s safety. The terrain transforms from a layer of volcanic sediment into a gleaming surface, and as you walk more onto the glacier, it starts to transform into blue ice, the views are stunning and the experience is exhilarating. I booked it a few weeks in advance and decided to do the combo – glacier hiking + ice climbing. I reserved a half day for the activity, starting at 12PM and it lasts approximately 4- 5 hours. Most ice climbing tours are conducted on Sólheimajökull and Svínafellsjökull. It will depend on weather conditions, and occasionally the glaciers may be temporarily closed.