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12 Best Hikes in Europe

Written by Diana Bocco
Oct 14, 2020

With everything from rugged coastlines to alien-like topography to breathtaking scenery on offer, choosing the best places to hike in Europe can be a challenge.

For nature lovers, Europe is the perfect hiking destination. In addition to stunning landscapes, many of the destinations can be hiked in different seasons for a completely different experience.

Head to the Matterhorn in late fall for snow-covered mountains, or take on the mighty mountain in early summer to find flowering meadows and swarms of butterflies. Or discover hut-to-hut hikes for an overnight experience in the wilderness.

Whether you're looking for inspiration, help planning, or a chance to daydream, here's our list of the best hikes in Europe.

1. Tour du Mont Blanc, Europe

Hiker gazing over Lac de Cheserys on the famous Tour du Mont Blanc

When it comes to European hikes, it's hard to beat Tour du Mont Blanc, a 170-kilometer system of walking trails set on and around the highest peak in Europe. It's considered by many to be one of the best hiking areas in the world. While the majority of the most famous trails start on the French side, the Tour du Mont Blanc trails can also be accessed from Switzerland or Italy.

Avid hikers can stay overnight in mountain refuges and complete the entire trail system in about 12 days.

The Tour du Mont Blanc trails cross picturesque Alpine villages, flowering meadows, and deep valleys. For those who need a break, there's also plenty of opportunities to refuel at the mountain refuges along the way.

If hiking the entire trail is not possible, consider approaching the experience from the French side. Here, the Chemin des Rognes hike is one of the most popular. Start the adventure with a cable ride up to Bellevue. From here, it's a three- to four-hour steep hike up to the summit, with stunning views over the Chamonix Valley along the way.

Another popular hike in the Chamonix Valley area is the Glacier d'Argentiere route. This 10-kilometer loop trail starts at the Lognan station of the Lognan/Grands Montets cable car. From here, you'll ascend steeply until you reach a metal footbridge. After that, it's mostly beautiful views over frozen rivers, paths cutting through forests, and a pleasant descent surrounded by a spectacular panorama over the mountains around.

2. Corsica's GR20 Trail, France

Hiking Corsica's GR20 trail

The French island of Corsica is famous for many things - medieval constructions, old ports, and one of the most beautiful coastlines in the Mediterranean. It's also home to one of Europe's toughest long-distance hikes. The GR20 trail runs for 180 kilometers - almost the entire length of the island - and has a massive total elevation of 12,000 meters. Routes are jagged and rocky, with steep descents only apt for very fit hikers.

Only expert hikers usually attempt the entire trail, which takes up to 15 days to complete. For those who want at least part of the experience, the trail is divided into a North (the hardest) part and a South section (slightly flatter).

The GR20 trail is one of the most famous hut-to-hut trails in Europe. Hikers can overnight at any of the huts along the trail or pitch a tent next to one.

The central point of the trail is the village of Vizzavona, which can be reached by train. From here, hikers can also reach smaller villages to explore easier, shorter walking trails, such as the mare a mare (from sea to sea) trail, which cuts through the island from East to West.

3. Cinque Terre, Italy

Trail on the Cinque Terre route

No other hike in Italy comes close to the Cinque Terre route. The paths in this trail connect the five fishing villages that make up Cinque Terre.

Set against dramatic coastal scenery and steeply terraced cliffs, the entire hike takes five to six hours. It's also possible to stop at any of the villages along the way, then resume hiking the next day if you'd rather slow down your hike and linger at the most scenic stops.

You can hike this trail in two directions: from Monterosso or from Riomaggiore. If you start from Riomaggiore, you'll access all the easy, paved paths first before the trails get increasingly more rugged and challenging.

The last section of the trail, between the villages of Vernazza and Monterosso, is the most strenuous, taking you over narrow passageways and rough stone steps until you reach the best viewpoint of the hike. Views over the blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea accompany you along the way no matter which way you start.

4. Saalbach to Schmittenhöhe Hike, Austria

View over idyllic Zeller Lake and Zell am See

The entire route from the Alpine resort town of Saalbach to Schmittenhöhe mountain runs for 17 kilometers and takes at least six hours to complete. Considered one of the most stunning high-altitude hikes in the Eastern Alps, it requires some steep walking and long-distance endurance - but the rewards are more than worth it.

The best way to tackle this hike is to take the Schattberg X-Press gondola lift to the top station. From here, it's a well-marked trail past Alpine meadows full of flowers, lush mountainsides, and mighty peaks all around. There are no huts along the way, so pack enough food and water for the day.

Once you reach Schmittenhöhe, take a well-deserved break in the picturesque town of Zell am See, famous for its Gipfelwelt 3000 panoramic platform over the lake below. Once you're ready to end your day, you can look for the lift down the mountain.

5. Switzerland's Engelberg Valley

View over Engelberg village

With hundreds of kilometers available to explore, the Engelberg Valley offers endless hiking opportunities - from multiple-day hut-to-hut hikes to relaxed walking trails with equally stunning views.

A popular hike here is the seven-kilometer Brunni Trail, which starts with a ride on the Brunni cable car up to the Ristis station. The views are already stunning from here, opening over the flowering Alpine pastures below and the soaring peaks around it.

The trail is well marked and can be followed easily until you reach the Brunnihütte refuge, which sits right next to Lake Härzli. This is the perfect stop for a quick bite at the small restaurant and to dip your toes in the cool water.

You can also try the Brunni Tickle path, a textured trail to be walked barefoot. You can then continue onto other marked trails that start from here, or turn back towards the cable car.

6. Samaria Gorge, Greece

Wooden path through the Samaria Gorge

One of Crete's top attractions, this 16-kilometer trail gets you from an elevation of 1,230 meters down to the shores of the Libyan Sea. The trail zigzags along cliffside vistas and Byzantine ruins as you descend through slippery terrain.

After the steep, difficult first three kilometers, the trail levels out as you reach the bottom of the valley. Once you cross the dry riverbed, the path smooths out almost completely. Continue walking until you find a stream - a great place for a break and to drink some cool water. The rest of the trail crosses through ruined villages and makeshift wooden bridges until you reach the path's most famous spot, known as "the Gate."

Here, a very narrow passageway between towering rocks marks the unofficial end of the trail. After emerging on the other side, there's two kilometers left before you reach the edge of the national park. Once outside the park, you can keep following the path through the ruins of Agia Roumeli and eventually to the shoreline and the cooling sea.

7. Green Lake Hike, Slovakia

Hikers in the High Tatras mountains

Set in the heart of the country, the High Tatras mountains are part of Slovakia's oldest national park. The area attracts hikers from all over Europe, who come here for its mix of alpine lakes and rugged mountaintops.

You could spend weeks in the High Tatras without running out of hiking trails to discover. But if you're looking for a moderate adventure, the Green Lake hike is a long but doable day hike with stunning views.

Set off for the adventure early in the morning from the town of Tatranska Lomnica. You need to make a choice here: Either take the cable car up the mountain or hike up to Skalnate pleso for about three hours to reach the start of the trail. While the walk up is steep and tiring, you'll get to walk through meadows full of wildflowers, so it's worth the extra work if you have the time.

Once at the top, it's a 16-kilometer, five-hour walk on rocky but mostly easy terrain. Some steep, slippery sections are more challenging, but this is an otherwise idyllic hike through the Slovakian countryside, among lush valleys and mind-blowing views.

Once you reach Green Lake (Zelene Pleso), stop for some can't-miss photos and some lunch at the hut by the water.

8. Matterhorn Base Camp, Switzerland

Hikers in front of the Matterhorn

It might not be Everest, but the Matterhorn Base Camp hike still offers plenty of majestic views along the way. One of the highest mountains in the Alps, the Matterhorn offers the ultimate challenge for experienced multi-day hikers.

Reaching the summit requires at least one overnight stay at the Hörnli Hut at Base Camp, but you can also explore less challenging sections of the mighty mountain on a day hike.

A popular hike here is the Hornlihutte trail, which starts with a cable ride up from Zermatt Bergbahn. If you start very early and are up for it, you can also walk the trail up instead of taking the cable car - but be ready for about three hours of very steep, rocky uphill walking.

After reaching the lake, Schwarzsee, on foot or with the cable car, find the markers for the trail that winds along the Matterhorn side.

The views of blue mountains are stunning from here, and the first 60 minutes on the path are mostly easy walking on flat ground. After a while, the terrain gets steeper, and you will need to maneuver over slippery rocks and narrow lanes for about an hour and a half until you reach Base Camp. This is the closest you can get to the summit of the Matterhorn without climbing gear.

You can then walk down the mountain until you reach the Glacier trail and eventually the cable car station to get back to Zermatt.

9. Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia

Plitvice Lakes National Park

Plitvice Lakes National Park is one of Croatia's most popular tourist attractions. Home to stunning wildlife; cobalt blue lakes; and lush, vibrant forests, the park can get crowded in summer. For the best hiking, arrive in either fall or winter, which adds the beautiful reds and yellows of the season or the ethereal beauty of frozen lakes.

The park has well-marked, set trails that range from an easy 3.5-kilometer stroll to a difficult 18.3 kilometer, eight-hour-long walk zigzagging around waterfalls and over bridges.

The short Trail A is actually one of the best ones in the park, as it takes about two hours to complete and takes you through the four lower lakes, past a number of waterfalls, and to the famous Kozjaka Bridge. The trail can be extended with a short boat ride across Kozjak Lake to connect to more trails on the other side.

10. Pravčice Gate Hike, Czech Republic

Pravčice Gate

The Bohemian Switzerland National Park in northern Czech Republic is famous for its karst formations that are millions of years old.

The park borders Germany's Saxon Switzerland National Park. Hikers can start their adventure on the Czech side, then cross over into Germany to continue on the trails there.

Of the many trails and hikes available here, none is more famous than the Pravčice Gate Hike, an easy-to-moderate 10-kilometer hike that starts in the town of Hřensko. The hike lasts about four hours and takes you on a gentle uphill route past sandstone formations, rushing creeks and gorges, deep forests, and rocky castle ruins.

At the top and end of the trail, you'll find viewpoints with panoramic views over the park and the Pravčice Gate, the largest natural stone arch in Europe and the second-largest in the world. This area was a favorite of fairy-tale writer Hans Christian Andersen and has been featured in films like The Chronicles of Narnia.

11. Hornstrandir Nature Reserve Hike, Iceland

Hiking in Hornstrandir Nature Reserve

Home to lunar-like landscapes found nowhere else on Earth, Iceland offers a unique experience avid hikers just can't miss. The landscape is stunning anywhere you go in the country, but the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve in the West Fjords offers some of the most famous hikes.

This is a windswept, remote area where sea birds, Arctic foxes, and puffins reign. Trails don't have names here, so picking one is done mostly by choosing an area to hike.

A good loop to try is a two-day, 23-kilometer walk that covers Hornvík Bay and the scenic Hornbjarg cliffs. Walk up 500 meters to the edge of the cliffs for stunning green and blue views over the ocean below, then hike down along the basalt hills and through secluded valleys to the icy fjords.

There are no huts along the way, so hikers must be ready to camp under the stars. If that's a little too intimidating, there are plenty of tour organizers and guides taking small groups on the trail.

12. El Camino del Rey, Spain

Precarious trail on El Camino del Rey

Once described as "one of the most dangerous hikes in the world," Malaga's El Camino del Rey is certainly not for the faint of heart.

Most people know this hike because of its three-kilometer walkway section, which takes hikers along the steep walls of a narrow gorge, 100 meters up in the air. This section of the trail was reopened in 2015 after extensive renovations to make it safer and add some unique features, such as a glass floor in certain sections.

The entire trail is 7.7 kilometers long and takes you through forested pathways and steep uphill routes that end when you reach the walkway.

Spain's best hike is a spectacular trail no matter if you're there for the adrenaline or the views. Down below, the green waters of a river rush past rocks and around the cliff face.

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