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From Crete to Croatia: 11 best hiking spots in Europe

May 31, 2020
10 min read
Woman tourist admiring the view of Matera at sunset. Murgia Belvedere, Basilicata, Italy
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Editor’s note: At TPG, we paused traveling to help slow the spread of COVID-19. Local and national governments around the globe are now debating the appropriate levels of isolation and distancing. Before booking that next trip, we recommend you talk to your doctor, follow health officials’ guidance and research local travel restrictions. TPG is continuing to publish deals, reviews and general travel news to inform and prepare you for that trip, whether it is next month or next year.

If the thought of Greece or Italy's packed beaches doesn't seem like the ideal way to spend a socially distanced summer, a hiking vacation in nature when the time is right can be just as therapeutic.

After many weeks and months of staying home, exploring the great outdoors -- mountains, waterfalls, forests and countryside -- sounds like a dream. And the good news is that Europe has some incredible place to hike. In fact, so many that it was difficult to list just a few.

Here are some of the top TPG picks for European hiking vacations -- whether you're an expert hiker or just want an easy walk to take in some fresh air.

1. Caminito del Rey, Málaga, Spain

Caminito del Rey near Malaga, Spain. Photo by By Eve Livesey/Getty
Caminito del Rey near Malaga, Spain. (Photo by By Eve Livesey/Getty)

Spain's most famous hike is the Camino de Santiago, but there's plenty more to trek throughout the country beyond this popular pilgrimage. As if Andalusia wasn't enticing already, the Caminito del Rey guides you on a tiny wooden walkway pegged to the side of a lengthy gorge. The vertigo-inducing hike, which takes about 2.5 hours, requires a ticket as only a certain number of people can walk the tiny width of the cliff walkway at once. Since the hike is just one-way, shuttle buses are available to take you back.

2. Samariá Gorge, Crete, Greece

A woman on her way down to the entrance of Samariá Gorge, Crete. Photo by Saro17-Getty
Samariá Gorge, Crete. (Photo by Saro17/Getty)

Many visitors to Crete, Greece's largest island, prefer to stay coastal, lounging on white-sand beaches and enjoying blissful sunsets. If you choose to head inland, you may find the Samariá Gorge delightfully tourist-free. Even though it's about 4 miles long, this is a particularly good hike for anyone wanting to go down and not up. You'll start by driving to the top from Chania and hiking 5,000 feet down into the gorge and its rushing stream at the bottom. It's best to take the bus instead of your own car because the hike isn't circular. Once you reach the bottom near Agia Roumeli, refresh with a dip in the Libyan Sea before catching a small boat over to Chora Sfakion, where you can hop on a bus back to Chania.

3. Paklenica National Park, Starigrad, Croatia

Paklenica National Park. (Photo by GoranStimac/Getty Images)
Paklenica National Park. (Photo by GoranStimac/Getty Images)

While all the other tourists are visiting the crowded Plitvice Waterfalls, you can trek through almost 125 miles of trails in Paklenica National Park. Explore caves, hike the famous Velika and Mala Paklenica canyons, walk through forests or play in waterfalls. Mountain climbers have plenty of karst formations to scale, too, including the famous Anića Kuk summit. True daredevils should head out of the park to bungee jump from the nearby Maslenica Bridge, which towers high above the Novsko Ždrilo strait.

4. Alpe Adria Trail, Italy, Austria and Slovenia

(Photo by ClaudiaMMImages/Shutterstock)
(Photo by ClaudiaMMImages/Shutterstock)

Referred to as the "Garden of Eden", this massive hiking trail is a whopping 500 miles long -- but you don't have to do it all. The trail runs through the Southern Alps' three countries: Italy, Austria and Slovenia. It's mapped into sections that each run about 12 miles long, ideal for day hikes. Each section is defined by signs and has at least one lodging accommodation and one option for dining. Most of the terrain is non-alpine, meaning it's ideal for most leisure hikers. The trail even has its very own app, which you can download for more information.

Related: Italy will reopen to tourists starting June 3

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5. Rota Vicentina, Portugal

The Rota Vicentina. (Photo by Delia Ceausogulu Photography/Getty Images)
The Rota Vicentina. (Photo by Delia Ceausogulu Photography/Getty Images)

This 250-mile stretch of Portugal's coastline has two main trails and eight circular routes, offering a variety of hikes for all kinds of hikers and walkers, including families. From Alentejo (known for wine) to Algarve (known for beaches), you can do part or all of the Rota Vicentina walk, which covers terrain such as oceanside cliffs, villages, hidden beaches and fields full of blooming wildflowers and grazing cattle. In 2019, more than 600 miles of bike routes opened up along the trails for those preferring to cycle.

6. Croaghaun Cliffs, Achill Island, Ireland

Atop the Croaghaun Cliffs. (Photo by 4H4 Photography/Shutterstock)
Atop the Croaghaun Cliffs. (Photo by 4H4 Photography/Shutterstock)

Achill is located off Ireland's west coast, north of Galway. The island is home to one of Ireland's tallest cliffs: Croaghaun. Shrouded in mist and overlooking the Atlantic, the hike up the mountain is tough but magical once you reach the top. Those wanting a lighter walk can lap the Corrymore Lake at the bottom, while advanced hikers can use this lake as the starting point for the approximately four-mile trek up the cliffs. For an additional challenge, head up the island's other large peak Slievemore the following day.

Related: 9 of the most beautiful beaches in Ireland

7. Roque Nublo, Gran Canaria, Spain

The Roque Nublo on Gran Canaria. (Photo by RossHelen/Getty Images)
The Roque Nublo on Gran Canaria. (Photo by RossHelen/Getty Images)

It's no secret that travelers love the Canary Islands. Combine your sunny beach getaway with a hike to Roque Nublo, a massive rock formation perched on a mountain. Just 1 mile each way, this hike is a great choice for beginners, families, older walkers or anyone just wanting a light or quick trek. Just remember to pack some warmer clothing. While it may be sunny down below, it's much chillier at the top.

8. The Painters' Way, Pirna, Germany

Along The Painters Way near Dresden, Germany. (Photo by olgagorovenko/Getty Images)
Along The Painters' Way near Dresden, Germany. (Photo by olgagorovenko/Getty Images)

If you swooned over the epic backdrops of movies such as "The Grand Budapest Hotel" and the "Chronicles of Narnia" you should head to the Elbe Sandstone Mountains to hike The Painters' Way (Malerweg in German) where they were filmed. The 68-mile trail can be done in its entirety in about eight days, or you can just enjoy a day hike or two through the magical pine forests, mountains, creeks and rivers. If you can only do one section, make sure to route past the Bastei Bridge, which is the most famous landmark on the hike. The bridge is surrounded by Bastei, a craggy rock formation jutting above the Elbe River.

9. Tour du Mont Blanc, Switzerland, Italy and France

(Photo by David Madison/Getty Images)
(Photo by David Madison/Getty Images)

One of the most famous walks in Europe, this 105-mile route circles around Mont Blanc and crosses through Switzerland, France and Italy. The trail is circular and usually takes about 11 days. It's possible to walk parts of the trail or connect the Haute Route, which is an alpine trail connecting Chamonix with Zermatt. You can do portions of the route, so consider your hiking level and choose the section to best suit it -- the long trail features varying levels of difficulty.

10. Hornelen, Bremanger, Norway

(Photo by BjrnKristian/AdobeStock)
(Photo by BjrnKristian/AdobeStock)

Trekking up fjords is one of the most popular ways to experience Norway's rugged landscape. Hornelen is one of the highest sea cliffs in Norway, and hiking up and back down is almost 7 miles. There are several trails to choose from but Hornskor and Berle are some of the most popular. The hike, which crosses streams, lakes and valleys during the steep ascend, can be on the difficult side, so beginner hikers may not want to attempt this one.

11. Lover's Stone, St. Kilda, Scotland

The steep cliffs of St Kilda. (Photo by claffra/Getty Images)
The steep cliffs of St Kilda. (Photo by claffra/Getty Images)

While the more accessible West Highland Way north of Glasgow almost made our list, we couldn't help but include something Scottish but decidedly more far-flung on the St Kilda archipelago (known as the edge of the world): Lover's Stone. Ideal for novice hikers, those wanting to get off-the-beaten-path and, of course, couples, this jagged rock dangles out over the crashing Atlantic Ocean. Start in Village Bay and walk up until you spot the stone. The story goes that men had to balance on one leg on the stone to prove the depths of their love. We recommend the hike -- but perhaps skip the balancing part.

Bottom line

Whether it's a hike through Scotland's blustery sea cliffs, Croatia's waterfalls or Spain's sunny gorges, consider a trekking holiday where you can connect with the beautiful natural surroundings that Europe has to offer.

Featured image by Getty Images