Hiking wasn’t always something people did for fun. Once upon a time, hiking was just a way of getting somewhere. The early European hikers were merchants, scholars, and soldiers, and many of the hiking routes on this list touch on Europe’s Medieval and Romantic eras.
These days, modern travelers have a few more options. Hiking does not have to be an intimidating activity, it can be soul-fulfilling and wonderful. Whether you’re roughing it or taking a luxury glamping trip, there’s a hiking trail on this list to take your breath away.
10. THE RHEINSTEIG TRAIL, GERMANY
All levels of ability are welcome on this trail, which covers about 200 miles of riverside on the east bank of the Rhine River. The Rheinsteig Trail is a favorite of honeymooners and historians because it passes by so many famous attractions that call back to the region’s colorful past.
A distinctive blue and white sign guides hikers along the route, which passes through vineyards, winds through small medieval towns, and passes by ancient castles and monuments.
9. THE KING’S TRAIL, SWEDEN
Kunsleden in the local language, this was always intended to be a “royal route” or national highway, not necessary the private road for an aristocrat. Located in the Swedish Lapland, this trail was started in the late 19th century and has been discretely expanded ever since. It currently covers close to 270 miles and runs north to south from the cities of Abisko and Hemavan.
That includes the Vindelfjällen Nature Reserve, one of Europe’s biggest protected natural areas. If you visit during the winter, you can switch up your hiking boots for a pair of cross-country skis.
8. CINQUE TERRE COASTAL TRAIL, ITALY
In English, it means “Five Earths” because this trail meanders through five of the most beautiful seaside villages you’ll ever see; Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso. Each one of these quaint and authentic Italian towns has it’s own claim to fame, and that includes indulgences like wine, food, and breathtaking scenery.
The trek is nicknamed The Blue Route and touches several populated areas so you won’t have any trouble finding amenities, food or accommodation. The whole trail is split into different sections with names like Via dell’Amore (The Lovers Way) just to give you an idea of how impossibly romantic this place is.
7. EAGLE’S WALK, AUSTRIA
What might be a light afternoon “walk” for an eagle is an epic walk for a human. The rewards for this medium to difficult path, which covers just over 250 miles and is divided into 33 sections, include some incredible vistas of Tirol, Austria. That means snow-capped mountains, misty verdant hillsides, and Alpine towns.
You can experience the unique geogra[hy and distinct local culture firsthand. If you take on the Eagle’s Walk, you should be familiar with basic Alpine climbing skills, including orientation and safety. It’s also possible to travel between different sections of the trail using local public transit if you’re pressed for time or feel like relaxing.
6. TOUR DE MONT BLANC, FRANCE, ITALY, AND SWITZERLAND
Mont Blanc is a part of the Alps that covers 110 miles in three different countries. This is one of Europe’s most popular hiking trails because of the scenery, history, and local culture and cuisine, but in the end, it’s all about the mountains. It’s not uncommon for visitors to take the full eleven-day trip to see the whole circuit.
The trail hosts an annual event called the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc. Called an “ultra-marathon” this is a race to see who can finish the trail the fastest. The winning times usually hover around 20 hours. There’s plenty of options for food and hotels, but the popularity of the trail often means you have to book in advance.
5. WEST HIGHLAND WAY, SCOTLAND
The West Highland Way existed for a long time before it was officially made into a hiking trail in 1980. It was the first of Scotland’s Great Trail network and a part of the country’s history. Equestrians and mountain bikers also use this route but parts of it are restricted to those traveling on foot, and that’s more about geography than any set rules.
There are amazing views to enjoy, with much of the route home to local wildlife. Golden eagles have been spotted in some of the higher portions of the trail, and feral goats that were left behind during the Highland Clearances still wander through forgotten stone foundations that are also part of the trail.
4. ROTA VICENTINA, PORTUGAL
This is more than a hike, It’s an experience. This trail is unique among others in that sense that it’s not a publically maintained trail. Rota Vicentina is the result of several local businesses collaborating to build a trail with cultural, historical and commercial potential. Cycle, walk or take your horse along the trail.
Integrate your hike with pottery classes or volunteer work. Brave the more challenging sections of the hike near the coast or travel part of the way via canoe. Sustainable travel is the name of the game on the Rota Vicentina, and the businesses along the trail support the concept whole-heartedly.
3. CAMINO DE SANTIAGO, SPAIN
The English called it the Way of St. James, and this ancient footpath boasts several perfect Instagram spots that include natural wonders, ancient ruins, and medieval relics. Back in the day, so to speak, this was the path that pilgrims took to reach the shrine of the apostle Saint James.
The route is also recognized as a UNESCO Heritage Site along with several other adjoining routes in France. According to the Bible, James was one of Christ’s earliest followers. Medieval legend places his gravesite in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, a town in northwestern Spain. Modern pilgrims still take a route, but these days they share it with cyclists, hikers, and tour groups.
2. ELBE SANDSTONE MOUNTAINS, GERMANY AND SWITZERLAND
Is it Cambodia or maybe South Dakota? Well, it’s actually Saxon-Bohemian Switzerland. The mountain range is part of a national nature preserve and park, partly because of the sandstone pillars and rock formations that make this region so distinctive. Below these sandstone monuments and mesas, the Elbe River cuts through a deep, green valley, making an impressive view.
The area is noted for the number of different ecosystems that exist within a relatively small part of central Europe. In centuries past, tourists would come here for the scenery as well as the hot baths, which were discovered in 1730.
1. RETEZAT MOUNTAINS, ROMANIA
The Southern Carpathian Mountains retained their myth and legend for centuries, partly because they were locked behind the Iron Curtain and never got the attention they deserved. This is the real Transylvania, with its dark foreboding mountains and medieval towns.
Despite the location in a wild and untouched region of Retezat National Park, the trails are well-marked and easy enough to do without a professional guide or a lot of hiking experience. The glacial lakes and waterfalls may look amazing, but they’re more dangerous than they look and swimming is not allowed.