Best Long-Distance Hikes in Europe - Outdoors Magic

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Best Long-Distance Hikes in Europe

This is your sign from the universe to take a long-distance walking holiday

Why do we go on Holiday? What is the actual point? Do we cross oceans in order to bake slowly– inert potatoes under the Benidorm sun? Pay triple-figure pounds for plane tickets just so that we can pay twelve euros for a disappointing hotdog? Book a week off work for the chance to look up at the night sky and see slightly shifted constellations still mostly blocked by light pollution? No. That isn’t why anyone should travel. Too often, we base our holidays solely around a destination. We say things like: Well, Italy is beautiful, lets go there and see what’s what! Then we end up wasting a precious week off getting lost in back alleys and getting sweaty in cramped tourist traps. It’s difficult to work out a full itinerary, and one might argue that knowing exactly what you’ll do and see over the week takes part of the fun out of it. There must be a balance out there somewhere.

The ideal holiday would be carefully planned but still full of surprises. It would feel organised and structured, but still bring a sense of wonder and exploration. If we’re really shooting for the moon, the perfect holiday would be one in which you haven’t gained half a stone by the end. Is such a trip possible? Could we really all go on holiday this year, take in some exquisite vistas, see the stars in all their unfettered glory, go on a real adventure, and finish off the week with a six pack and a newfound sense of self-worth?

YES! It’s not just possible, it’s easy! Go on a walking holiday and thank me when you’re back. Base your time away around an extended activity, an epic quest. Embark on a hiking trip and get ready to tell your friends that you’ve traversed the Pyrenees or walked through three countries in a week. Don’t just travel, go travelling. Not only will you experience a sense of purpose and focus unlike any other, but you will discover the rhythmic, meditative, deeply connected state that long-distance walking can unlock. Not to mention the absolutely glorious feeling of finishing an entire route. Snag yourself a pair of walking boots and hit the open trail! But which route should you take? There are several excellent long-distance routes in the UK, but if you’re itching to plunge into the heart of Europe, take a look at the 10 best long-distance walks in the continent.

Rennsteig Trail

Location: Germany
Distance: 169km / 105.5 miles

Running along a ridgeway in the heart of the Thuringian Forest, this inviting route is the oldest and most well-loved in all of Germany. The Rennsteig trail starts in Hörschel and ends in Blankenstein, clocking in at around 170 kilometres, almost all of which is generously furnished with cozy cabins, hotels, and eateries of all kinds.

The wonderfully dynamic combination of being a high-altitude ridge trail and running through a rich, sprawling green forest can lead to some utterly fantastic sights, where the diverse shrubbery in the foreground is flanked by miles of rolling hills and distant mountain towns.

This trail is absolutely beautiful in the snowy winter months as well! | Photo: Thüringer Wald / Komoot

This trail is ideal for anyone looking to make their debut in the world of long-distance walking, as it gladly provides equal doses of rural wilderness and comfortable beds in quaint, friendly villages. If you pass other walkers – which is highly likely – don’t forget to use the traditional greeting native only to this very route: Gut Runst!

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The Østerdalen Path

Location: Norway
Distance: 379 km / 235.5 miles

Norway, for good reason, brings to mind mountainous glaciers, expansive fjords, and towering trails across icy spines. However, this hiking-haven is also rich with luscious green valleys with not-so-steep pathways running through them. For a thousand years, travellers have made pilgrimage through a network of Norwegian valleys to the site where Viking king Olav II was laid to rest, in the storied town of Trondheim.

Woodland paths are well marked and footbridges kept in good condition | Photo: St. Olav Ways / Knut Lillealtern

The Østerdalen Path is perhaps the most travelled of the 9 Pilgrim Ways of St. Olav, all of which flow north and arrive at the breathtaking Nidarosdom Cathedral. We’d recommend starting your pilgrimage in the town of Trysil, where an engraved milestone marks the 379 km distance to Trondheim (though you may join the path slightly further up in Rena).

Along the way, you’ll encounter shimmering great lakes, winding meadows and woodlands, a range of accommodation, and traditional restaurants in historic towns dripping with ancient Nordic culture. Speak to the locals, especially in Trondheim – learn their legends.

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The Walker’s Haute Trek

Location: France & Switzerland
Distance: 200 km / 124.2 miles

To be clear, there is a ‘Classic Haute Route’ which we’ve opted to not include in our list due to its high barrier for entry. This list is for you, who only decided to go walking three minutes ago. The walker’s route is less challenging, but it does still feature some steep ascensions and requires a determined walker to make it to the end.

Walk this route in Summer or Winter depending on how much you love snow! | Photo: iStock

However, this 200km route promises to reward the extra effort with stunning, unique, magisterial views of the French and Swiss Alps. You’re likely to run into some useful pathways, gravel roads, ski pistes, while other sections can be somewhat tricky to navigate. Luckily, since this route is also extremely popular, there’s plenty of literature available to help you prepare, as well as a litany of surrounding towns which are ideal to take rest days in and explore. Overall, the Haute Trek promises to thrill and amaze; it is certainly difficult to imagine a sense of accomplishment greater than finishing this route.


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Laugavegur Trail & Fimmvörðuháls Trail

Location: Iceland
Distance: 79km / 49 miles

Another trail well-suited to beginners and experts alike, the beloved Laugavegur trail presents an opportunity to witness the countless geothermal quirks that make Iceland such a unique and invigorating country to explore. You’ll begin your hike amongst the bright, multi-colored mountains of Landmannalaugar. It will be hard to get going, not because of difficult terrain, but because the temptation to strip down and leap into a nearby bubbling hot spring will be overwhelming.

Photo: Emozwo / Komoot

Feel free to do so! This route is fairly short, Laugavegur alone being 54 km, which is why we recommend parlaying straight into the Fimmvörðuháls trail once your in Þórsmörk, which will boost this trip to 79 km total. The full trail ends at the south coast in Skógar where you’ll find a bus transfer back to Reykjavik. Along with bubbling pools, you’ll encounter fresh lava crust in volcanic plateaus, a battalion of lively waterfalls, and Iceland’s signature, utterly mind-blowing black sand. This is truly a journey which will take you to another world.

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Tour of The Matterhorn

Location: Switzerland & Italy
Distance: 145 km / 90 miles

The Matterhorn’s pronounced, slightly askew, almost cartoonish peak is instantly recognisable. It is your typical child’s-sketch of a mountain; a joy to observe, rising gracefully above the surrounding alpine peaks, a striking silhouette to onlookers from the north, south, east, or west (although from certain angles the view may cause Toblerone cravings). For those of you who don’t fancy strapping several belays and ropes to your hips and scaling this iconic peak, why not take a tour of the surrounding landscape?

Photo: iStock

This circular route runs anti-clockwise around the Matterhorn, zipping between Switzerland and Italy; it’s somewhat challenging but not too crazy. The route offers a healthy balance of tall, rocky vantage points and pastoral green valleys in which you’ll find the and enjoy the villages of Zinal, Arolla and Breuil. At almost 145km, walkers can comfortably complete this circuit in 10 days, but feel free to exercise your freedom and seek out shorter (or longer!) variations.

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Wicklow Way

Location: Ireland
Distance: 130km / 80 miles

Walk this route if you’ve ever felt a desire to see the real Ireland. The tranquil Ireland that William Yeats wished he could escape to from the noisy London streets as he wrote ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’. A land of folklore and farming, known more for its greenery and less for its Guinness. Wicklow Way will give you all of this, beginning just south of Dublin in Marley Park and concluding, 130km away, in the tiny hamlet of Clonegal.

Discover charming Irish hamlets and real babbling brooks! | Photo: Emozwo / Komoot

This walk is highly accessible, but still provides a broad variation of scenery. The upland lakes and surrounding sheer cliff faces eventually give way to flowing streams, patchwork green and yellow fields, and seemingly endless hilly meadows. The landscape can look idyllic in the Spring, but there’s also a quiet beauty to this trail in Autumn – we’d recommend taking a suitable rain jacket either way! One highlight to look out for is Glendalough valley, explore as much as you’d care to and discover the remains of early Christian monastic settlements.

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The Portuguese Camino de Santiago

Location: Portugal, Spain
Distance: 280 km / 174 miles

Similar to the Østerdalen, this trail is part of a larger network of pilgrim pathways. The Camino Portuguese is occasionally overshadowed by its more popular cousin, the Camino Francés (the French Way). Both routes arrive at the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain, where – according to tradition – the remains of the original apostles lay buried. Tradition also holds that pilgrims should start in Lisbon, just a tiny 640km away. However, if you aren’t an absolute machine, we’d recommend starting in Porto, where you can choose between the coastal route (280km) or the central route (240km).

The coastal route is Europe’s hidden gem of a hiking trail. It’s far less busy and far more rewarding. So, while it doesn’t have as much infrastructure to support every need of the few passing pilgrims, we’d still recommend this option for walkers seeking a peaceful, contemplative journey. You even skip the cafés, look into some lightweight food pouches and take your meals on the beach, where your thoughts may drift back and forth with ever-present tide.

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West Highland Way

Location: Scotland
Distance: 151km / 93 miles

The Scottish Highlands are an expansive, dynamic, and infinitely explorable corner of our exciting little planet. One could easily hike through the hills, scale the mountains, and explore the valleys and crevices for months without ever doubling back or running out of new wonders to discover. Most of us don’t have months, though, and so for an exceptional crash-course in all things highland, follow the 151km route from Milngavie on the edge of Glasgow to Fort William at the foot of Ben Nevis.

At high altitudes, the iconic Scottish mist blankets the sprawling landscape. | Photo: William Janssen

This walk starts off fairly flat and green, but quickly ramps up to some challenging elevations. Punctuated with plateaus, the route provides several opportunities to rest and marvel at the still serenity of Loch Lomond or Rannoch Moor. Accommodation is available but somewhat sparse, if there were ever a route to camp on, this might be it, especially given the reward of the well-furnished, B&B populated Fort William at the end of it all.

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Peaks of the Balkans

Location: Kosovo, Montenegro & Albania
Distance: 190km / 118 miles

As recently as 20 years ago, the majority of this route was virtually inaccessible to the public. This now fully marked trail, a circuit of just over 190km, was born through a collaboration between the national tourism organisations of Albania, Kosovo, and Montenegro as well as the German Development Cooperation. They aimed to develop a new transnational route which crosses all three countries and links together their cultural and natural heritage, as well as creating income for the local population.

You’ll hike so high, the villages will look like toys! | Photo: Peaks of the Balkans

You may have seen the most famous parts of the Alps, but you’ve never seen their remarkable and unique dip into southeast Europe. Reaching elevations up to 2300 meters above sea level, this route is mostly comprised of ancient mule tracks, shepherd paths, and some mountainside footways. Look out onto teeny tiny towns in the distance and be prepared to encounter some wild horses.

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The Lycian Way

Location: Turkey
Distance: 540km / 335 miles

This last entry is a wildcard for multiple reasons. First, yes, not all of Turkey is in Europe, the country is primarily part of Anatolia in far western Asia. But Turkey does dip its toes into this continent too, sharing a border with Greece and Bulgaria, and having a rich history which is intrinsically linked with European history – the main focus of this mammoth hiking trail. Totalling 540km, the Lycian Way traces the coast of ancient Lycia, a peninsula with a rich cultural history due to its positioning. The Lycians lived in the coastal mountains and traded with Mediterranean sailors before absorbing Greek culture from Alexander the Great and later becoming a Roman province.

Head to Turkey in the Spring to catch sparking sunny views | Photo: iStock

Centuries later, this portion of the Turkish coast still bears the markings of its previous empires, and this route was established specifically to preserve and celebrate the remains of ancient towns, Roman roads, amphitheaters, baths, and anything else you may stumble across. If you don’t have 30 days to dedicate to this behemoth, don’t fret. You won’t get stranded if you attempt one section, the pathway is well connected to public transport, and features opportunities for swimming, kayaking, even paragliding. Pick spring or autumn and head down here, you can brave the steep mountainous sections, or mosey along secluded beaches and take occasional dips in the water.

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