Europe's best long-distance walking routes

Helen Alexander

Senior Contributor

Chances are you’ve heard of the Camino de Santiago Compostela – you might even have trekked a section of Spain’s historic pilgrimage trail, but what about Europe's lesser-known hiking routes that connect beautiful villages and span the stunning countryside? Here are some of the best long-distance walks, whether you want gourmet experiences, panoramic mountain vistas or non-stop adventure activities. Each route takes between a couple of days and a couple of weeks to complete, and so are ideal for mini breaks or a longer-length holiday.

Matterhorn Trek Best for: a high-altitude Alpine adventure

Connecting the Swiss Alps and Italian valleys, this 150km route begins and ends in the mountain town of Zermatt – circling the famous peak – and takes just under two weeks to complete. From relaxing wanders through wildflower meadows to tackling mountain passes and swinging suspension bridges, the jaw-dropping landscape culminates at Lake Stelli, where a mirror image of the towering Matterhorn can be seen reflected on its surface. 

Camino Latvia Best for: a mix of architectural styles

This 560km route is divided into 18 sections that run the length of the country – from Estonia to Lithuania – and some of the most beautiful parts can be easily accessed from the capital city of Riga. Leave the pastel-colouted townhouses of the Old Town behind and follow the meandering Marupite River towards ​​Jaunmarupe with its Soviet-style brutalist architecture and modernist buildings. Continuing west, you’ll pass through the birch forests of Cenas Tirelis Nature Reserve and a former World War I battle ground before arriving in Tireli. A detour to nearby Kemeri National Park reveals beautiful boardwalks and great views of the surrounding countryside from the observation platform at Kanieris Hill Fort.

Fisherman's Trail Best for: coastal paths and fresh seafood

Forming part of Portugal’s Rota Vicentina (in the south-west of the country), this 76km route combines land and sea as it passes through the rolling hills of the Alentejo interior before joining a dramatic coastal path in the Algarve, where the Atlantic Ocean crashes into the cliffs below. Whatever direction you walk, which will all depend on whether you fly into Lisbon or Faro, the section heading south from Almograve is not to be missed – especially Cavaleiro’s lighthouse at sunrise or sunset. Stop for lunch as you pass through the atmospheric fishing harbour of Porto das Barcas and marvel at the white traditional Portuguese windmill of the Odeceixe. 

Laugavegur Trail Best for: out-of-this-world landscape

One of Iceland’s most famous hiking trails, this remote route might only be 55km long, but it pases through a breathtaking variety of landscapes – from steaming hot springs and massive glaciers to black volcanic rock, ancient lava fields and multi-colored rhyolite mountains. It takes between four and eight days to complete, starting in Landmannalaugar Nature Reserve and heading south towards Thorsmork Valley and the mighty Eyjafjallajökull volcano and, while the weather might be challenging at times – it’s best to tackle it between mid-June and mid-September, adventurous hikers will be rewarded with breathtaking views every step of the way. You might even find yourself being overtaken by Icelandic horses that run wild in the region during summer months. At night, look up at the twinkling sky above the campsite for a chance to witness the Northern Lights.

Coast to Coast Best for: gourmet pub lunches

Walk the width of England during this 309km journey, which takes around 10 days to complete, and immerse yourself in some of the county’s most impressive national parks: the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales and the North York Moors. Running from the Irish Sea to the North Sea, the route was set out by walking enthusiast Alfred Wainwright in 1973 and passes Roman ruins, ancient castles and patchwork farmland before reaching Robin Hood’s Bay in the east. A lot of the route is uphill, so be sure to rest and refuel at one of the many country pubs along the way and, when you reach the coast, order the quintessential English classic of fish and chips. 

Caucasus Mountains Best for: stepping back in time

This high-altitude route through Georgia is around 800km long, but is easily divided into eight standalone sections that can be covered over three or fours days each. Straddling Europe and Asia, and offering an awe-inspiring introduction to the towering Caucasus Mountains, journey from Mestia to Ushguli and you’ll most likely have the path all to yourself. Spend the night in traditional villages in the Svaneti valley, gaze up at Mt Tetnuldi peak and cross Chkhunderi pass, which affords great views of the Adishi glacier. Mountain life has remained unchanged here for centuries, so expect to see people travelling by horse and farmers working the open grassland with carts pulled by oxen. 

Kerry Way Best for: non-stop adventure activities

With emerald-green hills stretching as far as the eye can see, the Kerry Way is one of Ireland’s most iconic walks. This 215km circular route starts and ends in Killarney on the shores of Lough Leane, and runs anticlockwise through dramatic countryside – taking in the Iveragh Peninsula and travelling through seaside towns and fishing villages along the way. If you don’t fancy taking a dip in the Atlantic Ocean, you’ll pass plenty of lakes that are perfect for swimming, canoeing and paddle boarding. And, when you’ve done enough walking for the day, you can go rock-climbing on the Dingle sea cliffs, kayaking in Killarney National Park and horse-riding on Rossbeigh Beach.

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