Top Hiking Trails in Europe You’ve Never Heard Of

When it comes to the world’s great hiking destinations, Europe is the ultimate playground for outdoor enthusiasts. Where else can you gambol in Swiss alpine pastures, attempt coveted summits like Mont Blanc, scramble up Spain’s Pyrenees, find solitude in Finnish Lapland, go wild in Iceland’s volcanic landscapes, breathe in the fresh ocean air on Ireland’s cliff walks, and marvel at the color of Italy’s glacial lakes? A wonderland of peaks and pristine forests, Europe offers rewarding trails…and impossibly scenic views. But for serious hikers in the know, there are myriad possibilities that are off the beaten path. Beyond the greatest hits, here are some detours you can’t miss.

Bulgaria: Rila National Park

Though hiking is a favorite activity for Bulgarians, the country’s untrammeled landscapes and abundant natural attractions are largely unknown to international visitors. An unsung paradise for hiking, Bulgaria’s well-signed networks of trails are dotted with hizhas (mountain huts) for overnight stays on long-distance treks. One of the most popular routes links the Seven Rila Lakes, a series of glacial lakes in Rila National Park. Just as popular is the hike to Rila Monastery, a beloved national symbol and tourist attraction that dates to the year 927. But Musala might take the cake. The highest mountain in the Balkans at 9,596 feet, Musala is 23 feet higher than Mount Olympus in Greece. The best way to tackle this prized peak is from the ski resort town of Borovets. From there, you can take the ski lift to Yastrebets peak, making a round-trip hike possible in a day (around five to six hours). Feeling ambitious? Walk from Borovets and plan to overnight in one of the hiking huts.

Hungary: Balaton Uplands National Park

The biggest freshwater lake in Central Europe, Lake Balaton has attracted generations of vacationing Hungarians to this holiday resort just 50 miles southwest of Budapest. Beach lounging and water sports during the day, a sizzling party scene in Siófok by night… But when it comes time for some peace and quiet in nature, head for the hills in Balaton Uplands National Park. Here, on the northern shore of the lake, you can walk through lavender fields and admire volcanic hills planted with vineyards. Tip: Combine a hike with a trip to see some of the region’s famous geological attractions, including the geyser fields and the so-called Basalt Organ. And the Tihany peninsula, a nature preserve on the lake, has lovely hiking opportunities alongside impressive cultural heritage: the Benedictine Abbey of Tihany, originally founded in 1055 by King Andrew I

Lithuania — Latvia — Estonia: Baltic Coastal Hiking

Nida, Latvia // Photo by FotoGablitz/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

Did you know it’s possible to walk along the entire Baltic coast? Known as Baltic Coastal Hiking, this long-distance route is part of the E9—an epic, continent-spanning trail that starts in Portugal then crosses through Spain, France, England, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Poland before arriving in the Baltic states. (The Lithuanian portion is currently under development, with trail marking planned for summer 2021.) Starting in the Latvian village of Nida at the Lithuanian border, the trail traverses beautiful scenery, including beaches, coastal meadows, forests and rocky cliffs before concluding in the port of Tallinn in Estonia, nearly 750 miles distant. Note that the Baltic Coastal Hiking Trail is also divided into 60 single-day hikes.

Montenegro: Dinaric Alps

Montenegro may be in the spotlight for its glitzy Riviera, where luxury yachts vie with equally as luxurious hotels on a sun-kissed stretch of the Adriatic, but the country’s mountainous interior is just as enticing, particularly in Durmitor National Park, classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Tara River Canyon offers Europe’s best whitewater rafting in the continent’s deepest gorge, while the Dinaric Alps are a sublime destination for treks. Hit the trail here in Montenegro’s remote north and admire the rugged topography, glacial lakes and canyons. Note that Montenegro’s trails are part of the Via Dinarica, a mega-hiking trail threading through the Balkan Peninsula. With the aim of promoting responsible tourism across the Western Balkans, the 1,200-mile Via Dinarica connects eight countries in a “cultural corridor.”

Portugal: Levada Walks in Madeira

Levada do Caldeirão Verde, Madeira, Portugal // Photo by Iñigo Fdz de Pinedo/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

The Atlantic archipelago of Madeira, an autonomous region of Portugal, offers a number of hiking opportunities for adventure addicts. The hike from Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo may be the most famous—a steep, pulse-quickening adventure between two steep peaks—but the gentle levada walks are just as rewarding. Developed in the 16th century as open canals for agricultural irrigation, the levadas traverse the island from north to south, their adjacent walking paths immersed in lush laurel forest. Most are relatively flat, and allow an opportunity to take in Madeira’s waterfalls and dramatic volcanic scenery. Options vary from the easy, mile-long Vereda dos Balcões to the more challenging Levada do Caldeirão Verde, which passes through rock-hewn tunnels and reaches a waterfall-fed lake. Tip: Book with a local guide to determine the levada walk that best matches your interests and hiking ability. 

Romania: The Făgăraş Mountains

Described by famed French geographer as “the Alps of Transylvania,” the Făgăraş Mountains dazzle with their extraordinary beauty—a panorama of virgin forest, glacial lakes, waterfalls and towering peaks that thrills lovers of the great outdoors. Situated in the very heart of Romania, these mountains are the highest in the Southern Carpathians. Needless to say, they also offer some of the best hiking opportunities in Europe, whether you’re looking for a day hike or a strenuous, multi-day trekking odyssey. The best jumping off point is Victoria, some 170 miles northwest of the capital city of Bucharest. Tip: Because of the presence of deep snow for most of the year, the hiking is best in the summer starting in July. Keep in mind that the weather can be unpredictable at high altitudes.

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