I am passionate about hiking and the benefits it provides. Even if I am not on a hiking trip, I like to devote one or two days to spice up my holiday with day hikes. It is not only about getting in touch with nature but also a great way to get a bit of exercise and work off when we overdo it with food and drink on our holiday. So put on your hiking boots and get out in nature, because here’s my list of some of the best hikes I’ve taken in Europe.
1. TROLLTUNGA, NORWAY
Its recently earned “Insta fame” makes it difficult to believe how demanding this hike is. In fact, it is the most difficult one I have ever tackled – both in terms of length and elevation. For whatever reason you plan to conquer it – the sense of achievement, scenery, photo ops – it won’t disappoint.
The most important factors to consider when planning this hike are your fitness level and the weather. I would only recommended it in dry weather (July and August in particular), as even a few drops of rain can turn this hike into a slog. The reward is not only what the name of this walk equals: the Trolltunga, a jaw-dropping rock plateau jutting out over Lake Ringedalsvatnet, which lies 700 meters below, but the unparalleled view all along this hike is also a prize. Finally, it is not a “loop hike,” so you might feel like the way back is slightly tortuous. For more details, read my detailed article about it.
Length of time: 10-14 hours
Distance: 27 km
Elevation: 1100 m
Recommended season to visit: Summer
How to get there: Through the town of Odda, follow the road marked RV 13 to Tyssedal and then drive 7 km towards Skjeggedal. You can save yourself 4 km of hiking (which by the way covers the most strenuous part of the hike) by driving further above Skjeggedal on a newly-opened road, but be aware that its capacity is limited during peak season.
Good to know:
- Toilets, restaurant, food, drinks are only available at the trailhead.
- Pack lightly but bring some food (banana, energy bars, etc.) and stock up with water.
- The weather is capricious even in the summer, so have sturdy trekking boots and a raincoat in case of stormy weather.
- Considering the time it takes to get there, you should set out in the morning ( around 9 am).
- On the trail, look for the red “T”s painted on stones.
2. LANDMANNALAUGAR, ICELAND
Deep in the Icelandic Highlands lies Landmannalaugar – a very spectacular part of our planet. With its multi-colored mountainous landscape, volcanic surfaces and geothermal springs you can actually bathe in, Landmannalaugar is a place that strains belief. Located in the Fjallabak Nature Reserve, on the edge of the craggy, black Laugahraun lava field, it is no surprise that it’s a spectacular place to hike, whether it be for a few hours, or, deeper in, for several days. There is actually a 53-km route that hikers can follow for a few days (3-5) to the Thorsmork Valley, the end of the line.
I made a one-day hike at Landmannalaugar by driving from the South Coast of Iceland. The drive itself is very scenic, but taking the dirt roads (F-roads) and potential river crossings into consideration, it can only be done with a 4X4 vehicle. Driving to Landmannalaugar is definitely an adventure in and of itself even before the hike(!). Landmannalaugar are literally known as the “people’s pools” in Icelandic, so be sure to have a bathing suit and towel in your backpack. As far as bathing in the great outdoors goes, it’s a wonderful thing to do after a long hike and the water temperatures in the springs reach 36-40 degrees Celsius.
Length of time: Several trails from a few hours to days
Recommended season to visit: Summer; always check road conditions if you plan to drive there during autumn or spring.
How to get there: Road 26 from Reykjavík, F208 from Road 1
Good to know:
- As for accommodation, there is only a lodge in the middle of the area, which welcomes with you with warm-yet-spartan surroundings to cook, eat and sleep – the main area sleeps 75 (so pray no one snores!). I opted for The Highland Center situated an hour’s drive north – also on a dirt road.
- If you’re not renting a 4X4 vehicle, you can always take a bus or tour service.
- There is a small shop offering some basic food and drinks at the trailhead.
3. VIA FRANCIGENA, ITALY
Via Francigena (VF) was my alternative option for a much better-known pilgrimage – the El Camino. VF used to be an ancient route linking Rome and Canterbury and it crosses England France, Switzerland and Italy. The whole pilgrimage is divided into several trails of varying lengths and difficulties. As I added this day hike to my originally planned “Il Palio” visit in Siena, I picked the 23 km Monteriggioni – Siena section. If your base is Siena, just after breakfast get on a bus, which will take you to the fortress town of Monteriggioni. To be honest, I am sure that VF has many more beautiful sections, especially in the Dolomites, but it is a very pleasant hike across the undulating Tuscan landscape – plus a big part of the hike takes you through forests, so even the summer heat is less of a problem during the lengthy hike. The elevation is not remarkable – but you will need endurance due to its length.
Length of time: 5-6 hours
Distance: 23 km
Elevation: 330 m
Recommended season to visit: Spring, Autumn
How to get there: Take a bus to Monteriggioni and find the VF signs leading to Siena.
Good to know:
- Sun protection is a must: have something to cover your head and use sun block.
- There is only one dedicated stop for pilgrims- a nice garden where you can fill your water bottles and eat your pre-packed lunch.
- Bring food, as there are no shops or restaurants along the way.
4. ETNA, SICILY
This hike should not have made it onto this list for so many reasons: it’s hot and cold at the same time, dirty, long. Considering how much dust you will swallow along the way, I am not even sure if it’s good for your health. So why is it on the list? The 3350 m high Etna is one of the world’s most active volcanoes and offers an otherworldly scenery. It is “good tempered,” meaning it rarely causes trouble, while its minerals makes those Sicilian plots fertile. So, all in all, I wanted to attack this hike, regardless of the difficulties.
Without a guide, the highest point that visitors can reach would be 2900 m . The hike is divided into two sections. The first half of the trail – if you follow the gondola line – is steep and covered with light volcanic rocks that crunch and break underneath your feet. As for the second bit, it is covered in a thick, grey dust (or snow depending on the season), which will end up on you and in your lungs thanks to the minibuses passing by every two minutes.
Despite the hardships, hiking Etna will give you a sense of accomplishment and it is totally worth it for the lunar landscape and the chance to be so close to this majestic volcano. Celebrate your achievement with a glass of local wine to get a much better version of the taste of Etna than the dust you inhaled during the hike.
Length of time: 6 hours
Distance: 24 km
Elevation: 1250 m
Recommended season to visit: All year round
How to get there: Drive or a take a bus to Refugio Sapienza. There is a northern base camp at Rifugio Citelli, which can only be reached by car.
Good to know:
- For the less adventurous, there is a cable car for the first section and buses for the second.
- There is a restaurant mid-way, with toilets, food and a nice view.
- Layer up: Prepare for extreme weather changes. You will start your hike under burning sun, but as you get higher on the mountain, it can get chilly and windy. A pair of sunglasses will help keep the dust out of your eyes.
- The trail is very simple to follow considering there is only one route.
- As Etna is still active, lava flows are always a hazard. Check conditions before your hike.
5. TENERIFE – The ultimate hikers’ paradise
The largest island of the Canary Islands, Tenerife, is most often associated with all-year-round spring, sunny beaches and cheap alcohol – a combination hard to resist when it comes to stag and hen parties, or for the retired. This preconceived notion served as a good reason for not even considering a visit. Let go of your prejudices! One intense week on Tenerife not only dissolved mine, but also made it impossible to single out one hike on the island as my favorite to recommend out of the many great possibilities. There is such geological diversity there that the trails look as if they were all located in different corners of the world, not squeezed onto a tiny island. But, in fact, Tenerife has the whole package: from a volcano through lush tropical beaches to rainforests – and all within easy reach of one another.
So here come my favorite walks:
RAMBLA DE CASTRO
Rambla de Castro is a pleasant coastal walk on the eastern portino of the island, in Los Realejos. In fact, I liked it so much, I did this hike twice, back and forth. You are surrounded by lush greenery along lovely, winding paths leading through banana plantations, palm groves and pine forests. Rocky promontories jut out into a deep-blue sea. From high above, you can admire the huge waves attacking the shores. The walk is packed with interesting sights, a hollowed-out skeleton of an old water lifting station called “La Gordejuela,” a fort that protected the island from seaborne marauders from the 15th to 17th centuries, a huge lone drago tree standing above a sea of banana plants, and so on.
The Anaga Mountains are situated in the northeastern part of Tenerife. This part of the island has a special climate – trade winds gather clouds over the land’s spiky summits, so the air is thick with humidity, resulting in exceptionally well-preserved, lush laurel forests. Due to its special climate, Anaga is part of the World Biosphere Reserves. The area offers both light walks and difficult trails, some of them within the rainforests and some leading through villages all the way down to the scenic beach.
After the humid rainforest, Tenerife’s enormous volcano, El Teide, offers a change of scenery. As you drive through the clouds, you will reach the realm of constant sunshine that offers a wide array of hikes across this breathtaking lunar landscape. If you’re aiming for the peak, it’s good to know that you have to apply for a permit beforehand – but even without this experience, you will be able to choose one of the many scenic trails that suits your level of fitness and/or time limit.
Remember to always travel respectfully
Hiking is not only a great thing for your mental and physical health, but also helps you learn to travel mindfully. Spending hours on a trail is a good way to reconnect with nature and remind yourself how beautiful the world is. Hiking requires respectful travellers! Such parts of the world are a fragile haven and should be treated accordingly. Don’t leave any garbage or waste, don’t do any harm, and don’t stray from the path.