Europe has it all when it comes to outdoor activities, offering a long list of bucket list adventures. While you might hear more about its history and culture, there are plenty of destinations that provide unforgettable action and thrills. To help inspire your next vacation, here you’ll find some of the continent’s very best places for outdoor play, from the glaciers in Iceland to the stunning shores of Spain.
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Iceland may be the ultimate destination for thrilling outdoor adventures with its dramatic volcanic landscapes, countless glaciers, thundering waterfalls and roaring rivers. And, after a day of any activity, you’ll have those soothing hot springs to soak in. Just some of the opportunities here include glacier walks and climbs, mountain biking, hiking, four-wheeling and even surfing. If you’re into diving, you can take one of the world’s most unique dips between the North American and Eurasian plates in the Silfra fissure. You’ll find a wide range of guided adventure trips to choose from as well, available via outfitters like Extreme Iceland which offers active day and multi-day excursions.
This jaw-dropping mountain range in northern Italy offers some of the world’s best hiking and climbing opportunities, nestled in the Alps. If you’re looking for an especially challenging trek, the Via Ferrata travels deep into the Brenta group and requires navigating navigate high-level trails aided by fixed ladders. No matter which hike you take, in the summer you’ll experience some of the most breathtaking scenery covered in colorful wildflowers. It’s also a popular place for hang gliding and in the winter a top spot for skiing and boarding.
The Swiss Alps are a hiker’s bucket-list destination. You might want to book a hiking excursion with Backroads, an active travel company that will lead you through wildflower-dotted meadows, passing cascading waterfalls as you head to high mountain passes with spectacular panoramic views of Gornergletscher, a glacier with dazzling blue pools and deep crevasses. It’s also where you’ll lay eyes on the iconic Matterhorn.
Located in Turkey’s Central Anatolia region, Cappadocia has an incredible landscape filled with fairy chimneys and other unique rock formations that make the ideal setting for a host of adventure. Saddle up on native Barb or Arabian horses, riding the scenic trails that meander through ancient villages, past old Byzantine churches and underground cities to valleys that are filled with the famous chimney rock formations. Viewing it all from above is a must, with hot air balloon rides going up at sunrise, with the early morning light creating an especially impressive scene.
Snowdonia National Park is home to the biggest mountain in Wales at 3,560 feet, and some of the most breathtaking landscapes in the country, with forest-covered mountains, sapphire lakes and lush valleys. There are nine mountain ranges that cover fully half of the park with a magnificent array of jagged peaks, windswept uplands and gorges that are ripe for hiking. The 97-mile Snowdonia Way travels through some of its most rugged and beautiful scenery.
Ireland offers lots for outdoor enthusiasts too, with cycling one of the most popular active pursuits. You can join a guided bike tour through lush countryside of County Cork and County Kerry, riding from Tralee to Dingle along Conor Pass, the highest mountain pass in the country. The journey takes in some of the most incredible panoramic vistas including lakes and soaring mountains, golden beaches framed by the turquoise Atlantic, boglands and farmlands. You can ride independently too by renting a bike and choosing one of the many routes available on DiscoverIreland.
You’ll find multiple outfitters that will take you sea kayaking off Croatia’s magnificent coastline, where you can paddle across surreal brilliant blue waters. While Croatia is full of idyllic island escapes, one of the top spots is Kornati Islands National Park with its almost 150 islands, rugged cliffs, hidden coves, caves and secluded beaches. Go Explore Croatia offers camping/sea kayaking trips where you’ll be able to explore one of the islands that were used by herders for some 2,000 years, meet with the locals and sample local specialties, including fresh-caught fish.
Along the Strait of Gibraltar at the southern tip of mainland Spain is Europe’s southernmost port town: Tarifa. It lies along one of the country’s most unspoiled, undeveloped coastlines, Costa de la Luz, a kite surfing mecca that’s often referred to as the “Adventure Capital of Europe,” with a practically endless list of other recreational pursuits too. With beaches so vast here there’s plenty of room for the thousands of kite surfers that arrive to enjoy the frequent sunshine and winds. If you’ve never tried it, there are multiple schools that will help get you up and running quickly.
Those who prefer activities on land might want to head to the rocky hills further inland, which are popular among hikers and climbers who can enjoy beautiful views, including magical sunsets over the Strait.
You might be surprised to learn that the Mediterranean isn’t just for beach and water sports lovers. It offers snow-covered slopes that are outstanding for skiing and boarding, with over two dozen resorts open between December and March. You’ll be able to avoid the crowds that are typical in places located closer to the capital of Ljubljana by venturing east to the Pohorje Massif. The country’s largest ski area, it boasts nearly 25 miles of slopes and 17 miles of trails along with ski and snowboarding schools, gear rentals and other facilities.
Heading to the far north in the winter, Finnish Lapland offers a wealth of thrilling adventures that can often be enjoyed under the northern lights which commonly make an appearance during the season’s short, dark days. Some of the most popular activities including dog-sledding, snowmobiling and reindeer-drawn sleigh rides. The latter brings the opportunity to feed the reindeer and glide across the pristine snow in a magical winter wonderland while basking in the magnificent glow of the aurora borealis that illuminates the ice, snow and sky. Cross-country skiing, snow-shoeing and even igloo building are just a few of the other possibilities here.