Hiking is a very popular pastime in Europe! Studies show that the sport is consistently within the top 10 when it comes to participation vs population. Often being more popular than large sports such as golf and tennis
France has the largest hiking community out of the European countries. It is the most popular sport with 54% of the population (38 million people) as self-proclaimed hikers and over 37000 miles of marked walking trails.
Other European countries such as Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, and the UK continue to see a huge rise in the number of new hikers every year. With a constantly increasing influx of hiking tourists and it’s no wonder why! Europe’s varied landscapes, terrain, and wildlife offer seemingly endless unique experiences. Allowing even the choosiest of hikers to find a little piece of heaven along the extensive trail network winding its way through 45 countries.
Why Is Hiking Popular in Europe?
Every year avid hikers travel from all over the world to Europe. Joining the local population in exploring the vast, well-organized trail network along high mountain ridgelines, pristine coastlines, magical forest pathways, ancient streets, and peaceful riversides that Europe seems to have an endless supply of. However, Popularity and growth have not occurred by chance. Realizing the economic, social, and cultural benefits that hiking brings to rural areas, the European Union invests millions of Euros every year. Ensuring that trail networks remain well marked out, in good condition, and open for business, along with the infrastructure that supports them. This in turn drives local economies that love to welcome tourists to their businesses such as campsites, restaurants, hotels, and bars.
Good trails don’t always make a good hike though and sometimes a little “X-factor” or as the French say “Je ne sais pas” is required to draw the crowds. Europe it seems has no shortage of X-factor when it comes to amusing our adventure taste buds, but just what is it that attracts us?
The whole of Europe is around the same size as the U.S. but with 45 different countries and 24 different languages. Different parts of Europe have been ruled by The Romans, The Moors, the Byzantines, and the Ottomans. Each leaves behind its unique mark. Not only on cuisine, architecture, and way of life but also the landscape and how to move through it. Many ancient pathways are still being used today as a method to pass from one area to the next.
Imagine starting a hike with a croissant and cafe au lait in a quiet bistro on the high street of a quaint village in France, then hiking alongside ancient chateaus and vineyards whilst taking in the undulating coastline of the Mediterranean to your left and the shear size of the Pyrenees mountains to your right. Finally finishing the day with a hearty glass of Rioja wine and a variety of delicious tapas in Spain. Bordering culture, language, and cuisine in as little as 5 miles. This is just a tiny taste of what hiking in Europe has to offer and why millions take the trip across the pond every year to find some of these experiences for themselves.
If challenging hikes is your thing then Europe has what you are looking for!
Hikers, adventurers, and mountaineers flock to Europe every year. They come to test their limits on the seriously hard challenges that are on offer. Some spend most of their lives on such challenges as conquering all the 282 Monroes (a mountain with over 3000ft of altitude) in Scotland or pushing their vertigo and strength to the limit whilst trying to complete “Le Tour Du Mont Blanc” in under 6 days.
Many of these routes are well documented by the extremely in-depth ordinance maps. These can be purchased in many book or outdoor stores in the local area. Guides are also often available to help groups pass the route safely, some even taking your luggage or camping equipment to the next location for you. Leaving you to enjoy the hike without all that extra weight.
Here are some of the most challenging hikes in Europe.
The Longest Hike In Europe
The GR10 route follows the Spanish/ French Border through the Pyrenees mountains from the Medeteraninan sea to the Atlantic Ocean. With a length of 538 miles and an altitude gain of 157480.31ft across some seriously high mountains. Even the fittest of hikers can expect to take around 52 days to complete. Many come back year after year to complete different sections.
The Highest Hike In Europe
The world-famous Tour Du Mont Blanc (TMB) covers 106 miles with a height gain of 32808ft spanning 3 countries – France, Italy, and Switzerland reaching altitudes of 8743ft. All under the imposing hanging glaciers of Europe’s highest mountain (15780ft) Mont Blanc (or Monte Bianco in Italian)
The Most Remote Hike in Europe
One of the most remote hikes in Europe is The Historical Route of the Jotunheimen National Park in central Norway. Over the 40-mile route, hikers will experience nature in its purest form. With scenic views and unique wildlife such as wild reindeer. Bring some warm clothes!
The Weirdest Hike In Europe
Hike one of the many routes in the haunted Hoia forest in Transylvania, Romania. Considered to be one of the most haunted areas on the planet. This 250-hectare forest is full of mysterious goings-on with some seriously creepy history!
The European walking paths are well set out for both single-day and multi-day treks. Almost all areas have routes available for all levels of hikers, even children. Many paths are well-marked and relatively easy to follow. However, it is always advisable to have a map handy in case you lose the trail.
Major European trails are usually kept free of debris and rockfall during the summer months where possible. Especially in countries such as France, Italy, the UK, Germany, and Spain where hiking is a very popular pastime, helping to fuel local economies. Some European countries have live feeds and updates of which trails are under maintenance or closed due to natural factors.
Europe Is home to 40% of the World´s protected UNESCO heritage sites. The European Government (EU) spends millions every year to ensure that public facilities such as car parks, toilets, picnic areas, and refuse collection are readily available and well maintained. For the most part, these areas are well respected (with some disappointing exceptions) and are often free to use for the public.
Many countries in the EU also have a hut system offering cheap and very humble accommodation in remote areas. These are often funded by local hiking organizations such as The Fédération Française des clubs alpins et de montagne (FFCAM). These huts can offer a unique experience of connecting with other hikers and in some huts, trying out a taste of the local cuisine.
Freedom To Roam
In the European countries of Scotland, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus, Austria, Czech Republic, and Switzerland. Laws have been passed allowing hikers the right to roam. Sometimes known as the “right of public access to the wilderness”.
This ancient custom that has now been passed as a law hugely benefits hikers. Allowing free passage through the wilderness on public and privately owned property. Landowners with public footpaths on their property must also not restrict pedestrians. Ensuring that gates and styles are in place to allow access to the path or bridleway.
This law is however written for walkers/ hikers exclusively and does not include dogs (although many land owners allow dogs on a leash). It may be wise to check out some trails first if you are looking to bring your four-legged friend along for the hike
Many European beauty spots have become famous in recent years with the rise of social media. Inspiring a new generation of hikers to dawn some sturdy boots for the first time to get a snap of themselves at the trendiest mountain on Instagram.
Others follow the steps of famous films and TV shows. Walking to such famous spots as the remote castle of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe in Northern Spain, featured in Game of Thrones, or hiking underneath the famous Glenfinnan Viaduct in Scotland, experiencing how Harry Potter must have felt on the way to Hogwarts. Of course, the local economy is more than happy to support and accommodate this trend. Creating the infrastructure to accommodate the growing tourism.
Home to over 526 types of animals including polar bears and bison, 540 types of wild birds such as the Scottish Cappercallie, and extremely varied sealife including Orcas and sharks. The highlands, lowlands, and coastlines of Europe are teaming with wildlife. Some rare, breeds are unique to the continent and sometimes the world! Hikers are rarely bored whilst out in European nature.
Many large nonprofit organizations such as European Wildlife work tirelessly to protect the varied wildlife that freely wanders the natural landscapes of Europe. These organizations are often responsible for the protection of endangered species, native to the continent such as the European mink and the Medetranian monk seal.
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