A compact patchwork of cultures and landscapes, Europe offers an incredible variety of short accessible hikes. From seaside scrambles to alpine rambles, here are eight of the best
Vernazza, Cinque Terre at sunset (Dreamstime)
This ten-kilometre coastal walk links five ancient, pastel-coloured fishing villages, each overlooking the Ligurian Sea. The land here has been tilled since medieval times, and much of the walk will take you through the ingeniously terraced gardens that cling precariously to the cliffs.
It is one of the world’s most photogenic coastal hikes, with the added bonus of a restorative espresso or plate of pasta waiting every couple of kilometres.
A train line at the back of the cliffs links each town too, meaning you can dip in and out of the trail, should you choose. Linger over lunch in the pretty harbourside towns of Vernazza or Corniglia, or return to your favourite stretch and do it all over again.
Lauterbrunnen valley in Switzerland (Dreamstime)
Sitting at the base of daunting granite cliffs, this picture-postcard Swiss village sits at the heart of an extensive network of alpine paths, each one offering intrepid hikers snow-capped peaks, flower-filled meadows and turquoise lakes.
One of the most challenging is the hike from the Lauterbrunnen valley up to the Schilthorn peak. It starts off at a gentle pace, passing through tiny Swiss hamlets, before becoming increasingly steeper, with spectacular views of Eiger, the Monch and the Jungfrau.
A gondola runs roughly parallel with the path, offering an easy escape, should the going get too tough.
The High Tartras in Slovakia (Dreamstime)
The High Tatras straddle the border between Poland and Slovakia, and the ascent to Kriváň Peak is one of the most spectacular in the region. The peak is the national symbol of Slovakia. This demanding 6-8 hour hike is popular with locals looking for a challenging and engaging hike.
Starting at the parking lot at Štrbské Pleso, the trail leads from the Furkotská Valley to Jámske Pleso lake, on to Važecká Valley and then the southwest ridge of Kriváň massif. The views across the Tatras and of the Liptovská Kotlina Valley are unparalleled.
There are easier hikes in the High Tatras National Park, of course. The area north of the small village of Poprad offers the best selection.
Castle Loket (Dreamstime)
Starting in the Baroque spa town of Karlovy Vary, this easy 4-hour walk will take you through the picturesque Ohře River Valley to the imposing Romanesque-Gothic castle in Loket, seeped in the dark history of this corner of the Czech Republic.
Along the way, you’ll pass Svatoš Rock (an unfaithful bachelor turned to stone by an infuriated water fairy, according to legend), walk through a forest and then into Loket across a suspension bridge. Here, you can reward yourself with a cold drink in the village’s medieval square or check out the live bands that play in the open air theatre just below the castle in the summer.
Hikers on Pulpit Rock (Dreamstime)
Pulpit Rock, the slab of ancient stone jutting out high above the Norwegian fjords, is one of the most spectacular sights in Norway and one where every visitor wants their photo taken. It is one of the most popular hikes in Norway, although locals sniff that it is also one of the easiest.
That’s not to say that the four-hour round trip walk should be taken lightly. The climb is quite steep at first and another section about hallway along will see you scrambling over boulders. The weather here is changeable too. Negotiating your way around the crowds, especially in August, can also be problematic.
To avoid the crowds, consider hiking up as the sun rises and before the crowds arrive. Alternatively, try another route, either via Mosli mountain, the trail along the edge of the Lysefjord or the one from Skåpa mountain that passes by the farm Torsnes and Preikestolen mountain lodge.
Your fellow hikers in Zillertal (Dreamstime)
When it comes to scenic day hikes, you’re spoilt for choice in the lovely alpine village of Zillertal. Nestled at the base of the Zillertal Alps, the village is the starting point for over 1,400 kilometres of trails catering for all skill levels.
One of the more challenging one-day treks is the hike up to Hippach, a walk that will take you through the heart of the Zillertal Alps, past mountain huts and up an elevation of 2,000 metres.
Lake Bled (Dreamstime)
Could this be the most beautiful day hike in Europe? This easy walk around Lake Bled offer superb views over the lake, the church on Bled island and the Julian Alps beyond, each more beautiful around every turn.
For more of a challenge and more incredible sights, there are plenty of opportunities to turn off the path in search of better viewpoints. The steep climb up the 680m Mala Osojnica leads to a superb vantage point over the lake. Walk up to up to thousand-year-old Bled Castle and reward yourself with a coffee on the most scenic terrace in Slovenia.
To venture deeper into the Julian Alps, head to Rodica on Lake Bohinj, the staring point for a wide selection of hikes.
Mont-Rebei Gorge (Dreamstime)
The Mont-Rebei Gorge hike offers a unique combination of heart-thumping adventure and spectacular views. It certainly isn’t for the timid. Parts of the precipitous 4km-long Mont-Rebei Gorge trail are cut right into the limestone cliff-sides, high above the Noguera River.
Hikers must squeeze along the path, negotiating rock-hewn tunnels, hanging bridges and narrow, rail-less ledges. The reward? Unhindered views of the majestic canyon and turquoise river flowing far down below.
If you’re very brave or very hot, there are even sections where you can jump from the trail into the river below.
Main image: Young man walking in the Swiss Alps (Dreamstime)