Long-distance hiking - hiker enjoys the mountain view.

Long-Distance Hiking in Europe: Popular Long-Distance Hiking Trails

Long-distance hiking allows you to leave your everyday life behind for several days or even weeks and become one with nature. The breath-taking landscapes of Europe invite you to pack your backpack and start walking. To give you inspiration for the destination of your next long-distance hike, we present three of the most popular European long-distance hiking trails and their special features. We also look at the different levels of difficulty and routes so that you can find the perfect long-distance hike for you.

The Way of St. James: The Dream of Many Long-Distance Walkers

The classic and probably the best-known of the European long-distance trails is the Way of St. James, or Camino de Santiago. When we commonly speak of the “Way of St. James”, we actually mean only one particular route in the large network of the Camino de Santiago: the Camino Francés. Since the eleventh century, this has been one of the three most important Christian pilgrimage routes in the world.  It leads from Saint-Jean-de-Port in France to the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela, to the tomb of the Apostle James. In honour of the apostle, these pilgrimage routes are therefore called the Way of St. James. If you walk one of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimages, you will not only discover the beautiful Spanish landscapes, but you will also have the chance to make new contacts and get to know yourself better.

By the way: The sign of the Way of St. James is the scallop shell. It is the subject of many legends associated with St. James. If you are on the Camino, you can hang a scallop shell on your backpack to indicate that you are on a pilgrimage.

The Way of St. James: Which Route Should I Walk?

Every route of the Way of St. James takes you through the different, beautiful landscapes that Spain has to offer. Whether you want to walk along the exciting Atlantic coast, scramble through impressive mountain landscapes or stroll along ancient Roman paths – it is all possible on the vast network of paths of the Way of St. James.

Below we present the five most popular routes of the Way of St. James and give an idea of their difficulty:

Way of St. James - view of the town of Navarrete in La Rioja.

1. Camino Francés: The Classic Way of St. James

The classic Way of St. James is the most popular of the pilgrimage routes. It takes you across the Pyrenees via Pamplona, Burgos, and León to Santiago de Compostela. Because of its popularity, it has a good network of hostels, cafés, and restaurants, so you are always well looked after during your long-distance hike. Especially in summer, many hikers set out to walk the Way of St. James. Therefore, you should plan your tour well and book hostels in advance, if possible.

  • Distance covered: approx. 800 km
  • Level of difficulty: easy to medium
  • Best season: spring & autumn
  • Recommendation: suitable for long-distance hikers, but heavily frequented

CheckIf you want to calculate the time you need to walk a long-distance trail, you can use the following rule of thumb: Experienced long-distance hikers cover 25 to 30 kilometres a day. Long-distance hikers who are just starting out should expect to walk 20 kilometres a day.

CheckIf you want to calculate the time you need to walk a long-distance trail, you can use the following rule of thumb: Experienced long-distance hikers cover 25 to 30 kilometres a day. Long-distance hikers who are just starting out should expect to walk 20 kilometres a day.

2. Caminho Português: The Way of St. James in Portugal

As the name suggests, this route takes you from Portugal to Santiago de Compostela. You start in Porto and walk along the Portuguese sandy beaches to Spain. You can relax and recharge your batteries at short stops in beach bars. In contrast to the Camino Francés, this pilgrimage route is much shorter and can therefore be completed in a two-week holiday.

  • Distance covered: approx. 250 km
  • Level of difficulty: easy
  • Best time of year: spring, summer & autumn
  • Recommendation: the Way of St. James for beginners

3. Camino del Norte: Along the Spanish Coast

The Camino del Norte runs along the Spanish Atlantic coast and is therefore often called the Coastal Way. On this pilgrimage path you can always enjoy impressive views of the Atlantic and the cool sea breeze. Therefore, this path is also well suited for the summer months. If the route takes you away from the coast, you can walk through mountainous forests and meadows for a change and get to know another side of Spain.

  • Distance covered: approx. 850 km
  • Level of difficulty: medium
  • Best season: spring, summer & autumn
  • Recommendation: suitable for long-distance walkers with some experience

4. Camino Primitivo: The Challenging Way of St. James

If you are looking for adventure and like mountain landscapes, you should walk the Camino Primitivo. Although this Camino is quite short compared to the others, you will cover a lot of metres in altitude and can really work up a sweat. On the summits, you will be rewarded with breath-taking views over Spain. Due to its difficulty, this pilgrimage route is not so crowded, so you can enjoy the peace and quiet of nature.

  • Distance covered: approx. 300 km
  • Level of difficulty: difficult
  • Best season: spring, summer & autumn
  • Recommendation: suitable for long-distance walkers with good physical condition and experience with mountain hiking

5. Via de la Plata: Through the Whole of Spain

On this pilgrimage route, picturesque landscapes meet the fascinating history of Spain. During the hike you partly walk on old Roman paths from southern Seville through the landscapes of Andalusia and Extremadura to Santiago de Compostela. The best time to walk this longest of all Camino de Santiago routes is in spring. Along the way, you can watch Spanish nature awaken from hibernation.

  • Distance covered: approx. 1,000 km
  • Level of difficulty: difficult
  • Best season: spring, autumn & winter
  • Recommendation: suitable for experienced long-distance walkers in good physical condition

NoteThe network of paths on the Way of St. James stretches across the whole of Europe. This gives you the opportunity to start your pilgrimage on the Way of St. James directly from your doorstep. You can find suitable routes at: https://www.pilgrim.es/en/routes/

NoteThe network of paths on the Way of St. James stretches across the whole of Europe. This gives you the opportunity to start your pilgrimage on the Way of St. James directly from your doorstep. You can find suitable routes at: https://www.pilgrim.es/en/routes/

The E5 Hiking Trail: Crossing the Alps by Foot

To cross the Alps once is a dream of many long-distance hikers. Although the European Long-Distance Trail E5 runs from the French Atlantic coast to Venice, the most popular section of the trail is the crossing of the Alps. It is the highlight of the E5 hiking trail. The crossing of the Alps takes you from Germany via Austria to Italy. Breath-taking mountain landscapes alternate with idyllic valleys, so you will certainly not get bored on this Alpine hike. If you have already gained experience in hiking and perhaps have already completed a few mountain hikes, you can venture on the E5 hiking trail. It requires a good level of fitness, as you will be climbing several thousand metres in altitude, but does not make any special technical demands on you and does not require any special equipment. The paths are well marked, and difficult sections are secured with ropes, so that even ambitious long-distance hiking beginners can master this Alpine crossing.

E5 hiking trail - long-distance hikers on the move in the Ötztal valley.
  • Total E5 countries crossed: France, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Italy
  • Countries crossed on the E5 Alpine crossing: Germany, Austria, Switzerland
  • Distance covered: approx. 3,200 km (Alpine crossing approx. 120 km)
  • Level of difficulty: easy to medium, depending on shortcuts
  • Best season: June to September
  • Recommendation: suitable for ambitious long-distance hikers with good physical condition

The Via Alpina: The Most Spectacular European Hiking Trail

Crossing eight countries in one long-distance hike – the Via Alpina offers you this unique experience. Depending on the route you choose, you can explore up to 5,000 kilometres of Italy, Slovenia, Austria, Germany, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, France, and Monaco. You can enjoy the varied Alpine landscapes, while getting to know the cultures of the different countries.

The best conditions for your Alpine hike are from June to October. Then the paths are snow-free and easily passable. You don’t need any climbing experience or mountain equipment for the Via Alpina, but you should be in good shape for the mountainous sections and have steady footing and no fear of heights.

AttentionThe Via Alpina is a project that not only wants to draw attention to the beauty of the Alps, but also focuses on the protection of this habitat. Therefore, make sure you behave in an environmentally conscious manner on each of your long-distance hikes.

AttentionThe Via Alpina is a project that not only wants to draw attention to the beauty of the Alps, but also focuses on the protection of this habitat. Therefore, make sure you behave in an environmentally conscious manner on each of your long-distance hikes.

The Different Routes of the Via Alpina

The Via Alpina is divided into five different routes that take you through different countries. The routes are marked by different colours. In general, most sections of the Via Alpina are easily passable and do not pose any technical challenges. However, due to the length of the Alpine hikes, you should be in good physical condition.

Below we present all five possible alpine hikes of the Via Alpina:

Via Alpina – view of Lake Oeschinen in the Swiss Alps.

1. The Red Trail: The 8-Country Tour

The Red Trail is the classic and longest route that takes you through all the Alpine countries. It starts in Trieste in Italy and ends in Monaco. On this long-distance hiking trail, you climb the main Alpine ridge several times, enjoy spectacular views and always find variety in the picturesque Alpine valleys. Due to its length, this tour in its entirety is only suitable for experienced long-distance hikers. However, if you want to get started with long-distance hiking, you can also walk only a few sections of this long-distance trail and test your limits.

  • Countries crossed: Italy, Slovenia, Austria, Germany, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, France, Monaco
  • Distance covered: approx. 2,600 km

2. The Purple Trail: Tour through the Limestone Alps

On the purple trail of the Via Alpina you explore the eastern Limestone Alps. From the Karawanken to the Allgäu, this varied long-distance hiking trail takes you through Slovenia, Austria, and Germany. There is always something to discover, such as Admont Abbey, which has the largest monastic library in the world, or Ludwig II’s royal castles. If you’re interested in history and architecture, you’ll get your money’s worth on this Alpine hike.

  • Countries crossed: Slovenia, Austria, Germany
  • Distance covered: approx. 1,500 km

3. The Yellow Trail: The Trail of Contrasts

The yellow hiking trail of the Via Alpina is a real highlight among the Alpine hikes. It runs from the Adriatic coast to the Allgäu region and offers cultural and scenic highlights. On the way, you can visit the city of Bolzano with its famous archaeological museum, where “Ötzi – the Iceman” is exhibited. Then follow the yellow trail through the Ötztal valley to the idyllic pastures of the Allgäu.

  • Countries crossed: Italy, Austria, Germany
  • Distance covered: approx. 800 km

4. The Green Trail: The Short Route through the Alps

In just 13 stages, you explore Liechtenstein and Switzerland on this long-distance hiking trail. You start in the Rätikon and finally arrive in the picturesque Bernese Alps. You will cross a total of five Swiss cantons, where you can learn more about Switzerland and Swiss culture. In the Bernese Oberland, a unique view awaits you as you run along the imposing peaks of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau.

  • Countries crossed: Liechtenstein, Switzerland
  • Distance covered: approx. 300 km

5. The Blue Trail: The Idyllic Path

Idyllic pasture landscapes and national parks characterise the blue trail of the Via Alpina. On this Alpine hike you walk from the glaciers of the Monte Rosa massif to the French Mercantour National Park. You will pass through Switzerland, Italy and finally end up in France. The route is lined with quiet Alpine villages and beautiful pasture landscapes, but you will also get the chance to really enjoy the mountain scenery in the Piedmontese Alps.

  • Countries crossed: Switzerland, Italy, and France
  • Distance travelled: approx. 900 km

Conclusion

Europe offers long-distance hikers contrasting and beautiful landscapes that you can discover on foot along well-maintained and signposted paths. It doesn’t matter whether you are drawn to the Alps or want to make a pilgrimage on the Way of St. James: Every country offers unique hiking trails that are just waiting to be explored by you. With the right preparation and equipment, nothing can stand in the way of your long-distance hiking experience!

References:

http://www.via-alpina.org/
(Accessed on 12.10.2021)

https://www.caminodesantiago.gal/en/make-plans/the-ways
(Accessed on 12.10.2021)

https://www.tyrol.com/things-to-do/sports/hiking/hiking-tours/a-weitwanderweg-e5
(Accessed on 12.10.2021)

https://followthecamino.com/en/camino-de-santiago-routes/
(Accessed on 12.10.2021)

Image sources:

iStock.com/AscentXmedia

iStock.com/focalmatter

iStock.com/Stanislava Karagyozova

iStock.com/Sabine Hortebusch

iStock.com/David P. Hilss