Europe is about more than beautiful cities and fascinating history. It also has some of the best hiking territory in the world. Exhilarating cliffs, stirring views and constantly shifting landscapes make for incredible walks for novice and experienced trekkers alike. Most are also easily accessible from nearby towns, and with a rail pass in hand you’ll be able to get close to the trailhead and out into the wilderness with only a small amount of planning. Here are five of the best towns for scenic day hikes in Europe.
Day hikes in Europe
1. Zillertal, Austria
Austria is one of the best countries for scenic long and day hikes in Europe. There are several beautiful small towns nestled in the mountains that are easily accessible by train. Zillertal is one of them – it’s painfully scenic and lends its name to the Zillertal Alps which surround it. There are 1,400 kilometers of trails catering for all skill levels, and the mountains and snow-fed rivers make for beautiful scenic walks and hikes.
One hike to try: Challenge yourself with a near 2000-meter elevation hike to Hippach. It will take you along beautiful views of the Zillertal Alps, then past mountain huts, B&Bs, and traditional Austrian dwellings.
More info: www.zillertal.at
How to get there by train: There are direct trains to Jenbach station from several local and international cities, including Munich, Milan, and Vienna. From there, trains on the Zillertalbahn will get you up into the valley with ease.
2. Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland
There appear to be a lifetime’s worth of scenic walks and hikes from the valley of Lauterbrunnen. The small slice of Swiss heaven sits at the foot of seemingly impassable cliffs. But once you set off you’ll find a vast network of well-maintained paths that offer some of the most dramatic views of snow-capped peaks, pristine fields, turquoise snow-fed lakes and high-altitude waterfalls. When the going gets tough you might be lucky enough to stumble across a beautiful traditional mountain hut, where you can sip on a cup of hot chocolate overlooking the most surreal of vistas.
One hike to try: The hike from the Lauterbrunnen valley up to the Schilthorn peak is not for the faint of heart, but the constantly changing views are well worth the exertion for the experienced hiker. If the altitude and distance get the better of you, you can always hitch a ride on the gondola back to a more reasonable height.
More info: schilthorn.ch
How to get there by train: There are several local and international trains to nearby Interlaken. Catch a private (Eurail Pass not valid) narrow-gauge train from Interlaken Ost up the Lauterbrunnen valley.
3. Lake Bohinj, Slovenia
While many people look to the likes of Switzerland, Italy, and Austria for dramatic mountain hikes, many travelers forget that the picturesque country of Slovenia is one of the continent’s most scenically beautiful destinations. It’s perfect for those seeking day hikes in Europe. There are hikes aplenty throughout the country, but the idyllic Bohinj offers the perfect starting point for scenic walks among the Julian Alps. People often call it the more beautiful version of nearby Lake Bled. This might seem hyperbolic until you actually lay your eyes on this pristine piece of Slovenian wilderness.
One hike to try: The walk up to the highest summit south of Lake Bohinj, Rodica, is particularly scenic. Though long at about 6 hours, it offers ever-changing views of spectacular landscapes.
More info: www.slovenia-trips.com
How to get there by train: Take a train from Ljubljana to Lake Bled. Regular buses go from Bled to Bohinj throughout the day, and a one-way trip on the bus takes approximately 40 minutes.
4. Poprad, Slovakia
The High Tatras straddle the border between Poland and Slovakia. You can reach the summit of these dramatic peaks from either country. Poprad is a small town on the Slovakian side of the mountains. It offers easy access to a wide range of incredible hikes. Make your way to the High Tatras National Park just north of Poprad for the best selection of trails. These range from easy strolls through to all-day technical hikes.
One hike to try: Krivan Peak in the Western Tatras is one of the most popular hikes amongst Slovaks, and it offers a challenging but scenically dramatic walk up to just below 2,500 meters.
More info: www.slovak-republic.org
How to get there by train: There are direct trains to Poprad from Prague, Zillna, Kosice, and Bratislava. From Poprad, there are tram-like electric trains and buses that will connect you to the mountain resorts and trails.
5. Stavanger, Norway
Norway is no stranger to scenic beauty. There are dozens of celebrated short hikes across the country. But her most famous short hike, Pulpit Rock, offers stomach churning views and spectacular photo opportunities. This vertical cliff face attracts thousands of tourists each year. It requires a ferry and a bus ride from the nearest town to get to it, but don’t let that put you off – the short 2 to 4 hour return walk regularly ranks amongst visitors’ number one European travel experiences.
One hike to try: Hike up to Pulpit Rock and tip-toe your way to the very edge – it’s an experience you won’t quickly forget.
More info: www.visitnorway.com
How to get there by train: Take a convenient scenic train to Stavanger from Oslo, via Kristiansand. Then from Stavanger Station, catch a bus to Pulpit Rock – all routes involve a ferry connection.
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While much of Europe’s charm lies in its beautiful cities, getting out into nature helps to put it all into perspective. But with a Eurail Global Pass, getting to these spectacular day hikes in Europe is as easy as hopping aboard a train.