Top 10 self guided walking holidays

Self guided walking holidays are for those who like to go their own way. You can travel solo through Romania or introduce your children to rural France in spring. Meander the Swedish coastline or march through Japan’s sacred mountains. Stop off at whichever French markets or Buddhist shrines you like. Cut your walks short or squeeze in as much as you can into a day.

But you also get the assurance of travelling with an expert tour provider that can fill your rucksack with clear maps, compasses and wildlife spotting tips. And you’ll have contact numbers to ring should you get turned around. Best of all, walking holidays are at the pinnacle of travelling responsibly, putting you in touch with little-visited rural communities and leaving barely a mark on the landscape around you. Read on to discover our top 10 self-guided walks…

1. Dalmatian Coast, Croatia

The footpaths of the Dalmatian Coast zigzag between medieval walled cities, vineyard-striped hills, craggy national parks and islands lassoed by sandy beaches. Unsurprisingly, Dubrovnik and the surrounding Elaphiti Islands play starring roles on this southern coastline. Soft sand footpaths and Adriatic-view clifftop trails dip down to a monastery-topped harbour on Lopud, while silent pine forests coat Sipan.

When to go: March, early April and autumn
Our top trip: Croatian coast self guided walking tour
See all our trips: Croatia walking holidays
Read more: Croatia walking holidays guide

2. Catalonia, Spain

The landscapes are ever changing in Catalonia. You can meander between Mediterranean forests, shark’s-tooth mountains and glassy bays in just a few days. As well as gawping at the scenery, you could swing by Greco-Roman ruins at Empúries and Dali’s house at seaside Cadaqués. Fancy a change of pace? Top or tail your trip with a few days in Barcelona, courtesy of Catalonia’s high-speed trains.

When to go: March and April, September and October
Our top trip: Catalonia self guided walking holiday
See all our trips: Walking holidays in Spain
Read more: Spain walking holidays guide

3. Lake Como, Italy

It’s spectacular panoramas all the way in Lake Como, where you’ll put the aristocratic villas of the lakeside in the rear view mirror and follow the donkey trails up (and up) into the Alps. Trails range from gentle to gently challenging, scaling summits and dipping down to warmingly traditional rifugi inns that rely on walkers to keep going. You’ll usually start at the highest point, so it’s all downhill as you hike south to Bellagio – much kinder for littler legs, if you're hiking as a family.

When to go: All year round, although temperatures are more comfortable in spring and autumn
Our top trip: Lake Como family walking holiday
See all our trips: Walking holidays in Italy
Read more: Italy walking holidays guide

4. Alentejo & Algarve, Portugal

Walking holidays in Algarve ease you away from the crowds, while still showing off the coppery coastline and national parks that make this Portugal’s most visited spot. Many routes head north into Alentejo, too. Rippling vineyards, sandy beaches and hugely biodiverse cork forests shape this region. Your hiking maps will point out stops along the way, focussing on little fish restaurants and homely B&Bs.

When to go: Any time outside of July and August
Our top trip: Alentejo and Algarve self-guided walking holiday
See all our trips: Portugal walking holidays
Read more: Portugal walking holidays guide

5. Poitou-Charentes, France

Poitou-Charentes in western France is a real rural idyll, where you can ramble from village to ancient village via winding country lanes almost completely empty of company. Late spring and summer are the best times to go, thanks to orchids, cherry blossoms and hazelnut hedgerows. Hotels include 17th-century mill houses and charm-packed guesthouses where great food and even better wine are mainstays.

When to go: July to early October, avoiding public holidays if possible
Our top trip: Self guided walking holiday in France
See all our trips: France walking holidays
Read more: France walking holidays guide

6. Carpathian Mountains, Romania

Romania’s stretch of the Carpathians is the stuff of fairytales. Paths twist through Transylvanian villages, foothills, woods and alpine pastures, while the limestone cracks open to reveal the deep-cut Zarnesti gorge and bat caves scooped out of silvery cliffs. The deep, dark foothill forests are also a refuge for people-shy bears and wolves. The Carpathians offer walking challenges – think map and compass rather than spoon-fed signage – but that’s all part of the fun.

When to go: Spring and autumn
Our top trip: Romania self guided walking holiday
See all our trips: Romania walking holidays
Read more: Carpathian Mountains travel guide

7. Sörmland & Stockholm, Sweden

Think hiking in Sweden is all mountain passes and rugged national parks? Then take a look at the countryside around Stockholm, which offers an incredibly accessible – and peaceful – spiderweb of footpaths. The 2,800 offshore islands let you kick off your hiking boots and boat between protected beaches. There’s also lots of human history; the 1,000-kilometre-long Sörmlandsleden trail passes wooden houses and an 18th-century Palace.

When to go: Summer
Our top trip: Sweden self-guided walking holiday
See all our trips: Sweden walking holidays
Read more: Sweden walking holidays guide

8. Andalucia, Spain

Turn your back on the heaving beaches and head out along old donkey trails into the mountains and valleys of rural Andalucia. Some of the best walking holidays here base themselves in a single village, so you get to make yourself at home in a finca wrapped in almond and olive orchards. For a glimpse of the coast minus the crowds, map a path towards Cabo de Gata-Nijar Natural Park, where dramatic coves chip the highrise coastline.

When to go: Autumn, winter or spring
Our top trip: Andalucia self-guided walking holiday
See all our trips: Spain walking holidays
Read more: Spain walking holidays guide

9. Pilgrims’ Way, UK

This is the king of English footpaths – an ancient traders’ track that once led pilgrims from Winchester to Thomas Becket’s shrine in Canterbury. It’s a great introduction to the twee villages, Roman hollow ways and cathedral cities of the North Downs. As it’s self-guided, you can pick your pit stops – whether that’s at 900-year-old Leeds Castle or Godmersham Park (said to be inspiration for Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park).

When to go: April to October
Our top trip: Pilgrims’ Way self-guided walking tour
See all our trips: England walking holidays
Read more: England walking holidays guide

10. Nakasendo Trail, Japan

And now for the wild card. The 8th-century Nakasendo Trail is one of the oldest footpaths in Japan. It cuts through ragged mountains strung with petite post towns, marking the border between central Japan’s foothills and farmed flatlands. The mountain scenery between Kyoto and Tokyo is particularly photogenic – although many hikers say that the ryokan inns, shukubo Buddhist lodgings and bath houses en route are the real highlights.

When to go: All year round, if you’re prepared for the weather. Avoid crowds in April and early May – which is cherry blossom season and Golden Week
Our top trip: Nakasendo Trail walking holiday
See all our trips: Japan walking holidays
Read more: Japan walking travel guide
Photo credits: [Page banner: Thomas Schweighofer] [1. Dalmatian Coast, Croatia: Morgan] [4. Alentejo & Algarve, Portugal: Mario Cruz] [7. Sörmland & Stockholm, Sweden: Holger.Ellgaard] [10. Nakasendo Trail, Japan: 663highland]
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