Top 10 unusual holidays in Europe

Our round-up of unusual holidays in Europe offers exciting alternatives for those looking for something a little different. These holidays aren’t necessarily in remote places (although Lake Skadar in Montenegro and the Greek Pindos Mountains are certainly less-visited by tourists), but they do explore their neighbourhoods in completely different ways.

Keep reading to discover our favourite unusual holidays in Europe.

1. Swap Croatia for Montenegro

Montenegro has all the cycling, hiking, kayaking and vineyard visits that its more popular neighbour, Croatia, can provide – but on a quieter and wildly beautiful scale. Activity holidays are the best way to strike out amongst the forested mountains, riverside villages, island monasteries and water lily-carpeted lakes. Our most popular holiday is hosted by a family who has made Lake Skadar their home – and that home is their renovated farmhouse villa, which opens its doors to guests between the balmy months of May and October.

Our top trip: Montenegro activity holiday
See all our trips: Montenegro holidays
Read more: Montenegro travel guide

2. Learn Spanish while hiking the Picos de Europa

The jagged landscapes and vertiginous via ferrata routes of the Picos de Europa in northern Spain are familiar to adventurous hikers. Walking the walks while learning to talk the talk, however, is a twist on your average hiking holiday. Spend a few hours with a Spanish language teacher in the classroom, swotting up on your possessives and pronouns, before setting off into the mountains with your teacher and guide, chatting as you go – a brilliant way to hone your conversational Spanish. There are a few accommodation options, but a homestay with a family in the village is recommended for full immersion in village life.

Our top trip: Spanish course and walking holiday in the Picos de Europa
See all our trips: Spanish language holidays
Read more: Picos de Europa travel guide

3. Help conserve the dolphins of the Greek Islands

Go on a dolphin watching holiday with a difference, spending the week voyaging with marine conservationists. One of our most unusual European holidays sails the waves of the National Marine Park of Alonissos – home to all four of Greece’s dolphin species, seabirds, plus critically endangered Mediterranean monk seals. You’ll lend a much-needed hand with data collection on a working marine research vessel, and still have time to swim and taverna-hop across remote Greek islands.

Our top trip: Greece dolphin conservation holiday
See all our trips: Greece unusual holidays
Read more: Greece dolphin watching guide

4. Pair yoga with walking in the mountains

Combination holidays matchmake two complementary activities. In the case of yoga and walking, you’ll find that guided hikes in the Austrian mountains or high above the craggy Alicante coast are a rewarding continuation of the inner journey you’ll embark on in the yoga classes. Our best trips are holistic retreats that look at the whole of yoga practise instead of concentrating on asanas, so expect extras such as meditation, nutrition workshops, delicious veggie food and contemplative campfires in great company.

Our top trips: Austria yoga and walking holiday and Spain yoga and walking holiday
See all our trips: Yoga holidays
Read more: Yoga travel guide

5. Stay in an off-grid activity hotel in rural Andalucia

If you’ve been to the Costa del Sol and think you’ve done Andalucia, this holiday will change your mind. It reveals and revels in the cool mountain lakes, rivers and forests of rural Altiplano de Granada, which are your backdrop for stargazing, kayaking, canyoning, rafting and wine tasting. And your home for the holiday? A gorgeous off-grid hotel powered by solar panels – sunset-view terrace, olive grove gardens and delicious food options included.

Our top trip: Altiplano de Granada activity holiday
See all our trips: Spain unusual holidays
Read more: Spain unusual holidays travel guide

6. Track wolves & moose in Sweden

You don’t have to go far to encounter the wild beauty of Sweden. The deep, dark forest of Bergslagen lies just two hours outside Stockholm, and it’s home to the country’s biggest populations of moose, beavers and wolves. This tour matches you up with a top-notch wildlife guides who’ll take you paddling across Lake Storsjön. The highlight, however, might well be the night spent wild camping in wolf country, sitting around the campfire listening out for the ghostly wail of wolves.

Our top trip: Sweden wildlife holiday
See all our trips: Sweden unusual holidays
Read more: Sweden wildlife guide

7. Paint en plein air in Crete

It’s hard deciding the best thing about this holiday: your welcoming tutors and guides, the hotel with a pool, or the camaraderie of the fellow artists in your group. Or it could be the footpaths that meander through Kissamos and its surrounds, where you can paint en plein air amongst harbour villages, ancient ruins, beaches and flowering hills. As our traveller Aya Hastwell says: “Get your sketchbooks and walking boots ready and you will never forget the experience!”

Our top trip: Crete walking and painting holiday
See all our trips: Greece unusual holidays
Read more: Crete painting holidays travel guide

8. Kayak between the Elaphiti Islands of Croatia

Sea kayaking trips in Croatia explore some of the most popular places in Europe – in this case, Dubrovnik and the Elaphiti Islands – from a dolphin’s eye view. (Even better, you might see a dolphin’s eye in view as it scythes past your paddle.) Sea caves and secret coves are your oyster when following the lead of local kayaking guides who’ll steer well away from the busy ports. You’ll soon get into the rhythm of the Adriatic: breakfast, kayak, a siesta, stroll or swim, and then another afternoon in the kayak before retreating to an island guest house.

Our top trips: Croatia sea kayaking holiday
See all our trips: Sea kayaking holidays
Read more: Croatia sea kayaking guide

9. Dig up ancient history in the Peloponnese

Lots of people go to Greece to see its archaeological treasures… but few people dedicate a whole week to it. This tour goes a few steps further – you’ll be based well off the tourist radar in the storied city of Tripoli and get the chance to gawp at famous sites such as the theatres and temples of Epidaurus, as well as off-road ruins that few people get to see. Fancy adding another twist to the trip? Go on a self guided cycling tour for an even more unusual take on the ancient history of the Peloponnese.

Our top trips: Greece archaeology holiday and Greece cycling archaeology tour
See all our trips: Greece unusual holidays and archaeology holidays
Read more: Peloponnese archaeology holidays guide

10. Track Eurasian brown bears

One sure way to get off the beaten track in Europe is to follow the bears. They’re generally pretty people-shy, so itineraries follow the lead of conservationists who’ll follow bear tracks and markings deep into the gothic forests and mountains of the Pindos and Carpathians. Learning about the wins and challenges of boosting wild bear numbers is eye-opening stuff, as are visits to the farmers and beekeepers who live alongside 300-kilo beasts with a penchant for fruit and honey. Another highlight? Popping by sanctuaries and rehabilitation centres for rescued performing bears.

Our top trips: Northern Greece brown bear tracking and Carapathian Mountains holiday – conservation and culture
See all our trips: Bear watching holidays
Read more: Bear watching travel guide
Photo credits: [Page banner: Wild Sweden] [1. Swap Croatia for Montenegro: Shant Dem] [4. Pair yoga with walking in the mountains: WearActive] [7. Paint en plein air in Crete: Active Crete ] [10. Track Eurasian brown bears: Larisa Uhryn]