Top 10 Challenging Walks in Europe

Long ascents, rough terrain and exposed paths – challenging walks test stamina and sure-footedness, but reward with amazing scenery and spectacular summits. The Himalayas may be a bucket list trekking destination, but Nepal doesn’t have the monopoly on demanding, exhilarating walking. Europe’s mountains and national parks are criss-crossed by properly challenging routes. So there’s no excuse – get your boots on and go!

1. Two Moors Way, Devon

This 165km walk stretches from the southern edge of Dartmoor to the north Devon coast. Hike through some of the most remote parts of Dartmoor, cross the unspoilt rural countryside that lies between the county’s two national parks, then trek across Exmoor to finish in Lynmouth on the north coast of Devon.

When to go: March to October
Our top selling trip: Dartmoor and Exmoor self guided walking holiday
See all our trips: Walking holidays in England
Read more: Walking holidays in England guide and Self guided walking travel guide

2. Dinaric Alps, Montenegro

The Dinaric Alps stretch from Italy to Albania. In Montenegro, the spectacular peaks within Prokletije National Park, aka the ‘accursed mountains’, offer strenuous hikes with elevations of almost 1,000m. Epic views into Albania await anyone tough enough to walk here, with the highest peak measuring 2,694m. Find further difficult walks in the nearby Komovi range.

When to go: May to October
Our top selling trip: Montenegro hiking holiday, mountain expedition
See all our trips: Montenegro walking holidays
Read more: Montenegro travel guide and Small group walking travel guide

3. Mont Blanc Circuit

Cross Swiss, French and Italian borders as you loop around Mont Blanc. It can be done in eight days; 10 is easier. Start in Switzerland or France, tackling six mountain passes and climbs to 2,500m. Great food and the option to stay in hotels each night take the edge off the effort!

When to go: June, July, August and early September
Our top selling trip: Mont Blanc circuit walking holiday
See all our trips: Walking holidays in France
Read more: Mont Blanc travel guide and Small group walking travel guide

4. High Tatras, Slovakia

The Slovakian stretch of the High Tatras might be considered challenging, but it also has well-marked trails that wind past moraine lakes, waterfalls and alpine peaks that make it great for self guided hikes. Tailor made trips can add as many rest days as you like. Ease off your hiking boots and take a cable car to alpine peaks or find a cosy mountain hut for coffee and lockse potato pancakes.

When to go: Mid-April to late October
Our top selling trip: Slovakia self guided walking break
See all our trips: Holidays in Slovakia
Read more: Self guided walking holidays guide and Slovakian Tatras Mountains guide

5. Madeira, Portugal

Hill walking? It’s volcano walking in Madeira. Hike above the clouds between Pico Arieiro and Pico Ruivo, two of the island’s highest peaks, or let your guide lead the way across Ponta de Sao Lourenco, where you’ll walk windswept paths perched above the ocean. Alternate tougher walks with gentler levada walks that follow stone irrigation routes through mystical, twisting laurel forests.

When to go: All year round
Our top selling trip: Eastern Madeira walking holiday
See all our trips: Madeira holidays
Read more: Madeira travel guide and Portugal walking holidays travel guide

6. GR 5, France

Take on the Alpine portion of the GR 5 hiking trail – La Grande Traversee des Alpes – with a mountain guide and a small group of fellow experienced trekkers. You’ll start in Briancon, the fortified capital of the southern French Alps, and wind up on the highest mountain in Western Europe, Mont Blanc. You’ll need over a week to get to grips with this tricky trail – but to be honest, the more time spent among the snow-dipped mountains and wildflower pastures the better.

When to go: July
Our top selling trip: Alpine GR 5 guided walking holiday
See all our trips: Walking holidays in France
Read more: France walking travel guide

7. Accursed Mountains, Albania

Among Europe’s most rugged and spectacular mountains, the encouragingly-called Accursed Mountains are a local name for the Albanian Alps. There’s a comprehensive network of trails, with walking challenging but satisfying, and the terrain tricky but really beautiful. The journey across the Valbona Pass with a guide and pack mule is a highlight, passing springs, multicoloured meadows and ragged peaks.

When to go: summer
Our top selling trip: Tailor made Albanian Alps walking holiday
See all our trips: Albania walking holidays
Read more: Albanian Alps walking guide

8. GR 20, Corsica

One of Europe’s most challenging long distance routes, the GR 20 traverses tough terrain, which ranges from precipitous cliff-top paths to verdant meadows. You need to be really fit, with plenty of mountain walking experience to tackle it – sure-footedness and a head for heights are also invaluable!

When to go: June to September
Our top selling trip: Grand Randonee walking holiday in Corsica, France
See all our trips: Walking holidays in France
Read more: Walking holidays in France guide and Small group walking travel guide

9. Rila & Pirin Mountains, Bulgaria

Forget Europe’s most well-trodden mountain routes, the spectacular views from the summits of Mount Musala (2925m) and Mount Vihren (2,914 m), the highest peaks in the Rila and Pirin Mountains respectively, rival any on the continent. Experienced hikers looking for a new challenge will enjoy the steep ascents - although no technical climbing skills are necessary.

When to go: June to September
Our top selling trip: Bulgaria trekking holiday, guided
See all our trips: Walking holidays in Bulgaria
Read more: Walking holidays in Bulgaria travel guide

10. The Matterhorn, Switzerland

Approach the mighty Matterhorn from beautiful Mont Blanc, following a 100km route which connects the valleys of the Haute Savoie in France to the Swiss Valais. Pack plenty of fitness and stamina to handle hard trekking on often steep, rough terrain for two weeks, tackling ascents of up to 1,600m, camping and sleeping in huts along the way.

When to go: July and August
Our top selling trip: Mont Blanc to the Matterhorn trekking holiday
See all our trips: Walking holidays in Switzerland
Read more: Switzerland travel guide and Small group walking travel guide
Written by Joanna Simmons
Photo credits: [Page banner: Aneta Ivanova] [1. Two Moors Way, Devon: shellac] [4. High Tatras, Slovakia: Walkerssk] [7. Accursed Mountains, Albania: Liridon] [10. The Matterhorn, Switzerland: pixabay]