Best wilderness holidays in Europe

There are still barely touched areas of Europe where you can watch wildlife in their natural habitat and spend countless hours staring at the stars or the legendary Northern Lights. Head north to Lapland, and it’s Arctic islands, glaciers and icebergs that set the scene. Further south, the lakes and forests of Sweden, Poland and Montenegro conjure up really wild experiences. Whereas to the north-west, the waterfalls, volcanoes and geothermal lagoons of Iceland offer wilderness adventures of a more seismic kind.

If you’re looking for the best wilderness holidays in Europe, check out six of our favourites below. Just don’t forget your map and compass.

1. Kayaking the Saint Anna Archipelago, Sweden

Imagine exploring in one of Europe’s few wilderness areas as you slip into a kayak and push off into the remote outer islands of the St Anna’s Archipelago. Paddling around this east coast of Sweden with an expert kayaking guide is a thrill, and the possibility of spotting white-tailed eagles and chattering colonies of guillemots and Arctic terns adds to the excitement.

Wild camping and strolls through 300-year-old forests allow you to explore further still. Exploring on land unlocks the secrets of isolated island communities and old lighthouses, while guided sea kayaking trips encourage you to get even closer to otherwise inaccessible Swedish shorelines.

Our top selling trip: Sweden kayaking short break
All our trips: Sweden adventure holidays
Read more: Sweden kayaking guide

2. Northern Lights, Finnish Lapland

Head for the hills as you venture into Lapland and stay in a wilderness lodge complete with a private sauna. Husky sled rides, ice swimming and finding out more about the traditions of the indigenous Sami people make a wilderness holiday in Finland incredibly rewarding.

Urho Kekkonen National Park is a magical place, especially when the forest is bedecked in snow. Taking out a snowmobile allows you to travel deeper into the wilderness, whereas exploring on cross country skis is the ideal way to work up an appetite in snowy silence. There are few better places to see the Northern Lights than an aurora lodge purpose-built for settling down to watch one of the greatest natural phenomena above the planet.

Our top selling trip: Northern Lights activity break in Finland
All our trips: Finland winter holidays
Read more: Finland winter travel guide

3. Bialowieza bison forest, Poland

The rewilding and introduction of bison in Poland’s Bialowieza Forest has been a real success story. These days, there are more than 500 European bison roaming free in the wild. It’s like stepping back in time, with pine martens, foxes and even lynx and wolves all known to inhabit the area. Stay in a family-owned guesthouse and you’ll have access to the walking trails that lead you through the woods. Listen to the knock of woodpeckers by day and the hoot of pygmy owls at night. This is no ordinary walk in the woods by any stretch of the imagination.

Our top selling trip: Poland bison safari in the primeval forest
All our trips: Poland wildlife holidays
Read more: Poland travel guide

4. Wildlife watching & foraging, Sweden

Take off into the pines of central Sweden, and you’ll soon discover just how wild this untouched region of Northern Europe has remained. Hiking, paddling and foraging for mushrooms and berries is the order of the day, with evening meals cooked on an open fire the perfect prelude to nights under the stars. Sweden’s wilderness is an ideal opportunity for kids – and big kids – to get back to nature and rewild. Wildlife guides are around to explain what’s edible and what’s not, and to reveal how to spot moose and beavers.

Our top selling trip: Sweden wildlife holiday – ecolodge short break
All our trips: Sweden wildlife holidays
Read more: Sweden wildlife travel guide

5. Northern Lights road trip, Iceland

There’s Northern Lights watching holidays and then there are Icelandic road trips. This wilderness experience is one of the best ways to tailor your very own aurora borealis adventure. From Reykjavik and Vatnajokull National Park to the Golden Circle and Gullfoss waterfall – this is where Iceland really comes alive.

There’s much to be said for the freedom of exploring under your own steam on a self drive adventure. There are so many geothermal hot pools and volcanic landscapes to discover that you’ll be hard-pushed to keep to a rigid itinerary. Plus, driving between the small towns of Iceland is an excellent way to meet local people and stay at family-owned hotels and guesthouses. Yes, the Northern Lights are going to bring you here, but it’s the Icelanders that make you want to return.

Our top selling trip: Iceland aurora self drive holiday
All our trips: Iceland adventure holidays
Read more: Northern Lights in Iceland travel guide

6. Canoeing & kayaking, Montenegro

There’s something magical about Montenegro. Maybe it’s the simplicity of life in the mountains, where there’s certainly something wild and untamed in the air – something that’s stood the test of time and isn’t going anywhere fast. Take a kayak or a canoe out onto Lake Skadar, for example, and you’ll become surrounded by natural wilderness. The water is crystal clear and reflections of island monasteries and pelicans in flight add to the peaceful, tranquil ambience.

Paddle on past Ottoman ruins and through narrow channels flanked by water lilies and reed beds, and you’ll arrive at isolated fishing villages where you can tuck into the catch of the day. Alternatively, moor at beachside coves where camping under the stars is the best way to end a day of discovery in the wilds of Montenegro.

Our top selling trip: Canoeing and kayaking holiday in Montenegro
All our trips: Adventure holidays in Montenegro
Read more: Family adventure travel guide

7. Small group tour of the Faroe Islands

A remote, stunning archipelago between Norway and Iceland, the Faroe Islands is that wonderful rarity: somewhere completely magical in Europe that barely anyone visits. Guided small group tours of the islands, some inhabited, some not, explore the ancient Viking history and a modern culture that takes great pride in self-sufficiency. Well, when you’re this far from everywhere, you kind of have to be. Sea cliffs trill with bird life, and whichever way you look there’s a stupendous view.

Our top trip: Faroe Islands tour
All our trips: Faroe Islands holidays
Read more:
 Faroe Islands travel guide

8. Wilderness walking in Armenia

Hike with an experienced mountain guide in the alpine landscapes of Armenia. This trip doesn’t do things by halves, taking you to the storied capital of Yerevan, monastery complexes of Lori, forest trails of Dilijan National Park, cave towns and hanging bridges, and even along parts of the Silk Road. It’s a fascinating illustration of how people have forged a home in the Armenian wilderness for thousands of years.

Our top trip: Armenia small group walking holiday
All our trips: Armenia walking holidays
Read more: Armenia travel guide

9. Snowshoeing in the Dolomites

You don’t have to go to the far northern reaches of the continent to find winter wilderness in Europe. It also exists in Italy, where the Dolomites lay out some of the most dramatic – and easily accessible – wilderness areas in the Alps. Pull on a pair of snowshoes and follow a mountain guide along the Austrian border and beneath the toothy peaks of Tre Crime when they’re heaped with fresh powder. Our traveller Sheila Cheatle says it all in her review: “Absolutely brilliant.”

Our top trip: Dolomites snowshoeing holiday in Italy
All our trips:
 Dolomites holidays
Read more:
 Dolomites travel guide
Written by Chris Owen
Photo credits: [Page banner: Maria Vojtovicova] [1. Kayaking the Saint Anna Archipelago, Sweden: Let Ideas Compete] [4. Forest ecolodge, Sweden: Wild Sweden] [7. Small group tour of the Faroe Islands: Sebastian Boring]