Walking Holidays In Europe


Walking Holidays In The Alps

An expert guide to hiking and walking in the Alps

Rudolf Abraham
By Rudolf Abraham

Europe’s greatest mountain range, the Alps stretch some 1,200 kilometres from east to west and span more than half a dozen countries. Not surprisingly, they’re home to some of the finest walking trails and most sublime hiking that the continent has to offer.

I’ve been in love with the Alps ever since my first hike – more than two decades ago – among the knot of mountains at the border of Slovenia, Italy and Austria, and I’ve been going back every year since.

The scope for walking holidays in the Alps is pretty much limitless – there are simply so many superlative trails, such a huge number and variety of unforgettable views, and they cater to pretty much every level of walking ability.

Added to this, one of the great pleasures of walking in Switzerland or Austria for example, aside from all that jaw-dropping scenery, is how well geared up they are for visitors. An outstanding public transport network, well-marked and maintained trails, fantastic guesthouses, delicious food and the great tradition of Alpine hospitality – all this adds up to making a hike in the Alps much more than just a nice walk with gob-smacking views.

Where to go walking in the Alps

Our experts' top picks

Rudolf Abraham
By Rudolf Abraham

With big names like Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn, the western Alps tend to get the lion’s share of attention – but in the east, the Austrian Tyrol and the Julian Alps are a hiker’s paradise (and it’s actually Austria rather than Switzerland or France which contains the largest proportion of the Alps). From iconic long-distance routes like the Adlerweg and the Juliana Trail, to seemingly limitless day hikes, Austria and Slovenia are some of my absolute favourite places for mountain walking.

The best walking holidays in the Alps

Popular – and lesser-known – walks in the Alps

Rudolf Abraham
By Rudolf Abraham

Everyone has heard of the Tour du Mont Blanc – but there are literally dozens of other amazing long-distance hiking trails in the Alps which are equally worthy for a week or two – or longer – of sublime hiking. These include fabulous trails in Austria, Slovenia and northern Italy, some of which are among my favourite hiking routes anywhere. If you’re looking for a showstopper multi-day walk with fewer crowds, the Tour des Combins may be for you.


Tour Du Mont Blanc

Peter Elia
By Peter Elia
  • Best trek for: Europe's most famous mountain trail
  • Difficulty: Strenuous
  • Trek duration: 10 days
  • Max. elevation: 2,584m
  • Accommodation: Huts or camping
  • Start/end point: Chamonix circular

A world-class trek through the heart of the Alps in three countries, the Tour de Mont Blanc, is a baptism for many hikers. Steeped in history, Mont Blanc has tempted mountaineers from across the globe to scale this dramatic massif and breath in its astounding vistas.

The trail circumnavigates Mont Blanc (4,810m), spanning France, Italy, and Switzerland. Expect enthralling views, delicious food and an authentic Alpine experience. And the hiking is more varied than you may expect: you’ll be tackling impressive peaks, following roaring rivers and strolling through gentle valleys, sometimes all within the same day.

Need to know

Yes, it’s super-popular – you may well hit logjams on narrow paths up passes, and booking well in advance is essential – but, well, those views of Western Europe’s loftiest peak from all angles…

It's not mandatory to hike the entire circuit. You can, for example, choose to trek the southern part of the trail over four days if time or cost is a factor.

Another consideration is the short season. Like any other Alps destination, the hiking season is dictated by the length of the winter. So June could still have snow on the higher passes, and it's also possible for snow storms in September.


Tour des Combins

Rudolf Abraham
By Rudolf Abraham
  • Distance: Approx. 105 km
  • Duration: Seven days
  • Start/end: Bourg-Saint-Pierre
  • Difficulty: Strenuous

The Tour des Combins is a seven-day, 105 km circuit in the mesmerising Swiss and Italian Alps. It's a superb, one-week alternative to the vastly more popular Tour de Mont Blanc, with plenty of epic views, and fewer people on the trail.

Starting and finishing in the Swiss village of Bourg-Saint-Pierre, the trek circumnavigates the majestic Grand Combin massif, presenting breathtaking views of some of the highest peaks in the Alps, passing close to the vast Corbassière Glacier, spending a couple of stages in Italy, and crossing the Great St Bernard Pass (famous for everyone’s favourite shaggy mountain dog).


Walker’s Haute Route (High Route)

Rudolf Abraham
By Rudolf Abraham
  • Distance: Approx. 225 km
  • Duration: 15 days
  • Start: Chamonix, France
  • End: Zermatt, Switzerland
  • Difficulty: Strenuous
The legendary traverse from Chamonix to Zermatt – or put another way, Mont Blanc to the Matterhorn – crams in enough stupendous Alpine scenery to last half a lifetime.

The Walker’s Haute Route is a robust challenge, with steep mountain paths, glacier crossings and alpine terrain. Highlights include panoramic vistas of some of the highest peaks in the Alps amid classic Alpine glacial landscapes.

The Walker’s Haute Route is not for the faint-hearted, but breathtaking views and the rewarding sense of achievement make it top of the list for many walkers.

Juliana Trail

Paul Bloomfield
By Paul Bloomfield
  • Distance: 270km extendable to 320km
  • Duration: 16–20 days
  • Start/end point: Kranjska Gora (Slovenia)
  • Difficulty: Moderate to easy

The Juliana Trail in Slovenia is a circular route through the Julian Alps, a memorable loop of the country’s highest and most famous mountain, Triglav.

The route was designed to encourage visitors to explore a wider area and reduce visitor numbers on Triglav itself. Although it doesn’t climb Triglav, it includes some less well-known areas and iconic spots like Bled.

There’s also an optional loop through Goriška Brda, one of Slovenia’s premier wine regions.

From Kranjska Gora, the Juliana heads east along the Sava Dolinka, with views of the Martuljek group, to Mojstrana and (less conventionally) the lesser-visited industrial town of Jesenice.

Near Begunje it passes the hilltop church of Sv Peter, then swings through the beautiful town of Radovljica.

Turning west the trail continues to Bled, with its much-photographed lake and island monastery, over the rugged Pokljuka plateau to Stara Fužina. On the shores of Lake Bohinj, Stara Fužina is one of the most beautiful spots in the Julian Alps and the usual trailhead for Triglav climbs.

From Lake Bohinj it heads east again to Bohinjska Bistrica, then south over the Vrh Bače Pass to follow the narrow Bača Valley, again well off the radar of most itineraries. There's a fantastic viewpoint at Senica, above the confluence of the Idrijca and Soča rivers, before the trail descends to Most na Soči.

Following the emerald green River Soča north to Tolmin and Kobarid, the stage between Kobarid and Bovec is particularly beautiful.

From Bovec, the trail heads north along the valley of the River Koritnica, less travelled than the route east along the Soča, to Log pod Mangartom, with stunning views of Mangart and Jalovec towering above the head of the valley.

Climbing to the Predel Pass, the trail drops into Italy, with an overnight stop in Tarvisio.

Finally it turns east, following an old narrow gauge railway line, now a cycling and walking trail, back to Kranjska Gora in Slovenia.

Need to know

Almost all stages are accessible by public transport – one of the main principles behind the trail – so it’s easy to pick off sections as day walks.

The hiking season is May to October (expect snow on the mountains until June).



Rudolf Abraham
By Rudolf Abraham
  • Distance: Approx. 810 km
  • Duration: 45-60 days (or shorter segments)
  • Start: Donnas
  • End: Ventimiglia
  • Difficulty: Strenuous

The GTA (Grande Traversata delle Alpi) is a magnificent route through the Italian Alps, clocking up over 600km. The views of Gran Paradiso are simply phenomenal.


Alpe Adria Trail

Rudolf Abraham
By Rudolf Abraham
  • Distance: 750km
  • Duration: 43 days
  • Start point: Kaiser-Franz-Josef’s-Höhe (Austria)
  • End points: Muggia (Italy)
  • Difficulty: Moderate

The Alpe Adria Trail is a rewarding long-distance hiking route. It explores the varied landscapes, rich history and regional cuisine of the Austrian state of Carinthia, Slovenia, and Italy’s Friuli-Venezia Giulia region.

The route stretches from the foot of the Grossglockner (the highest mountain in the Eastern Alps) to the shore of the Adriatic near Trieste.

It takes in the mountain scenery of the Hohe Tauern, the Nockberge and the Julian Alps, passing through towns and villages, not to mention two outstanding wine regions.

If you haven’t got a month and a half free to walk the whole thing, the AAT can easily be split into two or three more manageable sections. There is also a one-week loop at the centre of the trail which dips into all three countries.

From Kaiser-Franz-Josef’s-Höhe, with its view of the Grossglockner and the Pasterze Glacier, the Alpe Adria Trail follows the Mölltal for several days. It travels along the valley floor, climbs across rugged tops on its eastern side and plunges through the Rabischschlucht and Groppensteinschlucht gorges.

After around 11 days, getting you suitably warmed up, the route leads across the Nockberge, a rugged group of mountains, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and highlight of the route.

The AAT spends several days among the Nockberge, dropping down to villages and guesthouses for overnight stops. It then meanders through the Carinthian lake region, passing Ossiacher See, Wörthersee and Faaker See.

After three weeks, the trail takes a breathtaking ridge walk crossing into Slovenia to arrive in Kranjska Gora, a bustling ski resort which is one of the gateways to Triglav National Park.

After crossing the dramatic Vršič Pass, the AAT descends into the Soča Valley which it follows for several days. This section along the River Soča, with its stunning gorge and the little town of Bovec, is another highlight.

Beyond Tolmin, the trail leaves the Soča and crosses the border into Italy, arriving at the historical, UNESCO-listed, Cividale del Friuli.

After winding through the Collio wine region (Italy) and the Brda wine region (Slovenia), the AAT leads along the Italian coast. Skittering across the edge of the Karst region, it dips back into Slovenia one last time to visit the Lipica horse stud.

The route finishes at Muggia, on the shore of the Adriatic.

Need to know

Accommodation (and baggage transfers, if required) can be booked through the Alpe Adria Trail Booking Centre.

The trail app includes detailed maps, which are best downloaded before you travel, so you can use them offline.

The hiking season is April to October (expect snow on the mountains until June), although the lower parts on the coast can be explored all year.


Via Berna

Rudolf Abraham
By Rudolf Abraham
  • Distance: Approx. 300 km
  • Duration: 20 days (or shorter segments)
  • Start: Bellelay
  • End: Susten Pass
  • Difficulty: Mild

This new trail crosses the Canton of Bern, beginning in easy lowlands and ending among the stupendous scenery of the Jungfrau region. It makes an excellent introduction to long-distance hiking in the Alps.

Tyrol Mountains

Adlerweg (Eagle's Way)

Paul Bloomfield
By Paul Bloomfield

The Tirol’s flagship long-distance trail is the Adlerweg (Eagle’s Way), a challenging 300km trek between St Anton and St Johann; variant routes allow less-experienced trekkers to bypass the more technical sections.

Pralognan la Vanoise france alps

Classic Alpine scenery in Pralognan la Vanoise, France

Planning a walking holiday to the Alps

Everything you wish you’d known before you booked

Walking holiday types

Organised walking holidays in the Alps come in two broad categories: inn-to-inn or centre-based. Inn-to-inn walking holidays typically follow one of the official waymarked long distance walking trails; your accommodation will be pre-booked and your overnight luggage will be transferred for you from point to point. These are normally done on a self-guided basis, but some routes can be booked with a guide. Self-guided walking in the Alps, particularly in the Western Alps, is smooth sailing.

Alternatively you can book a centre-based walking holiday, where you’ll stay in a single base and do guided or self-guided day hikes with free days or other activities interspersed in the itinerary.

I normally recommend centre-based trips for bigger groups, or those with younger kids or mobility impaired travellers, and self-guided inn-to-inn walks for smaller groups who'll find it easier to stick to a schedule.

Alps hiking highlights

Western Europe’s highest peak, 4,808m Mont Blanc, is the centrepiece of the Alps’ westernmost terminus in the Haute-Savoie department, and the focus of one of the continent’s most popular trekking circuits. But there are ample hiking trails to explore in the various national and natural parks that stud the range as it stretches south along the French-Italian border towards the Mediterranean. Throughout, walkers are treated to spectacular Alpine scenery – high meadows, glistening lakes, traditional villages – but, particularly in the southerly parks such as Mercantour, Queyras and Écrins, far fewer visitors.

Summiting Mont Blanc involves some technical climbing, but numerous surrounding trails in France, Italy and Switzerland provide dramatic views of the massif and its glaciers and cols. Similarly, a circuit of Mont Viso, beginning in Parc Naturel Régional de Queyras, offers spectacular vistas without the need to tackle its 3841m peak. Farther north, walks in the Parc National de Vanoise, France’s oldest national park, reward with varied perspectives of the namesake glaciers and, if you’re lucky, a big-horned bouquetin (Alpine ibex).

No need to fly

The Alps are easily reached by rail from the UK and much of the rest of Europe, and if you book well ahead tickets are comparable with flights, especially when you take into account the extra baggage fees on flights and getting to/from airports. London to Geneva is just five and a half hours by train, or London to Innsbruck 10 hours, city centre to city centre. Some of the routes are particularly scenic, and you have the option of stopping off somewhere for a night to break the journey – not to mention your carbon footprint being considerably less than flying.

Need to know

Chamonix is the hub for the Mont Blanc region, usually bustling with walkers, climbers and, in winter, skiers. Geneva is the usual access airport for both Chamonix (with good bus links) and Parc National de Vanoise, which can also be reached from Turin. Nice is the gateway to Mercantour. As elsewhere in France, routes are generally marked with white-and-red stripes painted on rocks, and well served with gîtes and refuges; it pays to book accommodation, particularly along the Tour du Mont Blanc, well in advance in summer (when high paths are free from snow), and allow a healthy budget – these areas are relatively expensive.

Alps walking holidays FAQs

Your questions, our expert answers


When is the best time to go walking in the Alps?


The hiking season in the Alps runs from June to October, but for higher routes with passes to cross early July to late September is more sensible.

Depending on which part of the Alps you’re planning to hike in, early spring and late autumn can be good – but you’ll find snow on higher routes and passes into the beginning of July, and mountain huts usually close sometime in October.

Rudolf Abraham
Answered by Rudolf Abraham

What sort of accommodation should I expect on a walking holiday in the Alps


Small, family-run guesthouses, welcoming mountain huts and swish hotels – hiking in the Alps goes hand in hand with being very well looked after, with a wide range of accommodation choices.

Rudolf Abraham
Answered by Rudolf Abraham

Why is the Tour du Mont Blanc so popular, is it worthwhile?


A 170 km circuit of the iconic Mont Blanc, through some of the finest Alpine scenery in Europe – what’s not to like? Its huge and well-deserved popularity means that it’s a busy route, but it’s still definitely worthwhile – although for a less busy alternative it’s worth considering the Tour des Combins.

Rudolf Abraham
Answered by Rudolf Abraham

About the author

Walking Holidays In The Alps

Rudolf Abraham

Rudolf Abraham is an award-winning travel journalist, photographer and guidebook author. He writes on trekking and hiking for National Geographic, the BBC, Cicerone, DK Eyewitness, Bradt Guides, among many others.

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