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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.

Austrian Tyrol
Tyrol Mountains

Austrian Tyrol

Paul Bloomfield
By Paul Bloomfield

If you’re looking for classic Alpine scenery but have already had your fill of the more famous French and Swiss Alps (or just prefer somewhere a little less popular) then I think the Tyrol mountains may be for you.

The Julian Alps
Slovenia

The Julian Alps

Paul Bloomfield
By Paul Bloomfield

Tucked away in Slovenia, in a far south-eastern spur off the main chain of the Alps, are the glorious Julian Alps.

Lesser-visited than the main chain but developed in patches – even touristy around the famous Lake Bled. That said, it’s simple to escape crowds – head high or west, towards the stunning Soca Valley.

Italian Dolomites
Dolomites

Italian Dolomites

Paul Bloomfield
By Paul Bloomfield

In Italy’s far northeast, soaring limestone shards pierce the sky in jagged pinnacles and ridges reminiscent of the mountains of Patagonia, set ablaze by the setting sun in the characteristic enrosadira or alpenglow. I'd argue the Dolomites, are the most beautiful section of the Alps, with a character distinct from neighbouring massifs in geological, cultural and linguistic terms.

Six waymarked Alta Via (High Route) trails wind roughly north-south through the Dolomites; of which the 120km Alta Via 1 (AV1) is the easiest and most popular.

French Alps
France

French Alps

Paul Bloomfield
By Paul Bloomfield

No round-up of European walking and hiking is complete without a mention of the French Alps, the continent’s walking holiday heavyweight.

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 hiking circuits.

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.

  • Switzerland

  • Switzerland

  • Switzerland

  • Slovenia

  • Italy

  • Austria

  • Switzerland

  • Tyrol Mountains

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

Question

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

Answer

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
Question

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

Answer

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
Question

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

Answer

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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