Long distance walking is a trending new sport, there’s no arguing with that. With the introduction of new technology, and more and more people flocking to this new form of adventure, long-distance trails are getting busier and busier by the day.
From the world famous Appalachian Trail in America which spans 14 states and more than 2,000 miles, to the little-known Hadrian’s Wall trek that goes from one end of Scotland to the other, long-distance trails aren’t a new addition to this wonderful world. But their popularity seems to be!
And with more and more trails popping up in Europe all the time, and more people deciding to get out there and see the world, we wanted to put together this article that showcases some of the best around, and gives you an idea of what’s in store.
An ‘E-Path’ or ‘GR-Path’, European Long-Distance Paths, or Grande Randonnées in the native French, are long-distance footpaths that stretch across Europe. Once popular mainly in Western Europe, these paths have now been cut through Britain, Northern, and even much of Eastern Europe, too.
There are 12 official E-Paths and over 100 GR-Paths that interconnect Europe’s expansive hiking trail network, and are maintained by the ERA, or European Rambler Association, a group with more than 3,000,000 registered walkers from all over the world.
You may be asking yourself then — thousands of kilometres, every country in Europe, and 3M members? How didn’t I know about any of this? Don’t worry, we didn’t either. But now we do, and we’re about to pass on the knowledge. So buckle up, it’s going to be an adventure.
Let’s back up a little. What are E-Paths exactly? The E-Paths are a network of hiking trails which connect Europe. They offer a combined 55,000km of interconnected trails all across Europe, with the shortest being the E-12 with a paltry 1,800km length. Tiny in comparison to the massive E4, which is 12,000km long. Of course, you aren’t doing either in a day! Though even at 30km a day (which is a lot), it would take more than two months to walk the E12 and more than a year to do the E4 start to finish! And that’s without rest days. Impressive, huh?
But why would anyone even want to do that? Taking a break from work or taking a Sabbatical is becoming more and more popular due to high-pressure work environments, more concern for mental health, or because of other challenges in live. Walking in nature, day-in-day-out can be freeing, cleansing for the soul. And it’s been popular for thousands of years. Ever heard of a pilgrimage? Many people still undertake massive hikes from their homes to Rome and the Vatican or to Jursalem as a way to bolster their faiths. And there are people like us, who do it for fun!
Now, if you’ve never been walking more than a few hours a day, but this sounds kind of amazing, then you’re not alone. All you need to know is that no one is invincible. Start small, sleep in huts or lodges during your first overnight hiking tours and work your way up. The more you walk, the easier it will be. And as soon as you feel ready for your next big adventure, you can tackle one of the famous E-paths through Europe.
And don’t worry, they’re divided into segments, so you can still ‘complete’ one without doing the whole thing!
The history of the E-Path network isn’t steeped in tradition or prestige. An evolution and intermingling of existing trails and paths, continually updated and developed by the European Ramblers Association, E-Paths are an ever expanding and changing thing.
The first official E-Path was the National Blue Trail of Hungary, established in 1938. After the formation of the European Union, which made traversing borders much easier, more trans-national trails began to form, their creation driven by hikers wanting to walk further. This simple, yet charming origin story is one that personifies the spirit of these trails, and the purity of what they represent.
Preparation is key! Like with all things in life, preparing for your long distance walk is the most important part of the journey. More important even than the actual walking.
The difference between hiking and long distance hiking is, weirdly, the distance. But with most hikes, even if they’re 10km, 20km, maybe even 30km, you’re only ever that far (at most) from where you began, and civilisation — be it a town or even your car.
But with long-distance hiking, it’s not uncommon to be well outside of a day’s hiking to safety, or the nearest shelter. And with more than a few dead-spots dotted around the mountains and countryside of Europe, if something goes wrong, you can’t guarantee you can call for rescue.
So with that in mind, how does a long-distance hiker’s pack look?
A 65+L backpack is pretty much essential for all but the best-planned long distance hikes. Big packs are comfortable, spacious, and will keep your belongings safe and secure. A rain cover is also a must, so that if the weather turns, your stuff doesn’t get soaked.
It’s not for comfort, or for fun, but if you sprain an ankle, get lost or can’t get back to the nearest town in time, being able to pitch a tent and keep the wind and rain off will be a real lifesaver!
Much in the same vein, a sleeping bag will keep you warm when the temperature drops. There’s no point taking one without the other.
Depending on whether your camping gear is for emergencies only or you’re intending to keep your adventure as natural as possible, you may wish to include a sleeping matt or air mattress to make your sleeps a little more rejuvenating!
A lightweight camping stove and a pot will go a long way when it needs to. We always recommend a foldable, detachable stove that can be split up for easy storage, and a cooking/eating pot to make your meals as easy as possible. Oh, and don’t forget a mug, because honestly, who doesn’t want coffee on the trail?
Depending on how far, where, and what you’ll be doing, your water needs will change. A bladder is always a good option, and you can get them in sizes up to 3L, which is usually enough for a full day walking. If you need more to cook, clean, and do other things with (wash, for example), then you may need more. But you should always take plenty as dehydration can set in quickly, especially in the summer months!
Like water, food is essential. Dried foods weigh the least, but you should always take a mix of things to cover your basics — sugars, carbs, fats, protein. Everything you need to get recharged and ready for the next day.
A first aid kit is a must for any long-distance hike. Make sure it has disinfectant, plasters, blister plasters especially, as well as angle and joint supports or compression sleeves, and any other treatments you might need based on where you’re going! Tailoring your first aid kit to the local wildlife and flora is always a good idea.
Come on, it’s just good sense.
Always good to carry, an emergency beacon gives rescue services the best chance of finding you quickly if they need to.
Depending on where you’re going, when, and what the forecast is looking like, carrying appropriate clothing is absolutely essential to making your trip the best it can be.
Spare socks comes as our last (and one of the most important) recommendations. Getting a chance to air your feet out and swapping socks if your feet are getting sweaty, are wet from a river crossing, or just generally need a break, is without a doubt one of the best feelings when on the trail.
Countries: Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, Italy
Highlights: Beginning at Nordkapp in northern Norway, and crossing the Kattegat by ferry, this trail is ideal for anyone who wants to experience the harsh, wild beauty of Northern Scandinavia by both land and sea. Further south, this route crosses through the Alps at Switzerland before transitioning into Italy, offering up some jaw-dropping Alpine scenery. Finishing on the sun-bleached island of Sicily, this trail offers a staggering amount of variety, and is a true pilgrimage for any hiking enthusiast looking to see everything Europe has to offer.
Countries: Ireland, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, France
Highlights: Starting off in Galway, Ireland, you’ll be travelling by land, then sea to the UK, then south, before catching a ferry to the Netherlands. Perfect for anyone hailing from the UK or Ireland who wants to head south for the winter, this trail will take you through Luxembourg, skirting the French Alps, before breaking away towards the mediterranean coast. The landscape here, near the Italian-French border, is rocky, dramatic, and utterly stunning. And finishing it off with a descent down to the temperate Med is the perfect way to finish the trip of a lifetime for some well-earned rest.
Countries: Portugal, Spain, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey
Highlights: A coast-to-coast expedition, this trail runs through a number of countries. Starting on the south coast of Portugal, you’ll wind your way north towards the beautiful northern Spanish coast, and then turn east, making the trek out, skirting the Sierra Nevada mountains on the north, before heading North-East, experiencing no less than seven border crossings! From here, a turn south takes you back to sunnier surroundings until you reach the coast of the Black Sea in Turkey for a little bit of R&R on this beautiful stretch of water.
Countries: Portugal, Spain, France, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Romania, Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece, Cyprus
Highlights: Like the E3, this route starts in southern Portugal, but hugs the mountainous south coast of Spain, taking you up past Valencia and Barcelona, through the jaw-dropping Pyrenees mountains before dropping down into France. A long trip North-East will have you hugging the north-side of the Alps all the way out to Hungary, where you’ll turn south and travel down towards Greece and Cyprus. Each country has its own rugged terrain and offers a unique landscape. This journey is a must for anyone who lives for the mountains, as it delivers new peaks and ranges at every turn.
Countries: France, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Italy
Highlights: Starting in Brittany in Northern France, this trail leads you down through the rural interior to the Swiss border, where you’ll ascend into the mountains, aiming for Austria. This 600km stretch of trail winds endlessly through the Swiss, Austrian, and then Italian mountains, before finally dropping down towards the Italian coast, passing Verona before ending in Venice. One of the most scenic, high, and mountainous treks you can do, this one is definitely worth doing if an Alpine excursion is on your bucket list.
Countries: Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Greece, Turkey
Highlights: Split into two parts, the first begins on the northernmost coast of Finland, and heads south through Sweden and Demark before crossing into Germany and then Austria. Hugging the eastern side of the Alps, it delivers a different sort of Alpine experience than the paths which favour France and Italy. You’ll transition into Slovenia from there, before finishing up on the Adriatic Coast. A second part of the trail begins in Greece and ends in Turkey — if you’re still hungry for more, that is.
Countries: Portugal, Spain, Andorra, France, Italy, Slovenia, Hungary, Serbia
Highlights: Starting on the western coast of Portugal in Lisbon, a trek east will send you deep into the heart of Spain, past Madrid, before turning north towards Barcelona, and then up into the Pyrenese, through Andorra, a beautiful country that everyone should visit at least once. From here, you’ll continue your eastward journey, passing into Italy before nearing the coast. As it curves away south, you’ll continue east, the sea on your right giving way to the Dolomites on your right, before you cross into Slovenia, and finally Serbia to finish in the mountains. This trail encompasses several large cities as well as lots of exciting climbs and mountainous hikes, so offers great variety.
Countries: Ireland, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Poland, Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey
Highlights: Beginning in Ireland again, you’ll cross this beautiful country, then hop a ferry for a brief dalliance in Wales, before joining the Trans Pennine Trail. This gorgeous British walk leads you to the sea once more, where you’ll hop another ferry to the Netherlands, and then head south, missing the Alps on the northern side as you veer east towards Slovakia. The trail then takes on an Eastern-European theme, guiding you through Poland, Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, and finally Turkey for a distinctly unique experience.
Countries: Portugal, Spain, France, United Kingdom, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Kaliningrad Oblast, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia
Highlights: The E9 is a trail that heads north, unlike most of its counterparts, and traverses more countries than any other. Beginning on the coast of Southern Portugal, to complete this mammoth journey, all you need do is keep the ocean on your left. You’ll cross into Spain, moving through the wonderfully vibrant Bilbao, before heading for France, up the Atlantic coast to Brittany for (hopefully) a glimpse of the White Cliffs of Dover. From there, you’ll turn north-east, keeping to the coast until you reach the Belgian border. Just keep walking until you pick up the The Baltic Coastal Hiking Trail, which will treat you to some scarcely seen but amazingly beautiful coastal scenery. This trail is perfect for anyone who likes the smell of salt in the air and the spray of the ocean on their face. Because you’ll have it for 5,000km!
Countries: Finland, Germany, Czech Republic, Austria, Italy, France, Spain
Highlights: An interesting trail that begins in the harsh, wild north of Finland, before travelling through true lake country to the southern coast. A long ferry ride will take you through the stunning Baltic Sea, where you’ll be on the lookout for whales, dolphins, seals, walruses, and porpoises. Landing in Germany, you’ll ramble south into Czechia before climbing into the mountains and crossing into Austria. A western adjustment will let you meander down through the Alps and Dolomites until you reach flatter ground, cross into France, and then finish in beautiful and sunny Nice for much needed day of rest.
Countries: Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia
Highlights: Starting off in the Netherlands, this east-bound trail will take you into Germany and deep into the Black Forest before joining up with The Baltic Forest Hiking Trail. Continuing into Poland, before turning north towards Lithuania, Latvia, and finally Estonia. If you’re after a rural, forested walk, there aren’t any other trails which offer this kind of immersion. Forested practically the entire way, The Baltic Forest Hiking Trail serves up some beautiful, and not often seen scenery.
Countries: Spain, France, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia
Highlights: Another coast-hugging trail, this one begins in Southern Spain, and follows the Mediterranean eastwards. Keep the sea on your right and move through France and Italy, turning south with the water, and journeying towards the mighty Mt Etna. Still under construction, this trail currently exists in two parts, with the second beginning in Slovenia before moving down the Croatian coast. Beautiful and rugged, this coastal walk is great to join if you’re in the area, but isn’t fully signposted yet, so cannot easily be followed from beginning to end.