Sometimes there’s no better way to get around than to hoof it, especially if you’re a nature lover and really want to get out into the wild. No matter where you go in the world, you’re bound to find beautiful and interesting landscapes, but some countries lend themselves to hiking and traveling by foot more than others.
In this article, you’ll find five countries that are particularly great places to travel by hiking or walking, whether your trip is self-directed or you choose to take a guided tour.
London’s all well and good, but there’s a great deal to see in England outside its urban centers. Fortunately, there are numerous walking trails that make it convenient and easy to hike the countryside and take in the natural and historical sights.
See the Roman ruins of Hadrian’s Wall by walking some of Hadrian’s Wall National Trail, an 84-mile route. There are quite a few trails and circuits along the way so you can choose how strenuous – or not – a tour to make this. One option is to visit the Birdoswold Roman fort, which has a walking trail that will take you along the longest continuous stretch of the wall and afford you a glimpse at old granaries, turrets and a turf wall that predates Hadrian’s famous fortification.
The Peak District provides a wealth of walking and cultural opportunities, and the UK’s Telegraph has named the area’s Edale Skyline a top 10 hike in England. Highland Guides recommends leaving 7-10 hours to complete the Edale Skyline trail, which conveniently begins and ends at a pub (as all good hikes should, no?), and will take you over hillside terrain and peat bogs.
You’ll find many a route to take at Yorkshire Dales National Park, including the “challenge walk” of the Yorkshire Three Peaks, which takes you to Pen-y-Ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough, the three highest peaks in the area. At 24.5 miles, it is possible to make it through the route in one day, though the park notes each is worth devoting a day to in itself.
The landscape in Iceland is like nowhere else in the world, and hiking here will leave you breathless at the sheer vastness and beauty of the country. There are trails here that are suitable for hikers of all experience levels, but you’ll want to leave your vanity at home, as you’ll be moving through rugged terrain and sleeping in less-than-luxury conditions if you plan to do more than a one-day hike.
But those sacrifices will be rewarded handsomely when you see the views of multicolored mountains and glaciers along paths such as the Laugavegur hiking trail, a 55-mile stretch that is among the more popular trails in the country.
The Fimmvörðuháls pass, which runs between the Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull glaciers, is another popular route. You may recognize the name of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano, which erupted in 2010, and forced the trail to be rerouted. National Geographic named this one of the world’s best trails in 2013, in part for the opportunity to see two craters newly formed by the eruption, as well as lava fields and glacier caps.
For something a little less strenuous, you can hike Mt. Esja, just outside Reykjavík, which only takes about 1-2.5 hours to hike, according to Hostelling International. There are quite a few trails, so if you or your traveling partner aren’t feeling hardcore that day, you can still get to the top and see the views of Iceland’s capital area and surrounding landscape without wearing yourself out. It’s also convenient to reach, as you can get to the foot of the mountain by public bus.
Like England, France is often thought of initially for Paris and palaces, grandeur, style and culture. It has all of these things, but it’s also a wonderful country to see on foot. National Geographic named the GR (Grande Randonnées) 20 trail in French-controlled Corsica one of the world’s epic trails and it’s easy to see why. This journey is practically the definition of “work hard, play hard,” as you can go from pulling yourself up a mountain using a chain by day and sipping wine at a refuge along the trail by night.
Some may think of the La Grave ski resort and surrounding area in the French Alps as being exclusively a skiing destination, but it also makes a lovely place to hike in the summer and autumn, The Guardian reports. The Ecrins National Park maintains several walking trails here, and visitors can pay a one-day visit to the park, or spend a couple of nights at a refuge (or, for a more interesting stay, in a Mongolian yurt). Hikes can include walks through local villages and a trip to the Girose glacier. This is a nice way to avoid tourist-y crowds and explore the famed skiing region in the off-season.
The biggest cities in China are sometimes so crowded, it feels like you can barely walk down the street. But that’s not the case everywhere in the country, and there are some great places to hike and experience the vastness and the uniqueness of the Middle Kingdom.
Tiger Leaping Gorge in Yunnan Province in southern China is a particularly excellent spot for hiking, though it can be treacherous at times, especially after heavy rains. It is one of the deepest gorges in the world and Lonely Planet recommends visiting in late spring to enjoy the vibrant flora along the trail. The travel guide also recommends allowing 3-4 days to complete the hike and return to Lijiang, the most convenient city to the gorge, though it is possible to do it in less time. A trip to Tiger Leaping Gorge should be complemented with a few days in Lijiang, where you’ll find cobblestoned streets and a sense of a less modernized China than in other areas.
The Karst Mountains along the Li River in Guilin the region of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region have inspired some of the most recognizable images from China, appearing on the Yuan, the Chinese currency and as a recurring theme in traditional Chinese art. China Highlights recommends a hike along the Li River to get an up close view of these beautiful formations. You can also spend an afternoon walking in the Longji terraced fields along the Yulong River, and visit landmarks of the local ethnic minority groups in the nearby villages. Be sure to climb the limestone hills at Seven Star Park in Guilin proper, as well.
Though sometimes overlooked in favor of the more famous attractions in England and Ireland, Scotland is one of the most beautiful countries in the world, and a perfect place for a hiking holiday. It’d be a shame to visit Scotland and not indulge a little supernatural fun with a visit to Loch Ness, the storied home of the Loch Ness monster. Walk Highlands notes that there are pleasant forest and moorland walks at the north end of the lake, and smaller hills and freshwater lakes toward the southern side.
The Outer Hebrides are a chain of 130 islands off the northwest coast of the UK. These wild islands offer much in the way of unspoiled, rustic beauty and walking options include a stroll along a windy, untarnished beach or a more challenging hill walk, according to Walk Highlands.
There are 26 Great Trails that are nationally promoted and serve as solid entry points for those new to the country and unsure where to begin on their Scottish foot journey. You can select your route according to what you want to see – coastline, abbeys, mountains, or a historic path to learn more about the country’s background.
Walking and hiking tours can be memorable and rewarding, but it’s important to prepare yourself in advance. If you plan to do any strenuous hiking, look up the trails in advance and find out what level of physical fitness is necessary to complete it. You may need to do some training ahead of your trip, to get used to carrying a heavy pack up steep inclines for long periods of time. You can often find official recommendations on tourist websites, and travel bloggers who have completed the trek before will often post information on the experience that will be important for you to know before your journey.
- Visit England
- Visit Hadrian’s Wall
- Peak District Online
- Highland Guides
- The Telegraph
- Yorkshire Dales National Park
- Hostelling International
- National Geographic: World’s Best Trails, Epic Trails, Iceland
- Wilderness Hikes
- Visit Reykjavik
- Iceland Touring Association
- National Geographic: World’s Best Trails, Epic Trails, France
- The Guardian
- Huffington Post
- Lonely Planet
- China Highlights
- Walk Highlands
- Scotland’s Great Trails
- Visit Scotland