Top 10 wildlife vacations in Europe

Africa might hog the limelight when it comes to safaris, but in fact, to see exotic and exciting wildlife, you only need head to Europe. Bison, wolves, bears and whales are just some of the big beasts you can spot, track and learn about here, many living just a few hours outside major cities. It means a wildlife vacation in Europe is about short flights and big thrills – and you can leave the anti-malarials at home...

1. Dolphins in the Azores

Rather than just spotting dolphins, swim with them! In the Azores, you can snorkel with seven species of dolphin, looking out for sperm whales, too. Expert guides will teach you ‘in-water procedures’, so you encounter the dolphins on their terms, floating above a pod or, if you’re lucky, watching them frolicking around you.

When to go: May to end of October
Our top selling trip: Azores family adventure vacation, whales and dolphins
See all our trips: Dolphin watching vacations
Read more: Swimming with whales & wild dolphins travel guide

2. Polar bears in Svalbard, Norway

The arrival of summer in the Svalbard archipelago is the perfect time to see polar bears. Cruises allow you to spot polar bears traveling across the pack ice or on ice floes. Experienced guides will help you point your binocs at seals, Arctic foxes, walruses and stunning birdlife, from puffins to purple sandpipers, when you visit land via a Zodiac.

When to go: May to September
Our top selling trip: Arctic icebreaker cruise
See all our trips: Bear watching vacations
Read more: Polar bear watching in Norway guide

3. Whales in the Azores

This is one of the best places in the world to see whales, with sightings on 99 percent of whale watching tours. Blue, sei, fin and humpback whales cruise past on their way to summer feeding grounds in the north Atlantic, and you can see orcas, dolphins, manta rays and sea turtles, too.

When to go: April to September
Our top selling trip: Whale watching in the Azores
See all our trips: Whale watching vacations
Read more: Whale watching travel guide

4. Wolves & moose in Sweden

Most of Sweden is dense taiga forest where wild animals roam free. Join a skilled wildlife tracker to spot moose, beavers and deer, and track wolves in wilderness just two hours’ drive from Stockholm. Enjoying the pristine forests, magical sunsets, starlit skies and lakeside saunas is all part of the fun.

When to go: July and August
Our top selling trip: Sweden vacations, wolves, moose and beavers
See all our trips: Wildlife vacations in Sweden
Read more: Sweden travel guide

5. Otters, birds & whales in Scotland

Western Scotland is home to wildlife that makes England’s badgers and foxes look a bit tame. Sea safaris bring you close to minke whales, dolphins and porpoises, and you can spot golden eagles, hen harriers and sea otters from dry land. On an organised wildlife vacation, a naturalist guide will help you seek it all out.

When to go: Late April to late September
Our top selling trip: Wildlife vacation in the Isle of Mull, Scotland
See all our trips: Wildlife vacations in Scotland
Read more: Scotland travel guide

6. Bison in Poland

Some 500 European bison roam Poland’s Bialowieza Forest and safaris led by experienced guides almost always end in sightings. Moose, beavers and otters live here, too, alongside hard-to-spot lynx. In winter, track wolves, in the summer, explore the forest by bike, too.

When to go: Year round, except May and November
Our top selling trip: Poland wildlife tour in primeval forest
See all our trips: Wildlife vacations in Poland
Read more: Poland travel guide

7. Puffins in Iceland

Iceland’s Eastern Fjords might be less visited by tourists, but they’re popular with another visitor - the puffin! The birdlife in this area of the island is great. Go on a summer tour for your best chance at spotting seals and whales in the waves, too. Meanwhile, all over the island, reindeer graze on hillsides carpeted with beautiful wildflowers: Iceland has become an island idyll.

When to go: May to September
Our top selling trip: Iceland summer small group vacation
See all our trips: Iceland vacations
Read more: Iceland travel guide

8. Dolphins in Italy

The Ligurian Sea, between Italy and Corsica, is a haven for whales and dolphins, but they are threatened by human activity. Join a citizen science trip, researching the region’s cetaceans and helping to preserve the unique marine ecology while having a cracking, hands-on vacation, too!

When to go: May to September
Our top selling trip: Whale & dolphin research in Lingurian Sea, Italy
See all our trips: Whale watching vacations and Dolphin watching vacations
Read more: Whale watching travel guide and Dolphin watching travel guide

9. Lynx in Romania

Lynx live in the Carpathian Mountains of Transylvania, but you’ll need an expert guide to track and watch them in their natural habitat. March and April is mating season when lynx are more active, so it’s the best time for sightings, although nothing’s guaranteed as they are notoriously elusive. Keep your eyes peeled for bears and wolves, too.

When to go: March and April
Our top selling trip: Transylvania wildlife vacation, Lynx watching and tracking
See all our trips: Wildlife vacations in Romania
Read more: Carpathian Mountains travel guide

10. Wolves in France

Just an hour’s drive from Nice, Mercantour National Park is home to a tiny population of wolves. Hiking through the mountains with a specialist guide, tracking these elusive creatures, is a wild adventure, while a visit to the region’s wolf sanctuary guarantees a sighting and provides a fascinating education into wolf behaviour.

When to go: Year round
Our top selling trip: Alpine wolf tracking vacation, France
See all our trips: Wolf tracking vacations
Read more: Wolf tracking guide
Written by Joanna Simmons
Photo credits: [Page banner: becker271] [1. Dolphins in the Azores: Eduardo Manchon] [4. Wolves & moose in Sweden: Edoardomiola] [7. Puffins in Iceland: D Tan]