Where to go in Europe

Make the most of your time

There are two foolproof ways to determine where to go in Europe. Firstly, think about what it is you want to do. If you’ve always wanted to mush your own team of huskies then head to Lapland; if you’re mad about watersports, Croatia and Montenegro are a brilliant choice; and if you want to be steeped in history and culture, you can’t go wrong with Italy or Greece. Secondly, hold a pin above a map of Europe, close your eyes and pick at random – each country within the continent is easily reached by air, road and rail and most have excellent infrastructure too; once you get there, explore a side to the country you don’t know – you’re guaranteed a pleasant surprise.
Whale watching in the Azores Sea kayaking in Croatia England Winter holidays in Finland France Greece Italy Lapland Activity holidays in Montenegro Portugal Railway holidays in Scotland Walking and cycling in Spain

Whale watching in the Azores

Late June to early October every year sees the ocean surrounding the Azores archipelago come alive with cetaceans, including fin and blue whales – the largest animals on earth. Sei, pilot, minke and sperm whales also travel to this Portuguese oasis some 1,500km west of Lisbon, along with orcas and dolphins. Photography vacations here are a remarkable experience.

Sea kayaking in Croatia

Croatia’s coast was made for kayaking – it isn’t tidal, so you can cover huge distances and the local instructors are known to be some of Europe’s best. Taking in the country’s illustrious islands from the water lends visitors a glorious freedom and an entirely new perspective on the landscape, and if you feel like adding a dose of adrenalin head inland to try your hand at white water rafting.


England has an offbeat charm that’s hard to deny. From traditional walks through the astounding Lake District and historical hikes along Kent’s Pilgrims Way, to its miles of ever-changing coastline and acres of rugged countryside, it’s a country that never quite gets the credit it deserves: where else could camping in unpredictable weather become so cool? And then there’s pubs, everywhere, and they’re ace.

Winter vacations in Finland

A real-life Narnia, Finland’s Arctic winter is spellbinding. The clean, inland air of Finnish Lapland makes it one of the best places in the world to witness the illustrious illuminations of the Northern Lights, and a husky sledding tour is like starring in your own Christmas card; combine it all on a multi-day cross-country trip for a hands-on and unforgettable experience of local life and customs.


With invaluable assets such as the Alps, the Pyrenees, and Mont Blanc, not to mention Burgundy – home of the country’s longest greenway, and picture-perfect Provence, outdoor enthusiasts won’t know where to begin in France. So, here’s a tip: begin on two feet – preferably with cross country skis, hiking boots, or pedals; this beautiful and diverse landscape was made for skiers, walkers and bikers.


The atmospheric cradle of Western civilisation, Greece’s archaeological aplomb is undisputed – with six millennia of history, philosophy and invention behind it, the country is peppered with monasteries, churches and precious ruins, each with its own intriguing backstory. Once you’ve had your cultural fill, why not windsurf, sail or dive along its 15,000km of crystal clear coastline.


Always cool and collected, Italy’s bounty is bottomless: the country’s very fabric is woven from a cloth of incredible history as seen in Sicily’s Valley of the Temples, Rome’s ancient relics, or the Renaissance architecture of Florence. Casually walk famous trails along the Amalfi Coast, or hike mountains in the Dolomites, and then eat like a King - head to Piedmont for a Slow Food sensation.


A fantastical expanse of frost-tipped forest and frozen lakes in winter, making way for ancient woodland and dramatic coastline when thawed under the summer sun, Lapland’s pull is irresistible. Besides unparalleled natural beauty, the region is a playground for winter activities - try husky sledding, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing under huge, crisp skies. Better still, try them all.

Activity vacations in Montenegro

Kayaking, wild swimming, cycling and walking – small, but with an almighty activity punch, it’s as if Montenegro is a play with all of its drama and excitement packed into one act. You can hike the rocky massifs and luscious lakes of Durmitor National Park, mountain bike to the top of Mount Lovcen, and head to Kale Skadar’s wonderland of waterfalls, wine tasting and wildlife - all in one trip!


A patchwork of vineyards, hills and bucolic woods rustling with wildlife, Portugal, still surprisingly inexpensive, is so much more than a place to retire. The Algarve is to yoga and massage retreats what Alentejo is to walking and cycling: supreme, and the country’s 1,800km coastline is dotted with stunning beaches, laid back fishing villages and gorgeous food. Its cities are beautiful patchworks of tiled walls and roofs.

Railway vacations in Scotland

An enigmatic country of deserted mountains cleaved by icy rivers, waterfalls that tumble from highlands to lowlands, and of course, a great big glistening loch – Scotland is as eclectic and pure as a bar full of single malts, and a railway vacation there is a fantastic way to sample each one. The West Highland line from Glasgow to Fortwilliam is a classic railway journey and the ideal place to start.

Walking and cycling in Spain

Walking in Spain’s south combines mountain streams, valleys in every shade of green and pretty whitewashed villages with a warm Andalucian welcome; in the north, the Picos de Europa, a wildlife-packed, dramatic massif is any hiker’s mecca; and as for cycling, do not be put off by Spain’s marvellous mountains – they offer some wonderfully relaxing rides as well as challenging climbs.

Travel times in Europe

The following times give you a rough idea of the travel times between the main attractions in Europe.
  • Dubrovnik to Split – 3 hours by car (Croatia)
  • Velebit Nature Park to Plitvice Lakes National Park - 2.5 hours by car (Croatia)
  • Bareges (Pyrenees) – Cirque de Gavarnie: 50mins by road (France)
  • Avignon – Mont Ventoux: 5 hours by bike (France)
  • Athens – Thessaloniki: 5 ¼ hours by train (Greece)
  • Rome – Naples: 1 ¼ hours by train (Italy)
  • Positano – Praiano (Path of the Gods – Cantabria): 6 hours on foot (Italy)
  • Madrid – Seville: 2hrs 20 mins by AVE (Spain)
  • Barcelona – Valencia: 3 hours by train (Spain)
  • Madrid – Barcelona: 2hrs 30 mins by AVI (Spain)
Photo credits: [Italy: Moyan Brenn] [Lapland: Matkailuneuvonta] [Portugal: Bruno Carlos] [France: Jeanradium] [Greece: William Neuheisel] [Sea kayaking in Croatia: Martyn Kilbryde] [Activity vacations in Montenegro: amira_a] [Winter vacations in Finland: Carsten Frenzl] [Railway vacations in Scotland: 96tommy] [Whale watching in the Azores: Guillaume Baviere]
Written by Polly Humphris
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