Best wilderness vacations in Europe

There are still barely touched areas of Europe where you can watch wildlife in their natural habitat and spend countless hours staring at the stars or the legendary Northern Lights. Head north to Lapland, and it’s Arctic islands, glaciers and icebergs that set the scene. Further south, the lakes and forests of Sweden, Poland and Montenegro conjure up really wild experiences. Whereas to the north-west, the waterfalls, volcanoes and geothermal lagoons of Iceland offer wilderness adventures of a more seismic kind.

If you’re looking for the best wilderness vacations in Europe, check out 10 of our favourites below. Just don’t forget your map and compass.

1. Kayaking the Saint Anna Archipelago, Sweden

Imagine exploring in one of Europe’s few wilderness areas as you slip into a kayak and push off into the remote outer islands of the St Anna’s Archipelago. Paddling around this east coast of Sweden with an expert kayaking guide is a thrill, and the possibility of spotting white-tailed eagles and chattering colonies of guillemots and Arctic terns adds to the excitement.

Wild camping and strolls through 300-year-old forests allow you to explore further still. Exploring on land unlocks the secrets of isolated island communities and old lighthouses, while guided sea kayaking trips encourage you to get even closer to otherwise inaccessible Swedish shorelines.

Our top selling trip: Sweden kayaking short break
All our trips: Sweden adventure vacations
Read more: Sweden kayaking guide

2. Northern Lights, Finnish Lapland

Head for the hills as you venture into Lapland and stay in a wilderness lodge complete with a private sauna. Husky sled rides, ice swimming and finding out more about the traditions of the indigenous Sami people make a wilderness vacation in Finland incredibly rewarding.

Urho Kekkonen National Park is a magical place, especially when the forest is bedecked in snow. Taking out a snowmobile allows you to travel deeper into the wilderness, whereas exploring on cross country skis is the ideal way to work up an appetite in snowy silence. There are few better places to see the Northern Lights than an aurora lodge purpose-built for settling down to watch one of the greatest natural phenomena above the planet.

Our top selling trip: Northern Lights activity break in Finland
All our trips: Finland winter vacations
Read more: Finland winter travel guide

3. Bialowieza bison forest, Poland

The rewilding and introduction of bison in Poland’s Bialowieza Forest has been a real success story. These days, there are more than 500 European bison roaming free in the wild. It’s like stepping back in time, with pine martens, foxes and even lynx and wolves all known to inhabit the area. Stay in a family-owned guesthouse and you’ll have access to the walking trails that lead you through the woods. Listen to the knock of woodpeckers by day and the hoot of pygmy owls at night. This is no ordinary walk in the woods by any stretch of the imagination.

Our top selling trip: Poland wildlife tour in Bialowieza Forest
All our trips: Poland wildlife vacations
Read more: Poland travel guide

4. Cruise between Spitsbergen, Greenland and Iceland

The good thing about doing a cruise is that you can brush up against multiple wildernesses in one trip. See Spitsbergen first, where you can explore the icy Svalbard archipelago. Then you’re into the Greenland Sea, heading towards the world’s largest island. The coast of East Greenland rises ahead soon, an enormous landmass where there are mountains, mountains of ice, and fjords. Iceland last – a short hop across the Denmark Strait, for a smaller island that’s still big on beauty. On the way, you can look out for walruses and polar bears, as well as countless birds.

Our top selling trip: Arctic island cruises, Spitsbergen, Greenland and Iceland
All our trips: Arctic cruises
Read more: Arctic cruises travel guide

5. Northern Lights road trip, Iceland

There’s Northern Lights watching vacations and then there are Icelandic road trips. This wilderness experience is one of the best ways to tailor your very own aurora borealis adventure. From Reykjavik and Vatnajokull National Park to the Golden Circle and Gullfoss waterfall – this is where Iceland really comes alive.

There’s much to be said for the freedom of exploring under your own steam on a self drive adventure. There are so many geothermal hot pools and volcanic landscapes to discover that you’ll be hard-pushed to keep to a rigid itinerary. Plus, driving between the small towns of Iceland is an excellent way to meet local people and stay at family-owned hotels and guesthouses. Yes, the Northern Lights are going to bring you here, but it’s the Icelanders that make you want to return.

Our top selling trip: Iceland aurora self drive vacation
All our trips: Iceland adventure vacations
Read more: Northern Lights in Iceland travel guide

6. Canoeing & kayaking, Montenegro

There’s something magical about Montenegro. Maybe it’s the simplicity of life in the mountains, where there’s certainly something wild and untamed in the air – something that’s stood the test of time and isn’t going anywhere fast. Take a kayak or a canoe out onto Lake Skadar, for example, and you’ll become surrounded by natural wilderness. The water is crystal clear and reflections of island monasteries and pelicans in flight add to the peaceful, tranquil ambience.

Paddle on past Ottoman ruins and through narrow channels flanked by water lilies and reed beds, and you’ll arrive at isolated fishing villages where you can tuck into the catch of the day. Alternatively, moor at beachside coves where camping under the stars is the best way to end a day of discovery in the wilds of Montenegro.

Our top selling trip: Canoeing and kayaking vacation in Montenegro
All our trips: Adventure vacations in Montenegro
Read more: Family adventure travel guide

7. Glamping & hiking vacation in Scotland

Perfect for families wanting to really get away from it all and enjoy some bonding time in nature, this fun vacation also has an additional element that kids will love: you’ll be accompanied by local Highland ponies, always interested in a carrot or half an apple. Easygoing hikes through the beautiful pine forests of the Cairngorms immerse you in the area’s biodiversity, and you’ll sleep in comfort every night in spacious tipis with hot showers.

Our top trip: Cairngorms glamping and hiking vacation
All our trips: Scotland walking vacations
Read more:
 Scotland walking travel guide

8. Wilderness walking in Armenia

Hike with an experienced mountain guide in the alpine landscapes of Armenia. This trip doesn’t do things by halves, taking you to the storied capital of Yerevan, monastery complexes of Lori, forest trails of Dilijan National Park, cave towns and hanging bridges, and even along parts of the Silk Road. It’s a fascinating illustration of how people have forged a home in the Armenian wilderness for thousands of years.

Our top trip: Armenia small group walking vacation
All our trips: Armenia walking vacations
Read more: Armenia travel guide

9. Vikos-Aoos National Park vacation in Greece

In the Epirus region, in northwest Greece, can be found the Vikos-Aoos National Park, one of the country’s most pristine and beautiful places for walking. Led by a local guide, you’ll cross the vast Vikos Gorge, reckoned to be the deepest in the world, raft the Voidomatis river, soak in a traditional hot steam bath, and stay in the historic stone villages of Zagori. A typical Greece vacation this is not.

Our top trip: Vikos-Aoos National Park vacation
All our trips: Greece walking vacations
Read more:
 Greece walking travel guide

10. Driving between Finland's national parks

Once used for commercial forestry, Repovesi National Park in Finland has been given back to nature, and now the vast stretches of pine and birch trees, broken only by lakes and rivers, provide the perfect setting for a wilderness hut. Stay a night with no electricity, but the promise of possibly spotting flying squirrels or lynxes. It’s one of the highlights of a self drive vacation around Finland’s national parks.

Top seller: Finland self drive vacation, National Parks
All our trips: Finland self drive vacations
Read more: Finland summer travel guide
Written by Chris Owen
Photo credits: [Page banner: Maria Vojtovicova] [1. Kayaking the Saint Anna Archipelago, Sweden: Let Ideas Compete] [4. Cruise between Spitsbergen, Greenland and Iceland: Lloyd Woodham] [7. Glamping & hiking vacation in Scotland: © Sam Knight] [10. Canoeing, wild camping and exploring, Scotland: martin bennie]