Blow away the cobwebs and shake up your usual stodgy vacation with our pick of the best outdoor adventures in Europe to add to your bucket list.
Adventure travel continues to be a major trend in the tourism industry. And while dropping everything to climb Mount Blanc might not sound like your idea of fun, there are plenty more thrills to be had across the continent.
Hit the waves in Comporta, Portugal
You don’t need to hop on a plane to Australia to catch some epic waves; not when the sun-drenched coastal village of Comporta in Portugal boasts its very own surfers’ paradise. With 30 miles of unspoiled coastline, consistent waves all year round, and a temperate climate, this laid-back hamlet is a magnificent surf spot for beginners and novices alike. If you are just starting out, there are numerous surf schools which cater to all abilities. And come sundown, the thatch-roof bars lining the beach provide the perfect spot to catch the sunset; with a glass of sangria in hand, of course.
Five-day surf camps start from around €200
Go tobogganing at Big Pintenfritz in Switzerland
For the ultimate white-knuckle ride of your life, nothing beats hopping on the longest toboggan run in Europe, Big Pintenfritz. Located in the Jungfrau Region in Switzerland, this high-speed 15km-long toboggan runs from Faulhorn mountain (2,681m) via Bussalp, down to Grindelwald village. Thrill-seekers will have the chance to soak up the stunning panoramic view of the Swiss Alps at the starting point; before hurtling towards the finish line and enjoying a tasty fondue – and a stiff drink to reward their bravery!
Toboggan day ticket costs €35
Fly in a hot-air balloon over Cappadocia, Turkey
Arguably the best hot-air balloon experience in the world, Cappadocia is certainly worth the 4:30am wake-up call. Located in Central Anatolia in Turkey, this geological phenomenon is famous for its distinctive “fairy chimney” rock formations which are best seen from the air. A majestic flight over this ethereal landscape at dawn allows you to see how the light plays on the cone-shaped clusters in Monks Valley, Göreme, and beyond. Definitely one for the gram!
Flights start from around €200
Go dog sledding in Svalbard, Norway
What better way to experience the beautiful snow-capped wilderness of Norway than by dashing across the land on an Alaskan husky-led sled. If you love dogs, you will have the time of your life meeting the fluffy pack before gliding across the peaceful white landscapes in Svalbard, in the High Arctic. You can even explore an ice cave hidden deep within a 1,500-year-old glacier. This totally unique experience gives you the chance to live out your wildest Narnia adventure – and better still, try your hand at being a musher (driver).
The ultimate Svalbard experience costs €280 per person
Bungee jump over the Corinth Canal in Greece
Are you ready to take the plunge? If you’re a dare devil looking for your next big thrill then how does the idea of falling into a canal attached to only a cord sound? Adrenaline junkies don’t have to travel far to get their fix when Greece boasts its own 78m bungee jump over the Corinth Canal. Measuring 6km long and 23m wide, this man-made marvel separates the Greek mainland from the Peloponnese, and once allowed ships to enter the Aegean Sea. Nowadays, it is hailed as one of the most nail-biting challenges in Europe to those who dare to take it on during the summer months.
One jump (plus Go Pro DVD and Zulu Bungy T-Shirt) costs €80
Hike along the Black Falls in Iceland
Located in Skaftafell National Park in Southern Iceland, Svartifoss (‘Black Falls’ in English) waterfall is every nature lover’s dream and well worth the long hike to get there. Surrounded by dark lava columns, which gave rise to its name, this natural wonder is famous for its sharp rocks and hexagonal basalt columns, which are believed to have inspired Icelandic architects; including Guðjón Samúelsson who designed the Hallgrímskirkja church in Reykjavík. The hike itself is a 40m ascent over 1.5km, and although steep at times, provides plenty of opportunities to stop and admire the breathtaking views.
Go diving with sharks in the Azores
Fewer things will get your heart pounding than coming face to face with Jaws. But if you love sharks, then a scuba diving trip to the Azores should definitely top your European bucket list. As one of the few places in the world where you can swim with the blue shark, it’s no wonder this cluster of nine Portuguese islands is nicknamed “the last hidden treasure of Europe.” During the late summer months, this diver’s paradise is swarming with manta rays, mobulas, squid, and – if you’re lucky – sperm whales, too.
Seven-day diving vacations start from around €750
Sleep in a bubble under the Northern Lights in Iceland
The Aurora Borealis – or Northern Lights – are one of nature’s most spectacular displays. Unsurprisingly, watching them dance across the night sky makes it onto many people’s bucket lists. But while there are countless cabins and lodges where you can cosy up beneath this breathtaking natural phenomenon, nowhere is quite as unique as a transparent glass bubble. Forget swanky hotel suites because this quirky dome allows you to literally sleep under the stars and enjoy your own private show of this awe-inspiring natural wonder. Now how’s that for a nightlight!
The Golden Circle Winter Tour costs €431 per person