We’ve travelled the length and breadth of the continent, never ceasing to be amazed by what we’ve seen. Europe has some of the most beautiful places in the world, from the classic Tuscan countryside to the wind–lashed Atlantic fringe, and the magical islands of the Venetian lagoon to some of the most beautiful villages in the world, high up in the Swiss Alps.
Our guide to the most beautiful landscapes in Europe criss-crosses the continent, taking you to some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. We also suggest things to do at each location, and the best time to visit.
- 1 EPIRUS, GREECE
- 2 BAVARIAN ALPS
- 3 VENICE AND THE VENETIAN LAGOON
- 4 ISLE OF SKYE
- 5 AMALFI COAST
- 6 Achill Island
- 7 LAKE BLED
- 8 ALGARVE COAST
- 9 TATRA MOUNTAINS
- 10 SWISS ALPS – the Bernese Oberland
We could have chosen one of a dozen or more landscapes in Greece, such is the beauty of the country.
After much deliberation we opted for Epirus, in the north-west of mainland Greece. This rugged and remote corner of the country is one of the hidden gems of Europe.
It’s also a real step back in time, to a partly forested mountainous area where many get by on sheep and goat farming. It’s also home to the world’s deepest gorge, some of the most beautiful villages in Europe and some beautiful coastline along the Ionian Sea.
Things to do in Epirus
Top of the list of places to see in Epirus is the Vikos-Aoös National Park in the Pindus Mountains, close to the Albanian border. The Vikos Gorge is the deepest in the world, the Voidomatis river having carved 490 metres down into the landscape.
This is very close to the stunning Zagorochoria, a series of over forty mountain villages. Many of these are joined by stone arched bridges built across the many rivers of the area in the 18th and 19th centuries. While here, be sure to seek out beautiful old villages including Dilofo and Konitsa, and the Ayia Paraskevi monastery in Monodendri.
Visitors to the east coast of Corfu will have seen the spectacular coast of Epirus from across the Ionian Sea, and it has some great places to visit. The best of the seaside towns is Parga, and Syvota, just to the north, also has some lovely beaches.
And if you want to get back to the 21st century, the place to do so is the regional capital, Ioannina, which has a lovely old town and a young population thanks to its university, with plenty of tavernas and bars to try out.
Best time to visit Epirus
May through to October is the best time to visit Epirus, as many places close during the winter off-season
The Bavarian Alps are among the most beautiful landscapes in the world. They don’t quite reach the heights of the Tirol across the border in Austria to the south, but they’re every bit as dramatic, especially as you approach from the lower-lying north.
Bavarian’s Alps rise close to Germany’s southern border with Austria, to the south of regional capital Munich (München). They are home to Germany’s most spectacular mountains and its highest in Zugspitze, at 2.962 metres above sea level.
Things to do in the Bavarian Alps
The Bavarian Alps are home to two of the most beautiful castles in the world – the fairytale fantasy of Schloss Neuschwanstein, and another creation of ‘Mad’ King Ludwig II, nearby Hohenschwangau.
Nearby Munich is one of Germany’s great cities, and one of the best city break destinations in Europe. It’s best known for the Oktoberfest, one of the best beer festivals in the world (and also some of the world’s best beer). It’s also well worth visiting for the stunning Residenz, the palace which was the residence of the Wittelsbach dynasty of dukes, electors and kings that ruled Bavaria from the time of the Renaissance to 1918.
The Berchtesgaden National Park occupies a small corner of the Bavarian Alps, tucked in near the Austrian border, and the highlight of this is the Königssee, one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. The best views are from the Jennerbahn cable car, high above the lake.
Non-mountaineers can also take the Zugspitze cable car to the summit of the highest mountain in Germany. It’s one of the best cable car rides in Europe, and at €56 return for adults is great value if you go up on a clear day.
The Bavarian Alps are also home to what we feel is one of the most beautiful scenes in the world – the gorgeous church of St Sebastian in Ramsau, with the mountains the magnificent backdrop.
Best time of year to visit the Bavarian Alps
The Bavarian Alps are very much a year-round destination. The Bavarian Alps are one of the best winter destinations in Europe, and Garmisch-Partenkirchen is the biggest ski resort in Germany. Winter is also a great time to visit even if you’re not into winter sports – Munich has one of the biggest and best Christmas markets in Europe running from late November. Spring (March onwards) through to autumn (October) is a great time to visit the region, with summer the best time to go hiking in the Bavarian Alps.
VENICE AND THE VENETIAN LAGOON
For many, Venice is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and we have to add our voice to this. It’s one of the most remarkable urban landscapes in the world, in a highly improbable place to build a city, on hundreds of flood-prone muddy islands, with its buildings supported by millions of pine logs hammered into the ground.
Somehow the citizens of this tiny republic went on to build a trading empire covering much of the Mediterranean, accumulating astonishing wealth, pilfering the occasional holy relic and building one of the most beautiful cities of Europe, an evocative city full of amazing churches, monuments and astounding art treasures.
Things to do in Venice
You could easily spend a week or more exploring Venice. It’s one of the most beautiful places in Europe to visit, with the likes of St Mark’s Square and Basilica, the Doge’s Palace and the graceful Palladian church of San Giorgio Maggiore all very close to each other.
Venice is one of the most romantic destinations in the world, and there’s nothing more enjoyable than getting lost there, wandering the backstreets and canals.
It’s also well worth getting out into the lagoon and exploring some of the outlying islands. Many make the trip north to Murano, Burano and Torcello. Burano is a gorgeous fishing village full of brightly painted cottages, a photographer’s dream, while the cathedral of Torcello is Venice’s original cathedral, now sitting out in a remote island with a single canal and a few houses.
Best time of year to visit Venice?
Spring is one of the best times to travel to Venice, as you avoid the worst of the crowds and the heat. September is also a wonderful time to go to Venice. If you don’t mind the cold, winter can be a great time to get the best Venice hotel deals, when even the best hotels in Venice drop their rates significantly.
ISLE OF SKYE
Scotland is one of the most beautiful countries in Europe, and the Isle of Skye is one of its most beautiful locations.
It’s located off the north-west coast of Scotland, and is the largest island in the Inner Hebrides. Skye is one of the most dramatic landscapes in Europe, with a series of jagged mountains, especially the Cuillins range in the south of the island offering some of the best rock climbing in the UK.
Things to do on the Isle of Skye
Hiking on the Isle of Skye is one of the best things to do in Scotland. One of the best hikes in the UK is the Quiraing route in the north of Skye, on the Trotternish Peninsula. A shorter hike nearby that’s hugely popular with photographers is up from the A855 road, up the Storr to the dramatic rock spires of the Old Man of Storr. This is one of the most iconic views in the UK, the rocks rearing up high above the Sound of Raasay below.
The Cuillin ranges in the south of the island present a much more difficult challenge. These are Alpine mountains, and for most ascents and descents you’ll need a good level of rock climbing and scrambling skills.
Skye also has magnificent coastline, with some of the best beaches in Scotland, including Coral Beach on Loch Dunvegan and stunning Elgol beach on Loch Scaviag, in the shadow of the Cuillins.
The Isle of Skye is dotted with small villages and accommodation options all over. There are plenty of campsites on Isle of Skye, and if you prefer a solid roof over you, a wide choice of hotels and hostels too.
The island capital, the picturesque fishing village of Portree, has the biggest concentration of hotels in the Isle of Skye, and it makes a great base to explore the rest 0f the island.
Best time to visit Isle of Skye?
Mountaineers love Skye all the way through the year, and for some the best time to climb the Cuillins is in clear weather after snowfall. This is also a magical time to visit the Isle of Skye if you’re on a driving trip or looking to do some lower level hikes.
However for most, late spring through summer and into autumn are the most likely times to visit Skye.
The Amalfi Coast is one of the most beautiful coastal landscapes in the world. The 50 km (30 miles) long Costiera Amalfitana is the name given to the southern coast of the Sorrento peninsula, from Punta Campanella headland in the west to the city of Salerno in the east.
The city of Amalfi was, along with Venice, Pisa and Genoa, one of the four great maritime republics of Italy, and its wealth is reflected in the Cathedral of the Apostle St Andrew, whose relics are kept there.
The rest of the Amalfi Coast is punctuated by a series of villages clinging to the shore beneath precipitous mountains and cliffs. It has been added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site list as an outstanding Mediterranean landscape, and it has captivated visitors in their millions, for many one of the most romantic destinations in Europe and, indeed the world.
Things to do on the Amalfi Coast
The narrow Amalfi coast road is one of the most scenic drives in Europe, with vertiginous rock faces on one side and the azure waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea on the other.
The city of Amalfi is fascinating, especially for its Cathedral and cloister, and it’s a dramatic sight with its houses cut into the sheer cliffs either side of the beach.
Some of the Amalfi Coast resorts like Positano are among the top destinations in Europe, known the world over, whereas some of the other villages along the coast, such as Cetara, are almost untouched by tourism.
The gorgeous mountaintop village of Ravello is worth the slow, winding bus ride or drive for the outstanding views over the coast, well over a thousand feet above sea level. The best views of the Amalfi Coast are from the gardens of the Villa Rufolo, and the statue-lined terrace of nearby Villa Cimbrone.
Regular Amalfi Coast boat trips also run between Sorrento and Amalfi, and are a great way to see the coast from a different angle.
Sorrento is the main local transport hub. You can catch the Circumvesuviana train from there to the ruined Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum and, beyond, the island of Capri, ancient Pompeii and Herculaneum, and the fascinating city of Naples.
Best time of year to visit the Amalfi Coast
As the Amalfi Coast is so far south, it enjoys a longer season than many of our destinations further north in Europe.
The main season is April to September, with July and August the hottest, busiest and most expensive.
However, it’s also well worth venturing there in the shoulder seasons, with temperatures often in the high teens Centigrade as early as February and as late as November. These are also ideal times to get some great Amalfi coast hotel deals.
Achill Island is the very first place on the Emerald Isle that I visited and one of the most beautiful places in Ireland.
I’ve always loved ‘last frontier’ places, where there is no ‘further’ other than thousands of miles of ocean. Achill is in one of the most beautiful parts of Ireland, on the west-facing coast of County Mayo, bearing the brunt of winds and storms whipped up across 3,000 miles – 5,000 km – of the Atlantic Ocean.
It is one of the most beautiful islands in Europe that I’ve visited, and it has a wild, harsh, sometimes stark beauty. Its moors and mountains rise abruptly out of the sea, while the coast takes a seemingly endless battering from the broiling froth of waves crashing ashore.
Things to do on Achill Island
The Atlantic Drive that runs along the south coast of Achill must be one of the best scenic drives in Ireland, on a par with the Sky Road to the south at Clifden and the Ring of Kerry.
Achill Island also has several great beaches. It was famously in the news in 2017 when the beach at Dooagh, which had been washed away in 1984 by a particularly bad storm, re-appeared overnight after another spell of ferocious weather.
However, our favourite beach on Achill is Keem Bay, tucked away in a sheltered corner of the south coast a few miles from Dooagh. It’s shielded from the worst of the weather by the high mountains behind, its waters a tropical turquoise, a staggering sight.
Best time to visit Achill Island
You never quite know what weather the North Atlantic is going to bring, but I’ll stick my neck out and say that spring and summer are the best times to visit Achill. The day we arrived on Achill, we were greeted by a horizontal squall of lashing rain, the outlines of the
mountains ahead just visible through the thick grey murk. This was June 21st, Midsummer Day. However over the next two days the sun put in several appearances, the strong late sunlight dramatically illuminating the brooding landscape.
Lake Bled is the jewel of Slovenia, one of the most picture-perfect places you could ever hope to see, and one of the most beautiful lakes in Europe.
In heart of Slovenia’s Julian Alps, a medieval church sits on an island in the middle of a crystal-clear turquoise lake, with a castle high on a cliff behind, and Alpine mountains behind that. It’s one of the most beautiful places in Europe, one to which I yearn to return.
Things to do in Lake Bled
You could easily spend a couple of days lingering around the lake. You can catch a gondola or (as I did) hire a boat and row out to the island yourself. There are a couple of small, narrow beaches small beaches on the lake where you can sunbathe.
For something more strenuous, there are some great hikes close to Lake Bled, including some trails up the surrounding hills giving great views over the lake. The Vintgar Gorge is
only 4 km (2.5 miles) from Bled – it’s a stunning walk through a narrow ravine, the wooden walkway clinging to the rock face on one side.
Bled is also on the doorstep of the Triglav National Park and some of the best hiking in Slovenia. Lake Bohinj is another stunning Alpine lake a short drive or bus trip from Bled, with some outstanding walks nearby. Bled is also close to the main resort for skiing in Slovenia, a few miles from the Austrian border at Kranjska Gora.
Best time to visit Slovenia and Lake Bled?
Lake Bled is beautiful all year round. I went in late summer when it was stunning, but I’ve seen images of the Lake throughout the year, and it looks magical all the way through. The autumn colours around the lake are magnificent, and in the snow it’s one of the most beautiful winter destinations in Europe, and tied in with Slovenia’s capital Ljubljana barely an hour away it’s a great place to take a winter break.
The Algarve – the far south of Portugal – is blessed with some of the most beautiful beaches in Europe. The coast has three very different sections. The area between the Spanish border and Faro, the airport for the Algarve, has endless long, flat beaches.
The central Algarve, between Faro and the resort of Lagos in the west of the region, has the best of the beaches and coastal scenery, with many beaches surrounded by striking, spectacular rock formations. The Costa Vicentina to the west has some of the best surfing in Europe, the angry Atlantic depositing wave after massive wave on the vast empty beaches.
Best things to do in the Algarve
The Algarve coastline has some of the most beautiful places in Portugal. The peninsula immediately to the south of Lagos has two of the best Algarve beaches, Praia Dona Ana and Praia do Camilo, and the amazing fairy chimneys and archways carved out by the Atlantic around the Ponta da Piedade headland. Lagos is one of the best beach destinations in Europe, with plenty to choose from either side of the town.
There are also plenty of great coast walks in the Algarve, with coast paths linking all of the resorts in the central part of the region.
The long distance Rota VIcentina runs along the west coast, from Cape St Vincent lighthouse north into the neighbouring province of Alentejo.
There are also Algarve surf camps at several locations along the Costa Vicentina, where you can buy all-inclusive packages including surfing tuition and backpacker-style accommodation.
Best time to visit the Algarve?
Spring is our favourite – it’s not too hot, the crowds haven’t arrived, and the coast is carpeted with wildflowers.
We’d rule out the peak summer months, especially if you’re contemplating the larger resorts like Albufeira, when it’s too hot, crowded and expensive.
However, in the shoulder seasons of spring and autumn, the Algarve becomes one of the cheapest beach destinations in Europe. As there is so much coastline to explore, for these months of the year it’s also one of the best backpacking destinations in Europe.
During winter it’s one of the warmest places on the European mainland but many places close over these months.
The Tatras are some of the most beautiful mountains in Europe. They form part of the vast Carpathian mountains chain that stretches across central and eastern Europe and straddle two countries – Poland to the north and Slovakia to the south.
Most of the Tatras are on the Slovak side of the border, with around a third of the range in Poland. They are smaller than the Alps – the highest peak is 2655 metres above sea level. However, this is an area to get a taste of Alpine mountains at a much lower cost than the Alps themselves – with some of the cheapest skiing in Europe to boot.
Things to do in the Tatras
Poprad is the main gateway to the High Tatras (Vysoké Tatry) on the Slovakian side of the border, while Zakopane is the main entry point on the Polish side. These two towns have far and away the biggest concentration and choice of Tatras hotels and accommodation.
Depending on your budget, your choice ranges from backpacker hostels to five-star luxury like the Grand Hotel Kempinski High Tatras at Lake Strbske Pleso.
Zakopane is a lovely town, full of gorgeous wooden chalets quite distinct from those you see in the Alps to the west.
It’s also the departure point for popular hikes to Lake Morskie Oko, and cable car rides to Kasprowy Wierch and Gubałówka, both of which have outstanding views over the mountains.
There are some fantastic Tatras hiking routes either side of the border. Some of the lower level paths through the forested areas of the Tatras are suitable for most levels of ability and experience.
However, for most High Tatras hiking you need to have spent more experience under your belt. If you want to climb the highest mountain in the range, Gerlachovsky štit, you need to be a member of the UIAA (International Climbing and Mountain Federation), otherwise you have to hire a guide. This mountain was popular during the Communist era as it was the highest peak accessible to people living in several Eastern Bloc countries.
You’ll also find some of the best value skiing in Europe in the Tatras – prices are a fraction of what you’d pay in Chamonix, Switzerland or Austria.
Best time to visit the Tatras
Spring and summer are ideal for mountain hiking and climbing. However, when the snow settles, you’ll find some of the best budget skiing in Europe, with lift passes only €39 at Tatranská Lomnica, in the south-east of the range.
SWISS ALPS – the Bernese Oberland
For many, Switzerland is the most beautiful country in the world. The Bernese Oberland in central Switzerland is one of the best destinations in Europe, hands down. The sight of a seemingly endless mass of Alpine peaks rising out of the lush green countryside is unforgettable, and exploring these mountains and valleys gave us some of the best travel experiences in Europe we’ve ever had.
Best things to do in The Bernese Oberland
We spent much of our time in the Bernese Oberland exploring the magnificent Lauterbrunnen Valley, just to the south of Interlaken, in the shadow of the mighty Jungfrau mountain.
The area has some of the best mountain hikes in Europe, suitable for most levels of fitness. The Männlichen to Kleine Scheidegg walk is one of the easiest Alpine walks you’ll find anywhere in the world, a net descent over 5 km (3 miles) with some of the best mountain views in Switzerland, with the imperious north face of the Eiger looking down on you much of the way and views down the valley to Grindelwald below.
The Bernese Oberland also has some of the best train journeys in the world, most notably the Jungfraujoch, the highest railway in Europe, which climbs to the summit of Jungfrau offering incredible views. Some of the other railways in the area, including the Schynige Platte and the run from Grindelwald to Wengen, are also pretty special.
It is also home to one of the most beautiful villages in the world in Gimmelwald, a tiny corner of heaven on a mountainside high above the Lauterbrunnen valley. Most of the houses are gorgeous old flower-decked wooden chalets and huts, the only sound is the occasional chime of a cowbell, and the mountain views are stupendous.
And when the snow arrives in winter, Wengen and Grindelwald are two of the best skiing destinations in Switzerland.
Best time to visit the Swiss Alps
In three words: all year round. In summer, you have glorious green Alpine valleys and mountains, and some of the best hikes in the world, as well as some of the best railway journeys in the world, with trains hauling themselves up seemingly impossible gradients. When the snow descends, the same places are among the best skiing destinations in Europe.
David Angel is a British writer and photographer who has been travelling and photographing the world for over 25 years. His work is regularly featured in worldwide media including the BBC, the Guardian, the Times and the Sunday Times.