Whether it’s gentle walks with younger kids or serious hiking holidays, seems families are keener than ever to stride out. Rudolf Abraham tracked down five of the best hikes in Europe to do with kids. So before you lace up your boots, take a look.
Family walks on the Isle of Man Coast Path
A light sea mist is just starting to roll in off the Irish Sea, gulls shriek, and foam-streaked waves churn relentlessly at the base of enormous sea stacks. My daughter sits on a sloping ledge of rock, hugging her knees and taking in the view, at a parentally enforced safe distance from the edge of a cliff.
This spot is known as The Chasms, between Port St Mary and Port Erin on the Isle of Man coastal path, which we’re doing a chunk of over several days. Also known as the Raad ny Foillan or ‘Way of the Gull’, the trail makes a complete circuit of the island. It also takes in some of the most mind-bogglingly beautiful coastal scenery anywhere in the British Isles. So you can expect anything from giant sea cliffs to sandy beaches. There are rugged hills streaked with yellow gorse and then woodland glens where waterfalls tumble and the air is redolent with wild garlic.
And it’s all amazingly accessible with kids. This is both despite and partly because of the sheer drama of the landscape. After all, why would aspiring little hikers be any more interested in a boring walk than I am?
The wildlife is incredible, from kittiwakes and guillemots to grey seals and basking sharks. We even saw around 100 wallabies (yes, wallabies) bounding about in the north of the island. However, just as often it feels like stepping into a living geology textbook. A little way beyond The Chasms, my daughter is fascinated by the 485-million-year-old rock formations at The Sound, where the headland splinters off into the sea.
There’s plenty to get excited about off the walking trail as well. For instance, at Peel we spend half a day out kayaking, heading around the far side of Peel Castle, where seals poke their heads above the surface and watch us from just a few paddle strokes away.
How to do Isle of Man walking holidays
How long is the walk
160km takes round about 12 days. Walking some sections from a base is possible, with careful planning around bus times.
How to get to Isle of Man
UK flights to Isle of Man from London, Liverpool, Manchester, Bristol or Belfast take from 40 minutes.
Steam Packet operates catamaran services between Liverpool and Douglas on Isle of Man and also runs Isle of Man ferries from Heysham.
Juliana Trail, one of the best family walks in Slovenia
The trail above Slovenia’s Begunje contours open pasture, with the spire of St Peter’s Church ahead, and the soaring ridge of Begunjščica on the left.
The view here is one of the many highlights on the Juliana Trail in Slovenia. This long-distance route makes a complete circuit of the country’s highest mountain, Triglav, without climbing it. Much more straightforward than you’d expect for an extended romp through the Julian Alps, it’s great for families, with only a few steep sections and nothing too alarming.
Overnights are at hotels and guesthouses, so there’s no need to carry much, and every stage is easily accessible by public transport.
One of the prettiest stretches of the trail is along the Soča Valley, between Kobarid and Bovec. The path follows the river, the water an intense shade of emerald green. You can swim in the Soča, though it’s bracing to put it mildly. My daughter is brave enough to try, while I remain sitting on a rock in the sun.
We spend a few extra nights in Bovec at the lovely Sanje ob Soči Hotel. From here we can make day-trips further up the valley to see the incredible Soča Gorge. Alternatively a cable car takes us to Kanin on the Italian border. Then, continuing up the Koritnica Valley, we explore hidden gorges and forest trails, finishing with an epic view of the valley.
The Juliana jumps over the border into Italy for one night. It’s a stunning hike up to the Predil Pass, but a bit too much road walking on the far side. So it’s worth getting a bus between Cave del Predil and Tarvisio.
How to walk the Juliana Trail with kids
How long is the walk
270km and takes between 2 and 3 weeks, an optional extension of 60km adds another 4 days.
How to get to Slovenia
Daily direct UK flights to Ljubljana take from 2 hours, 40 minutes.
Beachy walking on the Northumberland Coast Path
The beach at Cheswick Sands is a great sun-drenched or wind-whipped (or both) swathe of pale sand, its roaring surf backed by some of the tallest sand dunes on the Northumberland coast.
The first time my daughter walked along the beach here, she was quite literally ecstatic. I have memories of a small purple-clad figure racing tirelessly across the sands. Backwards and forwards and around channels she ran, stick in hand, rucksack on her back, barefoot and shrieking like a banshee.
The Northumberland Coast Path stretches between Cresswell and Berwick-upon-Tweed, covering the length of this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It’s an easy walk on good paths, with some sections along beaches. So there’s also plenty of scope for impromptu swims. Expect incredible opportunities for spotting birdlife too – binoculars are a must. Plus, there are more castles than you can shake a stick at. Hiking up the coast from Craster we pass the sprawling ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle and Bamburgh Castle. Alnwick Castle, the location for Hogwarts, is only slightly off route.
We were walking the Cheswick Sands section of the Coast Path in reverse, with two nights at the Lindisfarne Inn and a daytrip to Holy Island sandwiched in between. The island hop is one of the highlights of the route, which comes with the exciting prospect of walking out across the sands following the old Pilgrim’s Route.
The important detail about visiting Holy Island, is that you can only do so at low tide. Checking the safe crossing times is essential, as even the causeway ends up under water at high tide. Allow up to two hours for the crossing. Then aim to complete it by the midpoint of the safe crossing window and do the same on return.
After splish-splashing out across the sands, we spent the afternoon visiting Lindisfarne Castle and the ruins of Lindisfarne Priory.
How to walk the Northumberland Coast Path
How long is the walk
100km and approximately six days, but allow an extra day for a visit to visit Holy Island.
How to get to Berwick-upon-Tweed
LNER operates direct trains between London and Berwick-upon-Tweed
Long and short walks in Croatia with kids
The wooden boardwalks at Plitvice Lakes National Park weave across lakes and reed beds. They pass below chains of travertine falls, and merge into rocky paths. Then suddenly, they turn, to reveal sweeping views of cascading waterfalls, rushing channels or still, emerald green pools.
Plitvice is the best-known national park in Croatia and enormously popular. It’s also a World Heritage Site and for kids a place which appearSsgenuinely magical. You can easily get round the main trails in half-a-day. However, set off early, as later in the day the boardwalks become crowded as tour buses arrive.
If you want to learn about the park as you explore, book a walking tour and boat trip round Plitvice with local guides.
There are oodles of other, less busy places to go hiking with kids in Croatia, too. You’ll find rocky trails on islands such as Lošinj and Krk. Or head to Gorski kotar for extended tracts of wilderness where the forests are home to bear and lynx.
And then there’s Velebit. Croatia’s most extensive and rewarding mountain range. Velebit encompasses two national parks, and as well as day-hikes offers an extended mountain traverse. The Velebit Mountain Trail is a good choice for experienced hikers with older children. Just make sure everyone is happy to forego creature comforts and carry 10-days worth of food and equipment.
Planning walks at Plitvice Lakes and Velebit Croatia
How long is the walk
Plitvice Lakes and Velebit walks can take from a few hours to 10 days or more.
How to get to Croatia
Direct UK flights to Zadar in Croatia take from 3 hours, 55 minutes.
Day walks with kids in Salzkammergut Austria
It’s the third day of a two-week hiking trip in the Salzkammergut region of Austria, and the trail up Loser is long, hot and steep. After zigzagging up from the shore of Altausseer See, we stop for lunch on the terrace of Loserhütte. Then continuing up the rocky, slightly exposed section below the summit, we pause for breath and take in the stupendous views.
Back at Altausseer See, we dangle our feet in the lake as water boatmen skitter past and the sun sets on the enormous face of Trisselwand.
In a country packed with superlative mountain scenery, there’s little to touch the Salzkammergut region for family hiking. As well as daily swims in one of the region’s 76 lakes, you’ll find ice caves and historic salt mines to visit. There’s a mountain railway as well as a slew of places where you can jump on a ferry or hire a paddle boat. Plus, the walks here cover all levels of ability from lakeside strolls to challenging mountain trails and via ferrata routes.
We base ourselves near Altausseer See for several days, doing walks near the lake and neighbouring Grundlsee, including the stunning Trisselwand, and Drei Seen Blick (Three Lakes Viewpoint).
We explore the gentler slopes of Grünberg, which has a treetop walk on top as a bonus. Hiking to a lovely remote little lake, Laudachsee, we’re surrounded by grassy meadows.
But of all the walks we did, my daughter’s favourite was the trail to Plombergstein. This winds up above Wolfgangsee through giant, labyrinthine boulders and narrow canyons to a broad summit. According to legend the boulders are all that remains of three princes who set out from Salzburg to find the finest view in the world. So captivated were they by this view that all three never left and were finally turned to stone.
Planning walks in Salzkammergut Austria
How long is the walk
Two day walks, each takes about seven hours.
How to get to Salzburg
Direct daily UK flights to Salzburg take from 1 hours, 50 minutes.
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