Family Walking Holidays: multi day hikes in Europe
Following on from very successful family holidays in both the Swiss Alps and the Italian Dolomites, I’ve put together this list of multi-day hikes which are suitable for families. I was really impressed by how well my children tackled a three day hike in Switzerland so I’m hoping they have caught the mountain trekking bug. Family walking holidays do not need to be arduous, if you pick the right level for your family, the trip can be a really great way to spend quality time together.
I’ve enlisted the help of some other travel bloggers to come up with this varied selection of walks in Europe for families. These treks range from traditional alpine hikes to coastal walks with a couple of well known routes as well as some relatively off the beaten track hikes. The family walks can be done independently without the need for a guide and so they represent a relatively cost effective family holiday. If some members of your family need a bit of rest and relaxation at the end of the hike, there are plenty of ways to include an extension to the trip by spending time at a lake or a beach.
If you’re looking for a sustainable holiday this summer (I know the term is a bit of an oxymoron but I’m trying!), it’s possible to reach quite a few of these hikes without the need to fly. Most of them are accessible from a hub city using public transport and quite a few of them can be reached by train or car from the UK.
What age can you do a multi day hike with kids?
Parents know their kids best. Our children were aged seven and five for our first multi day hike. One of our boys gets bored quite quickly, he can cycle for miles but loses interest rather easily when it comes to walking. So for us, it was important to pick a route which had plenty of interest to keep him entertained. The family walking holiday we undertook in Switzerland was perfect for this as there were different terrains, lakes for swimming, rushing rivers, and plenty of sticks and stones to be examined (or thrown).
Don’t try to tackle anything too difficult if you’re trying your first family multi-day hike. It’s better to start off with something easily achievable to test the water rather than jumping straight in with something overly demanding. It is a holiday for everyone after all: if your children don’t enjoy it, you probably won’t either. The hikes I’ve compiled in this post range from relatively easy options which children of most ages should be able to complete, to more demanding family walking holidays which are better suited to older children who have a good level of fitness.
What to take on family walking holidays
When we were packing for our family walking holiday, aside from plenty of snacks and a change of clothes and pyjamas, we took very little on our three day trek in the Alps. Hiking in wet clothes isn’t much fun but hiking in dirty clothes means you don’t have a heavy load on your back, one spare set should suffice for a walk of just a few days. If you’re tackling a longer walk of a week or more, you’ll obviously need to pack a bit more but I do believe very strongly in the mantra “less is more” when it comes to hiking, and holiday packing in general.
Props can come in useful for younger children on family walking holidays: hiking poles are popular with our kids, either fashioned from a stick in the forest or the metal sort you buy from a hiking shop. A traditional compass and something that measures the distance you’ve travelled can also be useful distractions.
It’s good to give little children a small rucksack to carry, to get them used to taking a bit of responsibility for their own possessions. Water and snacks can be stashed in their bag along with their change of clothes, this really won’t weigh them down very much but they’ll get a sense of independence.
We brought some playing cards with us for a bit of evening entertainment but the kids generally amused themselves in the evenings without any input from us. Exploring the mountain lodgings and their surroundings and meeting other children kept our lot happy.
Obviously, water proof gear is essential as the weather changes very quickly in the mountains. Hats (for sun or warmth) are essential and plenty of plasters for sore feet are also a good idea. Swimwear and a lightweight travel towel (we have ones from Dock and Bay and from Decathlon) are also useful.
Maderanertal Valley, Switzerland
- Starting point: Bristen, 100 kilometres south of Zurich
- Length of hike: approximately 20 kilometres
- Required time: 2 or 3 days
- Suitable for families with children from age 5
- Difficulty level: easy
This incredible three day family-friendly hike is the inspiration behind this blog post. I wasn’t sure how my boys would fair on this three day walk but I needn’t have worried. Aside from a bit of hiking pole envy from the younger one (his friends had all the proper gear and we didn’t) we managed the walk pretty well.
The hike begins at Bristen where a cable car takes you up to the small settlement of Golzern. From there it’s a 20 minute walk to the lake of the same name. This is a popular day trip destination for families as the views are stunning, swimming is divine and there’s a fire pit for cooking lunch. We spent the afternoon at the lake before spending the night at Golzern.
Our second day involved descending along a rocky forest path to the Chärstelenbach river. There’s a dairy next to the river where we grabbed some lunch before walking up a track to the Maderanertal Hotel which overlooks the valley below. After our overnight stay at the Maderanertal we followed the river back down the valley to a delightful guesthouse for lunch before returning to Bristen.
Most of this family-friendly hike in Switzerland was flat or downhill making it a good option for young children. Some sections are steep (descending), rocky and a bit slippery after rain. If you want to make this walk more demanding, you can hike up to Golzern rather than taking the cable car.
- Find out more about our hike in the Maderanertal Valley
- Unwind after your hike with a stay on one of the Italian Lakes: Maggiore, Lugano and Como are all within three hours drive of this hike. Alternatively, head to Zurich where you can combine a city break with lake swimming and hiking in the nearby mountains (in case you haven’t hiked enough!)
The Jämtland Triangle, Sweden
by Beata from Stunning Outdoors
- Starting point: Storulvån mountain station, 160 kilometres from Östersund, public transport is available to take you there
- Length of hike: 46 kilometres
- Required time: three days
- Suitable for families with children aged from around five years
- Difficulty level: easy
The Jämtland Triangle is a 46 kilometre hike between three mountain stations in Sweden’s Jamtland County. It is a hike loved by Swedish nature enthusiasts and is suitable for families, even with young kids.
The huts belong to The Swedish Tourist Association and all provide beds, homemade locally sourced food and hot showers. The Jämtland Triangle hike starts at Storulvån Fjallstation and usually takes three days to complete. We walked it anticlockwise and recommend it, as the total elevation gain is lower.
On the first day hikers walk 13 kilometres to stay overnight at Blåhammaren Fjallstation, well known for its local cuisine and being the highest located station in Sweden. The second day is the most challenging, as the next mountain station – Sylarna, is located 19 kilometres away. The majority of the route is easy and downhill apart from the final 3.5 kilometres. Its location is magical due to being surrounded by the Syl massif, one can also enjoy the wood burn sauna. Absolutely recommended!
On the third day hikers need to walk 16 kilometres back to the starting point. Most of the day, the trail runs through rolling hills, the wettest sections are planked.
Why do we think this hike is suitable for kids? The path is wide, well defined and the total ascents on each day are not huge. There are huts mid- way, on each leg, where one can have a break or hide from the wind. Jamtland is a Sami land, which means reindeer herds are roaming freely and chances of spotting them are very high. Kids will definitely enjoy observing them.
- Find out more about the Jämtland Triangle and why it’s perfect for a family walking holiday from Beata on her blog.
- Jamtland is pretty remote (you’re 160 kilometres from Östersund and 700 kilometres from Stockholm) but it’s a great option for families looking for an environmentally low impact holiday as you can take an overnight train to the region. Beata recommends extending your stay in the area by visiting nearby Vålådalen. There is heaps to do for a family activity holiday: kayaking, hiking, cycling, wild swimming (I’d probably bring a wetsuit for that) or simply chilling out in a hot tub. The hotel at Vålådalen looks amazing: it’s family friendly with activities recommended for children and you can stay in a log cabin with a little kitchen. I’m sold, are you?
Tour du Mont Blanc, France/Italy/Switzerland
by Gabi Robledo from Nomads with a Purpose
- Starting point: Chamonix, France (traditionally) or Courmayeur, Italy
- Length of hike: 170 kilometres
- Required time: 10-12 days, 5 hours per day on average
- Best for kids aged 10+
- Difficulty level: moderate-strenuous
The Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) is majestic, stunning, and known as one of the greatest multi-day treks in the world. Circumnavigating one of the world’s most iconic peaks, Mont Blanc, every single step along the Tour du Mont Blanc serves up incredible views that go above and beyond your expectations. Unlike most nature treks where you have to carry a tent, your own food, and sleep in the backcountry, on the TMB, you don’t have to worry about roughing it, making it great for a family walking holiday. You’ll get to sleep in stunning mountain refuges complete with four course meals, comfy beds, and hot showers.
The food in itself is enough of a reason to hike the TMB. Crossing over three different countries, each with their own culinary specialities, you’ll get to eat everything from croissants, to espresso, tartes, cheese, and a whole lot of wine. Though the entire circuit gains 33,000 feet in elevation over 105 miles, there are many variations to the trek which make it easier with kids. One popular option is to hike half of the TMB one year, and half the next. Or, stick with the traditional route and take a full 11 days to complete the circuit. This requires only 9 miles of hiking per day on average, which means you can hike slow, take your time, and enjoy all the delights of the TMB without the pressure to hike something wildly strenuous. Even easier, there are many places where you can opt to cut out sections of walking with public transportation.
- Find out more about the Tour du Mont Blanc on the Nomads with a Purpose blog.
- After your hike, there are tons of hotels and apartments for all budgets in the surrounding area. You’ll find swimming pools, hot tubs and plenty more to keep all of the family busy (or not busy depending on how you feel). Alternatively, Lake Annecy, with its pretty medieval town, is around an hour’s drive away.
Camino de Santiago, Spain
by Wendy at the Nomadic Vegan
- Starting point: Sarria, north west Spain (one of many options)
- Length of hike: 117 kilometres
- Required time: five days of walking 18 to 24 kilometres per day
- Suitable for families with children aged from around five years
- Difficulty level: easy
The Camino de Santiago is a medieval pilgrimage trail that starts from many different points across Europe and finishes in Santiago de Compostela, a city in the northwestern corner of Spain where the relics of St. James are said to be kept in the Cathedral. In recent years, the Camino has seen a resurgence, with thousands of modern-day pilgrims walking the Camino Francés route that starts in France and continues all the way across northern Spain.
One of the great things about the Camino is the ability to start at any point on the route, depending on how much time you have and what your needs and interests are. For a family walking holiday, the most popular choice is Sarria, a town in Galicia that sits 117 kilometres from Santiago. The reason Sarria is such a popular choice is that if you start here you will cover just over 100 kilometres, which is the minimum distance required to receive the compostela — a certificate issued by the Catholic Church to those who complete the pilgrimage.
There is plenty of infrastructure to accommodate walkers, with pilgrims’ hostels located in every small town and village on the route. You’ll also find plenty of restaurants and cafés that serve food, and increasingly they are catering for gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian pilgrims and those with other dietary requirements.
- More information about the walk from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela can be found on the Camino website under the Camino Francés section.
- If you’d like to spend more time in Galicia after this hike, Vintage Travel (one of my favourite villa companies) offers some very appealing looking properties with private swimming pools near some of the region’s stunning beaches.
Cinque Terre, Italy
by Alexander at Destinavo
- Starting point: Monterosso in the north or Riomaggiore in the south, in Liguria, north western Italy
- Length of hike: 11 kilometres
- Required time: this can be done in one day (around six hours) but each town warrants at least 2-3 hours of exploring, and it’s typically recommended to stay here for 2-3 days minimum
- Suitable for families of any age as sections can be done by train if you have very young children. However, some paths do have dangerous drops so it’s worth researching which is most suitable for particularly young kids. (Note that most of the paths are not suitable for pushchairs)
- Difficulty level: easy
Hiking in Cinque Terre is a dream for many visitors to Italy and the natural walks between the five villages in Cinque Terre have been used for centuries. One of the most popular routes goes between Monterosso and Vernazza. It takes about one hour and 20 minutes and covers a distance of 3.5 kilometres. It’s fairly moderate and regular fitness level will be enough.
Start from Monterosso and walk to Vernazza, and just before you start your walk down into the town of Vernazza, you’ll get one of the best views from above. Another beautiful walk goes from Corniglia to Vernazza and the best starting point is from the train station in Corniglia, where you will begin the walk by climbing several flights of stairs up to the town. Then you’ll stroll through the small town of Corniglia before continuing on the nature trail towards Vernazza. Try to time the sunset in Vernazza since you’ll arrive from the other side of the town. The walk between Corniglia and Vernazza is 4.1 kilometres and takes about an hour and a half to complete.
- It’s essential to research a trip to the Cinque Terre in advance and to keep a look out for updates to the routes as some trails can get damaged due to poor weather or over-use. There are various websites with details on the routes and where to stay. This is the national park’s official site: Parco Nazionale delle Cinque Terre
- The Cinque Terre is a very popular area so if you’re keen to escape the crowds after your hike, I’d recommend heading somewhere a bit quieter if you want to extend your family holiday. We visited Corsica in the height of summer and found parts of it were really peaceful. There are ferry crossings to Corsica from Genoa and La Spezia. Alternatively, if you fancy sticking with Italy, I’ve put together a road trip itinerary which takes you across central Italy to Le Marche where you’ll find quiet mountain villages and long sandy beaches.
The Fishermen’s Trail, Rota Vicentina, Portugal
by Campbell and Alya at Stingy Nomads
- Starting point: Porto Covo – a small town in the Alentejo region, 260 kilometres south of Lisbon, 180 kilometres north of Faro.
- Length of hike: 76 kilometres
- Required time: 4 days, 20 kilometres per day average
- Suitable for families with children aged seven plus
- Difficulty level: easy/moderate
The Fishermen’s Trail is one of the two long-distance routes of the Rota Vicentina – a network of walking routes in the south of Portugal. The total distance of the trek is 76 kilometres. The route follows the coastline and offers incredible scenery; rugged cliffs, sandy beaches, hidden bays, and the endless ocean. It’s a great area to come for a family vacation where you can combine a beach holiday and hiking.
The trail starts in Porto Covo and finishes in Odeceixe, both towns are accessible by bus from Sete Rios terminal in Lisbon. The route is well-marked and easy to follow, no chances of getting lost here.
Every stage of the trek finishes at a small town where hikers can find plenty of accommodation options, a couple of restaurants and shops, no need to carry camping gear and food, this makes the trek perfect for a family walking holiday.
Spring is the best time for walking the Fishermen’s Trail. The weather is nice and warm, not too many people, fields are covered in flowers and there are many storks’ nests built on the edge of the cliffs.
- Find out more about the Fisherman’s Trail on the Stingy Nomads blog.
- There are endless places to extend your holiday in this part of Portugal: villas and apartments on the Algarve are plentiful. Alternatively head to Lisbon for a few days of culture.
Fancy mixing walking with a spot of culture? Take a look at my post about sculpture trails in the UK which has a great selection of walks for families who want to engage their children with art.
Have you taken any family walking holidays with your children? Let me know in the comments below if you have any suggestions for family-friendly hikes in Europe.
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