Western Europe offers infinite opportunities to get active in its great outdoors. Its varied geography and climate means it offers the full range of pursuits: from swimming, surfing, windsurfing, paddleboarding and boating on its coastline, to skiing, snowboarding and mountaineering in its peaks, and fishing, hiking and cycling almost everywhere.


Europe's many lakes, rivers and diverse coastlines offer an incredible variety of boating options. You can houseboat in France, kayak in Switzerland, charter a yacht in Greece, row on a peaceful Alpine lake, join a cruise along the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers from Amsterdam to Vienna (and beyond), rent a sailing boat on the French Riviera, go white-water rafting in Austria, or pilot a canal boat along the extraordinary canal network of Britain (or Ireland, or France) – the possibilities are endless.


Along with hiking, cycling is ideal for getting up close to the scenery. It's also a superb way to get around many cities and towns.

Popular cycling areas include the Belgian Ardennes, the west of Ireland, much of the Netherlands (the world's most bike-friendly nation), the coasts of Sardinia and Puglia in Italy, anywhere in the Alps (for those fit enough), and the south of France.

Check with your airline about taking bikes in the cargo hold. Alternatively, places to hire a bicycle are myriad. Bikes can be carried on most European trains (some outside peak hours).


Keen hikers can spend a lifetime exploring Western Europe's trails. Popular routes feature places to stay, often with jaw-dropping views.

Highlights include:

The Alps Spanning Switzerland, Austria, Germany and Italy, with bell-wearing dairy cows and trails organised with Swiss precision.

Pyrenees Follow trails through hills in both France and Spain.

Corsica and Sardinia Sun-drenched rugged beauty, with a Mediterranean view around every corner.

Northern Portugal A glass of port awaits after a day on the trail.

Connemara Prime hillwalking on the west coast of Ireland.

Scotland Vast tracts of wilderness.

In the UK, Ramblers (www.ramblers.org.uk) is a nonprofit organisation that promotes long-distance walking and can help you with maps and information. The British-based Ramblers Holidays (www.ramblersholidays.co.uk) offers hiking-oriented trips in Europe and elsewhere.

For shorter day hikes, local tourist offices are excellent resources.

Every country in Western Europe has national parks and other scenic areas or attractions. Guided hikes are often available.

Skiing & Snowboarding

In winter Europeans take to the pistes, flocking to hundreds of resorts in the Alps and Pyrenees for downhill skiing and snowboarding. Cross-country skiing is also very popular in some areas, such as around Switzerland's St Moritz.

Equipment hire (or even purchase) can be relatively cheap, and the hassle of bringing your own skis may not be worth it. Intersport Rent (www.intersportrent.com) has numerous outlets.

The ski season generally lasts from early December to late March, though at higher altitudes it may extend an extra month either side. Snow conditions can vary greatly from one year to the next and from region to region, but January and February tend to be the best (and busiest) months.

For comprehensive reports on ski conditions, try OnTheSnow (www.onthesnow.com).

Surfing & Windsurfing

Surfing hotspots include Ireland's west coast, France (especially around Biarritz), Spain (especially around San Sebastián) and Portugal. Gear rental and lessons are readily available.

Windsurfing is a European passion, practised most places there's water and sand (which also says something about the breezy nature of Western European beaches and lakes). It's easy to rent sailboards in many tourist centres, and courses are usually available for beginners.