Active holidays: 12 last-minute outdoor activities in Europe

By Stephanie Campisi

The best travel memories stem from those spontaneous spur-of-the-moment decisions. While having flights, hotels and car hire sorted ahead of time may work for some, others prefer to roll with the moment. If you’re feeling the pull to get out and get active right now, we’ve got you covered. These are some of our favourite high-octane European spots ideal for last-minute outdoorsy activities.

Hop on a plane, train or bicycle, and hit the ground running!

Sandstone bouldering in Fontainebleau – France

Spiderman's calling: why not go bouldering in France?
Spiderman’s calling: why not go bouldering in France?

Get those hands chalked up and ready for a world-class bouldering experience. “Bleu” has been the go-to spot for Alpine climbers since the late 19th century. Whether you’re a beginner or a pro, this sandstone climbing destination has your bouldering needs sorted. There are rocks of all shapes, sizes and difficulty scattered throughout 50km of incredible forest. Just pick one and start working up a sweat.

Spring or autumn are your best bets for friendly weather conditions, and you can get there via train from Paris in under 40 minutes.

Cycling the River Elbe’s Vltava Tributary – Czech Republic

Biking along the Elbe is the perfect summer activity
Biking along the Elbe is the perfect summer activity

Everything’s better on a bicycle – even the Vltava River. A stunning bohemian tributary of the mighty Elbe, it heads right through Prague and all the way up to Berlin. So can you, if your legs can handle it!

Other popular jaunts include Prague to Melnik and Prague to the quaint village of Karlstejn. Depending on your itinerary you’ll pass the Krkonoše Mountains, medieval towns and incredible natural rock formations. Just bring your bike and follow the river to the destination of your choice. It’s all part of the EuroVelo network, so finding your way is a cinch.

Kayaking in Fermanagh Lakelands – Ireland

The Fermanagh Lakelands provide some pretty amazing landscapes
The Fermanagh Lakelands provide some pretty amazing landscapes

About a 1.5-hour drive from Belfast, the Fermanagh Lakelands is a lush expanse of scenic lakes and astonishing greenery. The Upper and Lower Lough Erne are favourite spots for canoeing and kayaking, with about 50km of trails to paddle.

If you really want to test your stamina, head from the Woodford River to the city of Limerick. There are recreational facilities at Enniskillen offering tours and bike hire, plus nearby marinas make it easy to pick up the gear you need to make a day of it. Be sure to keep an eye out for the ‘local history’ signs. They’ll give you a crash course about the area as you paddle along.

Spelunking in Thrihnukagigur Volcanic Cave – Iceland

Put spelunking in the Thrihnuakagigur Volcanic Cave immediately on your bucket list
Put spelunking in the Thrihnuakagigur Volcanic Cave immediately on your bucket list

An impressive name for an impressive attraction.

Just 25 minutes from Reykjavik, the Thrihnuakagigur Volcanic Cave is an incredible spelunking destination inside a dormant volcano. The name means ‘three peaks crater’, and one of those three peaks will be your home for the next 5-6 hours. To get to the volcano you’ll hike for about 50 minutes, then descend about 120 meters in an open cable lift. Once there you’ll marvel at multi-coloured rock, frozen lava and eye-catching black fissures left by draining magma.

Wear warm clothing, because it’s chilly inside. The cave is open May – October.

Hiking in Grindelwald – Switzerland

Who would say no to hiking when you get this view?
Who would say no to hiking when you get this view?

Prefer to explore on foot? Grindelwald is just what the doctor ordered. A mountainous region with lofty peaks and amazing vistas, it’s ribboned with 11 incomparable hiking routes. Schynige Platte gives you awe-inspiring views of the Bernese Alps, while Mannlichen to Wengen boasts a backdrop of mountainous giants. Grosse Scheidegg to Bussalp is a shorter hike with glacial views galore.

If you’re short on time, hop on the scenic train to quickly check off the main attractions. Grindelwald is about 3 hours from Zurich.

Whitewater rafting in Sjoa River – Norway

About 3.5 hours from either Oslo or Trondheim, the Sjoa River is the Norwegian hotspot for white-knuckle whitewater rafting. Kayaking and river boarding are also on offer for those who can handle getting wet. Activities are offered through various providers, so if you’re with family or less experienced rafters, you can dial down the difficulty and pick a slower-moving route.

If you’re up for a different type of nature experience, book in for a canyoning expedition. You’ll hike mountains, waterfalls and natural reservoirs, and a raised heart rate is a guarantee. Wear warm clothing and go in the warmer months.

Rock climbing in Montserrat – Spain

Get up there and enjoy the view
Get up there and enjoy the view

Welcome to the spiritual heartland of Catalonian climbing!

Just an hour’s drive from Barcelona, Montserrat is Spain’s largest climbing area. An imposing cobblestone crown above rolling vineyards, it boasts thousands of climbing routes. The east end of the park is home to the most popular climbs, plus a picturesque Benedictine Monastery worthy of an Instagram post or two. If a day’s climbing isn’t enough, you can book a room there or at one of the park’s ‘refugis’.

Spring and autumn offer prime weather conditions; shade is scarce in summer.

Hiking West Highland Way – Scotland

It's all about you and the hiking trail
It’s all about you and the hiking trail

A stone’s throw (30 mins) from Glasgow, the West Highland Way is Scotland’s first long-distance hiking route. It spans 151km, all of them worth the blisters you’ll get in your 7-8 day walk. The trek takes you from Milngavie to Fort William, and you can tack on a day by detouring via the Kelvin Walkway.

You’ll venture through fields and pastures, along the rugged highlands, then across the famed moors. The route consists of 8 different stages and all are well-signed. There are a handful of tiny towns with food and accommodation options along the way. You can also camp under the stars if you want to stick close to nature.

North Sea Cycle Routes – Netherlands

Take a break and greet the "locals"
Take a break and greet the “locals”

At almost 6000km, the North Sea Cycle Route involves a serious investment of leg power. But the beauty is that you can pick and choose exactly where you want to hop on or off the route.

In the Netherlands, take LF1 or LF10 (the Dutch Coastal Route) and go exploring in either direction. This route follows the coast, cutting through the Hague along the way. From the Hague you can also take the Middle of Holland Route (L4), heading through the Rhine Valley, or the Princes’ Route (LF11) to Rotterdam and Breda. The scenery spans sand dunes, national parks and picturesque towns.

Caving in Postojna – Slovenia

Explore Slovenia's underworlds
Explore Slovenia’s underworlds

About half an hour from Ljubljana, Postojna Cave is an underground setting like no other. Formed by the Pivka River, this incredible karst system is 24km long. Plus it’s home to an underground train that’s been running for 140 years. The train will drop you off to explore massive stalagmites along with odd sights like an underground post office and the thoroughly weird “olm”, a type of salamander.

Adventure tours are available for cavers who’d prefer a more hands-on experience of the cave. Looming above the cave is Predjama Castle, built high into the cliff face. In summer, it’s home to a “knight” tournament.

Kitesurfing in Amager – Denmark

The Danes love being active during the summer months
The Danes love being active during the summer months

Just 15 minutes from Copenhagen, Amager Strandpark is the destination for wind and kitesurfing. At 3 kilometres, it’s the biggest beach in Copenhagen. Think soft white sand along with shallows ideal for waiting out that perfect gust. There’s also a surf school for newbies who want to try their luck on a board.

Spring and autumn are best for good winds; if you’re a swimmer you’ll want to stick to the summer months. Still hungry for more? Head to nearby Allerød or Ishøj.

Horseriding in Lohja – Finland

Trekking on horseback might just be the thing for you this year
Trekking on horseback might just be the thing for you this year

Those Finns sure know how to ride. Join their ranks with a trekking trip on horseback. Climb up in the saddle of one of the nation’s famous Finnish horses, then embark on a trail ride, trek or hack.

Options range from quick 2-hour jaunts to multi-day adventures aimed at experienced riders. Summertime riding offers the most pleasant weather, but you can also trek through the snow in winter. Equestrianism is huge in Finland, with options all the way up into Lapland. But if time is of the essence, saddle up in Lohja, about 50km from Helsinki.

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