There’s a reason Europe is one of the world’s most popular travel destinations. It’s honestly hard to not like Europe. The colorful buildings and cobbled streets, the endless waterfalls and huge mountains, and the small villages filled with green meadows. While each country in Europe is slightly different, you can’t go wrong with any trip to Europe. These 8 itineraries are all great ways to experience Europe!
Back in 2016, we flew from the States and landed in Europe for our first trip to Europe. For the first six weeks, we lived out of a tent as we road tripped through Norway, Ireland, and Germany. Then, we rented an RV, or camper as they call them in Europe, and road tripped through 13 more countries in western Europe and the UK. It was incredible and a life changing experience to say the least.
While we still ventured into the big cities, our main goal was to find great destinations to hike, surf, and rock climb. If you too want to immerse yourself in culture, gorgeous nature, and seek adventure, try one (or all) of these great European itineraries.
Since the entire 6 months we visited were spent camping, I’ve included recommended camping spots in the descriptions of each destinations however if you’re not interested in camping, recommended accommodation links are included at the end of each Europe itinerary
A Few Tips for A Trip to Europe
If You Are On A Road Trip: In most European countries, the grocery stores are closed on Sunday! Stock up on Saturday. I can’t tell you how many Sundays we starved because I’d forget what day it was and not stock up.
If You Plan on Camping: If your Europe trip keeps getting put on the back burner because of your small budget, I highly recommend considering camping. Camping can greatly reduce the cost of your trip and in Europe camping is SO EASY. Check out our blog, Tent Camping in Europe for more tips. Campervanning in Europe is even easier than tent camping.
1 | Ireland
Fly In and Out Of: Dublin
The Irish are some of the nicest people you will ever meet. But don’t think for a second that they speak English While the accent sometimes makes it hard to understand what they are saying, the Irish love to chat and you’ll likely get caught up in an hour conversation on weather, politics, or food.
The Guiness is better than you can imagine and that is saying something because I don’t drink stouts, but Guiness is so good I couldn’t resist. And while I did see a lot of gluten free options in Ireland, I was glad I didn’t have to test them because the scones, soda bread, and cakes were to die for.
Driving in Ireland is an adventure. Remember, if you are coming from the States, not only are you on the opposite side of the road, you are on the opposite side of the car, which in some ways helps because as the driver, you just stay focused on the center line. We rented a manual transmission car so shifting with my left hand felt bizarre and it was hard to get used to having cars pass me on my right side.
Also, if you leave Dublin and head to smaller cities, the roads in Ireland get narrow fast and it’s not abnormal to see tractors on the road. Getting around takes a lot longer than you might be used to if you are from the U.S. What was shocking to me was how tall the hedges were on all the small, single lane roads so it was hard to see oncoming traffic and getting to places like the Burren entailed taking the turns slow and pulling over often to let traffic pass. In many parts of Ireland, and Wales too, the roads are only wide enough for one car. For this reason I was very glad we didn’t have an RV in Ireland.
Hiking trails in Ireland are a loose term and everywhere you hike feels like you are hiking through bogs. Your shoes get soaked and it might be worth the investment to hike in gaiters like the locals do.
Some other interesting facts about Ireland. In Dublin airport, there were waters (not locked up) for sale with an honesty box for you to put your euro in if you wanted to buy one. That pretty much summed up Ireland. I couldn’t even imagine something like that in the States (at least not in California). Gas Stations have really good food. There are sheep everywhere in the middle of the road. Don’t try to outrun the rain
Don’t touch the fences, most are electric for the cows. The temperature stayed between 8-11 degrees celcius the entire 2 weeks
You don’t need to drive the entire island. It’s pretty much all great, but all the same. If I only had one week, I’d spend a day in Dublin, a day in Limerick, three days near Sligo, and a day at the Cliffs of Mohrer. I’d only add Connemara and Clonakilty if I was staying longer.
- Gap of Dunloe
- Cliffs of Mohrer
- The Burren
We actually didn’t get to go here because we had surfboards strapped to the roof of our rental car and our shuttle driver at the airport said they’d likely get stolen if we parked in Dublin. I wasn’t going to risk it since we were just at the start of our 6 month trip. But from what I hear, Dublin is amazing.
If you are staying near Dublin, Wicklow Mountain is nice to explore. There’s rock climbing there and an old mine to hike to. Be sure to drive Sally Gap.
This small town is south of Cork, near Inchydoney Beach where we had planned to surf. I liked how foody this town was and while I wouldn’t go far out of my way to get here, I do recommend it if you are close by. Try to make it to the farmer’s market. I loved staying at this campground. It reminded me of the dwarf’s house from Snow White and the owner, who is hopefully still alive, was a hoot to talk to.
Gap of Dunloe
This is right by the Ring of Kerry, which we skipped because it sounded like way too much driving. Instead, we parked at Kate Kearney’s Cottage where we got hustled into paying for a carriage ride that took us into the Gap of Dunloe. It was pleasant, but after only getting to go partly into The Gap, since our horse had trouble pulling seven of us!, we decided to drive the entire thing. I’m not sure if it is technically allowed but since we saw others doing it, we followed suit. The drive is gorgeous!
This was my favorite larger sized town. King James castle is a must do. Our whole family loved it, especially the part where you can walk the castle courtyard and stand on top of the walls overlooking the entire city. The entire thing was really informational. The Milk Market is another must do. Bring your appetite and a lot of money. This huge farmers market had such good sandwhiches, breads, cheeses, fruits, and more. We even found raw milk and the reddest strawberries I’ve ever seen!
Cliffs of Mohrer + The Burren
Cliffs of Mohrer is another must see, but I recommend parking about a mile north of it and hiking the trail along the cliff to get the best views. I really liked the Burren and wish we could’ve hiked more here, but Tatiana wasn’t in the mood that day. Even if you don’t hike it, just seeing all the limestone pavement and the difference in geology is unique.
This was not one of my favorite places in Ireland because it’s too big and touristy for me, but I think most people would find it worth stopping at for a day or at least to grab lunch on your way to Connemara or Sligo. We enjoyed having a beer and lunch at Oslo Bar in Galeway.
Connemara National Park
We are a bit spoiled since we’ve hiked so many epic destinations. Overall, hiking in Ireland is lovely, but not mind blowing. Connemara was a very pleasant hike with great views.
I liked this surf town a lot. It reminded me of being back in one of the smaller surf towns of California (much smaller). The entire area from Downs Patrich Head and Easky to Ballina and Sligo I found to be just perfect for our family. If you surf or want to feel Irish culture and just rub elbows with locals, this is a great area.
- Eating Your Way Through Ireland
- 3 Off the Beaten Path Places To Visit In Ireland
- 5 Great Family Friendly Hikes In Ireland
Non Camping Accommodation
- Dublin Accommodation
- Clonakilty Accommodation
- Gap of Dunloe/Killarney Accommodation
- Limerick Accommodation
- Cliffs of Moher + The Burren Accommodation
- Galway Accommodation
- Connemara Accomodatoin
- Sligo Accommodation
2 | Central Norway
Fly In and Out Of: Oslo
Norway is the perfect destination if you love nature. On this road trip you are constantly driving past thousand foot waterfalls, lakes so still they form perfect reflections of the surrounding hillsides and farm houses, and gorgeous stretches of snow as far as the eyes can see.
Norway is easy to road trip through. If you rent an RV, there will be plenty of places to pull off and camp. Finding free dump stations is simple here too making it a great road trip if you like to free camp off the beaten path. We rented a car and tent camped on this trip. Camping in Norway is very easy also and the campers kitchens in the campground made it simple to prepare food or take shelter from the elements. Just remember that from June to September the sun only sets for a few hours so bring eye masks or blackout tent. If you rent a camper in Norway it will probably have blackout curtains.
Hike to Fløyen and play on the rad playground by the restaurant. This hike is famous for all the troll statues and has some really cool playgrounds. You can also choose to ride the funicular train up and down, but where’s the adventure in that?! There’s a great bakery right by the bottom of the funicular and I highly recommend going to the Bergen farmers market. You can sample whale!
Tip: It’s a long drive to get from Oslo airport to Bergen so you may want to get a hotel halfway between them. Geilo would be a good option if you are skipping Fläm as it is a big enough town with restaurants, hotels, and stores.
This is a place you could easily spend days in, but the main attraction here is riding the Flam railway, which takes you to Myrdal. You can ride it in both directions or choose to hike or mountain bike one (or both) of the ways.
This was a nice place to stay as a jumping off point to some great hikes and rock climbing. The town itself is big enough to find restaurants and stores if you need to restock supplies. There is a great campground with a gorgeous view of the fjord.
Stryn + Geiranger
The town of Stryn is another great jumping off place for adventure. It had great rock climbing, gorgeous hikes, and the famous Jostedalsbreen glacier.
Make sure to drive up to Geiranger and do the hike above the fjørd.
We stumbled upon this area the day before we had to fly out so we didn’t get enough time to explore it. There was a ton of great hiking and mountain biking here that I hope to go back and do one day.
- 4 Great Hikes In Norway + Kids Can Do Them Too
- 3 Campgrounds I recommend in Norway
- Rock Climbing in Europe: With Beginner Friendly Routes
3 | Southern Germany
Fly Into: Munich
Fly Out Of: Luxembourg or Cologne
Germans love to camp which means you will have no problem finding campgrounds if you choose to road trip through Germany. Showers are almost always free in Germany. It’s easy to camp here too because many of the campgrounds have restaurants on site and bread is delivered hot and fresh every morning. The beer is cold and delicious and you can find sausage wrapped pastries all over the place. Best of all, the beer and bread are very cheap! Don’t forget to go to the metzer for your meat. Yum!
The Mosel River Valley is where you can tour one of the most gorgeous castles, Berg Eltz. Climbers will want to check out Frankenjura although I personally enjoyed climbing near Sonthofen just south of Kempten more.
If I only had a week to spend in Germany, I’d spend 2 days in Munich, 2 days in Frankenjura, and 2 days exploring the Mosel River Valley making sure to stop at the Berg Eltz castle on the way. If you have two weeks, make it a loop and go to the Black Forest, Baden Baden, and Frieberg before heading east and exploring Kempten, Sonthofen, and Fussen.
- Rothenburg ob der Tauber
- Mosel River Valley
- Baden Baden
I’m not a city girl, but I enjoyed Munich a lot and wish we had stayed more days there. Munich is beautiful and has a huge park similar to Central Park in New York that you can spend the day in. A river runs through the park and people line up to surf this one spot where the water hits concrete and forms a wave. It draws a huge crowd of spectators and we decided to #braveforadventure and give it a try. It’s hard! If you are going to try, rent or bring a wetsuit since the water in the river is very cold. Also, use a beater board because when you mess up, your board hits the concrete sides of the canal. If you can’t find it, ask a local where the Eisbach is.
The city also has really amazing architecture to see and a great farmers market. You could easily spend a few days here just so you can take in all the great food.
I wouldn’t necessarily make this my main destination, however it is central to a lot of outdoor experiences, especially rock climbing in the Frankenjura area. Bamburg itself is full of great food and unique architecture, like the Old Town Hall that sits precariously in the middle of a bridge and looks like it is going to fall into the river.
I loved camping on the canal, getting up early to rock climb, stopping at the bakery for sausage wrapped pastries, and finishing the day in Bamburg with a beer and walking the city.
Note to rock climbers: The bolting in Frankenjura is spaced very far and the climbing was very polished. However, the areas down by Kempten were not.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber
This is a very memorable destination in Germany. What makes it unique is that the entire city is walled and you can actually walk the entire perimeter of the wall for free. My kids loved all the armor shops in town that sold real metal armor and weapons, as well as the delicious snowball pastries that are sold all over town. Splurge and take a carriage ride tour of this unique city.
Mosel River Valley
This could be a destination in itself. We loved this area and hope to get back soon to bikepack it. There are 3 great destinations along the river– Berg Eltz, Bernkastle, and Trier. There are great campgrounds along the river, cobblestone villages, and wineries everywhere you look.
Baden Baden & Freiburg
We loved exploring the black forest of Germany and exploring the free ruins of the Baden-Baden castle. The town of Baden- Baden is rad, but yuppie, so my fellow dirtbags, Clean up first 😉
Then head south to the college town of Freiburg. It’s busy with tons of bikes just like Amsterdam but on a smaller scale. Go to the church to see the carving used to measure the size of the bread and again, check out the great farmer’s market. The campground near town was great to stay at and we loved how everyone gathered together to watch the Euro Cup when we were there.
We loved the farmers market here and the square is gorgeous with the cathedral towering over it. I wouldn’t have known to come here if it hadn’t been for trying to get some beta on climbing, but I was so glad I did.
We spent a few days just 30 minutes south of here in near the town of Sonthofen. This area of Germany is gorgeous with it’s flower boxed houses, large rolling hillsides, and steepled churches. If you want an outdoorsy and off-the-beaten-path cultural experience, spend a few days here.
The drive from Sonthofen to Fussen is beautiful. Unlike the Sonthofen area, Fussen is touristy and expensive. It was hard to free camp here and the campgrounds are pricey. If you choose to do the Neuschwenstein castle, it feels like a Disneyland shit show. Sorry, but compared to so many other badass places in Europe, it’s way too commercialized for me.
I did loved hiking the easy trails above the castle and wish we had hiked even higher to get bird’s eye view of the two castles.
- 6 Great Castles You Need To Visit In Europe
- Great Sport Climbing In Europe with Beginner Friendly Routes
Non Camping Accommodation
- Munich Accommodation
- Bamberg Accommodation
- Rothenburg ob der Tauber Accommodation
- Bernkastel (Mosel River Valley) Accommodation
- Baden Baden Accommodation
- Kempten Accommodation
- Fussen Accommodation
4 | The Netherlands + Belgium
Fly in and out of: Amsterdam
The Low Countries have a distinct vibe of their own. They are a melting pot of cultures and you will find people are very friendly. Ghent had incredible architecture and Brugge is a romantic city that we enjoyed a lot, but Delft was definitely the favorite. The Netherlands are as flat as can be but that made it nice for running and biking. We especially loved the bread and apple, nut-filled pastries in the Netherlands. They certainly gave France’s chocolate croissants a run for their money. Amsterdam is a must see once but be alert, bikes are racing past you all the time and it is a big city. We preferred the smaller, quainter city of Haarlem.
The Netherlands + Belgium Itinerary
Wow! I never could’ve imagined the number of bikes zipping by when we walked the city. It’s cool, but you really do have to pay attention or you’ll easily get clipped by a bike in a rush.
This city is much smaller city than it’s neighbor, Amsterdam. We stayed in an apartment overlooking the town square and cathedral here and had such a wonderful time. We enjoyed getting to walk from our apartment to buy our bread, cheese, coffee, chocolate, and wine all from small shops and the food was so good!
We actually ran out of time to visit here and but wish we had. Everyone tells us that you have to go visit Brussels for oysters.
Besides all the incredible architecture, my kids really liked these cool statues that were all over the town. We only spend half a day here, but it was definitely worth stopping at. It is a busier city and good if you like restaurants and shopping. If you want quaint or romantic, stick with Bruge and Delft.
Bruge was one of the highlights of our trip. Next to Paris, it is the most romantic city. There are beautiful canals, gorgeous architecture, and beer, waffles, and chocolate everywhere, which is probably why I loved it.
Delft is the most beautiful hidden gem we came across in Netherlands. We arrived late at night and were looking for a bite to eat and found a cute little restaurant called Kobus Kuch. Mind blown! This affordable restaurant has the absolute best apple pie (with delicious homemade whipped cream on top) I have ever had. We were so obsessed we went there again first thing the next morning. besides the great pie, the city is also beautiful with the canal and cathedral.
Non camping Accommodation
- Brussels Accommodation
- Ghent Accommodation
- Bruges Accommodation
- Delft Accommodation
- Haarlem Accommodation
- Amsterdam Accommodation
- Luxembourg Accommodation
Extend this Itinerary: Luxembourg
If you have time, I recommend linking the Germany road trip with the Belgium/Netherlands or France road trip by driving through Luxembourg. Luxembourg has some unique geological areas and I recommend hiking part of the amazing Mullerthal Trail.
You don’t even need to do the whole thing. The section from Berdorf to Echternach had these cool rocks you could hike through and one section is pitch black and requires headlamps. Don’t worry, you can avoid this part if you choose. We had the most incredible hamburgers with anduluise sauce at one of the campgrounds. There is great rock climbing in Berdorf, but even if you don’t climb, you will want to hike down to check out the beautiful sandstone rocks surrounded by large moss covered rocks and streams.
5 | Croatia
Fly in and out of: Zagreb
Croatia has so much outdoor adventure to explore. I highly recommend visiting at least the two of the national parks. They were great ways to experience Croatia’s gorgeous nature. You should also try to ferry to at least one island. However, I felt it wasn’t that necessary to see a lot of them. They all kinda have the same feel. There are so many small coves to explore along Croatia’s coastline that you will want to travel slow and allow time to stop when you see something you like. The water was quite brisk when we were there in Septmenber, but still nice enough to go for daily swims in. The food, being highly influenced by it’s neighbor, Italy, is delicious and incredibly cheap. There is amazing gelato, pizza, and wine everywhere.
- Plitvice Lakes National Park
- Paklenica National Park
I think Rovinj could be a destination in itself. You can get a great taste of Croatia architecture, food, and arts here while still having access to nature and adventure. I loved the slippery cobblestone streets of Rovinj and the gorgeous views of the sea all around you. There was great rock climbing very near the city and a boardwalk along the sea where you can walk and ride to restaurants and the campgrounds near by. We stayed at Camping Polari.
We also spent a few days on the Krk peninsula. There was a great campground there that sold wine on tap in the campground and it cost only $3USD to fill a 2 liter bottle with wine!
Plitvice Lakes National Park
This national park is so touristy but for a good reason. The waterfalls are gorgeous! Hiking and boating to see the numerous cascading waterfalls and turquoise lakes is a great way to spend one of your days in Croatia. Just make sure you go early. Check out the related Croatia blog below for more details on how we recommend hiking it.
Paklenica National Park
The rock climbing is world class, so easily accessible, and I really enjoyed how it was a melting pot of cultures. Even if you don’t climb, you should come and hike to the cave.
While a little bigger of a city than I tend to enjoy, I thought stopping in Split was great for one day to walk through the castle and down it’s crowded waterfront and much less crowded alleyways. I found the campground in Split to be very enjoyable and this too could’ve been a destination in itself. Even if you aren’t traveling by camper, Camping Split has cabins to rent and this resort like campground is a wonderful place to spend a day or two.
You really have to go explore at least one island while in Croatia. We chose Brać, and while the famous Zlatni Rat beach was too crowded for my taste, there was a huge water inflatable you could pay to play on that was epic.
Again, this could be a destination in itself. In fact we liked it here so much that that’s why we didn’t have enough time to get to Dubrovnik. Which was fine because “Little Dubrovnik” is just a short boat ride away from Orebić so we felt like we saw Dubrovnik. Orebić is a very popular destination for kite and wind surfers. I liked how pedestrian friendly the area was and the food was amazing. We stayed at Antony Boy Campground and found it perfect for us.
Non camping accommodation
- Rovinj Accommodation
- Plitvice Lakes National Park Accommodation
- Paklenica National Park Accommodation
- Split Accommodation
- Brač Accommodation
- Orebić Accommodation
6 | The Alps: Switzerland, France + Italy
Fly in and out of: Milan
Like Norway, this is the place to go if you like nature, mountains, and adventure. There are many options here for outdoor adventure and these are just the ones we choose and absolutely loved.
Interlaken is a haven for outdoor adventurists. Arco offers world class climbing. The Dolomites offer jaw dropping beauty and a rad mix of Italian and Austrian culture. Venice is well, Venice, so you have to see it. Then, the drive from Venice to Florence and on to Cinque Terre takes you through goregous Tuscany, making this road trip itinerary a perfect balance of nature, adventure, and culture.
Switzerland + Italy Itinerary
- Cinque Terre
This is the playground for outdoor adventures. You have so many options from hiking, biking, and climbing to adrenaline packed activities like wing suiting and paragliding. The small towns nestled among famous peaks lake Eiger make this a place you won’t want to rush through.
We actually didn’t get here but wanted to so bad which is why I added it to this road trip itinerary. You could easily omit it and Interlaken and just stick to the 5 Italy destinations below.
This is climbers heaven. There are so many climbing areas near this small Italian town that it’s now become a central hub in the climbing world. If you don’t climb, it’s still worth stopping for a meal on your way to the Dolomites just to experience small town Italian charm. There is also a fun Via Ferrara in town. We enjoyed staying at Camping Zoo, which had a huge pool for the kids to play in. Make sure to bring a swim cap, it’s a requirement in Italy I guess.
The sharp jagged peaks of the Dolomites provide a playground for adventure. From rock climbing and via ferratas to hiking and biking, it’s easy to see why the Dolomites are so popular. Roads here especially up to the passes are small and steep so anytime you can park in towns and take busses up. Again, if adventure isn’t your thing, the small towns scattered throughout the Dolomites are certainly worth visiting. Even though you are in Italy, you’ll sometimes think you’re in Germany or Austria and I loved the melting pot of cultures I experienced here.
Everyone needs to see Venice at least once in their life. While it’s surprisingly not my favorite place, the never ending labyrinth of alleys, streets, and courtyards is something you can’t miss. We literally put our phones away and just wandered the narrow alleyways, crossing over dozens of canals, while trying to get lost. When we had enough, we took our phones out and went to see the touristy areas. You don’t have to drop a lot of money either to experience its charm. One of my best memories from our travels was when we just sat by the water with our feet hanging over the rocks edge watching the people and boats go by. It was wonderful.
Florence is an amazing city to experience Italy’s vibrant architecture and culture. We loved strolling through the different neighborhoods, eating a ton of pizza and gelato, and our favorite part, hiking up to Piazze Michelangelo for a spectacular view of the Duomo. If you are traveling by campervan, stay in a camper stop and take the bus into town.
The Cinque Terre is one of a kind and without a doubt one of the most stunning places in Italy. The Cinque Terre is a small area of coastline made up of 5 villages but here’s the special part, these towns can only be accessed via train or foot. Hiking the the Cinque is one of the most unique things you’ll ever experience as you walk through vineyards overlooking the Mediterranean and stopping for delicious snacks in each colorful, lively town. This an absolute must-do when you visit Italy. The coolest part about the Cinque is how you can combine hiking with train rides making it perfect for families or hardcore hikers.
Extend this Itinerary: Les Calanques + Finalborgo
If you are looking to connect this Italy itinerary with the France/Spain itinerary, here are two of our favorite stops along the way. You also could add these in and fly home out of Marseille.
Another must see spot is The Calanaques. One day we attempted rock climbing here, but the hike in from the town Cassis, but it was a long approach and many of the climbs are polished. The next day we packed a lunch and hiked from The University to Canalque de Sugiton. Swimming and cliff jumping into the turquoise water surrounded by the starking white rocks was a much better way to spend the day. If you do choose to hike to the rock climbing from Cassis, stay at Camping les Cigales.
This is an amazing small town along the Italian Riviera that I highly recommend. We ended up here because of the great rock climbing in the area but even if you don’t climb, this is a perfect stop to experience a small town Italy and be close to gorgeous beaches. There is a lot to explore besides Finalborgo, but you should go here to grab a bite to eat and experience this rad castle-looking town.
Non camping accommodation
- Interlaken Accommodation
- Chamonix/Mont Blanc Accommodation
- Arco Accommodation
- Dolomites Accommodation
- Venice Accommodation
- Florence Accommodation
- Cinque Terre Accommodation
Northeast Spain + Southwest France
Fly into: Barcelona
Fly out of: Paris, Bordeaux, or Bilbao
I could spend years in this area. While there isn’t one key attraction that I love here, the beauty and easy accessibility to nature and great food is what draws me back again and again.
Flying in and out of Barcelona is cheap and easy. In my opinion Barcelona could be skipped but if you’re here you may as well spend a day walking its streets.
Now, head north to what was another of my favorite stops Ribes de Fraser. Not a spot you’d see on many blogs or tour guide but it’s truly a hidden gem that’s rugged, beautiful, and filled with rad people. If you are a climber, head to Lleida before crossing into France via the Pyrenees. I highly recommend spending a few nights in Laruns to experience small town France and if you can time it right maybe even their annual cheese festival (it’s to die for).
Then it’s time to hit the beach. Hossegor France is our favorite place in Europe. Life is just feels easy and perfect when we are there. If you’re in a camper or RV it is very easy to camp at one of the many camper stops in town. Your trip could end here and feel complete or head north and experience the beauty, culture, and stunning sights of Paris or choose more nature and adventure and head south into Spain.
South France + North Spain Itinerary
- Ribes de Fraser
Walking Parc Guido was the highlight for me. If we hadn’t already seen a bunch of cathedrals elsewhere in Europe then I think we would’ve loved exploring more of Barcelona. We did run the boardwalk along the beach and it was gorgeous. It felt a lot like my home in San Diego.
Ribes de Fraser + Vall de Núria
I call Reibes de Fraser “The Idaho of Europe”. It’s a hidden gem! There are epic hikes, tons of rock climbing, off roading trails (I couldn’t believe how many jeeps and I saw), and again, really great food. One of my favorite hikes was here in this small town. It’s a 13 mile hike into the Pyrenees and to the ski resort of Núria. There’s a beautiful river running through town and it’s small enough that you can walk to get freshly baked bread, cheap produce, and so much meat and delicious cheese. We even tried rabbit here.
Lleida + Balaguer
If I was a better climber I would’ve wanted to stay here a long time. There is so much sport climbing and many of them are along the river with gorgeous views. If you don’t climb, this area could be skipped, but if you want a nice leg stretcher when driving from Fraser to the Pyrenees, there’s a nice 4 mile hike Congost de Mont-Rebei. If you climb, try to stay in Balaguer, it’s smaller and closer to the climbing areas.
Another great hike to stop and do on the drive from Fraser to Laruns is the Punta Del Pacino. It’s right before you cross from Spain to France in the Pyrenees and has incredible views of the Spanish Pyrenees.
This is one of my all time favorite towns in Europe. We happened to be here for a cheese festival. This cultural experience of sharing in the old traditions and cheese making that has served the area for hundreds of years was incredible. But the reason I like here the most is the nature. Laruns is smack dab in the Pyrenees so there are mountains filled with adventure everywhere you look and there’s always a baguette with butter waiting for you afterwards.
It’s an hour detour, but if you have time, hiking the Chemin de Mature is awesome.
This is our favorite place in Europe. We love the beach vibe, the delicious food, and all the surrounding trees. We love it here so much that we have two entire blogs just on this one spot (see below).
Biarritz is a beautiful French city. It’s significantly larger than Hossegor and Laruns. My favorite part of Biarritz is that there are fancy restaurants right on the boardwalk overlooking the beach and you’ll have people dressed up in nice clothes mixing with surfers and beach goers in swim suits.
Non camping accommodation
- Barcelona Accommodation
- Ribes de Fraser Accommodation
- Lleida Accommodation
- Laruns Accommodation
- Hossegor Accommodation
- Biarritz Accommodation
Fly in and out of: Bilbao
The Basque Country of Spain is a must see in my opinion. While I am a huge fan of French wine, bread, and butter, the Spanish know how to do pork + wine. Chorizo and a bottle of wine after a fun day adventuring is wonderful and speaking of adventures, there are so many options that there’s no way to post them all. We love surfing here- try the popular Sopelana, the isolated Paya San martín, or brave the world-class Mundaka. Wanna climb? The Spanish bolt everything. Love hiking? Head to the Pico’s and while you are there do a via ferrara. If you’re in an camper, you’re going to want to continue your exploration west to Galacia and maybe even on to Portugal.
Ultimate Northern Spain Itinerary
- San Sebastian
- San Juan de Gaztelugatxe
- Celorio + Ribadesella
- Picos de Europa
You have to go here for tapas or pinxos. Every bar has a huge display of appetizers that are to die for. San Sebastián is right on the water, making it one of the prettiest cities in Europe.
We enjoyed surfing and climbing here, but if you don’t do either, I’d recommend skipping it and heading into the mountains by Dima.
This is way off the beaten path and we never would’ve discovered it if it weren’t for meeting some wonderful friends while climbing in Switzerland. There are some great hikes and climbs up here. The drive itself is worth it even if you don’t want to do an adventure.
This world class surf break is a great stop on your road trip even if you don’t surf. The town of Mundaka is cool to check out and the drive from Mundaka to the next stop is gorgeous.
San Juan de Gaztelugatxe
According to legend, you climb the 240 stairs to get to the hermitage and ring the bell 3 times to make a wish. It can get a bit crowded here so try to go early or later in the day. It’s about a 30 minute hike in all.
Stop in Celorio and hike 15 minutes east on the Camino del Santiago to the secluded beach of playa San martín. Then go into Ribadesella for more pinxos and a delicious meal. This part of Asturias is known for its apples, but all the food here is so great.
Picos de Europa
We still haven’t made it here but want to so bad. There are amazing hikes, climbing, and via ferratas to do.
This is a van lifers dream come true. Parking right on the beach with only a handful of other campers around you. Stock up before you head there though because there aren’t a lot of resources here.
The western edge of Spain and Portugal has so much open spaces to pull up and park at the beach or hang out on the forest.
If solitude and empty beaches are your thing you’ll want to just keep meandering your way down Portugal’s coastline. While some of the empty line ups were a bit too eerie for me to paddle into, there are epic surf breaks and gorgeous spots to camp all along the coast and almost all of them are free. I liked surfing Peniche as well as Praia de Amado. Ericiera is another cool area.
While many surf spots in Portugal were empty line ups, there were plenty that were crowded. In fact, I didn’t realize how lucky I had it in California’s line ups until I surfed Portugal. Luckily there are a lot of breaks and waves to go around but you’ll want to remember your manners and bring some extra patience. If you just want surf and minimal cultural experience stay up in Galacia. If you continue your way down, I’ve been told Lisbon is a must see. It was pouring when we drove through and I wasn’t ready to brave the cold or the whining with 5 kids. Then finish off with the rad town of Sagres at the southern tip of Portugal.
Non camping accommodation
ll the destinations from Sopelana to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe are very close together. While it could be pleasant to move from town to town each day, I would recommend choosing one home base accommodation in the outskirts of Bilbao. I personally don’t love the city of Bilbao but it’s centrally located to all the cool spots in Northern Spain.
- San Sebastian Accommodation
- Bilbao Accommodation
- Sopelana Accommodation
- Galdakeo (Dima) Accommodation
- Mundaka Accommodation
- Bakio (San Juan de Gaztelugatxe) Accommodation
- Celorio + Ribadesella Accommodation
- Picos de Europa Accommodation
- Galicia Accommodation
And that’s a wrap. Hope this helps you plan your Europe itinerary. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask us in the comments below.