While southern Europe may be synonymous with summer holidays, sun-drenched beaches, and captivating culture, Northern Europe has a more wild, rugged appeal.
It’s a land of snow-capped summits, far-flung islands, gleaming glaciers, magnificent fjords, and fascinating Viking history. And, if you’re looking for adventure, you’ll definitely find it here.
So, to get you inspired – and to show you how diverse this remarkable region actually is – here are nine of the best places to find adventure in Northern Europe.
1. Lahemaa National Park, Estonia
Estonia might be less than a three-hour flight away, but this compelling country is one of the most unique nations in Europe. It’s an intriguing blend of urbanity and wilderness, and medieval and modern – and it’s home to both pristine wildernesses and cosmopolitan culture.
The capital Tallinn is absolutely stunning, and if you’re looking for an urban adventure, you’ll find lots to keep you occupied. Wander through the historic Old Town, which is one of the best preserved Hanseatic town centres in the world, soak up the vibrant culture, and make the most of the energetic nightlife.
Outside the capital, however, there’s a whole world to explore. Over half of the sparsely populated countryside here is blanketed with dense forests, tranquil lakes, sweeping coves, and wild wetlands – and if you’re hiking or cycling along the country roads, you can spot bears, wild boar, moose and lynx.
Lahemaa is the largest of Estonia’s national parks, and the diverse landscape here is dotted with craggy rocks and quaint villages where you can experience authentic Estonian rural life. The island of Saaremaa, off the west coast of Estonia, is also known for its unspoilt beaches and spas.
Discover the wild tranquillity of Estonia
2. Bergen, Norway
Oslo might be the capital of Norway, but it’s Bergen that’s this country’s cultural heart. Surrounded by seven hills and fjords and founded by the last Vikings nearly 1,000 years ago, Norway’s second city is dazzlingly beautiful. Its bright-coloured, chocolate-box buildings look like they’re straight off a postcard.
The waterfront district of Bryggen is a Unesco World Heritage Site, and these beautifully preserved wooden shops and old merchant warehouses perfectly encapsulate the Viking and Hanseatic history of the city. You can learn more about Bergen’s unique history at the excellent Bryggens Museum.
But Bergen is also the gateway to some of Norway’s most sensational scenery, in particular its fjords. Exploring the Norwegian fjord lands by boat is an unforgettable experience, and as you sail along narrow inlets of land surrounded by jagged, towering cliffs, you might feel you’ve fallen into a dream.
Hikers will also be in their element here, as this is a land of wooded mountains, glittering blue lakes, tumbling waterfalls, and death-defying sheer cliffs. The extraordinary beauty of this landscape has to be seen to be believed – and who knows, you may even be lucky enough to spot the northern lights!
Be amazed at the wild beauty of Norway
3. Curonian Spit National Park, Lithuania
Lithuania often sails under the radar, but this vibrant, quirky country has a lot to offer. Home to beautiful beaches, sweeping sand dunes, and historic cities, this Baltic country has seen plenty of modernisation since it became independent from the Soviet Union in 1990.
The capital, Vilnius, is a lively city full of narrow alleyways, grand baroque houses, and colourful churches – but there are also plenty of buzzing bars, secret terraces, and romantic restaurants. Its compact size means it’s ideal for a city break, and the locals are warm and welcoming.
But outside of the capital, this Baltic country has almost otherworldly quality – and nowhere is more magical than the Curonian Spit. This intriguing strip of land extends 60km across the southern stretch of Lithuania’s coastline, from the town of Klaipeda to the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad.
The vast sand dunes and forests of the Curonian Spit seem to stretch on forever, and if you’re looking to relax on the beach, this stunning sandbar has almost too many options. Hike through pine-scented forests; spot deer, elk and wild boar; and visit lovely villages like Nida and spa towns like Neringa.
Fall in love with Lithuania
4. Copenhagen, Denmark
It wasn’t that long ago that Denmark was viewed as a little-known, little-understood Scandinavian country, but today it’s one of the trendiest and most up-and-coming destinations in Europe. Known for its gripping TV shows and innovative cuisine, Denmark is also a place where adventure abounds.
The capital, Copenhagen, is situated on the coastal islands of Zeeland and Amager, and is jam-packed with character, wonder, and history. Here, you can admire the historic royal palace, visit museums, and explore 17th-century Nyhavn, which is known for its bright-coloured townhouses and lively drinking spots.
Tivoli Gardens is a 19th-century amusement park that’s also definitely worth a visit – particularly if you like the idea of riding on one of the oldest wooden roller coasters in the world! If you want to learn more about Danish culture, then Copenhagen’s museums are also unmissable.
Denmark is small, so you can easily explore the great outdoors too. In Jutland, you can visit the long sandy beaches of the North Sea, while hiking the vast sane dune Råbjerg Mile will definitely get your heart pumping. You can also head to the Wadden Sea National Park to spot unique wildlife and explore tidal flats.
Discover the diversity of Denmark
5. Vatnajökull, Iceland
Iceland has long been known as one of the best places in the world to find adventure – and for good reason. Boasting ice-capped mountains, lava-spewing volcanoes, milky blue lagoons, glistening glaciers, and gushing geysers, it’s not called the ‘Land of Fire and Ice’ for nothing.
It might be only a three-hour flight away, but Iceland feels like another planet, and here you’ll find landscapes so ethereally beautiful you’ll be left speechless. The colourful capital Reykjavik merges captivating Norse history with a modern culture and vibrant arts scene, but the true adventure is found outside the cities.
Iceland boasts three sensational national parks, but Vatnajökull is the biggest (it’s the largest national park in Europe) and most impressive. Here, adventure lovers can soak in geothermal springs, marvel at icebergs drifting on blue lagoons, and hike along canyons carved by thundering waterfalls.
You can ride snowcats up ice-swathed mountains, trek up to bubbling mud pools, snap photos of sparkling ice sheets, and spot blue whales, humpback whales, and orcas. Plus, you also have a good chance of catching the mesmerising dancing lights of the aurora borealis.
Get inspired in Iceland
6. Lakeland, Finland
In recent years, Finland has become one of Europe’s trendiest destinations, and if you’re looking for adventure, you’ll be spoilt for choice. Finland’s scenic landscapes are truly breathtaking and, Suomi – as it’s known to the locals – is just as beautiful in winter as it is in summer.
Finland’s most famous destination has got to be Lapland, where the staggering natural beauty and incredible snowy wildernesses attract visitors seeking peace and solitude. Considering it’s one of Europe’s most sparsely populated countries, you’ll feel like you’re away from it all.
But perhaps the most beautiful part of this country is Finnish Lakeland; the region that gave Finland its nickname of ‘Land of a Thousand Lakes’. There are too many lakes to count here – approximately 40 to every 100 square kilometres! – including Lake Saimaa, Europe’s fourth-largest natural lake.
There are many activities you can do here, from paddle boarding and sailing to ice swimming and skating, but using a sauna is a must. There are more than two million saunas in Finland (and only five million people!), and after a sauna session, there’s nothing better than jumping in a lake and enjoying a chilly swim!
Discover the quiet magic of Finland
7. Gotland, Sweden
As the largest and best-known of the Scandi countries, Sweden needs no introduction. The name conjures up images of thick pine forests, snow-blanketed mountains, and tall, colourful houses, and this country has something for everyone – from beaches and lakes to remote peaks and rolling hills.
While cosmopolitan Stockholm is an excellent choice for a city break, if you’re looking for adventure you might want to head to Gotland, which is the largest island in the Baltic Sea. Located off Sweden’s southeastern coast, a three-hour ferry ride from Stockholm, Gotland is almost haunting in its beauty.
There is so much to see and do here, whether you’re into culture and history or adrenaline-pumping activities. Lying behind well-preserved old city walls, the historic capital of Visby is a Unesco World Heritage Site, and its cobbled streets are the place to learn about Sweden’s fascinating Viking history.
But Gotland’s tranquil, sparsely populated landscape is its biggest draw. The island is beautiful at any time of year, but it comes alive in summer when the fields are blanketed with carpets of flowers, the villages and hamlets are bustling with visitors, and the sandy beaches and sparkling waters beckon.
Experience the unique beauty of Sweden
8. County Kerry, Ireland
You don’t have to travel far to find adventure in a new country. Ireland is right on our doorstep, and the charms of the Emerald Island are certainly no secret. Last year, Dublin was named one of the best cities in the world by Lonely Planet, but there’s plenty more to do outside the capital.
Thanks to its intriguing blend of ancient history, green landscapes, and rich culture, Ireland is easily one of the best places to find adventure in Northern Europe. And, whether you’re into high-octane fun or more leisurely adventuring, there’s an outdoor activity to suit everyone.
Steeped in 10,000 years of Celtic history, County Kerry is often viewed as the ‘real’ Ireland, and hiking and cycling is one of the best ways to explore. You can visit magnificent glaciated valleys, stunning beaches, dramatic mountains, friendly towns and villages, and of course, traditional Irish pubs!
If you’d like to spend more time enjoying Dublin, then exploring the Wicklow Way will show you the best of the countryside around the capital. Visit glacial lakes, trek through picturesque valleys, hike over heather-covered peaks, and still be back in Dublin by the evening for dinner and Guinness!
Experience the authentic charm of Ireland
9. Cairngorms, United Kingdom
And finally, there’s our very own green and pleasant land. With unrivalled history, a unique heritage, shared culture, and a gloriously lush landscape, the United Kingdom has so much to offer – and if you’re seeking adventure, there’s no doubt you can find it on our own shores.
Once home to iconic kings and queens, today this country is a tapestry of lively, cosmopolitan cities, medieval towns, quaint villages, and astonishingly diverse countryside – from the rugged beauty of the Scottish highlands to the bucolic charm of Southern England.
If you’re looking to see the wild side of this country, you may want to head to the Cairngorms, where you’ll find five of the UK’s six highest peaks. Here, adventure is all around you: hike up towering craggy mountains, visit mysterious lochs, trek through ancient forests, and camp under the stars.
Or, for a very different type of adventure, why not visit the Cotswolds? The bustling market towns and picture-perfect cottages of this region are an absolute joy to explore, and the rolling fields, quiet woods, and pristine lakes are perfect for hiking, biking, and cycling.
Find adventure in the United Kingdom
From the bleak, desolate beauty of Iceland to the lush green landscape of Ireland and the gleaming lakes of Finland, Northern Europe is incredibly diverse.
Just travelling to these beautiful, characterful countries is an adventure in itself, as is exploring their cities and soaking up the local culture and history.
But, it’s when you leave the towns and cities and head into the great outdoors that the sense of adventure and wonder really hits.
Whether you’re drawn to the castles and mountains of Romania or the sandy coastline of Lithuania, there’s an outdoor adventure for everyone…you just have to decide how intrepid you want it to be!
For more inspiration for your next trip, why not check out our article; 12 incredible towns and cities in Southern Europe.
Looking for your next adventure?
Have you been to any of these destinations – or are you tempted to go? Do you have any other suggestions for places in Northern Europe that are perfect for adventuring? We’d love to hear about your travel experiences in the comments below.