Aside from the hundreds of historical landmarks, Europe is also home to picturesque waterways that are perfect for kayaking.
If you’ve been dreaming about kayaking through the diverse continent of Europe, then there is no better time than the present to hit the waters paddling. In this article, we’ve put together a list of some of Europe’s top kayaking destinations that you choose to visit over time, or all at once for the ultimate and most epic kayaking tour ever.
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Albania probably isn’t the top country that springs to mind when you’re considering European kayaking destinations, but you’ll be surprised to know that the country is actually home to 247 natural lakes, more than 800 artificial lakes, 8 large major rivers, and nearly 450 km of coastline.
The Vjosa River, in particular, which flows through southwestern Albania, is one of Europe’s last surviving wild whitewater rivers. The class II and class III waters are untamed, free flowing, and surrounded by canyons, islands, and riverbeds. We only recommend paddling down the river if you’re experienced, and if you’re unsure whether your paddling skills are up to par, then head over to Whitewater Rapids Classification System to learn more.
If you’re after a more peaceful and predictable paddling experience, then Lake Koman, a reservoir off the Drin River, has turquoise waters that are encompassed by densely forested hills, deep gorges, and valleys which, of course, are best explored by kayak.
Other kayaking destinations in Albania:
Croatia is a popular tourist destination in Europe that is best known for its picturesque beaches, but what you probably didn’t know is that the country has over 1000 islands, many of which are uninhabited. The Elaphiti Islands on the Adriatic Coast are some of Croatia’s best, and the water that surrounds them is a beautiful shade of blue that deserves its right to be on a postcard.
If you’re slightly more experienced when it comes to paddling and you’re after a more thrilling adventure, then you’ll want to head to the Zrmanja River, which depending on the water levels and the season boasts whitewater ranging from class I to class III. The 69 km river cuts its way through magnificent canyons, limestone waterfalls, and tremendously wide valleys, which all in all give you the ultimate whitewater paddling experience.
Other kayaking destinations in Croatia:
The first thing you think of when you think of France is more than likely the Eiffel Tower. And after that, The Louvre, the Palace Of Versailles, the Notre Dame, and possibly even wine. Although all these historical landmarks (and wine) are fantastic and a must-do on your trip, you’ll be thrilled to know that France also has some extraordinary waterways in both the northern and southern parts of the country.
Normandy is one of the best kayaking destinations in France as there are numerous rivers and stretches of coastline with a plethora of history and diverse scenery. We highly suggest paddling through The Suisse Normande, which flows through the Orne Valley, kayaking on the waters at Granville, which possesses stunning views of the Bay of the Mont Saint-Michel, and taking in the maritime history from your ‘yak in Cherbourg.
In France’s southern region lies the Ardeche River, which winds its way through gorges and a huge natural stone bridge, the Pont d'Arc. Many people refer to the Ardeche Gorge as the “Grand Canyon of Europe,” and thanks to its incredible scenery and various possibilities for outdoor activities, we will have to agree with them.
The Southern French Alps, slightly north of Ardeche, is another must-paddle location for whitewater paddlers. The Durance, the Bachelard, and the Ubaye rivers deserve a special mention, with waters ranging from a manageable class II to an extreme class V.
And finally, Brittany's Coastline, with its sandy beaches,its rocky coves, and its jagged, towering rock formations, is the ideal spot for a day of sea kayaking in France’s northern region.
Other kayaking destinations in France:
So, you’ve spent the week strolling through Greece’s cobblestone streets, taking in the iconic white buildings in Santorini, the ancient history in Athens, and the country's tallest mountain, Mount Olympus, but now it is time to hit the water and appreciate the country from a different perspective.
The first stop on your Greek kayaking trip should be the island of Skopelos. Not only do you get to paddle in the crystal clear waters that surround the island, but you’ll also get to live out your Mamma Mia dreams as the island just so happened to be one of the movie’s filming locations. You’ll even be able to see the church in which the wedding scenes were filmed.
And as we stay on the topic of islands, you should also head to the island of Cephalonia, which is situated off Greece’s west coast. Cephalonia is also surrounded by stunning blue calm waters, white sandy beaches, and an abundance of marine life such as turtles, seals, and dolphins. Crete, off of Greece’s southern coast, is another mentionable kayaking location as it’s popular with holidaymakers and has that beautiful blue Mediterranean waters that paddlers dream of.
If sea kayaking isn’t your thing, then Greece also has crystal blue lakes that are just as beautiful as the country’s stretches of coastlines. Kremaston Lake, Plastira Lake, and Lake Vistonida are some of our favorites.
Other kayaking destinations in Greece:
The Nordic island of Iceland is famous for its rugged scenery and landscapes, which in our opinion, is what makes it one of Europe’s top kayaking destinations. Not only could you possibly get the chance to paddle beneath the northern lights, but you could also experience some of the most epic sunsets and sunrises that this planet has to offer.
In the Westfjords region of Iceland, you’ll find tranquil but slightly chilly waters in the large ford of Ísafjarðardjúp. While paddling in Ísafjarðardjúp, you may even get lucky enough and spot whales or seals that frequent the waters year-round.
Moving east into Iceland's mainland is the Hvítá River, which is a whitewater paddler's paradise. The glacier river is one of Iceland's most popular rafting and kayaking destinations, and it is also home to the most famous waterfall in the country, the Gullfoss Waterfall. You can take a kayak tour down the river or brave it on your own. But, if you do brave it on your own, ensure you have adequate kayaking equipment, as although there aren’t many challenging rapids, the waters are still categorized as class II.
As Iceland is home to numerous astonishing glaciers, it is only right that you wrap up warm and paddle amongst them. Solheimajokull Glacier Lagoon, Heinaberg Glacier Lagoon, Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon are some of the best destinations that combine kayaking with glacial exploration.
Other kayaking destinations in Iceland:
What better way to burn off all that Italian pizza, pasta, and gelato you’ve consumed than hitting the water and paddling a kayak? Did you know that kayaking burns roughly 475 calories an hour? Well, if you didn’t, you do now, and you don’t need to feel guilty about indulging because the European country of Italy gives you both delicious food and irresistible paddling locations.
One of the top waterways for a kayaking adventure is the Porto Conte Regional Park, which is equipped with stunning emerald waters, hiking trails, and beautiful stretches of beaches that are ideal for kayak launching.
Lake Garda in Northern Italy is very well-known for its crystal clear waters, and if these waters and the fact that Lake Garda is Italy’s largest lake weren’t inviting enough, then the lake also has a fortress at its southern end which you can paddle around and explore from the comfort of your kayak.
If you’re an experienced paddler visiting Italy, then you need to check out the Noce River. The river, which is fed by melting alpine glaciers, has even been classed as one of the world’s best rivers for river sports by National Geographic.
And staying in northern Italy, we couldn’t forget to include Lake Como, which is the country's third largest lake known for its dramatic scenery and its Renaissance architecture.
Other kayaking destinations in Italy:
The Netherlands is fairly well known for its windmills, its tulips, and its capital city, Amsterdam, which is lined with canals and the Amstel River that you can kayak down. And yes, the canals are fairly spectacular on foot or on a bicycle, but from a kayaker's point of view, they’re even more magnificent.
If, understandably, the crowds in Amsterdam aren’t appealing to you, and you’d prefer to paddle down canals that are on the quieter side, then head to Utrecht, Middelburg, or Giethoorn. These three destinations are far less crowded but still offer you the unique experience of paddling right through the center of a city.
Now that we’ve covered the canals, we always wanted to mention the Kleine Acht National Park and the De Biesbosch National Park. The De Biesbosch National Park just so happens to be one of the Netherlands’ largest national parks, and it is also one of the last extensive areas of freshwater tidal wetlands in the whole of Northwestern Europe.
Other kayaking destinations in the Netherlands:
Norway is the epicenter of phenomenal fjords, breathtaking skies, and glacial lakes that are just waiting to be explored. One of the most visited kayaking destinations in the country, thanks to its dramatic scenery and the peaks of numerous majestic mountains, is the Lofoten Islands. The islands are so beautiful, in fact, that you could literally spend weeks paddling around, taking in all they have to offer.
Sognefjord is the largest and deepest fjord in the whole of Norway, so it’s no wonder that it’s been nicknamed the King of the Fjords. Depending on the weather conditions, you’ll get to witness the perfect reflection of the mountainous surroundings in the water, as if the fjord was a giant mirror.
And if you want an even more dramatic backdrop, then you’ll want to head to the Jostadelsbreen Glacier. Standing out between two plain gray mountain faces is the white and blue Jostadelsbreen Glacier, which you can paddle up to in your kayak and enjoy in peace from the water.
Other kayaking destinations in Norway:
The Atlantic Ocean has greatly influenced the culture of Portugal, and because of it, the Algarve’s beaches to this day are still a major tourist destination for both locals and foreigners. One of the most popular locations is Lagos which has tourist-friendly beaches, incredible rock formations, and vibrant nightlife if that’s your thing post paddle.
Whether you spent a night out on the town and need a refresh, or if you’re an early riser and are looking to hit the water, the coastline of Lagos is beautiful, and you can paddle through and around the rocks until your heart is content.
If you drive east from Lagos, you’ll come across the Benagil Cave, which is one of those crazy geological formations that you must visit with your camera at the ready. You can paddle into the cave, disembark from your kayak, and take in the sheer beauty of the rock formation from the sheltered sand inside.
Further east, Roughly 50 minutes away from Lagos, is Albufeira which again has a beautiful coastline, blue waters, and enticing rock formations that are best explored by kayak or paddle board. Once you’re done in the water you can stroll your way past candy-colored apartments in search of the best seafood the city has to offer.
Other kayaking destinations in Portugal:
Slovenia is probably another country that you never thought to paddle in, but Slovenia is home to 321 lakes which all have their own unique history, beautiful backdrops, and diverse cultures that shouldn’t be missed.
One of the most popular paddling routes in the country is the Soca Valley, an alpine river that flows through western Slovenia. The waters in the Soca Valley are the most beautiful shade of blue, and paddling down them will feel like you’re dreaming. Combine the waters with the mountainous backdrop, treelined edges, and incredible rock formations, and you’ve probably got yourself one of the best paddling destinations in the world.
Once you’ve paddled the Soca Valley, you’ll want to make your way to Lake Bled, a glacial lake fed by hot springs. Lake Bled has one of the most incredible viewpoints in the entire country, it is also just as beautiful from the water. You can paddle along, take in the history of the lake’s church-topped islet, and you can witness the medieval castle, which is built on a precipice overlooking the lake.
Following on from Lake Bled, another lake that is definitely worth a visit is Lake Bohinj, the largest permanent lake in Slovenia. The lake covers 318 hectares and has flat, calm waters that are surrounded by natural beauty and are ideal for even the most entry-level kayakers.
Other kayaking destinations in Slovenia:
Spain is a popular European holiday destination thanks to its exquisite food, its interesting culture, and of course, the Mediterranean beaches that are perfect for launching a kayak.
Along with beautiful beaches, however, Spain also boasts some interesting reservoirs like the Mediano Reservoir, which is surrounded by the Aragonese Pyrenees peaks. Depending on the season you paddle in, the waters are often a beautiful shade of blue, and you can even paddle up to and explore the submerged village of Gerbe.
Off the north coast of the Spanish island of Menorca is Fornells Bay which has all the benefits of sandy beaches and sheltered blue waters that are ideal for even beginner paddlers. You should also check out Cala En Porter and Es Garu if you’re holidaying on the island.
And for a slightly different experience, you’ll want to grab your kayak and paddle over to the Marine Caves in Jávea. Start off from the Granadella Cove and visit the Ambolo Cave, and the Cova del Llop Marí cave, and finish off the estimated 3-hour paddle with the Orguens Cave.
Other kayaking destinations in Spain:
Sweden is one of those European countries that are extremely beautiful in both summer and winter. Many people visit Sweden to catch a glimpse of the northern lights, and although we highly recommend that you do that too, we also suggest packing your kayak because the country is home to some beautiful waterways that you don’t want to miss out on.
Bohuslän has over 8,000 uninhabited islands and miles upon miles of rugged rocky coastline, making it one of the best and most popular kayaking destinations in Sweden. The waters that surround the islands are often extremely calm, sheltered, and crystal clear, giving you the perfect opportunity to spot wildlife and practice your paddling skills.
If you’re looking to make a weekend trip of your kayaking adventure, then you’ll want to head to The Saint Anna Archipelago. Saint Anna is comprised of 6000 islands, islets, and reefs with perfect paddling conditions for beginner and experienced paddlers. What’s even better is that if you want to pitch a tent, you totally can, as long as you protect and respect the wildlife around you.
Other kayaking destinations in Sweden:
Once you’ve finished experiencing some of Switzerland's best chocolate, it’s time to hit the water and paddle down some of its most incredible waterways. The Giessbach Falls has always been a huge hit with paddling enthusiasts because of its majestic waterfalls, its dramatic cliff faces, and the turquoise watercolor, which is near enough impossible not to want to paddle in. But, if waterfalls aren’t your thing, then you can just choose to paddle on Lake Brienz, which the falls flow into.
Roughly three hours southwest of Lake Brienz is Lake Geneva, with one of Switzerland’s most iconic castles, the Chateau de Chillion. You could honestly spend hours paddling around Lake Geneva, taking in the breathtaking mountain backdrop and the Swiss history that lies amongst its shores.
Other kayaking destinations in Switzerland:
And finally, our ultimate European kayaking destination guide is the United Kingdom, with incredible paddling opportunities in all four of its countries. First up is England, and although technically the Isle of Scilly is off the south coast of Cornwall and not on the mainland, it is still a phenomenal paddling location with white sand beaches and beautiful waters that’ll make you feel like you’re somewhere abroad, not just 28 miles from the English coast.
Durdle Door, The Lake District, and the River Thames are all other worthy paddling destinations that all have their unique characteristics and appeals.
Moving west to Wales and you have the waters of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, which is famous for its beaches, cliffs, and wildlife spottings of sea otters, sharks, whales, and jellyfish.
The River Wye, Ynys Llanddwyn, and Barafundle Bay are other frequented waterways in Wales by both kayakers and stand-up paddle boarders alike.
One of the most mentionable paddling trails in Scotland is the Great Glen Canoe Trail which is a multi-day route made up of 29 lochs that’ll take you roughly three days to complete. Of course, multi-day trips aren’t for everyone and if you’d prefer to paddle for a morning, an afternoon, or even the day, then check out Stonehaven, Belhaven Bay, Loch Tay, or St Andrews, which all have ideal paddling conditions and picture-worthy scenery.
Europe is full of incredible waterways that are ideal for kayaking. Some of the best countries and destinations for kayaking in Europe include the following:
The good thing about kayaking in Europe is that you are able to paddle down most waterways without a license, however, it is important that you always check the requirements before heading out.
Waters in Europe also vary from calm flat waters that are perfect for beginners to whitewater that’ll challenge even the most experienced kayakers, so all in all, yes, it is incredibly easy to kayak in Europe.
If you plan on paddling through numerous countries in Europe, then we highly recommend purchasing an inflatable kayak. Inflatable kayaks are the most transportable type of kayak on the market as they can easily be deflated and packed into a small duffel bag or a backpack.
Most inflatable kayaks also weigh under 40 lbs, so even the smallest paddlers traveling solo would be able to manage. Even if you only plan on paddling in one country, the ease, durability, and cost of inflatable kayaks will always put them in our top choices.
As Europe is a continent that goes through four seasons, the weather conditions and the clothes you’ll need to wear kayaking will differ. In summer, for example, you’ll more than likely be perfectly content in a swimming costume (lathered up in sunscreen and finishing off the look with a PFD, of course).
But, in the winter, especially in countries that are closer to the North Pole (Iceland, Sweden, and Norway), you will require wetsuits, drysuits, boots, hats, and many other layers to make paddling even the slightest bit bearable. For a more in-depth explanation of kayak clothing, head over to An Ultimate Guide on What to Wear On Your Next Kayaking Adventure.
If you have a kayak with adequate storage for your camping equipment (we recommend sit-on-top kayaks), then camping and kayaking are relatively easy.
Whether you prefer to wild camp or camp in designated campgrounds, all you need to do is pack up all your supplies and distribute the weight in your kayak. This includes your tent, your food, your personal belongings, and anything else you’ll need on your camping trip. If you are wild camping, however, you may need more supplies and safety precautions, so that’s something to keep in mind if you’re strapped for space.
We have created an entire on How to Go Camping With Your Kayak, so check it out if you’d like more information.
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