Europe kayak holidays are almost as varied as the continent and it’s inhabitants. So we’ve put together 23 of the best European kayaking destinations, to showcase the variety of the paddling adventures you can enjoy in its lakes, rivers and seas.
From wild whitewater to lovely lakes, and relaxed rivers to incredible coastlines, kayaking in Europe offers a bit of everything. If you add the culture, history, infrastructure and people you have the perfect combination for more excellent kayak holidays than you can shake a paddle at.
It’s not just the type of kayaking that varies, but also the style of holiday. You could take a cultural tour of Venice by kayak or explore the Arctic wilderness of Norway’s stunning Lofoten Islands. Likewise you could float downstream through french wine region of Bordeaux, or kayak with basking sharks in Ireland.
To make it easy to find your type of trip, the best European kayaking destinations are broken down into river, lake and sea sections. We’ve tried to include a selection that covers as many styles of Europe kayak holidays as possible. Expect some famous spots you’ve heard of, and hopefully some you haven’t.
Kayaking in rivers often, but not always, includes whitewater. Rapids are graded from Class I to Class V on the International Scale of River Difficulty. Class I and II are the easiest and suitable for novices, V is the most difficult and is for experts only.
In our opinion these are the best river destinations for a Europe kayak holidays. Please note it is not all about the whitewater, there are options below for relaxing river breaks suitable for beginners and families.
Paddling down the 30km Ardeche gorge in southeast France is one of the most popular kayaking experiences in Europe. The gorge is stunningly beautiful, you can even pass under the infamous Pont D’Arc, a huge natural stone bridge.
With class I to III rapids (dependent on water level) complete beginners can kayak it most of the time. In the summer the waters are warm and it is very popular with families looking for lazy, sunny days on the river. There are good spots to stop for lunch, have a swim and enjoy the scenery.
In the spring there are faster flowing waters. For more of a challenge take on the full 60 km descent crossing dams on fun canoe toboggans. There are lots of kayak hire shops and guided tours available, this is a river geared up for kayaking.
With 25 years of experience guiding family, group and individual kayaking adventures here, we recommend Adventure Ardeche. They also run kayaking clinics for all level of kayaker and offer multi activity breaks including kayaking as part of a bigger holiday. They are a British company based in France, providing an excellent service.
Sticking in France some of the best white water in the continent can be found in the Southern French Alps. Rivers such as the Bonne, Guil, Durance, Souloise and Ubaye all offer technically challenging kayaking that are for in the right conditions are suitable for experts only.
The rivers are all fairly close to each other and could be covered on a single trip. Perfect for Europe kayak holidays if you are an experienced kayaker that likes to paddle different rivers each day. You can find out more on our guide to kayaking in the French Alps.
Bordeaux is another of the best European kayaking destinations in France. Here is it about paddling from vineyard to vineyard exploring the beautiful wine region. You can enjoy wine tasting kayak style along the Dordogne, Gironde or Garonne.
These rivers are mostly tranquil, and what rapids there are can often be avoided. There are organised wine tasting kayaking tours or hire shops if you prefer to organise it yourself. This is the ideal way to discover the Aquitaine region of France, an area of outstanding beauty and outstanding wines.
Final area in France we promise…. The main kayaking in Normandy is the beautiful Parc Naturel de Normandie-Maine situated on the Sarthe and Varenne rivers. There are one-day and multi-day kayaking tours available, the rapids are class I to III, so more suited to beginners and families.
The Soca is a 140 kilometre-long river that runs through western Slovenia and northern Italy, with its source in the Julian Alps. It’s an Alpine river with an elevation of around 1,100 metres, flowing past Slovenia’s highest peak, Triglav at 2,864 metres.
The stunning emerald waters are world-renowned for kayaking. There are a range of rapid grades, including some pretty tough class IV and V sections. With a selection of day and multi-day tours, this is easily one of the best European kayaking destinations for those looking for something with a bit of bite.
Home to European and World Championship events the Noce is located in the Brenta Dolomite mountains of northern Italy. Fed by melting glacial ice it flows wildly through the heart of the Val di Sole (Valley of the Sun), conditions are best in the spring.
In the upper reaches you’ll be treated to some tasty class III to IV rapids. But as the river tumbles past the villages of Ossana to Caldes there is challenging class V white water. Definitely one of the best European kayaking destinations if you are looking for challenging rapids.
The Dora Baltea river that runs through the Aosta Valley has the best whitewater in the Italian Alps. With class III to IV rapids they are challenging and require prior experience. Although there are some easier sections that beginners can enjoy.
As the largest canyon in Europe, and one of the 10 biggest in the world, it is surprising that more people have not heard of Tara Canyon. Recognised as a UNESCO world heritage site it is not only beautiful but very clean – apparently you can drink the water straight from the river.
The rapids here range from class III to V, so there is plenty to keep experienced kayakers interested along the 25 km gorge. This is a one of the best European kayaking destinations if you want to head somewhere incredible, that most people have not heard of. Check out this review of rafting Tara Canyon for more info.
Explore the warm clear waters of the beautiful Zrmanja and Krupa rivers in Croatia, undoubtedly one of the best European kayaking destinations. There are some light rapids to negotiate, but the main draw is the stunning waterfalls and hidden pools that make for majestic kayaking.
To kayak the Zrmanja and Krupa we recommend Huck Finn Adventure Travel. They offer both day trips and multi day kayaking tours – you can also combine the adventure with some sea-kayaking.
One of the most alluring Europe kayak holidays would be to paddle the course of the Danube. As the second longest river in Europe it flows through Germany, Austria, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia, Slovakia, Moldova and Ukraine – visiting more countries than any other river worldwide.
As a way of touring Europe, kayaking down the Danube would be an amazing experience. You’d paddle through cities such Budapest, Vienna, Bratislava and Belgrade, plus many places of historical and cultural significance. Outside of the urban areas it flows through beautiful countryside including the famous Danube Delta.
Like your kayaking to be in fresh water that doesn’t flow, then check out the lakes below. Kayaking in lakes is often safer than rivers or the the sea so it is a great place for beginners to give it a go. In our opinion these are the top lakes for Europe kayak holidays.
Ireland is one of the most kayak friendly countries in the world, so it was an obvious choice as one of the best European kayaking destinations. The Lakelands of Co. Fermanagh offer an amazing amount of inland kayaking variety, with Lough Erne it’s crowning jewel.
Furthermore, there is an extensive network of canals running the length of Ireland linking various waterways to the River Shannon. Ireland really is a paddler’s paradise, the difficult thing with Ireland is narrowing down where to go. So hire a car and drive to all the best spots.
Renowned as a beautiful spot with homes for the rich and famous Lake Garda is a great place to kayak in Europe. It’s located in northern Italy not too far from Milan.
Paddle out onto the water first thing in the morning, before the lake really comes to life, and you’ll realise the meaning of true tranquillity. As the sun comes up behind the mountains and the water gently laps around you, it’s hard to imagine a better spot for kayaking than this.
Lake Como is so beautiful that parts of it were used in Star Wars Attack of Clones (Apologies I am writing this on May the Fourth – Star Wars day). It is about half the size of Lake Garda and overall quieter, but just as beautiful. You’ll be paddling surrounded by mountains, with picturesque towns and villages dotted around the edge. Heaven!
Not only can you try to spot the Loch Ness Monster, but you can follow the Caledonian Canal across Scotland. Hailed as one of the greatest waterways in the world, it links Fort William in the south west of Scotland with Inverness in the east.
On route it passes through the Great Glen geological fault, that includes four lochs and endless stunning scenery. The route is 60 miles long and takes about five days. You can read more about it in this article about the Coast to Coast kayak challenge.
Think Slovenia and the famous image of Lake Bled springs to mind. This is a great place to kayak but can get rather touristy. If you want to get away from it all Lake Bohinj, in Triglav National Park, is only half an hour away and is just as beautiful but almost untouched.
Saimaa is an enormous system of lakes and rivers in Finland that is the fourth largest body of freshwater in Europe. Often referred to as ‘the Paradise of Paddlers’ it is a labyrinthine network that is perfect for exploring by kayak. It’s easy to see why this is one of the best European kayaking destinations.
The water here is exceptionally clean and when the ice thaws during spring it comes alive with nature. There are thousands of islands, small rivers, and lakes to explore. Wild camping is encouraged, and kayaking here is a proper trip into the wilderness.
With Atlantic, Arctic and Mediterranean coastlines Europe offers a bit of everything for sea kayakers. Often with strong currents and more difficult conditions sea-kayaking can be more dangerous. But it can also be more rewarding.
If you want to the coast during your Europe kayak holidays, any of the below destinations are incredible.
The Wild Atlantic Way runs from Donegal in the far north of Ireland, down to Kinsale on the southern coast. It includes the entire western coast of Ireland which is rugged and stunningly beautiful. The power of the Atlantic has carved cliffs, caves and coves that are a delight to explore by kayak.
The water is clean and crystal clear – you could end up kayaking with basking sharks, dolphins, sea otters or seals. There are UNESCO sites, wildlife sanctuaries, national parks and crazy geological formations to explore. For more information, check out this article about water sports in Ireland.
The Algarve region of Portugal is renowned for it’s tourism and beautiful coastline. From resorts such as Albufeira and Vilamoura you can hire kayaks to explore the bays and coves of the local coastline. With relatively calm waters, this is sea kayaking that’s suitable for beginners.
The Ria Formosa National Park, a lagoon area near Faro, is good to explore by kayak particularly if you are a bird watcher. In the far west of Algarve, the Costa Vicentina National Park is one of the most beautiful places in Europe, you could spend weeks exploring all the hidden caves and coves of the coastline.
The Sognefjord is the second longest fjord in the world, heading 204 km inland from the south western coast of Norway. National Geographic Traveller Magazine called it the “the world’s most iconic destination”, so easily one of the best European kayaking destinations.
It is not just the natural beauty of the fjord, but there is a rich Viking heritage in the area and lots of other activities to do on Europe kayak holidays to Sognefjord. There are many day trips and multi day kayaking adventures exploring this stunningly beautiful part of the world.
Within the Arctic Circle the Lofoten Islands are Norwegian wilderness at it’s best. Expect majestic mountains, fantastic fjords and beautiful beaches. There is plenty of wildlife to spot along the way including seabird colonies and killer whales. Even the villages have a unique charm.
Although in the Arctic warm currents mean it is not as cold as similar latitude place elsewhere. In the summer you can kayak under the midnight sun, wild camping your way around. You could see Northern Lights although this is more likely in the winter.
Made up of 8,000 islands, many of which are completely wild and uninhabited, this coastal strip of Sweden is another kayakers paradise. The only thing cleaner than the air around you is the water you’re paddling on and everywhere you pass looks like it’s come straight from a postcard.
Even the little fishing villages that dot the coastline are overflowing with charm and character. Stretching from Gothenburg to the border with Norway, it’s popular but is big enough to never get crowded. And the waters are calm enough for anyone to enjoy Europe kayak holidays here.
As with Ireland, there is no one specific part of the Croatian Adriatic Coast that we can single out as a one of the best European kayaking destinations. That’s largely because the entire coastline is worth exploring in a kayak.
With sparkling blue waters, secluded coves and magical islands to paddle around, you could spend months kayaking here without ever getting bored. If you have the time, kayak with the prevailing current from the south to north of Croatia.
Taking in the cities of Dubrovnik, Split, Sibenik, Zadar, Rijeka you’ll get a dose of culture – and some great nightlife. Along the way there over 1000 islands to explore, many are uninhabited with untouched beaches – perfect for Europe kayak holidays. Potentially you could wild camp, although this is prohibited in Croatia so don’t get caught.
For organised kayaking tours in Croatia we recommend Huck Finn Adventure Travel. They offer a range of both sea-kayaking and river tours plus multi activity breaks. They are passionate about sharing Croatia with guests, and focus on sustainable tourism by working closely with local communities.
Given the amount of coast we have it’s unsurprising that there are a few cracking sea-kayaking spots in the UK. The turbulent waters at Anglesey really need to be explored. The waves and swells can be a fun challenge and the islets and inlets nearer the shorelines are teeming with wildlife, including porpoises and seals.
There are plenty more spots we would like to include as the best European kayaking destinations, but 23 it plenty – it’s 13 more than we intended for this top 10! A few spots we would like to include are Sardinia and Venice in Italy, Menorca and Majorca in the Balearic Islands and Island hopping in Greece.
Closer to home the Shetland Islands and the west coast of Scotland are stunning, as are the Scilly Islands and Cornwall. On the south coast the Seven Sisters National Park is also stunning with white cliffs tumbling into the sea. It’s safe to say the Europe Kayak holidays are as varied as this diverse continent.
We hope you found this article about the best European kayaking destinations both useful and informative. If we have missed your favourite spot for Europe Kayak holidays please leave a comment. And be sure to check out our kayaking discounts to save yourself a fortune.