Our World Top trails: The world's best walking and cycling spots

Photo of Cy Clayton

Our pick of 10 of the best places on the planet to walk or cycle, from the epic New Zealand wilderness to the romance of the Cinque Terre.

As they say, to have an adventure, you have to start by putting on your boots and going outside.

As any traveller who’s undertaken an active holiday will attest, there’s no better way to experience a destination than by pulling on your hiking boots or cycling gear.

From leisurely rides to cross-country treks, walking and cycling holidays offer travellers a unique perspective on the landscape, rewarding them not only with unforgettable experiences, but also with a unique sense of achievement. Whether you’re embarking on your first active holiday or you’re looking for your next walk or cycle destination, below are 10 of the world’s best.

Booking a tour is often the best option, and some of these destinations have restrictions on visitor numbers, so as with any holiday, ensure you do plenty of research when planning your trip.

Great Walks

1. Routeburn Track, New Zealand

Hiking is the perfect way to experience New Zealand’s spectacular natural beauty and the Routeburn Track is one of the most popular of the country’s Great Walks.

Crossing the South Island’s Southern Alps, the 32km trail links the Fiordland and Mount Aspiring national parks, which are part of the World Heritage-listed Te Wahipounamu area.

It takes walkers past ice-carved valleys, grasslands, waterfalls, forests and, at the track’s highest point at Harris Saddle, offers breathtaking views of the landscape from 1255m above sea level. 

The Routeburn is also home to plentiful native birds and alpine plants.

There are campsites and huts along the track which can be booked for overnight stays through the New Zealand Department of Conservation.

When to go: The designated Great Walks season is from late October to late April.

2. Coast to Coast, Britain

Rolling moors, ancient castles and abbeys, traditional English inns, the dramatic landscapes of the Lake District — it’s easy to see why the Coast to Coast is one of Britain’s best walks.

The cross-country trail traces a 320km route across the north of England from Cumbria to Yorkshire. As well as natural beauty, the trail is a journey into the country’s history, visiting the home of poet William Wordsworth, medieval monasteries and storybook villages (including the locations of classic British TV series such as Heartbeat), among other historical highlights.

When to go: The walking season in northern England is from late May until October. 

3. Cinque Terre, Italy

Walkers’ love affair with the Cinque Terre has made it one of the region’s most popular attractions (it hosted 2.5 million tourists in 2015).

The Cinque Terre is made up of five cliffside villages: Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. With the ocean on one side and the mountains on the other, exploring the trails that link them on foot is the perfect way to experience each charming panorama, from brightly coloured buildings and vineyards to traditional trattorias and the rocky Mediterranean coastline itself.

There are various ways to tackle the Cinque Terre, offering hikers a feast of choice to help burn off all that pasta and prosecco.

When to go: March to October is the high season, though the summer months can be crowded. Spring and autumn offer fewer tourists and cooler weather.

4. Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, Peru

One of the newer Seven Wonders of the World and one of the planet’s biggest tourist magnets, Machu Picchu offers hikers an experience that’s often described as life-changing/a rite of passage for many travellers.

Reaching 4200m at its high point — the altitude makes it one of the more challenging tracks on this list — the 43km Inca Trail is one of several hiking tours to the ruins of the ancient hilltop city.

Numbers are limited and walks are booked out well in advance, so plan your visit early. 

When to go: Between May and September are the recommended months to do the Inca Trail.

5. Overland Track, Tasmania

The Overland Track in Tasmania’s World Heritage Area is widely regarded as Australia’s most spectacular bushwalk.

Alpine lakes, mountainous highlands, unique ecosystems, ice-carved valleys — the 65km track from Cradle Mountain, two hours west of Launceston, to Lake St Clair in the south offers a diverse taste of Tasmania’s powerful natural beauty. Furthermore, it puts walkers up close to the island State’s famous wildlife, much of it unique to the area.

When to go: The peak season is from October to May. 

6. Appalachian Trail, United States

Home to more household names than any other region of the world, North America’s famous natural attractions make it a magnet for hikers, with treks for every taste, timeframe and fitness level.

Among the best known are the 14-State Appalachian Trail — perhaps best-known as the subject of Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods — and the Pacific Crest Trail, which runs 4265km through California, Oregon and Washington. It, too, was immortalised in print; it was subject of the Cheryl Strayed novel Wild, and its film adaptation starring Reese Witherspoon.

When to go: This depends on where you start. Walking north from Georgia, begin in March or April because the mountains of the north-east are cold and snowy — for the same reason, southbound hikers set off from May to late-June.

7. Bibbulmun Track, Australia

Australia’s greatest walk is a true bucket-list item for Aussies and international visitors alike.

The 1000km route from Kalamunda to Albany can be tackled in segments; there are nine sections of varying lengths so your trek may be as long as several weeks or as short as an overnighter. Whatever way you walk it, the Bibbulmun is a world-class walking experience in our own backyard.

When to go: Autumn and spring are most walkers’ favoured times.

Cycling Icons 

8. Camino de Santiago, Spain

One of the world’s best-known spiritual walk trails, Spain’s ancient pilgrimage route is equally alluring to cyclists.

Its various starting points all converge in the north-west of Spain, where the relics of St James are said to be buried in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

Closer to home, WA will host its own camino this August. Modelled on the Santiago, the Camino San Francisco is a two-day guided ride (or walk) from Kojarena to Geraldton, designed to celebrate the legacy and spirit of Monsignor John Cyril Hawes, the priest and architect of the Mid West’s most significant heritage buildings. It’s on from August 26-28. For more information, visit geraldtondiocese.org.au.

When to go: March and April are good times to avoid heat, cold and crowds in Spain.

9. Follow the Tour de France, France

Cycling is synonymous with France and if the coverage of the recent Tour de France has you feeling inspired, there are numerous cycling tours that have been developed around or inspired by the famous race.

Joining a guided tour takes the legwork out of planning your journey and many operators can offer VIP experiences for Tour buffs, as well as taking care of the finer details such as accommodation and luggage.

When to go: Join the 2017 Tour de France, which is on from July 1-23, or go any time.

10. Highway One, Vietnam

Vietnam is one of Asia’s most popular cycling holiday destinations and Highway One is a well-used route for riders.

Find yourself up close with the Vietnamese scenery, culture, cuisine and locals as you pedal the length of the country from Hanoi in the north to Ho Chi Minh City in the south.

When to go: Cycle during October to February to avoid the wet season.

Categories

You may also like