There are many great destinations to spend a summer holiday in the Alps, but are you looking for epic scenery, picturesque villages, iconic trails or sublime lakes? For a bit of everything, here are our recommendations for spending summer in the Alps.
I’ve never been skiing. It’s something I feel the need to admit to people with shame and remorse. When I do, it’s normally met with a cross between pity and suspicion. How could you live so close to the Alps and not partake in this obligatory winter outing? Do you have no sense of adventure? What do you talk about in January?
But in January, my goal is not to spend more time in the freezing cold, my goal is to find some sun. So, heading over to the Alps to ski has never really fit into the schedule. But what does regularly feature in our travel plans is hiking in the Alps. For a European getaway, you can’t go past the fresh mountain air, exhilarating walking, quirky food and incredible scenery of the Alps in summer.
But the Alps covers so many countries and so much territory. How do you choose where to go? Here are our recommended destinations for hiking in the Alps in summer.
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1 – CHAMONIX, FRANCE
Outdoor adventures abound in stunning alpine scenery.
With arguably some of the best alpine scenery we’ve ever encountered, Chamonix is an ideal place to spend summer in the Alps. Wedged between two steep-sided valleys with cable cars rising up each side, it has the facilities and scenery to enjoy some of the best hiking in the Alps. Gain height quickly at the beginning of the day or cut the descent short in the evening.
One excellent walk takes you from the cable car station at Plan de l’Aiguille along the Grand Balcon du Nord to the Mer de Glace. Another is an energising hike up to Lac Blanc with impressive views back across the valley to the Mont Blanc massif; although it takes a brave person to swim in the lake, even in the middle of summer.
Alternatively, in the winter months, there is some great snowshoeing in Chamonix
Chamonix also offers a treasure trove of Alpine summer activities: mountaineering, white water rafting, and mountain biking. But the real highlight of this region is the view from the top of the Aiguille du Midi – the closest you can get to Mont Blanc without actually doing it.
The journey in the cable car is exciting enough – rising to over 3,800 metres – but the scenery from the summit is simply breathtaking. In our opinion – with the highest peaks in the Alps on show – it’s the best, easily accessible, single view in the Alps.
- Best mountain view of the Alps from the top of a cable car;
- Good variety of hiking on both sides of the valley;
- Great for adventure sports.
- Chamonix is beautifully set, but otherwise, it’s not our favourite village in the Alps.
2 – GRINDELWALD, SWITZERLAND
Best summer in the Alps destinations for picture-perfect villages
The Bernese Oberland, set in the heart of Switzerland, is quintessential Alpine scenery. Picture perfect Alpine villages, perched on precipitous ledges, dot the rolling green meadows. Snow and ice crested mountains with vertiginous faces stand proud against the most dramatic of Alpine valleys. This is Alpine scenery at its very best.
The jewel in the Bernese crown is the spectacular Jungfraujoch. A train winds its way through rock up to 3,400 metres – the highest train station in Europe. From the saddle between the mighty Mönch and Jungfrau mountains, the stunning Aletsch Glacier, a river of snow and ice, stretches into the never-ending distance.
But there are many other jewels. Cable cars whisk you up to hundreds of paths and ski lifts take you to some of the finest ridge hiking in the Alps. The precipitous slopes of Mönch, Eiger and Jungfrau form a magnificent backdrop to every hike and every climber’s challenge.
The Swiss settlements in the area are beautiful too. Cute rural villages sit high up in the mountains and sophisticated towns rest on the edge of deep blue lakes. With their well-preserved medieval architecture, you’ll find plenty of things to do in Lucerne, Interlaken and Brienz.
For one of the best views in Grindelwald, you can’t go past the spectacular Lauterbrunnen Valley. The steep gigantic rock sides of the Lauter Brunnen – or “many fountains” – is home to 72 cascading waterfalls and one of the finest vistas in the world.
- The stunning scenery of Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau mountains;
- Lauterburnnen valley – the most beautiful we’ve seen in Europe;
- Magnificent Swiss villages and chalets perched on precipitous ledges.
- Switzerland is expensive – time for that second mortgage.
3 – MATTERHORN, SWITZERLAND
Adventurous trails to iconic Swiss mountain vistas
Yes, it’s not exactly a traditional town and yes, it’s full of tourists year-round. But Zermatt is a great place to base yourself for a summer holiday in the Alps. Set below the iconic Matterhorn, it’s impeccably cute, full of wooden houses, cuckoo clocks and rösti. The no-car zone keeps Zermatt feeling more local and relaxed than the crowds would otherwise suggest.
Cable cars, railways and funiculars rise out of Zermatt and up the steep-sided valley to a large array of walking paths. The Glacier Paradise cable car rises to the summit of Klein Matterhorn, allowing you to walk on the snowy summit. Halfway up a magnificent adventurous trail heads off to Hörnlihütte, a mountain hut where climbers get ready to ascend the Matterhorn in the early hours.
The cog railway up to Gornergrat passes Swiss forests, mountain lakes, rocky ravines and beautiful old bridges. Once at the top you’ll be presented with 29 mountains over 4000 metres and the incredible Gorner Glacier. Any of the many walks back down offer magnificent views of the Matterhorn and the glaciers that run along the valleys.
Additionally, a short train ride from Zermatt, brings you to a cable car that ascends Eggishorn, a 2212-metre-high viewpoint offering stunning views of the 23-kilometre-long Aletsch glacier. From here you can take one of the many walking paths either curling around the mountain, across the glacier or clinging to suspension bridges.
There’s also a fantastic mountain bike path stretching all the way back down to the cable car station at the bottom. Or if all that sounds too much, paraglide down for a thrilling summer Alpine adventure.
- The exhilarating walk up to Hörnlihütte and views from Gornergrat;
- The extensive public transport makes getting around easy without a car;
- The amazing sight of the Aletsch Glacier as it meanders down the valley.
- Zermatt is tucked under the valley wall, restricting views from the town;
- It’s an expensive place.
4 – TYROL, AUSTRIA
Rolling hills and picturesque lakes in beautiful Austrian villages
The Austrian Tyrol region offers a different side to summer hiking in the Alps. The peaks are less dramatic, but the rolling hills, alpine flowers and picturesque lakes will have you singing along to the Sound of Music. Innsbruck is a great cosmopolitan city to base yourself in. From here you can walk in beautiful alpine scenery, climb steep rock faces or try your hand at a game of golf.
The Lüsens – Westfalenhaus hike is a 5 kilometre circuit with an ascent of 638 metres. It’s a fantastic walk that showcases some of the best variety this area has to offer. The walk starts above Innsbruck and meanders through a beautiful native forest beneath the rock face of the Lüsener Fernerkogel. There are a number of rifugios to stop at and feast on some traditional Austrian sausage and generously sized beers.
In this part of the world, most tourists make a beeline for Hallstatt, home of Instagram greatness. It’s easy to see why it’s so popular. Perfectly positioned between lake and mountain, Hallstatt – with its iconic church – was made to be photographed. Dating back to the iron age, Hallstatt has been beckoning tourists ever since.
When you run out of things to do in town – and this won’t take long – explore some of the fantastic lakes and intriguing ice caves in the area.
- Rolling hills, open spaces and a Sound of Music scenery;
- Cosmopolitan Innsbruck and the very pretty Hallstatt;
- Excellent, but easy walks in rolling alpine countryside.
- More foothills than big hills and less dramatic mountain peaks than other areas;
- The Austrian food scene can get very repetitive.
2 – DOLOMITES, ITALY
Dramatic limestone crags and hiking along rolling green meadows
The Italian Dolomites is one of our favourite summer Alps destinations. What makes them so spectacular are the limestone crags that launch themselves out of rolling green meadows. As the sun rises in the early morning or sets in the evening these crags come alive in beautiful shapes and colours.
The craggy mountains and alpine meadows is the setting for some of the excellent hikes in the Dolomites. Struggling your way up to the Vajolet Towers, circumnavigate the mighty Sassolungo massif, or hiking Tre Cime.
Since the mountains are lower than their French and Swiss counterparts, you get the added satisfaction of actually getting to the top of many of them, like on the beautiful Lago di Sorapis hike.
The Dolomites are also the home to the Via Ferrata, with many of the best routes in the world. If you’re more adventurous than us, you can clip yourself onto iron railings embedded in the rock and work your way along these “iron routes” as the valley floor sits thousands of meters below you. It looks a steep terrifying affair.
The last, and possibly best, bonus of the Dolomites is the huts. The Italian mountain rifugios are fantastic. Down a well-earned beer while staring at stunning scenery from the balcony of an atmospheric rifugio, for half the price of their Swiss counterparts. Find all the best ones in our Dolomites itinerary.
- Dramatic limestone mountains rising from green meadows
- Rocks that glow in the changing light
- Vast range of interconnecting paths taking you to the tops
- Excellent huts with even better food and drink
- Not as high as other alpine areas so much less snow
- Public transport links are not as good as Switzerland
BEST OF THE ALPS IN SUMMER
BEST OVERALL SCENERY
The vertiginous Lauterbrunnen valley backed by the mighty mountains of Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau is some of the best scenery we’ve encountered anywhere. This is the alps in summer at it’s absolute finest.
BEST SINGLE VIEWPOINT
The endless rows of needles from top of the cable car at Aiguille du Midi in Chamonix provides the best individual viewpoint in the Alps and a fun way to see it. Take in an Alpine summer with breathtaking views.
BEST VALUE FOR MONEY
There’s no competition here, the Italian Dolomites are easily the best value for money destination in the Alps with both food and facilities reasonably priced. For an economical summer holiday in the Alps, the Dolomites is a great choice.
BEST TRANSPORT LINKS
The interconnectivity of trains, cable cars and funiculars in the Bernese Oberland make travelling around the area a breeze without your own wheels. If you’re planning on seeing the alps in summer via public transport, this is a good place to start.
Rifugio Dreizinnenhütte at Tre Cime has delicious food, cold beer and with the towering rock faces staring back at you, it also has one of the best refugio views we’ve seen.
BEST OVERALL HIKING
The Italian Dolomites gets our pick for the best hiking in the Alps in summer thanks to superb views, good facilities, easy-to-navigate paths and excellent food. All our favourite hikes are list in our best walks in the Dolomites guide which includes detailed instructions and maps. To help put your summer holiday in the Alps together, read our Dolomites road trip.
MORE ALPS READING
The Alps is an area we love going back to. With exceptional hiking, dramatic scenery and a blend of European cultures, it’s one of our favourite places in the world.
See the best of the Italian Dolomites on a one-week Road Trip Itinerary
Breath-taking Dolomites views hiking the Sassolungo–Langkofel circuit
How to visit Lago di Braies – Italy’s alluring emerald-green lake
Hiking the Stunning Tre Cime di Lavaredo Loop in the Dolomites
10 breath-taking reasons to visit the Italian Alps
9 Great Hikes in the Dolomites – Easy strolls to exhilarating hikes
How to visit beautiful Val di Funes (Villnöss)
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