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Up-and-coming European Paddling Destinations Worth Visiting

Europe is unquestionably one of the most beautiful continents in the world. It has rich and ancient cultures as well as all sorts of unique landscapes and climates. With so many famous rivers and geological wonders, it’s no surprise there are many wildly popular paddling destinations on this continent. But if you are looking to experience nature and avoid huge crowds and heaps of tourist infrastructure, you should consider checking out some of Europe’s up-and-coming paddling destinations.

If you want to enjoy the best kayaking, canoeing, and SUP boarding that Europe has to offer, consider one of its many up-and-coming paddling destinations. There is incredible island-hopping paddling in places like Malta, the Stockholm Archipelago in Sweden, and the Galician Coast in Spain. Lesser-visited European countries including Montenegro, Albania, Romania, and Bosnia and Herzegovina all have incredible bodies of water perfect for adventure-seeking paddlers.

There is a place for every type of paddler in Europe. Regardless of your skill level, interests, and even budget, there is an amazing spot where you can enjoy gorgeous clean waters and amazing surroundings. The key is finding an amazing spot that isn’t filled with thousands of tourists. If you want to paddle in Europe but aren’t interested in all the tourist traps, keep reading to learn about some incredible up-and-coming paddling destinations in Europe.

13 Amazing Off The Beaten Path European Paddling Destinations

1. Galician Coast, Spain

Spain is one of the most visited countries in Europe. It has incredible food, culture, architecture, as well as many picturesque beaches and islands. With all the water that surrounds this country, it’s no surprise it is home to some great paddling locations. But many of its islands, like Mallorca, and beach areas in the Mediterranean are expensive and packed in the summer months. The Northwest corner of the country, just above Portugal, however, is a hidden gem for paddling and nature lovers alike.

The Galician Coast is a stretch of just over 1,000 miles of coastline, including several stunning and protected islands in Spain’s Northwest corner. The Cies Islands are arguably the crowned jewel of this region, with crystal clear waters, incredible beaches, and wildlife galore. But many islands and oceanfront villages are worth exploring on a paddling adventure in this region.

The area is less visited, making accommodations reasonable. Vigo is an interesting gothic-looking city, and the area has incredible seafood, including some of the best octopus dishes in the world.

2. Corsica, France

Many dream of paddling in the dreamlike French Riviera, or along the Seine in Paris, but other less popular paddling regions in France can be even more rewarding. Corsica is a rugged and historically rich island owned by France but with a history dating back to ancient Greek civilizations. Its waters are equally as diverse and fabled.

There are crystal clear bays, incredible rock formations, natural arches, and endless places to explore within its more than 600 miles of coastline. Best of all, Corsica is not nearly as visited as most other coastal regions of France. It maintains its island charm but still boasts some incredible French bakeries, which are divine after a long paddle.

3. The Beautiful Rivers Of Slovenia

Slovenia is another jaw-droppingly beautiful European country that is often elusive to non-European foreigners. But if you are a serious paddler this hidden gem should be on the top of your budget-friendly paddling destinations list. This is because Slovenia is home to some of the most beautiful rivers in the world, and many of them are perfect for kayak and canoe enthusiasts.

The Soča River is the crown jewel of Slovenia, with its crystal clear sapphire and turquoise waters that look so perfect you think your mind is playing tricks on you. You can’t miss out on a trip down the Soča when you visit, but there are several other incredible, and less-visited bodies of water in this country. The Sava and Kolpa Rivers, as well as Lake Bohinj, are all incredible for paddling, and just as enchanting as the Soča.

4. Malta

Malta is a stunning island nation in the southern Mediterranean that is often overlooked by travelers who flock to mainland Europe. This country is worth a detour on any European vacation and even holds strong as a stand-alone travel destination. Its stunning blue waters and ancient well-protected harbors and coves make it an incredible paddling location as well.

Malta has the benefit of being closer to the equator, which means shorter winters, and more months with ideal paddling. There are beautiful blue lagoons, and some incredible coral species and fish to see from your kayak, or by jumping in the water with a snorkel. There are tons of great spots to easily launch your kayak, and Malta is ideal for novice paddlers and experienced sea kayakers alike.

5. Bay of Kotor, Montenegro

Croatia and other countries bordering the stunning Adriatic Sea have skyrocketed in popularity in recent years. Other equally beautiful countries, including Montenegro, continue to elude the droves of tourists that places like Split and Dubrovnik are encountering now. The Bay of Kotor in coastal Montenegro is not only a serene and affordable summer vacation destination, but it is also one of Europe’s best-kept paddling secrets.

There are several towns you can stay in along Montenegro’s largest bay, including Kotor, Perast, and Herceg Novi. There are small islands in the bay you can explore, and paddling along the coast is its own interesting and safe adventure. The waters in the bay are well-protected, making it a great family-friendly paddling destination. There is so much to see and explore in this incredible bay, and it's easy to do with more affordable prices and fewer tourists on the water.

6. Sardinia, Italy

Italy has no shortage of incredible seaside villages, and colorful bays. In the summer months, however, many of this country's most picturesque waterfront regions are inundated with visitors. This means high prices and navigating large summer crowds on a paddling vessel. One region that is up-and-coming as a tourist destination in Italy is Sardinia, and this charming island has some of Italy’s best and still relatively unspoiled paddling locations.

Bosa is the gateway for a lot of great paddling in Sardinia. It is a lovely and vibrant town with a bustling protected bay, as well as long stretches of stunning coastline on either side. It also features a beautiful serpentine river that travels inland, which makes for a lovely half-day paddling adventure that the entire family can enjoy.

7. North Macedonia

North Macedonia is a place that might be difficult to place on a map for those living in North America and other non-European countries. While lesser known, this small country has some incredible natural beauty, with low prices and very few crowds.

North Macedonia has a lot of untouched natural landscapes, and several bodies of water worth exploring. Ohrid and Prespa Lakes are both worth visiting and enjoying in a paddling vessel. Perhaps the most beautiful place to paddle in all of North Macedonia, however, is Matka Canyon. This lovely canyon has towering mountainous terrain on either side of a sapphire-colored river. It is a must-see body of water, and great for paddling enthusiasts of all skill levels.

8. Ksamil and Sarandë, Albania

Albania is one of the hottest new vacation destinations in Europe. It is still developing its infrastructure, but for those looking for a budget-friendly paddling destination with amazing coastal paddling, look no further than southern Albania.

The southernmost coast of Albania, stretching from Ksamil to Sarandë, is a great example of an incredible and budget-friendly kayaking location. Ksamil in particular is a great leisure kayaking location as there are several picturesque islands you can hop to and from in a kayak. These islands are known as the Tetrasani Islands, and are surrounded by clear Adriatic waters, and are ideal for those looking for a tranquil beach experience.

9. Stockholm Archipelago, Sweden

When many think about an epic paddling trip in the Nordic region they immediately consider the fjords of Norway or paddling in Iceland. While both of these experiences are bucket-list-worthy paddling endeavors, there are other Nordic water adventures you can enjoy without so many tourists.

The Stockholm Archipelago has thousands of islands and islets, some inhabited, and others wild and perfectly preserved. It expands for 650 miles, making it very easy to find a route that escapes busy summer crowds. You can soak up the history and culture on a guided tour, or map your adventure in this Nordic island-hopping paddling paradise.

10. Madeira, Portugal

Madeira Portugal is known for its jagged coastlines and intriguing wine, but it is also slowly gaining popularity among paddlers thanks to its well-preserved natural coastline. Often referred to as the island of flowers, Madeira is a jewel off the coast of Morocco in the Atlantic Ocean.

Its location allows for mild winters, and a subtropical climate where many flowers and other plant species flourish. This Portuguese island is also a great off-the-beaten-path European paddling destination. It has no major lakes or rivers, but there are many protected areas of coastline in this archipelago. As long as the weather is favorable, paddling enthusiasts can have an epic trip exploring the waters along many stretches of wild coastline.

11. Snowdonia, Wales

Snowdonia is one of the most mesmerizing regions in the United Kingdom. This vast national park stretches 823 square miles, encompassing the majority of northern Whales. This park is just a few hours' journey by train from bustling Liverpool, but once off the train, you feel as though you have been transported back in time.

The fairytale villages, untamed rolling hills, and lush mountains are an altogether mesmerizing sight to behold. Hiking is the most popular activity in the park, but kayaking and white water rafting are continuing to grow in popularity. There are many rivers and lakes you can explore either independently, or with a guide. With mellow lakes to raging rapids, there is something for every type of paddler in this Welch wonderland.

12. The Rivers Of Bosnia Herzegovina

The Balkans have several hidden gems, and several Balkin countries have incredible rivers, lakes, and coastal regions that are just now gaining popularity among international paddlers. Bosnia and Herzegovina is one such country with a plethora of different rivers and lakes with very few tourists. Best of all, this country is significantly cheaper and less touristy than its popular Balkan neighbor, Croatia.

The Janj is a clear emerald-colored river that looks straight out of a fairytale, and is great for all sorts of paddling. You can also enjoy a picturesque paddle deep in a canyon in the Neretva River, or explore Una River in Una National Park. This country has tons of rivers that are still unknown to the masses, and worth exploring before the secret gets out.

13. The Aegean Coast, Turkey

Social media is filled with photos of the Greek Islands in all their glory. Did you know that across the Aegean there are cheaper, less touristy islands in the same body of water? Turkey has equally stunning Aegean islands, and thanks to their proximity to coastal mainland Turkey, many of them provide calm waters that are perfect for paddling.

Kekova Island is a must-visit paddling location when visiting Turkey. This island has stunning clear waters that allow you to see underwater ruins, which you can paddle over in a kayak on a guided tour. These ancient ruins look like the real-life version of the city of Atlantis, it’s a unique and incredible sight to behold. The Princess Islands are also incredible, especially in the warmer months, and Kargicak Bay is a great off-the-beaten-path kayaking spot.

Final Notes On Up-And-Coming European Paddling Destinations

Europe has no shortage of paddling destinations. There are incredible fjords, coastal routes, and rivers that travel through some of the continent's most beautiful cities. Unfortunately, many of these spots are now quite touristy, especially in the summer months. If you are looking for a new and fresh European paddling destination, look in the Balkan countries like Slovenia, Montenegro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Snowdonia National Park in Wales is a lovely hidden paddling gem in the United Kingdom, and the Galician Coast in Spain’s Northwest corner offers incredible island-hopping paddling without the crowds found in the country’s Mediterranean region.

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