If your favourite way to travel is with two feet and a heartbeat, this selection of the world's best walks will be a dream come true for you.
Cornflower-blue skies and sand-coloured mountains make an incredible backdrop to a walking trip in Sinai. The focal point is obviously Mount Sinai, a sacred place where God is said to have created the Ten Commandments. Ascend the gentler side of the mountain in the darkness (2–3hr), from the monastery of St Catherine, to watch the sun rise, before heading down via the steep Steps of Penitence.
“Metéora” means “middle of the sky” and how apt the translation for this place is: the complex of six Orthodox monasteries appear suspended in mid-air, but are actually perched on natural sandstone stacks on the edge of a plain in central Greece. Ancient tracks – some overgrown and difficult to navigate – lace through the landscape, while steps up to the monasteries themselves are steep and narrow.
Enterprising Roman emperor Hadrian ordered a wall to be constructed across the width of England in AD122, from Wallsend (east) to Bowness-on-Sea (west) in Cumbria, creating a heavily fortified barrier between England and the north. Today, with the help of zealous conservation, most of the wall still exists, and walkers are welcome to trek the length of it, enjoying the spectacular views across the craggy countryside.
Peru’s premier tourist attraction, Machu Picchu is a tumbledown collection of ancient Inca buildings cocooned in a mountain ridge north of Cusco. Visitors usually hike the Inca Trail up to the site, taking a few days and quite often falling foul of altitude sickness. There is a limit on the number of visitors each day – and you’ll have to trek with an agency or tour operator only.
An ancient pilgrimage route, dating from the tenth century, the Santiago de Compostela (or Way of St James) is a still an extremely popular path today, both for religious and secular reasons. Traditionally crossing through some of the most beautiful and bucolic parts of France and Spain, the end goal is the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, northwest Spain.
Parts of Corsica’s GR20, the 180km-long grande randonnée that slices the island from north to south, are seriously difficult, though you don’t actually need to be a climbing expert. Stupendous views of blissful blue lakes, green forests and spiky crags are a mainstay on this walk, while overnight accommodation is generally a bunk bed in a simple refuge.
A geological wonder of jagged spires (hoodoos) that combine to look like a fiery sunset – blood-red, dusky pink, bright orange, lemon yellow – Bryce Canyon in southwest Utah is an incredible walking landscape. There are countless trails through the canyon, including the day-long Fairyland Loop and the magical Wall Street trail, which laces its way through an alarmingly narrow gorge.
Make sure you bring a warm jacket and a bobble hat to Patagonia’s Fitz Roy Massif. Frozen lakes and snow-covered mountains lie testament to the chilly temperatures and harsh landscape. But it’s a seriously beautiful place, too, with walks to the Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre base camps most typical. Any further and you need to be an expert climber.
Turkey’s first and most-established long-distance footpath, the Lycian Way follows the coast for 500km, from Ovacik, near Fethiye, to Antalya. Views over an impossibly blue sea are mesmerizing, while the path itself undulates through peaceful olive groves and scented pine forests, past impressive remains of ancient amphitheatres and tombs, and over trickling streams, with the occasional stop off for a well-earned swim.
The Great Ocean Walk, which stretches 104km from Apollo Bay to Glenample Homestead along Victoria’s coast in southern Australia, has so many highlights it’s hard to choose which section to explore. Best to walk the whole thing, then. Expect lush forests, coastal woodland and magnificent sea stacks (the Twelve Apostles), all topped off with the opportunity to see classic Aussie wildlife like koalas, kangaroos and kookaburras.
One of the world’s greatest feats of engineering, the ancient Great Wall of China was constructed to protect the Chinese empire and its vast lands. Following the wall’s undulating path up hills and down valleys makes for a thrilling walk, and you can pick and choose which sections you’d like to tackle.
Myanmar (Burma) has soared in tourist interest in recent years, and one of the very best walks you can do in the country is around the incredible Bagan plain, peppered with over 3000 religious buildings. High temperatures can make the walk overly warm and dusty, but witnessing the ornate stupas, pagodas and temples close up is a remarkable experience.
The mere shape of South Africa’s famous Table Mountain makes you want to climb it. And it would be worth the aching calves, too, for the views of the blue sea and the city of Cape Town from the top are stupendous. There is a range of walks on and up the mountain catering for different fitness levels and enthusiasm; a half-day summit trip involves an exhilarating cable car descent from the top.
Five hundred sheep are not your usual walking companions, but in the Dordogne, it seems they are. Transhumance is the moving of livestock from one grazing ground to another, depending on the condition of the pasture and the seasons – and you’re welcome to join in the journey. One of the better Transhumance routes is a 70km trek (five days) from Rocamadour to Luzech.
The Copper Canyon actually comprises six different canyons in Chihuahua state, Mexico, proudly showing off a greeny hue to their walls, hence the name. Hiking through the yawning chasms and ravines, slathered in trees, is a pretty cool experience or if you’ve picked up a few blisters along the way, hop on the Chihuahua al Pacifico Railway, which runs right through.
Sixteen kilometres long and plunging 300m from top to bottom in its deepest section, it’s hard to believe that a little river created the dramatic Samariá Gorge. Southern Crete’s most popular attraction, walkers can head from Omalos plateau to Agia Roumeli, which can take about five or six hours – generally longer in high summer.
Mount Fuji is apparently the most climbed mountain in the world. The Yoshida Trail climbs to the summit from the sacred Fuji Sengen Shrine, and thankfully has plenty of mountain huts and pitstops en route, to save weary feet and bed down for the night. The sun rising over the clouds from the summit is a pretty unforgettable sight.
The lovely Italian villages of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso (the so-called “Five Lands”) are linked by a gentle coastal path. Apart from Corniglia, which peers over a cliff, the villages tumble down attractively towards the blue sea. You have to pay a fee to walk between the villages, but it’s definitely worth it – and you’ll have certainly earned an ice-cold Peroni by the end of the day.
Mount Everest needs no introduction. The highest mountain in the world, eastern Nepal’s snow-covered giant has attracted wily climbers for many years, with perhaps the most famous and first ascent completed by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in 1953. For those keen for a little less of a challenge, but by no means an easy feat, Everest Base Camp is an extremely popular target.
A shining star among NZ’s walks (and there are a lot of them), the Milford Track snakes its extraordinary way through insanely deep valleys, past glacial lakes and sheer canyons, from Glade Wharf to Milford Sound in Fiordland National Park. Walkers, guided and independent, are restricted to around 90 per day and the journey should take 4–5 days, depending on your fitness/level.