The Top 14 Rock Climbing Destinations in Europe

man in a green shirt and red helmet abseiling in the Dolomites mountains
Westend61 / Getty Images

One of the best things about rock climbing is that you can do it almost anywhere that has elevation changes. Almost every country in the world offers some amount of rock climbing or bouldering (climbing much shorter rocks without ropes.) And that means Europe, which has more than 10 "major" mountain ranges and at least 100 smaller ones, is home to some of the best rock-climbing destinations in the world. In the U.S., climbers use the 5.0 to 5.15 rating system, but it's a little different in Europe. The most common is the French scale, in which the easiest route is rated a one. However, the system a destination uses doesn't really matter as long as you understand which routes are more or less challenging.

While rock climbing may look like one of the most extreme (and sometimes dangerous) sports on the planet, proper instruction and education can mitigate most of the risk. Routes to the top are established by professional climbers and rock climbing organizations. Top roping and sport routes have bolts and hardware in place already. While you should always do your own safety checks, most popular rock climbing destinations have organizations that maintain the integrity of the routes.

01 of 14

Dolomites, Italy

Villnoess St. Magdalena at Val di Funes (Funes Valley), Alto Adige, Italy.

Getty / Achim Thomae

It's hard to find a list of the best climbing in Europe and not see the Dolomites on it, perhaps because the views from these mountain peaks in Italy are hard to beat. Beginners and occasional climbers can find enough sport and top rope climbing routes to fill anywhere from an afternoon to a month. More advanced climbers will have a variety of trad and bouldering options. Anyone can climb the via ferrata in Lake Garda or Cortina and expert climbers can summit Vajolet Towers.

While there are plenty of places to base yourself for a few days, first-time visitors will want to base themselves in Bolzano for the best mix of affordable lodging and convenient climbing.

Continue to 2 of 14 below.
02 of 14

Innsbruk, Austria

Rock climber on a curved wall in Innsbruck, Austria

Innsbruck Tourism / Christian Vorhofer

Innsbruck is known as one of the most outdoorsy towns on the planet with a reputation for easy access to extreme sports. So of course it's a prime location for rock climbing. It has fantastic amenities geared toward climbers, including the Kletterzentrum Climbing Facility (where the Austrian national team trains), the Alles Klettersteig climbing school, and several affordable hotels that cater to climbers. Sport climbing, multi-pitch, bouldering—whatever climbing you prefer, you'll find it around Innsbruck. Be sure to get an Innsbruck card to make use of free public transportation, among other perks.

Continue to 3 of 14 below.
03 of 14

Kalymnos, Greece

Young woman lead climbing in cave, male climber belaying. Kalymnos island, Greece.

Photobac / Getty Images

Greece has phenomenal climbing both on the mainland and on many of its more than 200 islands. But if you don't have time to make multiple stops, stay on Kalymnos. You can fly there from Athens or take a ferry from Kos. The small island has more than 2,000 lead and top rope climbing routes along with several climbing clubs and guiding companies. First-time climbers can take a beginner class with Climb Kalymnos and experts can find world-class guides to show them the best spots.

Continue to 4 of 14 below.
04 of 14

Les Calanques, France

En Vau bay, Massif des Calanques, limestone cliffs, Calanques National Park

Hwo / Getty Images

The South of France may be associated with luxury, but it's easy to mix in a little rock climbing adventure in Les Calanques, a rocky series of mountains and ridges around Parc National des Calanques. Many routes have Mediterranean views and while climbers will find routes of all levels (there are sport, trad, and bouldering routes), non-climbers in your group will have easy access to beaches, scuba diving, luxurious resorts, mountain biking, and much more nearby (Toulon and Cassis are less than an hour away.) All the rock here is limestone, which is a favorite among sport climbers.

Continue to 5 of 14 below.
05 of 14

Osp, Slovenia

AERIAL: Drone point of view of a female rock climber training in sunny Osp.
helivideo / Getty Images

If northern Italy has excellent rock climbing, then shouldn't the countries around northern Italy also be worth a visit? The answer is yes, especially if you're able to head to Slovenia. Just east of Venice across the border is Osp, the most well-known city in Slovenia for climbers. It's not very beginner-friendly, but experienced climbers will find plenty to entertain themselves on the massive limestone formations, including opportunities to climb in massive cave overhangs. Most climbers stay in Trieste (Italy), though Osp is only an hour from Ljubljana if you'd prefer not to make the border crossing each morning.

Continue to 6 of 14 below.
06 of 14

Lofoten Islands, Norway

Svolvaergeita or the goat is a pinnacle of rock on top of Svolvaer town, Lofoten island, Norway, Scandinavia

Punnawit Suwuttananun / Getty Images

For how remote the Lofoten Islands are, they attract a lot of climbers which shows just how great the climbing is. The flight from Oslo takes several hours but when you're there, you have access to an outdoor paradise with climbing routes across stunning towers and massive granite walls. You'll find more than 1,500 multi-pitch, trad, and sport routes across the islands. The most well-known climb here is Svolvaergeita, a stunning rock pillar which, despite how it intimidating it looks, has routes for advanced and beginner climbers alike.

Continue to 7 of 14 below.
07 of 14

Corsica, France

France, Corsica, Woman climbing on big single rock

coberschneider / Getty Images

Head to Corsica if you want a variety of climbing styles and rock types in one easy-to-navigate location. Off the coast of Rome (though it's part of France), Corsica offers rock climbing and bouldering in several areas around the island. While most of the routes are best-suited to experienced climbers, there are enough routes for beginners to fill a day. Corsica is especially known for its tafoni formations in the granite rock. Climbers love the swiss-cheese-esque formations as they make excellent natural holds on challenging overhangs and bouldering routes.

Continue to 8 of 14 below.
08 of 14

Valais, Switzerland

Female climber on a rocky wall at sunset
Buena Vista Images / Getty Images

Valais is one of the largest cantons (akin to a state) in Switzerland and is perhaps best known for being home to famous bucket-list destinations like Zermatt and the Matterhorn. But to climbers, it's most famous for its rugged rock faces and slabs; it is in the middle of the Alps, after all. Because this is such a massively popular tourist destination, you can choose among via ferrata, bouldering, top roping, trad climbing, climbing classes, private guides, and much more. It's also a great place to give mountaineering a try, which blends climbing, scrambling, and snow/ride climbing. Zermatters offers a variety of summer classes and guiding services.

Continue to 9 of 14 below.
09 of 14

Tenerife, Spain

Male climber challenging cliff in El Teide National Park, Canary Islands, Spain

Sergio Villalba / Aurora Photos / Getty Images

Climbers ready to take their first rock-climbing-specific trip may want to consider Tenerife. It's a destination known for pleasant weather, easy access to routes, and a fantastic variety of routes, including many options for beginners. Tenerife has no shortage of places to rent your climbing gear and get instruction, including Tenerife Climbing House and El Ocho Climbing School. Arico is the most famous climbing spot on the island, though you can also climb on a dormant volcano in Teide National Park.

Continue to 10 of 14 below.
10 of 14

Rjukan, Norway

Ice climber on a frozen waterfall in Norway

Niklas Bernstone Getty Images

One of the world's best ice-climbing destinations is Rjukan, roughly 2.5 hours west of Oslo. Though ice's natural characteristics make it generally a fairly risky climbing surface, Rjukan is known for consistently thick, cold ice. And you'll have plenty of climbing options as the region has more than 190 frozen waterfalls, generally available for climbing between December and March. There's an ice climbing festival each February and lodging is fairly affordable by Norwegian standards. Rjukan's only catch? No sunlight reaches the valley between November and March (though there are giant mirrors to reflect light into the small town's public areas.)

Continue to 11 of 14 below.
11 of 14

Frankenjura, Germany (Bavaria)

Altmühl valley with the bridge over the river and the castle on the rock, Germany

StGrafix / Getty Images

If you're planning to climb in Germany, one destination will be at the top of every list: Frankenjura. There are more than 13,000 rock climbing routes in the Frankenjura region, which skew a bit more difficult. However, because there are so many routes, even beginners will find suitable ones. It's mostly sport climbing and overhangs are common. Almost all the rock here is limestone and affordable hotels in small towns like Gobweinstein and Morschreuth will be almost exclusively populated by climbers during the summer months. You could also stay in Nuremberg if you don't mind a slightly longer drive to the crags.

Continue to 12 of 14 below.
12 of 14

Mallorca, Spain

deep water soloing on Mallorca

Andrii Vandych / Getty Images

Mallorca is the spot to give deep-water soloing (also called "psicobloc") a try. What's deep-water soloing? Imagine climbing without a rope on rock faces bordering the sea. Rather than being caught by a rope or landing on a crash pad, you'll fall into the sparkling blue sea (there's usually a support boat not too far away.)

Mallorca's location in the warm waters of the protected Mediterranean Sea makes it a prime spot for deep-water soloing. You'll need to be a fairly strong climber and swimmer to make much headway in the sport. Take classes or hire a guide through Rock and Ride Mallorca.

Continue to 13 of 14 below.
13 of 14

Vorarlberg, Austria

Group of rock climbers in Voralberg, Austria

Voralberg Tourism / Stefan Kothner

Vorarlberg is the second-smallest state in Austria, but it's packed full of geological diveristy. That means there's a variety of routes, crags, and walls within a short drive of nearly anywhere you decide to stay. There are special outdoor areas designated just for beginners and classes (in Rufikopf); a massive climbing, bouldering, and via ferrata park with options for everyone in the Montafon Valley; several large indoor climbing gyms; and opportunities for guided alpine climbing. There are more than 30 designated climbing areas across 1,000 square miles, so plan to stay as long as you want—you won't have to climb the same thing twice.

Continue to 14 of 14 below.
14 of 14

Amalfi Coast, Italy

Positano, Amalfi Coast, Italy. Aerial view.

Getty / Marco Bottigelli

Climbers who like their routes with a side of wine and fresh seafood orecchiette will want to head to the Amalfi Coast. While it's hardly the cheapest climbing destination in Europe, it offers single-pitch routes for sport climbing and top roping and has a fairly good mix of beginner, intermediate, and advanced routes. Hang out at La Selva in Positano to meet plenty of climbers willing to show you the ropes (pun intended).