Decades of David Attenborough documentaries have opened our eyes to our planet’s astonishing biodiversity, from the lush rainforests of the tropics to the vast penguin colonies of Antarctica. Yet with so many fantastic tour operators specialising in wildlife holidays to all corners of the globe, it’s easy to overlook the rich ecosystems and remarkable species that we have on our doorstep here in Europe.
A European wildlife-themed tour is a way to reconnect with nature, learn more about the challenges that our native species face, and discover another side to familiar destinations. It’s also a great option if you’re looking to reduce your carbon footprint by holidaying closer to home, and you may find you return from your trip with a new-found passion for the natural world, or a desire to learn more about conservation and rewilding.
So this year, why not swap the Serengeti for Spain, the Amazon for the Azores, or the Galapagos for the Outer Hebrides? To inspire your next trip, we’ve picked out seven of the best wildlife destinations in Europe...
The forests of eastern Finland are one of the best places in the world to view brown bears safely at close quarters, and an encounter with these magnificent beasts is an unforgettable experience. Explore! offer a popular 4-day ‘Brown Bear Weekend’ break, where you’ll spend the night in a hide observing bears, with the chance to also see owls, wolverines, foxes and elk.
Spain is not the first country that comes to mind when you think of wildlife, yet this is where you’ll find the world’s most endangered cat species, the Iberian lynx. On Shearings’ 8-day ‘Traditions of Andalucia’ tour you’ll have the opportunity to visit Doñana National Park, situated just a few miles from the Costa del Sol and home to wildlife including lynx, wild boar, mongoose, deer and Spanish eagles.
Iceland is best known for its geothermal wonders and otherworldly landscapes, but it’s also a fantastic wildlife destination, particularly once you take to the water. Discover The World offer a special ‘Into the Blue - Whale Watching in Iceland’ tour which includes whale watching excursions in three different locations, with the chance to spot species including sperm whales, humpbacks and orcas. And keep your eyes peeled for Iceland’s rich birdlife, including puffins, white-tailed eagles, guillemots, kittiwakes and eider ducks.
The craggy coastlines and brooding islands of western Scotland support a magnificent array of wildlife, including dolphins, seals and seabirds galore. Set sail from Oban on St Hilda Sea Adventures’ 5-night ‘Inner Hebrides Wildlife Cruise’ and search for otters, sea eagles and maybe even a spot of sunshine as you cruise amongst misty lochs, ancient forests and colourful fishing harbours.
Belarus is probably not even on your radar as a holiday destination, but this enigmatic former Soviet state is one of the last places where you can still see the primeval forest that once carpeted Europe. On Intrepid’s 9-day ‘Highlights of Belarus’ tour you’ll visit Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park, part of the UNESCO-listed Bialowieza Forest, home to centuries-old oak and pine trees, wolves, elk and European bison, the continent’s largest land mammal.
Romania is home to a surprising diversity of landscapes, and much of the country remains wild and untamed. Spend 11 days exploring with Exoticca’s ‘Mysteries of Transylvania & Danube Delta’ tour and you’ll experience the best that the country has to offer, from the mountains that inspired Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ to the incredible birdlife of the Danube Delta. This important wetland habitat is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, home to species including pelicans, egrets, vultures, eagles, cranes and ibis.
This Portuguese archipelago out in the Atlantic is perhaps stretching the geographical definition of Europe, but it’s still a relatively short flight to get here from the UK. On land you’ll find spectacular volcanic scenery, pretty villages and bubbling hot springs, while the surrounding seas are rich in marine life. Saga’s 14-night ‘Whale Watching in the Azores’ itinerary takes you to four different islands in search of cetaceans, with the chance to spot humpback, fin, pilot, sperm and sei whales, bottlenose and common dolphins, and perhaps even the magnificent blue whale