A Guide to European Kayaking: Lakes and Rivers

From serene lakes to castle-lined rivers and raging rapids, European kayaking offers something for every intrepid paddler. While kayaking you’ll discover bucket list sights, explore…

From serene lakes to castle-lined rivers and raging rapids, European kayaking offers something for every intrepid paddler. While kayaking you’ll discover bucket list sights, explore natural wonders and soak up cultural diversity. Here’s a rundown of some of the most spectacular rivers and lakes to launch your yak in Europe.

European Kayaking Destinations

River and lake kayaking in Europe ranges from easy paddles to thrilling rapids. All of the destinations in this guide provide kayak hire on site, to get you out on the water. However, if you prefer to take your own, check out lightweight kayaks that are easy to transport, such as the Eleven Cruise Plus or the Oru Foldable Kayak.

Ardeche, France

The gorges of Ardeche are often referred to as ‘the Grand Canyon of Europe’. Paddle amid soaring limestone walls, tackle over 20 rapids or simple glide over long, flat sections to take in the astounding scenery. Don’t forget your camera to capture incredible sights along the way. For example, you’ll see the famous Pont D’Arc, which is one of the largest natural bridges in Europe. After a big day out on the water, the surrounding wine region provides plenty of chances to sample scrumptious local produce.

Soča River, Slovenia

The emerald water of Slovenia’s River Soča attracts kayakers from across the globe. Base yourself in the charming village of Bovec and get ready to give your Driftsun Rover 120 inflatable a work out on easy to moderate rapids. Discover the sparkling cascades of Boka waterfall, experience the remote nature of Triglav National Park and peer through water so clear you’ll see fish swimming far below.

Lech River, Austria

The Lech River meanders through the Tyrolean Alpine mountain ranges. Along with soaring peaks, this European kayaking trip puts you in the heart of vast, green valleys, colorful wildflowers, narrow gorges and spectacular waterfalls. Foaming waves challenge whitewater enthusiasts and offer adventure for beginners. Moreover, the season for kayaking here is from May to August.

Ghent, Belgium

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Kayaking is the perfect way to see the historical center of Ghent, through a series of picturesque canals. Flat water means the experience is great for families and beginners. You’ll float beneath the Francois Laurentplein arches and see a different perspective of the Palace of Justice, the Castle of the Counts, Rabot Towers and the city’s quaint streets.

Lake Bled, Slovenia

Lake Bled is a kayaking photographer’s dream, with its postcard-pretty islet church. Furthermore, there’s a medieval castle perched high on the cliffs and the Julian Alps surrounding mirror-like water. This is flat water kayaking at its best, so the whole family will enjoy it. You can easily paddle over to Bled Island to check out the church and a museum.

Lake Como, Italy

The exquisite scenery of Lake Como has inspired artists and writers for centuries. Kayaking on the deep blue water is one of the best ways to discover the castle ruins, villas and lush gardens that line the shores. See the famous Piona Abbey and stop off for gelato along the way. If you’re looking for a super light, inflatable kayak that’s great for recreation, check out the Sea Eagle 330.

Lake Thun, Switzerland

Thun is one of Switzerland’s crystal clear lakes, with a deep blue color that’s enhanced by snow-capped mountains, romantic villages and castles. From the water, you’ll have a fantastic view of the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau mountains. When you’re back on land, explore the medieval old town with charming cafes, cobbled streets and Thun Castle.

Lake Garda, Italy

Lake Garda blends cliffs, islets and beaches with historic towns and castles. Explore hidden coves and waterfalls, or paddle in silence along towering, rocky cliffs. The best times to go are early morning and late afternoon, to experience the sheer size of the lake with dazzling colors lighting the surface and the sky.

European kayaking across spectacular rivers and lakes is a once in a lifetime adventure. To go fully prepared, consider taking a dry bag like the Seal Line Seal Pak and a paddle jacket during the cooler seasons.

If you have a story to tell about European kayaking, we’d love to know about your experience in the comments below! For more paddling adventures, check out Hawaii Kayaking.
Nicole West

Nicole Leigh West is an internationally published travel and lifestyle writer. She's traveled to more than 60 countries and you'll most often find her kayaking, diving and swimming across the globe.

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Nicole West

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