Via ferratas are not for the faint of heart. This is serious mountaineering that’s accessible to anyone with the right kit and a sense of adventure (a fear of heights is of no use here!). From Italy’s Dolomites, across the Alps and beyond, these are the best places to find challenging via ferratas for every skill level.
Italy: the birthplace of the via ferrata
Italy has around 400 via ferrata routes, with more than half of them in the Dolomites. If you’re looking to explore this sport, the Dolomites is by far the best place to go, reachable via flights to Venice. The dramatic high mountains make the perfect setting for your active holiday, with many routes following World War I fortifications. For beginners, try the Via Ferrata Averau or the Via Ferrata del Canalone. Outside of the Dolomites, try the northern end of Lake Garda and the mountains to the east of Lake Como.
Lake Garda is also one of the best places in Europe to go canyoning.
Austria: queen of the “klettersteige”
Austria has more than 550 “klettersteige,” it’s name for via ferrata, and is without a doubt the country that has most embraced the Italian adrenaline sport. It’s a great way to experience nature and many of the oldest routes are based in the Northern Limestone Alps. There is a good mix of longer mountain routes and shorter sport routes, like the ones popular in France. The hardest and most technically challenging route can be found in Austria, the “Arena” variant of the Bürgeralm-Panorama-Klettersteig in Styria.
France: routes for thrill-seekers
France caught onto this trend in the 1980s and now has close to 200 via ferrata routes across the country, mostly in the Alps but with some routes also in the Pyrenees, Corsica and the Massif Central. There are plenty for every skill level but most fall within the middle four of France’s 6 grade system. Check out the 59 metre long suspension bridge at la Grande Fistoire or the wire “monkey” bridges along the via ferrata de la Chal.
The most popular via ferrata in France is in La Voie du Colombier with around 15,000 climbers a year.
Switzerland: klettersteig in the Alps
It may have taken a while for the via ferrata trend to pick up in Switzerland but today it has some of the best routes in Europe. The first one ever built (and still considered one of the best) is called Tälli Klettersteig and is located on the southern faces of Gadmer Flue in the Urner Alps. Today there are 150 recorded routes in Switzerland with 32 in Bernese Oberland and 39 routes in the Valais. There are also a number of routes around Lake Lucerne too.
Close to home
While not the most popular place to discover this sport, there are a few options at home in England. Honister’s via ferrata is in the Lake District and is based on an old minder’s track up the steep face of Fleetwith Pike. There are two routes, Classic and Xtreme, which we recommend you choose based on your skill level and experience.
In Yorkshire Dales National Park, there is a via ferrata in How Stean Gorge which incorporates fixed beams and ladders over the river as well as rock face sections.
Get the right kit before you go
Via ferratas shouldn’t be attempted without the right kit. This includes a Y-shaped lanyard with two carabiners, a climbing harness, helmet, tough gloves and a headlamp, as some routes travel through mountain tunnels. Climbing shoes rather than hiking boots is usually preferred by seasoned climbers.