Photograph by Jeremy Woodhouse, Getty Images

Photograph by Jeremy Woodhouse, Getty Images

Best Tours in Europe 2014

From Traveler Magazine's 2014 Tours of a Lifetime

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Iceland: Winter Wonderland

Forget hibernation; Icelanders enthusiastically embrace winter. Here’s your chance to see why: Hike the rugged coast of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, snowshoe over the Blue Mountain lava fields, watch for orcas, and scan the night sky for the aurora borealis. REI Adventures: “Iceland Winter Adventure,” 7 days; $3,199 for REI members;

Italy: Novel Venice

Venice on foot is romantic; on water it’s magic. Spend a week kayaking on the canals and around the barrier islands that protect the 212-square-mile lagoon. Rub shoulders with former gondoliers for a seafood luncheon at their clubhouse and a lesson in their paddling technique. Tofino Expeditions: “Kayaking Italy: The Venice Lagoon,” 8 days; $4,490;

Romania: Chez Dracula

Largely untouched by tourism, where it seems horse-drawn carriages outnumber cars, Transylvania is a window into Old World Europe. Travel on foot, horseback, and mountain bike between medieval villages, meeting farmers, shepherds, and beekeepers along the route. BikeHike Adventures: “Transylvania Traverse,” 10 days; $3,299;

Russia: Beyond Borscht

Inspired by the spike in interest for indigenous cuisine, this Russia specialist has cooked up a culinary-focused journey highlighted by a homespun meal at a dacha outside St. Petersburg. Vodka figures prominently, with a private tour and tasting at Moscow’s Cristall Vodka Museum. MIR Corporation: “A Chronicle of Russian Cuisine & Culture,” 10 days; $5,995;

Scotland: Hebrides Hike

What better way to celebrate Scotland’s Year of Homecoming—when the diaspora are invited back to explore their heritage—than to wander its coastal machairs (fields), peaks, and glens on the far-flung islands of Skye, Harris, and Lewis. Wilderness Scotland: “Wilderness Walking: The Outer Hebrides and Skye,” 7 days; $1,682;

Slovenia: Storybook Central

This cultural immersion into the Slovenian countryside is packed with hands-on experiences—beekeeping, pottery making, cooking zlikrofi (tiny tortellini)—and encounters with farmers and artisans. Kensington Tours: “Green Charms of Slovenia,” 9 days; $6,999;

France: Pyrenees Fieldwork

Ecologists know that climate change has already pushed alpine species to higher elevations. Help researchers track plants and wildlife in the delicate ecosystem of the Pyrenees; the results of the study may shape conservation policies. Earthwatch Institute: “Wildlife in the Changing French Pyrenees,” 8 days; $1,695;

Germany, Switzerland: Classical Act

This culture specialist has packaged performances by three of the world’s top orchestras, including the Vienna Philharmonic, in an arts-centric tour of Berlin and Lucerne. Visit Wagner’s lakeside home, and meet art collector Angela Rosengart between concerts. R. Crusoe & Son: “World-Class Classical Music Lucerne and Berlin,” 10 days; $8,760 (excluding concert tickets);

Norway: Reindeer Roundup

Live with and work alongside a Sami family in Finnmark during the annual reindeer migration from the inland winter habitat to calving grounds on the coast. A glimpse into one of the rare indigenous cultures left in Europe, offered by a community-based outfitter. Turgleder AS: “Reindeer Spring Migration,” 8 days; $5,476;

Turkey: Culinary Delights

Kebabs, manti (spiced lamb dumplings), baklava, dondur–ma (ice cream), the foods of Turkey are as wide-ranging as the cultures that once plied its ancient trade routes. Discover them on this culinary journey through Istanbul, Izmir, and Cappadocia, from a new travel venture by Whole Foods Market. Whole Journeys: “Turkish Delights,” 12 days; $5,895;

Sweden: Northern Nights

Head above the Arctic Circle to drive your own dogsled through Lapland wilderness, and, if you're lucky, catch the aurora borealis. National Geographic Adventures: "Sweden: Dogsledding to the Icehotel," 9 days; $8,595;

France, Spain: In the Beginning

Join paleoanthropologist Donald Johanson for an exploration of prehistoric cave paintings that dot France's southwest and the Basque country of Spain. National Geographic Expeditions: "Human Origins: Southwest France and Northern Spain," 10 days; $6,995;

Contributing editor Margaret Loftus has reported and written “Tours of a Lifetime” for the past eight years.