Various organisations have published their lists of the world’s friendliest countries recently, from the World Economic Forum to magazines and travel guides. Here are some of the countries we rate as not only friendly, but with great scenery and a range of activities.
Germany is the most populous of Europe’s states and, with its largely temperate seasonal climate, welcomes 20 million visitors annually. Its largest city is Berlin, but for climbing, the south features the country’s high spots, literally –the Bavarian Alps, for example, includes some of Germany’s highest points: the Zugspitze (2,962 m/ 9,718 ft), the Watzmann (2,713 m/ 8,901 ft) and Hochfrottspitze (2,649 m/ 8,690 ft). Lower and flatter in the north, the country features beaches, water sports and unique wildlife on Sylt Island, Germany’s northernmost tip; the famed chalk cliffs on Rügen Island; and the tiny but extraordinary Helgoland archipelago, host to the world’s smallest nature reserve, for seabirds.
Scotland’s capital city is Edinburgh, though its largest is Glasgow. With low crime rates, especially in the remoter areas, it welcomes 16 million visitors annually. The temperate, oceanic climate is very changeable, but it’s well worth a visit from those looking for pure, rugged natural beauty. From fishing in placid Lochs like Lomond and Ness to climbing the magnificent mountains of the Cairngorms, it also features great hiking along ravaged seascapes and through rugged highlands. There are internationally important nesting grounds for seabirds, the golden eagle and reintroduced species white-tailed sea eagle & red kite, making it a birdwatcher’s idyll.
Alongside its population of 58 million, Italy also welcomes a staggering 40 million visitors annually, making it one of the world’s top five most visited countries. The temperate seasonal climate is pleasant for those exploring its national parks, which cover around 5% of the country. With the Apennine mountains forming the country’s backbone and the Alps its northern boundary, climbing and seasonal skiing are excellent (the famous Mont Blanc is Italy’s highest point). Lakes such as beautiful Como, Dobiacco and Anterselva feature superb water sports, hiking and wildlife. Italy even has the only active volcano on mainland Europe, Vesuvius.
Switzerland’s main cities are Zurich and Geneva, and its population of around 8 million live largely on the Swiss Plateau. Elsewhere, the Alps feature large, and the Alpine climate and terrain provide stunning landscapes for skiing and mountain climbing, including the Matterhorn, known as one of the deadliest in the Alps. Switzerland’s valleys and mountainous regions also offer diverse ecologies with a rich range of plants not found at other altitudes. Although Switzerland is landlocked, lakes like Geneva and Thun offer beaches and water activities as well as hiking, cycling and in-line skating. With its low crime rate, it is statistically safer than many other countries.
Ireland is the third largest island in Europe with 6.4 million inhabitants. The Lonely Planet travel guide named it as the World’s Friendliest Country with violent crime around 75% lower than the US. Relatively low-lying, its vegetation is lush and green due to its mild and changeable climate. With marine cliffs such as Slieve League, mountain ranges like Mourne and Sperrin, beaches like Portstewart and a high concentration of Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (Strangford Lough and Lecale, for example), Ireland really does have something to offer everyone.
Australia has a population of 23 million, but its overall size makes it one of the least densely populated countries in the world. The Anholt Brand Index regularly ranks it as one of the top friendliest countries and five million visitors a year come to experience its varied landscapes. These include 34,218 km (21,262 mi) of coastline and the Great Barrier Reef off the northeast coast, which extends for an impressive 2,000 km (1,240 mi). Much of the interior is classed as outback, great for wilderness adventures, such as that in Freykinet and Watarrka National Parks.
The world’s second-largest country by area (an impressive 9,984,670 km2 (3,854,085 mi2), Canada is also rated as one of the friendliest, with very low crime figures. There are around 31,700 lakes, with forest and mountain settings offering all-year-round activities such as Lake Louise, where there’s swimming, hiking, kayaking and canoeing in summer to to skiing, snowboarding and ice-skating in winter. Spectacular sea cliffs and caves at the Bay of Fundy provide habitats for an amazingly rich marine life, while Niagara Falls showcases the highest flow rate of any waterfall in the world.
New Zealand’s isolated nature means there’s an unparalleled and distinctive biodiversity of animal and plant life, particularly a large number of unique bird species, visible at the Fiordland National Park, for example. Its equally diverse landscape provides many opportunities for the full range of outdoor pursuits. From the lofty heights of Mount Cook with its rainforests and glaciers to walks in the Waipoua Forest, or viewing one of the world’s highest waterfalls, the dramatic Sutherland Falls, friendly New Zealand has plenty to offer its four million residents and average 2 million visitors per annum.
Austria was ranked by the World Economic Foundation as the fifth friendliest country worldwide, a fact reflected by its visitor numbers: the World Travel Association estimates around 18.2 million visitors pa compared to a population of around 8.5 million. For climbers, the Alps are a major feature – only 32% of country lies below 500 m (1,640 ft), but in the east, on the Pannonian Plain and along the Danube valley, temperatures are more continental with less rain. Alpine lakes famed for their pure waters such as the Gosauseen, Wolfgang and Achen provide tranquil settings for hiking, mountain biking and fishing, as well as more strenuous activities in the winter snows.
Coming out top of the World Economic Foundation’s friendliest countries list is Iceland. This is Europe’s most sparsely populated country with just 320,000 residents, but is packed with strange but quite wonderful natural attractions due to its volcanic and geologically active landscapes. The combinations of ice and fire produce such stunning sights as the Strokkur Geyser and Blesi Hot Springs, the Flaajokull and Vatnajokull Glaciers and waterfalls such as Dettifoss and Gulfoss and provide a playground for skiing, fishing, snowboarding, ice climbing and hiking, as well as swimming in the widespread geothermally heated pools.