The Alps are home to Mont Blanc, Europe's tallest peak. (Photo: Hemera Images )
Sometime between 400 and 260 million years ago, the African tectonic plate ground against the Laurasian plate, slowly thrusting Europe's crust upward, creating the continent's hills and mountain ranges. While the Alps are home to Europe's tallest peaks, the continent's other ranges boast towering peaks that attract geologists and mountain climbers alike. From peaks towering over the counterparts in the Appenines and Pyrenees, to freestanding mountains and active volcanoes, almost every country in western Europe boasts at least one impressive mountain.
At 15, 771 feet, Mont Blanc is Europe's tallest peak, straddling the borders of Italy and France. Visitors can travel via cable car from the French town of Chamonix to the mountain's Italian side, enjoying Alpine vistas as they soar to heights of over 15, 000 feet. (Ref. 5) The Zugspitze is Germany's tallest mountain, standing almost 10, 000 feet tall. Travelers can ascend the mountain by rail or cable car, and enjoy views at the summit overlooking four nations.
Mount Musala is located within Bulgaria's Rila National Park and at 9, 596 feet, stands as the tallest peak in the Balkans. The mountain receives more than 50, 000 visitors annually, and travelers can ascend to the summit by riding the park's gondola to the base of the hiking trail and walking the remaining distance. Visitors can buy souvenirs and hot beverages at the summit's weather station. Mount Olympos is Greece's tallest mountain at 9, 570 feet and the legendary home of the Greek gods. Visitors can explore the museum at the mountain's base, and explore the nearby ancient theater, where actors still perform classic dramas during the annual Olympus Festival.
Gunnbjorn is Greenland's highest peak and at 12, 136 feet, it's also the tallest in the Arctic. The mountain takes its name from Gunnbjorn, a ninth-century Norse explorer who, according to legend, discovered Greenland when he was blown off course during an expedition.
Spain's Pico de Aneto is the tallest mountain in the Pyrenees, standing 11, 167 feet tall. Pico de Aneto also holds the Pyrenees' largest glacier, which covers 403 acres. The glacier's current size fuels concerns over global warming, as it covered 1710 acres during the final years of the 19th century. Russian climber Platon de Tchihatcheff, Count Albert de Franqueville of France and four guides became the first men to reach the summit in July 1842.
Spain's Mulhacen is Europe's tallest peak outside the Alps and Caucasus ranges, standing 11, 410 feet tall. The mountain takes its name from Grenada's 15th-century Muslim ruler, King Abu l-Hassan Ali, who the Spanish called Muley Hacen. According to legend, the king lies at rest on Mulhacen's summit. The mountain attracts both beginning mountaineers, who can easily ascend the south and west ridges, and more experienced climbers attracted by the challenge of Mulhacen's north face.
Sicily's Mount Etna is Europe's largest active volcano, looming 10, 902 feet above the island, and continues to threaten nearby villages. As of May 2011, Mount Etna had erupted twice during the year. Depending on the volcano's activity, travelers may be able to travel to the summit, striding through the smoky fields of hardened lava that encircle the mountain's churning cauldron.