It may surprise you, but one of the more frequent questions we hear is this: “Where are the Alps?”
That might seem like a dumb question. But the specific location, and what subranges and nearby mountains are technically part of the Alps can vary, depending on whether you’re talking about the geography, geology, history, or culture.
First, let’s start with the most generally accepted answer: The Alps mountain range is in south-central Europe. It is the highest and largest mountain range that lies entirely within Europe.
They arc across Europe and extend from Slovenia on the east, and pass through Austria, Italy, Germany, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, France, and Monaco on the west.
The natural boundaries are formed by Europe’s major river systems: The Rhine to the north, the Rhone to the west, the Danube on the east, and the basin of the Po to the south.
Since before Roman times, these mountains have formed a natural barrier between northern and southern Europe. As such, they have played an important role in European history. At the same time, the mountain passes have provided important trade routes and strategic passages
But even these generally accepted answers can be subjective and open to argument.
Now let’s pinpoint some of the best-known subranges of the Alps and the peaks you’ve certainly heard about:
Bernese Alps (Switzerland)
This includes the Jungfrau Region and the peaks of Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau. The Bernese Alps have the highest concentration of glaciers in the Alps (as seen on the Bernese Oberland Traverse).
Graian Alps (France, Italy, Switzerland)
This includes the Mont Blanc—western Europe’s highest peak, and the Mont Blanc range (as seen on the Tour du Mont Blanc).
Pennine Alps (Switzerland, Italy)
It includes many of the highest peaks of the Alps, such as the Matterhorn, Monte Rosa, and the Weisshorn (as seen on the Haute Route).
Dolomites (Northern Italy)
It’s a range known for its stunning limestone spires. It’s also a popular skiing and hiking region (seen on our Italian Dolomites tour).
Julian Alps (Slovenia, Italy)
Finally, there are some neighboring mountain ranges in Europe which have some of the same tectonic origins, but they lie outside of the generally accepted scope of the Alps.
We love these regions. They offer some great hiking and share many of the same cultural characteristics you’ll find in the Alps, such as alpine farming, summer grazing on high meadows, and mountain cheesemaking.
These include the mountains of the Balkan Peninsula, the Carpathian Mountains in Central and Eastern Europe, the Massif Central in Southern France, the Apennines in Italy, and the High Tatras in Poland and Slovakia. Are they part of the Alps? Strictly speaking, no. But they’re beautiful mountains and the people of these regions even like to call their mountains “Alps.” And who are we to deny them that pleasure?