European Bird Watching Holidays

For that coveted chance to spot a rare bird or study an unknown species, it’s well worth a visit to sunnier climes. Exploring another ecosystem will reveal a whole new world of biodiversity to discover. Southern Europe has some great places for birding and with sun, sand and sea on the doorstep, you can make a holiday of it too. Whether you’re just starting out or a seasoned birder, take a look at our guide to 4 of southern Europe's top destinations for birdwatching.
The Algarve

This southern part of Portugal where the Mediterranean Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean, culminates in a unique natural habitat for more than 300 types of birds. Not only that, but a perennially pleasant climate makes the Algarve appealing for birds and watchers alike, at any time of the year.

What will I see?

Ria Formosa National Park – Eastern Algarve

This Ramsar Convention protected park is a coastal wetland that lies between land and sea, south of Faro. Green-blue lagoons surround grassy banks and sandy inlets which house an array of native, wintering and migrating birds.

Purple Swamphen
Image credit: Lip Kee Yap

It’s here you’ll find the likes of the resident purple swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio), an endangered bird with a distinctive indigo-coloured plumage and rosy-red bill. This is this bird’s chief breeding ground so it’s no wonder it’s the emblem for the park and definitely one for any twitcher’s checklist. Another notable resident is the azure-winged magpie (Cyanopica cooki). You won’t find this bird in the UK so if you’re lucky, you’ll get a glance of its signature blue tail, soft brown body and glossy black crown.

Over 20,000 birds winter here, including a whole host of ducks and waders. You’re sure to see some greater flamingos (Phoenicopterus roseus) wading through the salt marshes throughout these months. Head to the Forte do Rato at high tide for the greatest number of birds to observe.

Where should I stay?

The traditional towns of Olhão, Tavira and Monte Gordo are all good bases to explore this captivating conservation zone.

Sagres Peninsula – Western Algarve

The Sagres Biogenetic Reserve is one of the main migration corridors for the raptors of Portugal. Consisting of Mediterranean scrub forest, grassland and rocky coastal cliffs, it’s no wonder it’s a popular pit stop for birds migrating to Africa. September to November is when all the action happens. You could see all manner or eagles, buzzards and vultures on their way to warmer climes, resting on the rocks.

A year-round inhabitant you’re bound to see nesting on the cliffside is the blue rock-thrush (Monticola solitarius) – listen out for the male’s melodious mating call.

Where should I stay?

The laid-back cobbled town of Lagos is your best bet for a base to explore this peninsula. Boat trips are also a good way to see these fascinating creatures and are readily available along the coast.

Serra mountain ranges – Northern Algarve Prone to more rain, the northern mountain region is covered in lush vegetation and dense forests. The golden oriole (Oriolus oriolus) is a common migrant over the breeding season between April and September, before it returns to Africa for the winter. Serra do Caldeirão and Serra de Monchique are the best places to catch this striking black and yellow passerine.

Getting there - BOOK WITH EXPEDIA

The largest of the Canary Islands is famed for its popular beachside resorts and is home to millions of holidaymakers every year. But thanks to its subtropical location off the west coast of Africa, and its diverse volcanic landscape, you’ll find it’s home to a wide selection of birdlife too with over 70 known specimens.

What will I see?

Teide National Park – Central Tenerife

The island canary (Serinus canaria) is unsurprisingly common to Tenerife given that the bird is actually named after the Canary Islands archipelago. Head to the pretty pine forests at the foot of Mount Teide for a good glimpse of this beauty. Don’t be looking for the bright yellow UK variety though, this little fella has a more subtle look with a mix of pale yellow and brown feathers, and you’ll often find it as part of a pair.

Island Canary

The blue chaffinch (Fringilla teydea) is another endemic bird synonymous with the island. Look up to the treetops May to July, for this small bird characterised by its blue-grey plumage, and you’re likely to spot it nesting during this important breeding period.

Unlike the chaffinch, look to the ground for nests belonging to the Berthelot’s pipits (Anthus berthelotii). Keep your eye out for a small brown passerine, similar to a UK sparrow. The Las Lajas picnic site is a picturesque spot where you might end up sharing your lunch with this local legend.

Coastal cliffs and waters – various locations

The gull-like Cory’s shearwater(Calonectris diomedea) is very common March through to November but for a rare seabird spot, the sleek black and white Barolo Shearwater is what you should be looking for along the headlands off the Los Gigantes coast in the north.

The Kentish plover (Charadrius alexandrinus) is an endangered wader to be found in the south’s Montaña Roja nature reserve, near the quaint town of El Medano. It can be easily identified by its small frame with long spindly legs, seemingly disproportionate to its brown and white body.

There are plenty of native ducks and waders on the island too. However, during the migratory winter months, plenty of American breeds flock here including the ring-necked teal (Callonetta leucophrys) with its distinctive large black crown and bright yellow eyes.

And the rest...

Originating from South America, the tropical looking lime green monk parakeets (Myiopsitta monachus) have colonised Tenerife so look out for their neon feathers and cheeky choirs of bird song. If you’re lucky, you might even see the Houbara Bustard (Chlamydotis undulate) with its black and white ruff around the neck, on the Los Rodeos planes in the north-east. This bird is of North African origin and more commonly seen in Fuerteventura.

Where should I stay?

You’ll see many of the native birds casually hanging around the palms of the densely populated tourist south but to see them in the wild, the north of the island is the best place to stay. Los Gigantes, Golf del Sur, Puerto de la Cruz and the capital of Santa Cruz, are all good options to easily access the best vantage points. Tenerife’s unique terrain makes it a great pace to explore by bike too.

Getting there - BOOK WITH EXPEDIA

This magnificent Mediterranean island has an enormous ecological diversity across its sand-swept coastlines, azure coloured waters and verdant, forested peaks. Thanks to its location, Cyprus also forms part of the flight path for many migratory birds moving between northern Europe, Africa and Asia. Springtime is an exciting time to visit and see an abundance of fascinating species.

What will I see?

Kensington Cliffs – Western Cyprus

This coastal stretch is one of the few remaining places in Cyprus where you can come across the ever-depleting griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus). This imposing Old World bird can have wings spanning up to 10ft so it’s a breathtaking sight to watch it take flight.

Griffon Vulture
Image credit: Tobias Pries

Paphos Forests – Western Cyprus

To the west of the Troodos mountain range, this densely forested area is full of pleasant walking trails and interesting flora and fauna. It’s also where the endangered raptor, the Bonelli’s eagle (Aquila fasciata), calls home.

Cape Greco – Eastern Cyprus

With over 385 hectares of stunning natural beauty, this is an enchanting conservation area on Cyprus’ rocky east coast. It’s here where you can get close up and personal with the resident Cyprus warbler (Sylvia melanothorax) when it flies in for the breeding season between April and June. You’ll find this passerine perching in the low vegetation and twittering away with its quirky fast-paced song. The males are particularly interesting with their fluffy black crowns and white ‘moustaches’.

Where should I stay?

These sites are all easily accessible from the Paphos and Larnaca beach resorts on the south coast. Car hire is popular as like the UK, Cypriot’s drive on the left-side of the road so it’s even easier to get around.

Gettiing there - BOOK WITH EXPEDIA

It used to be said that there was no point going bird watching in Italy as you would see nothing but house sparrows.

Birds In Sardinia

This is clearly not the case however, and, although bird watching in Italy is not as popular as in some other European countries, it can be extremely rewarding as Italy connects Europe to Africa and is an important passage for many migrating birds.

Across Tuscany and Lazio, Maremma is a haven for birds and wildlife and around the beaches, lagoons and lakes you will spot plenty of water birds, while at the Riserve Naturale della Diaccia Botrona coot, moorhen, egrets, ducks and heron gather on the wetlands.

Alternatively, you may want to try visiting one of Italy’s many islands. They are not as built up as the mainland and have been less intensively farmed meaning there are many more natural habitats for birds to thrive in.

Sardinia has a number of salty lagoons that are home to species such as purple gallinule, greater flamingo and slender-billed gulls. On the west coast you will find Sardinia’s two remaining griffon vulture colonies.

Sicily is an important raptor migration point and hosts buzzards, lanner falcons, Egyptian vultures and Bonelli’s eagle as they make they way south.

Of course one of the major benefits of visiting Italy to bird watch is that while you are there you can also experience the history, culture, art and cuisine that make the country such a fantastic holiday destination.

For 1000s more holiday cottages throughout Italy please visit our partner Cottages4You.

Click on the "MORE INFO ..." links to see more images and specifications, take a virtual tour, read customer comments, check availability and make a booking.

S.Francesco, Lazio S.Francesco, Lazio
Once a small country church in the 18th century, this holiday property is in the hamlet of Fabrica di Roma and is ideally situated to visit historical hamlets and small cities of art, as well as the lakes of northern Lazio. The nature reserve at Bracciano Lake is 30km away and good for bird watching.
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Casa Angelica, Casa Angelica Casa Angelica, Casa Angelica
This holiday studio is set in Terrabianca, about 2km from the medieval village of Castelsardo and its amenities. The shared outdoor area is surrounded by verdant countryside and overlooks the Asinara Gulf, with stunning sea views.
Sleeps 2 MORE INFO ...
Quercia, Capranica Quercia, Capranica
This country house is divided into apartments and situated in the heart of the Tuscia region, in the midst of hazelnut, chestnut and fruit trees. The centre of Capranica is only 2.5km away. The property is ideally placed for exploring the countryside of the Lazio region where you will be able to go bird watching.
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Fontemulino, Vitorchiano Fontemulino, Vitorchiano
This property is a former water mill, accessed via a 600m unmade road, which has been transformed into a welcoming holiday house with extra annexe accommodation. The house is surrounded by a meadow which extends around the volcanic mountains.
Sleeps 12 MORE INFO ...
  Villa il Melograno, Bagnoregio
Located in the hills of Lazio, this beautiful holiday home is undoubtedly the ideal home for the perfect holiday in peace and quiet. The home is the ideal starting point for those wanting to view the wildlife and birds of Lazio and southern Umbria.
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  Villa Luna, Vitorchiano
This well maintained and tastefully decorated villa was created from the restoration of an old Jesuit hermitage. The house is located in countryside, 4km from Viterbo, and is in a dominating position overlooking the valley below. The property is ideal to enjoy the tranquillity and the variety of landscapes of the beautiful Tuscia region.
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Baita Mussone, Oliena Baita Mussone, Oliena
This typical Sardinian rural, holiday property with annex, which is called a "Su pinnettu" in the local dialect, is surrounded by the Gennargentu National Park famous for many birds of prey and other birdlife, and has views of the famous mountain of Nuoro.
Sleeps 6 MORE INFO ...
Gambaru Bilo 2, San Teodoro Gambaru Bilo 2, San Teodoro
This ground floor holiday apartment is situated in San Teodoro, about 2km from the renowned beach at Spiaggia della Cinta. Nearby it is possible to visit the island of Tavolara, also known as Europe’s largest rock, and the seat of the marine park of the same name, where the natural colour of the sea has become a legend.
Sleeps 3 MORE INFO ...


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