Regional climate models (RCMs) primarily represent physical components of the climate system, omitting vegetation dynamics, ecosystem biogeochemistry and their associated feedbacks. To account for such feedbacks, we implemented a novel plant individual-based vegetation dynamics-ecosystem biogeochemistry scheme within the RCA3 RCM. Variations in leaf area index (LAI) of seven plant functional type (PFTs) in response to physical forcing and evolving vegetation state feed back to climate via adjustments in surface energy fluxes and surface properties. In an ERA-40-driven simulation over Europe, the model reproduces the recent past climate with comparable accuracy to the standard RCM. Large-scale patterns of LAI, net primary production and vegetation composition were comparable with observations, although winter LAI was systematically overestimated compared to satellite estimates. Analysis of the ERA-40 simulation and an A1B climate-change simulation revealed considerable covariation among dynamic variables of the physical climate and vegetation. At a Mediterranean site, periodic soil water limitation led to fluctuations in leaf cover and a likely positive feedback to near-surface temperature. At an alpine site, rising temperatures led to forest advance onto tundra areas, reducing albedo and effecting a likely positive feedback on temperature. Climate–vegetation coupling was less pronounced but still apparent at intermediate temperate and boreal sites.