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Travelers love to visit Europe for famous cities like Vienna, Rome, and Paris. But as wonderful as European cities are, so too are European national parks. Full of jaw-dropping scenery and cultural significance, the best national parks in Europe can show you a whole other level of this wonderful continent.
Visiting the national parks of Europe is more than just taking in the scenic views in front of you, enjoying these places of nature means getting out into the countryside and actively experiencing what they have to offer. To help you plan your trip to the parks, here are the best national parks across Europe that you should add to your next European getaway.
1. Jotunheimen National Park, Norway
You won’t find a more impressive mountain getaway than Jotunheimen National Park, one of the best European national parks there is. Found in southern Norway, inland from the famous fjords, Jotunheimen looks like something out of a fantasy novel. The park is made up of countless towering mountains bordered by icy lakes and glaciers across its alpine landscapes. With its undulating terrain, Jotunheim is a natural fit for hikers and mountaineers. Store Skagastølstind is a rather challenging peak in the park, but for something a little less hair-raising, simply look to the rest of the Hurrungane range. If you’re lucky, you may even spot some of the local wildlife, such as reindeer, lynx, and wolverines.
2. Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland
It may come as a surprise that the second largest national park in Europe is Vatnajökull National Park in the small island nation of Iceland. But it’s not the size of Vatnajökull that makes it an incredible place but it’s rather thanks to the glaciers, mountains, and ice caves that call the park home. The national park is overflowing with the kind of stunning scenery people have come to expect from the “Land of Ice and Fire”. Here you can spend time hiking across Vatnajökull glacier or watch huge boulders of ice drift around the Jökulsárlón glacial lake. You also have the chance to head down into the magical Skaftafell Ice Cave, easily one of the best things to do in Iceland.
3. Oulanka National Park, Finland
When people think of Finland, it is often vast wild nature that comes to mind. And that is exactly what Oulanka National Park is. Pressed right up against the border with Russia, in Finnish Lapland, Oulanka National Park is a playground for those who enjoy the outdoors. Oulanka’s forests and valleys are an ideal place for hikers, while the River Oulankajoki is a great spot to go canoeing. For those after picturesque scenery you’re also in luck. Spots like Oulanka Canyon and Ristikallio Cliffs offer up impressive views while still being easily accessible to non-hikers.
4. Saxon Switzerland National Park, Germany
Despite the slightly confusing name, there’s little argument that Saxon Switzerland National Park is one of the top 10 national parks in Europe. Saxon Switzerland rests against the Czech border and is home to serene mountains and forests. But it’s most defining feature is the craggy rock formations that jut out from the terrain, creating the most memorable park views. While much of the park is untouched, there is one attraction that perfectly marries a manmade structure with the landscape – the famous Bastei Bridge. Walking across this bridge, between pillars of rock, you’re treated to some of the park’s best views. Other than simply sightseeing, Saxon Switzerland is popular among hikers and rock climbers.
5. Gran Paradiso National Park, Italy
To say that Gran Paradiso National Park is an incredibly important natural and historic place would be an understatement. This national park in the Graian Alps of Italy’s northwest was the first national park in the country and was created to protect the once-endangered Alpine ibex. This theme of conservation continues to this day with great efforts going into preserving the habitats of the park’s wildlife. Not only is the park home to mountains like Gran Paradiso, Gran Paradiso National Park also features classic alpine scenery, from meadows to woodlands and glaciers. Still, the mountain of Gran Paradiso deserves some attention too since it’s the only mountain entirely within Italy that reaches 4,000 meters.
6. Durmitor National Park, Montenegro
As nice as Montenegro’s coast is, it’s not the only part of this Balkan country worth seeing. Durmitor National Park is home to the section of the Dinaric Alps that passes through northwest Montenegro. Durmitor is a rugged yet gorgeous national park. Depending on the season, you could spend your time skiing down snowy slopes or hiking them up. There are 48 different peaks that reach over 2,000 meters which means you are spoiled for choice when it comes to hiking opportunities. With the Tara River Canyon, one of the Balkans’ most dramatic spots also in the park, you couldn’t ask for a better place to go rafting as you peer up to the awe-inspiring natural world around you.
7. Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park, Spain
Among the charms of Spain, places like the wonderful National Park of Ordesa y Monte Perdido can get lost in the mix. With its glacial lakes, waterfalls, wildlife, and distinctive massifs, it’s little wonder that it was one of Europe’s earliest national parks. Visiting the park in the Aragonese Pyrenees, you won’t be short of things to do in this mountain playground. The park centers around the towering massif of Monte Perdido at 3,355m, but there are hiking trails that run throughout the mountains to spots like Cola de Caballo Waterfall. A true highlight of visiting Ordesa y Monte Perdido is the chance to see the staggering beauty of the Arazas river flowing through the Ordesa Valley.
8. Triglav National Park, Slovenia
Not only is Triglav National Park home to Mount Triglav, the symbol of Slovenia, but it also happens to be one of the most stunning national parks in Europe. Found among Slovenia’s Julian Alps, the national park is a sublime showcase of Slovenia’s natural beauty. Inside the country’s only national park visitors can hike through enchanting green valleys, quiet forests, and up to top of mighty Mount Triglav itself. But there’s other points of interest in the park as well including the ski runs at Kranjska Gora and Vogel and the gentle waters of Lake Bohinj. The lake in particular is becoming more and more popular with travelers thanks to the crystal clear waters of the Sava River that flow into it. You can also head out onto the lake for kayaking or SUP boarding.
9. Hohe Tauern National Park, Austria
In Hohe Tauern National Park you’ll get to see Austria’s highest peak, the 3,798 meter-high Grossglockner, plus a dizzying array of other monumental mountains. The waterfalls of Hohe Tauern may be just as impressive, with 26 different falls waiting to be discovered, chief among them the Krimml Falls which fall a total of 380m making them Europe’s highest waterfall. While there are plenty of hikes to be done in the national park, a nice alternative is a day with one of the National Park Rangers who will teach you about the park and maybe even help you spot some wildlife.
10. Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia
For fans of waterfalls, there are few waterfalls in Europe as spectacular as those in Plitvice Lakes National Park. Nestled in a canyon within central Croatia, this national park features the 16 Plitvice lakes in which the water flows from one to the next. Not only do the waterfalls flow from one lake to the next, there’s also the impressive sight of the 78-meter-high Veliki Slap waterfall. Visitors to Plitvice Lakes National Park get to explore the park by following boardwalks that link up each of the lakes. This opportunity to get up close to the Plitvice Lakes will really let you appreciate the incredible aquamarine color of the water, but also the lush nature that forms barriers between each of the lakes. While you can’t swim at Plitvice, it is possible to take a boat ride across Lake Kozjak, the park’s largest lake.
11. Sarek National Park, Sweden
It doesn’t get much more remote than Sarek National Park in Sweden. Sarek, found in Lapland in the far north of Sweden, is one of the most beautiful national parks in Europe due to its epic almost larger than life scenery. Established over a century ago, the national park is home to a rich array of wildlife across its mountains, valleys, rivers, and glaciers. It boasts six of the country’s peaks, each which reach over 2,000 meters high, and nearly 100 glaciers. While it may be tempting to hike up mountains like Sarektjåkkå, the country’s second highest, there are no marked trails or accommodation, so you’ll need to be prepared and experienced.
12. Göreme National Park, Turkey
To see a truly strange and unforgettable landscape, visit Turkey’s Göreme National Park. This landscape in the heartland of central Anatolia has been eroded by the elements over thousands of years. What nature has left behind is a rugged and rocky valley, littered with rocky pinnacles, affectionately known as “fair chimneys”. It’s widely agreed that the best way to appreciate this fascinating national park is with a hot air balloon ride at sunrise. But it pays to walk around on foot, as that’s the only way to see the homes, churches, and entire villages that have been carved into the countryside to form cave towns.
13. Bialowieza National Park, Poland
When you hear of primeval forests and herds of bison, eastern Poland is probably the last place you’d think of. And yet, in Białowieża National Park there’s both. Białowieża National Park is Poland’s only natural landmark to be declared a world heritage site. The national park is densely covered in forest, often making it a challenge to spot the local European bison, known as zubr. Hiking and cycling are two popular activities for visitors to the national park, and there’s even a border crossing into Belarus especially set up for those on foot or bicycle. Do note that there are parts of the Białowieża Forest Biosphere Reserve that are off-limits to hikers not accompanied by a guide.
14. Peneda-Gerês National Park, Portugal
Portugal is blessed with a great deal of cultural and natural attractions, both of which collide in Peneda-Gerês National Park. Situated in Portugal’s underrated northern reaches, the national park of Peneda-Gerês ticks all of the boxes. Rather than focusing solely on the preservation of its mountain habitats and wildlife like wolves and eagles, it also places importance on the relationship the region has to local villages. This is a deeply traditional part of the country, something that is clear when you spot ancient landmarks like dolmen tombs and old-fashioned granaries. The park gets its name from the several dry mountain ranges that lie within it, two of which are Peneda and Gerês. It tends to be the chance to hike these mountain ranges that draws people to this distant part of Portugal.
15. Dolomiti Bellunesi National Park, Italy
In terms of the best national park holidays in Europe, a trip to the Dolomites in Dolomiti Bellunesi National Park is hard to beat. This national park may only cover the southern edges of the famous Italian mountain range, but they are actually the quieter, more remote sections. So if you’re looking for challenging hiking trails that aren’t busy with people, Dolomiti Bellunesi National Park may be perfect for you. The Monti del Sole mountains may be the most enchanting range in the park thanks to spots like the Soffia Waterfalls and the Cadini del Brenton, a cascade of rock pools that flow from one to the next.
16. Écrins National Park, France
Up in the Dauphiné Alps of France you’ll find Écrins National Park, one of France’s ten national parks. The perfect destination for hikers, climbers, and mountaineers, Écrins National Park is known for its pristine wilderness which reaches altitudes as high as 4,100 meters. This kind of range means you find all sorts of environments while exploring, from pastures and woods to glacier fields and mountain peaks. Glaciers and rivers have carved out steep valleys and jagged mountain peaks in the national park, providing plenty of dramatic scenery. Due to its popularity with outdoors types, you won’t have any trouble finding ski resorts for the winter and mountain resorts for the summer in Écrins National Park.
17. Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park, Scotland
Lochs and glens are two things you’re bound to want to see when visiting Scotland, and they’re precisely what you’ll get with a trip to Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park. Centered around the large lake, Loch Lomond, this national park offers guests the kind of scenery that Scotland is famous for. Not only can you get out on the waters of Loch Lomond for a gentle cruise or to kayak and jetski, it’s a great spot for fishing as well. The scenery isn’t half bad either, with dozens of islands on the loch and the craggy images of Ben Lomond and the Arrochar Alps looming nearby. As for the Trossachs, that’s a Scottish name for the highlands and their compelling jumble of hills, lochs, and forest is made for hiking or cycling.
18. Killarney National Park, Ireland
Along the famously scenic driving route of the Ring of Kerry in Ireland, one of the best places to stop in at is Killarney National Park. Both the first national park in Ireland and a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, there’s a lot of natural beauty. But Killarney National Park also has its fair share of history due to important heritage sites like Ross Castle and the mansion of Muckross House. The national park is focused around Lough Leane lake, and the smaller Muckross Lake to the south, although you’ll find mountains and forests as well. Killarney National Park is ideal for those looking to go hiking and cycling, with attractions like Torc Waterfall a great reason to get you out on the park’s tracks.
19. Timanfaya National Park, Canary Islands
Travelers have many choices when it comes to destinations in the Canary Islands, but surely one of the most impressive is Timanfaya National Park. Where else can you see the otherworldly landscapes created by the national park’s volcanic landscapes, after all? While this entire region of the island of Lanzarote is defined by its volcanic features, Timanfaya volcano is the only active volcano in the national park. Visiting the park you’ll see volcanic soil that alternates in color from red to orange to black, all of which dates from eruptions in the 18th and 19th centuries. Other signs of volcanic activity at Timanfaya include geysers and jagged boulders both of which result from the volatile geology of the national park.
20. Cévennes National Park, France
A country like France may seem like it no longer has any untouched corners left, and yet somehow there you have Cévennes National Park. Down in the south of France, this rural expanse of mountainous countryside has everything: caves, torrents, biodiversity, and remote village life. Not only is Cévennes a Biosphere Reserve thanks to its wealth of flora and fauna, but the way it captures rural life in France has helped it to become a UNESCO World Heritage site. Cévennes National Park is a fantastic choice for a getaway if you want to escape civilization for a bit and go hiking or fishing. Whatever you do, don’t miss the incredible sight of the limestone formations down in the Aven Armand cave.
21. Gargano National Park, Italy
Back to Italy, but this time away from the Alps, is the tantalizing beauty of Gargano National Park. Spread out across the Gargano Promontory in the Puglia region, the park offers up a mix of coastal gems as well as some highlights inland. Gargano National Park is known for its striking white cliffs and many sea caves, best seen on a boat tour. The park also includes the marine reserve of the Tremiti Islands, where travelers can swim or dive in the Adriatic or walk up along the coves and grottoes on the islands. Away from the water is the lush foliage of the Umbra Forest, which is as dense and ancient as it is peaceful.
22. Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, Wales
The United Kingdom has a lot of coast. And yet, the only UK national park based around a stretch of coast is the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park in west Wales. Exploring the Pembrokeshire Coast you’ll find all the features you could ask for, from mighty cliffs to gentle moors and stunningly beautiful beaches. This variety gives this part of Wales a broad appeal for travelers. Landmarks to see here include the enchanting Strumble Lighthouse, the scenic Blue Lagoon, and the beach at Barafundle Bay. Perhaps the ultimate way to see this national park though is to take the Pembrokeshire coast path which goes for 186 miles right around this section of the Wales seaside.
23. Cheile Nerei-Beușnița National Park, Romania
Perhaps the most unknown of the national parks across Europe is Romania’s Cheile Nerei Beusnita National Park. Because it’s tucked away in a remote corner of western Romania, this national park can feel like a beautiful secret. The park is home to an incredible level of biodiversity among smaller animals like amphibians and birds. What draws most visitors here though is the park’s landscape which is full of gorges, lakes, and waterfalls. Finding waterfalls like Izvorul Bigăr, the Bigar Waterfall, and the Beusnita Waterfalls should be a priority for those looking for memorable spots, as should be the lakes of Ochiul Beiului and Dracului.
24. Cairngorms National Park, Scotland
There’s no shortage of things to say about Cairngorms National Park in northeastern Scotland. Scotland’s newest national park also happens to be the largest national park in the UK, and within those borders it truly has something for everyone who visits. Founded around the Cairngorms mountains, the park has an enticing mix of mountains, forests, lochs, and villages with a passion for whisky. Finding walking trails and rock climbing routes won’t be hard here; it has five of the six highest mountains in the UK and over fifty munros, a Scottish term for mountains over 3,000 ft. But let’s not forget that this is also a premier skiing destination in Scotland, and home to the Malt Whisky Trail which features several distilleries.
25. Lake District National Park, England
Last but not least is one of the most famous national parks in Europe, England’s lovely Lake District National Park. As its name suggests, this national park in northwest England is defined by the picturesque lakes that dot the landscape. It’s home to Wast Water, England’s deepest lake, as well as Windermere, the country’s largest lake. But there’s more to the Lake District than just water. The park’s endless lakes are broken up by stunning valleys and quaint villages, all of which sit in the only part of England above 3,000 ft. The region is associated with many poets, some of which had cottages like Hill Top Cottage and Dove Cottage, which you can visit.
And there you have it, a list of phenomenal national parks that are scattered far and wide across the continent of Europe, each with their very own reason for being special.