When urban life begins to tire us out, the thousands of square miles protected by European laws, organized in national parks, seem to jump to our aid as a perfect antidote. Europe is home to some of the most beautiful natural scenery globally, full of dense coniferous forests, magnificent lakes, and spectacular relief. There are many, but we have extracted for you what we consider to be the most enchanting national parks in Europe. For your next outdoor holiday, depending on your preferences and budget, we recommend one of the following national parks, most popular in the old continent.
Densely forested with beeches and towering firs, the park has several microclimates, housing several increasingly rare animal species in Europe, such as bears, wolves, bats, and lynx. Between 1962 and 1968, many of the films in the screening series of Karl May’s books were shot around Plitvice Lakes, a German-French-Yugoslav co-production. “Silver Lake Treasure,” perhaps the most popular film in this series, was produced in several locations within the park, especially around Lake Kaluđerovac.
Home to the highest mountains in Wales and some of the most beautiful views in the British Isles, Snowdonia National Park is a popular holiday destination for Welsh people. The lofty peaks, massive mountain ranges, and lakes make up much of the region, making it a favorite destination for outdoor enthusiasts. More than 26,000 people live in the park, half of whom speak traditional Welsh. The park attracts over 6 million tourists each year, divided equally between those who spend their holidays here and those on 1-2-day visits. It is the third most visited national park in the UK.
Vatnajökull is one of the three largest national parks in Iceland. However, it occupies almost 10% of the total area of the island, and it is also the name of the largest European glacier (source of the river Jökulsá á Fjöllum). Iceland has built a reputation for unreal natural landscapes, and this place is no exception – expect to see glacial rivers, ridges, waterfalls, expansive canyons, massive cliffs, and the famous Icelandic volcanoes found under the ice cap, so as is the case with many of the glaciers in Iceland.
Volcanic lakes, such as Grímsvötn, are the source of dangerous jökulhlaup – glacial floods, a phenomenon witnessed on TV in 1996. The volcano beneath the lakes erupted for the first time in 2004, followed by the largest eruption of Grímsvötn volcano in 2011 in the same Vatnajökull National Park, which rose to about 20 kilometers. During the last ice age, many such explosions took place under Vatnajökull, the basis of today’s spectacular relief.
For something different but just as beautiful, pay a visit to the Cinque Terre, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The area, made up of 5 other rural localities, real-life settings for the most beautiful postcards in the world – Corniglia, Manarola, Monterosso al Mare, Riomaggiore, and Vernazza -, enjoys the spectacular contribution of the rugged coastline that surrounds it. The villages are difficult to reach by road, visited only by following the few routes on foot, by boat or by train. Five roads lead to the Cinque Terre – one to Vernazza opened in June 2012, but very narrow and undergoing frequent repairs, leading to a car park located almost 1 kilometer from the village. It is not recommended to go by car, but rather to travel to La Spezia and take the train from there. The railway connects the five localities to Milan, Turin, Rome, and Florence. Most of the train routes pass through the tunnels between Riomaggiore and Monterosso.
You will think that there were other reasons why we included Retezat National Park on this list, but the statistics speak for themselves, promoting Retezat among the most beautiful parks in Europe. The area offers more than 60 mountain peaks over 2,300 meters high and over 100 glacial lakes. The park is home to some of the oldest forests on the old continent and is the largest area of virgin mixed forests.
It has a unique design, with the valley and its surroundings full of sanctuaries that provide evidence of Byzantine art. Unusual formations resemble columns, pillars, obelisks, needles, and fingers, reaching up to 130 meters in height. They look like they were made of clay. Cappadocia is home to many civilizations and includes underground cities, some of the most extraordinary, including the Kaymakli, Derinkuyu, Mazl Ozkonak, and Tatlarin regions.
Portugal’s first and only national park, established in 1971, is spread over four impressive granite massifs in the country’s north. The park is also home to more than 100 granite villages that appear to have changed little since the beginning of twelfth-century Portugal. If you happen to be there on a Friday the 13th, don’t miss Noite das Bruxas, a street party with queimada, a local honey liqueur – held in the village of Montalegre, just beyond the eastern border of the park.
Olympus National Park was established in 1938 for two reasons: to protect the natural environment of Greece and to include Mount Olympus, which in Greek mythology housed 12 deities. Unlike the rest of the Mediterranean landscapes in Greece, the National Park here offers rocky relief, spectacular gorges, and dense forests. More than 1,700 species of plants are protected here, 23 of them being endemic.