Visit these 15 gorgeous national parks in Europe

Nov 5, 2021

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

If a holiday relaxing in nature sounds like your ideal escape, consider a national park visit in Europe. From far-flung waterfalls to dense laurel tree forests to glistening ice caves, the European continent is full of stunning protected national reserves that will bring you just a little closer to the joys of mother earth.

Calanque National Park in France. (Photo by Daniel Kloe/Getty)

With over 500 national parks to visit in Europe, you can decide exactly which natural adventure fits you best. Many of these parks are within easy reach of capital cities, beaches and tourist attractions so you can combine a park visit with other activities.

Here are some of the most beautiful national parks in Europe.

Sign up to receive the daily TPG newsletter for more travel and airline news.

Samaria National Park, Crete, Greece

Samaria Gorge on the island of Crete in Greece. (Photo by PanosKarapanagiotis/Getty)

Home to the awe-inspiring Samaria Gorge and the White Mountains, Samaria National Park is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve located in the southwest region of the Greek island Crete. Hiking the famed gorge is a true adventure, which starts by taking a bus to the Xyloskalo trailhead at the top of the gorge. Spot sleepy goats, rugged cliffsides and a rocky river bed during the 10-mile downhill hike which ends in the coastal village of Agia Roumeli. Since no roads connect to this remote village, you’ll have to pick up a ferry to Chora Sfakian, then take a bus back to Chania.

Peneda-Geres National Park, Portugal

The Peneda-Geres National Park in northern Portugal. (Photo by Sergey_Peterman/Getty)

For a taste of true Portuguese charm, visit the Peneda-Geres National Park,  just over an hour by car from Porto. Hike the winding forests, and make sure to stop and visit some of the small, traditional Portuguese villages located inside the park. For an easy hike, do the Miradouro da Pedra e Cascada da Rajada trail, which goes past a small waterfall and the Pedra viewpoint with its birds-eye views of the stunning scenery.

Calanques National Park, France

Calanque d’En Vau. (Photo by cwrgutierrez/Getty)

This national park is for those that want to combine hiking with some of the wildest beaches in France. One of the most famous is Calanque d’En Vau, a hidden, rocky cove with turquoise water. To get there, start at the town of Cassis. Hike first to Port Miou, then to Port Pin via the red/white trail, and finally, take the more direct red/white trail to the breathtaking En Vau cove. Then, take the longer but more scenic blue route back to snap those epic photos.

Garajonay National Park, La Gomera, Spain

Garajonay National Park on La Gomera in the Canary Islands, Spain. (Photo by Westend61/Getty)

Trade the hot sun of Tenerife for a misty laurel forest with a day or overnight trip to the Canary island of La Gomera, just an hour away by ferry. The Garajonay subtropical, prehistoric forest is straight out of a fairy tale, with precipitous gorges, densely-packed laurel trees and rushing waterfalls. Although there are numerous paths to hike, the Gran Ruta is a favourite. The longest path in the national park, it takes walkers up to the island’s largest peak, Alto de Garajonay.

Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia

Plitvice Lakes National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Croatia. (Photo by David C Tomlinson/Getty)

Croatia’s largest national park, Plitvice has some of the most original scenery on the European continent. With more than 15 lakes and around 90 waterfalls, the water colour changes daily due to different minerals and organisms and the angle of the sun. But this park is best for walkers, not swimmers, as there’s no swimming allowed in any of the park’s waters.

Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park, Scotland

Loch Katrine in the Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park. Photo by David C Tomlinson/Getty)

This diverse national park is home to 21 Munros (these are Scottish mountains), 22 lochs and various glenns, forests and nature conservation sites. The park has something for the whole family, with hiking trails, biking routes, climbing areas, boat cruises, water sports, aerial adventure courses, villages, historic sites, camping and more. Nearby, you’ll find golf courses, breweries, museums and distilleries for a change of pace.

Cinque Terre National Park, Italy

Manarola, Cinque Terre National Park in Italy. (Photo by Francesco Riccardo Iacomino/Getty)

The charming villages of Cinque Terre along the Italian Riviera are actually considered a national treasure. The 15-square-mile national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site is made up of the following five breathtaking villages overlooking the sea: Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. Enjoy the spectacular scenery and historical sites via boat, train, car or by hiking.

Saxon Switzerland National Park, Germany

Bastei Bridge in the Saxon Switzerland National Park. (Photo by Harald Nachtmann/Getty)

Don’t be fooled by its name; the Saxon Switzerland National Park is actually in Germany. The park features canyons, forests, the Elbe Sandstone Mountains and a one-of-a-kind landscape of unique rock and stone formations. With more than 700 summits for rock climbing plus special cycling routes and hiking trails, outdoorsy types will love exploring this park. Don’t forget to check out the famous Bastei Bridge and the expansive natural backdrop behind it.

Jostedalsbreen National Park, Norway

Jostedalsbreen Glacier in Jostedalsbreen National Park. (Photo by imageBROKER/Sascha Selli-Grabowski/Getty)

Norway has almost 50 national parks, but the Jostedalsbreen National Park is one of the most iconic, home to the largest glacier in mainland Europe, the Jostedalsbreen Glacier. Summer activities include rafting, kayaking, walks and hikes, and winter brings skiing, snowshoeing and one very special activity: exploring the frozen ice caves beneath the glacier.

Glenveagh National Park, Ireland

Glenveagh National Park. (Photo by Julian Dewert/Getty)

One of Glenveagh’s National Park’s most original attractions is the Glenveagh Castle, a 19th-century structure that sits on the shores of Lough Veagh. Besides a castle, the park has hiking areas, walking trails and castle gardens. For those who aren’t very mobile, there’s always the option to drive round the park on the remote R254 road which circles the park.

Hohe Tauren National Park, Austria

View of the Alps from Hohe Tauren National Park, Austria. (Photo by PictureLake/Getty)

This beautiful alpine landscape is the largest protected area in the Alps. Hohe Tauren has over 200 peaks, but the Grossglockner, the highest mountain in Austria is the one to visit. Besides checking out the towering mountains, flowing waterfalls and verdant meadowlands, make sure to see the Jagdhausalmen, which is a group of 15 stone huts and a chapel set upon rolling green pastures.

Aggtelek National Park, Hungary

Baradle Cave in Aggtelek National Park in Hungary. (Photo by Tainar/Getty)

If you’re in the mood for a rather different national park visit, consider Aggtelek in Hungary, known for its karst caves. The park features about 280 caves of various sizes, as well as castles, palaces, museums and forts. Aggtelek is also rife with wildlife, so keep an eye out for deer, wild boar, grey wolves, Eurasian lynx, as well as bird species such as kingfishers, falcons and imperial eagles.

Gauja National Park, Latvia

The Cesis Castle at Gauja National Park. (Photo by Walter Bibikow/Getty)

History buffs should head to Gauja National Park in Latvia, home to over 500 cultural and historical sites and monuments. With 19 ancient castle mounds, six medieval castles and three towns, you can view windmills, museums, manor houses, granite sculptures and beyond. Visitors can also explore natural wonders like sandstone cliffs, rocks, caverns and caves.

Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland

An ice cave at Vatnajokull National Park. (Photo by Beerpixs/Getty)

Iceland has no shortage of incredible natural sites, but Vatnajökull National Park boasts Iceland’s — and Europe’s — largest glacier: Vatnajökull. With around 30 other glaciers to admire, visitors can drive through the park via car or 4×4 or trek through too. Don’t miss the Jökulsárlón Lagoon at the base of the Vatnajökull glacier, where you can spot seals playing on large chunks of ice that break off the glacier and float haphazardly through the water.

Cheile Nerei-Beușnița National Park, Romania

Beusnita Waterfall in Cheile Nerei-Beusnita National Park. (Photo by AttilaBarsan/Getty)

Located in the heart of the Aninei Mountains, Cheile Nerei-Beușnița National Park is known for its massive gorges and Devil’s Lake, which formed after a cave ceiling collapsed. The Beusnita waterfalls are also a highlight, one of several other waterfalls within the park. Visitors can also partake in activities such as canyoning, rappelling, spelunking, zip-lining, cycling and canyoning within the national reserve.

Bottom line

A village in Garajonay National Park, Spain. (Photo by Westend61/Getty)

With so many national parks in Europe, it may be difficult to decide which ones to visit. With popular, more touristy reserves, natural landscapes of all different types and off-the-beaten-path parks, there’s a national park experience on the continent for any and every type of traveller.

(Feature image of Gauja National Park in Latvia courtesy of Jekaterina Sahmanova/Getty)

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.