Whether you're browsing the rails of designer stores in Paris or checking out the street art scene in Berlin, when it comes to travelling Europe, there is no shortage of exciting things to see and do.
But this culturally and historically rich continent has also been blessed with some extraordinary natural beauty which remains largely unexplored. From breathtaking mountainous landscapes to stunning waterfalls, Europe’s national parks are perfect for those looking for their next natural retreat or an exhilarating adventure. We’ve picked out 10 of the continent’s most beautiful national parks for your perfect outdoor getaway.
Plitvice Lakes, Croatia
If there’s one place Instagram filters aren't needed, it’s Plitvice Lakes. This eden-like paradise is home to 16 vibrantly-colored lakes which tumble into each other via mesmerizing waterfalls and cascades. Its rich foliage blossoming and crystal-clear waters reflective of their surroundings, this idyllic national park transforms from season to season. But you'll have to resist your urge to dive into its cool waters, since this ecosystem goldmine is UNESCO-protected.
Slovenia’s vast stretches of untouched wilderness, meadows and streams nestled in the snowy mountains make an adventurer’s paradise. Below the limestone peaks of Mount Triglav lie gorgeous glacial lakes and breathtaking valleys, karst springs and waterfalls. The beautiful alpine expanse is also home to several cosy villages, which make the perfect mid-trek pitstops if you're needing a break.
It’s hard to not be in awe of this seemingly endless landscape at the heart of the French Alps. Home to more than 100 towering summits and the arrow-shaped Barre des Écrins, Écrins is a mythical summit for mountaineers and a firm favorite with climbers and skiers. Its zigzag footpaths which soar above clear blue lakes and rolling meadows make France’s second largest national park a prime picturesque route for hikers.
Spain’s oldest national park is a hidden gem in a country known mainly for its party scene and exquisite beaches. Rolling green valleys are met with waterfalls cascading through canyons and gorges, setting a stunning scene for keen walkers. Winding trails will take you to Ordesa’s best natural wonders, including the Cola de Caballo waterfall which thunders down from a height of 1,700 meters. Soaring mountains also offer breathtaking views of the Pyrenees’ wild landscapes.
Vatnajokull hosts an incredible battle of between the elements, where the forces of rivers and glacial ice are pitted against volcanoes and geothermal activity. Home to thundering waterfalls, lurching tongues of ice, twisting webs of rivers, and mighty volcanos, there are few places in the world which encompass such a fascinating combination of natural phenomena. Iceland’s jewel in the crown gets its name from the Vatnajokull glacier, the largest in Europe, which has created some incredible ice formations and a gorgeous glacial lagoon.
Gran Paradiso, Italy
Gran Paradiso’s stunning mountain backdrop and rich wildlife make it the perfect destination for nature lovers. Walk down the winding trails of the Cogne Valley where you are instantly hit by the shear size of the basin and thick forests in the Sant‘Orso meadow. Be sure to also explore the quaint little of village of Cogne nestled in the spectacularly deep valley full of rolling woodlands and green meadows.
With snowcapped mountains, mysterious lochs and forests home to towering trees in the heart of the Scottish highlands, Cairngorms was certainly dealt a hand full of aces by Mother Nature. It's natural wonders set the backdrop for the UK’s largest national park, but it is also the location for a wide range of water and snow sports, cycling and walking routes and spectacular castles. And if you need a stiff whisky to get your legs in gear for a long walk, you can check out its many distilleries.
Once the dwelling of Greek mythology’s 12 ancient gods, Olympus oozes in mythical grandeur. Legend has it that the King of the Gods, Zeus ruled from his throne atop Mount Olympus, which is now a paradise for hikers and climbers. With rugged ravines, deep caves and daunting rocks, Greece’s national park has more than enough impressive snapshots for you to update your Instagram feed.
Saxon Switzerland, Germany
The confusingly named, Saxon Switzerland is actually located in Germany, its wonderfully rugged landscape making it a rock climber's paradise. Porous rock chiselled into bizarre columns alongside battered cliffs and deep valleys make it one of the most unusual national parks in Europe. For a postcard worthy view, check out the Bastei, a rock formation towering above the river Elbe linked by a sandstone bridge.