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.
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.
Vatnajokull National Park, Iceland. It may come as a surprise that the second largest national park in Europe is Vatnajokull National Park in the small island nation of Iceland. But it's not the size of Vatnajokull 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 Vatnajokull glacier or watch huge boulders of ice drift around the Jokulsárlón 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.
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.
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.
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.