Whether you're a nature lover, adventure seeker, or are simply looking to spend some time relaxing surrounded by spectacular scenery, national parks are the perfect places to visit. In Europe, there are still many fantastic parks that remain fairly unknown. So that you don’t miss out on a visit, here are 12 of the best.
Skadar Lake National Park, Montenegro
The view over the Green Pyramid, in the north of Skadar Lake National Park © RnDmS, Shutterstock
Bordered to the east by Albania and enclosed on three sides by Montenegrin mountains, the beautiful Skadar is one of the largest lakes in Europe. The lake varies in size considerably over the course of the year meaning that every visit will be a unique experience. In the rainy season it is full and blue and in the summer it appears silver, shimmering in the sun while the mountains of Albania appear to hover in the distance above its surface.
Lura National Park, Albania
Lura is home to many spectactular lakes © Malenki/Wikimedia Commons
The Lura National Park covers mountainous terrain around the Crown of Lura (Kurora e Lurës) Massif, which rises at its peak to 2,121m. The area was designated as one of Albania's national parks because of the spectacular lakes which lie within it, and a road into the park was constructed to give access to the seven largest. Each of these lakes has a subtly different atmosphere. Several of them are covered in white and yellow water lilies, and huge dragonflies dart around them. Others have no flowers in them, and the stillness of their water is dappled with the reflection of the surrounding trees.
Pelister National Park, Macedonia
Hiking in Pelister – Macedonia's oldest national park © ollirg, Shutterstock
Opened in 1948, Pelister National Park is the smallest but oldest of Macedonia's national parks. The area is a must-see for nature lovers, as it is famous for its ancient Molika pine trees (Pinus peuce), as well as rare lynx, bearded eagle, gentian plants and many other different types of flora and fauna.
Soomaa National Park, Estonia
Explore the wilderness in Soomaa © Olev Mihkelmaa/Wikimedia Commons
Another one for nature lovers, Soomaa National Park protects the largest area of central Estonian mires. The park's four largest bogs, Kuresoo, Valgeraba, Ördi and Kikepera, are located in the catchment of the Pärnu - the longest river in the country. The area is also home to the wooded meadows of the River Halliste, formerly a botanical reserve. Visitors can hike, canoe, or try to spot one of the several rare species of plant and bird can be live within the park.
Mljet National Park, Croatia
Mljet is home to a ruined monastery © Alex Proimos, Shutterstock
The entire western end of the island of Mljet is a national park, and features two gorgeous saltwater lakes, the larger of which has an island with a ruined monastery on it. It’s easy to visit on a day trip from Dubrovnik, but if you want to stay longer there’s a hotel and some private rooms, and the island has great walking, cycling and canoeing, along with a diving school, and the opportunity of learning to sail.
Snæfellsjökull National Park, Iceland
The landscape in Snæfellsjökull is quite spectacular © Jan Mastnik, Shutterstock
A visit to Snæfellsjökull offers a tranquil escape with powerful views. Below the white cap, the sloping lava descends into a rough and desolate landscape of grey-black hills, craters, cliffs, and fields of broken lava rock. Wandering through the park is a solitary, silent experience which feels meditative and ethereal, and the scenery is serene, so if you have some spare time during a trip to Iceland, be sure to spend it here.
Fruška Gora National Park, Serbia
One of Fruška Gora's monasteries © Jdjerich/Wikimedia Commons
What makes Serbia's Fruška Gora a delight is its lush, forested slopes filled with wildlife, a plethora of hiking trails, and monasteries tucked away half-hidden in the folds of the hills, mostly on the southern side of the range. On the same warmer slopes, woodland gives way to agriculture at the lower reaches, and sunflowers, orchards and grapevines take advantage of the sunshine and adequate rainfall.
Pirin National Park, Bulgaria
Pirin is great for hiking © Madcat87 / Wikimedia Commons
If you're looking for somewhere in Bulgaria to visit, the magnificent Pirin National Park is recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. The surrounding mountain offers visitors with breathtaking views and excellent hiking opportunities.
Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park, Belarus
Visit Grandfather Frost in Belovezhskaya Pushcha © J Metselaar/Wikimedia Commons
The calm Belovezhskaya Pushcha is home to around 212 species of bird and 59 species of mammal. Extensive tourist trails have also been established throughout the park for walkers, horseriders and cyclists alike. If you're visiting with children, be sure to visit the ‘real’ Grandfather Frost in the ‘real’ wooden fairy-tale house, where he lives with his granddaughter Snyegoruchka, the Snow Maiden.
Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park, Finland (Lapland)
Admire the unspoilt wilderness of Pallas-Yllästunturi © Petr Vodička / Wikimedia Commons
Pallas-Yllästunturi is Finland’s third-largest national park, covering over 1000km ². It is a glorious mountain plateau of primeval, boreal forest and bare fells which begins just south of the village and reaches down to Kittilä in the south. The park is one of Finnish Lapland’s most enjoyable expanses of unspoilt wilderness and draws nature-lovers from across the country.
North Velebit National Park, Croatia
Will you spot a brown bear in North Velebit? © Croatia National Tourist Board
Being cool, high up, well forested and very sparsely inhabited, North Velebit is an ideal habitat for brown bears, and it is thought that there are around 500 in the area. The park is also home to wild boar, lynx, wild cats, red and roe deer and several species of eagle, along with many other animals. The park also features some of Croatia's most diverse flora, with a wide range of rare and protected plant species.
Triglav National Park, Slovenia
Triglav is Slovenia's only national park © lucash/Wikimedia Commons
Slovenia’s only national park,Triglav, protects over 800km ² of high mountain terrain in the Julian Alps and is well worth a visit. The park’s mammals include alpine ibex, chamois, mountain hare and alpine marmot, and there are a few brown bears, wolves and lynxes. Key birds in the park are ptarmigan, rock partridge, three-toed woodpecker, alpine accentor, alpine chough and wallcreeper.
Inspired to visit one of the national parks mentioned? Check out out guides for more information: