Ah, the great outdoors. When the strain of city life gets too much, it’s time to strap on those hiking boots. Europe is blessed with a dazzling variety of national parks to satisfy that wanderlust. For the adventurous, there are the sky-scraping Dolomite mountains and the cascading waterfalls of Croatia. Anyone after tranquility can find themselves at peace among the sand dunes of the Netherlands. Here are some of the best European havens to lose yourself in nature.
Sächsische Schweiz, Germany
Towering sandstone karsts and pine forest as far as the eye can see. Yep, it’s fair to say this is Germany’s answer to Yosemite in California. Sächsische Schweiz – Saxon Switzerland – is so-called because of its mountainous rock formations. One walk through its craggy gorges makes it clear why it’s a rock climber’s paradise. Yet it’s not just for the uber athletic. Floating gently downstream along the River Elbe, you’ll enjoy its breath-taking scenery just the same.
Lake District, U.K
Famous British writers like William Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter called the Lake District home. And the poetry of the landscape itself makes it easy to see why. With 16 lakes and 150 peaks, it’s an awe-inspiring place to be. Whether you’re paddleboarding on Lake Buttermere or hiking Scafell Pike — England’s highest point — it’s got fresh air in heaps. Perhaps that’s not surprising, given it’s the largest National Park in England.
The Calanques, France
Any wildlife lovers should make a bee-line — excuse the pun — for the Calanques. Home to bottlenose dolphins, loggerhead sea turtles, and fine whales, it’s a natural paradise. The coves of this southern French marine area are best explored by boat. But if you’re prone to getting sea legs, its clifftop walks are equally thrilling. With the sparkling Mediterranean below you, and wildflowers all around, c’est magnifique.
Picos de Europa, Spain
Make sure you have a compass on your person in the Picos de Europa. Covering a whopping 650 kilometers of the Cantabrian Mountains, it’s easy to get lost. And with protected species like Iberian wolves and Cantabrian brown bears roaming around, it’s best to stick to the trails. Still, when you see those soaring peaks, you’ll be glad you got off the beaten path.
Dolomiti Bellunesi National Park, Italy
‘Stunning’, ‘jaw-dropping’, ‘spectacular’ — the comments of visitors to the Dolomites say it all. And given that Dolomiti Bellunesi has world heritage status, it seems UNESCO agrees. Among those snow-lined peaks and canyons lie crystal clear rivers and swamps. Oh, and some picture-perfect villages. Just save some space on your camera (you might capture a golden eagle or two).
Texel Island, The Netherlands
If lounging on a beach all day is your idea of heaven, Texel Island is for you. With over a quarter of this Netherlands beauty spot made up of dunes, it’s the ideal getaway. After you’ve gazed wistfully across the Wadden Sea, there’s plenty to explore. Its wooded valleys and bird-friendly marshland play host to all kinds of flora and fauna. And the best way to see it all? That’d be on a trusty ol’ Dutch bicycle, of course.
Mount Olympus National Park, Greece
Why settle for worldly pleasures when you can walk in the footsteps of the gods? At Mount Olympus, you follow the trails of none other than twelve ancient deities. Along the way, you’ll traverse deep gorges and dense forests, all the while admiring 50 peaks. With over a quarter of all Greek flora found there, it’s a lush, varied journey to the top. En route, be sure to pay your respects to Zeus at the ancient ruins of Dion.
Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia
After a long hike, it’s time to kick up those heels and cool down by the water. At Plitvice Lakes, you’ll be spoilt for choice for locations for that refreshing pitstop. With 16 lakes and 92 stunning waterfalls gushing into the Korana river, it’s a pretty scenic picnic spot. Navigating the wooden boardwalks, you’ll be mesmerized by its turquoise waters. And for the daring among you, you can go one step further – into the mystical caves.