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Best national parks in Europe - Ridestore Magazine

You can find national parks of insane beauty in all four corners of Europe. From Croatia’s crystal clear blue lakes to the rugged peaks of Spain. Forget the crowds, tourist traps, and air conditioned malls, and instead head deep into nature to discover the best that this continent has to offer. We’re rounding up all the best spots for wild swimming, panoramic views, Instagram snaps, and everything in between. So if you’re ready for a true adventure and everything that comes with it, then load up, because we’re about to head out.

Need to update your hiking wardrobe? Stay dry, cool, and comfy with our outdoor jackets, and outdoor pants.

Firstly though....

What is a national park?

What is a national park?

A national park is a specific area designated by the government of a country for preservation of the natural environment. A national park status means that development of any kind of man-made infrastructure is severely restricted. National parks are usually havens for flora and fauna that need to be protected and preserved, or are places of substantial historical significance. Or both! Most national parks are big economic drivers, too, with many tourists and locals visiting the area to experience the beauty of what’s contained within.

National parks are as much about preservation as anything else. While the rest of the world continues to suffer from issues like pollution and habitat destruction, national parks remain an oasis for many species of animals and plants which no longer exist elsewhere. They are extremely important not just for now, but also for posterity. The world is always changing, and not always for the better. But national parks, thankfully, remain immune to that.

Table of contents: Europe’s best national parks

Best national parks for Instagram pics

Instagram is a hot topic, and while many believe it’s better to see things with your own eyes, Instagram brings beauty and joy from all over the world right to your fingertips. So whether you’re a serial snapper or a serial scroller, we’ve rounded up the best spots to take some amazing photos and share the magic that these national parks have on offer.

Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

Entry fees: “There's an entrance fee which acts as a contribution to the Park's upkeep and protection. For adults it is 80 Kuna (€10.50) January to March and in November and December; 180 Kuna (€24) during April, May and October; and 300 Kuna (€40) for June to September.” - visit-croatia.co.uk

Parking: There is parking at both entrances to the Park. It costs 7 Kuna per hour for cars.

Camping: There is offsite camping at Camp Korans-7km from the entrance or Camp Borje-15km away from the entrance.

The captivating Plitvice Lakes National Park is Croatia’s most popular tourist destination outside of the big cities and beautiful beaches. Plitvice Lakes National Park was granted the elusive UNESCO World Heritage status in 1979, and rightly so. The lakes are located roughly halfway between the capital city of Zagreb and Zadar on the coast, and are a definite must-see for any visitor to Croatia. 

Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park, Scotland

Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park, Scotland

Entry fees: Open/Free

Parking: There are 3 local independent car parks in Stirling, Argyll & Bute, and West Dunbartonshire. 

Camping: “Seasonal camping management byelaws are in place from 1st March until 30th September. During this time you will need to camp in a camping permit area or campsite in certain parts of the National Park. Camping permit areas and campsites are open and can be booked up to 4 weeks in advance.” - lochlomond-trossachs.org 

One of Scotland’s true wonders, Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park is where you'll find wild and brutal scenery, amazing history, and superb local food and drink. This park is also playing a crucial role in tackling climate change by implementing goals for the park like the planting of woodland to help with carbon sequestration, as well as the restoration of peat bogs. Enjoying a trip to Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park, supporting the Park's businesses, and donating to the conservation funds means you can also help maintain the stunning natural beauty.   

Wild Taiga, Finland

Wild Taiga, Finland

Entry fees: Free

Parking: Available at the campsites. 

Camping: There are 3 camping sites in the park: Camping Hossan Lumo, Camping in Lentiira and Lentuankoski Camping Area. 

Wild Taiga’s beauty will ignite your soul. That’s the simplest way to put it. The untouched landscape and clear lakes will tempt you to trek, explore and have new experiences. Hike in magnificent, unspoiled nature, get up close and personal with the wildlife, and enjoy traditional cultural activities. Get out on the water in a kayak for sunrise, meander through pristine boreal forests after lunch, and then end the afternoon sweating it all out in a Finnish Sauna. What better way to spend a day?

Rila National Park, Bulgaria

Rila National Park, Bulgaria

Entry fees: Free

Parking: 5 Levs (Bulgarian currency)

Camping: Camping is available in the park, or you could sleep in one of the numerous mountain huts such as the Musala hut.

Heading to Rila National park is a unique and unmissable experience. The untouched, tranquil landscapes of Eastern Europe’s most mesmerising park will have you captivated. Rila National Park is situated 100 km south of Sofia and is within easy reach via car and public transport. You could enjoy a few nights in the country’s bright and bustling capital, then swap the cosmopolitan city for the revitalising beauty of Rila’s rolling hills and wild mountains.

Ecrins, France

Ecrins, France

Entry fees: Free, but donations are encouraged.

Parking: Available at the campsite and in small local parking locations

Camping: There are many campsites, including Camping Ecrins and Camping Les Marines

If you love raw and rugged peaks, then Ecrins national park should shoot to the top of your list. Ecrins National Park is situated between the northern Alps and the southern Alps, so it’s no surprise it’s surrounded by the best views you could imagine. The Écrins massif is a high mountain zone that is home to 150 summits above 3,000 m and approximately 10,000 hectares of incredible glaciers.

Stelvio National Park, Italy

Stelvio National Park, Italy

Entry fees: 3 Euros

Parking:  Parking is most readily available at the ski resorts as they will be quieter during the Summer

Camping: There are many camping facilities! 

Stelvio National Park is where nature and culture meet. The Park covers four areas, Trento, Bolzano, Brescia, and Sondrioand, which are a charming amalgamation of the Austrian and Italian landscapes, culinary scenes, and friendly locals. Stelvio offers access to amazing glaciers, waterfalls, mountain lakes, and extensive woodlands, vineyards, mountain-side farms, and postcard-perfect Alpine villages.

Soomaa, Estonia

Soomaa, Estonia

Entry fees: Free

Parking: At campsites or local independent businesses

Camping: There are many independent camping sites available 

Soomaa national park is a unique National Park that is absolutely worth a visit for the incredible wetlands and the diverse wildlife. The Soomaa National Park is a expansive area in Pärnu and Viljandi County with five individually classed wetlands that line its meandering river, offering up unique and surreal flooded meadows and forests, which are open to exploring via the banks and wooden walkways on foot or by guided canoe tours — which is definitely the best way to experience them. Soomaa is also home to elk, deer, wild boar, lynx, wolf, and bear, with the floodplains themselves a result of some extensive beaver activity!

Europe’s best national parks for hiking

Hiking is just about the best way to explore an area and there is no place on earth where this rings more true than in Europe's national parks. So grab your boots and your map and get out there to explore the best hiking routes in Europe's national parks. 

The Tatra National Park, Slovakia

The Tatra National Park, Slovakia

Entry fees: A standard ticket costs 7 PLN, reduced to 3,50 PLN for students, seniors, people with disabilities. Children up to 7 have free entry..

Parking: Park near Lake Morskie Oko and hike from there.

Camping: Wild camping is prohibited in all National parks in Poland, but there are independent campsites on both sides of the border.

The Tatra Mountains are situated on Poland’s northern border with Slovakia. This national park is gorgeous to meander through on your own accord and at your own pace, but is also home to marked hiking trails, footpaths, and cycling tracks which take you on a tour of specific sights and scenery, all revolving around the towering Mount Krivan (2495m). While hiking, keep your eye out for the park's protected and endemic wildlife species, including brown bears, grey wolves, Eurasian Lynx, and the European Otter. In addition, the Tatra chamois and marmot are two of the most elusive and rare species of the park.

Pyhä-Luosto National Park, Finland

Pyhä-Luosto National Park, Finland

 Entry fees:  Free

Parking:  There is parking available at Naava Visitor Centre

Camping: Wild camping is permitted, but there are also many independent campsites with facilities in the park

Pyhä-Luosto National Park really is a hiker’s dream. Feast your eyes on deep gorges, ancient forests and windswept treeless fell-tops. You'll also enjoy Lapland's big skies, lit by the Northern Lights in winter and the Midnight Sun around midsummer. Finally, enjoy numerous marked trails and observe the sacred forest originally inhabited by the ancient Sámi people.

Durmitor National Park, Montenegro

Durmitor National Park, Montenegro

Entry fees: €3 euros

Parking: Park at the hotels or independent campsites. There is also parking at the visitor centre.  

Camping: There is a wide selection of campsites with various facilities. 

Durmitor National Park in Montenegro is found in the Dinaric Alps and covers a whopping 390km2. Awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status, it's the largest protected area in Montenegro. The park is awe-inspiring, remote, rugged, and largely untouched, certainly off the beaten track. The park attracts visitors to its ski slopes in winter, accessed from Zabljak, a wonderful little mountain town, however, in the summer months, an extensive network of hiking trails replaces the ski runs, where you can get up close and personal with the nature this paradise has to offer.

Sharr Mountain National Park, Kosovo

Sharr Mountain National Park, Kosovo

Entry fees: Unknown

Parking: Car parking on independent sites is available 

Camping: Wild camping is not officially allowed or prohibited in Kosovo, but campsites are also available.

For the best and most enjoyable experience, visit this park in the Summer, and discover the mountainous wilds of North Macedonia, Kosovo, and Albania. This is an unspoiled corner of the Balkans, home to brown bears, lynx, and myriad indigenous flowers. Then, drive up for a day trip from Pristina and take advantage of the many marked walking trails for a blissful beginner hike. 

Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, Wales

Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, Wales

Entry fees:  Free

Parking: Parking is available at one of the many "National Park Authority" car parks

Camping: Enjoy one of the 98 campsites on the Pembrokeshire Coast

The Pembrokeshire coast national park is a hiker's dream, especially if you love hiking by the sea! Explore over 600 miles of public footpaths and bridleways. Walking is ideal for discovering the Pembrokeshire coast's scenery, wildlife, and history. From medieval forts and castles by the sea to Roman ruins, Pembrokeshire is steeped in history, and the perfect place to travel by car, bike, or foot.

Vanoise National Park, France

Vanoise National Park, France

Entry fees: Free

Parking: There are many charged CCTV monitored car parks in the area. Or try the ski resort car parks.

Camping: The park has many beautiful campsites with a full range of facilities.

Initially, the park was established to protect ibexes. But today, the park is an essential site for preserving the stunning flora and fauna. Stretching an immense 53,000 hectares, the Vanoise massif comprises around 100 peaks over 3,000 metres in altitude. The unspoiled and striking landscapes of the Vanoise massif are a mountain hikers' idea of heaven, and are the perfect hiking destination for those who want to be surrounded by picturesque mountains wherever they walk.

Olympus National Park, Greece

Olympus National Park, Greece

Entry fees: The ticket is 6 Euros, excluding those under 15 and over 67

Parking: There is a car park at the base.

Camping: There are numerous independent campsites. 

The park is a wildlife lover’s dream! Watch out for the native wolves, jackals, foxes, and wild cats. Other larger mammal species include chamois, wild goats, and roe deer. In addition, birdwatchers can keep an eye for the peregrine falcon, sparrow hawk, golden eagle, short-toed snake eagle, Lanner Falcon, and the booted eagle. And that’s not even talking about the park’s main draws — ancient ruins and cultural and historical landmarks are dotted throughout and just waiting to be discovered.

Snowdonia National Park, Wales

Snowdonia National Park, Wales

Entry fees: Free

Parking:  Available at Pen y Pass Car Park

Camping: There are many campsites available

Snowdonia is the pinnacle of Welsh culture and heritage. The captivating landscape is steeped in history, where the almost unheard native Welsh language (only around 5% of the population speak it fluently) is part of the day-to-day fabric of the area. Although the park is famous for its hiking trails among Brits, the Snowdon Massif, Carneddau, and Glyderau are the unmistakable mountains where you'll discover the peak voted British walkers' favourite, the fabulous Tryfan.

National parks: The best secret spots in Europe

No one likes crowds, even more so when you head to an open space like a national park. But if stepping off the beaten track is at the top of your priority list when heading on a European national park vacation, check out this list of hidden gems.

Gran Paradiso National Park, Italy

Gran Paradiso National Park, Italy

Entry fees: Free

Parking:  There are numerous car parking sites

Camping:  The park has numerous independent campsites

A truly wild location where the local wildlife roams freely, the Gran Paradiso National Park truly is an often overlooked Garden of Eden, and is tirelessly looked after and monitored by the dedicated park staff. Originally developed as an ibex sanctuary, the park saved them from extinction in Italy, and today the area is home to 2800 specimens. Sharing a border with the Parc National de la Vanoise and the Mont Avic national park, you’re sure to get an authentic Italian mountain experience. 

Rago National Park, Norway

Rago National Park, Norway

Entry fees: Free

Parking:  2 Car parks in Lakshole

Camping:  The park has numerous independent campsites

This national park is the definition of "off the beaten track". There is virtually no infrastructural development in Rago national park, so there’s a real feeling of being in the genuine wilderness. The landscape offers rich contrasts with its towering steep mountains plunging down to crystalline fjords fed by fast-flowing rivers and thundering waterfalls, lined with pine forests and jagged cliffs that, if you’re bold enough to summit, offer the most amazing views you can imagine.

Peneda-Gerês National Park, Portugal

Peneda-Gerês National Park, Portugal

Entry fees: Free

Parking:  Park can be found in the village of Vilar or at campsites

Camping: There are several campsites on which side of the park you are at.

A trip to Peneda-Gerês National Park is like stepping back in time: you’ll discover dozens of granite villages that haven't changed much since the creation of Portugal in the 12th century. Among the extensive list of things to see and do in this park, be sure to take the opportunity to go for a swim beneath one of several majestic waterfalls, and stop off to admire the centuries-old monuments. 

Saxon Switzerland National Park, Germany

Saxon Switzerland National Park, Germany

Entry fees: Free

Parking:  There are options in the various villages

Camping:  Wild camping is allowed in Saxon Switzerland, but there are also many campsites.

The area of Saxony is located between Pirna and the Czech border and is inarguably one of the most beautiful landscapes in Europe. There is plenty to explore here with more than 700 summits for rock climbers to tackle, but if you prefer walking, there are 400km of marked hiking trails, including steep treks and daunting paths. Though there are also a lot of tamer  cycle routes and walking trails through the National Park if you like your pace a little more relaxed.

Sarek National Park, Sweden

Sarek National Park, Sweden

Entry fees:  Free

Parking:  Parking is available at the park entrances

Camping:  Wild camping is allowed 

Sarek National Park can be found in a truly remote location in Northern Sweden inside the Arctic Circle in Sweden’s Lapland. Sarek National Park is a very mountainous region which is characterised by deep valleys, wild rivers, and massive glaciers. It’s inaccessible, but worth the trip for anyone that wants to experience the haunting beauty of this brutal and unforgiving landscape.

Göreme National Park, Turkey

Göreme National Park, Turkey

Entry fees: Unknown

Parking:  Car parking is available at the base 

Camping:  Try Kaya Camping Caravaning

Goreme National Park and the Rock Sites of Cappadocia are not only both UNESCO World Heritage Sites, with both offering plenty to do outside of just admiring the landscapes. Take a famous hot air balloon ride, ride horseback through the park, or visit the Goreme Open-Air Museum. There are also lots of wonderful hiking trails serving up gorgeous vistas, as well as fire-orange sunrises and sunsets that only Turkey can produce. 

Best national parks: Honourable mentions

There are some national parks that deserve an honourable mention. Locations so stunning, so tranquil and mesmerising, you have to take the opportunity to visit if you’re nearby. Be sure to explore the best national parks honourable mention category once you’ve ticked off the list above!

Lake District National Park, England 

Lake District National Park, England 

Entry fees: Free 

Parking:  Check the National Trust website for the numerous car parks

Camping:  There are multiple camping and glamping sites 

The Lake District National Park is a truly remarkable place. Misty, foggy, mysterious and littered charming lakes and rolling hills, there’s no wonder it was awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status. Discover spectacular landscapes, pretty villages, a warm welcome, and a rich cultural heritage. The lakes are vitally important to biodiversity, and are surrounded by stunning ancient woodland best explored on foot.

Sierra Nevada National Park, Spain

Sierra Nevada National Park, Spain

Entry fees: Free

Parking:  There are six car parks in the Sierra Nevada

Camping:  There are many independent campsites in or near the park

The Sierra Nevada mountains are situated in the southern Spanish region of Andalucía and offer beautiful and breathtaking scenery as well as a host of options for hiking and other outdoor pursuits. The national park is populated by vast areas of unspoilt countryside which you can explore at your leisure. With vineyards never more than a stone’s throw away, its own style of cuisine, and the warmest welcome you’ll ever receive, you can sit and soak in the sun year round, admiring the stony peaks in summer, and the snowy vistas in the winter! 

Cinque Terre National Park, Italy

Cinque Terre National Park, Italy

Entry fees:  Free

Parking:  15 Euro parking is available in the park.

Camping:  There are many local campsites.

Cinque Terre National Park is located along the breathtaking coast of Northern Italy in the La Spezia region. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is unforgettable because it blends nature, coastline, and traditional villages where permanent residents only number around 5,000. The park covers the towns of Corniglia, Manarola, Monterosso al Mare, Riomaggiore, and Vernazza. The park is famous for Thyme, Lavender, Aleppo pine, cork trees, chestnuts, samphire, rosemary, and many different succulents that grow abundantly. There’s probably not a more fragrant place to visit, and is certainly worth putting at the top of your list if you’re a food lover or forager!

BONUS - Local Listings: Where are all of UK's National Parks

As a bonus, we decided to list all of UK's National Parks and where to find them. Let's dig in!

  • Brecon Beacons, Wales
  • Broads, England
  • Cairngorms, Scotland
  • Dartmoor, England
  • Exmoor, England
  • Lake District, England
  • Loch Lomond & The Trossachs, Scotland
  • New Forest, England
  • North York Moors, England
  • Northumberland, England
  • Peak District, England
  • Pembrokeshire Coast, Wales
  • Snowdonia, Wales
  • South Downs, England
  • Yorkshire Dales, England

Wrapping Up

wrapping up

That’s it, the definitive list of the best national parks in Europe. No matter where you go, make sure you pack your blister plasters, check the weather forecast and above all else, revel in the natural beauty and joy that all of these magical parks serve up in spades. See you out there!

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