Fairy chimneys and glaciers to stunning lakes and waterfalls – these gorgeous lesser-known European National Parks offer unique experiences and escape from crowds

From stunning mountain peaks to deep, lush valleys, European national parks offer the most stunning and diverse landscapes. Travel to these national parks to experience everything nature has to offer in all its glorious forms. Here are some of the lesser known but incredibly gorgeous European national parks for your travel bucket list:

Vatnajökull, Iceland

Known as the Vatna Glacier in English, this park, established in 2008, is a wonder to behold. Considered one of the largest glaciers in Europe, options for green travel enthusiasts include not only hiking the glacier but travel through the caves that accompany the area. Due to a nearby volcano, nature combines in an incredibly unique way in this area, as hot and cold battle for dominance in the most beautiful of ways.

The lowland areas like Jökulsárgljúfur, Skaftafell, Heinaberg, Hjallanes and Hoffell are accessible all year round. The highland areas are accessible for 4×4 vehicles in summer and early autumn.

Vatnajökull, Iceland national parks

Photo by Andrés Nieto Porras via Flickr

 Triglav, Slovenia

The only national park in Slovenia, it was named after the highest mountain in the park and country. Extending along the Italian border, this park is one of the first European national parks, dating back to 1924. Experience history and the wonder of the highest peak in the Julian Alps. Julius Kugy, famous writer, said that “Triglav is not just a mountain, Triglav is a kingdom.” Take a moment when you travel to Triglav, and take in all the kingdom has to offer.

Triglav_Lake_slovenia national parks

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Gran Paradiso, Italy

Located in the Graian Alps and also named after the tallest mountain, this park is home to a variety of flora and fauna that are sure to make an impression. Spread over 70,000 hectares, the mountains of the Gran Paradiso group have been carved and shaped by glaciers and streams. Bring binoculars to take in over 100 bird species, fluttering butterflies, and thick, dense forests. The first national park to be established in Italy, come for the scenery and stay for the enchantment.

Gran_Paradiso_al_tramonto_italy national parks

Photo: Alexis Courthoud via Wikimedia Commons

Plitvice, Croatia

Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia is one of the oldest national parks in Southern Europe. With more than 1 million visitors each year, this not so-hidden secret will be sure to please. It stands out for its unique karst landscape – the Plitvice lakes National Park belongs to Dinaric karst area and due to its specific geology, it truly is one of the most impressive karst entities in the world.

Apart from dolomitic rock, mesosoic limestones with dolomite inserts prevail.  Home to 16 sparkling lakes in a variety of stunning colors, explore every inch and experience every wonder that this land has to offer. See a variety of plants as you traipse between flowing waterfalls. Travel to Plitvice as a day trip from Zagreb or stay in the charming B&Bs near the lakes.

Plitvička jezera_Davor Rostuhar croatia Plitvice lakes national parks

Plitvička Jezera: Davor Rostuhar_2012/ Croatia tourism board

Saxon Switzerland, Germany

Part of the Elbe Sandstone Mountains, the Saxon Switzerland National Park is in the very heart of a incredible natural area. A canyon filled with various habits of amazing life forms, each peak, valley, and forest is a different story waiting to be told. With nearly 250 miles (400 km) of hiking paths, there is more than enough room to explore all this gorgeous park has to offer.

Saxon Switzerland, Germany national parks

Photo by Bernd Thaller via Flickr

Ecrins, France

From babbling brooks to lush, soft meadows, Ecrins National Park holds over 100 mountain peaks and a large number of glaciers. With a variety of hiking trails perfect for beginners to experts, anyone can have a wonderful time in this park. Tread lightly and keep your eyes peeled for an ibex or other stunning creature that calls this location home. There are plenty of driving trails that will still allow you to take in all the park has to offer but we highly recommend the eco-friendly travel option – your own two feet!

Ecrins_Plateau_d'Emparis_ france national parks

Photo: Nuno Alves via Wikimedia Commons

Ordesa, Spain

The Ordesa and Monte Perdido National Park in Spain is home to quite the assortment of wonders, from rolling mountains to waterfalls as high as 1700 meters. This park also offers the option to drive through, or even take a bus (again, the eco-friendly option!). The array of flora and fauna changes by altitude, making every step a different experience to behold.

Ordesa, Spain national parks

Photo by Jesús Alenda via Flickr

Göreme, Turkey

You have to visit for its surreal fairy chimneys! Located on a volcanic landscape sculpted by erosion to form a succession of mountain ridges, valleys and pinnacles known as “fairy chimneys” or hoodoos, Göreme National Park is unforgettable.

Within a town holding a rich history dating as far back to approximately 1200 B.C.E., the Göreme National Park in Turkey is a sight to behold. An incredible combination of hills, mountains, valleys, and rivers, every inch of this park proves to be gorgeously hand crafted by Mother Nature herself. As if the scenery wasn’t enough, the area also promises the historical interest of underground cities, dating back to the Byzantine period. On top of that, the area also welcomes a balloon tour everyday at sunrise, peppering the beautiful view with the fun colors.

Goreme, Turkey national parks

Photo by Moyan Brenn via Flickr

Sarek, Sweden

With over 100 glaciers and an array of experiences to have in each season, Sarek National Park can only be described as a unique wonder to behold. Here you’ll find mountains over 2000 metres, long valleys with wild waters and almost 100 glaciers. Sarek is the national park with six of Sweden’s thirteen highest mountains and home to the Sami people for ages.

See reindeer in their natural habitat, munching on the greenest, richest grass to be found. The national park also is famous for its resident wildlife, including large elk and several predators. Meltwater from the many glaciers flows into Sarek’s artery, the Ráhpåaädno river, which creates the alpine world’s most well-known delta. For experienced hikers and true nature lovers, travel to this area can be the most rewarding trip of your life.

sarek, sweden national parks

Photo by Tero Laakso via Flickr

Pembrokeshire, Wales, UK

Named for the county it resides in, this is an experience meant for the whole family. Pembrokeshire is a dream travel destination for swimmers, beachcombers, wildlife-watchers, walkers and outdoor adventurers. Here you’ll find golden sands backed by towering cliffs teeming with wildlife.

It’s also known for the renowned Pembrokeshire Coast Path: the 186 mile coastal path. Would you dare to try coasteering here, the adventure sport that was created in Pembrokeshire? This national park makes sure that accessibility for all is of the utmost importance. A land of many legends, travel to Pembrokeshire for a glorious experience.

pembrokeshire, wales national parks

Green Bridge of Wales. Photo via David Evans via Flickr

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