Plitvice Lakes is one of Croatia's lesser-known but still spectacular national parks. Plitvice Lakes is one of Croatia's lesser-known but still spectacular national parks.
Life Travel The hidden national parks of Europe Updated:

The hidden national parks of Europe

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With visitor numbers to Europe at an all-time high, it’s becoming harder and harder to find a peaceful national park retreat.

Year-round, the continent’s parks are packed with people, and they’re rarely the serene spots you might imagine them to be.

Thankfully though, if there’s one thing Europe isn’t short on, it’s national parks. And near every crowded, famous park is an equally beautiful, much quieter one. These are some of the best.

Los Picos de Europa, Spain

Though the journey to northern Spain’s Los Picos de Europa involves a heart-stopping, cloud-passing cable car ride, it’s well worth it.

With rolling green hills, steep, snowy mountains and a charming cafe at the cable car’s top, this park in northern Spain is postcard-perfect. Take in its beauty with some of Spain’s finest short walks, more strenuous hikes or overnight camping trips.

Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

Slightly further from Croatia’s tourist hubs of Split and Dubrovnik than the country’s famous waterfall-rich Krka national park, Plitvice Lakes is far less known.

But with photos of its terraced lakes and waterfalls now littering Instagram, that won’t be the case for long.

While the park’s dense, trail-filled forest is also impressive, it’s the lakes that really take centre stage. Rich in minerals, they’re an otherworldly, mesmerising blue.

Triglav National Park, Slovenia

If you thought scenery in Slovenia couldn’t get any better than in the resort town of Bled, try driving 15 minutes outside of it.

There, you’ll find the country’s only national park, Triglav. Spilling out from Mount Triglav, the highest peak in the Julian Alps, the park features emerald-green fields and dramatic lakes set among rugged mountains.

In the summer, the park’s program of events features cultural workshops, waterfall walks and astronomy lessons.

national parks europe
An alpine hut in Austria’s Hohe Tauern National Park. Photo: Austrian National Tourist Office/Peter Podpera

Hohe Tauern National Park, Austria

The largest of Austria’s seven national parks, Hohe Tauern National Park, in the country’s west, showcases nature at its finest.

Here, waterfalls plunge into rushing rivers, lakes reflect rows of Swiss pines, and cows graze on lush alpine pastures. Navigate your way through it all on a well-marked walking trail, on a mountain bike ride or on a ranger-led guided tour.

Gran Paradiso, Italy

At nearly 100 years old, Gran Paradiso National Park, in Italy’s north-west, is one of the oldest protected areas of the Alps. It’s also a far cry from some of the country’s other notoriously over-crowded nature spots.

Though its scenery is spectacular, the park’s wildlife is particularly notable. It consists of not only lynx, wolves and golden eagles, but also alpine ibex (a type of wild goat), and chamois, a goat-antelope mix.

national parks europe
Piatra Craiult is packed with wlldlife. Photo: Getty

Piatra Craiului National Park, Romania

Though Piatra Craiului National Park in Romania is home to wolves, deer and owls, its resident brown bear population attracts the most – though still not many – visitors.

The larger creatures can be seen from an enclosed observatory from May to September. But aside from bear-watching, the park offers plenty more. You can hike, horseback ride, rock climb or bird watch.

Port-Cros, France

One of three “golden isles” in the Mediterranean off the French Riviera, car-free Port-Cros is both a land and sea-based national park.

Its beaches are calm, its water swirls of dark and light blue, and its 20-or-so inhabitants are as friendly as you’d imagine.

Getting to the tiny island requires a ferry or private boat from the town of Hyeres. Once there, snorkel, hike or take a glass-bottom boat tour.