Largest National Parks in Europe to Visit Complete Guide

Europe’s national parks offer a breathtaking array of natural landscapes, from towering glaciers to pristine lakes and rugged mountains. This comprehensive guide will take you on a virtual tour of the continent’s most impressive protected areas, highlighting their unique features and the incredible biodiversity they preserve.

Whether you’re an avid hiker, a nature photographer, or simply someone who appreciates the great outdoors, this article will inspire you to explore these magnificent natural wonders and understand their importance in preserving Europe’s ecological heritage.

Largest National Parks in Europe
Largest National Parks in Europe

Introduction to National Parks in Europe

Europe is home to a diverse range of national parks, each offering unique landscapes, rich biodiversity, and a haven for outdoor enthusiasts.

From the Arctic tundra of Norway to the Mediterranean coasts of Greece, these protected areas showcase the continent’s natural beauty.

National parks in Europe preserve vital ecosystems and provide opportunities for recreation and education, making them invaluable treasures.

Why Visit Europe’s National Parks?

National parks in Europe offer more than just breathtaking scenery; they are sanctuaries for wildlife and plant species, many of which are endemic or endangered. Visiting these parks allows you to connect with nature, engage in various outdoor activities, and learn about the importance of conservation. Whether you seek adventure, tranquility, or inspiration, Europe’s national parks provide a perfect escape from the urban grind.

Vatnajökull National Park: Iceland’s Majestic Wilderness

Largest National Parks in Europe to Visit Complete Guide | Chasing Whereabouts

Vatnajökull National Park, covering an area of approximately 14,141 square kilometers, is Iceland’s largest national park and one of Europe’s biggest.

This park is home to the largest glacier in Europe, the Vatnajökull glacier, which spans around 8,100 square kilometers. The park’s landscape is incredibly diverse, featuring ice caves, volcanoes, hot springs, and rugged mountains.

Visitors to Vatnajökull can explore its stunning ice caves, hike through volcanic landscapes, and witness the power of cascading waterfalls like Svartifoss. The park also offers views of the highest peak in Iceland, Hvannadalshnúkur, standing at 2,110 meters. The variety of flora and fauna, along with its geological wonders, makes Vatnajökull National Park a must-visit destination.

How to reach Vatnajökull National Park

To reach Vatnajökull National Park in Iceland, follow these steps:

  1. Fly to Iceland: Book a flight to Keflavík International Airport (KEF), which is the main international airport in Iceland.
  2. Travel to Reykjavík: From Keflavík International Airport, take a bus or taxi to Reykjavík, the capital city of Iceland, which is about 50 kilometers away.
  3. Drive to Vatnajökull National Park:
    • Car Rental: Renting a car is the most flexible option. From Reykjavík, take the Ring Road (Route 1) eastwards towards Vatnajökull National Park. The drive is approximately 320 kilometers (200 miles) and can take around 4-5 hours, depending on your exact destination within the park and road conditions.
    • Public Transport: There are bus services available from Reykjavík to various parts of Vatnajökull National Park, but they may not be as frequent or convenient as driving.
  4. Choose Your Entry Point:
    • Skaftafell Visitor Center: One of the most popular entry points. It’s accessible via the Ring Road and located in the southern part of the park.
    • Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon: Another popular spot near the park, also accessible via the Ring Road.
    • Other Entrances: Depending on your interests, there are other entry points such as Höfn and Egilsstaðir, which offer different access points and experiences within the park.
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Sarek National Park: Sweden’s Untamed Wilderness

Sarek National Park, located in the northern part of Sweden, is renowned for its untouched wilderness and dramatic landscapes. This national park covers an area of about 1,970 square kilometers and is part of the Laponian area, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Sarek is characterized by its high mountains, deep valleys, and numerous glaciers, offering some of the most challenging hiking trails in Europe.

The park is also home to a variety of wildlife, including bears, lynxes, and wolverines. The rugged terrain and lack of marked trails make Sarek a paradise for experienced hikers and adventurers seeking solitude and a true wilderness experience. The park’s pristine nature and dramatic scenery provide a glimpse into one of Europe’s last remaining wild areas.

How to reach Sarek National Park

To reach Sarek National Park in Sweden, follow these steps:

By Air

  1. Fly to Stockholm:
    • Most international flights will land at Stockholm Arlanda Airport (ARN).
  2. Fly to Kiruna or Luleå:
    • From Stockholm, take a domestic flight to either Kiruna Airport (KRN) or Luleå Airport (LLA).

By Train

  1. Train to Gällivare or Jokkmokk:
    • From Stockholm, you can take an overnight train to Gällivare or Jokkmokk, both of which are close to Sarek.

By Bus

  1. Bus from Gällivare/Jokkmokk to Kvikkjokk or Ritsem:
    • From Gällivare, take a bus to Ritsem.
    • From Jokkmokk, take a bus to Kvikkjokk.

By Car

  1. Drive from Kiruna or Luleå:
    • From Kiruna, drive towards Ritsem.
    • From Luleå, drive towards Kvikkjokk.

By Foot (Hiking)

  1. Start from Kvikkjokk or Ritsem:
    • From Kvikkjokk, you can hike directly into the park.
    • From Ritsem, you may need to take a boat across Akkajaure Lake before starting your hike.

Key Entry Points

  • Kvikkjokk: Southern entry point.
  • Ritsem: Northern entry point.
  • Saltoluokta: Another popular starting point for hikers.


  • Sarek is a remote wilderness area with no marked trails or facilities, so plan accordingly.
  • Ensure you have good maps, a GPS, and enough supplies for your trek.
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Durmitor National Park: Montenegro’s Mountain Haven

Durmitor National Park in Montenegro is a stunning highland region known for its towering peaks, deep canyons, and glacial lakes.

Covering an area of 390 square kilometers, the park is home to the Durmitor mountain range, which includes Bobotov Kuk, the highest peak in Montenegro at 2,523 meters.

The Tara River Canyon, one of the deepest gorges in the world, is a highlight of Durmitor National Park, offering thrilling white-water rafting experiences.

The park also features beautiful alpine meadows, dense forests, and over 18 glacial lakes known as “mountain eyes.” Durmitor is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, offering activities such as hiking, skiing, and mountaineering.

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How to reach Durmitor National Park

Durmitor National Park is located in Montenegro and is a popular destination for nature lovers and adventure seekers. Here’s how you can reach the park:

By Air

  1. Nearest Airports:
    • Podgorica Airport (TGD): The main international airport in Montenegro, approximately 170 km from Durmitor.
    • Tivat Airport (TIV): Another international airport, around 150 km from the park.

By Car

  1. From Podgorica:
    • Take the E65/E80 highway north towards Nikšić.
    • From Nikšić, continue on the P5 road towards Šavnik.
    • Follow signs to Žabljak, the gateway town to Durmitor National Park.
  2. From Tivat:
    • Take the E65/E80 highway towards Kotor.
    • Continue on the P11 road from Kotor to Nikšić.
    • Follow the same route from Nikšić as described above.

By Bus

  • Direct Buses: Several bus services operate between major Montenegrin cities (Podgorica, Nikšić, Kotor) and Žabljak. Check local bus schedules for availability.
  • Route:
    • From Podgorica or Nikšić, take a bus heading to Žabljak. The journey may take around 2-4 hours depending on the starting point.

By Train

  • Railway Network: Montenegro’s railway network is limited and does not directly connect to Žabljak. The nearest major train station is in Bijelo Polje.
  • After reaching Bijelo Polje, you can take a bus or taxi to Žabljak.

Additional Tips

  • Car Rentals: Renting a car is a convenient option for flexibility and exploring the park at your own pace.
  • Road Conditions: Be prepared for mountainous roads which can be narrow and winding. Ensure your vehicle is suitable for such terrain.

Local Transportation

  • Within Durmitor: Once in Žabljak, you can use local taxis or rent bicycles to explore different parts of the park.

Hohe Tauern National Park: Austria’s Alpine Treasure

Hohe Tauern National Park, the largest national park in Austria, spans 1,856 square kilometers and includes some of the highest peaks in the Eastern Alps.

This park is a treasure trove of alpine beauty, featuring majestic mountains, extensive glaciers, and picturesque valleys. The park’s centerpiece is the Grossglockner, Austria’s highest mountain at 3,798 meters.

Visitors to Hohe Tauern can explore its diverse landscapes through an extensive network of hiking trails, including routes that pass by stunning waterfalls like the Krimml Waterfalls, the highest in Austria. The park is also home to a rich array of flora and fauna, including golden eagles and bearded vultures. Hohe Tauern National Park is an ideal destination for nature lovers and adventure seekers alike.

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How to reach Hohe Tauern National Park

To reach Hohe Tauern National Park in Austria, you have several options depending on your starting point and preferred mode of transportation:

By Car:

  • From Salzburg: Take the A10 motorway south towards Bischofshofen and exit at Bischofshofen. Continue on the B311 towards Zell am See and follow signs to the park.
  • From Innsbruck: Take the A12 motorway east towards Wörgl, then the B178 and B161 roads towards Mittersill, where you can enter the park.

By Train:

  • From Salzburg: Take a train to Zell am See, which is well-connected by regional trains. From Zell am See, you can take local buses or taxis to various entrances of the park.
  • From Innsbruck: Take a train to Wörgl, then transfer to a train heading to Zell am See. From there, use local transport options.

By Bus:

  • Regional buses connect major towns like Zell am See, Mittersill, and others to different parts of the park. Check local timetables for specific routes and schedules.

By Air:

  • The nearest major airports are Salzburg Airport (SZG) and Innsbruck Airport (INN). From either airport, you can rent a car or use public transportation as mentioned above.

Local Transport:

  • Once in the region, local buses, taxis, and shuttles can help you reach specific destinations within the park.

Feel free to ask if you need more details on any specific route or transport option!

Plitvice Lakes National Park: Croatia’s Waterfall Paradise

Scenic Photo of a Water Cascade in Plitvice Lakes, Croatia
Waterfall in plitvice national park, croatia.

Plitvice Lakes National Park, located in central Croatia, is famous for its cascading lakes and stunning waterfalls. This UNESCO World Heritage site covers an area of 296.85 square kilometers and is one of the oldest and largest national parks in Croatia. The park’s main attraction is its series of 16 terraced lakes, connected by waterfalls and surrounded by lush forests.

Visitors can explore the park via a network of wooden walkways and hiking trails that offer breathtaking views of the lakes and waterfalls. Plitvice Lakes National Park is also home to a variety of wildlife, including deer, bears, and rare bird species. The park’s natural beauty and serene atmosphere make it one of the most popular national parks in Europe.

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How to reach Plitvice Lakes National Park

To reach Plitvice Lakes National Park, here’s a guide based on various starting points:

From Zagreb:

  1. By Car:
    • Take the A1 highway from Zagreb towards Split.
    • Exit at Karlovac and follow the signs for Plitvice Lakes.
    • The journey is approximately 2 hours.
  2. By Bus:
    • Buses to Plitvice Lakes run regularly from Zagreb’s main bus station.
    • The trip takes around 2.5 hours.

From Split:

  1. By Car:
    • Head north on the A1 highway towards Zagreb.
    • Exit at Gornja Ploča and follow the signs to Plitvice Lakes.
    • Expect a drive of about 2.5 to 3 hours.
  2. By Bus:
    • There are direct buses from Split to Plitvice Lakes, which take approximately 4-5 hours.

From Zadar:

  1. By Car:
    • Take the A1 highway towards Zagreb.
    • Exit at Gornja Ploča and follow the signs for Plitvice Lakes.
    • The drive is around 1.5 to 2 hours.
  2. By Bus:
    • Regular buses from Zadar to Plitvice Lakes are available and the journey takes about 2.5 hours.

By Tour:

  • Various travel agencies offer guided tours from major cities like Zagreb, Split, and Zadar. These typically include transportation and a guided tour of the park.


  • Check the bus schedule in advance as it can vary by season.
  • If driving, ensure your vehicle is in good condition as some roads can be winding and narrow.

Cairngorms National Park: The Heart of the Scottish Highlands

Cairngorms National Park, located in the Scottish Highlands, is the largest national park in the UK, covering an area of 4,528 square kilometers. The park is renowned for its stunning landscapes, which include mountain ranges, ancient forests, rivers, and lochs. The Cairngorms are home to five of the UK’s six highest mountains, making it a prime destination for climbers and hikers.

The park offers a wide range of outdoor activities, including skiing, mountain biking, and wildlife watching. Visitors can explore the park’s diverse habitats, which are home to species such as red deer, golden eagles, and the elusive Scottish wildcat. Cairngorms National Park is a must-visit for those seeking to experience the rugged beauty of the Scottish Highlands.

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How to reach Cairngorms National Park

To get to Cairngorms National Park in Scotland, here are some common options:

By Car

  • From Edinburgh/Glasgow:
    • Take the M90 to Perth.
    • From Perth, follow the A9 north towards Inverness.
    • Exit at Aviemore or Kingussie for the park.

By Train

  • From Edinburgh/Glasgow:
    • Take a train to Aviemore or Kingussie. These towns are well-connected and have regular services from major cities.
    • Use ScotRail for schedules and tickets.

By Bus

  • From Edinburgh/Glasgow:
    • Citylink and Megabus offer services to Aviemore.
    • Check the timetables on their websites for the most up-to-date information.

By Air

  • Closest Airports:
    • Inverness Airport (approx. 30 miles from Aviemore).
    • Aberdeen Airport (approx. 70 miles from the park).

From the airports, you can rent a car or take public transport to reach your destination within the park.

Local Transport

  • Once in the park, local buses and taxis can help you get around. Biking and hiking are also popular ways to explore.

Triglav National Park: Slovenia’s Alpine Gem

Triglav National Park, the only national park in Slovenia, is named after the country’s highest peak, Mount Triglav, which stands at 2,864 meters. The park covers an area of 838 square kilometers and is located in the Julian Alps. Triglav National Park is characterized by its dramatic alpine scenery, pristine rivers, and picturesque valleys.

The park offers a variety of outdoor activities, including hiking, mountaineering, and kayaking. Visitors can explore the beautiful Soca River Valley, known for its emerald-green waters, or hike to the summit of Mount Triglav for breathtaking views. Triglav National Park is a haven for nature enthusiasts and adventure seekers.

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How to reach Triglav National Park

To reach Triglav National Park in Slovenia, follow these steps:

By Plane

  1. Fly to Ljubljana Jože Pučnik Airport (LJU): This is the closest major airport.
  2. Other Nearby Airports: You can also consider Venice Marco Polo Airport (VCE) in Italy or Klagenfurt Airport (KLU) in Austria.

By Car

  1. From Ljubljana:
    • Take the A2 motorway towards Jesenice.
    • Exit at Lesce and follow signs towards Bled and then Bohinj.
    • Follow the road signs to Triglav National Park.
  2. From Italy:
    • Take the A23 motorway towards Tarvisio.
    • Cross the Slovenian border and continue on the A2 motorway.
    • Follow the same directions as from Ljubljana.
  3. From Austria:

By Public Transport

  1. Train:
    • Take a train to Jesenice or Lesce-Bled stations. From there, you can take a bus or taxi to the park.
  2. Bus:
    • Buses run from Ljubljana to Bled and Bohinj. From these towns, local buses can take you closer to various points within the park.

By Organized Tours

  • Consider booking a guided tour from Ljubljana or other nearby cities, which often includes transportation and a guide.


  • Car Rentals: Available at airports and major cities.
  • Local Buses: Check schedules as they might be less frequent in off-peak seasons.
  • Hiking: Some parts of the park are best accessed on foot, so wear suitable hiking gear.

Enjoy your trip to Triglav National Park!

Exploring Other Notable National Parks in Europe

Europe is home to numerous other national parks, each offering unique landscapes and experiences. Some notable mentions include:

  • Oulanka National Park in Finland, known for its stunning waterfalls and diverse wildlife.
  • Jotunheimen National Park in Norway, featuring some of the highest peaks in Northern Europe and breathtaking glacial landscapes.
  • Swiss National Park, the oldest national park in the Alps, renowned for its pristine natural beauty and diverse flora and fauna.
  • Saxon Switzerland National Park in Germany, famous for its dramatic rock formations and extensive hiking trails.
  • Peneda-Gerês National Park in Portugal, a hidden gem known for its rugged mountains, ancient forests, and traditional villages.

Each of these parks offers a unique glimpse into Europe’s natural heritage and provides countless opportunities for exploration and adventure.

What Makes European National Parks Special?

European national parks are unique in their diversity and historical significance. These protected areas showcase some of the continent’s most spectacular landscapes, from the rugged highlands of Scotland to the sun-drenched coasts of the Mediterranean.

Unlike their counterparts in other parts of the world, many European national parks have been shaped by centuries of human interaction with nature, resulting in a harmonious blend of natural and cultural heritage.

Which is the Largest National Park in Europe?

When it comes to size, one national park stands out above the rest. Vatnajökull National Park in Iceland is the largest national park in Europe, covering an impressive area of 14,141 square kilometers. This vast protected area encompasses not only Europe’s largest glacier but also a diverse range of landscapes including ice caves, volcanic regions, and stunning waterfalls.

What Are Some of the Best National Parks to Visit in Europe?

While size is impressive, the best national parks offer a combination of natural beauty, biodiversity, and recreational opportunities. Some of Europe’s best national parks include:

1. Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia
2. Triglav National Park, Slovenia
3. Jotunheimen National Park, Norway
4. Swiss National Park, Switzerland
5. Cairngorms National Park, Scotland

Each of these parks offers unique experiences, from cascading waterfalls and pristine lakes to challenging hiking trails and diverse wildlife.

How Many National Parks Are There in Europe?

The number of national parks in Europe varies depending on how they are classified, but there are well over 400 across the continent. Each country has its own system for designating and managing national parks, which can make exact comparisons challenging. However, this abundance of protected areas highlights Europe’s commitment to preserving its natural heritage.

What is the Oldest National Park in Europe?

Europe’s first national park is a testament to the continent’s early recognition of the importance of nature conservation. The Swiss National Park, established in 1914, holds the title of the oldest national park in Europe. Located in the Engadine Valley, this park has been protecting its alpine meadows, forests, and diverse wildlife for over a century.

Where Can I Find the Most Diverse Landscapes in European National Parks?

For those seeking variety in their natural explorations, several European national parks offer an impressive range of landscapes within their borders:

1. Hohe Tauern National Park, Austria: This park features glaciers, waterfalls, and alpine meadows.
2. Durmitor National Park, Montenegro: Known for its dramatic gorges, pristine lakes, and rugged peaks.
3. Sarek National Park, Sweden: One of Europe’s last wilderness areas, with valleys, glaciers, and peaks.

These parks showcase the incredible diversity of European landscapes, from the Mediterranean to the Arctic.

Which National Parks Are Best for Wildlife Watching?

Many European national parks serve as important habitats for diverse flora and fauna. Some of the best parks for wildlife enthusiasts include:

1. Oulanka National Park, Finland: Home to brown bears, wolverines, and golden eagles.
2. Peneda-Gerês National Park, Portugal: Offers opportunities to spot Iberian wolves and wild horses.
3. Cairngorms National Park, Scotland: Known for its population of red deer, wildcats, and capercaillies.

These parks provide crucial habitats for many species, including some that are rare or endangered.

What Are Some Unique Features of European National Parks?

European national parks often boast unique features that set them apart:

1. Cinque Terre National Park, Italy: A UNESCO World Heritage site that combines stunning coastal landscapes with centuries-old terraced vineyards.
2. Saxon Switzerland National Park, Germany: Famous for its otherworldly sandstone formations and rock bridges.
3. Jostedalsbreen National Park, Norway: Home to the largest glacier in continental Europe.

These distinctive features make each park a one-of-a-kind destination for nature lovers.

How Are European National Parks Addressing Climate Change?

As guardians of some of Europe’s most pristine natural areas, national parks are on the front lines of climate change. Many parks are implementing strategies to mitigate and adapt to changing conditions:

1. Monitoring glacial retreat in parks like Vatnajökull and Hohe Tauern.
2. Implementing sustainable tourism practices to reduce environmental impact.
3. Conducting research on the effects of climate change on local ecosystems and species.

These efforts highlight the important role national parks play in understanding and addressing global environmental challenges.

What Are Some Lesser-Known National Parks Worth Exploring?

While some European national parks are world-famous, others remain hidden gems waiting to be discovered:

1. Dolomiti Bellunesi National Park, Italy: Offers stunning views of the Dolomites without the crowds of more popular areas.
2. Killarney National Park, Ireland: Features lakes, woodlands, and the country’s only native herd of red deer.
3. Monte Perdido National Park, Spain: A UNESCO World Heritage site with dramatic limestone formations and deep canyons.

These lesser-known parks offer the chance to experience Europe’s natural beauty away from the tourist crowds.

How Can Visitors Best Experience European National Parks?

To fully appreciate the beauty and importance of Europe’s national parks, consider the following tips:

1. Plan your visit during the shoulder season to avoid crowds and enjoy milder weather.
2. Take advantage of guided tours to learn about the park’s ecology and conservation efforts.
3. Respect park rules and practice Leave No Trace principles to help preserve these natural wonders.
4. Consider visiting multiple parks to experience the diversity of European landscapes.

By following these guidelines, visitors can ensure they have a memorable and responsible experience in Europe’s national parks.

Conclusion: Europe’s National Parks Await

Europe’s national parks are a testament to the continent’s natural beauty and ecological diversity. From the largest national parks to the smallest protected areas, each park offers unique experiences and a chance to connect with nature. Whether you’re drawn to the glaciers of Iceland, the mountains of the Alps, or the waterfalls of Croatia, Europe’s national parks have something for everyone.

Key Takeaways

– Europe boasts a diverse array of national parks, from the largest (Vatnajökull in Iceland) to some of the oldest (Swiss National Park).
– European national parks offer a wide range of landscapes, including glaciers, lakes, mountains, and coastal areas.
– Many parks are crucial habitats for diverse wildlife, including rare and endangered species.
– Climate change is a significant concern for European national parks, with many implementing strategies to address its impacts.
– Lesser-known parks offer unique experiences away from crowded tourist destinations.
– Responsible tourism practices are essential for preserving these natural wonders for future generations.

By exploring Europe’s national parks, visitors can gain a deeper appreciation for the continent’s natural heritage and the importance of conservation efforts. Whether you’re seeking adventure, tranquility, or simply a connection with nature, Europe’s national parks offer something for everyone.

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