The 10 must see national parks in Europe

 

Country: Switzerland

In the east of Switzerland, close to the border with northern Italy is the countries only official national park, aptly named the Swiss National Park. Covering an area of 172 square kilometres (66 square miles) within the Western Rhaetian Alps, it is one of Europe's oldest national parks. Almost entirely untouched the park is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve of wildlife, lakes, streams, rivers and mountains. So protected is the area, it is forbidden to disturb the animals or plants, take anything from the park or even leave the designated paths. For that level of protection visitors get to witness the Alps in their most natural form.

10. Swiss National Park

 

Country: Spain

At the extreme north eastern end of Spain, on the southern side of the Pyrenees mountain range that separates Spain and France is the 156 square kilometre (60 square mile) Ordesa National Park. This mountainous region is one of steep cliffs, towering summits, wild forests and large valleys, the most notable of which is undoubtedly the vast Ordesa Valley.

First discovered around 1820, the glacial Ordesa Valley measures approximately 11 kilometres (7 miles) in length and is surrounded by some of the highest peaks within the Pyrenees Mountains. Within an area of outstanding natural beauty, the valley is considered one of the finest natural sights in Europe, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

9. Ordesa National Park

 

Country: Greece

In the extreme north west of Greece, close to the border with Albania is the 126 square kilometre (49 square mile) Vikos-Aoos National Park, one of the most spectacular national parks in Eastern Europe. An area of steep mountainous terrain with numerous rivers, lakes, canyons, caves and dense forests makes for one of the finest and most rugged landscapes in Greece.

Pictured is the Vikos Aoos Gorge, the jewel of the national park. Starting on the southern slopes of Mount Tymfi it has a length of 20 kilometres with a depth ranging from 450 metres (1,476 ft) to 1,600 metres (5,249 ft) making it one of the deepest gorges on Earth.

8. Vikos–Aoös National Park

 

Country: Montenegro, Serbia & Albania

Prokletije, meaning 'Cursed Mountains' is an enormous mountain range on the western Balkan peninsula, extending from northern Albania, through Montenegro and into Serbia's Kosovo region, with the Prokletije Transfrontier Park the name given to the combined national parks of these countries. This vast rugged mountainous region is one of the finest natural and untouched regions in all of Europe, with steep high mountains, deep valleys, forests, lakes, and the southernmost glaciers on the continent.

7. Prokletije Transfrontier National Park

 

Country: Spain

On the Spanish Canary Island of Lanzarote is the unusual Timanfaya National Park, named after the only active volcano left on the island. Covering an area of 51 square kilometres (19 square miles) the park is made up almost entirely of volcanic soil, offering visitors an alien landscape of odd coloured rocks and lakes the likes of which are seldom found anywhere else on the planet. Due to it's delicate flora and fauna and unique landscape the area has been declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.

6. Timanfaya National Park

 

Country: Norway

Jotunheimen, meaning 'Home Of The Giants' is a national park recognised as one of Norway's top hiking locations. The park holds more than 250 peaks above 1,900 metres (6,000 ft) including the two highest mountains in northern Europe. With it's high terrain, large lakes and valleys carved from glacial erosion it really is one of the most picturesque national parks on the continent. Wildlife in the park includes reindeer, elk, wolverines and lynx.

Pictured from the Beseggen Ridge, The Beseggen Trail is one of the most popular mountain hikes in the country. The view over the Gjende and Bessvatnet lakes is particularly special as Gjende lies almost 400 metres lower and is distinctly green compared to Bessvatnet's blue appearance.

5. Jotunheim National Park

 

Country: Italy

 

In the north east of Italy, forming part of the Southern Limestone Alps is a wondrous mountain range known as the Dolomites, a place where nature proves it can beat almost anything man can imagine. Incorporating the Dolomiti Bellunesi National Park and many regional parks, the area is considered one of the most beautiful natural landscapes in Europe. Some of the areas most notable locations include the Pordoi, which can be reached by cable car, the Gardena Pass, Santa Maddalena, the Vajolet Towers and the huge peak of the Langkofel. With breath taking beautiful nature at it's finest, the Dolomites have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

4. Dolomites National Park

 

Country: Croatia

In the northern centre of Croatia, covering a highly protected area of some 295 square kilometres (114 square miles) close to the border with Bosnia & Herzegovina is the world famous Plitvice Lakes National Park, one of the oldest national parks in southern Europe, as well as the largest and most visited in Croatia. Mostly made up of forest reserve, it has become world famous for its chain of 16 cascading terraced lakes joined by waterfalls renowned for their distinctive colours, ranging from azure to green, grey to blue, changing constantly depending on the mineral content and angle of sunlight. Often cited as the ultimate must see national park of Europe, it is certainly one of the finest locations on the continent. A jewel of nature, a protected natural wonder of Croatia, Plitvice Lakes National Park has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

3. Plitvice Lakes National Park

 

Country: Sweden

In the north west of Sweden, close to the border with Norway is one of Europe's oldest national parks. Home to six of Sweden's thirteen peaks over 2,000 metres (6,600 ft) above sea level, as well as over one hundred glaciers, Sarek National Park is one of the most remote areas in Europe.

One of the parks major attractions is the Rapa Valley, considered among the most noted landscapes on the continent. With no roads into the national park, experienced trekkers must undertake the 60 kilometre (37 mile) walk through the wilderness following the Kungsleden (Kings Trail) before hiking the relatively easy 1,179 metre (3,868 ft) Skierfe Mountain. The trek should only be attempted by experienced hikers, who should expect to take three days to complete the round trip.

2. Sarek National Park

 

Country: Iceland

National Park status is given to an area because of it's unique nature or cultural heritage in a particular country, so for a country like Iceland with it's abundance of incredible natural landscapes, giving a place national park status must mean it's rather incredible.

Vatnajökull National Park is worthy. Europe's second largest national park is home to Europe's largest glacier outside of the Arctic island of Svalbard. Besides the enormous glacial field that covers 8% of the country, the park also has several active volcanoes, high plateaus, steep mountains, deep canyons, waterfalls, lava fields, hot springs, black sandy coast, ice caves and glacial lakes. It is one of the most diverse and beautiful landscapes on Earth.

1. Vatnajökull National Park

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