National park holiday ideas

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Sophie Gackowski

Sophie Gackowski
HomeAway travel expert


Woodland in Plitvice LakesIt’s hard to write an article on Europe’s best National Parks. Not due to lack of inspiration, of course – there are 359 to choose from. And that’s the difficulty, really: a whole lot of beauty, and just one article to fit it into. 


Here, we take a look at five of Europe’s best, but also diverse, National Parks – covering bleak moors and mineral-rich lakes, cliff-clinging towns and Caribbean-like islands, finishing it all off with lava-laden landscapes. Feeling inspired? Read on.

 

 

Top five National Parks in Europe


   

Dartmoor National Park, England Dartmoor National Park, England

We had to start with one of our own, right? Well, not exactly – this choice has more to with sheer beauty than national pride. The 368 square miles that make up Dartmoor National Park are nothing short of cinematic: ponies roam wild on it sweeping, tawny moors; gurgling streams moisten already verdant, mossy rocks; and enormous tors (or granite hills) stand proud when turbulent, sleeting skies appear. Dartmoor National Park is arguably Devon’s most alien landscape, but something the entirety of Europe should be proud of. And speckled as it is with rustic cottages and warming pubs, it is, in short, an outstanding place to explore.

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Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia

Have your finger on the pulse of trending travel? Then you’ll know Plitvice Lakes has soared in popularity over recent years. Perhaps a little sad for those who wanted to keep it a secret; all the better for those of us who can now gaze upon, and help to protect, its majesty. A UNESCO World Heritage site, its 16 mineral-rich lakes have gradually meandered through the rocks, creating cascading waterfalls and trickling streams all the while. Aside from the flurry of butterflies here, its wooden bridges are some of the most photographed in the world. And at just two hours from Zadar, it’s now amazingly easy to take a day trip to the fairytale park.

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Cinque Terre National Park, Italy Cinque Terre National Park, Italy

A little different to the others on this list is Cinque Terre National Park – not big, bleak or brimming with rare wildlife, but just as beautiful. The ‘five lands’ cover just 15 square miles, but Monterosso and Manarola, Vernazza, Riomaggiore and Corniglia are awesome – and not in the overused sense of the word. Since they gained National Park status in 1997, not a single tourist trap, souvenir shop or vehicle has been allowed to pass their pastel-coloured houses (though Monterosso was already a little resort-like – you’ve been warned!). Clinging perilously to the cliffs, the man-made terraced vineyards slope down to deep-blue waters.

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Cíes Islands National Park, Spain Cíes Islands National Park, Spain

Made up of three islands – Monteagudo, Do Faro and San Martiño – the Cíes Islands are possibly Spain’s most enchanting. It wasn’t until 2000 that they were given National Park status, but since then, here are the rules: no watersports (though snorkelling is permitted); bring all rubbish back with you; only 2,200 people allowed to visit each day. It may seem like a tightly run ship, but all of these things help to protect its beauty. One of the country’s most important spots for wildlife, particularly birds, it’s also covered with white, sandy beaches. While it’s not possible to stay on the Cíes Islands, most take the 45-minute boat trip from Vigo.

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Teide National Park, Tenerife Teide National Park, Tenerife

Ok, ok – so we’ve technically given Spain two spaces on the list. But Teide is so grandiose that it’s hard not to pay it attention. And, for the same reason, it doesn’t really matter where you stay on holiday in Tenerife – it’s that big. It offers over 50 walking trails through its volcanic landscape, topped with El Teide itself, reaching 3,718 metres high (the highest in Spain). With 14 plants found nowhere else in the world, almost 1,000 archaeological sites pertaining to the Guanche people (many aren’t signposted to avoid you lot taking souvenirs...) and some of the world’s most alien geological structures – well, I don’t need to say any more.

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