Europe is generally known for its tourist destinations like Rome, Paris and Vienna, but the continent is also home to over 400 national parks. Although most of these national parks are concentrated in a few countries including Norway, Great Britain, Sweden, Finland, Italy and Russia, you can find one in almost any country in the EU.
History of National Parks in Europe
The concept of national parks and protected areas as we know today originated in the USA in 1872. That’s when the US government designated Yellowstone, an area in the Rocky Mountains as a national park. Although the degree to which the US and Europe ‘protect’ these designated areas varies, the basic principle behind all parks is the same i.e. to preserve nature, landscape and wildlife in designated areas.
The concept of protected areas has been around in Europe for several thousand years for example in the forms of areas that had significant religious or spiritual importance. But it wasn’t until the early 20th century that the concept of national parks and protected areas began to take shape.
Sweden was the first European country to follow the footsteps of the US and recognized nine national parks in 1909. Other European countries followed Sweden’s rapid introduction and started establishing national parks based on different criteria including touristic and aesthetic values.
What is a National Park?
National Parks are generally considered to be protected areas where logging is prohibited and no one is allowed to take anything out. However, the degree to which these rules apply varies from one country and park to another. Not all national parks are protected areas and not all protected areas are logging-free.
Although the main purpose of a national park is to conserve the landscape and wildlife, there are other co-benefits too, including tourism, recreational opportunities and environmental awareness. Tourism provides an opportunity for rural communities to generate income and is of great economic value to them.
Protected areas in Europe are diverse and comprise a wide range of ecosystems. Similarly, the management and administrative frameworks of different countries are also diverse and unique. That’s why when talking about national parks in Europe, we have to keep the local framework in mind instead of considering all national parks the same.
Europe has more protected areas than any other region/continent in the world. Common designations of protected areas include national park, nature park, regional park, biosphere reserve, nature reserve, wilderness area, landscape protected area, wildlife management area and community-protected area. A national park can be any of these and many of Europe’s national parks covered below are also UNESCO World Heritage Sites or Biosphere reserves.
The Best National Parks in Europe
Whether you are a hiker, a climber or just want to drive through beautiful landscapes, there are plenty of options to choose from. It’s not practically possible to include all of these here, so we have selected some of the best national parks in Europe spread across the continent.
Check out the web story below to have a look: