There are over 500 national parks in Europe, some of which are on the doorstep of famous towns or cities.
These protected landscapes are the best places to explore a country’s most pristine natural heritage. Here are some of Europe’s most famous green spaces, that can also be accessed the green way: by train. You may also enjoy our blog on UK national parks easily accessible by train.
Ecrins National Park
This is one of France’s largest national parks, although less well known to many visitors. Which means that its alpine landscapes are a lot less trodden, literally, by visitors than some of the famous skiing spots or trails around Mont Blanc. Hikers in the know head for the long-distance GR50 trail which circumnavigates the park, or the GR54 trail which takes in the Oisans and Ecrins Massifs. To get on the GR50 circuit, take a train to Briançon in the east and Embrun in the south. Ecrins National Park is also a top cross country skiing spot.
Vanoise National Park
Dramatic mountain and glacial landscapes dominate Vanoise National Park, located in the French Alps, with Modane as its gateway town. Its rippling peaks make the area a popular ski-destination in winter (resorts include Val d’Isere, Les Arcs and Tignes) and a hiker’s dream during spring, summer and autumn months.
French Pyrenees National Park
Edgier and wilder than the Alps, the Pyrenees are every bit as majestic as their loftier counterparts. With their serrated peaks and endangered wildlife, the Pyrenees offer visitors the chance to truly get back to nature. The pilgrimage city of Lourdes is an ideal gateway into the Park, providing travellers a convenient way into this outdoor enthusiasts’ haven. You may also enjoy our blog on Walking Trails in France.
Black Forest National Park
The Black Forest, or Schwarzwald, is one of Germany’s finest locations for walkers, cross country skiers and cyclists. Easily accessed by rail, its main gateway towns, via high-speed trains are Freiburg and the historic spa town of Baden-Baden. You can also take a train to Strasbourg and rent a car right at the station, as the Black Forest is only 60km from there. For more details on this fine array of German natural heritage, see our more detailed blog on the Black Forest.
Bavarian Forest National Park
As well as wildlife and forest trails, the Bavarian Forest National Park is home to the world’s most extensive, accessible treetop trail. There are plenty of train stations leading into this vast wooded wonderland, including the larger town of Plattling, and regional stations at Zwiesel or Bayerisch Eisenstein. From here, pure wanderlust awaits.
Gran Paradiso National Park
Tucked away in the Alps on the border with France is Italy’s first national park, Gran Paradiso. It couldn’t be more aptly named with its protected community of Alpine ibex, conifer woods and glacial peaks. Thanks to its history as a royal hunting reserve, it’s also laced with over 700km of marked trails for hikers and adventurers of all abilities. The nearest train station is Turin.
Triglav National Park
Triglav, named after the country’s tallest mountain, is Slovenia’s only national park. It is almost entirely dominated by the eastern Julian Alps and is one of Europe’s largest national reserves. Experienced walkers enjoy the Vrsic Pass with its near-vertical climbs, while watersports enthusiasts delight in canoeing, sailing and swimming in Lake Bohinj, Slovenia’s largest glacial lake or in its showpiece of natural heritage, Lake Bled. You can access Triglav National Park from the gateway station of Lesce Bled. Note that the station of Lesce-Bled is actually 4km from the Lake Bled, but there are plenty of taxis to take you there. You will need to book this journey locally if travelling from Ljubljana by train.
Ordesa National Park
Located within the Aragonese Pyrenees, the Ordesa y Monte Perdido is one of the world’s first national parks and accessible from Sabinanigo station. It was established in 1918 and enjoys both UNESCO World Heritage and UNESCO Biosphere Reserve status. The park’s peaks, waterfalls, glacial lakes and wide array of wildlife are all within easy reach by rail.
Swiss National Park
Surprisingly perhaps, this is Switzerland's only national park. Not surprising, however, in a country where land is extremely valuable. What is also of value, however, is the Park’s 80km of Alpine trails through pine forests and flower-filled meadow, also home to wildlife such as chamois and red deer. The visitor centre is in Zernez, which is 30km (19 miles) by train from Klosters station.
Read more about UK national parks.
Image credits top to bottom: Ecrins National Park iStock ©razvans, woman hiking in the French Pyrennees iStock ©Philipimage, Sunrise on Great Arber Mountain Bavaria Forest National Park, iStock ©Nemo1963, Lake Bled in Triglav National Park iStock ©Pavliha, Swiss National Park near Zernez iStock ©Makasana
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