Unforgettable national parks around the world
Late spring and early summer bring prime weather for outdoor exploration, but these international national parks drop jaw year-round - no Instagram filters needed.
Northumberland National Park, England
England’s northernmost (and least populated) national park encompasses more than rolling moorlands—the UNESCO World Heritage site also contains a section of Roman emperor Hadrian’s legendary wall.
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Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, Wales
Horseback riding is a popular excursion for visitors to the U.K.’s only coastal national park, which also features a number of stunning national formations, such as the Green Bridge of Wales.
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Gran Paradiso National Park, Italy
Situated between the Piedmont region and the Aosta Valley, this expanse of lakes and mountains is one of the oldest protected sections of the Alps. Twenty-eight hiking itineraries span all levels of expertise, and many offer the opportunity to spot wild ibex and other wildlife.
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Pirin National Park, Bulgaria
Hundreds of rare species call this mountainous Balkan park home, including some plants that have grown there since the Pleistocene Era (that’s 1.8 million to 11,500 years ago). It’s best known for its 70-plus glacial lakes, but you can also keep lookout for myriad wild animals large (gray wolves, brown bears) and small (owls, woodpeckers).
Olympus National Park, Greece
Whether or not it’s the Home of the Gods, this national park is rich in both mythology and natural splendor. In addition to its towering peaks—the highest of which reaches 9,573 feet high—Olympus lays claim to more than 1,700 native plants, ranging from delicate wildflowers to sturdy black pine and fir trees.
Pyrénées National Park, France
Though there’s much to appreciate about this mountainous park, which forms a large stretch of the border between France and Spain, one unexpected feature stands out: the man-made Petit Train d'Artouste. Considered Europe’s highest railway, it’s reached by cable car and began as a way for workers to access hydroelectric dams in the 1920s. Now it takes visitors on a six-mile journey from the La Sagette peak to Artouste Lake.
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National Parks of Svalbard, Norway
More than 60 percent of Artic wilderness is protected as part of seven Norwegian national parks. Polar bears tend to be the biggest draw, but walruses and baby harbor seal sightings also make braving the cold worthwhile.
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Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici National Park, Spain
Spain’s national park in the Pyrénées is just as impressive, especially if you make the trek to Estany de Sant Maurici, the park’s mirror-clear main lake. Also worth checking out are the park’s nine Early Romanesque churches (11th and 12th centuries), which are said to constitute Europe’s largest concentration of Romanesque art.
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Peneda Geres National Park, Portugal
Garrano ponies might be some of this park’s oldest and most notable inhabitants—they’ve been around since the first millennium B.C.—but humans have also had a long and steady presence. Wander around and you’ll notice a host of ancient manmade structures, including megalithic stone tombs from the third century, Celtic fortifications and two castles (Castro Laboreiro from the tenth century and Castelo do Lindoso from the 12th century).
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Durmitor National Park, Montenegro
You don’t have to be a thrill-seeker to appreciate the stunning canyons, lakes and waterways of this pristine forested park, but if you are looking to get your adrenaline pumping, rafting on the Tara River will almost certainly do the trick.
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Komodo Island National Park, Indonesia
The world’s largest lizards aren’t the only impressive creatures inhabiting this archipelago, which was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1991. Among the three volcanic islands—Komodo, Padar and Rinca—and their surrounding waters dwell whale sharks, manta rays, cuttlefish, macaques, dolphins, sea turtles and more.
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Mu Ko Similan National Park, Thailand
This collection of islands is even more enchanting below the surface than it is above. White beaches and crystalline waters give way to countless species of marine life (yellow boxfish, sea turtles, blue surgeonfish, manta rays), which are frequently seen by snorkelers and divers. Birds abound, too, with olive-backed sunbirds, yellow-rumped flycatchers and white-breasted water hen inhabiting the environs.
Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
Sweeping grassy planes give the big five (lions, leopards, rhinos, buffalo, and elephants) plenty of room to roam free, and the unimpeded horizon gives you endless opportunities for envy-inducing vacation photos.
Iguazú National Park, Brazil and Argentina
At more than 260 feet high and almost 9,000 feet across, the iconic crescent-shaped waterfall in this subtropical rainforest proves Mother Nature is a show-off. On top of the impressive arc, you can encounter tapirs, howler monkey, giant anteaters and other species.
Written by Sarah Brunning, cntraveler.com