Small and crowd-prone as it might be, Europe has no shortage of scenic spots off the beaten track. Because, yes, it’s all very well visiting Croatia’s Plitvice National Park or Italy’s Dolomites, but sometimes you just don’t want to be surrounded by hordes of tourists jostling each other out the way for that iconic photo opp.
Well, look no further than these lesser discovered natural wonders across the continent. From glaciers to springs, Slovenia to Sweden, we’ve got you covered for seeing some of Europe’s most scenic sights in the most adventurous way possible. Here’s where to go, and why.
There’s getting away from the crowds and then there’s Sarek, one of the last places on the continent where you feel truly alone – a national park that’s far, far away in the Sweden’s far north. One of the oldest national parks in Europe, it’s as dramatic as it is an untamed wilderness.
That’s no exaggeration – there’s few hiking trails, and you shouldn’t venture here if you hike in anything other than full-on hiking boots. But do explore it if you’re into glaciers (there’s 100), untouched camping spots, and abundant mountain ranges. So, get on that night train from Stockholm, and then the lengthy bus – what Swedish Lapland boasts is more than worth it.
Andorra – all of it!
If you know anything about Andorra, it’s that it’s small. Either that, or that it’s sandwiched between Spain and France. Though true, neither of these facts offer insight into just how epic the country’s mountain ranges are. To see them at their best (read: prettiest) you need to truly explore the Pyrenees, particularly Siscaro national park and reserve. Trek through it and you’ll see not just native flora and fauna, like the griffon vulture, but also Siscaro Lake, a distinctly colored wonder (thanks to the reeds below the water).
The whole area starts at 6,500 feet above sea level which, in all honesty, begins to explain why every view is so spectacular. Also spectacular? The amount on offer for adventurers: from zip-lining, to crazy steep mountain cycling. Then be sure to hop over the border into Spain and white water raft to your heart’s content.
River Buna Spring, Bosnia & Herzegovina
Let’s face it: it’s unlikely Bosnia & Herzegovina is top of your priority list upon visiting Europe. And if you do venture to the (frightfully underrated) country, you might not make it far beyond the bounds of Mostar and it’s UNESCO-listed bridge.
But take a short journey from the southern Bosnian city and you’ll come to Blagaj, a small town with a natural cliffside spring that’s equal parts icy, clear and picturesque. Seriously, there are few places in Europe with water like this – the site is actually the largest karst spring in the continent. You don’t have to just gawp and take photos either, you can take a little boat ride into the depths of the cave itself. Final bonus: the Dervish monastery right by it is also a must-see, making it the epitome of a ‘two for one’ kinda destination.
There’s something satisfying about being the only national park in a country already brimming with thick forests, quaint towns, and Alpine mountains. Triglav is lucky enough to get this honor in Slovenia. Filling much of the north west of the country, situated pretty close to the lakeside town of Bled, the park is located in the Julian Alps.
Yep, you know the Swiss Alps, you probably know the Italian Alps, and maybe even the Austrian Alps, but the Julian Alps will really get you some bragging rights. But, back to the park itself. Slovenia’s highest peak stands proudly in the middle of it, but that doesn’t mean the rest of its tranquil stretches should be neglected. Home to hikes galore (hint: start at Bohinj valley), bike rides and canoe opportunities, the canyons and ravines offer something for every sort of nature lover.
Cala Coticcio, Sardinia
The island of Sardinia, just off the coast of Italy, not only stands out for being an overlooked part of the Western Mediterranean, but also for its flawless beaches. But if you want to venture even further from the beaten track than Sardinia, head to Caprera, an even smaller island in the Maddalena archipelago. Though it’s hard to go wrong when exploring the white sands and dreamlike water wherever you are here, it’s the east coast that’s where you want to be.
Rugged, and not particularly easy to get to (though aren’t the best places always that way?), this coast has some of Europe’s best beaches. Of these, Cala Coticco is the gem; somewhere that’s hard not to jump to hyperbole when describing. Swim here, but don’t fish, and be aware you can even venture here in winter, for weather that’s as good as you’d expect from Italy.
Saxon Switzerland, Germany
Despite the name, this national park is firmly in Germany – though a region so far from Berlin’s grit and Hamburg’s music that it’s uncanny. To get there you take a train (or old-fashion tram) from the city of Dresden, and upon arrival you’ll be surrounded by quite the otherworldly landscape. Bizarre stone formations meet steep ravines; whilst forests, meadows and moors can all be found too.
To add to the intrigue, the park also borders the Czech Republic, but there’s more than enough to do in the eastern German attraction itself. For starters, the 700+ summits make it a paradise for rock climbers, the scenic Malerweg Trail is perfect for hikers, and the Bastei, a major landmark and lookout point, is a must-see wherever your preference in parks lie.
Lagoa do Fogo, the Azores
Though technically an autonomous region of Portugal, the nine volcanic islands that make up the Azores are worlds apart – mostly because they’re located slap bang in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Here, the temperature’s always mild, and the vibrant scenery has not a trace of pollution.
The largest island, Sao Miguel, is home to much of this splendor, and you can go waterfall rappelling, volcano hiking, or to our personal favorite spot, Lagoa do Fogo. Translating to “Lake of Fire”, it’s as exciting as it sounds. A crater lake within a stratovolcano (!), it’s reachable via a fairly intense hiking trail that ends with unforgettable views of the lake and lush greenery for miles upon miles.
Want to see more of Europe’s hidden treasures? Check out our Europe tours.
Image credits: Intrepid Travel (Sardinia and Bosnia), iStock (Sweden and Azores)