Last update on July 22, 2019
Written by Adam Nowek

From its epic mountain ranges to its mystical national forests, Europe is awash with natural beauty across the continent. Get some inspiration to travel by exploring some of the most beautiful places in Europe.

Looking for your next great European adventure with a group of friends? Maybe a romantic weekend getaway with your partner for Valentine’s Day? Whether you’re taking the train or driving in Europe, these are some of the most stunning destinations that Europe has to offer.

The Cotswolds

One summer, while traveling in England, I went on a hike through the Cotswolds countryside. The two-hour trek took me from the charming hill town of Stow-on-the-Wold, through the villages of Lower and Upper Slaughter to Bourton-on-the-Water, the “Venice of the Cotswolds.” Along the way, I caught backyard glimpses of farms in action, ducks rudely swimming butt-up in mill ponds, rabbits popping up in fields videogame-style, ancient wind-sculpted trees, wet and slippery kissing gates, and slender slate church spires marking distant villages where I knew a hot cup of tea was waiting. When I think back on my trip, that hike was a highlight.

Europe is a treasure chest of great art and history. But it’s also a continent filled with natural beauty, often overlooked by tourists too busy sprinting through sights or searching for the perfect souvenir. But a day in the great outdoors can be just as culturally fulfilling as another church or museum–and much more invigorating.

Biking through the Swiss Alps

Europe’s greatest natural gift is the Alps. Even those who know a Rocky Mountain high find something special about the Alps. Here, nature and civilization mix comfortably, as if man and mountain shared the same crib.

The Swiss village of Taveyanne, southeast of Lake Geneva, is a jumble of log cabins and snoozing cows stranded all alone at 5,000 feet. The only business in town is the Refuge de Taveyanne, where the Siebenthal family serves traditional meals in a bucolic setting with no electricity–just a huge charred fireplace, prehistoric cash register, and well-hung ornamental cowbells.

The French Grand Canyon

There’s more to Europe’s natural side than mountains. Le Grand Canyon du Verdon is France’s answer to the Grand Canyon. The scenery is dramatic, with overpowering slabs of white and salmon-colored limestone plunging impossible distances to the snaking Verdon River far below. The canyon is best seen by driving along its left bank, though adventurous travelers can hike down into the canyon.

Italy: Cinque Terre National Park

Comprised of five of the most picturesque villages you’ll ever see, Cinque Terre became Italy’s very first national park in 1999. This coastal area of Liguria is inaccessible to vehicles and is full of stunning hiking trails (there are 48 to choose from) and boat rides to help you take in the dramatic landscape in these coastal villages. After you’ve enjoyed Cinque Terre’s incredible scenery, tuck into a hearty serving of trofie (the local pasta shape) with its most logical partner: freshly prepared pesto.

Cinque Terre's dramatic landscape and charming villages have made it a tourist hotspot in Italy (Photo: Raul Taciu / Unsplash)
Cinque Terre’s dramatic landscape and charming villages have made it a tourist hotspot in Italy (Photo: Raul Taciu / Unsplash)

The five villages each have their own distinct charms to them. Some are best known for their top-notch beaches, while others boast the best restaurants. The great equalizer of these villages is you’ll probably take the train (or hike) to get to them.

Cinque Terre National Park is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which will likely lead to the development of better tourist infrastructure in the future. But for now, it’s still one of the most beautiful places in Europe with its fresh seafood, charming villages, and winding trails. Your spirits will lift as you hike among the vineyards and enjoy the views of Vernazza’s castle.