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.
- England: The Cotswolds
- France: Verdon Gorge
- Italy: Cinque Terre National Park
- Luxembourg: Mullerthal
- Poland: Białowieża Forest
- Russia: Ruskeala
- Switzerland: Swiss Alps
England: The Cotswolds
Full of rolling hills and ancient stone villages, visiting the Cotswolds is like stepping back in time. The region is home to countless walking trails, a rich artistic history (this was the birthplace of the Arts and Crafts Movement, after all), and quaint gardens. Visitors bask in the quiet and reserved nature of the area, the perfect antidote to hectic places like London. Hire a car (or bring your road bike if you’re feeling a bit more adventurous) and wind through the narrow roads from tiny village to tiny village.
One of the best ways to explore the region is to put on your hiking shoes and venture through the countryside. Visit the charming hill town of Stow-on-the-World, the pristine villages of Lower and Upper Slaughter, or the real Venice of the Cotswolds: Bourton-on-the-Water. Along the way, you’ll catch backyard glimpses of farmers tending to their fields, ducks swimming butt-up in mill ponds, rabbits popping up in fields, ancient wind-sculpted trees, wet and slippery kissing gates, and slender slate church spires marking distant villages where you just know a hot cup of tea is waiting.
France: Verdon Gorge
One of the world’s great canyons, the Verdon Gorge is truly dramatic. The landscape is awash with overpowering slabs of white- and salmon-colored limestone plunging nearly impossible distances t the snaking Verdon River far below. Verdon Gorge is best seen by driving along the left bank, where narrow roads are full of switchbacks and almost precarious cliffs. Feeling adventurous and have a bit more time on your hands? You can also hike down into the canyon.
Adventure seekers and water enthusiasts alike will adore the Verdon Gorge. The bright turquoise water that flows through the canyon is ideal for all kinds of water-based activities, including kayaking, rafting, canoeing, and hydrospeed. After you’ve toweled off and stepped onto dry land, put on your hiking boots and trek through the hills or sail high up in the air while paragliding.
After all of that physical activity, you’ll some hearty meals to recharge. Thankfully, Provençal cuisine is one of the most celebrated culinary traditions on the planet. Tuck into a healthy serving of ratatouille or dip some bread into some garlic-heavy aïoli. Wash it all down with local wine, a Provençal specialty that’s been produced and happily consumed since well before Christianity’s creation.
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.
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.
When most travelers think of Luxembourg, they think of the typical Low Country geography: flat and close to the water. Most of Luxembourg delivers on that stereotype, but one area bucks the trend. Nicknamed Little Switzerland, Mullerthal (Mëllerdall in Luxembourgish or Müllertal in German) is full of jagged terrain and dense forests that make it look more like the Swiss countryside than a region of Europe known for its flatness.
Mullerthal’s terrain makes for spectacular hiking trails that wind up and down a number of hills. The 112-kilometer hiking trail is actually broken into three circular sections that surround a few of the towns and villages in the area, making it easy to just give one of the sectors a go. Working through the changes in elevation on your hike will make a delicious plate of Gromperekichelchen (Luxembourgish potato pancakes) or Judd mat Gaardebounen (the national dish, comprised of smoked pork collar and beans) go down
Poland: Białowieża Forest
Famously known as Europe’s last old-growth forest, the Białowieża Forest occupies a small corner of eastern Poland. The forest straddles Poland’s border with Belarus, where the park is called Белавежская пушча (Biełaviežskaja Pušča in Belarusian). Although Belarus is well-known for being a difficult country to get a tourist visa for, visa-free entry is allowed for hikers and cyclists who wish to explore the Belarusian side of the forest.
Polish and Belarusian authorities take preservation seriously in the park; parts of the nature reserves within Białowieża Forest are only accessible on six-hour hikes with a guide. Owing to its remarkable level of biodiversity, a visit to this primeval treasure will surely result in sightings of many of the thousands of creatures and ancient oak trees that call Białowieża home: pygmy owls, koniks, and Eurasian elks are just a few of the animals found here.
No visit to Białowieża Forest is complete without sighting the undeniable king of the forest: the European bison. In the early 20th century, this region was completely devoid of bison. But after a long and arduous process of reintroducing bison into the forest, some 800 bison now roam through Białowieża Forest today. The bison’s importance in the region is so entrenched that one of Poland’s most well-known vodkas (Żubrówka) is infused with bison grass blades sourced directly from the forest itself.
A series of marble quarries provides a unique landscape in northwestern Russia. Marble mined from Ruskeala can be found in a variety of places in Saint Petersburg, including the Metro, multiple cathedrals (including Kazan and Saint Isaac’s), and the State Hermitage Museum. Today, Ruskeala’s dormant quarries are beautiful landforms that house a series of lakes and rivers.
Ruskeala lies about a five-hour drive northeast of both Saint Petersburg and Helsinki. If you’re feeling a bit nostalgic, take the immaculately restored Soviet-era train from nearby Sortavala all the way to the park. Ruskeala is a hotspot for outdoor activities of all kinds, including cave exploration, ziplining, bungie jumping, or romantic boat rides along the lake.
Switzerland: Swiss Alps
Perhaps one of Europe’s greatest natural wonders is the Alps. Stretching across eight different countries, there are two countries in particular where this majestic mountain range truly contributes to the national identity: Austria and Switzerland. It’s Switzerland’s Bernese Highlands, though, that’s the real star of the show.
The southern end of the Canton of Bern is home to some of the most spectacular peaks on the planet. Take the train to Jungfraujoch, where the the train station (which, at 3,454 meters above sea level, is the highest train station in Europe) leads to a couple of viewpoints of some of Switzerland’s greatest peaks. The Canton of Bern is full of scenic towns, but the Bernese Highlands in particular has a wealth to choose from, including Gimmelwald, Interlaken, and Kandersteg.
After you’ve taken in the sights or had a full day of skiing, warm up from that crisp mountain air in the evening by tucking into a hearty serving of Rösti and finish off your evening next to the fire with a glass of Ingwerer.