National parks and other nature adventures in Europe
To see your share of natural wonders you don't always have to venture far. Here are our top picks of national parks, hiking trails and adventure spots that you can reach easily on your city break.
1. Natural Park Divorka Sarka, near Prague
Divorka Sarka is a wonderfully lush nature reserve, on the outskirts of Prague city centre. There are creeks, little waterfalls and even a natural swimming pool called Dzban, meaning jug. Be warned though, the water in the pool might be quite chilly. If you are into hiking, there are high rock formations and a canyon to explore. Some of the park's hills offer lovely views.
Apart from hiking trails there are plenty of activities to try out. You could see your surroundings on a bicycle or even roller skates. A sports court, a playground and a couple of restaurants will keep the entire family happy.
You can get to Divorka Sarka by metro or tram in around 30 minutes from the city centre.
2. Danube Auen National Park, near Vienna
The Danube Auen National Park covers a wide area between Vienna and Bratislava. If you are coming from Vienna, you can access the park from the Lobau area, just off the city centre. The national park's heart is the river Danube, and the park is the only remaining major floodplain landscape in Europe.
The park offers unique wetlands and almost jungle-like forests. There are gravelled paths across the park to explore these. The area is also a great place to spot some rare flora and fauna. If you want to know more or learn some special outdoorsy skills, there are different courses and group tours on offer.
You can get to Danube Auen from Vienna city centre by train in a little over an hour or by car in less than 45 minutes.
3. Uetliberg, near Zurich
For possibly the quickest and easiest mountain climb in the world, visit Uetliberg, also known as Zurich's very own mountain. If you want to take in the views across the city and lake Zurich it is unbeatable. When the weather is clear you can see all the way to the Alps. Although the mountain is also very popular when it's foggy and the atmosphere is incredibly magical.
The area surrounding Uetliberg has good hiking trails and a mountain bike route. In the winter some of the hiking trails are turned into sledding hills! On top of the summit is a hotel and restaurant called Uto Kulm, that is also a popular venue for weddings, seminars, and the like. It gladly serves casual visitors too.
Take a train from Zurich main station to get to Uetliberg in around 30 minutes. It is only a short hike up to the top from the train station.
4. Ekeberg Slope Nature Reserve, near Oslo
To see fjords you do not have to venture too far from Oslo. The Ekeberg Slope Nature Reserve is a great place to start exploring Nordic nature. It overlooks both the city and a fjord, so the photo opportunities are plentiful.
There are easily accessible hiking routes to take you around and designated spots for taking in the panoramic views. The area has an interesting stone age monument, estimated to be over 10 000 years old and even some sculpture dotted around. If you get hungry after wandering around, the café on top of the hill will take care of your needs.
A tram or a bus will take you to Ekeberg Slope from the city centre in less than 30 minutes. If you are feeling athletic, you could even walk to the park!
5. North Bull Island, near Dublin
North Bull is an island on the Dublin Bay. Its unique nature has resulted in it being a National Bird Sanctuary, a nature reserve as well as biosphere reserve. The island is known for its stunning sandy beach called Dollymount Strand, stretching across the island’s full length.
The island is a great place to visit if you are interested in plants and birds, with a wide variety of species to admire, some of them rare. Many Dubliners come to North Bull for a stroll, a swim or to do some kite surfing. The island even has two golf courses.
You can get to North Bull Island from Dublin city centre by bus or train in less than an hour.