Top 10 Nature Experiences in Europe

By Clark Norton
January 21, 2016

Europe is rich with natural wonders – from lakes and mountains to islands, river valleys and seaside vistas. You can even find them in the skies above. Choosing a "Top 10" is a tricky task, but we've selected what we think are some of the most spectacular. Several of these natural wonders are familiar names; others may be new to you. But they’re all fully deserving of the title – and a visit.

1. Fjords, Norway


They go by differing names like the Sognefjord, Aurlandsfjord, Trollfjord, and the Hardangerfjord, but they all have one feature in common: these slivers of deep-blue water are among the most beautiful natural wonders in all of Europe. Norway’s fjords -- carved by ancient glaciers -- jut into the country like sleek daggers framed by walls of sheer granite. Ranging in length from a few miles to well over 100 and piercing the coastline from southern to northern Norway, the fjords are best viewed by ship or train, including the famously steep Flåm Railway, which travels from Myrdal to Flåm between Oslo and Bergen. And there are few experiences more scenic and serene than a boat trip on a far northern fjord on a crisp, clear moonlit night, with snow-capped mountains towering over tiny shoreline villages that seem secreted far away from the rest of the world.

Interested? Try Fjord Norway Tour with Explore

2. The Rock of Gibraltar, Spain


Rui Ornelas via Flickr

Standing guard like a monolithic sentinel at the mouth of the Mediterranean Sea, the Rock of Gibraltar is virtually synonymous with stability and strength. Lying just off the coast of southern Spain, strategically placed Gibraltar was one of the ancient Pillars of Hercules and is currently a British territory (a source of contention with the Spanish). Escape the politics, crowds, and duty-free liquor stores of the city lying at its base by riding the funicular to the 1,400-foot-high summit and then following pathways for commanding views of the Straits of Gibraltar separating southern Europe from North Africa. (Don’t carry any visible plastic bags, though, or risk losing them to the lightning-quick grasp of the local Barbary macaques – monkeys who identify any such bags as sources of potential food inside). You’ll feel like you’re standing on top of the world. 

Interested? Try Best of Spain Tour with Trafalgar

3. Giant’s Causeway, Ireland



In Irish lore, a legendary giant named Finn MacCool is credited with building the Giant’s Causeway along the winding coast of County Antrim in Northern Ireland (and also a filming location used for some of the most spectacular scenes in "Game of Thrones"). The Causeway is a remarkable formation of basalt columns that stretches into the North Channel for 11 miles, resembling stepping stones leading to Scotland. Its 38,000 multi-sided symmetrical pillars, some as tall as 36 feet, form intricate patterns dubbed the Giant’s Organ, the Giant’s Coffin, the Wishing Chair, and the Ladies Fan, among other fanciful names. According to modern science, however, the columns were formed by the slow, irregular cooling of lava spilled from an ancient volcano some 670 million years ago. You can judge the origins for yourself during a visit to this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Interested? Try Ireland's Costs from North to South with Road Scholar

4. Plitvice Lakes, Croatia



The name may be hard to pronounce, but one look at Croatia’s Plitvice Lakes National Park – another UNESCO World Heritage Site – may leave you speechless anyway. Picture sixteen mountain lakes of varying hues and shades of sparkling color – emerald greens, deep blues, turquoises, and teals, which vary with the seasons and the makeup of minerals in the water – all set in a forested landscape and joined together by a series of plunging waterfalls. Over the course of several miles, you’ll descend about 450 feet via wooden walkways that wind past each lake and waterfall, some skirting the falls so closely that you can inhale their spray. A variety of trails of differing lengths wander through the park, and boat trips are available on the lakes.

Interested? Try Discover the Balkans Tour with G Adventures

5. Amalfi Coast, Italy


Brian Gratwicke via Flickr

Europe has many stunning coastlines, but Italy’s Amalfi Coast ranks justifiably at or near the top of the list. A UNESCO World Heritage Site renowned for its quintessential Mediterranean landscape, the Amalfi Coast is located in the region of Campania between the Gulf of Naples and Gulf of Salerno in southwestern Italy. Dotted by villages clinging to the cliff-sides, the coast can be viewed via a 30-mile-long road that weaves up and down over rocky hills that plunge to the Tyrhennian Sea below. Pastel-shaded houses and villas, citrus and olive groves, vineyards, beach-lined coves and rugged promontories add color to the scene. Several of the towns -- some having served as resorts since Roman times -- lie along the seaside and can be reached by ferry boat. Others are perched high in the hills. Every town has its cultural landmarks as well – churches and monuments that blend in seamlessly with the unforgettable natural surroundings.

Interested? Try Walking the Amalfi Coast Tour with Intrepid

6. Santorini, Greece



If you bypass the often-crowded Aegean island of Santorini -- also known as Thira or, in ancient times, Thera -- due to its popularity as a sun-soaked tourist destination, you’ll also be missing one of the most memorable and expansive seascape panoramas in all of Europe.

Few views can compete with those from a terrace perched high atop the cliffs overlooking Santorini’s deep, seven-by- four-mile circle-shaped lagoon, formed from a mostly underwater caldera left by a titanic volcanic explosion some 36 centuries ago.

One of the most powerful volcanic eruptions in history, it wiped out the island’s Minoan civilization and led to theories that ancient Thera was the site of Plato’s legendary Atlantis, which supposedly sank beneath the sea.

You can still trace the outline of the caldera in the circular shape formed by Santorini’s now-multiple islands, including the crab-shaped main island, which looks like it’s readying its claws to snap up the smaller island of Therasia across the lagoon. Four other uninhabited islands complete much of the rest of the circle, while two open portions lead out into the blue Aegean.

Interested? Try Luxury Greece Tour with Perillo

7. The Northern Lights, Sweden



While the Northern Lights – a celestial light show composed of swirling greens, reds, and other hues that dance across the Arctic skies – can be seen from a number of northerly locales across the globe (including neighboring Scandinavian countries), they are at their most spectacular in far-northern Abisko, Sweden. There, amid the mountainous, forested, snowy wilderness, you’ll find an average of more than 150 annual nights of these stunning light displays, set off by electrically charged particles darting through the atmosphere. Peak seasons for the Northern Lights, also known as the aurora borealis, are October - November and February - March, but you might witness them any time from September into April in the low-light Abisko region. A chairlift climbs to the Aurora Sky Station, where a viewing platform sits at an elevation of nearly 3,000 feet. Dress warmly and prepare to be mesmerized.

Interested? Try Sweden: Dogsledding to the Ice Hotel

8. The Alps, France, Switzerland, Italy, Austria



The Alps are Europe’s iconic mountains, a 750-mile-long snow-capped range that extends from France through Switzerland, Austria, northern Italy and into parts of other countries as well. Its best-known peaks – the pyramid-shaped Matterhorn, towering Mont Blanc, and the majestic Jungfrau – are among 82 summits reaching 13,000 feet or higher (Mt. Blanc is nearly 16,000 feet), many known for their ski resorts, challenging climbing routes, and stunning vistas. Best viewing is from Chamonix in France (Mont Blanc), Zermatt in Switzerland (the Matterhorn), and the Interlaken region in Switzerland (the Jungfrau, Mönch and Eiger). You can ride cable cars up and down a number of peaks, or hop aboard the Jungfraujoch railway -- a marvel of engineering dating from 1912 --to Europe’s highest train station at more than 11,000 feet.

Interested? Try Hike the Essential Alps Tour with Alpine Interface

9. The Douro River Valley, Portugal


Yellow.Cat via Flickr

Northern Portugal’s Douro River Valley, which has become a popular route for river cruising, is best known for its Port wine production, history, and remarkable scenery that changes with the seasons. Running from the Spanish border west to the attractive Atlantic coastal city of Porto, the valley is lined by terraced vineyards, almond trees, and olive groves, cultivated on the hillsides for millennia. (Wine grapes have been grown here for 6,000 years). Along with forested hills and riverside villages, the Douro and its tributaries are known for their biodiversity, harboring nature reserves that protect a number of endangered species, while archaeological parks display some of the world’s finest prehistoric rock art. For all its ancient roots, the Douro is just now being discovered as a tourist destination, so there’s no better time to go than now.

Interested? Try Enticing Douro Tour with AMA Waterways

10. The Faroe Islands, Denmark


Stefan Wisselink via Flickr

The remote Faroe Islands, an archipelago of 18 volcanic isles located in the North Atlantic between mainland Scandinavia and Iceland, offer some of the most dramatic seaside landscapes in Europe. The islands’ 50,000 or so residents share the mountainous, rocky terrain with thousands of seabirds -- puffins, guillemots, fulmars, cormorants, razorbills, gannets and the world’s largest colony of storm petrels -- making this a prime spot for birdwatching. Hiking here yields unforgettable views of steep coastal cliffs that plunge sharply to the ocean, while grassy heaths and deep blue lakes and fjords add swatches of texture and color.

Interested? Try Old Meets New Tour with Road Scholar

Feel Inspired? Search here to find your perfect pre-planned trip


Did you enjoy this article? You might also like:

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3971 Views    1 Comments
By Sergey
February 19, 2016 at 3:43 PM
So many beautiful places in Europe! I've been to some of these but definitely feel like I'm going to have to get back there and see some more of these very soon :)

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