In addition to its world-renowned selection of artistic masterpieces, historic attractions, romantic towns, and bustling urban hubs, Italy is known for its dramatic landscapes and breathtaking natural beauty. One of the best ways to soak in this striking scenery is to visit a few of Italy’s national parks.
When you visit a nature lover’s paradise like Italy, it can be difficult to decide where to spend your limited time, especially because Italy has 25 national parks. To help you plan out your Italian vacation, we’ve compiled the following list of the best national parks in Italy, exploring the country’s most beautiful and exciting protected areas.
Arcipelago di La Maddalena National Park
Encompassing over 20,000 hectares of Sardinian land and sea, Arcipelago di La Maddalena National Park has an international reputation for its idyllic beaches and unrivaled natural beauty. Established in 1996, the park has impressively retained its unspoiled nature and delicate pieces of paradise.
With 62 islands and islets to explore, the vast protected area boasts both bustling towns and remote white and pink sand beaches. History buffs in particular should check out the forested island of Caprera, where you can find the former house and current burial place of Giuseppe Garibaldi.
In addition to the magic of the Mediterranean Sea, the park features several hubs of lush vegetation, crystal-clear freshwater pools, and a diverse array of flora and fauna. The plant and animal life includes strawberry trees, orchids, various birds, and marine creatures such as whales, dolphins, and sea turtles.
Aspromonte National Park
Aspromonte is a national park in Italy that’s rich in both nature and history. Surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea in southern Calabria, the park is best known for its rugged mountains, quaint historic towns, and magnificent Neolithic ruins that draw tourists from all over the world.
The park’s rushing rivers wind through dense forests filled with rare species of eagles, turtledoves, butterflies, and wolves. The scenic town of Caloveto also lies within the boundaries of the park and boasts over 1,000 years of history. This town is a great place to stay if you want to escape the packed tourist areas of Southern Italy, and you’ll still get to enjoy stunning beaches, unique historic sites, and luxurious accommodations.
Cilento and Vallo di Diano National Park
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, Cilento and Vallo di Diano National Park is the perfect place to explore the region’s dynamic history and mountainous terrain. Bordered by gorgeous mountain ridges and the Tyrrhenian Sea, this impressive national park boasts both cultural significance and breathtaking natural beauty.
The park is populated by a variety of settlements and important geographic markers ranging from prehistoric times to the Middle Ages. The area functioned as an essential trade route during the medieval period, so you’ll find countless Greek temples, ancient Roman roads, and monuments scattered throughout the land.
You can reach the park by driving just two hours south of Naples. Popular activities here include boat excursions, museum visits, farmhouse workshops, and biking trips.
Pollino National Park
As the largest national park in Italy, Pollino is overflowing with thrilling attractions and unique experiences. Adventurous travelers can revel in the countless hiking and mountain biking opportunities, and the cascading waterfalls and wild rapids are perfect for various water sports.
The unique local cuisine, a product of the traditional methods of agriculture and livestock farming, is influenced by the many Albanian communities that populate the area. Whatever the length of your visit, carve out some time to taste the delectable variety of fine wine, cold cuts, and cheeses.
Given the size of the park, it’s best to plan a few days for exploring. Luckily, there are plenty of comfortable accommodations in the area, including hotels, hostels, farm stays, and campgrounds.
Stelvio National Park
With hiking opportunities ranging from relaxing strolls to steep treks, Stelvio is one of the best national parks in Italy for all age ranges and skill levels. There are also plenty of activities that the whole family can enjoy, including driving tours through the Stelvio Pass along the Swiss border.
With glistening waterways and soaring snow-capped mountains everywhere you look, this lively protected area is easily one of the most scenic spots in the country. Lush meadows dotted with livestock enrich the peaceful landscape with stunning natural scenery, and the park’s botanical garden is the perfect place to enjoy incredibly diverse flora.
Asinara National Park
What better way to spend the day than surrounded by shimmering turquoise waters and gorgeous green meadows? Nestled on an island off the coast of Sardinia, Asinara National Park is best known for its unspoiled Mediterranean landscape and thriving population of albino donkeys. The park is full of hiking trails for all skill levels and opportunities for exciting coastal activities, such as snorkeling, sailing, and swimming.
The area’s mysterious past as a World War I quarantine camp has earned it the eerie nickname “Devil’s Island.” You can immerse yourself in the park’s unique history with tours of the museums and abandoned prisons. There are also a few historic tourist attractions in the island’s quaint village of Cala d’Oliva, including architectural masterpieces such as the famous Aragonese watchtowers.
Gran Paradiso National Park
Nestled between Piemonte and Valle d’Aosta in the Alps of Northwest Italy, Gran Paradiso is the oldest and one of the most beautiful national parks in Italy. Originally established as a personal hunting reserve for King Victor Emmanuel II and his family, the park is often compared to Yellowstone National Park in the United States because of its popularity as a tourist and adventure destination. The vast and varied nature of the park makes it the perfect destination for families with small children and experienced outdoor adventurers alike.
Spanning a whopping 71,000 hectares and split into five valleys, Gran Paradiso boasts 553 kilometers of hiking trails. There are also endless options for lookout points and panoramic views where you can admire the majestic Alpine environment, towering mountains, striking glaciers, and babbling streams. Popular activities available in the park include horseback riding, skiing, snowshoeing, and mountain biking.
Gargano National Park
Another coastal paradise in Southern Italy, Gargano National Park encompasses the ancient Umbra Forest, the Tremiti Islands, and Pianosa Island. Within this protected area, you’ll find glistening lakes, stunning sea caves, and historic townships.
The park is also known for its accessibility, with multiple historic structures, museums, and even nature trails available to the elderly, small children, and people with disabilities. You can also explore the promontory’s natural beauty by bike or horse. The exciting landscape includes gold sand beaches, towering pine trees, and over 2,000 plant species. The park is also home to animals such as rare birds, cattle, boar, and wildcats.
Monti Sibillini National Park
In this blissful piece of paradise that stretches across the central regions of Marche and Umbria, 2,000-meter mountains give way to lush valleys and rushing rivers. Known for its peaceful aura and plethora of flora and fauna, Monti Sibillini National Park is overflowing with expansive wetlands, dense forests, and soaring mountain peaks.
The snowy winters invite skiers and snowboarders to take advantage of the park’s majestic mountains. In the warmer months, the land transforms into an artistic canvas dotted with colorful flowers and greenery. The spring and summer here present great opportunities for casual nature fans and thrill-seeking outdoor enthusiasts alike, with popular activities such as mountain climbing, paragliding, biking, and rafting. There are also six loop routes that you can traverse by car, motorcycle, or RV, and the park’s medieval villages, palaces, and sanctuaries are definitely worth a visit.
Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise National Park
Another standout among Italy’s national parks is Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise. Located about two hours away from Rome, this park is one of the most biodiverse areas in the country, being home to wolves, lynxes, deer, and even the rare Marsican brown bear and the Abruzzo chamois.
The park’s landscape includes the Apennine Mountains, lakes, rivers, forests, meadows, and villages. It’s a sublime scene in springtime, when the meadows explode with vibrant purple and yellow flowers against a backdrop of snow-capped mountains and endless stretches of untouched greenery. The area is also dotted with a magnificent variety of trees, including beech, birch, and Italian black pines.
The hiking opportunities in the park are unbeatable. You’ll definitely want to try the famous Val di Rose, a three-hour trek regarded as one of the most gorgeous trails in the park. You should also carve out the time to check out the park’s many quaint villages and medieval towers.
Dolomiti Bellunesi National Park
Travel up to the northern region of Veneto for a visit to Dolomiti Bellunesi, the only national park within the impressive landscape of the Dolomites. Although the park is home to some charming villages with a rich culture, its remote location by the southeastern Alps has kept its lush nature and varied wildlife in untouched condition. This makes for an extraordinarily relaxing environment characterized by mesmerizing natural beauty.
The landscape is enriched by ancient forests, steep canyons, and gorgeous streams, springs, and wetlands. If you feel like an adventure, you’ll find plenty of moderate and more challenging hiking trails that showcase this diverse terrain.
Cinque Terre National Park
One of the most famous national parks in Italy is also the smallest: Cinque Terre, which hosts over 5 million visitors every year and is best known for its colorful cliffside villages overlooking the vibrant turquoise sea. Here you’ll find accommodations ranging from cozy B&Bs to luxurious hotels, and the selection of activities is endless.
Comprising five interconnected medieval towns, Cinque Terre is home to a remarkable array of artwork and architecture, including historic churches, castles, and monasteries. With over 120 kilometers of hiking trails and crystal-clear waters for snorkeling, kayaking, and swimming, the park is overflowing with exciting things to see and do. You can even explore hidden natural wonders such as mysterious sea caves and cascading waterfalls. It’s easy to see why this unique landscape has long served as inspiration for world-renowned writers, poets, and filmmakers.
Related: The Ultimate Guide to Visiting Cinque Terre
Arcipelago Toscano National Park
Arcipelago Toscano National Park is a galaxy of seven breathtaking islands on the coast of western Tuscany, surrounded by the crystal-clear Tyrrhenian Sea. The park has an interesting history, with evidence of ancient human activity, and mythology has it that the seven islands were gems in Venus’ necklace that broke off when she emerged from the sea.
The park’s remarkable variety of wildlife includes the Mediterranean monk seal, one of the rarest marine mammals in the world, while the idyllic flora includes strawberry trees, rosemary, and lavender plants. The islands are also home to several historic gems, such as abandoned prisons and old iron mines.
Gran Sasso and Monti della Laga National Park
Located in the central region of Abruzzo, Gran Sasso and Monti della Laga is one of Italy’s largest national parks, featuring three sprawling mountain ranges full of lush vegetation, spectacular streams and waterfalls, and an extensive selection of hiking trails. Medieval villages perched on charming hilltops showcase the park’s rich history and unique array of castles, hamlets, and other architectural and artistic treasures.
The vast area enables a wide range of activities and various ways to explore, such as by foot, bike, horseback, boat, or even guided tour. The local wine and food options are sure to please even the pickiest of palates, and there are plenty of great accommodations, ranging from high-end hotels to rural farm stays.
Vesuvius National Park
Our final national park in Italy is famously set atop the active volcano Vesuvius, the cause of the infamous destruction of Pompeii. The iconic slopes of Mount Vesuvius attract tourists from all over the world, who then find that the park boasts charming farms and world-renowned wineries as well. The park is just 40 minutes away from Naples and easy to access from the nearby site of Pompeii.
Vesuvius National Park’s vast array of flora and fauna make it a joy to explore. It has 11 walking paths totaling 54 kilometers, including a part that offers the thrilling opportunity to walk along the rim of the crater. There is also a cultural center and museum where you can learn more about the area.
That concludes our list of national parks in Italy. If you want to soak up the country’s unique history and unrivaled natural beauty, there’s nowhere better than one of these world-renowned protected sites.
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