When I'm travelling by train through Europe I often find myself conflicted between nature and cities. In many cases, you can only have one or the other. But look a little harder, and you’ll find beautiful parks, tranquil lakes, and even vast mountain ranges within easy reach of many European cities. These are my favourite cities in Europe where nature is never very far away.
1. Warsaw, Poland
The Polish capital is a busy urban center and the economic hub of the entire country. But it’s not all about congested roads and concrete jungles. Warsaw is packed full of stunning natural attractions – approximately a quarter of the city is filled with beautiful parks and royal gardens. With 82 parks, nature is never far away in this beautiful city.
Insider tip: Łazienki Park is the largest and most natural of Warsaw’s parks. It’s easy to lose yourself in the vast grounds, populated by squirrels, bird life, and dozens of species of plants.
2. Munich, Germany
On first appearances Munich, much like Warsaw, seems to be a busy metropolitan center. And indeed it is. But the astounding Englischer Garten, which stretches from the city center to the northern city limits, offers enough nature and greenery to help you forget all about the urban world just a few streets away. Englischer Garten has a total of 1.4 square miles of park, which makes it larger than New York’s Central Park.
Insider tip: Go for an urban river surf on the Isbar. There’s a famous standing wave in the Garden, which is popular among spectators and surfers alike.
3. Interlaken, Switzerland
Switzerland is a nature-lover’s paradise. It’s hard to move more than a few miles without finding soaring peaks, lush fields, and crystal clear lakes. As far as access to the outdoors goes, Interlaken is one of those great cities for nature. It’s easily accessible by train from most regions of the country, sits between two spectacular lakes, and is just a short train ride away from some of the most dramatic and remote alpine scenery.
Insider tip: Hop aboard one of the classic ferries on Lake Brienz and Lake Thun. If you have a Eurail Pass you'll get free access.
4. Florence, Italy
Florence may be most famous for its beautiful architecture, art galleries, and gelato, but it’s also perfectly located as a gateway to some of Tuscany’s best walks and hikes. If you’re on a tight schedule, there are dozens of incredible walks within easy reach of the city. You could also hop aboard a regional train to the heart of Tuscany to truly get away from it all.
Insider tip: There’s a comprehensive list of walks and hikes on the Provincia Di Firenze website.
5. Zadar, Croatia
Zadar may not make as big a splash as fellow Croatian coastal cities Split and Dubrovnik. But if nature is your focus, this stunning city on the Dalmatian Coast is unmissable. Beautiful beaches abound in the region. But if you want to witness a true wonder, the world-famous Plitvice Lakes National Park is an easy day trip away.
Insider tip: Dozens of companies offer day tours to the lakes at varying prices, so shop around carefully. Plan the trip at the end of your visit to Zadar, and you can even continue on to Zagreb, which is almost an equal distance away on the other side of the park.
6. Bergen, Norway
There are few natural wonders more breathtaking than Norway’s fjords. If you want to truly immerse yourself in this stunning scenery, you should opt for a small settlement along the way. But the famous town of Bergen – home to seven of its own impressive mountains – is a great larger city that can be your base for exploring the region.
Insider tip: Bergen is also a thriving music and culinary hub. Don’t forget to explore the city before you disappear into nature.
Just because you’re a fan of the peace and tranquility of nature doesn’t mean you have to give Europe’s urban centers a miss. In fact, most iconic European cities are famous for integrating parks, reserves, and nature into everyday life. Some might take a bit of seeking out, or a short journey out of town, but you'll receive almost instant reward for any effort you put in.