Ancient ruins, Renaissance palazzos, huge piazzas, and excellent pizza are just a few of the attractions. It also features pristine or restored forests, seashores, and mountain ranges as well as open, natural regions. The country’s 24 national parks cover around 5% of the country’s total landmass and offer a wide range of activities, including hiking, diving shipwrecks, canoeing, and horseback riding.
Unlike many other national parks across the world, Italy’s are often part of long-inhabited areas, with merely a park headquarters and a few restaurants or picnic spots. As a result, visitors to the parks can engage in a variety of activities such as interacting with nature, exploring ancient villages, and feasting on unique regional cuisine.
Though each of Italy’s national parks has something unique to offer, we’ve chosen seven of our favorites to showcase the country’s incredible diversity.
1. Tuscan Archipelago National Park
The Tuscan Archipelago National Park, or Parco Nazionale Arcipelago Toscano, is made up of seven islands and is one of Italy’s most beautiful places to spend a few days by the sea. Elba, Giglio, and (to a lesser extent) Capraia are the most developed tourist destinations, whilst Pianosa, Gorgona, and Giannutri are only open to day visitors (though there are a few vacation rentals on Giannutri). Montecristo, Dumas’ famed count’s island jail, is still mostly off-limits—about 1,000 people per year are allowed to visit, and only on guided excursions. All of the islands are only accessible by ferry or private boat, except Elba, which has a small airport.
The Tyrrhenian Sea, which surrounds the islands, is a 56,766-hectare marine reserve rich in fish, sea birds, and cetaceans, as well as corals, rock formations, and shipwrecks. There are excellent diving and snorkeling opportunities on all of the islands.
2. Archipelago of La Maddalena National Park
The La Maddalena archipelago is situated on the northeastern tip of Sardinia, Italy’s second-largest island (after Sicily). While parts of La Maddalena are developed and have long been a popular destination for international jet setters, the Arcipelago di La Maddalena National Park, or Parco Nazionale dell’Arcipelago di La Maddalena, is a protected marine region in and of itself. The park is recognized for its beautiful beaches, native species of flora and animals, and abundant marine life. It is made up of Isola Maddelena (Maddelena Island), Caprera, Budelli, Sparghi, and other small islets. Based on where you are, you can get to the park via car, boat, bike, or foot. Unless you possess a sailboat or megayacht, you can take a guided boat excursion, which will stop at numerous different beaches, as many people do. If you want to travel during the peak season, which is between July and August, make sure you book ahead of time. Permits must be obtained.
3. Cinque Terre National Park
Many of Italy’s national parks grew naturally around existing, centuries-old communities, as the Cinque Terre (“Five Lands”) exemplifies. The Cinque Terre towns of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Monterosso al Mare, and Vernazza are all part of the Parco Nazionale delle Cinque Terre, a 3,868-hectare park bordering a protected maritime area. The Cinque Terre’s colorful towns appear to fall to the sparkling sea below, and the terraced vineyards, dry stone walls, and local food and gastronomic specialties visit the Cinque Terre an experience that encapsulates the best of Italy.
The park preserves not just the Cinque Terre’s natural beauty, but also its ancient farming customs and culture. Hiking between the towns is a popular pastime among travelers, who either complete the trail in one day or break it up with an overnight stay in one of the villages. A Cinque Terre Card is required for daily entrance, which is limited to a set number of walkers/hikers.
4. Vesuvius National Park
Mount Vesuvius, the looming colossus that overlooks the skylines of Naples, Sorrento, and the islands of the Bay of Naples, is an approximately 8,500-hectare protected area that forms Parco Nazionale del Vesuvio (Vesuvius National Park). The park encompasses not only the volcano itself, which is still active and regarded as one of the world’s most dangerous, but also the archaeological site of Herculaneum, the remains of villas, and other sites at Vesuvius’ base. Experts from a range of fields are drawn to the park’s geology, minerals, vegetation, and fauna. Hiking to the volcano’s crater, hiking along nature trails on its slopes, and visiting historical and archaeological museums and sites are all options for visitors.
5. Pollino National Park
Pollino National Park, or Parco Nazionale del Pollino, is Italy’s largest protected area, covering over 1,900 square kilometers3. This UNESCO Global Geopark4 is located in the arch of Italy’s boot, situated between the Tyrrhenian and Ionian Seas and spanning the Basilicata and Calabria provinces. The park’s most renowned resident is a unique, scraggly Heldreich pine, which is estimated to be Europe’s oldest tree at least 1,200 years old. Hiking the park’s many paths, watching for animals such as deer, wildcats, raptors, and wolves, and exploring the park’s various historic towns are all options for visitors looking to experience the park’s forested, high-altitude environment.
6. Stelvio National Park
The Stelvio National Park, or Parco Nazionale dello Stelvio, is a massive mountainous park that borders the Lombardy and Trentino-Alto Adige provinces. Stelvio National Park is one of Italy’s highest-altitude national parks, with craggy mountain peaks, glaciers, high-altitude lakes, rivers, waterfalls, and dense woods. The park is home to a diverse range of wildlife, including ibex, marmots, lynx, brown bears, and wolves. Small, historic villages serve as year-round bases for hiking and mountain biking, as well as skiing and snowboarding in the winter. The Stelvio Pass, a critical junction in the Alps throughout human history, is now traversed by a stunning switchback road.
7. Gargano National Park
Gargano National Park, or Parco Nazionale del Gargano, is located on Puglia’s mitten-shaped Gargano Promontory and includes coastal scrub and pine woods, wildlife-rich marshes, and spectacular coastlines, and the adjacent Tremiti Islands. Gargano, like many of Italy’s national parks, is studded with seaside and inland towns, many of which serve as summer beach vacation destinations. Aside from being a shelter for migratory birds and other animal life, the park also possesses the highest concentrations of orchids in Europe, with over 55 kinds.