Cities and nature may feel like contradictory terms. However, if you’re someone who likes to hike or get out in nature while out exploring the best of Europe, it’s easy to merge the two, so check out these best cities for nature to inspire you for your next break.
From cities with large and leafy parks to capitals with abundant nature or mountains on their doorsteps, find out which are the best European cities for nature with a pick of our favorites. So don’t forget to pack a picnic blanket or your hiking boots when exploring the best of Europe!
Budapest: Go Up Into the Buda Hills
The Hungarian capital might be famed for its Danube-side views and hedonistic ruin bars, but within the city limits, you’ll find plenty of hiking spots that will keep any nature loving traveler happy. You can take a bus up into the Buda Hills for a spot of hiking up to Normafa or ride the Children’s Railway, a rail line operated by children, that will take you into the hills away from the city. And if you want to go away from urban life, there are plenty of hiking spots that are easily reached from Budapest for the day, such as Dobogókő or Rámszakadék.
There’s also plenty of parklands to explore, like Margaret Island, an island on the Danube filled with rose gardens and grassy spots, or the famous City Park up towards Heroes’ Square. Even Gellért Hill comes with plenty of hikes up to the Citadella which make you feel like you’ve escaped the downtown chaos of the city.
Ljubljana: From City to The Alps in an Hour
Slovenia’s small capital is already worth a visit for its riverside-cafe life and charming architecture, but one of the best things about Ljubljana is its proximity to the Slovenian countryside. Slovenia is a small country, so it only takes an hour by car to reach the Julian Alps in the north. You can base yourself in Ljubljana and go out for a day to Lake Bled and its surroundings. There are plenty of hiking trails around the azure blue lake that run up into the mountains, or around the Triglav gorge.
Or you can head down south towards the Karst mountains, for caves, castles and more hikes. Since Ljubljana is such as a small city, it’s easy to even grab a bike and cycle into the surrounding hills, or just take a walk through Tivoli Park at the center of the city. Slovenia may be on of the best cities for nature in Europe when it comes to spectacular landscapes and green getaways, and the best thing is it’s all accessible from its capital.
Tbilisi: Escape to the Caucasus Mountains
There’s plenty to keep any traveler busy in the Georgian capital, but one of the unique aspects of Tbilisi is its proximity to the Caucasus Mountains. While the more remote regions would require a whole day to get up there, you can easily hop on a marshrutka, a mini-bus used as public transportation, and do a day trip up to Kazbegi, one of the most beautiful spots in Georgia.
But the beauty is not just that you can do a day trip to the mountains from Tbilisi, since you can also head south Azeri border towards the steppes and the dusty desert-like mountains around Davit Gareji, or towards the lush green region around Kakheti wine country, or you can even head into the Lower Caucasus mountains around Borjomi and Vardzia. There are so many places you can explore from Tbilisi on hikes and excursions that it makes a great base for those interested in exploring a new city with a few wild tours on the side.
Sofia: Mountains in Reach
Lying on close to the slopes of Mount Vitosha, Sofia is one of Europe’s highest capitals. While the Bulgarian capital itself may be a tapestry of ruins and relics from the Thracians to the Romans and the Ottomans, with monuments left behind from Social Realism, but it’s also the perfect location to explore the Bulgarian countryside.
With more than a third of the country covered by mountains, there’s plenty to check out in Bulgaria when it comes to hiking and nature trails. From Sofia, you can do day trips to the Rila Mountains and the Rila Lakes easily, but you can also stay closer to the capital with hikes up around Mount Vitosha itself.
Paris: Magical Parks and Gardens
Paris has everything you would want from the perfect city break, but if you fancy some nature on your trip, don’t rule Paris out. You’ll find some wonderful parkland in Paris, and if you’re looking for something a bit wilder than a picnic in the Jardin du Luxembourg then you’re in luck.
Parc des Buttes-Chaumont has everything you want from a park, from waterfalls to cliffs and even temples. This former quarry is mostly free from tourists, but it’s one of Paris’s most loved green spots and one of the largest parks in the city. There is also the Bois de Boulogne, a large park founded during Napoleon’s reign, which comes complete with lakes, a zoo and a botanical garden in this large park, and makes the perfect getaway from the chaos of downtown Paris.
Geneva: Lake Geneva and Alpine Scenery
Perched on Lake Geneva, one of the largest lakes in Europe, and surrounded by the Swiss and French Alps, Geneva is the perfect alpine city break destination. You can take a boat across the lake or head up into the Alps for a mountain hike before heading back to the city for some fondue and a spot of culture. You can also explore some of the Swiss and French countryside towns nestled up in the mountains, like Gruyeres or Chamonix to really immerse yourself in the wonderful European countryside.