Here are the top five Italian national parks out of twenty five

Here are the top five Italian national parks out of twenty five


Italy is a country known for its infinite number of spots for outdoor activities, which even an immortal Roman could never count. However, among them, there are large enough to be counted and not difficult to find on a map. Yes, you guessed it: national parks.

There are 25 protected areas of this type in Italy, located all over the country from the Alps to the islands of Sicily and Sardinia, covering about 5% of its territory, which it’s not small — its total border length is 1,836.4 km (1,141.1 mi). The national parks are suitable above all for hiking, but also many other sports: biking, sailing, diving, paragliding, skiing, and others.

If you are not already a fan of Italy and have never been there before, it can be difficult to navigate through such a variety of parks. But I am a fan and live here for the past 10 years. So I’ve chosen the top five Italian national parks out of 25 — the main one in each of the country’s large regions — Northwest and Northeast, Center, South, and an island — and I’ll tell about their main features and hiking trails in this article.

Ivan Kuznetsov, an outdoor writer from the Italian Alps and Finnish Karelia

Dolomiti Bellunesi National Park

Dolomiti Bellunesi National Park. Sterling Lanier / Unsplash

  • Location: Belluno province, Veneto region
  • Area: 31.51 sq km (12.17 sq mi)
  • Founded: 1988
  • Site:

Dolomiti Bellunesi National Park is the main national park in northeastern Italy.

The park is located in the province of Belluno in the Veneto region, whose capital of the same name could be found right at the foot of the park’s mountains on its southern borders. You can go hiking right from the center of this beautiful old town on the Piave, the largest river in all of northeastern Italy. The nearest large and famous city is the tourist capital of the country, Venice, just over 100 km to the south.

The main feature of the park is two vast mountain ranges — Cimonega and Schiara — also known by the common name of Dolomiti Bellunesi after the capital of the province. As the name implies, they are part of the wider Dolomites range, which in turn is part of the Eastern Alps, and are known far beyond Italy as possibly the most beautiful mountains in the world. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the only national park in the Dolomites and this part of the country.

The main hiking trail in the park is called Alta Via delle Dolomiti Bellunesi, which translates to “High Way,” meaning it runs at an average altitude of about 2,000 meters and covers its entire area. The total length of the trail is 107.6 km (66.3 mi), which can be completed in 8 days-stages.

Practical information

  • The easiest and fastest way to get to the park from Venice is by train Trenitalia train with a change in Feltre or Ponte nelle Alpi. All in all, it is only about two hours.
  • The park’s visitor center, called Piero Rossi Cultural Center, is located in Belluno in the town’s main square, Piazza Piloni, so it’s not hard to find.
  • There are at least six mountain huts available for overnight stays in the park (space in a common room, shower, breakfast, and dinner) and nine free alpine bivouacs.

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Cinque Terre National Park

Cinque Terre National Park. Mika Korhonen / Unsplash

  • Location: Spezia province, Liguria region
  • Area: 38.60 sq km (14.90 sq mi)
  • Founded: 1999
  • Site:

Cinque Terre National Park is the main national park in the northwestern Italy.

You have probably already heard about it. In recent years Cinque Terre has gained such wild popularity that it seems to have begun to displace Venice from the first place among the most visited tourist destinations in Italy. The park is located on the shores of the Ligurian Sea and belongs to the province of La Spezia in the region of Liguria of the same name.

The main feature of the park, which gave it its name, is five villages (or lands — "terre" in Italian), located on the high rocky promontories along the coast, namely Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso al Mare, which, like the Dolomites, are a UNESCO site. The original fishing villages live today mainly from tourism.

The Blue Path Trail is the longest in the park, 12 km (7.5 miles), which runs from one village to another. But the Azure Trail between Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare is much better known for its special beauty and is only 3 km (1.9 miles) shorter. The trail is so popular that local authorities periodically close it to reduce the number of tourists.

Practical information

  • Cinque Terre can be reached by train Trenitalia train from Genoa in the north and La Spezia in the south. The train connects all five settlements, so you can always get off at any of them and return if you get tired during the hike, which is very convenient.
  • Visit Centers, or Welcome Centers to be precise, as they are called here, are also located in all five villages. There you can get a map of the park, ask for advice and buy souvenirs.
  • Each of the villages (again) offers a large selection of B&Bs, apartments, hotels, and small villas. However, during the peak tourist season in July and August, it is very difficult to book something even in advance, and in winter, on the contrary, you can find a place to stay even on the spot.

Get the weather forecast for Monterosso al Mare, Liguria

Weather forecast for Monterosso al Mare, Liguria

Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga National Park

Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga National Park. Daniele Franchi / Unsplash

  • Location: Ascoli Piceno province (Marche region), L’Aquila, Pescara, and Teramo provinces (Abruzzo region), Rieti province (Lazio region)
  • Area: 1,413.31 sq km (545.68 sq mi)
  • Founded: 1991
  • Site:

Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga is the main national park in central Italy.

Just like the Dolomiti Bellunesi, it is located within the two mountain ranges — Gran Sasso d’Italia and Monti della Laga — in the geographical center of the Apennine mountain system and at the same time of the entire Apennine Peninsula. On the administrative map, the park covers five provinces in three regions. The nearest major city is Rome. But the park is surprisingly little known to tourists but is a popular among Romans themselves, as well as residents of all three regions.

The main feature of the park is the mountain massif Gran Sasso d’Italia (“The Great Stone of Italy”) itself, which is both the most extensive in area and the highest in the entire Apennines. In particular, the mountain has three peaks, the highest of which is Corno Grande (2,912 m / 9,554 ft) or “The Great Horn". The mountain is also a ski resort with 13 km of slopes and 4 ski lifts. Monti della Laga is a smaller but also relatively large range in the neighborhood.

The main trail in the park is the hike to Corno Grande via Campo Imperatore (“The Emperor’s Field”) — a huge interior plateau of 27 km (17 mi) long and 8 km (5 mi) wide, similar to Tibet, so locals call it that adding the "Little". You can get to the plateau by cable car to save the effort of the hike.

Practical information

  • The park is easier to reach from L’Aquila (18 km away) by local bus, which in turn can be reached in a couple of hours from Rome by Trenitalia train.
  • Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga has more than a dozen visitor centers, info points, and various museums. The central one, the Assergi Antiquarium, is located in Assergi, a suburb of L’Aquila at the foot of the mountains on Via del Convento (street).
  • There are about 20 different types of accommodation to choose from in the park, including B&Bs, vacation houses (Casa vacanza), agriturismos and holiday farms, and others. The standard hotels can be found in the villages and towns near to the park.

Get the weather forecast for L’Aquila, Abruzzo

Weather forecast for L’Aquila, Abruzzo

Vesuvius National Park

Vesuvius National Park. Francesco Baerhard / Unsplash

Vesuvius National Park is the main national park in the south of Italy.

As you immediately guessed, the park is formed around the most famous volcano in Italy and one of the most famous in the world, Vesuvius or Vesuvio of 1,281 m (4,202 ft). But we should add: infamous. Located southeast of the largest city in southern Italy, Naples in the Campania region, it covered the Naple's suburb of Pompeii with lava, along with all its inhabitants, in 79 AD.

The main feature of the volcano is that it is still active, and has erupted several times since the beginning of the twentieth century: in 1906, 1908, and several times between 1913 and 1944. It is also only one of four of the 30+ active volcanoes in Italy and in all of Europe (the other three are Etna in Sicily, and Stromboli, and Vulcano of the Aeolian Islands just nearby). From here Vesuvius is not only beautiful but still very dangerous.

The main trail of the park is the actual ascent to its summit and the walk along its crater called "The Gran Cono" (“The Great Crater”) which is 4 km (2.5 mi) one way. But there are other longer ones up to 10–15 km across the park, including the lava fields from the last eruptions.

Practical information

  • It is easier and faster to get to the park from Naples by bus. The city of Pompeii, which has not disappeared into history, is located behind the volcano. It can be reached by direct train from Naples.
  • Accordingly, the Vesuvius National Park Visitor Center is located right at the food of the mountain, at Contrada Osservatorio (Observatory District) — the final point of the road.
  • As for accommodation in Naples, I would recommend looking for something closer to the volcano (I'm sorry for this advice) if that is the main purpose of your trip, given also the criminal and chaotic nature of the city.

Get the weather forecast for Naples, Campania

Weather forecast for Naples, Campania

Archipelago of La Maddalena National Park

Archipelago of La Maddalena National Park. Leon Rohrwild / Unsplash

  • Location: Sassari province, Sardinia region
  • Area: 201.46 sq km2 (77.78 sq mi)
  • Founded: 1994
  • Site:

The archipelago of La Maddalena National Park is the main national in the island part of Italy.

It is located to the north of the island of Sardinia, the second largest after Sicily. But, given that the latter almost merges with the Apennine Peninsula, it is often perceived as part of the mainland, while Sardinia is a “real island” in the middle of the Tyrrhenian Sea, west of Rome. It is, too, a territory of Italy, so I just couldn’t miss it, although it is further not the most famous park. Administratively it belongs to the province of Sassari in the Sardinia region of the same name.

The main feature of the park is an incredibly picturesque archipelago, consisting of about a dozen large and small rocky islands, including the main one with the same name, La Maddalena, and more than 180 kilometers of Sardinia coastline highly indented with bays with crystal clear waters and snow-white beaches, ideal also for parking your boat.

There is not a single main trail in the park, but there is a small system of marked trails that covers the entire island of Caprera, second in size after La Maddalena just to the east of it, under the general name Caprera Trails, which has 16 routes. Tip: the island has almost no tall trees, so be sure to bring a hat and plenty of water, even in the middle of winter and avoid the hot summer. Use the Hiking Checklist.

Practical information

  • The fastest way to get to Sardinia’s capital city of Cagliari is by plane, then to Palau by bus, and from there by ferry. By the water Sardinia, namely the port of Olbia to the south of Palau, can be reached from Civitavecchia, west of Rome, on the coast. Another option is from Naples to Cagliari.
  • The main visitor center of the park is also located on the island of Caprera in the village of Stagnali and is called C.E.A. Stagnali, where the acronym means Center of Environmental Education (Centro di educazione ambientale).
  • On this and other islands of the archipelago, a large number of different types of accommodation are available, including again B&Bs, hotels, villas, and others.

Get the weather forecast for Palau, Sardinia

Weather forecast for Palau, Sardinia


Text: Ivan Kuznetsov, an outdoor journalist, editor and writer from the Dolomites, Italy, and Karelia, Finland, with 10 years of professional experience. His favorite sports are cycling, hiking and sauna. Read his other articles

Cover photo: Lorenzo Lamonica / Unsplash

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