(CNN) — From Norwegian islands high above the Arctic Circle to forest-covered mountains in Romania, windswept sandy beaches in Wales and icy lakes in the Balkans, Europe is a spectacularly varied place.
The old continent’s historic cities and its Mediterranean beaches draw many of its visitors, but the best destinations are sometimes its more remote corners, known mainly to locals and a few intrepid travelers. Here are 20 of Europe’s most beautiful places to inspire your travels:
Lake Inari, Finland
High above the Arctic Circle and close to Finland’s border with Russia, Lake Inari is a year-round paradise. Dark, snowy winters make it ideal for catching a glimpse of the aurora borealis.
Its tree-lined banks glow a burnt orange during autumn and in summer, you can swim in its chilly shallows. The center of local Sámi culture, it’s as remote and traditional as Finland gets.
Lofoten Islands, Norway
This Norwegian archipelago consists of seven main islands.
Made up of towering peaks, deep fjords and picture perfect villages, the Lofoten Islands are renowned for their remote beauty.
Consisting of seven main islands — Austvågøy, Flakstadøy, Gimsøy, Moskenesøya, Røst, Værøy and Vestvågøy — this is a place where nature takes precedence and sea eagles soar through the skies.
Thanks to the mild waters of the gulf stream, the Norwegian archipelago is surprisingly warm in summer, when the sun never sets due to the islands’ northerly location.
Unst, Shetland Isles, Scotland
Unst is the last outpost of the United Kingdom.
The most northerly occupied island of the British Isles, Unst is a wild, rugged place where seas crash into the dramatic Muckle Flugga sea stacks.
The latter are a haven for gannets during breeding season, with birdwatchers also treated to the sight of scavenging bonxies, or great skuas.
Steeped in Viking history, archaeologists have discovered traditional longhouses and graveyards that showcase its Scandinavian past.
Zagori comes from the Slavic word meaning “beyond the mountains.”
While Greece’s islands are lauded for their beauty, the mainland’s charms are easily overlooked.
But one of the most spectacular mountain ranges in Europe lies here, in the region of Zagori, Epirus.
The plunging Vikos Gorge makes for a perfect day’s hiking, while Mount Astrakas’ snow-capped peak is a sight to behold as the days close in, showing that Greece is far more than just a summer destination.
Keep an eye out for Zagori’s stone bridges, especially the three-arched Kaligeriko, close to the village of Kipi.
Yorkshire Dales, England
The Yorkshire Dales is famous for its spectacular landscapes.
The Yorkshire Dales are the England of the imagination.
Its narrow lanes lined with drystone walls cry out to cyclists seeking vertiginous adventures, while its moody hills continually attract walkers, no matter the weather.
Geological wonders such as the limestone spectacles of Malham Cove and Gordale Scar make it perhaps the most beautiful part of the British Isles.
Much of the area forms part of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, perhaps best seen along the Settle to Carlisle railway, which passes over the iconic Ribblehead Viaduct.
Apuseni Mountains, Romania
Romania’s Apuseni mountains form part of the western Carpathian Mountains in Transylvania.
Part of the Carpathian range, the Apuseni are the best kept secret in Eastern Europe.
These mountains are isolated, with ancient forests and limestone caves descending into underground rivers at every turn.
Time stands still here, with little else to do but breathe in the pine-tinged air and keep an eye out for the abundant wildlife.
Wolves prowl through the trees, with ospreys circling on thermals high above.
Loire Valley, France
Loire Valley attracts more than 3.3 million visitors per year.
The Loire Valley’s opulent châteaux are what give this region of central France such grandeur.
Chateau de Chambord and Chateau de Chenonceau are the most famous, replete with classic spires, viewing towers, formal gardens and boating lakes.
Throw in a tour of its vineyards, where some of the world’s finest wines are produced, and its allure is impossible to ignore.
Picos de Europa, Spain
The Picos de Europa may not get top billing with the Pyrenees, but these mountains are every bit as enticing for serious mountaineers, hikers and those who enjoy marveling at high peaks.
Known as “Spain’s Dolomites,” the mountain range extends for about 20 kilometers inland from the northern coast of Spain.
Walkers will find an excellent network of mountain refuges, with the views at their best as the sun rises over the peaks in the early morning.
The Swiss mountain village of Adelboden in the Bernese Oberland region.
Although Adelboden isn’t the famous valley in Switzerland, it possesses a local charm that many never get to experience.
The head of the valley is home to some of the best ice climbing in the Alps, while those less keen on vertigo-inducing pursuits can strap on snow shoes and explore pine forests and frozen streams.
At night, the skies above the quiet pistes fill with stars.
Henne Strand, West Jutland, Denmark
Henne Strand is a sandy haven for vacationing Danes.
Backed by rolling dunes, Henne Strand sits on the west coast of Jutland.
Often windswept, it’s a summer haven for holidaying Danes, with miles of sand, ensuring every visitor has plenty of space to spread out and catch some rays.
Nearby Filso, a restored lake, is a haven for birds, with observation towers helping amateur ornithologists catch a glimpse of rare gull-billed terns, herons and cranes.
Bavarian Forest National Park, Germany
Bavarian Forest National Park — the largest national park in Germany.
Germany’s first national park, the Bavarian Forest demands exploration and rewards those who take to its myriad paths in search of adventure.
There are 186 miles of hiking trails and 124 miles of bike routes that connect with Sumava National Park, just across the border in the Czech Republic. Rachelsee, deep in the forest’s heart, surrounded by pines and standing over 1,000 meters above sea level, is a mirror lake that makes for superb photos.
Rumor has it, Rachelsee was named after the devil’s grandmother.
Hoge Veluwe National Park, Netherlands
Hoge Veluwe National Park covers more than 5,400 hectares of forest, moors and sand dunes.
With its undulating sand dunes, heathland and woods, Hoge Veluwe National Park is a wildlife haven.
First established in 1909 as a private park, it gained national park status in the 1930s.
Today, it’s known for its roaming populations of roe deer, wild sheep and wild boar, as well as the woodpeckers and nightjars that swoop through its skies.
Union Hall, Ireland
Peaceful fishing village Union Hall in Ireland’s County Cork.
Positioned deep in Glandore Harbor in the west of County Cork, the fishing village of Union Hall is quintessentially Irish.
Its lush surrounding hills offer sweeping views across the water, with hardy souls able to take a dip in one of the beaches close to the village.
The area is surrounded by the ruins of medieval castles and ancient forts, with Drombeg Stone Circle, which is thought to date back over 3,000 years, located close by.
Barmouth is situated on the River Mawddacch estuary in Cardigan Bay.
Looking out across Cardigan Bay, with the southern Snowdonian mountains looming behind, Barmouth is a traditional Welsh gem.
Best reached on train via the 699-meter-long wooden viaduct, which dates to 1867, the vast beach here is wonderful year-round.
While it gets busy in summer, as autumn arrives and the winds whip up, Barmouth makes for the perfect, blustery British day out.
It’s possible to hire kayaks or stand-up paddleboards when the water is calm.
Lake Bohinj, Slovenia
Lake Bohinj — the largest permanent lake in Slovenia.
Lake Bohinj is often disregarded in favor of the more popular Lake Bled.
But Slovenia’s largest lake, set within the majestic Triglav National Park, is arguably just as spectacular.
Visitors can hire a bike or walk along the trails running around the lake to the impressive Savica waterfall or charming village Stara Fuzina.
Meanwhile, mountaineers have the option to strike out for the summit of Triglav if the weather is good.
Mediterranean town and amazing green landscape, Island of Susak, Croatia,; Shutterstock ID 86132260; Job: –
Situated on the northern Adriatic coast of Croatia, Susak offers a blissful alternative to the busier islands of Hvar and Vis.
Blessed with sandy beaches and shallow waters, it’s perfect for lounging and doing very little besides.
The fact that Susak is hard to reach, and lacks any roads to speak of, makes it an ideal destination for escaping the rigors of daily life.
Hortobagy National Park, Hungary
Hortobagy National Park is largest continuous natural grassland in Europe.
UNESCO-protected since 1999, Hungary’s first national park sits on the Great Plain, covering a massive 800 square kilometers.
Famous for its Nine Hole Bridge, the park is home to water buffalo, cranes and great bustards.
Stargazing here is particularly good due to its low human population and lack of light pollution, with the area designated an International Dark Sky Park.
Białowieża National Park, Poland
Białowieża National Park is Europe’s last remaining primaeval forest.
Wojtek Radwanski/AFP/Getty Images
Covering the central section of the Białowieża Forest, it’s no exaggeration to say this Polish national park is one of the most important in Europe.
It protects the last temperate primeval forest on the continent.
Bordering Belarus, it has the largest population of European bison in the world, not to mention verdant woods that give a rare insight into how Europe would have looked millennia ago.
Jurkalne Seashore Bluffs, Latvia
The picturesque Jurkalne Seashore Bluffs are based on the western coast of Latvia.
Known for its paragliding and windsurfing, Latvia’s Jurkalne Seashore Bluffs make for an excellent alternative seaside escape. The cliffs are wild and fast eroding, with a few meters disappearing into the Baltic Sea each year.
Untroubled by large numbers of tourists, its beaches offer great sunset views. The bluffs are best enjoyed during the summer.
Lake Vattern, Sweden
Lake Vattern is the second largest body of water in the country.
Measuring just under 84 miles in length, Sweden’s Lake Vattern is the archetypal Scandinavian lake.
The best way to explore Europe’s sixth largest lake is by driving along its banks. The beautiful wooden church at Habo, the pretty town of Hjo and Tiveden National Park, on the lake’s northern shore, are among its stand out sights.
In summer, be sure to take out an SUP or go for a dip in its refreshing water.