Since the 1990s, the number of national human rights institutions (NHRIs or 'national institutions') has been growing in Europe. The aim of these institutions is to help implement international human rights at the national level and narrow the gap between government and civil society. After discussing the history and role as well as the advantages of creating national institutions in European states, this article analyses the different models of composition and the principal competences of NHRIs in light of the Paris Principles that provide guidelines for these institutions. The NHRIs also create networks at national and regional levels. The article highlights how NHRIs in Europe can contribute to the implementation of human rights and what structure, functions and relationships they may adopt in order to ensure their effectiveness.