This thesis proposes an improvement of the classical finite element method (FEM) for an efficient treatment of curved boundaries: the NURBS- enhanced FEM (NEFEM), It is able to exactly represent the geometry by means of the usual CAD boundary representation with non-uniform rational B- splines (NURBS), while the solution is approximated with a standard piecewise polynomial interpolation. Therefore, in the vast majority of the domain, interpolation and numerical integration are standard, preserving the classical finite element (FE) convergence properties, and allowing a seamless coupling with standard FEs on the domain interior. Specifically designed polynomial interpolation and numerical integration are designed only for those elements affected by the NURBS boundary representation. The implementation and application of NEFEM to problems demanding an accurate boundary representation are also primary goals of this thesis. For instance, the numerical solution of Maxwell's equations is highly sensitive to geometry description. The application of NEFEM to electromagnetic scattering problems using a discontinuous Galerkin formulation is presented. The ability of NEFEM to compute an accurate solution with coarse meshes and high-order approximations is investigated, and the possibilities of NEFEM meshes, with elements containing edge or corner singularities, are explored. With NEFEM, the mesh size is no longer subsidiary to geometry complexity, and depends only on the accuracy requirements on the solution, whereas standard FEs require mesh refinement to properly capture the geometry. This implies a drastic difference in mesh size that results in drastic memory savings, and also important savings in computational cost. Thus, NEFEM is a powerful tool for large-scale scattering simulations with complex geometries in three dimensions. Another key issue in the numerical solution of electromagnetic scattering problems is using a mechanism to perform the absorption of outgoing waves. Two perfectly matched layers are discussed, optimized and compared in a high-order discontinuous Galerkin framework. The numerical solution of Euler equations of gas dynamics is also very sensitive to geometry description. Using a discontinuous Galerkin formulation and linear isoparametric elements, a spurious entropy production may prevent convergence to the correct solution. With NEFEM, the exact imposition of the solid wall boundary condition provides accurate results even with a linear approximation of the solution. Furthermore, the exact boundary representation allows using coarse meshes, but ensuring the proper implementation of the solid wall boundary condition. An attractive feature of the proposed implementation is that the usual routines of a standard FE code can be directly used, namely routines for the computation of elemental matrices and vectors, assembly, etc. It is only necessary to implement new routines for the computation of numerical quadratures in curved elements and to store the value of shape functions at integration points. Several curved FE techniques have been proposed in the literature. In this thesis, NEFEM is compared with some popular curved FE techniques (namely isoparametric FEs, cartesian FEs and p-FEM), from three different perspectives: theoretical aspects, implementation and performance. In every example shown, NEFEM is at least one order of magnitude more accurate compared to other techniques. Moreover, for a desired accuracy NEFEM is also computationally more efficient. In some examples, NEFEM needs only 50% of the number of degrees of freedom required by isoparametric FEs or p-FEM. Thus, the use of NEFEM is strongly recommended in the presence of curved boundaries and/or when the boundary of the domain has complex geometric details.