Best National Parks in the United Kingdom (UK)
U.K. Travel Bucket List – Best National Parks
The month is May and the year 2020, the World as we know it, has been in lockdown mode for the better part of the year now, as COVID – 19, is spreading like wildfire everywhere. The silver lining is that Mother Earth is healing, and while the world heals from this Pandemic, with all of us Staying at Home, we all can make the most of this Quarantine Life by adding different destinations to our Post COVID – 19 Travel Bucket List. Which in reference to this blog post is the Best National Parks in the UK.
More than 10 Travel Experts have contributed their suggestions about the Best National Parks in the United Kingdom, that I have curated and compiled for your ease, in alphabetical order, in this UK Travel Bucket List – The Best U.K. National Parks.
FYI – Rambling / Walking in England is a popular activity for all age groups, and the experience of rambling in the countryside is next to none ! It is also one of the Must Have experiences in England !
Brecon Beacons National Park
The Brecon Beacons National Park is one of the three national parks in Wales. The park is home to the famous Brecon Beacons range of mountains in the south of Wales, These mountains are the highest ones in southern Britain and they are famous for its magnificent upland formations.
This National park is less than 30 miles from Cardiff and 100 miles from Birmingham in England, and just a three-hour drive from London. Its outstanding waterfalls, caves, ancient landscape and beautiful lakes attract adventurers and nature lovers from all over the world. Here is where you can get active and create some unforgettable memories.
There are numerous walking routes and hiking trails for any fitness levels. If you want to take your hike an extra mile, you can go rock climbing on some amazing spots in the park, where you have a coastal view.
Cycling and mountain biking are also a great way to explore The Brecon Beacon. Some cyclists like to enjoy riding peacefully on a canal path next to the river while some prefer to go for more challenging climbs. There is different terrain in the park, including roads, lanes and hillside tracks.
If you are looking for a fabulous place to mountain bike you can head to the south to Bike Park Wales, where you can find several downhill tracks of varying difficulty.
The national park is also a great destination for horseback riding. There are bridle paths and tracks. Some people might say The Brecon Beacon is one of the best ridings in Europe.
There are many brilliant organised group activities like Canoeing, Kayaking, Paddleboarding and White Water Rafting in the national park.
You can stay in Parkwood Outdoors Dolygaer which offers different types of accommodations such as cottages, lodges, and chalets. This centre also offers different activities including caving, stand up paddleboarding, and canyoning.
There are also various caravan and camping sites in the park. Make sure stargazing when the sky is clear. Here is one of the best locations in the UK to watch the sky during the nights.
While in the Brecon Beacons, make sure to take the Four Falls Walk which takes you to four amazing waterfalls.
By Mansoureh Farahani from Travel With Mansoureh
Cairngorms National Park
If you’re an outdoor/ nature lover, you need to put the Cairngorms National Park onto your Scotland Itinerary. This incredible place is the largest National Park in the UK and was voted one of the top 20 places to visit IN THE WORLD by National Geographic!
The park is 4500 sq kms (which is bigger than the whole of Luxembourg) and contains mountains, valleys, castles, distilleries and watersports. There’s something to do for everyone.
One of our favourite things to do was hike. There are multiple trails and walks within the park (guides are available from the tourist offices if you’d like one), or you can just turn up and wander wherever you fancy. Dog walking is encouraged, but the area is full of wildlife, so please be aware and obey local signage.
It’s possible to walk for a short time, find a quiet spot and enjoy a picnic, or plan a more advanced hike right up into the mountains, where the views are breathtaking. A word of caution- the weather can change VERY quickly in this area, so please carry appropriate equipment/ clothing.
If hiking isn’t for you, how about some sport? Within the Cairngorms you can enjoy cycling, skiing or play golf at one of the 12 golf courses! There’s also a bungee-jump (the first permanent one in the UK) and a sled dog centre.
For water lovers, there’s fishing, kayaking, windsurfing, rafting, swimming or gorge walking. There are several watersports centres in the park and they offer lessons, hire or even wildlife watching tours from the water- where you can glide quietly past local birds and animals as they sit on the river banks- a magical way to start the day.
If you’re not travelling Scotland in a motorhome or camper, there are plenty of places to stay within the park, including local B & Bs, hotels, hostels, campsites and log cabins. You need to stay for at least 3 days to really experience everything the park has to offer.
If all the sport and hiking sounds utterly exhausting, many of the hotels offer beauty/ spa services and pools, so you can relax and unwind as much as you like.
There are many places to eat and drink within the park- restaurants, cafes and shops are plentiful, but there are also farmers markets, local artisan shops, food and drink workshops and of course the distilleries, where you can enjoy a ‘wee dram’.
By Kathryn Bird from Wandering Bird
Exmoor National Park
Exmoor National Park is located in the South West of England on the borders of Somerset and North Devon. It was designated as a National Park in 1954, It is located south of Minehead between Taunton and Tiverton and its outer boundaries are just a short distance from the M5 motorway. It has a wide range of landscapes from high moors including Dunkery Beacon. This peak is the highest point in the south of England outside of Dartmoor. From the moorland farmland tumbles down to the Somerset Coast. This is unique in the UK and was one of the reasons for the National Park designation. The moorland reaches the coast in spectacular 400m cliffs with Great Hangman being the highest sheer sea cliff in England and Wales at 244m.
Dotted through the landscape are small villages with old cottages with thatched roofs and beautiful gardens. The landscape is ancient with archaeology being present in the form of hillforts and Norman Castles including the stunning red Dunster Castle. Tarrs Steps near Dulverton is an ancient clapper bridge and is believed to have been in place since the Bronze Age.
Exmoor is wild and remote with a wide range of nature. In the autumn it is one of the best places in the country to experience the red deer rut. Stags battle for territory, battling with other males to win the right to mate with their hinds. Their deep calls can be heard echoing across the landscape and the clash of antlers is a sight to be seen. Finding this behaviour is not easy but there are a number of ‘stalkers’ who can help you find and watch the stags.
Exmoor also has its own Exmoor Ponies. These are small, stocky ponies that have roamed the landscape for over 50000 years and are documented in the Domesday Book in 1086. They have a dark bay colouring with a lighter mealy colour around the muzzle and underbelly. They are semi-feral and roam across the moorland helping to conserve the landscape with their grazing. Completely silent they have a gentle and docile attitude to life and will slowly saunter off if they are disturbed.
Exmoor has beautiful walks, some of which can be quite technical, especially in the winter months. The coast is perfect for rock pooling and sea kayaking although access down the steep cliffs has to be planned at access points.
Exmoor can be visited at any time of the year. In winter the higher points near Dunkery Beacon can have a dusting of snow and driving can be hard. In the summer months the moor can be busy with visitors but there is enough space to escape and be alone in the landscape.
By Suzanne from Meandering Wild
Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park
Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park in UK is a relatively young park with its birthday/confirmation of formation date being 19th July 2002.
It is the 4th largest national park in the British Isles and it covers 1,865 square kilometres of Scottish Highlands, and is an integral experience of your Trip to Scotland, when you plan your 7 Day Scotland Travel Itinerary. The park is easily accessible by car, or public transport from Perth or Glasgow with many accommodation options all around the park.
An outdoor enthusiast won’t be bored visiting the area, in fact rather opposite; be prepared to be spoilt by a choice of activities.
Those who love walking can find 21 munros (Scottish mountains with a summit of more than 3000ft), with Ben Lomond being the most southerly munro. But this is not the end yet, the park is home to 19 corbetts (mountains over 2,500ft), with Ben A’an being our all-time favourite due to its amazing views over Loch Katrine.
For experienced climbers, The National Park offers many multi-pitch routes and bolted sport climbing, with the iconic mountain The Cobbler (or Ben Arthur) in Arrochar Alps. If you have no previous climbing experience but are keen to try, visit McLaren Community Leisure Centre in Callander for an indoor climbing wall and/or get lessons from a qualified instructor.
Cyclists can enjoy many car-free routes, including a route along Loch Katrine, suitable for the whole family. Within the park borders one can find routes at different levels of difficulties, suitable for road and mountain bikes.
Since Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park is also a home to the largest lake in the UK, and over 20 stunning lochs (Scottish word for lakes) opportunities for water sports are endless as well. If you dare you can dip for a swim in freshwater, but it is Scotland after all, so expect the water to be very cold.
Kayaking, canoeing or paddling are very popular activities. The park provides opportunities for each level; try smaller and sheltered Loch Lubnaig if you are a beginner. Love the challenge, then enjoy amazing Loch Lomond or try open water at Loch Drunkie. The options are endless!
Even windsurfing lovers won’t be disappointed visiting the park as Loch Lomond is a popular windsurfing destination.
It is not common to find golf courses in a national park. But we are talking about Scotland, the home of golf. So you probably won’t be surprised to learn that there are 7 golf courses within the borders of the park.
By Beata from Stunning Outdoors
When looking for the best national parks in the UK, the Peak District springs to mind. After exploring some outdoor spots in and around Sheffield I went to look for the closest places to visit in the Peak District from Sheffield. The residents of South Yorkshire will tell you just how lucky they are to have the Peak District on the doorstep. However, with the Peak District covering such a large area you can’t explore all the sites in the national park within one day. Because the park stretches over many counties, depending on where you are on the map, your experience will be completely unique. From Sheffield, you can easily visit the Longshaw Estate.
As part of the National Trust, this charity is set up specifically to conserve historic and natural landscapes, and own a percentage of the land in the Peak District National Park. These are landscapes that makeup and can be seen from the Longshaw Estate and bordering footpaths. This gives nature lovers an opportunity to be amongst some of the most preserved nature in the UK. Arriving at the visitor center of this National Trust Property you can start your route at the in house shooting lodge offering spectacular views of the rolling hills of Desert Valley. Following the windy trails, you discover unusual sites here such as millstone quarries to packhorse routes. If you are located in the nearby city of Sheffield you can arrive here by means of a car or public transport.
The Peak District and estates like Longshaw offer visitors looking for things to do in Sheffield and want to escape to the outdoors in a short space of time. Like most of the national parks, there are many things you can get involved with. Many visitors come here for hiking, abseiling, bouldering and even camping plus there is even more you can get up to. The grounds are open all year round apart from the 24th to the 26th of December. The area has total access including disabled toilets and available wheelchairs. Fox house pub is also another popular local stop which serves a traditional
British lunch located along the walk nearby, this is also a great starting point to get to the Longshaw Estate or walk further in the Peak District. So when looking for a national park in the UK to get outside and enjoy the crisp taste of air, head out to Sheffield’s peak district and the Longshaw Estate.
By Daniel James from Urban Road
North Yorkshire Moors National Park
The North Yorkshire Moors National park is a beautiful national park in the north of England. Famous for moody landscapes, pretty purple heather, old steam trains and beautiful coastal villages there is so much to see and do in this wonderful UK national park. It is perfect for adventure and nature lovers alike!
The North Yorkshire Moors was one of the first national parks in the UK. It is easy to see why with its wonderfully varied landscapes. Nature lovers can choose from 3 main types of landscapes in the North Yorkshire Moors: woodland, coastal and moorland. There are also many ways to explore these Yorkshire landscapes.
The North Yorkshire Moors is a hiker’s paradise. You can climb wonderfully named peaks such as Roseberry Topping or walk along the coastline. There are also strange features such as the Devil’s Punchbowl to wander in! For many though, just wondering amongst the heather in August is a highlight of any trip to the North Yorkshire Moors national park. Also, the abundance of rain in this national park means there are some wonderful waterfalls! The waterfalls in Yorkshire are spectacular and you must add Old Meggisson and Falling Foss to your waterfalls in the North Yorkshire Moors bucket list!
Nature lovers will enjoy the beautiful landscapes whether on foot or by train! The North Yorkshire Moors Railway is a heritage railway that runs through the North Yorkshire Moors national park. It was closed but has reopened and is now a major tourist attraction in the area. Therefore, if you don’t fancy getting muddy boots, you can sit in the warmth and admire the beautiful landscape from the comfort of your train seat. If you would like to admire the coastline why not hop on a boat?! There are tours of Whitby harbour or you can join the Three sisters boat trip for the chance to see whales, dolphins and sea birds!
If you are an adventure lover you might enjoy an adrenaline rush at Dalby forest! Dalby Forest is one of the biggest trail centres in England which offers trails for all abilities. If you are looking for an adventure in the North Yorkshire Moors this is a good place to find it!
There is so much to see and do in this magnificent UK national park. Both adventure lovers and nature lovers will love visiting the North Yorkshire Moors.
By Anna from My Travel Scrapbook
Northumberland National Park
Northumberland National Park is England’s northernmost National Park connecting the area between Hadrian’s Wall and the Scottish border in the north. Northumberland National Park is all the more stunning as its one of the least visited and populated of England’s National Parks.
The park covers more than 1,000 square kilometres and includes historic houses, like Cragside, to the immense Kielder Water reservoir and the incredible Hadrian’s Wall, which runs from the east to the west coast of the country.
Northumberland National Park is an outstanding park to visit for adventure and nature lovers because of the outdoor activities it offers. The Park is a Dark Skies site and I can think of nowhere better to get a great look at the night sky without light pollution. There are many holiday cottages that can be rented within the park areas that are literally in the middle of nowhere, so if it’s splendid isolation you’re looking for, then it’s here you need to come.
There are more than 700 miles of walking paths in the National Park, with trails for all standards – including the Hadrian’s Walk trail from coast to coast and sections of the Pennine Way. The Kielder Water National Reserve, which is entirely within Northumberland National Park provides for canoeing, sailing and water skiing and is surrounded by glorious walks. For history lovers, the iconic Hadrian’s Wall is a fascinating trail to talk, either in bite-sized daily pieces or in its entirety – the 135 kilometres route goes from east coast to the west coast.
As one of the least populated and least visited National Parks, Northumberland National Park is a fabulous place to see the natural world. Here many rivers are home to salmon and trout and annual salmon leaps – where salmon’s return to their spawning ground to breed is a sight to behold. And when it comes to animals Northumberland has one of England’s secrets. The park is one of the few places that is still home to the native red squirrel. In most of England, you can only see the grey squirrel, introduced from the United States, but the red squirrel has made its home here in the woodlands and forest of the National Park.
Northumberland National Park is a stunning, vast area that is all the more special because there are very few visitors here, so head north and experience this amazing place!
By Sarah from Let’s Grow Cook
Peak District National Park
The Peak District was the first national park in the UK, and still remains one of the most visited. The national park spans 555 square miles and is located within five counties, Derbyshire, Cheshire, Staffordshire, Yorkshire and Greater Manchester. It is one of the most accessible national parks in the UK as it is within a four hour drive for 80% of the UK, making it no surprise that over 10 million people visit a year. The Peak District has 65 miles of off road cycling trails, and 1600 miles of hiking paths and even one of the longest walking trails in the UK, the Pennine Way passes through the Peak District.
The landscape of the park is made up of moorlands, hills and farmlands, and the highest point, Kinder Scout is 636 metres above sea level.
One of the quaintest villages in the Peak District is Castleton in Hope Valley. It has long been a hotspot for hikers, outdoor lovers and history buffs. Situated in Derbyshire, the village can be reached by car or train. The train journey from Sheffield is only half an hour, making it highly accessible.
The charming village of Castleton, is known for being home to Mam Tor, also known as Shivering Mountain. The top of Mam Tor provides dramatic views of the Peak District, and the hike takes only two hours from the village centre, making it a popular amongst families as well as seasoned trekkers.
Looming high above Castleton is also the 11th century ruins of Peveril Castle, one of England’s earliest Norman fortresses. The castle makes for another great hike in the area as it is perched well above Hope Valley.
For those who would rather take in some history, Castleton is home to some of the best show caves and caverns in the country, such as Speedwell Cavern, Peak Cavern and Treak Cliff Cavern. To end your visit a traditional afternoon tea or a pub lunch is a must, especially when visiting this beautiful English village in the Peak District.
By Roshni from The Wanderlust Within
Pembrokeshire National Park
The Pembrokeshire Coast National Park is unique among all UK National Parks, as it’s the only coastal National Park in the country. Most of it is concentrated around the coast of the county of Pembrokeshire in south-west Wales, with a small section inland encompassing the Preseli Hills, a wild, remote range in the north of the county.
Pembrokeshire has always had something of a historic divide, between the Anglicised south and the Welsh-speaking north. The coastal scenery is often wild throughout the county, but it’s more rugged in the north, and there are also far less beaches than the south.
As far as adventure goes, one of the best things to do in Pembrokeshire is the coastal walking. The Pembrokeshire Coast Path was always a bit of a holy grail for long distance walkers, keen to cover the 186 miles (299 km) – this has since been incorporated into the Wales Coast Path, of which it’s one of the best two or three sections. I’ve walked most of the Path, just not in one go.
If you’re a beginner, an 8-mile (12 km) circular walk starting and finishing in the tiny city of St David’s, with the golden sands of Caerfai Bay your first stop. If you’re a more seasoned walker, the final northern section of the walk, from Newport to St Dogmaels, is one of the best coastal hikes you’ll ever attempt.
There are plenty of other activities for the adventurer in Pembrokeshire. It’s one of the places where coasteering – navigating the coastline at sea level – began, and St Non’s Bay, to the south of St David’s, is a great setting for this. You can also try your hand at sea kayaking at nearby Porth Clais, or surfing 6 miles (10 km) east at fantastic Newgale beach.
Pembrokeshire is also known throughout the UK and beyond for its beaches. Barafundle Bay, in the south of the county, is one of the most popular, and I’d also recommend Whitesands Bay near St David’s and Freshwater West, in the south of the county. As for a base to explore Pembrokeshire, St David’s is great, with a medieval cathedral that is the most impressive church in Wales. The seaside town of Tenby is another favourite, with three awesome beaches and one of the most picturesque harbours on the planet.
By David Angel from Delve into Europe
Snowdonia National Park
The Snowdonia National Park is located in a mountainous region in the Northwestern part of Wales. It has a total size of 823 square miles and was actually the first to be designated as a national park in Wales in 1951. It is home to some of the highest peaks in the UK outside of Scotland.
Why should you visit? Well, Snowdonia is a dream. It consists of lush green hills, picturesque villages, lots and lots of fluffy sheep and a totally romantic scenery. Still, there is lots of adventure waiting to be discovered – from intense hikes over mountain biking at Coed y Brenin to trying out the longest zip line in Europe at Zip World Velocity. There is really so much to see and do!
But there are also a few hidden treasures that you should put on your list: The South of the park in particular is still a real insider tip away from the hustle and bustle and the demanding tours on the ridges of the Cader Idris is amazing as well as Bodnant Garden, which is one of the most beautiful British gardens.
Even if Snowdon can be overcrowded at times, you shouldn’t miss the highest mountain in Wales. There are many paths to its summit in various degrees of difficulty and it does give you the best feeling to actually reach the peak, feeling super tired but also super proud.
A trip to Newborough Warren, one of the most beautiful dune landscapes in Great Britain, is also worthwhile. This patch of Earth is very popular with the Welsh. The beach is full of families and youth groups splashing, grilling and/or drinking beer in the water. We suggest taking a leisurely stroll to the tidal island of Ynys Llanddwyn. According to legend, Dor founded a monastery at Dwynwen, the patron saint of Welsh lovers.
Not an insider tip, but the hike up to the Cnicht is still nice and quite lonely! The Cnicht is often referred to as the “Matterhorn of Wales” due to its striking shape. According to our hiking guide, the tour to its summit should last 6 hours, whereas it took us 3 hours to make it to the top. I don’t know how we did it, but I guess we found a secret shortcut, which is so secret that we met no one but dirty sheep. We won’t tell you where it is, but we’re sure you’ll find it!
By Clemens Sehi from Travellers Archive
South Downs National Park
South Downs National Park is located in south-east England. This is the youngest national park in Great Britain. It covers an area of approximately 1,600 square kilometres and stretches over 140 kilometres between the city of Winchester in the west and Eastbourne in the east. South Downs National Park was established only in 2010. Although its creation was recommended in 1947, it took the authorities 52 years to make a decision. Implementation of the plan took another decade. Finally, the park opened its doors officially only on April 1, 2011.
The park stretches across three counties: Hampshire, West Sussex and East Sussex. It covers the range of Cretaceous South Down hills, which terminate in the chalky cliffs of Beachy Head in Eastbourne, and much of West Weald, which is characterized by heavily forested sandstone and clay hills and valleys. Visiting this part of England is a must! Our favourite place is Seven Sister Cliffs – one of the most stunning landscapes in Southern England. 160 km South Downs Way runs through the park, which is one of the National Trails long distance routes in Great Britain and the only one that lies entirely within the national park.
Thanks to very good train connections with London, the area is the favourite destination for weekend getaways for the residents of the British capital. The hills are a great place for walking, cycling and horse riding. There are as many as 3200 kilometres of well-marked paths throughout the park, so everybody will find a suitable trial.
South Downs is not only nature, but also history. Man has already inhabited these lands in prehistoric times. Most archaeological finds come from the Roman period. However, the most famous is Cissbury Ring – the second largest fort in the UK and one of the largest in Europe. The chalky cliffs of Beachy Head attract not only tourists but also film crews. It was here that he reached the shore after the crusade “Robin Hood Prince of Thieves” played by Kevin Costner.
If you love nature and plan visiting one of the National Parks in the UK, start with South Downs. It really is one of the most stunning parks in the United Kingdom!
By Darek from Darek and Gosia
Yorkshire Dales National Park
Yorkshire is the largest county in the UK so it is no surprise that it is also home to one of the most stunning National Parks in the UK. The Yorkshire Dales National Park was formed in 1954 in recognition of its extraordinary natural beauty and was extended to reach further into Cumbria, Lancashire and more of Yorkshire in 2016.
The Yorkshire Dales National Park is a vast and interesting place to visit and can occupy any outdoor enthusiast for months with an array of activities, sights to see and more. You won’t just be filled with natural beauty and stunning views but also warm welcomes and kind hearts welcoming you into their homes and villages.
Depending on what you love to do will depend on where in the Yorkshire Dales National Park you want to go. Though anywhere you go you will find something to do. If you like to visit film locations then the Yorkshire Dales is a place for you, with scenes from Harry Potter films at Malham Cove’s stunning limestone walls and villages such as Kettlewell playing a big role in the 2003 Calendar Girls film starring Dame Helen Mirren and Julie Walters.
One of the biggest challenges for hiking enthusiasts is the Yorkshire Three Peaks, a 24-mile hike up three of the biggest hills, Pen-y-Ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough in the Yorkshire Dales. This can be done as part of a tour, by yourself (there are some rules before taking on the challenge) or as part of fundraising activity.
One of my favourite activities to do while in the Yorkshire Dales is walking and hiking. There are stunning views and walks around the villages, to waterfalls and by rivers. Visit some of the stunning limestone features with the most popular being Malham Cove and don’t forget to see the peaceful reservoir of Malham Tarn.
Other activities include rock climbing, nature works and visiting some of the many waterfalls in and around the hills and villages. Many of the local village pubs have beer gardens that back onto rivers and streams so you can spend a sunny afternoon having lunch by the water. Along with visiting places above ground level, you can also explore some of the natural caves such as Yordas Cave or Ingleborough Caves.
There are so many diverse activities you can do in and around the Yorkshire Dales National Park that it would take a lifetime to see and do them all.
By Helen & Cora Harrison from Inside Our Suitcase
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