From the Highlands to the South Coast: 15 National Parks to Explore in the UK
In recent years, times have gotten tougher for everyone. From economic uncertainty to ongoing travel restrictions, it can feel difficult to find ways to escape the pressures of daily life. However, one silver lining of these challenging times has been a renewed appreciation for our homeland and the beauty that surrounds us. Staycations have boomed as people look to explore the natural wonders of the UK, and there's no better way to do so than by visiting one of the country's 15 national parks. From the rugged peaks of Snowdonia to the tranquil waters of the Broads, the UK's national parks offer a wealth of opportunities to connect with nature and escape the stresses of everyday life.
Cairngorms National Park
Location: 🏴 Scotland
Highlights: 🏔️🚂 The Cairngorm Mountain Railway for a trip to the summit of Cairn Gorm mountain for stunning views across the park.
The Cairngorms National Park is the largest national park in the UK, covering an area of 1,748 square miles in the Scottish Highlands. It is home to the Cairngorm Mountains, which are some of the highest and most dramatic peaks in the UK, and includes several other mountain ranges, forests, and rivers, as well as being home to some of the UK's most important Caledonian pine forests.
There's ample opportunities for hiking, mountain biking, skiing, and wildlife watching (keep your eyes peeled for red deer, golden eagles, mountain hares and ospreys), or day trips to the Cairngorms National Park Visitor Center in Grantown-on-Spey or the Highland Wildlife Park near Kingussie.
Or, if you're after something a little different, the Cairngorm Mountain Railway (the highest railway in the UK) will take you to the summit of Cairn Gorm mountain for stunning views across the park, which is home to several historic sites, including the ruined Corgarff Castle and the 16th-century Braemar Castle.
Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park
Location: 🏴 Scotland
Highlights: 🥾 West Highland Way, a 96-mile (154 km) long-distance hiking trail that runs from Milngavie.
Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park is Scotland's first national park, established in 2002. It covers an area of 720 square miles (1,865 square kilometers) and includes the stunning Loch Lomond, which is the largest freshwater lake in the UK by volume and is home to over 20% of the UK's plant species. The park is also home to 21 Munros (mountains over 3,000 feet) and a range of wildlife, including red deer, golden eagles, and ospreys.
One of the most popular attractions in the park is the West Highland Way, a 96-mile (154 km) long-distance hiking trail that runs from Milngavie, on the outskirts of Glasgow, to Fort William in the Scottish Highlands. The trail takes in some of the park's most stunning landscapes, including Loch Lomond, Rannoch Moor, and the Devil's Staircase.
Take a day trip (or two!) kayaking, fishing or cycling, or visit one of the many visitor centres like the Loch Lomond Shores complex, home to plenty of shops, restaurants, and a sealife aquarium. The park is also home to several historic sites, including the ruins of Kilchurn Castle and Rob Roy's Cave.
Northumberland National Park
Location: 🇬🇧 Northumberland, UK
Highlights: Hadrian's Wall, a World Heritage Site that dates back to Roman times.
The Northumberland National Park is the least populated national park in the UK, with just 2.5 people per square km, and is home to some of the most unspoiled landscapes in the country - including the stunning Cheviot Hills, which straddle the border between England and Scotland.
This National Park is home to the UK's largest area of protected night sky, making it one of the best places in Europe for stargazing, and several historic sites including Hadrian's Wall, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that dates back to Roman times.
There are plenty of walking trails, including the infamous Pennine Way which runs through the park from the Scottish Borders to the Peak District, and areas to hike, kayak or explore on your mountain bike. The national park is also home to several small villages, including the picturesque village of Rothbury, which is known for its stunning views of the surrounding countryside.
We recommend taking a day trip to Kielder Water and Forest Park, to see the largest man-made lake in northern Europe (the lake holds 200 billion litres of water!).
Lake District National Park
Location: 🇬🇧 Cumbria, UK
Highlights: 🌊 🏔️ Lake Windermere, the largest lake in England, and Scafell Pike, the highest mountain in England.
The Lake District National Park is one of the most popular national parks in the UK, attracting around 15 million visitors each year, and is famous for its stunning scenery, including its many lakes, mountains, and valleys.
This national park is home to some of the UK's most iconic landscapes, including England's deepest and longest lakes and some of the highest peaks in England, including Scafell Pike, which stands at 978 meters tall. It's also home to several historic sites, including the remains of several stone circles and the 14th-century Muncaster Castle.
The Lake District National Park has several walking trails, including the popular Wainwright's Coast to Coast Walk, which crosses the park from the Irish Sea to the North Sea, and is home to several small towns and villages like Ambleside, which is known for its charming streets and picturesque setting on the shores of Lake Windermere.
We recommend checking out Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway, which is a narrow-gauge steam railway that runs for 7 miles through the stunning Eskdale Valley. The park is also home to several museums, including the Beatrix Potter Gallery in Hawkshead, which celebrates the life and work of the famous children's author.
The Yorkshire Dales National Park
Location: 🇬🇧 North Yorkshire, UK
Highlights: Malham Cove, a dramatic limestone formation, and the Ribblehead Viaduct, a spectacular feat of engineering.
Home to the famous Three Peaks Challenge (which involves climbing the three highest peaks in the area in under 12 hours), the Yorkshire Dales is located in North Yorkshire and is known for its stunning landscape of rolling hills, dramatic valleys, moorlands and limestone cliffs, as well as being home to some of the UK's most impressive waterfalls and caves, including the White Scar Cave - one of the longest show caves in Britain.
If you're looking for a challenge, you must include the Pennine Way on your travels, the walking trail will take 16 - 19 days to complete and runs through the park from Derbyshire to Scotland.
Or, take several day trip to see the Aysgarth Falls, a stunning set of waterfalls that cascade down over several tiers, visit one of the several small towns and villages, including Hawes, which is known for its charming shops and traditional market, or historic sites like the 12th-century Bolton Castle or the 16th-century Swaledale Museum.
The Yorkshire Dales National Park is rich in industrial heritage, with numerous former lead mines and quarries dotted throughout the landscape. If you have time, we recommend visiting the Settle-Carlisle Railway, which is a scenic railway that runs for 73 miles through the heart of the park.
North York Moors National Park
Location: 🇬🇧 North Yorkshire, UK
Highlights: Seal colonies at Blakeney Point and the picturesque village of Cley-next-the-Sea.
The North York Moors is not far away from the Yorkshire Dales National Park, and is known for its similar wild and rugged landscapes, from heather moorlands and wooded valleys to dramatic coastline. The park is home to a variety of wildlife, including red grouse, roe deer, and the rare and elusive adder snake.
The famous North Yorkshire Moors Railway also runs through the heart of the national park, running for 18 miles between Pickering and Grosmont, where you can enjoy the stunning scenery of the park while riding on a vintage steam train! The National Park is also home to several historic sites, including the ruins of Rievaulx Abbey, one of the most important and well-preserved Cistercian monasteries in England.
The North York Moors National Park is also known for its rich geological history, with several important geological features, including the striking limestone cliffs of the coast and the unique rock formations of the inland moors.
Walk the Cleveland Way, a 109 mile trail through the park and along the coast, or visit several charming fishing villages, including Staithes and Robin Hood's Bay, which offer visitors a glimpse into the area's rich maritime history.
Peak District National Park
Location: 🇬🇧 Central UK
Highlights: Kinder Scout, the highest point in the Peak District, and the Blue John Cavern, a series of underground caves.
The Peak District National Park is located in the central part of England and is the oldest national park in the UK, having been established in 1951. The park is known for its stunning landscapes, which include rolling hills, rugged moorland, and dramatic limestone cliffs.
One of the most popular attractions in the park is the spectacular natural limestone cave system at Castleton, known as the Peak Cavern, which has been used by humans for thousands of years. Take a guided tour of the cave system and explore its winding passages and underground chambers.
The park is also home to several historic sites, including the medieval Peveril Castle, which sits atop a rocky outcrop overlooking the village of Castleton - spend some time exploring the castle ruins and enjoy stunning views of the surrounding countryside.
The Pennine Way, a walking trail which takes 16 - 19 days to complete and runs through the park from Derbyshire to Scotland (we also mentioned this in the Yorkshire Dales National Park), runs for over 400 kilometers through the Peak District.
The park is home to a variety of wildlife, including red deer, mountain hares, and several rare bird species, such as the peregrine falcon and the ring ouzel. We strongly recommend taking day trips to visit the park's charming towns and villages, such as Bakewell and Matlock, which offer a taste of traditional English country life.
The Broads National Park
Location: 🇬🇧 Norfolk and Suffolk
Highlights: Beautiful medieval architecture including the Norman Cathedral and Castle.
The Broads National Park is located in Norfolk and Suffolk and is the UK's largest protected wetland and a haven for wildlife. The park is known for its unique landscape, characterised by over 125 miles of navigable rivers and lakes known as "broads", and is home to over a quarter of the UK's rarest species, including bitterns, swallowtail butterflies, and fen orchids.
One of the best ways to explore the park is by boat, and there are plenty of places to hire a motorboat or take a guided tour to explore the waterways. Along the way you'll see a variety of wildlife, with over 400 species of bird recorded in the area, including rare species like the bittern and the marsh harrier, as well as otters, water voles, and a variety of fish.
The Broads National Park is also home to a number of charming towns and villages, including Wroxham, the "capital of the Broads", where you can cycle, walk or fish, or explore the local shops and restaurants.
The park also has several nature reserves, such as Hickling Broad and Ranworth Broad, where visitors can take guided walks and learn about the unique ecology of the area. There are also several museums and visitor centers, such as the Broads Authority Visitor Center, which provide information about the history and ecology of the park.
Don't miss the historic city of Norwich, located on the River Wensum, known for its beautiful medieval architecture, including the Norman Cathedral and Castle, as well as its vibrant arts and culture scene.
Snowdonia National Park
Location: 🏴 Wales
Highlights: Mount Snowdon, the highest peak in Wales. Visitors can take the Snowdon Mountain Railway to the summit, or choose from a variety of hiking trails that lead to the top.
Snowdonia National Park is located in North Wales and is home to more than 26,000 hectares of ancient oak woodland, which is one of the most important habitats for wildlife in the UK, but is more often known for its rugged and mountainous landscapes, which includes the highest peak in Wales, Mount Snowdon, which stands at 1,085 meters tall.
Hiking is one of the most popular activities in Snowdonia, and there are a variety of trails for all skill levels. In addition to Mount Snowdon, other popular peaks include Tryfan and the Glyders. For those looking for a more relaxed experience, there are also several scenic drives through the park, such as the Snowdonia Round Tour and the Llanberis Pass.
The park is also home to a number of picturesque towns and villages, such as Betws-y-Coed, which offers a range of outdoor activities such as zip-lining, and Llanberis, which is home to the National Slate Museum and the Llanberis Lake Railway.
In addition to its natural beauty, Snowdonia National Park also has a rich cultural history. The park is home to a number of historic sites, such as the Dolwyddelan Castle, which dates back to the 13th century, and the Plas Mawr Elizabethan Town House in Conwy.
One of the most unique features of Snowdonia National Park is the Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railways, which offer visitors a chance to ride on narrow-gauge steam trains through the park's stunning landscapes.
Pembrokeshire Coast National Park
Location: 🏴 Wales
Highlights: Skomer Island, a nature reserve that is home to thousands of puffins!
Located in the southwest of Wales, Pembrokeshire Coast National Park is known for its rugged coastline, sandy beaches, and stunning seascapes - it is the only national park in the UK that is predominantly coastal.
The park is home to a diverse range of wildlife, including seals, dolphins, and a variety of seabirds such as puffins, guillemots, and razorbills. In addition to its natural beauty, the park also has a rich cultural history, with numerous historic sites dating back to the Iron Age and Roman times.
Hiking is a popular activity in the park, with hundreds of miles of public footpaths and bridleways to explore. The Pembrokeshire Coast Path, which runs for 186 miles along the coast, is one of the most popular walking routes in the UK.
The park is also a popular destination for water sports enthusiasts, with activities such as surfing, kayaking, and coasteering available. In addition, there are several picturesque towns and villages within the park, such as Tenby and St. David's, which offer a range of attractions such as castles, museums, and art galleries.
One of the most unique features of Pembrokeshire Coast National Park is the Skomer Island, a nature reserve that is home to thousands of puffins, as well as other seabirds and seals. Visitors can take a boat trip to the island and explore its rugged landscapes and abundant wildlife.
Pembrokeshire Coast is located in Wales and is known for its stunning coastline, which includes rugged cliffs, sandy beaches, and sheltered coves. The park is home to a variety of wildlife, such as dolphins, seals, and seabirds, and visitors can enjoy hiking, cycling, surfing, and more.
Bannau Brycheiniog (Brecon Beacons) National Park
Location: 🏴 Wales
Highlights: The Three Peaks (Pen y Fan, Corn Du, and Cribyn) and the waterfalls at Pontneddfechan
Located in South Wales, the Bannau Brycheiniog National Park is named after the peaks of Brychan's kingdom, the highest mountain range in southern Britain. Covering an area of 1,344 square km, the park is known for its stunning landscapes, rugged mountains, and rolling hills.
One of the most popular activities in the park is hiking, with a range of trails available for all abilities. The park is home to the famous Pen y Fan mountain, which is the highest peak in southern Britain and offers stunning views of the surrounding countryside.
The park is also home to several picturesque towns and villages, such as Brecon, Crickhowell, and Abergavenny. These towns offer a range of cultural attractions, such as historic castles, museums, and art galleries.
In addition to its natural beauty, the park is also home to a rich variety of wildlife - red kites, which were once near extinction, as well as otters, bats, and rare butterflies. There are also several areas of the park that are designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest due to their unique habitats and geology.
For those interested in adventure sports, the park offers a range of activities such as rock climbing, mountain biking, and canoeing. The Bannau Brycheiniog is also a designated International Dark Sky Reserve, meaning that it has some of the best stargazing opportunities in the UK.
Exmoor National Park
Location: 🇬🇧 Devon and Somerset, UK
Highlights: The stunning coastline cliffs, beaches, and hidden coves.
Located on the border of Devon and Somerset in southwest England, Exmoor National Park is known for its wild and rugged landscapes, moorland, and wooded valleys. Covering an area of 692 square km, the park is home to a variety of wildlife, including red deer, ponies, and rare birds.
One of the park's most notable attractions is the Exmoor Dark Sky Reserve, which is the first international dark sky reserve in Europe. The park offers some of the best stargazing opportunities in the country, with many clear nights and low levels of light pollution.
Exmoor National Park also boasts over 1,000 kilometers of footpaths and bridleways, making it a popular destination for hikers and horse riders. The South West Coast Path also runs through the park, offering stunning coastal walks with views over the Bristol Channel.
Other popular activities in the park include cycling, fishing, and wildlife watching. The park is home to several picturesque towns and villages, such as Porlock and Lynmouth, which offer a range of shops, pubs, and cafes.
One of the park's most iconic landmarks is the Tarr Steps, which is a prehistoric clapper bridge over the River Barle. The bridge is thought to date back to the Bronze Age and is one of the longest of its kind in Britain.
Dartmoor National Park
Location: 🇬🇧 Devon, UK
Highlights: The Tors - rocky outcrops that offer stunning views over the moor.
Located in Devon in southwest England, Dartmoor National Park and is known for its rugged and wild landscapes, rolling hills, and ancient woodlands. The park is also home to many prehistoric ruins, stone circles, and burial chambers, making it a fascinating destination for history and archaeology enthusiasts.
One of the park's most iconic features is its granite tors, which are large rock formations that have been sculpted by millions of years of weathering. Some of the most popular tors to visit include Haytor Rocks, Hound Tor, and Combestone Tor.
Dartmoor National Park is also home to a diverse range of wildlife, including wild ponies, deer, and rare bird species such as the cuckoo and the wheatear. The park's varied terrain also makes it a popular destination for hiking, cycling, and horse riding, with over 700 kilometers of footpaths and bridleways to explore.
Other popular activities in the park include wild swimming, fishing, and letterboxing, which is a form of treasure hunting that originated in Dartmoor in the 19th century.
The park is also home to several picturesque towns and villages, such as Widecombe-in-the-Moor and Chagford, which offer a range of shops, pubs, and cafes. Visitors can also learn about the park's history and culture at the Dartmoor National Park Visitor Centre, which is located in Princetown.
New Forest National Park
Location: 🇬🇧 Hampshire, UK
Highlights: Its ancient woodlands, heathlands, and ponies that roam freely throughout the park.
Located in Hampshire in southern England, New Forest National Park and is known for its stunning landscapes, ancient woodlands, and diverse wildlife.
One of the park's most iconic features is its free-roaming ponies, which have lived in the forest for over 2000 years. Visitors can see these beautiful creatures grazing in the heathland and woodlands, and can even take guided pony treks to explore the park.
New Forest National Park is also home to a variety of other wildlife, including deer, foxes, and rare bird species such as the Dartford warbler and the nightjar. The park's many walking and cycling trails offer visitors the chance to explore these habitats and observe the wildlife in their natural habitats.
In addition to its natural beauty, New Forest National Park also boasts a rich cultural heritage. The park is home to several historic towns and villages, such as Lyndhurst and Brockenhurst, which offer a range of shops, restaurants, and museums.
Other popular activities in the park include horse riding, kayaking, and fishing. Visitors can also learn about the park's history and conservation efforts at the New Forest Centre, which is located in Lyndhurst.
South Downs National Park
Location: 🇬🇧 Sussex, UK
Highlights: The rolling hills, Seven Sisters chalk cliffs and picturesque villages.
The South Downs is located in southern England and is known for its rolling hills, chalk cliffs, and grassy meadows, it's also the UK's newest national park being established in 2010. The park is known for its rolling chalk hills, stunning landscapes, and vibrant wildlife.
One of the park's most popular attractions is the South Downs Way, a 160 km trail that runs from Winchester in the west to Eastbourne in the east. The trail offers breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside, as well as opportunities to see wildlife such as red kites, buzzards, and peregrine falcons.
The South Downs National Park is also home to several historic towns and villages, including Lewes, Arundel, and Chichester (where we're based!). These towns offer a range of cultural attractions, such as museums, art galleries, and historic buildings, as well as opportunities to try local food and drink.
Another popular activity in the park is cycling, with several designated cycle routes that offer stunning views and challenging terrain, such as the Centurion Way in Chichester. The park is also home to several vineyards, which offer tours and tastings of their award-winning wines.
The South Downs National Park is also home to a diverse range of wildlife, including rare species such as the Duke of Burgundy butterfly and the short-haired bumblebee.
The UK is blessed with a diverse range of stunning national parks, each with its own unique characteristics and beauty. These parks offer visitors the opportunity to explore and connect with nature, while also learning about the history and culture of the areas. Whether you are a hiking enthusiast or simply looking for a relaxing getaway, the UK's national parks have something for everyone. So, next time you're planning a trip, consider exploring one of the many national parks in the UK and discovering the natural beauty they have to offer.