Top 10 national parks in the UK
Sitting on the couch at home watching the weekend pass you by again? The big wide world is calling, and with a score of amazing national parks in the UK, there’s nothing stopping you from getting up, stuffing your backpack full of our delicious snacks, and spending the day in the Great Outdoors.
No matter where you are in the country, you’re probably only a hop away from a protected nature reserve. We’ve listed national parks from all over the UK, so you can easily find one near you. Don’t linger over a sad bowl of porridge, take your breakfast to go and spend your weekend hiking, biking, and kayaking your way around these spectacular parks.
The Peak District lays claim to being the UK’s first national park, and you can see why our forebears saw this great stretch of land and thought yup, this needs to be protected. Heather strewn moorland meets eerie caves, limestone dales, and of course, it’s peaks. There’s plenty to explore here, such as the underground Poole’s Cavern, the Heights of Abraham, or the marvellous walking trail, the Pennine Way. In terms of cultural highlights, you can venture to the nearby Chatsworth House, Haddon Hall and Peveril Castle.
The UK doesn’t exactly scream ‘beach holiday’ but that’s more down to our legendary weather than our landscape credentials. In fact, we actually have some of the most beautiful stretches of sand in the world. The Pembrokeshire Coast seems to lay claim to like, half of ‘em. Beaches, rugged sea cliffs, and islands make up the topography of this lovely national park and if you’re a beach baby, you have to plan a trip here.
There is the Coastal Path Trail if you want to spend the day hiking, but you can also stick to exploring the secluded coves, rock pools and golden sandy shores of the Pembrokeshire coastline. Make sure you check out Broad Haven and Barafundle Bay while you’re there. On our part, we’ll keep our fingers crossed that the sun shines for you.
Loch Lomond and the Trossachs
Only an hour outside of Glasgow, Scotland’s biggest metropolis, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re in for a wee city getaway and a few rolling meadows. Instead, you’ll be treated to huge, mirrored lochs, impressive straths and glens, and one of the most beautiful parts of Scotland.
Lace up your hiking boots, because there are 21 Munros in this national park, and they hide some 22 lochs that are all worth your attention. You can go wild camping across Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, or lay your head down in one of the many villages nearby if you intend to stay in the park but it’s just as easy to access from Glasgow on a day trip. Bring lunch, tasty snacks, water, and maybe a treat to celebrate with when you get to the top of your first Munro.
Northumberland National Park
Rolling hills? Check. Rugged moorland? Check. Big skies? Check. An epic and historic walking trail? Check check check. Northumberland is blessed with a dramatic landscape, but also a big wodge of ancient history too. Home to one of the most famous cycling and walking trails in Britain, it’s hard to top this destination if you’re after a walking holiday with a bit of culture. Hadrian’s Wall, the age-old fortification built by the Roman Emperor Hadrian, used to run coast-to-coast and the sections of it that remain are extraordinary. Taking on the trail offers walkers plenty of scenery, historical stops – such as the Roman forts at Birdoswald and Housesteads – and a score of pubs serving up hearty meals to make up for all those calories you’ll burn on the way.
Snowdonia hardly needs an introduction. In the land where dragons were felled by storied knights, Snowdonia rises to your imagination of what a mythic land should look like. Lofty mountains abound here, with the loftiest being Snowdon, the tallest in Wales, and a peak that has been a training ground for those hoping to scale Everest on the other side of the world.
If you decide to tackle the mountain, make sure you check out the advice regarding what to bring, wear, and which routes to take. You’ll also burn a ton of calories, so pack lots of protein bars and easy-to-carry foodstuff to enjoy throughout the day.
The New Forest
England isn’t typically known for its forests (apart from Sherwood), as we’ve felled so many ancient woods for farming land, but the New Forest has remained much as it was since William the Conqueror set it aside for his very own hunting grounds.
Explore the forests, mudflats and lagoons of this national park, and meet the wildlife that calls this place home. See the adorable New Forest Ponies, a host of deer species (roe, fallow, red, muntjac and sika), and heathland birds. This park is especially great for families, so pack a picnic, just make sure you keep your snacks away from the horses!
As with the Peak District, the Lake District promises exactly what’s on the packaging (sound like anyone else you know?), expect lakes, and lots of ‘em. But what you might not know is that this incredible national park is also a cultural site of great importance. Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this region sheltered beloved writers like Beatrix Potter and William Wordsworth, who made their lives here and were constantly inspired by the landscape.
The Lake District is a fantastic destination for a break from routine, not only because of its natural attributes, but also thanks to its quaint villages, cosy pubs, celebrated restaurants and cultural landmarks. All this to say: you’ll be just as happy here writing your magnum opus as you will hiking, biking, boating and kayaking.
In terms of Welsh National Parks, Snowdonia is probably the most famous, but Brecon Beacons is just as beautiful, and less trodden. Think mountains, moors and castles, and you’ll somewhat have the measure of this park. Incorporating a huge stretch of coastline too, Brecon Beacons is the place to go if you’re after a bit of mountain climbing one day and sunbathing on a beach the other.
Cairngorms National Park, sitting pretty in the Scottish Highlands, is considered to be one of the last strongholds for the important habitats of Scotland. The park encompasses lochs, mountains, forests, rivers where wildlife can gambol.
The park is known for offering a plethora of outdoor activities; mountain climbing, skiing, white water rafting, canoeing, canyoning, horse-riding, bungee jumping, archery and much more. You can also wild camp in the Cairngorms, and discover really remote parks of the park. If you fancy sleeping under the stars and having breakfast in the forest, this is the place to be.
The South Downs National Park runs along the UK’s southern belly, and is made up of emerald woodlands, serene glades, rolling hills and soaring cliffs. The most famous part of the park is the Seven Sisters, hills that top the white-chalk cliffs that have become an iconic symbol of the British landscape.
A visit to this national park will mean you can tour vineyards, go on hiking trails like the South Downs Way, and see historic sites like the Trundel Hill Fort and the magnificent Arundel Castle.
Don’t see anything near you? You can find the full list of UK national parks here, along with information on how to get there, and all the activities they offer. There are no excuses, get out there, after all, there really is no such thing as the Great Indoors.