Towering mountains, tranquil wetlands, ancient forests, rolling moorlands, and dramatic coasts. Explore them all in this guide to the UK’s best national parks.
Top National Parks in Southern England
Dartmoor: wide purple moors patched with forest and capped by rocky granite tors. This national park is hugely popular with walkers, many of whom like to visit the area’s stone circles, explore its mysterious ancient ruins and pitstop for the odd pint at one of the many quaint old country pubs that speckle the Dartmoor landscape. You are welcome to attend the many traditional events that take place in and among Dartmoor’s medieval villages. As is true of many of our national parks, Dartmoor is also a haven for wildlife. But although Sir Arthur Conan Doyle chose Dartmoor as the location for the Sherlock Holmes novel The Hound of the Baskervilles, the hound is, luckily, the stuff of pure fiction. Instead, you’re likely to encounter the wild ponies that roam the area.
The New Forest
An ancient woodland once reserved for royalty. Thousand-year-old trees and herds of wild horses grazing among the glades give the New Forest the atmosphere of an enchanted world forgotten by time. And there’s more here than woods. Heathland intersperses the New Forest’s patchwork of woodlands, and lagoons, mudflats, shingle, and saltmarsh lie along the park’s coastal rim. Horse riding and cycling are two popular activities you can enjoy below the leafy canopies.
The Norfolk Broads
Britain’s largest species of butterfly, the swallowtail, and many more examples of our rarest wildlife can be found in, on and among the sleepy rivers, lakes, canals, fens, marshes and carr woodlands that make up our largest area of protected wetland. Nature’s renovation of the area is so rich and so complete that it may come as a surprise to learn that the Broads are artificial. They were created by flooding land dug up for peat. Old windmills and ruined monasteries loom over the gentle flow of the waterways. The Broads are an ecological paradise popular for boating, fishing and wildlife watching, and the UK’s only national park that extends to the outskirts of a city, Norwich.
Top National Parks in Northern England
The Lake District
The Lake District is the biggest of the English national parks and home to England’s highest peak, Scafell Pike. Carved by glaciers thousands of years ago, its forested mountains and deep blue lakes still evoke the same awe that inspired some of the English language’s most famous writers. The cultural influence of the Lakes has been so great that the area has now been designated a World Heritage Site. At this national park you can enjoy rambling, sailing, kayaking, fishing, cycling, and treating your eyes to some of the most beautiful views in Britain.
Northumberland National Park
Rocky, heather-clad hills and wide, sweeping moorlands characterise the landscape of Northumberland National Park. One of the park’s reservoirs, Kielder Water, is the biggest artificial lake in Northern Europe and a renowned hotspot for water activities. Thanks to very low levels of light pollution, Northumberland’s nights are England’s darkest and offer fantastic opportunities for marvelling at the unimpeded glitter of star encrusted skies. Hadrian’s Wall, the ancient boundary of the Roman Empire, bisects the park, and the region’s rugged remoteness has preserved the feeling of standing on the wild edge of civilisation.
Top National Parks in Scotland
Scotland is home to some of Europe’s last remaining expanses of true, untamed wilderness, and nowhere is this wilderness more beautiful than in the Cairngorms National Park. The Cairngorms encompass the UK’s highest mountain range and the thick patches of evergreen fur that cover it make up the UK’s largest forests. It’s also Britain’s largest national park. Home to populations of red squirrels, pine martens and golden eagles, the wildlife found here is just as amazing as the landscape it inhabits. Snow-capped peaks, crystal-clear waters, rocky ridges, pepper pot castles, pristine moorland, and excellent Scotch whiskey. You’ll find it all here.
Top National Parks in Wales
The high craggy mountains and steep, wood veiled valleys of Snowdonia National Park are a huge draw for hikers and mountaineers. And there are great attractions here for the less intrepid, too. For those who don’t fancy the challenge of scaling Wales’s highest peak, Snowdon, on foot, there’s the famous Snowdon Mountain Railway carrying passengers from base to summit and back instead. Snowdonia also has an abundance of ridges to climb, gorges to explore and to waterfalls to discover. To the west, where the mountains meet the ocean, lies an unspoilt coastline of long sandy beaches, and a stone’s throw outside of the park’s sea-facing border is the Italian styled seaside village of Portmeirion.
The Pembrokeshire Coast
The Pembrokeshire Coast is the only national park in the UK comprised entirely of coastline. This breath-taking Atlantic stretch of jagged peninsulas, scattered islets, cosy coves, sea chiselled cliffs, and charming beaches provides a habitat for an amazing array of marine wildlife, including seals, dolphins and basking sharks. The entire length of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park can be traversed along the Pembrokeshire Coast Path, one of the UK’s most picturesque national trails.
Hopefully, this guide has given you a sense of the scale and the diversity of the stunning landscapes found within the UK’s best national parks. And don’t be put off of the ones that haven’t featured on this list. All are uniquely beautiful and offer their own great ranges of interesting sites and fun activities.