We all know about the city highlights of the UK. Bustling London, prideful Brighton and hipster Bristol. However, there is much more to explore beyond the hectic streets and towering skyscrapers.
11% of the UK is covered in national parks. The sprawling, beautiful stretches of greenery, hills and forests host some of the best hiking, walks and nature in the whole country.
Want to escape the crowds for something more scenic and peaceful?
The national parks in the UK promote conservation efforts while supporting the local community.
Here are all the most amazing national parks that spread across England and Wales.
What are National Parks?
A national park is a protected area of land that isn’t allowed to be commercialised.
In other countries, these kinds of parks are government protected and don’t have any permanent settlers. While in the UK, national parks often have villages and local communities that live within the bounds of the designated park. Sometimes, the land is privately owned.
10 of the UK’s 15 national parks are in England, 3 are in Wales and 2 are in Scotland. Some of these parks don’t have the official IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) stamp of approval, but are treated just like any other national park.
Each with their own differing kind of landscape, histories and conservational roles, all of the parks pull in millions of tourists per year, promising majestic scenery.
National Parks in the UK
Seek out an adventure among the stunning nature of the UK. These national parks are some of the most magnificent sights you’ll find outside of the buzzing city-life. Grab your hiking boots and have your camera at the ready, here are the most fascinating national parks in the United Kingdom.
Brecon Beacons National Park
- Size: 520² miles
- Location: Wales
Shrouded in natural beauty, history and dreamy surroundings, the Brecon Beacons are a stunning mountain range in Wales. For hikers, walkers and ramblers, the impressive, jagged hills make for challenging or easy walks, depending on your preference.
Dotted with burial cairns and ancient hillforts, the history of the mountain range is thought to go all the way back before the Bronze Age! With centuries-old pathways carved out by the local farmer’s daily shepherding, and the UNESCO protected Blaenavon Industrial Landscape, there is much more to the park than beautiful nature. It held a significant role in the Industrial Revolution as one of the highest producing ironmaking and mining locations.
Thanks to the national park’s interesting landscape, hiking is the most popular activity. From school trippers, to professional hikers, with a good pair of walking shoes, everyone will be able to tackle the ups and downs of the range.
- Craig-Y-Nos is the best route for casual strollers.
- Abergavenny to Llanthony Priory will get even the best hiker’s heart racing, with 2 ascents.
As the sun sets, and the day trippers head home, the sky comes alive with twinkling stars. The Brecon Beacons have become renowned for their unmatched stargazing potential. There are spots all around the national park that have undisturbed views, sometimes with the Milky Way and constellations in full view.
If you only head to one UK national park, the Brecon Beacons is an excellent one to tick off!
Where to Stay in the Brecon Beacons – Duck Cottage
Set yourself up in a super authentic British cottage in the heart of the national park. Overlooking a river with friendly duck neighbours, it’s a perfect base for an unforgettable Brecon Beacons adventure.
The Cairngorms National Park
- Size: 1748² miles
- Location: Scotland
There are several great Scottish national parks, and the Cairngorms, a wildlife lover’s wonderland, is no exception. Home to an array of the UK’s most rare and endangered species, as well as a population of 18,000 people, the vast expanse of the national park is mostly uninhabited.
The landscape has an impressive collection of landforms, created and left behind from the Ice Age with granite tors. Attracting over 2 million visitors a year, there are museums, breweries and venues outlining the history and conservational efforts of the national park authority, as well as plenty of outdoor activities.
Lined with pathways hosting dog walks, guided tours, long distance hikes and hill tracks, there is no right way to explore the park. Get lost among nature, stop off for a picnic or try out water sports, cycling or golfing. Climbers and mountaineers will have a treat, too.
The Cairngorms National Park has 7 historical and beautiful castles, including the royal Balmoral Castle. They aren’t all open for wandering around, but you can explore the vast gardens and learn about the histories of the stunning, extravagant homes.
Where to Stay in The Cairngorms – 1 Bed Barn
This one bedroom barn is both classic yet bohemian with a clean open-plan, wooden decor and modern feel. At the bottom of Craigowrie Mountain, it is slap, bang in the middle of the national park.
Dartmoor National Park
- Size: 368² miles
- Location: England
Dartmoor National Park is majority owned by farmers, and actively used for farming, with a small percentage belonging to the Royal Family and the National Park Authority.
At the same size as London, tucked away in southern Devon, this UK national park has a vast, uneven landscape filled with deep river beds, towering granite tors, forests and wetlands. 450 miles of walking and hiking trails weave through the expansive space, leading across the hills to archaeological sites and stunning viewpoints.
Dartmoor may be one of the most stunning national parks, inspiring artists and authors from Agatha Christie to Steve Speilberg. Dotted among the natural scenery are quaint, idyllic villages with all the classic British trimmings – cobblestone streets, small bakeries and local shops, as well as the iconic British pub.
Wild camping is a huge hit on the national park, and completely legal! There are a few restrictions, however you can pretty much set up your tent whenever and immerse in nature.
Where to Stay Near Dartmoor – Straw Bale Barn
If a tent on the moors doesn’t appeal, this cosy guesthouse encompassed in greenery may hit the spot. It is modern and homey, and walking distance from the national park.
The Lake District National Park
- Size: 912² miles
- Location: England
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Lake District is a stunning and diverse area, with rolling hills and clear water lakes. There are 16 beautiful lakes in the national park, each providing essential wildlife habitats for endangered animals, and conservation benefits.
Obviously, many of the most popular activities in the Lake District are water based. You can kayak, paddleboard or just wade through the cold waters in the summertime.
This national park in the UK is also home to England’s tallest mountain, Scafell Pike, that reaches 978m above sea level. It is possible for even the most novice of climbers to tackle the hike, however be sure you are properly equipped with all the correct gear and rations.
For something a little less demanding, the easiest mountain walk in the Lake District is Latrigg. It is just 2 miles, with spectacular views and easy access from the Latrigg car park.
Featuring historical homes, Roman remains sites, stone circles and museums, there is much more to do in the park than just the physical activities. Immerse in the history of the area, wander scenic villages or unwind at one of the best mediation retreats in the UK.
The Lake District is probably one of the most popular national parks to visit in the UK among both Brits and tourists!
Where to Stay Near the Lake District – Birch House
Combining cottage elegance with modern design, Birch House is a relaxing spot to relax after exploring the Lake District. Close by to the southern lakes of the national park, it is just a short drive to the magnificent nature.
Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park
- Size: 720² miles
- Location: Scotland
In the Highlands of Scotland, Loch Lomond & the Trossachs are a signature highlight of a visit to Scotland. Made up of vast countryside, tall mountains and lakes, it has a little bit of everything you would expect from a national park.
Loch Lomond & the Trossachs received its national park status in 2002, and has welcomed millions of visitors since. Home to over 15,000 people among its villages and towns, it is only a 40 minute drive from the heart of Glasgow, making it an easy addition to a Scotland getaway.
The national park is split up into 4 major areas:
- The namesake – Loch Lomond
- The Trossachs (home to Queen Elizabeth Forest Park)
Each of the areas have their own enticing sights including endless lochs, impressive mountains and peaks, and even botanical gardens! If you don’t have time to hit them all, Loch Lomond is the one to see with the biggest loch, beautiful villages and views of Ben Lomond.
Many of Scotland’s great walking trails weave through the national park, as do cycling routes. Whether on foot or 2 wheels, exploring the vast expanse of the forests, countryside and lochsides will show you just how impressive the landscape is.
With 22 lochs, 21 munros (mountains), and 20 corbetts (peaks), this UK national park is a truly magnificent show of just what nature is capable of when it is well-preserved and protected.
Where to Stay in Loch Lomond & the Trossachs – Cabin in Luss
A loch front cabin with all the homey amenities you could need, Cabin in Luss is a perfect hideaway. It has a front-on view of the loch, a small garden and sunny terrace, all just a short walk from the village.
The New Forest National Park
- Size: 150² miles
- Location: England
Although the New Forest is 219² miles in total, only 150² miles are considered national park. Lined with trails, and home to the native New Forest pony, the sprawling countryside is a popular spot for picnics and family days out.
Located in South England, it is just a short drive from Southampton and Bournemouth.
Originally dubbed the ‘Royal Forest’ in 1079 by William the Conqueror, the New Forest has an interesting history spanning wars and storms. The Royal Navy used the forest as a source of timber in the 18th century, leading the local ‘Commoners’ to gain protection under the New Forest Act 1877 – which is still in action today!
The landscape of the New Forest National Park is much simpler than the other national parks in the UK. It is a dense forest with open countryside and hills. Still cared for and protected by the local ‘Commoners’, it is a well-preserved area with all kinds of free-roaming animals, including the classic pony.
There are walking trails, visitor centres, historic ruins and cycling tracks to explore. Nearby there’s even more beauty and more activities like the 2-day Clarendon Way hike.
Respect the locals and their efforts by doing your part to help the forest. Pick up your litter, avoid close contact with the animals and stick by the New Forest code.
Where to Stay in the New Forest – New Forest Woodland Lodge Retreat
This small, cottage style, guest house in the national park is an idyllic countryside escape. The 1 bedroom space can accommodate up to 6 guests with cosy beds and sofa beds. Looking out over lush green gardens and with easy access to the forest, it is perfect for a family or group of friends.
The Peak District National Park
- Size: 555² miles
- Location: England
The Peak District, which covers parts of Derbyshire, Yorkshire, Staffordshire and Cheshire, was the first named national park in the UK in 1951.
After a heavy campaign for free access to the countryside, the government passed the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act in 1949, creating what we now know as ‘national parks’.
This OG national park has a vast landscape filled with networks of trails, tunnels, railways, peaks and wildlife. Many of the most popular activities include getting down and dirty among nature, like caving and wandering tunnels.
There are small towns and villages dotted throughout the park, where you can grab a cold pint of local ale, or rest up before another day of adventures around the countryside.
Walkers can test their limits with the hikes and trails, and climbers can work their muscles climbing the cliffs, edges and boulders. There are air sport activities, horse riding, water sports and fishing. Every adrenaline junkie or casual explorer will find something to do.
The Peak District has 1 camping site – North Lees Campsite where you can set up your own tent or rent a camping pod. You can extend your stay at the national park without even having to leave its limits!
Where to Stay in the Peak District – The Milking Parlour
A traditional stonework cottage with an open-plan and wood burning fire is just what a stay in the Peak District calls for. Featuring views of the national park, you can still enjoy the majesty of the area when you are relaxing at home. Only a short walk from the park, pub and attractions, this cosy home is idyllic.
Pembrokeshire Coast National Park
- Size: 240² miles
- Location: Wales
This is the only coastal national park in the UK, on the western tip of Wales.
Pembrokeshire Coast is the smallest national park, with white sands and crashing waves that could be from a tropical island. Incredibly beautiful and an ecological heaven, even if you don’t fancy dipping your toes in the cold waters, you can see stunning wildlife and landscapes.
Just an hour and a half from Swansea, the entire coast is filled with pathways and beaches that look out over the sprawling limestone cliffs and impressive volcanic headlands. The coast itself stretches for 186 miles with nothing but nature imposing on its surroundings.
Shrouded in lore and mystery, there are many tales and legends about the coast spreading for thousands of years. The dramatic and extravagant scenery makes for a beautiful backdrop to stories.
The clean beaches are the perfect setting for a day lounging in the summer sun (or winter chill if you’re brave enough). Set up a picnic and some chairs, dive head first into the water, take a peek around the rock pools, and enjoy the rolling landscapes on the horizon, Pembrokeshire Coast deserves all the hype it receives!
Where to Stay in the Pembrokeshire Coast – Honeysuckle Cottage
Honeysuckle Cottage is a waterfront home with its own private garden and patio overlooking the beach and water. With 2 bedrooms, cosy living spaces and those magnificent views, it is a stunning home to spend a night while exploring the coast.
Snowdonia National Park
- Size: 823² miles
- Location: Wales
Named after the tallest mountain in the national park, Snowdon, Snowdonia has a vast, rich landscape filled with history, nature and beauty.
The park is an adventure lover’s dream, with just about every kind of activity you can imagine from walking and hiking, to mountain biking, fishing, surfing and golf. Overlooked by towering mountains, as far as the coast, the expanse of land is well worth exploring.
Snowdonia was the first designated national park in Wales, with a large percentage of the ownership still remaining in private holdings until today. Cared and preserved by a dedicated authority, much of the conservation work that takes place is around the heritage, nature and landscape of the park.
Between the mountains, rivers, lakes and coastline there are small, local towns filled with even more heritage and history. Wander the scenic streets to find small local businesses, cosy accommodations and the odd pub or two.
Earning its place as one of the most famous UK national parks, Snowdonia has A LOT to offer.
Located in a UNESCO World Heritage village at the base camp of Snowdon, Dorothea Cottage is just as special as the location. The 2 bedrooms are spacious and bright, while all the homey amenities will make the stay all the more comfortable. It’s the views that really steal the show though, looking out over the rolling hills of the national park.
Yorkshire Dales National Park
- Size: 841² miles
- Location: England
The Yorkshire Dales are a sprawling work of art filled with tons of local heritage, beautiful sights, small villages and natural beauty. A fantastic place to finish off our dive into the world of UK national parks, it is the second largest in England, with some of the most diverse and magnificent scenery.
Tourism booms in the park with millions of visitors every year coming to explore the countryside, tackle the hills, wonder in awe at the waterfalls and get lost in nature.
Around 23,500 residents live in the park, opening up local businesses and services to cater to the influx of tourists. From local delis to B&Bs, you can learn about the national park from locals, getting an inside scoop on the impressive area.
The dales hosts the Yorkshire Dales Three Peak Challenge, with 3 considerable peaks that lure in walkers and hikers of all levels. A hike of Whernside, Ingleborough and Pen-y-Ghent is to be completed in under 12 hours to have successfully completed the challenge. It is a massive 24 mile route with challenging ascents and landscapes.
Those after something a little less competitive can explore the extensive caves, find hidden waterfalls, and cycle the routes that the 2014 Tour de France tackled.
Not all of the Yorkshire Dales are considered national park. Some areas are within the Nidderdale Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and are also worth visiting.
Where to Stay in the Yorkshire Dales – Mabels Cottage
Located in one of the dales’ classic stone brick homes, Mabels Cottage is renovated and designed to be a country home away from home. With lots of amenities and views out over the dales, it is a beautiful spot to rest your feet at the end of the three peak challenge.
Rolling countryside, magnificent peaks, low lying lakes and a whole damn coast, the national parks in the UK have some of the most incredible scenery in the whole country. Doing everything they can to preserve and conserve the parks, nature thrives and promises an unforgettable visit.
If you only have time to hit 1 national park, I think the Lake District is a must-see!
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