(Last updated on: 29/08/2020)
A national park is a great place to visit for a staycation or for a short break. Fresh air, the opportunity to take part in active pursuits and having the ability to just get away from it all, makes visiting a national park more than worthwhile! But which are the best UK national parks to visit?
In this article I will tell you all about the most highly rated, and my personal favourite, UK national parks. I have also given handy tips for your visit and recommendations for great places to stay. Read on to find out more…
- What is a UK national park?
- Why should you visit a UK national park?
- The best UK national parks
- Brecon Beacons
- The Broads
- Lake District
- Loch Lomond & The Trossachs
- New Forest
- North York Moors
- Peak District
- Pembrokeshire Coast
- South Downs
- Yorkshire Dales
- To conclude: The best UK national parks
What is a UK national park?
There are 15 National Parks across the UK. They are areas that are protected due to their cultural heritage, varied wildlife and beautiful countryside.
There are clear boundaries, and laws exists to protect the nature and wildlife so that it can all be enjoyed by current and future generations. The overarching aim is for people to be able to continually benefit from everything nature has to offer, without destroying it.
People live and work across the UK National Parks. The farms, villages and towns are protected along with the landscape and wildlife.
The National Park organisation provides opportunities for everyone to experience, enjoy and learn about their parks’ special qualities.
The statutory purposes of these fifteen parks are:
- To conserve and enhance the natural and cultural heritage of the area
- To promote understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of the national park by the public
Want to learn more about the role of UK national parks? Read this post- UK national parks: What, why and where
Why should you visit a UK national park?
A trip to a national park allows you to escape the everyday burdens of life. Get away from your noisy neighbours, forget about what happened in the office last week and leave the high heels at home!
There are plenty of benefits of getting out and about in nature. According to Richard Louv, in his book Last Child In The Woods, nature-deficit disorder is the loss of connection of humans to their natural environment.
Staying close to nature n(by visiting one of the UK national parks!) improves physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. It makes us feel alive from the inside, and we should not compromise it for recent developments like urbanization, technology, or social media.
Some of the benefits of being amongst nature include:
- Positive health impacts (research has demonstrated improved nervous system function, well-balanced heart conditions, reduced bowel disorder amongst other positive impacts)
- Improved psychological well-being (research has shown positive effects on cognitive functions, reduced cases of depression and reductions in conditions such as hypertension)
- Spiritual enhancement (a better feeling of appreciation and gratitude, increased mindfulness)
In addition to the benefits of being amongst nature, a national park can be a great place to enjoy all of the activities that rural tourism destinations have to offer, such as water sports, hiking opportunities and bike riding- to name but a few.
The best UK national parks
Below I have outlined the UK national parks with the best reviews, as well as my personal favourites….
Why you should visit Brecon Beacons
With four amazing mountain ranges, plenty of rolling hills and some historic man-made landscapes, Brecon Beacons attract visitors for various reasons.
Great for walking and cycling no matter your ability, the scenery here is just breathtaking. South Wales has so many beauty spots, and the Brecon Beacons is up there with the best.
If you want to learn about the stars, gaze upon them and get lost amongst the constellations then you’re in luck: the entire park is an International Dark Sky Reserve.
Things to do at Brecon Beacons
There is so much to do at all the UK National Parks, and Brecon Beacons are no exception.
Take on one of the various walking routes – from Abergavenny to Llanthony Priory, or the Talgarth & Llanelieu circuit for example, or go cycling instead.
Try your hand at fishing in one of the many lakes, rivers, canals or reservoirs, or head out on a horse-back adventure.
You can go trekking, riding and hacking through Brecon Beacons.
Fancy something more exhilarating? Gliders are welcome here! You can watch from down below or go up yourself, and the views are absolutely worth it. Paddlesports such as kayaking, canoeing and paddle boarding are available, and there are plenty of caves to explore if that takes your fancy.
Bushcraft and foraging are a lovely way to spend the afternoon, and you can go rock climbing and abseiling if you want to get your heart racing a little bit! With all this and more, there’s no chance of getting bored at Brecon Beacons.
How to get to Brecon Beacons
Getting to Brecon Beacons is easy.
Abergavenny, Llandovery and Merthyr Tydfil are all nearby – you can reach these stations from Cardiff, Manchester, Pontypridd, Swansea, Shrewsbury, Llanelli and various other cities.
National Express and Megabus offer coach services to Cardiff and Swansea, with National Express also offering transport to Neath – all from various cities across the UK.
Various buses run to the National Park itself. From Cardiff, jump on the T4. If you’re heading to Brecon Beacons from Swansea, you’ll want the T6. The X55 Cymru Clipper also serves the park.
You can drive to Brecon Beacons, and it is within easy reach of the M4, M50 and A40. There are various car parks available or you can reserve a parking space with Just Park.
Recommended places to stay at Brecon Beacons
The Angel Hotel is just a 10 minute walk from Abergavenny Railway Station if you want a nice hotel to stay in, while Pen-Y-Worlod Cottages are great in terms of self-contained accommodation. For luxury, Foyles of Glasbury is a great choice!
Why you should visit the Broads
As UK National Parks go, this is the best for waterways.
It is called the UK’s waterland National Park, and has over 200 km of navigable waterways.
The Broads are also home to over a quarter of the UK’s rarest wildlife!
It is a quiet and serene area, but you’ll be able to see ancient monasteries, amazing windmills and so much more.
Located in East Anglia, there is plenty of space to walk and cycle here.
Things to do at the Broads
Over 7 million people visit the Broads every year.
Boating and water sports are obvious choices, as well as hiking and cycling. Birdwatching is a common activity, as it is in many of the UK National Parks, and there are nature reserves here where you can see all sorts of fascinating creatures.
For a thrill, head to Pleasurewood Hills – the largest theme park in the area; Roarr! Dinosaur Adventure is another theme park, and there are various wildlife gardens and museums to explore too.
With arts and craft centres and so many opportunities to get out and about in nature, the Broads is a great place to visit!
How to get to the Broads
The Broads are less than 2 hours from London by train.
The local Broads stations are: Acle, Beccles, Berney Arms, Brundall, Brundall Gardens, Buckenham, Cantley, Great Yarmouth, Haddiscoe, Hoveton and Wroxham, Lingwood, Lowestoft, Norwich, Oulton Broad, Reedham, Salhouse, Somerleyton and Worstead.
Various buses travel from Norwich to the Broads, and there are plenty of free car parks.
§Access the Broads from the M11, A11, A12, A140, A14, A47, A17 and A1.
Recommended places to stay at the Broads
There are plenty of campsites and caravan parks within the Broads. Outney Meadow Caravan Park in Outney and Three Rivers Campsite in Geldeston come highly recommended!
There are also a lot of beautiful hotels within the Broads or nearby; chain hotels such as the Premier Inn can be found in Norwich, too.
Some recommended Broads hotels include: The Ingham Swan in Stalham, a 14th-century inn with an award-winning restaurant, and Great Yarmouth’s Hotel Ocean: a beautifully decorated hotel with a terrace and free WiFi.
Why you should visit Cairngorms
This is the largest of the UK National Parks.
The landscape is great for those interested in hillwalking, as it is incredibly mountainous.
Cairngorms, located in Scotland, is also so beautiful and very rich in wildlife and scenery. It makes for a beautiful day out or weekend away!
Things to do at Cairngorms
Getting out and about in nature is amazing in itself, but there are many thing you can do at Cairngorms.
From whitewater kayaking to climbing Kingussie Crag, mountain biking to long-distance walking… the possibilities are endless!
The Speyside Way is 65 miles long, and makes for an amazing long-distance hike; it is split into 8 sections and you can do it all over several days, or just pick one or two! You’ll be sure to see birds of prey, wild rabbits, red squirrels, ospreys, pine martens, deer and more.
This area is also home to over half of Scotland’s entire whisky production, and you can visit 5 different distilleries within the bounders of the Cairngorms National Park. There is a brewery within the park too.
How to get to Cairngorms
There are various train stations within the park boundaries. You can access the Cairngorms National Park on Scotrail and London North Eastern Services from Inverness, Aberdeen and more.
There are various local buses in the area too, and you can access Cairngorms from various parts of the country via Megabus.
You can drive to Cairngorms as there are plenty of car parks throughout the park – it takes around half an hour from Inverness, and 2 hours 45 minutes from Glasgow.
Recommended places to stay at Cairngorms
There are some lovely accommodation options in the area.
The Auld Kirk, a converted church in the heart of Royal Deeside, offers a really unique place to stay – while Mount Barker, in Grantown on Spey, is a huge luxury hotel housed in a detached Victorian house.
You’ll find glamping sites, traditional campsites, hostels, B&Bs and more here too!
Why you should visit Dartmoor
In the south of England, this is one of the best UK National Parks for history lovers.
You’ll find ancient monuments, stunning granite tours and so much more across these wild, open moorlands. With medieval villages and wild ponies, a trip to Dartmoor is a little bit like stepping back in time.
There is so much lovely wilderness here, and it is ready and waiting to be explored!
Things to do at Dartmoor
As with all of the UK National Parks, Dartmoor has a wealth of things to do.
From climbing to canoeing, horse riding to geocaching, you definitely won’t get bored here.
There are so many walking routes to choose from – the Wray Valley Trail, various heritage trails, Fernworthy reservoir and many more.
Look into letterboxing and get involved with that (it is great for little ones), or head out on horseback to see Dartmoor from another angle.
How to get to Dartmoor
You can reach Dartmoor from the M5, A30 or A38. There are plenty of car parks available!
There are also various buses in the local area operating Monday to Saturday, with the Haytor Hoppa bus available every Saturday in the summer too.
With train stations in Exeter, Plymouth and Newton Abbot, you can make your way to Dartmoor from these areas.
Recommended places to stay at Dartmoor
There are plenty of campsites and caravan parks at Dartmoor including Langstone Manor, a holiday park in Moortown, and Holne Moor Shepherds Huts – quirky self catering accommodation in Holne.
Why you should visit Exmoor
If you want ever-changing scenery from one of the UK National Parks, then Exmoor in the south west of England is ideal.
Valleys, hills, coastlines and moorlands make for a breathtaking environment where you can explore, meet the local wildlife (like Exmoor ponies!) and get down with nature.
Things to do at Exmoor
There is so much to do at Exmoor.
Visit Dunster Castle or ride on a steam train, head to a local craft shop or market, enjoy a red stag safari – the list is endless.
Aside from hiking and cycling, you can enjoy plenty of other outdoor activities such as rock climbing, raft building, orienteering, kayaking and many more.
Visit a honey farm or admire Greencombe Gardens, get to know the ponies at Exmoor Pony Centre or just pack a picnic and take in the scenery.
How to get to Exmoor
You can reach Exmoor in under 2 hours from London or Birmingham; there are train services operating from all over the country to Taunton, Bridgwater, Barnstaple, Tiverton Parkway.
If you’re driving, the M5 and A3030, A39, A361 and A358 are all nearby – there are plenty of carparks and towns in the area.
Local bus services offer another option for getting to Exmoor.
Recommended places to stay at Exmoor
From stunning self-catering cottages such as Dean Steep Holiday Cottages to eco-friendly stays at Longland Farm, there are plenty of accommodation options at Exmoor. Recommended hotels include Lion House Bed and Breakfast, Newberry Beach Lodge and many more.
Why you should visit the Lake District
The Lake District is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the north west of England.
It is the largest of the UK National Parks, and is a popular holiday destination famous for its many lakes.
If it’s walking and water you’re interested in, then the Lake District is perfect for you. It is incredible beautiful and diverse, and has so much to offer.
Things to do in the Lake District
Alongside walking and cycling (for which there are so many options, so pack your best walking boots and a bike pump because you’ll be spoilt for choice…), there is so much to do in the Lakes.
Hire a boat or, if you’re feeling brave, go for a swim – head out at night and watch the stars, or pack a picnic lunch and find a lake to sit at, eat your sandwiches and admire the view. T
here are places to try archery, go shopping, go caving, do arts and crafts, eat fancy food and so much more!
Getting to the Lake District
Regular trains run from various parts of the country to Windermere and Oxenholme as well as smaller stations like Kendal and Staveley.
If you’re driving to the Lake District, head to the M6 and the take the A590, A66 or A592.
There are plenty of towns to stop and carparks to make use of, as well as local bus services in and around the Lake District.
Recommended places to stay in the Lake District
There are so many accommodation options throughout the Lakes, in towns such as Kendal, Keswick, Ambleside and more.
From privately owned self-catering cottages and houses to large hotels and spas with everything in between, you’ll find somewhere to stay that suits you.
Loch Lomond & The Trossachs
Why you should visit Loch Lomond & The Trossachs
Out of all the UK National Parks, Loch Lomond & The Trossachs has the largest lake in the whole of the UK.
There are forests, lochs and mountains, a variety of stunning scenery and so much open space.
Pretty villages and beautiful landscapes make for a lovely place to spend a few days in Scotland.
Things to do in Loch Lomond & The Trossachs
With over 20 lochs, one of the best things to do at Loch Lomond & The Trossachs is to take a loch cruise! There are plenty of different routes, and you’ll get to see breathtaking scenery and interesting water wildlife.
Other things to do include angling, kayaking, cycling, hiking, gold and rock climbing.
Try your hand at paddleboarding, jump in a canoe or dive straight into a loch and go swimming!
From mountaineering to road biking, there is such a variety of things to do here.
Getting to Loch Lomond & The Trossachs
If you’re travelling by train, head to Balloch or Oban/Fort William, or one of the smaller stations in and around the park such as Helensburgh, Ardlui or Tyndrum.
National Express offer coaches that stop at Balloch, Arrochar, Ardgartan, Rest & Be Thankful and Benmore Botanic Gardens.
If you’re driving, take the M74 or M8 past Glasgow, get onto the M898 and take the A182 into the park itself. There are plenty of car parks around!
Recommended place to stay at Loch Lomond & The Trossachs
Camping is popular at Loch Lomond & The Trossachs, and you can go wild or book a pitch at one of the many campsites in the area.
Why you should visit the New Forest
In southern England, you’ll find woodlands and heathlands that make up a really unique and beautiful landscape.
The area used to be a hunting ground, and the wide open space in addition to stunning coastline make it the perfect place to escape to!
Things to do in the New Forest
There are plenty of incredible walking routes meaning you can stretch your legs, enjoy the fresh air and surround yourself with gorgeous scenery – there are historic trails like the Stuckton Iron Works and Tatchbury Mount too.
Go cycling, do some bird spotting, go horse riding or take an open top bus tour around the park.
There are houses and gardens to explore, reptile centres to visit and so much more!
Getting to the New Forest
To get to the New Forest by train, the main station is Brockenhurst – there are also smaller stations at Ashurst New Forest, Beaulieu Road, Sway, New Milton, Lymington Town and Lymington Pier.
There are local bus services that serve the park, and plenty of car parks at the visitor sites around the New Forest.
The New Forest is easily reached by car and is well connected to the M3 motorway.
Recommended places to stay in the New Forest
From farmhouses to campsites, you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to accommodation in the New Forest.
Why you should visit Northumberland
With ancient monuments aplenty and rolling hills all around, this is the best of the UK National Parks for stargazing as it is home to Europe’s largest area of protected sky.
This is a great reason to visit, alongside how beautiful the park is with its heather-covered hills and wide open spaces.
Things to do in Northumberland
Stargazing is obviously one of the most popular activities in Northumberland, so wrap up warm and head out at night to see what you can see across the darkened skies.
In the day time, visit Hadrian’s Wall, admire Hareshaw Linn (a wild waterfall) or make your way along the Simonside Family Walk.
The Sycamore Gap lets you see one of the most famous trees in the UK, and there are plenty of places to cycle and hike.
Northumberland is full of wildlife too!
Getting to Northumberland
If you’re travelling to Northumberland by car there are plenty of car parks. From the M6 at Carlisle take the A69 then the A68; from the A1 at Newcastle head onto the A696 and from Edinburgh, take the A7 or the A68.
The AD122 bus serves Hadrian’s Wall, and the route has plenty of stops in Northumberland. There are also plenty of Arriva services that go into and around the national park itself.
Recommended places to stay in Northumberland
YHA The Still is a new youth hostel in Northumberland and this is just one of many amazing accommodation options throughout the area.
North York Moors
Why you should visit the North York Moors
From glorious coastlines to swooping hills, dotted with little villages and ancient abbeys, there is so much to explore across the North York Moors. They encompass quaint Englishness!
Things to do in the North York Moors
From Whitby Abby to Flamingo Land, the North York Moors has so much to offer.
There are plenty of walking routes and the Moors are perfect for cycling; try your hand at surfing, go fishing, play golf, get on a horse or see what wildlife you can spot as you traverse the Moors.
Road running is popular here, and you can go geocaching, do bushcraft and more.
Getting to the North York Moors
You can access the North York Moors by train – there are stations in plenty of towns surrounding the park itself. These are: York, Malton, Scarborough, Middlesbrough, Saltburn by the Sea, Redcar, Whitby, Northallerton and Thirsk.
Buses run from these stations to the park.
National Express have coach routes that serve this region too.
If you’re driving, take the M1 then make your way onto the A1, A168 and finally the A170.
Recommended places to stay at the North York Moors
Like with all of the UK National Parks, there are plenty of campsites and caravan parks as well as hotels, self-catering accommodation and Airbnbs.
Why you should visit the Peak District
For views that will take your breath away, the Peak District is the one.
From stately homes to rolling landscapes made of limestone, the space that makes up the first of the UK National Parks is just outstanding and any visit will leave you feeling fulfilled and happy.
Things to do in the Peak District
Fancy alpaca trekking in Derbyshire? Abseiling throughout the Peak District? Rock climbing, bike-packing, horse-riding… the list is endless!
There are beautiful National Trust properties to visit, quaint villages to explore, places to camp, trails to walk and so much more in the original National Park.
Whether you want to cycle, relax and eat a picnic or get your adrenaline running with some air and water sports, you can do!
Getting to the Peak District
There are plenty of train stations in and around the Peak District. Grindleford, Bamford, Matlock, Hadfield and many more all have bus links with the smaller areas of the National Park, and the National Express and Megabus companies both operate routes to the edge of the Peak District.
If you are driving to the Peak District, there are 45 car parks – 27 of which are free!
Recommended places to stay in the Peak District
There are plenty of campsites throughout the Peak District, and you’ll find shepherd’s huts and converted barns too.
Why you should visit the Pembrokeshire Coast
The answer is simple: for the stunning coastline and beautiful blue waters. There is 300 km of coast in Pembrokeshire, down in the southwest of Wales.
Harbour towns, cliffs and beautiful beaches make for the perfect surrounding especially on a sunny day!
Things to do along the Pembrokeshire Coast
Of course, there are water sports galore in Pembrokeshire.
As UK National Parks go, this is definitely one of the best for getting out on the water and trying your hand at one of the many water sports on offer.
Whether you’re a beginner or an expert, Pembrokeshire is a great place for kayaking, canoeing, dolphin-watching, jetskiing, kitesurfing, SCUBA diving and more!
There are also beautiful towns to visit, walking and cycle routes to discover and so much more.
Getting to the Pembrokeshire Coast
There are buses and shuttle buses that travel to and around the National Park, as well as various coastal bus routes.
There are over 40 car parks, 26 of which are free, and you can reach Pembrokeshire from the A40.
Recommended places to stay along the Pembrokeshire Coast
If you want luxury, opt for Wolfscastle Country Hotel in Treffgarne – and for something traditional, the Rose and Crown in Goodwick ticks the boxes! There are campsites and lodges, bunkhouses and hostels, self-catering cottages and many more options for places to stay in Pembrokeshire.
Why you should visit Snowdonia
Home to one of the highest mountains in the UK, Snowdonia is absolutely breathtaking. With some of the best views in Wales – if not the world – it is one of the best UK National Parks to visit if you want some adventure.
The scenery is outstanding, and the local area is great too.
Things to do in Snowdonia
Other than climbing Mount Snowdon, there is so much to do here.
Sandy beaches and pretty villages, beautiful waterfalls and wooded valleys – there are plenty of areas to choose from.
Ride the mountain railway, go hill-walking, enjoy some afternoon tea, find a fun cycle route, go horse riding and just admire the beauty of Snowdonia.
Getting to Snowdonia
To drive to Snowdonia, drive to north Wales and head towards Ruthin. Take the A525, then the A5104, A494 and A5 before arriving the Snowdonia National Park.
The Conwy Valley Line runs through the National Park if you’re travelling by train, as does the Cambrian Line.
There is a Sherpa bus that runs within the park, with a taxis service too.
Recommended places to stay in Snowdonia
As with all of the UK National Parks, there are plenty of accommodation options. Plas Tan y Graig B&B Guest House comes highly recommended, in Beddgelert, and Macdonald Plas Talgarth Resort offers amazing spa facilities if you want some luxury.
There are also SO many places to camp. From Slate Mountain Camping to glamping in Betws y Coed, why not try something a bit different when visiting Snowdonia?
Why you should visit the South Downs National Park
Located in the south of England and stretching across that part of the country, there are hills of gold and green which glow in the sunshine as well as plenty of wildlife, walking routes and beautiful villages where you can spend your time.
Things to do in South Downs
There are vineyards to explore, markets and festivals to enjoy, hills to walk up and down, rare species to discover and so much more.
Pop to Lewes Priory, a medieval battle site; visit Iron Age hill forts, stargaze when the sun goes down and learn how to paddle-board too!
Getting to the South Downs National Park
From the M25 take the A3 and then head onto the A286 – there are car parks, but the South Downs are trying to encourage the use of public transport where possible. If you have an electric car, there are actually charging points within the park.
There are trains that run directly to the park from London, and various buses routes in and around the park too.
Recommended places to stay at South Downs
There are caravan parks too, as well as glamping sites, cottages, lodges and traditional campsites.
The South Downs National Park is a great place to stay!
Why you should visit the Yorkshire Dales
If it is greenery you’re after, the Yorkshire Dales are great.
Valleys and rolling hills, farmland and stop villages and so much more make for a lovely location to spend time – especially when the weather is good.
Things to do in the Yorkshire Dales
This is the number one caving area in Britain, so head underground and see what you can find.
Visit waterfalls or walking along a river, admire the scenery while you eat a picnic or jump on your bike and head off along one of the many cycling routes that stretch out across the Dales.
Geocaching is popular here, as is horse riding and stargazing.
There is so much to do in the Yorkshire Dales!
Getting to the Yorkshire Dales
To get here by train, you’ll need the Leeds-Morecambe line or the Leeds-Settle-Carlisle line.
The heritage railway at Wensleydale also runs to the edge of the National Park.
You can reach nearby towns by coach too. If you’re driving, arrive via the M6, A66, A1, A65 or A59.
Recommended places to stay in the Yorkshire Dales
There are plenty of gorgeous accommodation options.
Lodges with hot tubs and glamping pods with amazing views, as well as traditional campsites and caravan parks, mean that there are plenty of options to choose from.
To conclude: The best UK national parks
The UK is full of open, green spaces that you can enjoy. From active sports to gentle strolls, there is plenty of things to do in the UK’s best national parks!