If you’re passionate about nature and believe that strapping on your hiking boots is the best way to explore it, you’ll love the United Kingdom. Beyond its busy urban centers, the U.K. has some truly spectacular wild places, from the sheer chalk cliffs and hidden coves of the south coast, to the dramatic lochs and glens of the Scottish Highlands. Below, we've highlighted the best multi-day hikes in the U.K. so you can immerse yourself in the scenery, wildlife, and history of the region’s greatest nature areas.
If you plan on spending a considerable amount of time in the U.K., the South West Coast Path is arguably the nation’s most famous multi-day hike. It’s certainly the longest way-marked National Trail, incorporating 630 miles of spectacular coastal scenery rife with plunging cliffs, pristine beaches, windswept headlands, and fields full of wild flowers. It begins in Minehead in Somerset, then travels along the coastline through North Devon, around the entire Cornish shore and Land’s End, then back into Devon before finally finishing in Poole Harbour, Dorset.
Along the way, you’ll pass through four counties and one national park (Exmoor). A plethora of historic sights reveal themselves as you go, from Iron and Bronze Age burial sites to medieval forts and WWII defense posts. In fact, the entire path follows the route that authorities once took to defend the coast from smugglers, and the villages and towns that line the route are full of colorful legends. Wildlife abounds as well, with the cliffs providing the perfect vantage point for spotting seabirds, seals, and dolphins. In early summer, look out for basking sharks from the Cornish headlands.
To walk the entire coast path would take 52 days on average, although it’s possible for the very fit to complete it in 30. If you don’t have time to do it all, there are many itineraries that focus on a particular section; essentially, you can spend as many days as you like exploring its wonders.
The Hadrian’s Wall Path is a National Trail stretching for 84 miles across Northern England from Wallsend in the east to Bowness-on-Solway on the west coast. It follows the route of the U.K.’s most famous Roman monument: Hadrian’s Wall. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the wall was built in the 2nd century on the orders of the Emperor Hadrian, to protect the empire’s northwest frontier from attack. Think The Wall from Game of Thrones, but with rugged stone instead of ice and fewer dragons.
The wall and its hiking trail are steeped in history. Along the way you’ll discover the Roman forts of Birdoswald, Chesters, and Housesteads (with the latter being the most complete Roman fort in Britain), as well as Roman settlements, towers and turrets, and museums housing ancient imperial artifacts. You’ll also pass through the lively cities of Newcastle and Carlisle, and quaint towns with accommodation options for every night of your journey.
The Hadrian’s Wall Path is clearly marked and relatively easy, taking between five to 10 days to complete depending on your pace and level of fitness. The traditional way to walk is from east to west, following the direction in which the wall was built; however, walking in reverse puts the prevailing wind and rain at your back and is therefore more comfortable. May to October is the best time to hike, since winter rains result in thick mud along the trail’s length. July and August can get very busy, so be sure to book accommodation in advance.
A natural causeway created by the topography of the land it runs through, the Pilgrim’s Way has acted as a byway for the British since ancient times. It became associated with religion in 1171, when pilgrims started to use the route to travel on foot from Winchester Cathedral to Canterbury Cathedral to pay their respects to the martyred Thomas Becket. In his role as Archbishop of Canterbury, Becket was murdered inside the cathedral in 1170 by followers of King Henry II, with whom he had argued over the rights of the church. He was canonized soon afterwards, and is now recognized as a saint and martyr by the Catholic and Anglican churches.
Today the Pilgrim’s Way stretches for 153 miles and takes approximately 15 days to complete. Along the way you will have the chance to take part in ancient traditions and explore monuments steeped in local history. Request the Wayfarer’s Dole (a horn of beer and a morsel of bread) from the Hospital of St. Cross in Winchester. Visit Jane Austen’s house at Chawton, stop in at Watts Chapel and Rochester Cathedral, and visit the spot where the severed head of St. Thomas More is interred in St. Dunstan’s Church.
The scenery is astonishing, too. The route follows the distinctive chalk ridge known as the North Downs, affording an elevated perspective of tranquil rivers, patchwork farmland, and picturesque rural villages. In the latter, you’ll find plenty of places to eat or rest for the night.
The Coast-to-Coast is one of our top choices for experienced hikers and off-the-beaten-path adventurers. Unlike most of the other entries on this list, the route is unofficial and largely unmarked. Nevertheless, it has been famed in British hiking circles since legendary fellwalker and guidebook author Alfred Wainwright first described it in his book A Coast to Coast Walk in 1973. The route travels for 182 miles through the dramatic landscapes of Northern England, using public rights of way to get from St. Bees on the Irish Sea coast to Robin Hood’s Bay on the edge of the North Sea.
On the way, you will travel through three of the U.K.’s most beautiful national parks: the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales, and the North York Moors. With plenty of up and downhill sections, this is a challenging walk. At several points, Wainwright gives alternative route options for those who want to climb higher into the mountains, with the highest point being Kidsty Pike in the Lake District at 2,460 feet. Wainwright’s book describes the route in 12 stages; theoretically, each one can be completed in a day and ends in a settlement with overnight accommodation.
Most people choose to take at least two weeks to complete the route so that they can include a few rest days. You will need to be fit and well-equipped, and also confident in your navigation skills to take on this challenge. Keep abreast of local weather warnings and be sure to book accommodation in advance. Many of the villages are very small and the route is popular, especially in summer.
For a more leisurely introduction to the U.K.’s natural splendor, choose the South Downs Way in southeast England. This 100-mile trail follows an ancient route used by herders, drovers, and tradesmen since time immemorial, along the top of a natural chalk escarpment that allowed them to bypass the marshland below. This escarpment is known as the South Downs and the Way is now entirely within the South Downs National Park. Like The Pilgrim’s Way, it starts in the ancient cathedral town of Winchester, but ends in the coastal resort of Eastbourne.
Along the way, you’ll pass through nature reserves rich in native wildlife, thickets of age-old woodland, and quaint villages with historic pubs and teahouses. The views are what make this walk special, whether you’re gazing out for miles across rolling farmland or marveling at the astonishing blue expanse of the English Channel and the Isle of Wight. An oasis of peace in the otherwise busy South East, the South Downs Way is very accessible from many of England’s most popular tourist towns and cities.
The route takes around eight to nine days to complete, and is manageable for anyone of reasonable fitness. It’s also possible to cycle the South Downs Way or ride it on horseback, though cyclers will need plenty of off-road experience and a high level of fitness to complete it in anything less than three days.
Having celebrated its 50th anniversary as a National Trail in 2020, the Cotswold Way follows the western edge of the Cotswold Hills for 102 miles through western England. The trail begins in Chipping Campden—a postcard-pretty market town—and ends in the famously beautiful Roman city of Bath. Along the way, you will pass through an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. You’ll lose yourself in incredible pastoral scenery defined by rolling pastures and quaint villages hewn of golden stone, and wander through sun-dappled beech woodland.
From the top of the Cotswold escarpment, the views stretch endlessly towards the River Severn and the Malvern Hills. Look out for 35 different varieties of lavender, Neolithic burial barrows, the ruins of a Roman villa, a functioning steam railway, and several stately homes. Of particular interest for historians is imposing Sudeley Castle, the former home of King Henry VIII’s only surviving wife, Katherine Parr.
The Cotswold Way can be walked by anyone with a relatively good level of fitness, although there are several steep inclines. It takes 10 days on average and is one of the best-marked National Trails in the country. Walk in winter, autumn, or spring for the clearest views; in late spring and summer for landscapes lush with wildflowers; and in autumn for spectacular foliage in the beech woodlands.
For those who plan on heading north of the English border, the West Highland Way is the oldest and most famous long-distance walking route in Scotland. It covers some 96 miles, starting in Milngavie on the outskirts of Glasgow and ending on the west coast of the Scottish Highlands in Fort William. Typically the route is divided into eight stages, each of which can be completed in a day. It is possible to complete the route in less time, but you'll likely want at least eight days to soak up the spectacular scenery along the way.
The start of the route takes you through verdant countryside parkland, moving up into the epic mountains and untamed moorland of the Highlands after Loch Lomond. And although the route purposely circumvents the region’s highest peaks in order to make it possible for anyone of reasonable fitness levels, you can choose to add a climb to the top of the mountains you pass en route. One of these, Ben Nevis, is the highest mountain in Britain with a summit of 4,413 feet.
Other sights to see along the way include Glen Coe, famous as the place where the Campbell clan massacred the MacDonalds in 1692—although you're more likely to recognize it as a filming location for the James Bond movie Skyfall. Inversnaid Falls is a place of exceptional natural beauty, while wildlife (including golden eagles, ospreys, otters, and red deer) abounds in the Highlands. The route is normally walked from south to north, giving you time to acclimatize as it gets progressively higher. Don't forget your wet weather gear!
In 1970, the Pembrokeshire Coast Path became the first National Trail in Wales. It showcases 186 miles of some of the most beautiful coastline the country has to offer, stretching from St. Dogmaels in the north to Amroth in the south. Almost all of the trail falls within the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, which incorporates an incredible variety of coastal habitats from estuaries and fishing villages to sheltered coves and towering headlands.
Natural highlights include Pwll y Wrach, or the Witches’ Cauldron, a collapsed sea cave that doubles as a haul-out for seals; the Blue Lagoon, a flooded sea quarry used for the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series; and Skomer and Skokholm islands. The islands are renowned as a wildlife and seabird refuge, and are particularly loved for their population of rare and charismatic Atlantic puffins.
There is much of historical interest, too. Look out for Iron Age forts, ancient Celtic sea chapels, and impressive Norman castles. It takes approximately 12 to 14 days to complete the route. It is physically quite challenging, due to a total of 35,000 feet of ascents and descents (equivalent to climbing Everest!). Nevertheless, a rest day or two should be enough to restore aching feet while also giving you a chance to explore the route’s pretty coastal villages.