A Complete Guide to Every National Park in the UK

Peak District Sunset With Heather.
Daniel_Kay / Getty Images

The U.K. has 15 national parks, spread across England, Wales, and Scotland. The most famous include the Peak District, Lake District, and Snowdonia, but there is so much more to discover across all 15 than most visitors would think possible. From impossible views to rare wildlife and heritage history, here’s what to see and do in every U.K. national park.

01 of 15

Dartmoor National Park

dartmoor national park

Getty/ Moorefam 

Address
United Kingdom
Phone +44 1626 832093

The setting for many a novel and the site of most Devon local myths and legends, the word "mysterious" always springs to mind when considering Dartmoor National Park and its vast open spaces.

Ruined medieval villages (like the one at the base of Hound Tor), lone churches sitting on hills surrounded by green, and of course, the famous Dartmoor Prison Museum only add to the park's sense of mystery and foreboding. Major historic sites like Castle Drogo, the last castle to be built in England, and Buckland Abbey are also not to be missed. Take a break from the many hiking trails in the area to breathe in the scenery at Meldon Reservoir, or stroll around one of the many picturesque villages such as the medieval stannary town of Chagford.

The park is easily accessible from the majority of Devon, but the town of Okehampton is an ideal base if you don’t have access to a vehicle; the new Dartmoor Explorer bus service connects wider Devon with the park.

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Pembrokeshire Coast National Park

Pembrokeshire Coast National Park
Address
United Kingdom
Phone +44 1646 624800

If coastal walks along one of the most stunning coastlines in Europe sounds like your thing, then visiting Pembrokeshire Coast in Wales should be on your radar.

Though it's one of the smallest national parks in the U.K., Pembrokeshire Coast National Park features 600-plus miles of public footpaths and bridleways, including a majority of the 186-mile Pembrokeshire Coast Path. It also forms one of the most diverse habitats for wildlife in the U.K.—be on the lookout for gray seals, dolphins, and puffins returning from Skomer Island, among hundreds of other bird species.

While you're here, carve out some time to explore the wider Pembrokeshire Coast. Dotted with small villages and towns, it's a a rich cultural area with 286 ancient monuments and over a thousand listed buildings. Make sure to try some seafood on one of your walks.

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Lake District National Park

Lake District

 Getty/ 221A

Address
United Kingdom
Phone +44 1539 724555

One of the U.K.’s most iconic national parks that also doubles as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Lake District is equally as famous for its cultural and literary heritage as it is for its sprawling and diverse landscapes.

Many of the country’s most famous authors have strong connections to, and even homes in, this majestic area. William Wordsworth even wrote a guide to walking around the Lake District, a wonderful resource for ramblers to this day. Fans of Wordsworth can also tour Dove Cottage, where the English Romantic poet lived from 1799 to 1808, or visit Beatrix Potter’s Hill Top farmhouse.

Being the Lake District, make sure to spend some time walking around or boating on one or more of the area's 16 lakes, such as Buttermere or Windermere. Or delve into the mountain forest of Whinlatter Forest Park to truly get lost in nature. History lovers will enjoy visiting Muncaster, supposedly Britain’s most haunted castle, and Castlerigg stone circle, which dates back five thousand years.

Visitors typically choose Buttermere or Grasmere as a base to explore the Lake District from, but there are plenty of options within the park, especially if you have a car.

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Cairngorms National Park

Cairngorms

Getty/ VWB photos 

Address
Grantown on Spey PH26 3HG, UK
Phone +44 1479 873535

The most northerly national park in the U.K., the Cairngorms is a wonderful place to make the most of the Scottish countryside. With hikes and cycling routes suited to all levels, you'll be rewarded with incredible scenery no matter what. Families and adventure seekers alike will find something to pique their interest; activities here range from rare wildlife spotting, reindeer feeding, and walking through ancient pine forests to mountain climbing, zip-lining, and Land Rover tours.

The Cairngorms also contains many of the country’s grandest historic sites, including Balmoral and Braemar castles. An ideal base to explore the Cairngorms is Aberdeen—the eastern gateway to the park—although public transportation also makes this park easily accessible from Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Inverness.

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Broads National Park

Norfolk Broads

Getty/  Chris Yaxley / EyeEm

Address
Thorpe Road, Norwich NR1 1RY, UK
Phone +44 1603 610734

Britain’s largest protected wetland, the Broads is home to rare dragonflies, birds, and wild ponies, making for great wildlife spotting. Boating, too, is one of the major highlights of the area. With hundreds of miles of rivers and waterways weaving through the marshland, visitors can embark on a river tour, canoe, go stand-up paddleboarding, or sail. There are a number of footpaths and cycling routes throughout the park, where you'll also find windmills and churches dotting the landscape.

Located within Norfolk and Suffolk counties, the Broads National Park is easily accessible from both London and Norwich.

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Brecon Beacons National Park

Brecon Beacons National Park

 

fotoVoyager/ Getty

Address
Libanus, Brecon LD3 8ER, UK
Phone +44 1874 624437

No visit to Wales would be complete without taking in some of the scenery of Brecon Beacons National Park. Covering 520 square miles, the park has four distinct regions where you can enjoy one of the many hiking trails. Pen y Fan, the highest peak in South Wales, provides a worthy challenge to anyone who is in the area for a short break. If you have more time, then why not attempt the three peaks of Corn Du, Pen-y-Fan, and Cribyn? Or, try other local activities, such as caving, kayaking, or horseback riding. While you're here, be sure to look up at the night sky: Brecon Beacons was designated a Dark Sky Reserve in 2013.

When you're looking for something less strenuous, there are many small towns and villages within the Brecon Beacons, each with its own surprises to explore. Brecon town itself has good public transit connections, providing an excellent place to base yourself.

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Exmoor National Park

exmoor national park

Getty/ golfer2015

Address
Dulverton TA22 9HL, UK
Phone +44 1398 323665

Famously associated with the novel "Lorna Doone: A Romance of Exmoor" by Richard Blackmore, the wild and rugged moors of Devon's second national park are as dramatic today as depicted in the novel. Red deer and wild ponies are native to the area and can be found on the grassy plains and the ancient forests of the park.

Colorful towns and villages—including Porlock, Lynton & Lynmouth, and Dunster—dot the coastline, which forms the first section of the South West Coast Path. You'll find great hiking trails and local seafood in any one of these places, though Dunster has the added bonus of being near the dramatic Dunster Castle and Watermill.

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Snowdonia National Park

Snowdonia national park dolbardan castle

Getty/David Dean Photography 

Address
Penrhyndeudraeth, Gwynedd LL48 6LF, UK
Phone +44 1690 710426

Featuring the highest peak in England and Wales, Snowdonia (located in North Wales) is the most visited national park in the U.K, with over a million visitors per year.
Conquering Mount Snowdon itself is a major draw for travelers, but taking the Snowdon Mountain Railway to the top is also a breathtaking experience in its own right. Offering nine mountain ranges, waterfalls, and lakes, this is a haven for outdoor adventurists. History lovers will be just as preoccupied with many of the U.K.’s best-preserved castles present in the area.

There are more than 26,000 people residing in the towns and villages dotted throughout the park. The Welsh language is a major part of life here; it is many people’s first (and occasionally only) language. Steeped in legend and folklore—a lot of which can be found written in "The Mabinogion," a collection of folktales and the legends of King Arthur—this is truly a beautiful part of the country with storytelling at its heart. Conwy or Bedd Gelert provide excellent bases to explore from.

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New Forest National Park

New Forest England

Getty/ Jacky Parker Photography

Address
United Kingdom
Phone +44 1590 646600

New Forest National Park in Hampshire is one of the smaller parks, but provides shelter to a number of wild fauna—including deer, New Forest ponies, pigs, and cattle—that roam free and help preserve the expansive landscape. Outdoor activities include archery, pony riding, and gentle walks through the heathland, forest, and valleys. Full of traditional tea rooms, local pubs, and fine restaurants serving local specialties like venison, fresh crab, and cider, this is an ideal park for a rejuvenating weekend break. An easy escape from busy London, Brockenhurst train station places you in the heart of New Forest.

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Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park

Loch Lomond

Getty/ Orietta Gaspari

Address
Balloch, Alexandria G83 8EG, UK
Phone +44 1389 722600

Easily accessible from Edinburgh and Glasgow, Scotland’s original national park features lochs, coastline, and the Scottish Highlands and Lowlands, divided by a fault line that runs through the park.

Tranquil Loch Lomond is the biggest loch (and lake) in Britain, and there’s no better way to experience it than taking a boat out into the middle and observing the Arrochar Alps around you. There are countless ways to enjoy yourself on the water, including fly fishing, kayaking, sailing, and water sports like waterskiing and wakeboarding. Or, hop between the loch's 22 named islands, including Inchcailloch and Inchlonaig, to relax on beaches, explore ruined castles, and hike.

Described as "the Highlands in miniature," the Trossachs inspired Sir Walter Scott to write his 1810 poem "The Lady of the Lake." With its rugged landscapes, forests, castles, and small villages, hiking here should also be high on your list.

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Peak District National Park

Peak District

 Getty/ john finney photography

 

Address
Castleton, Hope Valley S33 8WS, UK
Phone +44 1629 816200

Covering 555 square miles and featuring 65 mountains is the Peak District, England's first national park. It is divided into two sections—the wild Dark Peak and the gentler, softer White Peak—and can be explored via 1,600-plus miles of trails. Beginners and avid hikers alike will find something to suit their skill level, from the 5.6-mile, moderate loop trail to Thor's Cave, to the challenging, 8-mile trek up the 2,644-foot Kinder Scout. For long-distance trekkers, the Pennine Way, England's first national trail, starts in the Peak District.

When you need to give your muscles a break, check out historic landmarks like Chatsworth House (a filming location for "Pride and Prejudice" and "The Crown"), Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site, and Haddon Hall. Derbyshire county is also known for its craft ale, so be sure to hit up a pub or two while you're here. The Peak District is centrally located and can be accessed from major cities such as Manchester, Sheffield, and Derby.

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North York Moors National Park

north york moors
Address
United Kingdom
Phone +44 1439 772700

Designated a national park in 1952, the North York Moors is located in northeastern Yorkshire and covers an area of 550 square miles. The heritage history is incredible, with the park featuring gothic ruins and working Victorian steam trains. Featuring 1,398 miles of paths and walkways, the moors offer near-infinite hiking and cycling potential for visitors who simply wish to ramble and explore at their leisure. The wildlife here is something special, too. The moors are home to the U.K.’s smallest bird of prey, the moorland merlin, and because the park reaches the coast, visitors may even spot whales swimming.

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Northumberland National Park

Northumberland
Address
United Kingdom
Phone +44 1434 605555

Just south of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Hadrian's Wall is Northumberland National Park, the northernmost national park in England. Due to its location, it's one of the least visited and most barren parks in the U.K., but is a favorite among those who love a true wilderness vibe. Every hike here is a period of discovery—the park features 1,400 monuments, including medieval castles, farmhouse ruins, and hill forts.

Northumberland National Park is also a site of environmental importance, as it was designated a Dark Sky Park by the International Dark-Sky Association in 2013. Perfect spots for a long walk include the Cheviot and Simonside hills, both of which are easily accessed from the small villages of Harbottle and Holystone.

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South Downs National Park

south downs

Getty/ kodachrome25 

Address
North Street, Midhurst GU29 9DH, UK
Phone +44 1730 814810

The South Downs offers visitors the quintessential English landscape: rolling green hills, babbling brooks, ancient woodland, and quaint old villages. This is England’s newest national park, having been officially designated in 2010. In the park’s famous chalk grasslands, you’ll find a wealth of wildflowers, many of which attract some 30 unique species of butterfly.

The area also boasts several vineyards that produce much of the U.K.’s home-grown wine. If you enjoy walking, the South Downs Way stretches between the cities of Winchester and Eastbourne: 100 miles of hill and coastal views, all doable on foot.

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Yorkshire Dales National Park

yorkshire dales

Getty/ Alexander W Helin 

Address
Bainbridge, Leyburn DL8 3EL, UK
Phone +44 1969 652300

Site of the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge—which takes hikers up the hills of Pen-y-ghent, Whernside, and Ingleborough in under 12 hours—Yorkshire Dales National Park offers some of the most dramatic scenery in England. But you don't have to be a hiking pro to enjoy the trails—gentler walks include visiting top natural attractions such as Malham Cove and Aysgarth Falls.

Avid cavers, or anyone looking to try the activity, will be thrilled to discover that the Yorkshire Dales houses the Three Counties system, the most extensive cave system in the U.K. As of now, it's about 55 miles long, though it could potentially be expanded. Descend via one of 40 entrances to explore its underground waterfalls and wide caverns.

The birthplace of Wensleydale Cheese, agriculture is an incredibly important aspect of North Yorkshire county, and the pubs and restaurants reflect this passion. The historic Settle-Carlisle Railway goes right through the park, providing ample options for accommodation.

Article Sources
TripSavvy uses only high-quality, trusted sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
  1. National Trust. "The Beacons Peaks - Pen y Fan and Corn Du."

  2. International Dark-Sky Association. "Brecon Beacons National Park (Wales)."

  3. Edinburgh University Library. "The Lady of the Lake."

  4. International Dark-Sky Association. "Northumberland National Park and Kielder Water & Forest Park (England)."

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A Complete Guide to Every National Park in the UK