We are lucky enough in the UK to have access to some of the most beautiful and varied National Parks in the world. From the epic mountains of the Cairngorms in Scotland to the rugged coast of Pembrokeshire – there is something for everyone. In this guide, we look at the top 10 National Parks in the UK for your enjoyment.
There are currently 15 managed National Parks in the UK – you can check out the full list and details via the official nationaparks.uk website. As a result, narrowing them down to just 10 was difficult! However, I have chosen 10 of my favourite so please don’t be annoyed if I have left out your number one!
1. Peak District
For me, the Peak District will always be number one. It is somewhere I return to time and time again. It is somewhere I have spent uncounted hours exploring, walking, and driving. This National Park has some incredible landscapes and a host of historic towns and sites too.
The Peak District is located in several counties including Cheshire, Derbyshire, and South Yorkshire. It covers an area of 1438 square km and was first established in 1951.
For natural landscapes and features, the Peak District has many. Some of my favourites include Stanage Edge, Ladybower Reservoir, Mam Tor, and Edale Valley. Throughout this park, there are miles of well-maintained walking paths and plenty of National Trust parking too.
If you prefer culture, you can also explore beautiful towns and villages like Buxton and Bakewell. Alternatively, Chatsworth House has some of the most gorgeous gardens in the UK, and the house itself is also interesting to walk through.
2. Yorkshire Dales
Moving further north and we have the Yorkshire Dales. This is another fantastic and open area that I have explored extensively. It was first established as a National Park in 1954 and covers an area of2179 square km.
Throughout the Yorkshire Dales, you can find some epic scenery. For example, it is home to the impressive Ingleborough mountain and a host of beautiful waterfalls like Janet’s Foss and Scaleber Force. One of my favourite spots is Malham Cove – an exposed cliff face that was featured in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
The Yorkshire Dales also has some interesting architecture that stands as a reminder of its historic past. One such structure is the amazing Ribblehead Viaduct that still has an active train line running across it! This national park is also closely situated to several other areas of beauty including the North Pennines, and the Lake District.
3. Lake District
The Lake District is possibly the best-known National Park in the UK. It is a hugely popular international tourist destination, but also a popular place for UK holidaymakers. The Lake District was the second National Park to be established in 1951, and covers an area of 2292 square km. It is entirely situated in the county of Cumbria.
What can you expect from this National Park? Many poets and artists have tried to convey its beauty, but you have to visit the Lakes to truly appreciate it. Throughout the region, you can find a host of great lakes including Windemere, Buttermere, Coniston, and Derwent.
These lakes offer boat tours, water sports, and some amazing hiking trails. Aside from this, perhaps you want to climb Scafell Pike instead, or Skiddaw? These are mighty mountains and some of the tallest in England. There is of course some charming villages and towns in the Lakes too such as Windemere, Ambleside, and Keswick.
4. Loch Lomond & The Trossachs
Continuing our journey north, we have Loch Lomond & The Trossachs. This is one of the top 10 National Parks in the UK due to the epic Loch Lomond itself, but also the breathtaking scenery that surrounds it. Loch Lomond is one of the more recent additions to the National Park register and was established in 2002.
If you visit this region, you should take a boat trip on the loch. This is a simple way to see much of the scenery, and perhaps visit a few of the villages and towns that border it. Loch Lomond is the largest by surface area in Scotland, Wales, and England. However, Lough Neagh and Lough Erne in Northern Ireland surpass it.
Aside from boat tours, The Trossachs is a fantastic place for hiking and wild camping due to the relaxed wild camping laws in Scotland.
We now move back south into northern Wales. This list would not be complete without Snowdonia National Park of course. Snowdonia was established as a National Park in 1951 behind the Lakes and the Peak District. It covers an area of 2142 square km.
The main feature of this park is Mount Snowdon. This is the highest mountain in Wales and the second-highest in the UK behind Ben Nevis. Many people flock to Snowdonia simply to try and conquer the mountain. For the less adventurous, there is a train that also travels to the top!
Within the boundaries of Snowdonia, you can also visit some quaint villages and towns such as Blaenau Ffestiniog, Llanberis, and Beddgelert. For walkers and hikers, Snowdonia is a paradise – wherever you go, you can find amazing hiking trails surrounded by beautiful scenery.
6. Brecon Beacons
On our list of the top 10 National Parks in the UK Wales has three entries. The second is the Brecon Beacons in South Wales. This is one of the older National Parks and was established in 1957, covering an area of 1351 square km.
The Beacons are another brilliant place for hiking and exploring. It’s also a great place for adventure activities such as hang-gliding and watersports.
One of the best-known features is Pen-y-Fan. This is the highest mountain in southern Wales at 886m / 2907ft. However, there are other natural sites like the National Showcaves, Llangorse Lake, and a host of gorgeous waterfalls. Throughout the park you can also base yourself at popular towns like Abergavenny, Merthyr Tydfil, and Brecon itself.
Heading back up to Scotland we have the dramatic Cairngorms National Park. This is the newest National Park on our list and was established in 2003. It is also the largest by land area and covers an epic 4528 square km.
The Cairngorms offers an amazing mix of immense mountainous landscapes combined with culture and history. For example, you could spend a day exploring the historic Balmoral Castle which is one of the Royal residencies.
Alternatively, you could head into the mountains and try to conquer the might Ben Macdui. This Munro is the second-highest in Scotland behind Ben Nevis standing at 1390m / 4295ft.
The whole area surrounding Ben Macdui is covered with similar size peaks and if you are really feeling tough, you could try the challenging Cairngorms 4000 hiking route. The contrast in colors and landscapes is also brilliant to see during the different seasons – especially in colder weather when the peaks are crowned with snow.
Dartmoor is one of the few National Parks in the southwest of England and lies entirely in Devon. It was established in 1951 and covers an area of just 956 square km. Its landscapes mainly feature expansive moorlands and gentle tors topped with granite.
If you want to experience something different from the beaches and coastal towns of Devon, Dartmoor offers an excellent retreat. It is brilliant for walking and you can see some beautiful natural features like the Haytor Rocks or Becky Falls Ancient Woodland.
Alternatively, Dartmoor also has a host of historical sites and attractions. For example, you can see the Cotehele Tudor House and Gardens, or the historic Buckland Abbey.
9. The Broads
If you travel to the east coast of England, you can find the fantastic Norfolk Broads. This is a relatively new National Park and was established in 1989. It is also the smallest current National Park, covering an area of just 303 square km.
The Broads are an extensive network of waterways, wetlands, and rivers that span the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk. This area was originally created by the flooding of peat workings, and it has remained a protected area that is rich in birdlife.
The best way to see The Broads is undoubtedly by boat. In this region, there are approximately 7 different rivers including Bure, Thurne, Yare, and Chet. You can also find an amazing maze of canals and smaller waterways. It is a peaceful place and perfect for a relaxing outdoor adventure.
10. Pembrokeshire Coast
The last National Park on our list is the Pembrokeshire Coast. This Park lies on the western coast of Wales on St. George’s Channel. It is renowned for its amazing beauty, dramatic coastline, and picture-perfect beaches. The Pembrokeshire National Park was established in 1952 and covers an area of 620 square km.
If you enjoy walking or relaxing on beaches, you can take your pick here! Top examples include Barafundle Bay, Castle Beach in Tenby, Manorbier Beach, and Whitesands Bay.
For walkers, you could perhaps take up the challenge of the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path? This epic coastal walk stretches for 186 miles from St Dogmaels to Amroth.
Immerse Yourself in the Epic National Parks of the UK
As you can see, the UK has some absolutely incredible National Parks. You don’t have to travel to the USA or Europe to see well-maintained and diverse parks – we have them right here on our doorstep!
I have spent many days exploring these parks – particularly the Peak District and Yorkshire Dales. If you love the outdoor, I can vouch that these top 10 National Parks in the UK are places you MUST visit!