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The 15 amazing national parks of the UK that you should visit

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We're often surprised how many people don't realise that there are 15 national parks across the UK. They're all excellent to visit, and although you'll definitely recognise lots of the names, there will likely be a few you've never heard before. We wanted to highlight each park individually, starting with the 10 parks in England, then the 3 parks in Wales, and finally the 2 parks in Scotland. Let's get into it:

 

 

England
Wales
Scotland

First of all - what is a national park?

As the National Park UK website explains - a national park is an area of land which has been designated as a protected area of land due to its special qualities. When an area of land has a particularly high number of special qualities such as stunning landscapes, natural beauty, diverse wildlife, and interesting historical sites, it is considered to be worthy of an official National Park title. This means that the government will help to protect and enhance the area so future generations can enjoy it.

England

The Broads

This national park is made up of a network of rivers and lakes, and is often referred to as 'The UK's waterland National Park'. Throughout the park, you'll find more than 60 open areas of water known as Broads and as well as 7 rivers, so this park is definitely one for people with good sea legs. The rivers are called Ant, Bure, Chet, Thurne, Waveney, Wensum, and Yare. The waterways were formed when trenches made by people digging for peat flooded.

 

The unique environment has led to the park being home to more than a quarter of the rarest species in the whole of England, including Britain’s largest butterfly (The Swallowtail). The Broads is the only place you'll find it!

 

Some facts about The Broads:

 

- It is Britain’s largest protected wetland and you can explore miles of water via boat

 

- Large parts of The Broads were not naturally formed despite what many people thought for a long time. Research revealed that the Broads were actually formed by ancient peat diggings. Because the sides of the lakes were straight and not sloping as you'd expect to see with a natural lake, researchers were able to figure out that the Broads were man-made. Fascinating!

 

Visit the official website here - https://www.visitthebroads.co.uk/
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Dartmoor

Dartmoor is associated with spectacular open vistas, and although this is an incredible aspect of the park, there is a lot more to it than that. There are lots of paths which are perfect for gentle strolls, or if you are a mountain biker then some of the trails there are excellent. Castle Drogo is also well worth a visit, the last castle ever built in England.
Here are some interesting facts about Dartmoor National Park:
     

  •  Steven Spielberg filmed 'War Horse' here and described it as one of the highlights of his career
  • Dartmoor is an important archaeological area and has the highest concentration of Bronze Age sites in the UK
  • If you're walking about the woods, keep an eye out for the Black Ash Slug, the world’s largest land slug. These slimy guys can grow to 6 inches long!
Find the official website here - https://www.dartmoor.gov.uk/
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Exmoor

Exmoor national park is an International Dark Sky Reserve and is perfect for dark sky admirers. It's also well known as a place to spot wild deer and ponies. You'll find the highest sea cliffs in England here (the Great Hangman is 800ft high!) and an incredible coastline to admire and walk alongside. You've got more than 1000km of footpaths to explore which take you through so many different terrains. In short, we love Exmoor!
Here are some interesting facts about Exmoor:

 

  • Exmoor is one of the smallest national parks in the UK at just 693 square kilometres in size
  • Exmoor has the highest coastline on the British mainland (the highest point is 314m)
Find the official website here - https://www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk/
Exmoor_National_Park

Lake District

This is the largest national park in England, and most of you will be familiar with it already - the Lake District is incredible. It's not only a national park, it's also a World Heritage site. We don't need to list all of the amazing things about this park because you'll likely be familiar with them already, but some highlights include Aira Force waterfalls, Scafell Pike, and Hardknott Fort (incredible remains of a Roman fort).
Here are some facts about the Lake District:
  • The Lake District is home to some of the most diverse freshwater habitats in England. This includes mires, arctic-alpine communities, and lakeshore wetlands.
  • The Lake District has the highest concentration of outdoor activity centres in the entire UK, so there is plenty to do!
  • Archaeologists have discovered that there have been people in the Lake District since the end of the last Ice Age.

We recently conducted a poll to see if locals thought the Lake District is a good place to live, and the results were overwhelmingly positive.

Visit the official website here - https://www.lakedistrict.gov.uk/
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The New Forest

Officially designated as a national park in 2005, The New Forest is an amazing national park and definitely one to visit if you want to spot one of the famous New Forest ponies. Thousands of ponies roam free across the Forest, and are only rounded up once per year for health checks. There is a high chance you'll stumble across one of these ponies during your visit, and the advice is not to feed them but just to admire them from a distance. The park is also home to all 6 of the UK’s native reptile species, including grass snakes and sand lizards. Keep an eye on the ground and you just might spot one of these guys!
Here are some interesting facts about The New Forest:
     

  • The New Forest was actually created by William the Conqueror in the early 11th century as he wanted a royal hunting ground
  • You'll find lots of free-roaming animals there including ponies, cattle, donkeys and pigs
Find the official website of the park here - https://www.newforestnpa.gov.uk/
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North York Moors

The North York Moors has a unique look as one third of the National Park is covered by heather moorland. This also attracts some interesting and rare wildlife to the area, including the merlin (smallest bird of prey in the UK) and the golden plover. If you're lucky you might even see whales off the North York Moors coast. The park is also well known as a great place to visit for dark skies - people often say you can see up to 2,000 stars, and often the Milky Way is visible.
Here are some facts about North York Moors:
  • The park is home to more than 800 scheduled monuments (protected against unauthorised change)
  • Almost a quarter of the national park is woodland, and there are more than 2000km of rights of way paths to explore
You can visit the official website here - https://www.northyorkmoors.org.uk/
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Northumberland

The rivers which run through Northumberland National Park are popular fishing spots, mainly because they're sparkling clear and are home to some excellent game and coarse fishing. Plus, The River Tyne is England’s best-known salmon river. So if you're into fishing then this park is excellent to visit. Even if fishing isn't your thing then there are lots of other things to see and do, including see some interesting wildlife. Northumberland is actually the least populated of the UK’s National Parks, but this gives the wildlife more space and often means you have a better chance of spotting something interesting such as black grouse or an otter.
Here are some facts about Northumberland National Park:

 

  • This is the Northernmost national park in the entire country and is renowned for how clean and fresh the air is
  • This is the largest protected dark sky area in Europe
Visit the official website here - https://www.northumberlandnationalpark.org.uk/
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Peak District

The Peak District is another national park that you will undoubtedly be familiar with, and is unsurprisingly the 3rd most visited national park in the UK. It's often referred to as the UK’s original national park, and we think if you're looking for a park to visit that has a bit of everything then this is a great choice. The national park also has a very unique natural wonder - lots of caves and caverns, including The Castleton caves. Not one to try if you're claustrophobic but certainly fascinating!
Here are some facts about the Peak District:
  • There is a network of former railway line trails throughout the park which is more than 30 miles long
  • Keep an eye on the rock faces and you might spot a Ring ouzel, a very rare bird found in the Peak District
Visit the official website here - https://www.peakdistrict.gov.uk/ 
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South Downs

South Downs is the newest national park in England, but has quickly established itself as an excellent addition to the national park network. There might be a little bit less to see and do here compared to many of the other national parks in our list, but trust us when we say that this is one of the strengths of South Downs - it feels like a tranquil place, with views for miles and countless areas of pure quiet. South Downs is also an international Dark Skies Reserves and is definitely one of the best places to stargaze in the whole country. Despite how peaceful the park is, South Downs is actually the most populated national park in England with over 117,000 people living there.

 

South Downs is an excellent park for foraging, particularly during the Autumn season. Here are some books about foraging you can check out.

 

Here are some facts about South Downs:
  • During the summer months you could expect to find as many as 30 different species of butterfly fluttering about the wildflowers
  • The popular walking route The South Downs Way goes through this national park, and at 100 miles long it takes you through some incredible landscapes and scenery
Visit the official website here - https://www.southdowns.gov.uk/
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Yorkshire Dales

Home to the amazing Three Peaks and some incredible countryside scenery, The Yorkshire Dales is undoubtedly one of the most picturesque places in the country. There are literally dozens of waterfalls to see throughout the park, including the famous Hardraw Force (which has the longest unbroken drop in England) and the world-famous Aysgarth Falls. Amazing, more than 25% of England’s upland hay meadows and pastures are found here, plus it has the most extensive caving area in the whole of the UK. In short, this national park is truly amazing.

 

Here are some interesting facts about the Yorkshire Dales:
  • You'll find ancient dry-stone walls throughout the park (some estimate more than 5000 miles of dry-stone walls) and they're a really defining feature of the area. Some of these walls are more than 700 years old
  • More than 40% of the national Park is moorland, making it ideal for wildlife such as black grouse
Visit the official website here - https://www.yorkshiredales.org.uk/
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Wales

Brecon Beacons

Brecon Beacons is perhaps best-known as an excellent area for mountain bike trails, but it is also excellent for walking - you'll find more than 2000 miles of public footpaths which include steeper climbs and gentle strolls. Like many of the national parks of the UK, Brecon Beacons is an excellent dark sky location and is ideal for stargazing. The four different ranges of mountains are stunning to walk and admire, and we're sure that you'll love this national park.
Here are some interesting facts about the Brecon Beacons:

 

  • On a clear night Brecon Beacons is an excellent place to see meteor showers
  • The park is home to blanket bogs which are playing an important role in the battle against climate change due to how they act as a carbon store
Visit the official website here -  https://www.breconbeacons.org/

Horse Riding at the Brecon Beacons

Brecon Beacons is one of the best places in the UK for horse riding, so we wanted to add an extra section dedicated to just this activity. The Brecon Beacons has more than 600 miles of bridle paths and trails which are terrain for horses, and the scenery is incredible. There are 5 main horse riding and pony trekking centres where you can experience a number of rides:

 

Cantref Riding Centre - probably the best known and most popular centre, you have a good range of options with pony treks available from 20 minutes in length to a full day of riding. The Red Kite Ride is ideal for younger riders and beginners and takes you past the Black Mountains - cantref.com

 

Ellesmere Riding Centre - this is a smaller, family-run centre which offers rides ranging in length from 2 hours to a full day. The rides here are probably slightly better suited to more experienced riders. They offer a Full-day Mountain, Moorland and Forest Hack which is definitely one for more experienced riders but takes you past some really stunning scenery - ellesmereridingcentre.co.uk

 

Wern Trekking and Riding Centre - This centre is on the edge of the Brecon Beacons and offers both hacks and treks, so a good mix for beginners and more experienced riders. They also offer picnic rides where you stop halfway for a bite - werntrekking.co.uk

 

Tregoyd Mountain Riders - This centre is great for lessons and offers rides along the trails of the Black Mountains. Perfect for beginners or more experienced riders - tregoydriding.co.uk

 

Llangorse Multi Activity Centre - this centre has 25 miles of private bridleways to explore, and offers stunning views across Llangorse Lake. They offer total beginner riding lessons for riders aged 4 and upwards - activityuk.com/horse-riding/
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Pembrokeshire Coast

At 240 square miles in sizes, the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park is about half the size of the Brecon Beacons. But this park has so much to offer and is so beautiful that the size isn't really an issue at all. If anything, it just makes all of the beauty even more accessible. As the name suggests, the park is essentially one big coastline and boasts incredible clifftop views and fresh sea air. Not too long ago, National Geographic Traveler listed the Pembrokeshire Coast as one of the best coastal destinations to visit in the world - that's an amazing achievement. Keep an eye out for Manx shearwaters and puffins.
Visit the official website here - https://www.pembrokeshirecoast.wales/
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Snowdonia

Even if you're not familiar with the national parks of the UK, there is a good chance you've heard of Snowdonia before. It's the oldest and the biggest national park in Wales and is home to mountains, castles, and dramatic coast. Snowdon is the highest mountain in Wales and is usually the main place people want to see, but there is so much more to Snowdonia. Snowdon is the highest point in the British Isles (outside the Scottish Highlands), but there are lots of other mountains in the park which are slightly more manageable, the best and easiest of which would be the circular walk around Cwm Idwal.
Visit the official website here - https://www.snowdonia.gov.wales/
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Scotland

Cairngorms

Cairngorms national park is all about mountains - you'll find five of the UK's six highest mountains here, plus 55 different munros to climb (including Sgòr Gaoith, Clach a’Bhair and Ruighe-aiteachain Bothy). Unsurprising, this national park is seriously popular with hikers and climbers, but even if walking up high things isn't your thing (we totally get it), then you have other things to do instead. Enjoy rivers, lochs, and forest walks for something a little less adventurous but still excellent. And if you're really not an active person, then there is no shortage of distilleries to be explored (and sampled) throughout the national park.
Visit the official website here - https://cairngorms.co.uk/
Caingorms - view from the White Mounth Munros

Loch Lomond & The Trossachs

This was the first national park established in Scotland and it centres around the impressive Loch Lomond. It's ideal for walking, with 6 of Scotland’s Great Trails found in the national park and a nice mix of Highlands and Lowlands. It's also only a short distance from cities like Glasgow and Stirling, so ideal if you want to spend some time in the city before diving back into the natural beauty of the park.

Just north of here you can find the Glencoe Nature Reserve where it is possible to become a Lord of Glencoe.

Find the official website here - https://www.lochlomond-trossachs.org/

The Trossachs - view from Stob Benin

Dark skies parks

Many of the national parks in the UK are particularly good for dark sky stargazing, and 4 of them have been awarded with an International Dark Sky Reserve status. Some of the parks are particularly great for seeing the Milky Way. Here is the breakdown of where to go if you want an amazing dark sky experience:

  • Brecon Beacons National Park -  Awarded as an International Dark Sky Reserve
  • Cairngorms National Park - there is a Dark Sky Discovery site at Glenlivet Estate
  • Exmoor National Park - was awarded as an International Dark Sky Reserve in 2011
  • Lake District National Park - there is a Dark Sky Discovery Site at Low Gillerthwaite Field Centre
  • Northumberland National Park - was awarded as an International Dark Sky Park
  • North York Moors National Park - has Dark Sky Discovery Sites at Danby and Sutton Bank National Park Centres
  • Peak District National Park - has Dark Sky Discovery Sites at Surprise View, Parsley Hay and Minninglow
  • South Downs National Park - awarded as an International Dark Sky Reserve
  • Snowdonia National Park - awarded as an International Dark Sky Reserve
  • We'll give a special mention to Galloway Forest Park, because even though it isn't an official national park yet (although we're feeling hopeful that it will be soon), it's one of the best dark sky areas in the world.
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