The 15 UK National Parks on a map: Which should you visit?

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If you’re into the outdoor lifestyle and you’re heading to the UK, chances are, you’ll be looking to visit at least one of the UK National Parks?

Perhaps you’ve only got limited time and you’re wondering which one to go to? Probably why you’re here on this post. Well, welcome! You’re in the right place.

In this blog post, we are going to run through all 15 National Parks in the UK and what they offer in terms of adventure. From Via Ferratas in the Lake District and walking alpacas in the South Downs all the way to taking on the Yorkshire Three Peaks challenge and summiting the highest mountain in Wales in just a day!

Should you go to England National Parks, Scotland National Parks or Wales National Parks? By the end of this post, you should have a pretty good idea!

Fun fact: Northern Ireland doesn’t actually have any National Parkland but don’t let that be a reason to dismiss it. See my best places to visit in Northern Ireland here.

The 15 UK National Parks on a map: Which should you visit?

The 15 UK National Parks on a map: Which should you visit?

See my 16 hikes in the UK that you cannot miss here.

What is a National Park? I hear you ask.

‘In the UK there are 15 members in the National Park family, which are protected areas because of their beautiful countryside, wildlife and cultural heritage. People live and work in the National Parks and the farms, villages and towns are protected along with the landscape and wildlife.’ – National Parks UK

Before we dive into them individually, let me give you a little break down of where the are located in terms of country…

  • England has 10 National Parks: The Broads, Dartmoor, Exmoor, the Lake District, the New Forest, Northumberland, the North York Moors, the Peak District, the South Downs and the Yorkshire Dales.
  • Scotland has 2 National Parks: Cairngorms and Loch Lomond & the Trossachs.
  • Wales has 3 National Parks: the Brecon Beacons, Pembrokeshire Coast, and Snowdonia.

The ultimate guide to planning a full UK road trip ft. the best places to visit in England, NI, Scotland and Wales.

ENGLAND

1. Dartmoor National Park UK

Designated as a National Park in 1951, Dartmoor has been on the map from the beginning. Here in the south of Devon, you can discover wild open moorlands, iconic granite tors, ancient monuments and rich local history.

Some key activities/attractions include:

  • Cross Postbridge Clapper Bridge (dating all the way back to the middle ages)
  • Visit Brentor Church (situated at the very top of an extinct volcano.)
  • Afternoon tea in Ashburton (lots of quirky shops and tearooms)
  • Meldon Reservoir (one of the best things to do in Dartmoor if you love a hike!)
  • Custom walking tour with Dartmoor’s Daughter
  • Take a Llama for a walk!

See TripAdvisors top outdoor activities in Dartmoor National Park here.

2. New Forest National Park UK

The New Forest National Park has a huge diversity of rare plants and animals– one of the reasons why it was made a National Park in 2005. I have such fond memories camping here in the New Forest as a kid and I recently returned and the magic is very much still alive.

It’s a place of seriously outstanding natural beauty. As you drive through the countryside here in the New Forest you’ll find the grazing of ponies, cattle and pigs that roam freely. There’s a real sense of freedom here and not only for the animals. The New Forest is a wonderful excuse to explore on foot, horseback, or by bike to soak it all up.

Join 7,000+ other like-minded Global Travellers in the Facebook family here today!

3. South Downs National Park UK

The South Downs National Park really does have it all. Sized at 1,600km squared, this National Park in the southern region of the UK was actually only given its official National Park title in 2011. This is possibly a reason that’s it’s seemingly a lesser talked about and visited destination than the likes of the Lake District and Snowdonia. If you’re from London, heading to the South Downs is much closer in distance and for a 3-day getaway. It’ll leave you that much more time for exploring. YAY.

South Downs National Park as a destination is rich in culture, adventure, countryside, villages and (a personal favourite) gorgeous country pubs. It’s West Sussex neighbours host gorgeous stretches of coastline, cliffs (white cliffs of Seven Sisters) so you can combine them all into a super versatile weekend… just like we did.

Some key activities/attractions include:

The 15 UK National Parks on a map: Which should you visit?
The 15 UK National Parks on a map: Which should you visit?

4. Exmoor National Park UK

Exmoor is loosely defined as an area of hilly open moorland in west Somerset and north Devon in South West England. Another stunning area to visit on your trip to the UK. It is named after the River Exe, the source of which is situated in the centre of the area, two miles north-west of Simonsbath.

  • Visit the historic site of Dunster Castle
  • Join the wild goats and walk along the cliff path on the historic Valley of the Rocks walk
  • Visit and have tea at Watersmeet House on the water (formerly built as a fishing house)
  • The head out on the Watersmeet Trail

WALES

5. Brecon Beacons National Park, Wales

Brecon Beacons National Park was designated in 1957 and is one of three Welsh parks alongside Snowdonia and the Pembrokeshire Coast. Brecon Beacons National Park stretches from Llandeilo in the west to Hay-on-Wye in the northeast covering 519 square miles and is home to four main regions:

Some key activities/attractions include:

  • Pen y Fan Sunset Hike
  • Walk the iconic 4 waterfalls valley
  • Brecon Beacons and Caerphilly Castle
  • Welsh Three Peaks Challenge (3 Peaks Challenge Cymru)
  • Hike up the Brecon Beacons highest mountain, Pen-y-fan
  • market town of Brecon

6. Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, Wales

Pembrokeshire Coast National Park has probably the most stunning coastline in the UK or at least one of. No joke. It was the coastline here that give Pembrokeshire Coast National park it’s designation in 1952. The park coastline runs along the Pembrokeshire coast in west Wales and covers 629 km² so, yep you guessed it, it’s a walker haven! Get ready for all the views.

Here’s a few walks not to miss in Pembrokeshire Coast National Park in Wales:

  • Marloes Peninsula, Pembrokeshire
  • Saundersfoot to Tenby, Pembrokeshire
  • Ramsey Island, Pembrokeshire
  • Preseli Hills, Pembrokeshire
  • Caldey Island, Pembrokeshire
  • St David’s Peninsula, Pembrokeshire

See the best walks and hikes to go on in Wales here.

7. Snowdonia National Park, Wales

Snowdonia National Park is one of my favourite places in the UK. I recently climbed the tallest peak in Wales which is located right in Snowdonia National Park and is what the park is named after… Snowdon. The nine mountain ranges in this National Park cover approximately 52% of the land and include many peaks that are over 3,000 feet (915m). Here you’ll witness steep river gorges, waterfalls and green valleys. You’ll explore oak, ash, rowan and hazel woodlands and you’ve got 23 miles of coastline and sandy beaches to diversify the landscape even further.

Some key activities/attractions include:

The 15 UK National Parks on a map: Which should you visit?

ENGLAND

8. Broads National Park, England

Norfolk’s The Broads National Park is heaven for river-farers, it’s a beautiful network of mostly navigable rivers and lakes in the English counties of Norfolk and Suffolk. It’s been referred to as the ‘Venice of the East’ has more waterway mileage than Venice itself! Whether you hire a boat for the day, go fishing, meander through the gorgeous local towns or enjoy a pint of ale in the local pub. It’s a truly unique stop on your UK adventure!

9. Peak District National Park, England

The Peak District National Park became the first National Park in the United Kingdom in 1951 and is located within close proximity to the cities of Manchester, Stoke-on-Trent, Derby and Sheffield. So one of the more northern National Parks in the UK.The Peak District is around a 4-hour drive from London but be careful, rush hour can nearly double this as you leave the city!

Some key activities/attractions include:

  • Mountaineering/rock climbing
  • Walk the circuit of the Burbage Valley
  • Loads more beautiful walks in the countryside: climb Thorpe Cloud, Kinder Scout and the High Peak trail
  • Quad-biking
  • Rent bikes for a day
  • Boat trip along Cromford Canal
  • Visit Treak Cliff Cavern, the 9 ladies stone circle, the 5 wells burial tomb and the Blue Lagoon of Buxton
  • Visiting quaint little villages, such as Dovedale and Ashbourne

10. Yorkshire Dales National Park, England

The Yorkshire Dales National Park is in northern England. It encompasses thousands of square miles of moors, valleys, hills and villages and is home to a ridiculous amount of natural beauty.

Some key activities/attractions include:

  • Yorkshire Three Peaks Challengesee my complete guide here.
  • Visit and photograph the Ribblehead Viaduct
  • Force Gill Aqueduct
  • Cheese tasting at Wensleydale Creamery (yes Grommit!)
  • Aysgarth Falls

See my weekend in the Yorkshire Dales here.

11. North York Moors National Park, England

As suggested by the name, North York Moors National Park is located in North Yorkshire and was another early appointed NP in 1952. The unspoilt 26 miles of coastline here has footprints and fossils from the Jurassic Age in the cliffs and rocks at the water’s edge. There are hidden bays, coastal walks and beautiful little fishing villages to explore. Aside from the coastline, this National Park is home to some stunning forests (23% of the National Park is covered by trees).

Some key activities/attractions include:

  • Explore the pretty coastal village of Sandsend (3 miles north of Whitby)
  • Eat at Bridge Cottage Bistro
  • Howardian Hills 
  • Dalby Forest (70 miles of cycling trails, England’s largest trail centre)

12. Lake District National Park, England

Another of my favourite corners of the UK to explore and spend the weekend. Mainly because of the mountains and the lakes that come in abundance here. The Lake District National Park is home to England’s highest mountain and is a stunning National Park in the North West region of England. To drive to the Lake District, it’s about five hours from London and the South East, 1.5 hours from Manchester and two hours from York.

This place is an adventurers haven and is perfect for anyone looking to dive into the heart of nature. The towns, the people, the views and the food all contribute to a weekend/trip that will refuel your soul.

Some key activities/attractions include:

See my epic 3-day guide to the Lake District here.

The 15 UK National Parks on a map: Which should you visit?
The 15 UK National Parks on a map: Which should you visit?

13. Northumberland National Park, England

Northumberland National Park is the northern-most national park in England. It covers an area of more than 1,050 square kilometres between the Scottish border in the north to just south of Hadrian’s Wall, and it is one of the least populated and least visited of the National Parks. If you’re heading up to Scotland on your UK adventure, it would be silly to not stop off here on your way and tick off another UK National Park…

Some key activities/attractions include:

  • Housesteads Roman Fort – Hadrian’s Wall
  • Waterskiing / sailing at Kielder Water
  • Kielder Water & Forest Park
  • Take photos of The Sycamore Gap Tree or Robin Hood Tree(a sycamore tree standing next to Hadrian’s Wall near Crag Lough)

SCOTLAND

14. Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, Scotland

Loch Lomond is a lake in southern Scotland and forms part of the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park, one of the two National parks in Scotland alongside Cairngorms National Park. Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park is an expanse of mountains, water and countryside, good for walking, climbing, cycling and sailing adventures when in Scotland. Let this be your chance to get hands-on with water activity, even if it’s just a day cruise!

Be sure to check out:

  • The Duke’s Pass Scenic Drive
  • the views from atop of Conic Hill over Loch Lomond
  • camping out on the lakefront itself in one of the many campsites and holiday grounds!

You can catch the ferry from Cairnryan (Scotland) to Larne (Northern Ireland) to connect the dots on your UK road trip! The ferry duration is around 2 hours. Book your ferry here.

The 15 UK National Parks on a map: Which should you visit?

15. Cairngorms National Park, Scotland

The Cairngorms National Park, in the heart of the Scottish Highlands, is the largest of the two national parks in Scotland and is located north of Loch Lomond and just south of Inverness. The Cairngorms National Park has everything from castles to distilleries and offers a wealth of adventure, think watersports, snowsports, wildlife watching, and some incredible walking and cycling routes.

Whether you’re looking for a boujee experience or a rough and ready adventure, Cairngorms has got you covered! For example, check out this peaceful retreat cabin on Airbnb! Use this link for £34 off your first booking!

Discover beyond the UK with these 15 epic road trips to go on in Europe.

How many UK National Parks have YOU ticked off??

I’d love to know!

Love as always and happy adventuring,

Mollie.

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THE 15 UK NATIONAL PARKS ON A MAP: WHICH SHOULD YOU VISIT?
THE 15 UK NATIONAL PARKS ON A MAP: WHICH SHOULD YOU VISIT?
The 15 UK National Parks on a map: Which should you visit?

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