Since 1951, 15 of the UK’s most precious landscapes have been designated as national parks. From magnificent mountains and moors to spectacular dales and coastline, their landscapes differ wildly. But they all have one thing in common: extraordinary natural beauty.
In springtime, the landscape comes to life before your eyes. See lambs being born, blankets of bluebells and flowers blooming. And with so many rentals nearby to choose from, picking a place to stay will be easy…
Brecon Beacons National Park
Just an hour from Cardiff, the Brecon Beacons form a rich and rewarding landscape. Discovering it is a treat for all the senses: explore subterranean caves, uncover picturesque cycling trails, watch resident red kites soar above hilltop castles and more. At 886m, Pen Y Fan is the National Park’s highest peak; perfect for a spot of abseiling, rock climbing or hiking. The park is also an International Dark Sky Reserve, meaning it’s one of the finest places in the world to observe the night sky.
Broads National Park
The Broads is Britain’s wildlife national park – a unique mosaic of land and water, with lakes and rivers nestling in gentle wooded valleys and wild, open reedlands. With more rare animals and plants than any other UK national park, the Broads is a living landscape of humans and wildlife, water and land. Whether you take to the water by sail or paddle, explore one of its many trails or tour its villages, breathtaking scenery and fascinating history is guaranteed. It also offers plenty of culture; with Norwich on its doorstep, it is the only English National Park to embrace a city.
Cairngorms National Park
In the Cairngorms, you’ll find five of the UK’s six highest mountains to ascend, 55 Munros to tackle, forests of ancient Caledonian pine to ramble through, cascading waterfalls to photograph, and the chance to see some of the rarest and most endangered wildlife. The Cairngorms offer something for every visitor: skier, hillwalker, rock-climber, mountain biker, pony trekker or anyone seeking the peace and tranquillity of the great outdoors. And all against a simply stunning backdrop.
Dartmoor National Park
Tottering piles of granite rocks, stone circles and atmospheric medieval villages… the Dartmoor landscape certainly is unmistakable. It’s the only National Park in the UK to allow wild camping, so it’s the perfect spot to get back to nature (just make sure you read up on the rules beforehand). And, of course, you can’t visit Dartmoor without making friends with the Park’s most famous residents: the Dartmoor Ponies. Visit soon and you’ll be able to see the Moors Otters, too; a public art trail of 100 otter sculptures scattered around the National Park.
Exmoor National Park
Why is Exmoor so popular? Perhaps it’s the remarkable range of colours the park takes on throughout the year: the white of the Snowdrop Valley in February, the yellow and purple of moorland heather, the green and gold of precious woodlands (with over 1700 ancient trees), the resident Red Deer and not forgetting the highlight of many visitors’ trips – the duns, bays and browns of the free-living Exmoor Ponies. But that’s not all! Don’t forget the dramatic green and blue of its seascape (where you’ll find the highest cliffs in England) or the intense black of the night sky over the park (Exmoor was Europe’s first designated Dark Sky Reserve).
Lake District National Park
From the peak of England’s highest mountain to the bottom of its deepest lake, the Lake District is full of natural wonders. The best way to appreciate the jaw-dropping landscape is to follow one of Wainwright’s famous fell walks (there are 214 to choose from!) which will lead you through breathtaking valleys, past crystal clear lakes, under cascading waterfalls and through picturesque towns and villages. But it’s not all magnificent vistas: outdoor pursuits from rock-climbing to canoeing make this paradise for seekers of adventure as well as relaxation.
Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park
Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park covers 720 square miles of Scotland’s most stunning landscapes. A treasure trove of wildlife and scenery enjoyed by millions of visitors every year, it’s a place of grand mountains, ancient forests, breathtaking glens, tumbling waterfalls, unique historic sites and many interesting cultural traditions. Whether you want to enjoy active outdoor pursuits, sample some delicious local produce, or simply want to take in the stunning scenery, there’s something for everyone in this very special part of Scotland.
New Forest National Park
Once a royal hunting ground for William the Conqueror, the New Forest is packed with activities, sights and sounds you’ll be sure to fall in love with. Idyllic glades, rugged beaches, ancient woods, pretty heathland and iconic New Forest ponies… a trip to the New Forest is as restorative as it is fun. Here, wildlife roams free. Be prepared to spot a horse nearby, whether you’re going for a bike ride with the family or enjoying lunch in a cosy tea room in one of the New Forest’s many quaint villages.
Northumberland National Park
Northumberland National Park is home to 400 square miles of breathtaking natural beauty, stretching from Hadrian’s Wall to the Scottish Borders. By day, it’s a haven for walkers and cyclists with trails through its picture-postcard scenery. But by night, it’s just as spectacular as it forms part of the largest area of protected night sky in Europe (calling all astronomers!). This summer sees the opening of The Sill: National Landscape Discovery Centre, a new visitor attraction sure to inspire people of all ages to explore the landscape, history, culture and heritage of Northumberland.
North York Moors National Park
Spectacular moorland, wonderful woods, ancient ruins and a stunning coastline: the North York Moors National Park certainly is a landscape to treasure. Its 26-mile heritage coastline reveals hidden gems at every turn, from picture-postcard fishing villages like Staithes with its artistic flair, to the smugglers’ hot-spot of Robin Hood’s Bay, with its maze of cobbled alleys.
Keen walkers will love the Cleveland Way National Trail while cycling enthusiasts will feel right at home in Dalby Forest (England’s largest mountain bike trail centre). If you prefer a more laid-back itinerary, you can picnic amongst the magnificent ruins of Rievaulx Abbey. Or climb aboard the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, the world’s most popular heritage line steaming through the heart of the moors via Goathland (Harry Potter fans may recognise it as Hogsmeade Station in the first film) before reaching Whitby’s golden sands.
The Peak District National Park
Set up in 1951, the UK’s first and original National Park holds a special place in the hearts of millions. Its unique landscape encompasses the Dark Peak’s gritstone moorlands, the White Peak’s limestone plateau, and the moors and foothills of the South West Peak in Staffordshire. It’s a place for relaxation among tree-lined dales or adventure high on the heathered moorlands. Many routes are accessible for wheelchairs and buggies, including a staggering 65 miles of off-road flat trails, meaning everyone can enjoy the picturesque Peaks.
Pembrokeshire Coast National Park
Pembrokeshire Coast National Park is Britain’s only truly coastal National Park, covering 240 square miles of spectacular landscape. While it may be one of the smallest parks, it’s also one of the most diverse, being home to unspoilt beaches, spectacular views, rolling hills and rugged cliffs. The Pembrokeshire Coast also attracts an amazing range of wildlife and includes internationally important nature reserves, geology, and archaeology. The National Park also boasts a wealth of wonderful places to explore and enjoy including the Pembrokeshire Coast Path National Trail, which twists and turns through 186 miles of breathtaking coastal scenery.
Snowdonia National Park
Arguably the most alluring of all Welsh scenery, Snowdonia is somewhere every traveller should experience at least once in their lifetime. Home to the tallest UK peaks south of Scotland, it’s no surprise that thousands of hikers arrive every weekend to hike up mighty Snowdon. But there’s more to Snowdonia National Park than it’s hiking potential… TripAdvisor travellers love visiting Harlech Castle, going white water rafting and visiting one of the region’s many museums (the National Slate Museum is a firm favourite!). Oh, and don’t forget the wildlife — rare Snowdonia residents include otters, polecats and feral goats to name a few.
South Downs National Park
Described as a “rich tapestry of wildlife, landscapes, tranquility and visitor attractions”, South Downs National Park has so much to offer. Visit the National Trust’s Petworth House (and its brilliant art collection!), go birdwatching at The Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, and enjoy a brew or two in the charming city of Winchester. Stretching from Itchen Valley in Hampshire to Beachy Head in East Sussex, the park is renowned for its picturesque chalk hills which, complemented by the blue crashing sea below and rolling green clifftops, is a postcard-worthy sight indeed.
Yorkshire Dales National Park
The Yorkshire Dales National Park has many moods; it can be wild and windswept or quietly tranquil. It includes some of the finest limestone scenery in the UK, from rocky crags to an underground labyrinth of caves. Each valley or ‘dale’ has its own distinct character, set against expansive heather moorland tops. Stone-built villages sit amongst traditional farming landscapes of field barns, drystone walls and flower-rich meadows.
And if that weren’t enough, spectacular waterfalls and ancient broadleaved woodland contrast with the scattered remains of the area’s rich industrial heritage. Together, nature and people have created a special landscape of immense beauty and character.