National Parks in the UK and Other Natural Spaces

While most people think of the popular tourist sights in London when planning a visit to Great Britain, there are many natural spaces and national parks that should not be overlooked. Here is a list of lesser-known outdoor spaces recommended by a proud British nature lover – me. 

I am from Dorset on the southwestern coast. I leave my soul every time I visit and walking among its ancient fells, riverways, and woodlands gives me a deeper sense of peace.

Some of these are achievable in a day trip from London; others require a longer stayover.

Editors note: Not all of these natural spaces in Britain have full national park status. National parks in the UK are designated differently than in the U.S. 

Visitors Can Access All Areas

Britain also has right-to-roam agreements in place across the country. Due to local bylaws, landowners in Britain allow public access to Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), which means hikes are not relegated to only national parks and forests. 

Moreover, RVs, quad bikes, and tents are banned from most public parks, preserving our natural spaces for all to enjoy. The most beautiful places in Britain are only reachable by walking. 

I hope these 12 national parks in the UK and other natural spaces across Britain will motivate you to venture outside the typical touristy spots.

1. New Forest National Park, Hampshire

Midway between London and the English South West is New Forest National Park. The forest remains the largest area of unsown vegetation in England and is reachable in only one hour by car or train from London. 

In addition, several villages on the Southwestern train line provide a base for long walks or cycle trips through stunning moors, heathland, and pine forests. 

Visitors to the New Forest have miles of cycling and walking routes to choose from, in addition to botanical gardens, manor house estates, castles, and ancient churches — even a famous motor museum.

2. The Purbeck Hills, Dorset

The Purbeck Hills are one of my favorite places on the planet: A series of chalkstone ridges that form a spine overlooking the southern coast and the English Channel. They are the perfect escape for quiet, long walks through coves and along clifftops, finding secluded swimming spots, or just unwinding with an English cream tea in a village tucked away in one of many scenic corners. 

A two-hour drive from London, there are trains from Waterloo or National Express (the U.K. Greyhound) buses from Victoria Bus Station and Heathrow Airport. The Visit Dorset website provides information on what to do in the Purbecks. 

3. Tyneham and Worbarrow Bay, Dorset

Just a two-hour road journey from London Heathrow Airport or one hour from Bournemouth Airport is Tyneham and the spectacular Worbarrow Bay. The area was taken over as a strategic military base during World War Two, with most residents leaving for good.

Most people come to visit the deserted schoolhouse and museum, but the surrounding hills and sea offer excellent opportunities for adventure sports enthusiasts. 

Others will enjoy bracing hikes up and down the Southwest Coastal Path and marvel at the Unesco “Jurassic Coast,” finding the odd fossil on their way, or just breathing in the views of the English Channel and the Atlantic Ocean beyond. 

4. The Norfolk Broads

Norfolk sits on the eastern rump of the English Midlands. Situated up on the northeastern side are the Norfolk Broads, a huge network of old peat-farming channels, flooded in the middle ages to become a crucial wetland and habitat for dozens of bird and insect species today. 

This is one of the most peaceful ways to see an ancient landscape:

  • Passing through miles of canals and rivers
  • Taking in windmills, canals, and tulip farms
  • Stopping off in country pubs for lunch and a pint of the local ale 

Broads Tours offers day tours, or even longer, private boat hires from as little as £20 a day (equal to about $25) though private boats are also available. Norwich International Airport is the closest hub, though driving from London is possible in two hours. 

5. Peak District National Park, Northern England

Those who find themselves in Britain over the summer could do worse than visiting the Peak District. The national park is best explored by car, but some breathtaking landscapes are accessible via trains that run between Sheffield and Manchester. 

There are many activities available in this region, including bouldering, rock climbing, mountain biking, kayaking, canyoning, and paragliding. 

Photographers will marvel at the colors at dusk or dawn, while stargazers will enjoy several dark sky spots for night watching. 

6. Malvern Hills, Worcestershire

An hour's drive south from the Birmingham International Airport will find you in the Malvern Hills AONB. This range sits above the spa town of Malvern, which grew popular during Victorian times for its natural water springs.

It also has the world's oldest spring water bottling factory, in addition to an 11th-century priory around which the town was built. The history of the town is a great accompaniment to the hills' many hiking and cycling routes; this is a wonderful place for crowd-avoiding naturalists — like me. 

For information on where to stay and go, the Visit Malvern website is a fantastic resource.

7. Exmoor National Park, Devon

Exmoor is in North Devon, so a stayover is recommended for those coming from London to this ancient, elevated moorland park. The other option is flying into Exeter Airport via Dublin or London, though a road trip through the South West of England is always scenic. 

There is an abundance of forested valleys and rivers in the pockets of lowland gulleys and gorges on Exmoor. Ultramarathon runners, ramblers, and no shortage of quirky British characters habit the moors. With anything from mountain biking to paragliding on the menu, Exmoor is a great place for sports enthusiasts. 

Moreover, the national park was Europe's first International Dark Sky Reserve, boasting almost perfect conditions for galaxy gazers. 

8. Gower, Wales

Gower lies on the southern coast of the Welsh peninsular and is best accessed from Swansea City. This unspoiled pocket of Welsh wilderness is a four-hour drive from London, or a short flight and car rental will bring you here. Trains to central Swansea run from several London stations also.

If you like peaceful cliff walks, bracing winds, and magical sunsets, Gower is the place for you. However, the region is renowned for some epic surf, and British wave riders flock here all year in their camper vans. However, Gower Holidays is an excellent directory for a variety of other more cozy, family-friendly lodgings. 

9. Snowdonia National Park, Wales

Snowdonia is named after Wales' highest peak, Mount Snowdon; the mountain is popular in the summer with hikers, especially its exciting route named Crib Goch. However, the park has dozens of quieter routes.

One can transfer via bus, car, or train from major hubs Liverpool, Birmingham, or Manchester in just two hours, and one week is needed to see Snowdonia in all its glory.

The range has something for everybody: high-octane climbing, canyoning, and white water sports for adventurers; relaxing village strolls or castle visits amid breathtaking scenery for others. 

10. Cairngorms National Park, Scotland

Few places in the world can rival the archaic beauty of Cairngorms National Park in the eastern Scottish Highlands. 

Scots are proud of their landscape, and rightfully so: Cairngorms National Park is blanketed in snow in the winter and has a thriving ski resort. Then, in the summer, a carpet of bright purple heather spreads across the valleys bringing it even more to life. 

One could say it is like Scotland's answer to Yellowstone, though no less stunning — locals would tell you it is even more beautiful. Via sleeper train from London, one can get to the eastern side of the park via Aberdeen, or via the more populated western half via Inverness. 

11. The Mourne Mountains and the Ring of Gullion, Northern Ireland

Interestingly, Northern Ireland doesn't yet officially have any national parks, and movements toward establishing these are now gaining momentum. The inspiration behind C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia, the Mourne Mountains have a mystical ambiance. 

Not only will you find three designated AONBs there but also a UNESCO-aspiring Geopark featuring walking trails, guided activities, and sites that celebrate 400 million years of Ireland's geological history, 

Flights into Belfast leave a short one-hour drive, while buses regularly leave from Belfast Europa Bus Center. This wonder requires at least a weekend to enjoy properly. 

12. The Outer Hebrides, Scotland

The Outer Hebrides sounds like a wild location — and it is. The rugged, wind-washed archipelago out on the northwestern reaches of Scotland has 65 different islands, only 15 of which are inhabited by the region's 26,000 residents. Locals mostly speak a Gaelic Scots dialect, though enclaves of English speakers exist. 

The region is famous for world-class trout and salmon fishing; island-hopping driving tours trips are spectacular. Getting to the Outer Hebrides is possible between the stable weather of April and October. There are direct flights from Scottish cities, though driving over via ferry is more popular for island hopping. 

This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.