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National Parks in England & the UK

National Parks in England & the UK

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National Parks in England and the UK are very different from the US National Parks. For starters, they’re typically smaller (obviously since the UK is tiny compared to the US), and people actually live in them. There are villages and towns, farms and more all within England’s National Parks.

What is the same though, is that they’re beautiful! Sure, it’s not quite the peace and wilderness you get in Jasper National Park, or the desert and rock formations of Arches or Canyonlands, but the rolling hills, greenery, sheep and mountains (albeit small) in the UK’s National Parks are impressive nonetheless.

If you’re visiting the UK and looking for the best UK National Parks, then you’re in the right place. Here’s what to know about the 15 National Parks in the UK and a complete list of national parks in the UK.

Best National Parks in England and the UK

Currently, there are 15 National Parks in the UK with 10 National Parks of England alone. They’re pretty well spaced out across the country so whichever part you’re visiting, or wherever you live, you’re never too far away from one.

National Parks in the UK & England map

National parks in the uk map
National Parks in the UK & England map

What is a National Park? 

The UK and England’s National Parks are areas that have been protected due to their beautiful countryside, wildlife and cultural heritage. In the UK, people work and live in the National Parks and the farms, villages and towns are protected along with the landscape and wildlife.

Where are the National Parks in the UK?

  • 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: The Cairngorms and Loch Lomond & the Trossachs.
  • Wales has 3 National Parks: the Brecon Beacons, Pembrokeshire Coast, and Snowdonia National Park.

But what about Northern Ireland National Parks? You may be wondering whether Northern Ireland has any National Parks. At this time it doesn’t, but it’s still absolutely stunning!

England National Parks

England is home to 10 National Parks which are up and down the country (though there are more in the north). There’s plenty of beautiful coastlines, hills, moorland and forests just waiting to be explored in the national parks in England.

The Lake District National Park

lake district national park

The Lake District National Park is an awesome place for an adventurous weekend in the UK. There are hill mountains, such as Scafell Pike, the highest mountain in England, lakes (obviously) and even 26 miles of coastline that make up the Lake District National Park. With this much natural beauty, it’s no wonder it’s one of the UK’s newest UNESCO Protected Sites.

Since there are so many lakes in the Lake District, this UK National Park is perfect for watersports activities. There’s rowing, kayaking, paddleboarding, fishing and wild swimming (if you’re good with cold water!). If you’re not much of a water lover there’s cycling, hiking and exploring some of the historic towns and villages within the park including the home of Beatrix Potter.

Some of the best things to do in the Lake District National Park:

  • Go kayaking on Lake Windermere
  • Climb Scafell Pike (and get a beer at a local pub to celebrate afterwards!)
  • Enjoy some wild swimming
  • Go camping!
  • Take on the Alfred Wainwright Memorial Walk (6 days, plus or minus a few, to wander past every lake, mountain and valley in the park!)

See my guide to a weekend in the Lake District National Park here.

Northumberland National Park

northumberland england national park

Northumberland National Park is one of England’s most tranquil areas thanks to its rolling hills, dark skies and gentle mountains. It’s the least populated National Park in England which makes it a great place to get away from people and crowds as you explore some of the 700 miles of paths and trails.

It’s the northern-most national park in England between the Scottish border and Hadrian’s Wall in the south and as it’s so sparsely populated it’s excellent for stargazers! The lack of light pollution in the area means Northumberland National Park has some of the darkest skies in England. You can see the Milky Way, and shooting stars and enjoy a relaxing evening at camp before getting up to adventure on foot, by horse or by bike the following day.

Some of the best things to do in Northumberland National Park:

  • See Hadrian’s Wall
  • Stargaze!

The Peak District National Park

peak district national park

Back up in the north of England is the Peak District National Park; Britain’s first national park since 1951. There are almost endless trails to explore through hikes in the Peak District National Park, cycling or even rock climbing!

One of the best ways to really immerse yourself in the area is to go camping! You’re never too far away from civilization when hiking in the Peak District and thanks to its proximity to cities such as Manchester and Sheffield, it’s fairly easy to get to from across the UK (by train anyway!).

Best things to do in the Peak District National Park

  • Go rock climbing
  • Take a Peak District hiking trip. Some popular hikes include Kinder Scout and Thorpe Cloud

The Yorkshire Dales National Park

yorkshire dales national park england

The Yorkshire Dales National Park has lush green valleys, heather moorlands, and even underground caves to explore! The park is also renowned for The Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge where adventurers take on three of the biggest peaks in the area within 24 hours!

This area is also where Wensleydale cheese comes from so cheese lovers have to taste some.

Best things to do in Yorkshire Dales National Park:

  • Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge
  • Visit the Ribblehead Viaduct
  • Go cheese tasting

The North York Moors National Park

north york moors national park

Located in North Yorkshire, the North York Moors National Park is one of the UK’s oldest National Parks. There are 26 miles of stunning coastline with fossils from the Jurassic Age that you can still find today if you’ve got a keen eye. You can explore hidden bays by kayak, walk along the coast and warm up with cups of tea from cute cafes in the fishing villages.

It’s not all about the coastline though, the North York Moors National Park has forest too, a steam railway, bluebell woods and plenty of birds and deer to spot as you wander around.

Best things to do in North York Moors National Park

  • Go cycling in Dalby Forest
  • Go fossil hunting
  • Ride the steam railway

The New Forest National Park

new forest national park england

In southern England is the New Forest National Park. The ancient and ornamental woodland and heathland make it an interesting place to explore, especially by bicycle!

There’s a long stretch of coastline there are lagoons and mudflats and maritime heritage buildings which will be of interest to history lovers. Plus, there are the New Forest ponies to watch or ride!

The New Forest National Park has a huge diversity of plants and animals and is a pretty new National Park having been designated one in 2005.

Best things to do in the New Forest, England

  • Spot the New Forest Ponies
  • Go sailing
  • Take on the Solent Way walk

The Norfolk Broads

norfolk broads national park

Norfolk is a beautiful part of the UK that’s often overlooked by beach areas such as Cornwall. However, Norfolk has a lot to offer!

The Norfolk Broads National Park is England’s largest protected wetland and you can walk for miles as you take in the birds and other wildlife that live here. Or, take a boat along the waterways to get a different view of the broads.

Stepping away from the water itself, there are cute little villages and market towns to explore.

Best things to do in the Norfolk Broads:

  • Take a boat along the waterways
  • Visit the Norfolk coastline since you’re nearby

The South Downs National Park

south downs national park uk

Designated a National Park in 2011, The South Downs National Park is a haven for any nature and adventure lover. The South Downs is just a few hours away from London by train making it easily accessible for a weekend trip!

There are rolling green hills, historic market towns, great pubs and secret swimming spots to be discovered. Plan a walk and make sure you finish off at a pub or if you’re more of a long-distance hiker then tackle the South Downs Way national trail which is over 160km long. There’s also the Seven Sisters Chalk Cliffs where you can walk along the coastal paths and enjoy the views.

Best things to do in South Downs National Park:

  • Visit some of the castles such as Arundel castle
  •  Enjoy some delicious pub food
  • Visit the Seven Sisters chalk cliffs

Dartmoor National Park

dartmoor national park

Down in the southwest of England is Dartmoor National Park which is beautiful with heather moorland, rocky granite outcrops and rolling hills.

The best way to see the park is to explore its many walking and cycling routes, then refuelling in its cozy hamlets. Dartmoor National Park is also the only national park in England to allow wild camping (just remember to leave no trace!) which means you can really get into the wilderness.

As with the New Forest National Park, there are wild ponies here too!

Best things to do in Dartmoor National Park:

  • Enjoy afternoon tea
  • Spot the ponies!
  • Explore the moorlands

Exmoor National Park

exmoor national park

Another beautiful UK National Park with moorland and valleys to explore is Exmoor National Park. Exmoor is pretty close to Dartmor and has a lot of history associated with it too that you can explore. You’ll find burial mounds, Roman forts and medieval villages!

Wander the public footpaths and bridleways and climb the cliffs to get a view of the Bristol Channel or ride the Exmoor ponies.

Best things to do in Exmoor National Park

  • Visit the historic sites such as Dunster Castle
  • Go trail running through the moors
  • Wander through medieval villages.

National Parks in Wales

Wales’ National Parks highlight the area’s natural beauty, especially its coastline but also the forest and waterfalls. You’re sure to have heard of Mt Snowdon and Snowdonia National Park, but there’s so much more to explore in the beautiful Welsh national parks.

Snowdonia National Park

snowdonia national park wales

Snowdonia National Park is one of the most well-known UK National Parks. It’s in Wales and the park gets its name from Mt Snowdon! However, there are actually nine mountain ranges in this National Par some of which are over 300ft tall which is quite a lot for the UK.

Throughout Snowdonia National Park you’ll find river gorges, green valleys, stunning waterfalls, cute villages, woodlands and some beautiful sandy beaches.

I’ve still got fond memories of a birthday weekend in Snowdonia from many years ago and I’d love to go back.

Here are some of the best Snowdonia attractions:

The Brecon Beacons National Park

brecon beacons national park

Across the border in Wales, the Brecon Beacons National Park stretches from Llandeilo in the west to Hay-on-Wye and is made up of mountains and forest. The park is said to be named after the ancient practice of lighting signal fires (beacons) on mountains to warn of attacks by invaders. If you’re a long-distance hiker you may want to take on the 100-mile Beacons Way trail not far outside of the city of Cardiff.

Best things to do in the Brecon Beacons National Park:

Pembrokeshire Coast National Park

pembrokeshire coast national park uk

One of the most stunning coastlines in the UK is the Pembrokeshire Coast. Often overlooked for more popular areas, the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park is in west Wales and is absolutely beautiful. Plus it’s pretty great for surfing too! Another fun activity is coasteering where a guide will lead you around the coast jumping off rocks, climbing and swimming your way around.

If you prefer dry land then be sure to walk some of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path National Trail.

Best things to do in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park

  • Spot puffins!
  • Go surfing
  • Go coasteering

Scotland National Parks

There are just two official national parks in Scotland but they’re pretty big

The Cairngorms National Park, Scotland

cairngorms national park scotland

In the heart of the Scottish Highlands in the Cairngorms National Park. As with most of the Scottish Highlands, the scenery is mesmerizing and sure to blow you away! The Cairngorms has everything from adventure to whisky and watersports too!

It’s the largest national park in Britain and is also home to 5 out of 6 of the highest peaks in Scotland!

Best things to do in the Cairngorms National Park

  • Spend an afternoon on the Malt Whisky Trail
  • Go skiing at Glenshee!
  • Take a hike (within your ability, don’t underestimate the Scottish mountains!)

Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park

loch lomond and the trossachs national park

Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park is not far from either Edinburgh or Glasgow and is home to the famous Loch Lomond as well as plenty of other loch and mountains.

During your visit to Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, you’ll find mountains, water, plenty of hiking, cycling and running and can even go out jet skiing on the lake!

Best things to do in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park

  • Jet skiing on Loch Lomond
  • Go camping
  • Take a hike!