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Many people come to the U.K. and only get as far as London never witnessing the spectacular landscapes and nature that the rest of the country has to offer. With 15 national parks and many more protected areas of natural beauty (all of which are free to enter) the U.K. is a nature-lover’s paradise. From mountains, forests and green open spaces, to coastline, rivers, lakes and waterfalls, there’s a huge variety of landscapes and wildlife to discover. Outdoor and adventure seekers can choose from endless activities, whilst the more-laid back of you can relax in quaint villages with an ale (made locally). If you love the natural beauty of the outdoors, there are plenty of top places to visit in the U.K.
Here are five of the U.K.’s best nature spots, which are probably more off-the-beaten-path than your typical U.K. travel guide too! All these places can be visited for a weekend, but they really are best enjoyed for at least a week.
Table of Contents (skip directly to the info you're looking for)
- 1 Best places to visit in the United Kingdom for outdoor lovers
- 1.1 Brecon Beacons
- 1.2 Lake District National Park
- 1.3 Peak District
- 1.4 Snowdonia
- 1.5 Ashridge Estate
Best places to visit in the United Kingdom for outdoor lovers
Located in the South Wales, the variety of landscapes on offered in the Brecon Beacons makes it the perfect place for adventure seekers!
Adrenaline junkies can get their thrills rock climbing and abseiling on the park’s natural cliffs, whilst lakes and rivers can be explored by canoe or sailboat. You can even try windsurfing on Wales’ largest natural lake, Llangorse! If it’s raining there are extensive limestone cave systems be explored with expert caving guides. On sunnier days if you prefer to be above ground you can take to the skies and get a birds eye view from a hang glider. With over 600 miles of bridleways and tracks available horse-lovers can take a leisurely ride across the acres of hills and moorland, whilst those who prefer to be on wheels can enjoy a huge network of cycling and mountain biking trails. Hikers and ramblers will be in their element too, discovering large open spaces, dense forests, waterfalls and rivers, and a variety of bird and wildlife! Nature activities don’t have to be limited to the day time either as the Brecon Beacons is part of the International Dark Sky Reserve (IDSR) and has some of the highest quality dark skies in the entire of the UK, making it the ideal destination for stargazers.
Foodies can attend the free Brecon Beacons Food Festival in October where you can enjoy a huge selection of produce such as beer, cheese and bread as well as traditional Welsh cakes and Welse rarebit (similar to a posh cheese on toast, but better!). Farmer’s markets are also held regularly in market towns where you can also find plenty of delicious local treats.
Phew, what’s not to love?!
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Where to stay in Brecon Beacons
There are plenty of accommodation options available from campsites, hostels and self-catering homes, to bed & breakfasts, inns and luxury hotels. Do your part to protect the environment and choose an eco-friendly place to stay – the Brecon Beacons website lists accommodations that have officially received the Green Tourism standard by the U.K.’s Green Tourism Business Scheme.
How to get there:
The Brecon Beacons National Park is approximately 3.5 hours from London by car. To travel by public transport there are direct bus connections from London to New Port in South Wales and then a train to Abergavenny; this journey takes around 4.5 hours in total. Several local bus lines are available to transport you to different parts of the park. You can also get the Explore Wales Pass in advance, which is valid for eight days and offers unlimited bus services inside the national park.
Lake District National Park
The Lake District is England’s largest national park and a named UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its 13 breathtaking valleys. As you can probably guess by the name you’ll find many lakes in this national park, in fact there are more than 16! At 10.6 miles long (17 km) Lake Windermere is the largest lake in England and is surrounded by many picturesque small towns and villages. You can of course drive around the lake, but at Bowness-on-Windermere and Brockhole-on-Windermere there are jetties which provide a faster crossing for both pedestrians and cars, or you can hire a rowing boat and navigate the lake yourself!
At Lakeside you can board the Lakeside and Haverthwaite steam train for a nostalgic ride alongside Lake Windermere. Ambleside is just one mile from the northern point of Lake Windermere and is a busy market town that’s a popular starting point for walks around the lake, plus it has many outdoor shops, bookstores and cafes as well as a cinema. Buttermere is a small, pretty village in the west of the park that has two lakes nearby, Crummock Water and Buttermere, both of which have beautiful and scenic walks almost the entire way around them. Even on grey days the clouds hang low between the hills, hovering above the water and make for some pretty spectacular photo opportunities!
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The Lake District is also home to England’s tallest mountain, Scafell Pike which measures 978 m (3,209 ft) high. Keen hikers can reach the summit in around 2-3 hours and enjoy 306 degree panoramic views of the surrounding countryside. If you’re the adventurous type and have more time on your hands (and a car), you can try the Three Peaks Challenge which consists of climbing the U.K.’s three tallest mountains within 24 hours: Ben Nevis in Scotland, Scafell Pike in England and Snowdon in Wales! Besides Scafell Pike, the Lake District offers more than 3,000 kilometres of trails and paths ranging from mild to strenuous, which you can explore on foot or by bike! Should you travel off-season and visit in winter, you can take the opportunity to learn some winter skills and join an expert in taking snow and weather readings!
Where to stay in the Lake District
Anywhere you decide to stay in the Lake District will be stunning! Get close to nature and pitch a tent at a campsite or even wildcamp (just make sure you do your research on the wild camping etiquette for the best experience – the Lakes’ website provide a handy guidebook here). You can also find lovely glamping accommodations, hostels and bunkhouses, cosy log cabins, quaint cottages, country inns, and even luxury and spa hotels!
How to get there:
The Lakes is a 5 hour drive from London. Be aware that once inside the park the roads may be smaller and quite windy so allow extra time to move from place to place! A direct train runs from London to Oxenholme (7 hours), Penrith and Carlisle along the east side of the national park. From there local trains take you to Kendal, Staveley and Windermere and bus lines can take you to other smaller villages. An alternative, faster connection is from Manchester which has an international airport and it takes just 1 hour to reach Oxenholme by train.
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The Peak District is an amazing place for road cycling and there are many traffic free routes where you can really enjoy the stunning landscapes around you. There are several cycle hire centres, so even if you don’t have your own you’ll be able to go out on an adventure!
Aside from cycling, the Peak District is also a hiker’s paradise. The National Park allows the public right of way to about 500 sq km of Access Land, which includes moors, heaths, commons and hills. In this Access Land you don’t have to keep to marked paths and can walk wherever you like! If you have an Ordanance Survey map the Access Land is shown in a yellow wash. There are also plenty of marked trails connecting picturesque English villages – almost all of which will have a pub to stop off at for a hearty lunch and a beer! Typical dishes at an English pub include beer-battered fish and chips, steak and ale pie, and sausages and mashed potatoes (“bangers and mash”). For a cheaper lunch option, you can walk into almost any sandwich shop and ask for sandwiches, pastries or salads to take with you on your walk!
One spot not to miss is the dramatic scenery at Stanage-North Lees, which is comprised of moorland, rocky edges, woodland and farmland. Park up the car or bike and walk 15-20 minutes to climb on top of Stanage Edge to watch the sunset.
If there’s one village you have to visit in the Peak District it’s Bakewell. Famous for the Bakewell Tart (or Bakewell Pudding – the jury is still out on this one!) this traditional English village has a rich cultural heritage. Stop in at any of the local bakeries or tearooms to try a Bakewell Tart – a shortcrust pastry base filled with jam, frangipane and topped with toasted flaked almonds. You can also visit the village’s oldest building, which houses the aptly named Old House Museum, and dates back to 1534! Furthermore, in August the village hosts one of Britain’s largest tented events, The Bakewell Show, where you can get up close and personal with farm animals, watch equestrian shows, attend cooking workshops, see vintage farm machinery and lots more! Chatsworth House is also a grand manor estate where you can explore a manor house that has been passed down through 16 generations, and the gardens which include stunning waterworks and a maze! Many events are hosted here such as country fairs, open air cinema nights and outdoor theatre performances.
Where to stay in Peak District
Camping or glamping in the summer months is a lovely way to experience the Peak District, but if you prefer a bit more comfort then you’ll find hotels, lodges and inns too! If you’re in a big group you can rent larger self-catering accommodations, and families might enjoy the static caravan parks available – some even come with hot tubs on the veranda!
How to get there:
The drive from London to the Peak District is around 3 hours. The major cities neighbouring the Peak District (Sheffield, Manchester and Leeds) all have regular intercity rail services from destinations across the country. From these cities, it’s easy to make onward journeys into the Peak District by train or bus.
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Snowdonia National Park is located in North Wales and more than half of this spectacular park consists of mountains. You’ll find river gorges, woodland, valleys, waterfalls and coastline in this unique landscape. The park is home to England and Wales’ tallest mountain, Snowdon which measures approximately 1,085 metres (3,560 ft) above sea level.
Choose one of the many hiking trails to the summit (personal favourites are the Pyg Track or the Miner’s Track which pass two beautiful lakes on the way) where, on a good weather day, you can enjoy jaw-dropping 360 degree landscape views. There is a Sherpa Bus service which takes tourists to the various trail heads. If you don’t fancy the hike don’t worry – you can take the train! Opened in 1896 this railway from Llanberis to the Snowdon summit is a popular way for everyone to enjoy the mountain.
Aside from Snowdon, the national park offers plenty of other walking trails around the coast, connecting villages and learning about the history of slate mining in the area as well as other mountain ranges. Keen hikers can join the Snowdonia Challenge at the end of June – a unique 100km walking event over three days, or attend the Snowdonia Hiking Festival which takes place in November. Snowdonia is also a fantastic place for cycling and horse riding, as well as water-sports like white water rafting, kayaking, or you can even try surfing in at the world’s first inland surf lagoon!
There are also many picturesque towns, villages and castles to explore. Harlech castle is an impressive medieval castle, whereas Penryhn castle near the university town of Bangor is from the 19th century and looks more like it belongs in a fairytale! Welsh is still spoken by many of the locals in Wales and you’ll notice that most signs are written in both English and Welsh – have a go at pronouncing some of them yourself, it’s not easy! Fun fact: Wales in Welsh is “Cymru” (“kem-ri”).
Where to stay in Snowdonia
Camping and caravan parks are very popular in Snowdonia and are good budget accommodation options. You can also find hostels that range from basic to luxury, as well as self-catering homes, bed & breakfasts and luxury inns all over the park. The Rocks Hostel is one of the poshest yet affordable hostels in Snowdonia and is located very close to Snowdon.
How to get there:
Snowdonia is approximately 4 hours drive from London. It also takes around 4 hours to reach by train from London to Bangor, and then towns and villages in Snowdonia are connected by a network of local and regional buses. If you want to climb Snowdon, the Snowdon Sherpa Day Ticket ticket costs £5 and allows you to hop on and off the Snowdon Sherpa network all day as many times as you like for the day.
Just a stone’s throw away from London, Ashridge Estate is a fantastic place to escape the city and reconnect with nature. The estate is part of the National Trust, a charity organisation set up in 1895 with a mission to preserve the U.K.’s heritage and outdoor spaces. At the main visitor centre is the Bridgewater Monument, built in 1832 in memory of the third Duke of Bridgewater who once lived in Ashridge house. You can climb the 172 steps to the top of the monument and look out over the surrounding countryside, and if you’re lucky you might even see some of London’s skyline on a clear day!
In spring the forest is carpeted with wild bluebells, whilst in autumn you can join a guide to track deer during the rutting season when males compete for the females’ attention. All year round there is plenty of wildlife to see including deer and muntjack, foxes and a variety of British bird life. There are lots of short, self-led walks you can do, though two really pleasant ones that you can do in a day both start from Bridgewater Monument. One is a three-hour loop (7.5 miles/12 km) to Pitstone Windmill which has history dating back to 1627! The other is a two-hour trail (5 miles/8 km) to Ivinghoe Beacon, which used to be an iron-age hill fort and has spectacular views of the Chiltern chalk valleys.
Where to stay in Ashridge Estate
London has thousands of places to stay from hostels to Airbnb’s to hotels, but if you want to stay closer to Ashridge then the Chilterns Bunkhouse can accommodate up to 16 people and offers a kitchen/recreation area. For a bit more luxury Pendley Manor is a beautiful renovated manor house and spa.
How to get there:
Ashridge Estate is a 1 hour drive from London. To go by train Tring is the nearest train station (less than one hour from London Euston) from where you can walk the 1 and 3/4 miles to the estate or take a taxi.
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So, there you have it; five spots to discover in the U.K. each with unique landscapes, abundant with British wildlife and plenty of activities to keep you busy! Any nature-lover will be in paradise at these destinations and even those who prefer urban life will appreciate the pretty towns or neighbouring cities. Hopefully this proves that there is more to the U.K. than London!
This is a guest post by: Linda from the blog Bamboo and Backpacks
Author’s Bio: Together with her boyfriend, Caleb, Linda runs the eco-travel blog Bamboo & Backpacks. They have been budget backpacking together for the past two and a half years as sustainably as possible, and aim to inspire others to make more conscious choices to protect the environment and opt for more ethical tourism. You can follow their adventures on Instagram and YouTube.
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