Our top five UK national parks
We explore some of our favourite national parks. Perfect for picnics, long rambles, stargazing and wildlife spotting.
What is a national park?
Ever wondered what is a considered a national park? They are ‘protected landscapes’ that are known for their outstanding natural beauty, unique features, unpolluted dark skies (good for stargazing!) and abundant wildlife. They are preserved for the benefit of all of us – and of course for sake of the environment too.
How many national parks are there in the UK?
There are 15, ten in England, two in Scotland and three in Wales. They are all stunningly beautiful, but here’s our top five national parks for unforgettable days out.
1. Dramatic peaks and rugged charm
Britain’s first national park, the Peak District, is also the most popular. It sits on the edge of the Pennines and mostly lies within the county of Derbyshire. It is divided into Dark Peak, made up of wild untamed moorland and White Peak which consists of limestone valleys and raw ridges. The Peak District is perfect for walking – serious walkers will love the iconic Pennine Way - climbing, caving and cycling. But if that all sounds too energetic, there are also some lovely towns and villages to visit too, like the pretty spa town of Buxton, which is also home to the Buxton Opera House. Other must-see attractions include Lyme park, House and Garden, the magnificent Chatsworth House, or for unusual subterranean adventures, explore Poole’s Cavern or take a barge trip through Sandedge Tunnel.
2. Purple heathered moors and wild ponies
Dartmoor National Park in the heart of Devon is famous for its vast heather moorlands, ancient woodlands, towering tors and roaming Dartmoor ponies. From wild swimming to fishing and, of course rambling, it’s ideal for active adventures, but there is plenty of opportunities to relax and enjoy an iconic Devon cream tea in the many picturesque towns and villages. Try The Café on the Green, Widecombe in the Moor. Buckfastleigh also makes for a pleasant stop, with its famous abbey, Buckfast Tonic Wine and the South Devon Railway. Other popular attractions in the area include the imposing Castle Drogo, Becky Falls Woodland Park and the River Dart Country Park in Ashburton.
3. Rocky mountains and glacial lakes
The Lake District National Park in Cumbria is a world-famous destination for tourists, ramblers, nature lovers and sailing enthusiasts, but there’s plenty of space for everyone. If you’re up for a challenge you can tackle the highest peak in England, Scafell Pike in around five hours, but there are plenty of easier walks to enjoy too. From the attractive town of Ambleside you can stroll to the striking Stockgyhll waterfalls or head up Loughrigg Fell for a stunning view of Lake Windemere.
As well as the many activities and boat trips on the incredible glacial lakes, you’ll find plenty to do in the popular towns of Keswick, Windemere and Penrith and a myriad of attractions including the Lakes Aquarium, Muncaster Castle and Beatrix Potter’s house Hill Top in Hawkshead.
4. Romantic ruins, rivers and waterfalls
There’s plenty to explore in the beautiful Brecon Beacons National Park in South Wales, from climbing Pen Y Fan, the highest peak in the Southern UK to kayaking down rapids – or taking a more tranquil trip in a canoe or narrowboat along the Monmouthshire and Brecon canal. Alternatively you can enjoy the view from the towpaths and many waterside restaurants.
The famous Four Falls trail is the best way to take in the specular waterfalls, but it is steep in parts. The riverside Elidir Trail which ends at Sgwd Gwladus, the Lady Falls is a flatter and more accessible alternative. This being Wales you also can’t visit without exploring some of the park’s many castles, from the picturesque Abergavenny Castle and Museum to the haunting romance of the ruins of Carreg Cennen.
5. Wildlife, boating and endless waterways
The Norfolk Broads national park offers 125 miles of navigable waterways, so from sailing to cruise trips, if you like messing around in boats this is the place for you. But that’s not all this unique destination has to offer. It is a teaming biodiverse wildlife haven and home to more than a quarter of the rarest species in the UK, including Britain’s biggest butterfly. The luscious green, flat landscape means the Broads are also ideal for leisurely cycling and walking.
And you’ll find plenty of attractive towns and villages to discover too, as well as historic houses and castles. Explore the remains of the Norman Bungay Castle or soak up the grandeur of Somerleyton Hall and Gardens.
Looking for a country retreat?
Retiring to the countryside is the ultimate dream for many of us. If country living sounds good to you, why not browse our list of beautiful retirement homes for sale – or rent – in glorious rural locations across the UK?
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