Where the Wild Things Are: National Parks in the UK

Leave the city for the weekend, leave your stress behind you too. Perhaps take your rain jacket, and put on your walking shoes. We’re going on an adventure!

There are 15 national parks in Britain, spread throughout England, Scotland and Wales, all of them beautiful, all of them with something unique to offer the willing adventurer. And if you are willing, then read on to find out where these national parks are, what they have to offer, and everything else you need to know to get out there and explore. 

What is a national park?

An area of land (or sometimes water), that has been set aside for the conservation of nature and for the enjoyment of the public. Urban and commercial development is limited. Some parks have visitor centres and are well maintained, others are left completely wild. The areas chosen to have a national park status all have a quality that makes them unique, whether it’s the plants that grow, the animals that live there, the landscape, the location or something else. Which means all of them are worth visiting, and none are the same. But here is a guide to some of what you can discover. 

National Park Guide

National Park
Location
What’s there?
Brecon Beacons
South Wales
Mountains, ancient standing stones
The Broads
East Anglia
Wetlands, rare wildlife
Cairngorms
Scotland
Largest national park in UK, winter sports
Dartmoor
Southwest England
Open moorland, granite tors
Exmoor
Southwest England
Moors, woods, high cliffs
Lake District
North England
Lakes, England’s wettest place
Loch Lomond and the Trossachs
Scotland
Lochs, rivers, mountains
New Forest
South England
Forest, heaths, marshes, mudflats
Northumberland
North England
Largest area of protected night sky in Europe
North York Moors
North England
Heather moorland, forests
Peak District
Central/North England
Britain’s first national park
Pembrokeshire Coast
South Wales
300km of coastline
Snowdonia
North Wales
Mountains, beaches, picturesque villages
South Downs
South England
White chalk cliffs, grasslands
Yorkshire Dales
Rolling valleys, drystone walls, meadows
North England

What can I do there?

The parks are popular amongst walkers and runners. While some parks offer challenging cycling routes, for both road cyclists and mountain bikers. Go horse riding, kayaking, and outdoor swimming. Take a picnic and enjoy eating in amongst the wild grass, hills, trees, lakes and animals. Or go at night to stargaze. Free of light pollution, national parks have the blackest skies and the brightest stars. In some parks (Dartmoor, for example), you are allowed to wild camp, as long as you leave no traces of your stay behind you. Or find out what national park events  are coming up. 

Dartmoor at night with Milky Way

Reach for the stars!

How do I get around?

Don’t worry if you haven’t got a car, bus lines serve national parks so you can at least get to a starting point and from there you can hit the trails. And trains can good be a good way to cover the long distance to the middle of nowhere. Otherwise try car sharing. Or go by bike. Or walk. 

What do I need to take with me?

Comfortable boots or shoes. Raincoat. This is the UK, remember that. Water to keep you hydrated, food to keep you from getting hangry. A map so you don’t get lost. A phone for emergencies, or if you do get lost and need to call for help. A camera if you are a keen photographer, a pair of binoculars if you just want a closer look. Warm clothes in the winter. Sun cream for those hot summer days. Ha-ha, you should be so lucky. 

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About the author

Joseph

Leaving rainy Plymouth to move to cold and rainy Hamburg, Joseph has been trying to pronounce ridiculously long German words ever since. If he’s not drinking a cool Weizenbier he spends his time on his bike or reading books by the river. Now working as an intern at bab.la.