The UK’s best National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty

The curious Isles of Scilly, romantic Cotswold towns, picturesque Lake District pools… memorable sights are not hard to come by in some of the UK’s most awe-inspiring and diverse National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. These are grand and compelling lands to tick off your travel bucket list as you make your way across the country, journeying from England’s southernmost coast up to Scotland’s prettiest peaks.

Derwentwater Lake, Lake District National Park. Image: iStock
Lake District National Park

England’s largest National Park stretches across more than 2,000 square kilometres of vibrant landscapes, from forestry fells down to narrow glacial lakes. Whether to admire Skiddaw’s soft mountains, swoon at Langdale Valley’s sloping scenery or cruise along the wonderful Lake Windermere, explore Beatrix Potter’s home with one of the many walking trails, cycling and water sports activities available in the region.

Black Mountains, Brecon Beacons National Park. Image: iStock
Brecon Beacons National Park

With its centuries-old legends, cave systems and lakes, as well as Wales’ only Dark Sky reserve, the Brecon Beacons National Park is an enchanting destination no matter the time of day. When you aren’t busy stargazing or walking one of many mesmerising trails, make your way to the park’s Black Mountains: extending from southeast Wales over the border and into England’s Herefordshire, they allow for a particularly enchanting escape.

Ilmington in the Cotswolds, Warwickshire. Image: iStock
The Cotswolds

A land made popular by its rural charm, the expansive Cotswolds lays across six counties in a display of gently rolling hills and medieval architecture. You won’t tire of its lush landscape, dotted with sheep and dry stone walls, as you drive through its market towns and villages – make a stop for Cheltenham and Cirencester, as well as the imposing Blenheim Place and Sudeley Castle & Gardens.

Tresco, Isles of Scilly. Image: iStock
Isles of Scilly

Set off the southwestern tip of the Cornish peninsula, the Isles of Scilly are certainly an unusual sight. Made up of five inhabited islands and more than 140 left to discover, this archipelago is as magical as it is unique, and offers plenty unspoilt grounds for a peaceful stay. Get to know its turquoise waters, charming docks and fine sandy beaches, which blend beautifully with farmland and exotic flowers.

North Pennines, England. Image: Thinkstock
North Pennines

Characterised by open heather moors, hay meadows and upland rivers, the North Pennines in northern England offers a fairy tale landscape to behold – the second largest of the AONB family. Amongst its many attractions, High Force Waterfall and the ancient woods of South Tyne Valley are notably impressive throughout the warmer months. Keep your eyes and ears peeled for otters and short-eared owls as you set out fishing, sailing, climbing or bird-watching.

Rame Head, Cornwall. Image: iStock
Cornwall

Rugged coastlines, beachy coves, wooded valleys and estuaries and make up Cornwall‘s protected landscape. Starting with the Hartland’s hamlets and ending with Rame Head’s quiet peninsula – stopping at the cliffs of West Penwith as you go – work your way through each section along England’s southwesternmost coast; whether you’re a seaside or inland lover, a dramatic and ever-changing experience is guaranteed.

Cairngorms National Park, Scotland. Image: Thinkstock
Cairngorms National Park

Covering more than 4,500 square kilometres, Cairngorms in the Scottish Highlands is the UK’s largest National Park, and a true haven for lovers of the great outdoors. Grab a bike, pop your ski boots on or saddle up a horse for a scenic adventure through forests, snowy peaks and untouched hills (keep a watchful eye out for Scottish crossbills or visit the red pandas at the Highland Wildlife Park). Don’t forget to make a stop at the local castles, from Balmoral to Blair, where history abounds and strolls through gorgeous gardens await.

Malvern Hills, Worcestershire. Image: Thinkstock
Malvern Hills

Its pastures, mineral springs and abundant flora and fauna make the Malvern Hills area worthy of its AONB title. Set over kilometres of geologically diverse land, it includes parts of Worcestershire, Gloucestershire and Herefordshire, and is home to a host of bird species, butterflies and botanical curiosities – giving it prominence amongst binocular-wielding, wildlife-watching travellers.