Top 10 Things to Do in U.K. Parks

Discover the best activities in U.K. national parks in this travel article from National Geographic.

Published 2 Nov 2017, 18:04 GMT
Pembrokeshire National Park
Pembrokeshire National Park's steep cliffs lure climbers and other adventurers; local guides provide assistance.
Photograph by Paul Harris, Photolibrary

Go Fishing at Loch Lomond and the Trossachs
Loch Lomond is the largest lake in Great Britain, and its namesake park includes dozens of other lochs and some 50 rivers. Much of that cold, clean water teems with salmon, sea trout, rainbow trout, and grayling. Some lochs also hold feisty brown trout and coarse fish species like toothy pike. Dozens of loch fisheries are found throughout the park, each one selling its own permits, setting tackle restrictions, and enforcing daily limits. Boats and guides are widely available for hire.


Climb the Cairngorms
Head for the high ground in mountain country. Cairngorms National Park includes four of Scotland’s five highest peaks and large tracts of barren but beautiful highlands. The ground above 1,970 feet (600 metres) is more ecologically akin to the Arctic than the nearby British lowlands. Those with a head for heights can walk or scramble to the region’s more accessible summits or tackle challenging routes of vertical rock. In winter these mountains become a premier playground for ice climbers. Mountain weather is notoriously variable; climbing and camping in these high peaks is a serious endeavor in any season. Guides are available for those with high enthusiasm but little experience.

Visit Historic Homes in the Lake District
The Lake District boasts such enchanting scenery that many British notables have made homes here. Visiting their houses and country homes offers a glimpse into the good life. Mirehouse, built in 1666, is a splendid example. Wordsworth and other famed poets were once regulars here; today the family welcomes all visitors. Townend was built in 1626 and still showcases the lifestyle of that era’s wealthy local landowners. Architect M. H. Baillie-Scott built Blackwell in a much later era (it was completed in 1900) and its Arts and Crafts style artfully bridges Victorian and modern architectural styles.

Go Caving in the Brecon Beacons
Explore the world under scenic Brecon Beacons National Park, home to some of the U.K.’s most incredible cave systems. More than 300 million years ago, ancient seas laid down a layer of limestone, which became the foundation of a karst landscape now cut with extensive caves. Caving requires special equipment and experience but the Brecon Beacons is a great place to begin. Several local clubs and companies can give novices a first glimpse at the park’s underworld and help the experienced discover its wonders. For those with no interest in technical caving but a desire to poke their heads underground, the National Showcaves Centre for Wales offers well-lit tours.

Go Coasteering at Pembrokeshire
The rugged, rocky boundary between sea and shore is a playground for the well equipped and wild-spirited. Sign up for a coasteering adventure and climb, cliff-jump, splash, swim, and wave-ride through some of the U.K.’s most scenic landscapes. Wetsuits, helmets, buoyancy aids, and other gear make the wild coast accessible. Pembrokeshire Coast National Park works with half a dozen guides eager to get you started.


Go Boating at The Broads
The Broads is a wet and wonderful realm of lakes, marshes, and an enormous inland waterway with six free-flowing rivers. Boating has been at the heart of the local culture here for centuries and remains an essential part of any visit to the park. Canoes and kayaks offer an intimate, surface-level experience and give access to nooks and crannies that are off limits to larger craft. Silent paddling also helps in spotting wildlife. Those who prefer to let others take the helm can simply sit back and enjoy a cruise on any one of a wide variety of guided boat trips.

Explore Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland
Hadrian’s Wall is an enduring echo of an ancient age, a time when Roman soldiers stood here at the very edge of the world’s greatest empire, on guard against threats from the barbarian lands beyond. Exploring the wall and its associated Roman ruins involves passing through some of England’s finest countryside. Hadrian’s Wall Path follows the 84-mile (135-kilometre) length of the wall from coast to coast; Hadrian’s Cycleway provides similar access for bikers. The Hadrian’s Wall Bus AD122, named for the year of the wall’s construction, drops visitors at sites along the wall, such as the large Roman fort and settlement at Housesteads and the Roman Army Museum at Greenhead.

Go Walking in Snowdonia
Snowdonia National Park is for walkers. Some 1,490 miles (2,400 kilometres) of public footpaths take casual walkers—and hard-core hikers—through the park's thick forests and fertile farmland, along coastal beaches and deep lakes, and among jagged mountains. A legendary high traverse crosses the rocky peaks of the Glyders. Accessible trails offer access for wheelchairs and strollers at scenic spots like the waterfall at Dôl-goch.

Go Hang-Gliding Above the South Downs
Take in the South Downs National Park’s rolling hills, vast open spaces, and scenic coastlines in a new way—from aloft. Numerous jumping-off points in and around the park make this area one of the U.K.’s most popular hang-gliding and paragliding sites. First-timers can get in on the fun by sailing in tandem with a licensed instructor. Those bitten by the bug will find several local schools nearby; solo flight is possible in just a few days. Prefer a little less adrenaline? Get the same bird's-eye view from the basket of a hot air balloon. Champagne flights are particularly popular.

Cycle to the Sea Across North York Moors
The Moor to Sea Cycle Route, an excursion best suited for mountain bikes, is, in fact, a scenic series of loops totalling some 80 miles (129 kilometres) of roads, forest tracks, and converted railway bed winding through North York Moors National Park. The ride offers plenty of opportunity to experience the park’s namesake moors in all their stark beauty. But the trek also passes through rolling hills and verdant forests before fanning out to reach several charming seaside spots. The route is dotted with small towns and villages, reachable by public transport, which offer quaint and convenient places to start or end trips of any length.

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