The global spread of the coronavirus is disrupting travel. Stay up to date on the science behind the outbreak>>

35 wild weekends in the UK and Ireland

From hiking, driving and cycling adventures to festivals and off-road pursuits, we celebrate 35 of the best ways to spend a weekend in the UK and Ireland.

Published 9 Apr 2019, 00:22 BST, Updated 12 Jul 2021, 16:18 BST
The Peak District National Park, a national park of two halves that makes for a wild weekend ...

The Peak District National Park, a national park of two halves that makes for a wild weekend adventure.

Photograph by AWL Images

1. From hostel to hostel in Peak District

It gets breezy on top of Win Hill, but if you've got a warm hat and a well-filled sandwich there are few better lunch spots in Britain. The views are spectacular, not least because the hill stands bang in the middle of the Peak District. It's a national park of two halves: to the north are the moody gritstone moorlands of the Dark Peak, to the south the limestone contours of the White Peak. And in the centre of it all, on any given day, sits a smattering of self-satisfied summit hikers devouring rounds of cheese and pickle sarnies.

2. Go seal-spotting on the Norfolk coast

Seal-watching cruises run year-round off Blakeney Harbour. Alternatively, there's beachcombing at West Runton, rock-pooling at Sheringham or top-notch fish and chips with views to match at Cromer.

3. Walk a stretch of the Thames Path

The Thames offers up some great weekend walks. Try the Lechlade-Oxford two-dayer, stopping at tiny Newbridge, with plenty of canal boats and remote meadows to discover on route.

4. Join a weekend foraging course across the UK

Mushrooms, wild herbs and edible flowers all feature on Wild Food UK's expert-led foraging courses. They span locations from Surrey and Suffolk to Worcestershire, Warwickshire and Cheshire.

5. Go tree-climbing on the Isle of Wight

Get back to nature with a tree-climbing break on the Isle of Wight, where you'll learn how to reach the canopy of a colossal centuries-old oak. Budding climbers will need to be eight or over.

6. Explore the River Dart

Explore historic Dartmouth's winding lanes, then catch a boat service (March-Oct) upriver to Agatha Christie's one-time home, Greenway or, further inland, to the alternative-minded town of Totnes.

7. Find adventure in the Yorkshire Dales

To make the most of the spectacular limestone ravine of How Stean Gorge, look no further than the action-packed Big 5 multi-activity day — abseiling, gorge walking, canoeing, via ferrata and caving. Phew!

8. Follow the call of the coast in Pembrokeshire

Walk a portion of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path, which is almost entirely contained within Britain's only coastal national park, and curves its way across 186 miles of coves and harbours, tiny towns, steep slopes and sandy beaches. It also forms a portion of the staggering 870-mile Wales Coast Path, which opened in 2012 and traces the country's entire shoreline.

9. Try subterranean zip-lining in North Wales

Zip World's 11 adventures, at three sites in North Wales, include Velocity, the fastest mzip-wire in the world; and Bounce Below, set in a cavern the size of a cathedral.

10. Forage in Pembrokeshire

A restaurant with rooms, Llys Meddyg offers foraging courses, game shooting, fish smoking and fishing. The chefs will also cook up a fine-dining storm with your spoils from nature's larder.

11. Cycle the Wales coast path

Stretches open to cyclists include Swansea Bay, gateway to the Mumbles and the Gower Peninsula. Plus epic mountain bike trails in the Afan Forest Park are nearby.

12. Attempt coasteering at Holy Island

There are few prettier spots to scramble-navigate deep clean water, hidden beaches, and sea cliffs than Holy Island, home to the country's largest sea cave.

13. Swim in the wild in North Wales

Wild swimmers are spoilt for choice here. Try Fairy Glen, an idyllic gorge in Betws y Coed, with large rocks, a deep channel down the middle and a junction pool for longer, leisurely swims.

14. Join the Llanwrtyd Wells festivals

This Welsh town's roster of festivals ranges from the Real Ale Wobbles (cycling and beer) to bog snorkelling and the Man Versus Horse Marathon.

15. Enrol at Gin school in Glasgow

A great deal of alcohol has been processed by hundreds of thousands of livers at Glasgow's legendary Barrowlands, the 84-year-old ballroom that most locals agree is still Glasgow's best live music venue. The surrounding area may be dilapidated in places, and a little shady in others, but if you come to The Barras you can expect to have a good time.

16. Learn survival skills on Skye

If you're planning on getting some survival skills under your belt, where better to head than the spectacular Isle of Skye, the largest and northernmost of the major islands in the Inner Hebrides. Here, Skye Ghillie teaches fire building, foraging, and cooking on open fires. For those with a strong stomach, it can organise deer hunts, too.

17. Meet huskies in Aviemore

The Cairngorm Sleddog Centre is Britain's only daily working sled-dog facility. Here, visitors can join a single safari run, meet the dogs, or sign up to a two-day certified course designed to introduce you to the barking-mad world of husky-drawn transport.

18. Take on the North Coast 500

The North Coast 500 is a scenic 516-mile route around north Scotland, taking Inverness Castle as its start and end point. Arguably Britain's most scenic drive, motorists who take it on will encounter few motorways, many sheep, and even more lochs and mountains.

19. Discover Scotland's Dark Sky Park

That Europe's first Dark Sky Park was located in Scotland perhaps wasn't a surprise, but the fact it's located in the heart of the Lowlands certainly was. Aside from gazing at the heavens, there are great trails for hiking, lochs for fishing, and an increasing number of gastro pubs for the days when it's too rainy to do any of that.

20. Jump into the North Sea at Arbroath

For most people, jumping into the North Sea is something to avoid at all costs. For coasteerers — who jump on and off of coastal rocks, and explore caves and cliff faces — it's a dream come true. Vertical Descents offers outings from Arbroath.

21. Get to know Ardnamurchan

A small spit of land on Scotland's west coast, the Ardnamurchan Peninsula is one of the wildest places in the UK. How wild? Well, it's home to one of the last surviving populations of endangered Scottish wildcat, as well as pine martens and golden eagles, while whales, dolphins and porpoises swim in its waters.

22. Go wild in Suffolk

Head to the Brecks. This little-known, 386sq-mile stretch of Suffolk-Norfolk borderlands, just beyond Bury St Edmunds, incorporates heathland, wildlife-rich wetlands, and UK's largest lowland forest. Made up of nature reserves and — as is the case with Brandon Park — the sprawling private estates of former 19th-century industrialists who took a fancy to forestry, the area has, of late, set itself up to be an outdoor playground — one with a remote vibe that belies its proximity to London. What roads there are see more wild bunnies than bottlenecks, and either skirt the forest or cut through oceanic swathes of orchard and farmland.

23. See the pigs at large in the New Forest

Pannage season in the New Forest (11 Sept-12 Nov) is when droves of domestic piggies are released to roam free. This overlaps with the annual pony 'drifts' (horseback roundups), making it a particularly atmospheric time to be in Hampshire's forest. As an added bonus, premium, pannage pork dishes appear on local restaurant menus.

24. Get stuck into life on a farm in the Lake District

Tucked away amid the Lake District's fabled landscape, Stay Lambing Live (of BBC2 fame) offers the chance to get to grips with life on a working farm in the Eden Valley. Further south, Polean Farm Cottages, near Looe, Cornwall, is ideal for families, with animal feeding, plus pony and tractor rides.

25. Meet the birds at Bempton Cliffs

Join an RSPB puffin patrol, and witness vast seasonal migrations at RSPB Bempton Cliffs, in East Yorkshire. In spring-summer, clifftop viewing platforms on a headland jutting out into the North Sea offer VIP birdwatching opportunities.

26. Go coastal in South Devon

Gain a unique, watery perspective on South Devon's Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, with a weekend of sea kayaking and wild camping surrounded by some of England's most idyllic coastline. Families and groups can take two-day guided tours to explore coast and hidden coves, with all kit and bedding provided.

27. Overnight in a nature reserve in Kent

Elmley, on Kent's Isle of Sheppey, pegs itself as the only nature reserve in the UK where you can spend the night. And what a place to bed down: a chic little shepherd's hut overlooking the Swale Channel and marshes. On your doorstep: pristine wildlife trails.

28. Bike along Hadrian's Wall

Cycle through some of England's wildest countryside, taking in dramatic coastal views and Roman forts along Hadrian's Cycleway. The moderately flat, scenery-rich, 84-mile route, between Carlisle and Newcastle, can be done in a weekend.

29. Hit the road in Wicklow

You don't need the Wild Atlantic Way to see Ireland at its most elemental. In County Wicklow, nature and space echo in place names like Poulaphouca ('hole of the ghost'), Devil's Glen (site of a cool woodland sculpture trail) and Avoca, where the BBC's Ballykissangel was filmed. Skip the city, but stay close. Four wheels and two nights will give you a reboot right on Dublin's doorstep.

30. Sleep beneath the stars in Fermanagh

Stay in a bubble dome at Lough, in Fermanagh, close to Fermanagh Lakelands, the Marble Arch Caves and the 'Stairway to Heaven', a 4.5-mile hike ending in a walkway up Cuilcagh Mountain.

31. On yer bike in Mayo

Mayo's Ireland West Airport is an hour from Westport, the start/finish of the Great Western Greenway. This 26-mile cycling/walking trail follows an old railway line to Achill Island.

32. Get your Game of Thrones on in Northern Ireland

Much of GoT was filmed in Northern Ireland, with 26 accessible locations near Belfast, including Ballymoney's Dark Hedges (King's Road), Winterfell (Castle Ward) and Fair Head (Dragonstone).

33. Moonlit paddle in West Cork

Atlantic Sea Kayaking runs moonlight tours from Reen Pier, 1.5 hours from Cork Airport. The 2.5-hour outings involve a gentle paddle beneath the stars.

34. Tick of the highlights of the Causeway coast in Northern Ireland

Highlights of Northern Ireland's Causeway Coast include the Giant's Causeway, Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge and The Gobbins, a clifftop path on the Islandmagee peninsula.

35. Head for the horses in Monaghan

For a horsey weekend, head to the Castle Leslie Estate for country hacks, a spa, two-AA-Rosette dining and the chance to stay in either the lodge, a Scots-Baronial castle or converted stables.

Published in the March 2018 issue of National Geographic Traveller and updated in June 2020

Follow us on social media

Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Read More

You might also like

Three top canal and river routes around the UK and Ireland
Uncovering St Lucia's natural wonders, from volcanic spas to storied mountain trails
What to do in the Lincolnshire Wolds, from country trails to gin tasting
How to plan a hike along Iceland's epic Fimmvörðuháls trail
Bluebell walks in the UK: eight of the best woodlands to visit

Explore Nat Geo

  • Animals
  • Environment
  • History & Culture
  • Science
  • Travel
  • Photography
  • Space
  • Adventure
  • Video

About us


  • Magazines
  • Newsletter
  • Disney+

Follow us

Copyright © 1996-2015 National Geographic Society. Copyright © 2015-2021 National Geographic Partners, LLC. All rights reserved