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Keen to avoid the crowds? Nine AONBS rated best for peace and quiet

Our survey results reveal where to enjoy a quiet moment in nature this season, away from the hustle and bustle of big towns and cities

Keen to avoid the crowds? Nine AONBS rated best for peace and quiet

Black Friday sales and hectic Christmas planning may have you running for the hills this month – and you can, quite literally, to areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONBs). 

These spots are ideal for unwinding in natural surrounds thanks to their distinctive character and beauty. Not all are equal though, according to our AONB survey results, which reveal how Which? readers rated them for their scenery, lack of crowds, visitor facilities and more.

The results showed that while some locations scored well overall meaning people were satisfied with their visit they don’t necessarily provide you with the kind of solitude and personal space you might be hoping for when retreating into nature.

For instance, Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coast, which was rated as the third-best AONB by Which? readers overall, scored only two out of five stars in the peace and quiet category. This is likely because of the well-known UNESCO world heritage site Giant’s Causeway  that sits within it. 

AONBs Dorset and Cornwall also scored highly overall and received three out of five stars for peacefulness. While this is a respectable rating, they were beaten in this category by lower overall scorers, suggesting their popularity is a downside for those planning undisturbed days out.

So, to help you find a less crowded beauty spot, we’ve listed below the AONBs with tranquil credentials (scoring four or five stars for peace and quiet). You can be sure that they’re all great places to while away your afternoon, as all those listed below were awarded a score of more than 80% overall.  

Which? Travel

Isles of Scilly AONB

Overall approval rating: 91%

Isles of Scilly

No cars are allowed over from the mainland onto this archipelago and it’s difficult to get to (especially in the winter months but there are travel options), which probably explains its five stars for peace and quiet. 

It’s well worth a visit though. The Isles of Scilly encapsulate serenity, with wild and rugged coastlines offering plenty of opportunities for quiet contemplation, provided you’re wrapped up warm and wearing a decent waterproof jacket. When temperatures climb in the summer, Scilly also offers ultimate relaxation, with tropical gardens and azure waters lapping against white sandy beaches. 

Northumberland Coast AONB

Overall approval rating: 88%

Northumberland Coast

Atmospheric beaches on the edge of this AONB provide perfect opportunities for crisp winter walks. And because the Northumberland Coast is perhaps not as well known as Cornwall and Devon, it’s more peaceful – in fact, it scored four out of five stars for peace and quiet in our survey. Some of its towns such as Seahouses can get busy on weekends, but in general you should be able to find plenty of quiet spots. See how well the Northumberland Coast scored on scenery, visitor facilities, walks and more in our AONB survey results.

Strangford Lough AONB

Overall approval rating: 84%

Strangford Lough

This AONB is an almost landlocked area of the sea, dotted with islands and surrounded by a varied landscape, from marshes to farmland and rolling hills. It’s a great destination for spotting wildlife, from seals to seabirds (it scored the full five stars in the wildlife category). In fact, along with AONB status it’s also considered to be an Area of Special Scientific Interest.

In our survey it scored four out of five stars for tranquillity, so you can count on this area to provide a moment of stillness if you’re seeking a break amid the festive build-up.

Antrim Coast & Glens AONB

Overall approval rating: 83%

Antrim Coast and Glens

This AONB hugs the coast from Ballycastle down to Larne and is a treat for nature lovers. With jagged coastline, deep valleys and spectacular headlands, it’s breathtaking. But that beauty doesn’t necessarily equate to heaving crowds – according to Which? readers it doesn’t ever get too busy for a relaxing stroll. You might be even lucky enough to spot whales, dolphins or seals out in the Irish Sea.


Looking for a good walk in the UK near you? We’ve highlighted the best rated walks from our survey


Mourne AONB

Overall approval rating: 82%

Mourne

Mourne is an ideal go-to if you’re seeking out calm and picturesque landscapes it scored the full five stars for scenery in our survey. That’s not surprising – here, the mountain slopes transition into fields, forests and moorlands as they descend into an impressive coastline. Where the land meets the sea you’ll find dunes at Murlough and sandy beaches at Cranfield, ideal for blustery winter meanders.

We found various hot tub cottage deals in stunning UK destinations such as Mourne, perfect for wintry escapes.

Suffolk Coast & Heaths AONB

Overall approval rating: 82%

Suffolk coast & heaths AONB

Which? readers think this AONB is fairly peaceful all year round, but it’ll be even quieter in the winter months when the sun-seeking beach-goers have long gone. Instead, you can enjoy fish and chips and bracing seafront walks in well-rated coastal towns, such as Aldeburgh and Southwold, minus the large throngs of people. Elsewhere you’ll find ancient heaths, historic villages and inland nature reserves to explore.

Nidderdale AONB

Overall approval rating: 81%

Nidderdale

Nidderdale is a lesser known AONB, hence its decent peacefulness rating (four stars out of five). It’s formed from the rump of the Yorkshire Dales, so it’s a beautiful part of the country for hiking – as reflected in its high scores in the scenery and walking categories.

Hiking isn’t the only option here though. The more adventurous can try canyoning (descending waterfalls with ropes) at How Stean Gorge – an exhilarating way to take in this area of natural beauty.

North Pennines AONB

Overall approval rating: 81%

North Pennines AONB

The North Pennines’ vast landscape has thousands of kilometres of peaceful open heather moors, rolling fields and shadowy woodlands to explore. While out exploring the countryside, you might spot a short-eared owl, snipe or black grouse. Which? readers awarded it four out of five for wildlife, matching its great rating for peacefulness. 

Star gazers will appreciate the fact that at night, the skies in the North Pennines are darker than many other places in the country, meaning on a clear evening you’ll be able to spot plenty of stars and constellations. 

Wye Valley AONB

Overall approval rating: 81%

Wye Valley AONB

Dense and untamed woodland, intertwining with limestone gorges, green hills and the meandering River Wye is what makes the Wye Valley so dramatic to look at.

The AONB scored four out of five for tranquillity. While you won’t find much peace down at the popular Symond’s Yat, it’s well worth a visit to spy the steep cliffs that encase the River Wye where canoeists tackle gentle rapids. Simply move away from this tourist hotspot to find that much longed for crowd-free hike.

Scotland’s beauty spots aren’t mentioned here because it doesn’t have AONBs. Instead, Scotland has national scenic areas (NSAs). Find out which NSAs were rated well for peace and quiet in our survey results.

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