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26 October 2020

The best Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the UK

The country's AONBs rated by readers for scenery, walks, wildlife, peace and quiet, and more
LB
Lauren Bell

We asked 8,400 Which? members to rate recent visits to Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) across England, Wales and Northern Ireland – and it was the Isles of Scilly that came top of the table.

Alongside enduring favourites such as Cornwall and Dorset, four AONBs in our top 10 are in Northern Ireland. And also rated highly are some places you may not have considered before, like Nidderdale and the Forest of Bowland.

Other popular AONBs such as Surrey Hills, East Devon and Malvern Hills were not rated as highly by readers as you might have expected.

What is an AONB?

AONBs have been specifically designated for conservation due to their remarkable landscapes, distinctive character, whether scenic, wild, tranquil, cultural or a mix of all of these,  and, of course, their natural beauty. 

There are 46 AONBs dotting England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Scotland works on a different system (national scenic areas), so it was not included in this survey.

Video: top-rated areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONB)

Best AONB in the UK

We asked Which? readers to rate their experience on the basis of scenery, walks, wildlife, tourist attractions, peace and quiet, and more.

AONB Scenery Walks Wildlife Peace & quiet Visitor facilities Food & drink Tourist attractions Accommodation Area score
Isles of Scilly (E) 93%
Northumberland Coast (E)
90%
Antrim Coast & Glens (NI)
85%
Cornwall (E)
85%
Mourne (NI)
85%
Dorset (E)
84%
Strangford Lough (NI)
_
84%
Causeway Coast (NI)
83%
Gower (W)
83%
Norfolk Coast (E)
82%
Suffolk Coast & Heaths (E)
82%
Nidderdale (E)
81%
North Pennines (E)
81%
Cotswolds (E)
80%
Isle of Wight (E)
80%
North Devon (E)
80%
Shropshire Hills (E)
80%
Wye Valley (W)
80%
Forest of Bowland (E)
79%
Llyn (W)
79%
East Devon (E)
78%
Malvern Hills (E)


78%


Anglesey (W)
77%
Arnside & Silverdale (E)
77%
Howardian Hills (E)
76%
Tamar Valley (E)
76%
Quantock Valley (E)
75%
Chichester Harbour (E)
74%
Chilterns (E)
74%
Clywdian Range & Dee Valley (W)
74%
Dedham Vale (E)
74%
Mendip Hills (E) 74%
High Weald (E)
73%
North Wessex Downs(E)
_
73%
Solway Coast (E)
72%
Surrey Hills (E)
72%
Cranbourne Chase (E)
_
71%
Kent Downs (E)
71%
Lincolnshire Wolds (E)
70%
Cannock Chase (E)
_
69%
Blackdown Hills (E)
_
67%
Using the table: = England, NI = Northern Ireland, = Wales . Star ratings from one to five. Based on a survey of 8,044 Which? members, Aug 2020. Dash (-) means too few responses to give a rating in that category. We had too few responses overall to include Binevenagh, Lagan Valley, Ring of Gullion, and Sperrin in the table. Area score is a combination of overall satisfaction and how likely people are to say an AONB is worth visiting.

Best Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in England: Isles of Scilly

  • Area score - 93%

It may not be the easiest place to get to, but those who make the effort to fly to the serene Isles of Scilly (20min from Land’s End) or take the ferry from Penzance (2hr 45min), will be amply rewarded. Even the largest of the five habitable islands, St Mary’s, with a population of just 1,800, is a calm carefree destination. It’s no surprise it scored five out of five stars in our survey for peace and quiet.

No cars from the mainland are allowed, so enjoy a walk around the capital, Hugh Town, and visit the impressive Garrison Walls. Or hop on a boat to neighbouring Tresco, famous for its Abbey Gardens. An estimated 4,000 different plant species thrive in the micro-climate here. It’s worth visiting all year round as many of the plants bloom throughout winter, as well as in warmer seasons.

Best Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in Wales: Gower

  • Area score - 85%

This peninsula jutting out into the sea west of Swansea is a picturesque getaway location whatever the weather – it scored top marks in our survey for scenery.

Wrap up warm and blow away off-season cobwebs on its coastal paths, or set out your deck chairs on its glorious beaches on warmer days. The four-mile sweeps of sand at Rhossili Bay is perhaps the best known, or try smaller stretches at Mewslade or Horton. Scoring just three out of five for peace and quiet, you may find seeking out lesser known areas will bring greater solitude.

Inland you’ll find ruined castles such as Oystermouth, Pennard and Weobley, as well as prehistoric remains such as Arthur’s Stone near Reynoldston.

Best Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in Northern Ireland: Antrim Coast and Glens

  • Area score - 83%

Hugging the coast from Ballycastle down to Larne, this AONB also includes Rathlin Island. Five miles from the mainland, it’s a place where wildlife lovers can spot kittiwakes, fulmars, puffins, guillemots and razorbills, depending on the season. 

It scored the full five stars for scenery, and there’s plenty to see. Nine glacier-hewn valleys, known as the Glens of Antrim, make a memorable driving route. Just be sure to pause at pretty towns such as Ballygalley and Glenarm, and look out from rugged coast at Torr Head. From here you’ll spot the Mull of Kintyre in South West Scotland.