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Cars & travel.

6 August 2021

Best national parks in the UK

Readers have rated the UK’s 15 national parks on their scenery, wildlife, facilities and more. But which spots came top?
LB
Lauren Bell

Now that you can venture around the country, why not lace up your hiking boots and embrace the great outdoors in one of the UK’s best national parks?

While each has an abundance of natural beauty to enjoy, we asked 8,044 Which? members to share their favourites – ranking everything from cafés, restaurants and pubs in the park, to scenery and quality of attractions. 

You might expect that the most frequented destination would win the top spot but the UK’s best rated national park is actually the least visited of the lot.

National park
Customer score
Scenery
Well-maintained walks
Wildlife
Peace and quiet
Visitor facilities
Cafés, restaurants & pubs
Attractions
Accommodation in the area
Northumberland
90%
Pembrokeshire Coast
88%
Lake District
86%
Yorkshire Dales
86%
Cairngorms
86%
North York Moors
85%
Snowdonia
84%
Peak District
84%
Exmoor
82%
Dartmoor
82%
Loch Lomond and The Trossachs
81%
Brecon Beacons
81%
South Downs
78%
New Forest
77%
The Broads
76%

For more unbiased news and advice, sign up to Which? Travel


Top 5 UK National Parks

1. Northumberland - best national park in England (and overall)

waterfall in Northumberland National Park

Unspoilt Northumberland came top of our table with an impressive 90% overall score. The least populated park, it earned five stars for peace and quiet. The stunning Cheviot Hills will provide you with solitude if you want to get away from it all.

Despite the park’s overall calm, there is still plenty to see and do. Part of the park has dark sky status for stargazing by night. By day, you’ll find plenty of trails that pass by woodland, ancient hill forts, castle ruins, waterfalls and even Hadrian’s Wall. 

One member said: ‘I love the quality of the light there and the sense of calm… you can easily get away from crowds and find that elusive sense of isolation.’


Northumberland national park is not far from the Northumberland Coast - find out where it came in our area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB) survey


2. Pembrokeshire Coast - best national park in Wales

Shoreline in Pembrokeshire National Park

Scoring five stars for scenery, Pembrokeshire coast national park was ranked in second place overall and was your favourite national park in Wales.

The coast path’s stunning 186 miles take in 58 beaches, with steep limestone cliffs and volcanic headlands jutting out into the surf and spray of the Atlantic. 

Members called it ‘Cornwall 20 years ago’ and ‘Cornwall without the crowds’. There’s also plenty of wildlife such as Skomer Island’s famous puffins. 

3. Lake District

Reflections on the lake in Lake District

With its show-stopping beauty it’s no wonder the Lake District scores five stars for scenery. It has waterside escapes, lush woodland and quaint villages to explore.

Thanks to its popularity (it was the most visited national park in the survey,) the accommodation in the area is plentiful and well-rated, but it does fall down on peace and quiet. However, if it’s an adventure you’re after, you’re in luck. The Lake District has the highest concentration of outdoor activity centres in the UK.

4. Yorkshire Dales

Countryside and aqueduct in Yorkshire Dales

The picturesque Yorkshire Dales offers it all. From tumbling waterfalls and green valleys to dramatic limestone cliffs, there are scenic backdrops for every walk and bike ride on offer. Visit in August and the moorlands will be carpeted with purple heather.

If hiking and biking aren’t your activities of choice, the park was rated well in our survey for attractions, as well as its array of cafés, restaurants and pubs. So instead, you can visit a cosy pub or head to a creamery to discover the art of cheese-making.

Although the third most visited national park in our survey, it still managed to score four out of five for peace and quiet.

5. The Cairngorms - best national park in Scotland

Lake view in the Cairngorms

The Cairngorms, Scotland’s favourite national park, is roughly twice the size of the Lake District, and home to five of the UK’s six highest peaks. Snow on summits is possible even in the summer, attracting experienced hikers and climbers.

Elsewhere you’ll find gentler walks through secluded pine woods inhabited by deer and red squirrels. You can amble over moorlands studded with heather and trek past rivers that wind through flood plains. It’s hardly surprising it scored five stars for scenery.

For something more high octane you’ll find mountain bike trails as well as bungee jumping and ski slopes - the latter is dependent on the season.

Worst-rated national park overall: The Broads

windmill and boats on The Broads

Members were less enamoured by the Broads, the meandering waterways straddling Suffolk and Norfolk.

It mustered just two stars for peace and quiet. Members warned to avoid it in summer, when visitors flock to ‘the Venice of the East. We had many complaints of excess traffic and lack of parking.

Even the scenery divided opinion; some enthused about big skies and colourful flora, others called it ‘flat, muddy and boring’. 


Looking for walks nearby? Discover the best-rated walks all over the UK in our survey