5 of the UK's Best National Parks

04 Apr 2019

2019 marks the 70th anniversary of the 1949 Act of Parliament that established the UK’s national parks as officially protected areas of beauty for all to enjoy. There are 15 parks spread along the length and breadth of the country -- 10 in England, three in Wales and two in Scotland. Here are our top five, with great deals in each one.

Lake District

“The loveliest spot that man hath found” (William Wordsworth).

Known as Wordsworth Country, thanks to its famous former resident and his poetry about the area’s wild beauty, the Lake District is the UK’s most popular national park, welcoming over 16 million visitors per year. The 2632 square kilometres of rugged, wild terrain is a hiker’s paradise, with flat, lakeside trails, or rough scrambles up craggy peaks, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

For a relatively gentle wander along the water’s edge, try the 6.7-kilometre walk around Lake Buttermere, including a tunnel path through a crag, footbridges across picturesque waterways and terrific scenery across the green fields bordering the lake.

For the more hardened wanderer, try the 8-kilometre hike up the Helvellyn range in the Eastern Fells -- you’ll get views over Ullswater from various summit points, including Sheffield Pike, Heron Pike and Glenridding Dodd. 

The starting point for this hike is about 20 minutes’ drive from the The Kings Arms in Temple Sowerby, where you can stay for two nights, with breakfast and a bottle of prosecco included. 

Another famous Lake District admirer was Beatrix Potter, whose lovable children’s book characters remain family favourites to this day. She spent many childhood holidays in the area, near Lake Windermere, and today you can wander in her footsteps and explore her former house, Hill Top (now a National Trust site), or visit The World of Beatrix Potter Attraction to see her characters come to life.

Yorkshire Dales

Rolling green hills, quaint country villages and drystone walls stretching as far as the eye can see -- the Yorkshire Dales showcases the best of the UK’s countryside. This is the second-most visited of the UK’s national parks, with 9.5 million people enjoying its walks and sights each year.

This area is home to the Three Peaks -- Pen-y-ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough -- conquered by hikers every year as part of a 12-hour challenge, often to raise money for charity (but the routes are open year-round for you to enjoy at your leisure). A popular photo stop on the route gives views of the Ribblehead Viaduct, part of a Victorian railway line running from Settle to Carlisle. The viaduct has an impressive 24 arches and stretches for 400 metres.

The terrain in the dales is exposed, and can get cold and muddy, so pack plenty of warm and dry clothes for your walks. If you do encounter cold or wet weather, the sweeping views over the green valleys will be worth it, and there are plenty of local pubs to warm your cockles in after a day of exploring the limestone terrain.

The Yorkshire Dales is also home to the Wensleydale Creamery, where you can learn about the history and making of this much-loved British cheese.

Base yourself at the Barbon Inn, a 17th-century coaching inn situated in the park itself and surrounded by popular hiking trails. It's also a short drive from the Lake District, so you can conquer two parks in one trip. 

New Forest

The New Forest is in Hampshire, in southern England. Originally a royal hunting ground, its ancient woodlands, untamed heathlands and 40 kilometres of coastline are teeming with hiking and cycling trails.

Due to the park’s location, the weather is generally mild, though summer can bring hot, sunny days followed by thunderstorms.

The main villages include Lyndhurst, with half-timbered buildings lining the high street, thatched-roofed cottages and cosy pubs. Visit the New Forest Heritage Centre to learn about the area and find out about local exhibitions. The Lyndhurst Parish Walk is a popular walking route, spanning 13.6 kilometres and starting in the village centre. The circular path passes Bolton’s Bench -- a yew tree-capped hill that offers views back to the village church, as well as smaller hamlets and rolling hills in between. It’s not uncommon to see wild ponies, pigs and deer along the walkways.

Brockenhurst has the largest population, and is an idyllic village where cows and donkeys wander along the main street. It also has a military past, with Eisenhower and Montgomery planning the D-Day landings there.

Stay by the coast at the Stanwell House Hotel, 10 minutes’ drive from Brockenhurst, with this deal that includes a 5-course tasting-menu dinner.

Exmoor

Exmoor National Park is in southwest England, and boasts 55 kilometres of coastline and over 1000 kilometres of footpaths.

For a choice of leisurely walks across the heather, start at the County Gate car park (which is free and has a toilet block and information centre). This is where the counties of Devon and Somerset meet, and the paths offer panoramic views over the East Lyn Valley and down to the coast.

Another option is to hike up to the highest point of the national park -- Dunkery Beacon. You can park at Dunkery Gate car park; from there the climb is less than a kilometre long. For a circular route option, try the 12.8-kilometre Wheddon Cross to Dunkery Beacon route, taking you through farmland, open moorland and woodland.

The terrain on Exmoor is diverse, so make sure you’re prepared for changing conditions with sturdy, comfortable footwear.

Stay at the Royal and Fortescue Hotel, 25 minutes’ drive southwest of the park, with this deal that includes breakfast and bubbly.

Peak District

The limestone valleys and rocky moorlands of the Peak District feature in both the 1995 and 2005 adaptations of Jane Austen’s quintessentially British book, Pride and Prejudice, with Elizabeth Bennett looking out over the Derbyshire countryside. The area plays host to 8.75 million visitors each year, thanks to its undulating paths, ancient villages, stately homes, valleys, lakes and wild moorland.

We recommend trying the Monsal walking trail -- a 13.6-kilometre route that runs along the former Midland railway line. It underwent a £2.25 million restoration to re-open six tunnels to the public for the first time since the 1660s, and passes over impressive viaducts crossing the River Wye. The hike starts in Bakewell, the second-largest town in the Peak District, and the home of the scrummy Bakewell tart, and finishes at Blackwell Junction. During your hike, keep your eyes peeled for local wildlife including barn owls, sparrowhawks and woodpeckers.

Weather-wise, the Peak District rarely experiences extreme weather, so is suitable for year-round visits. However, the weather can change throughout the day, so come well prepared with clothes for all weathers for your hikes.

Manor House Hotel is in Alsager, 40 minutes’ drive from the edge of the National Park. This deal includes a full English breakfast and a glass of prosecco on arrival.

To help kit you out for a national park trip Travelzoo members can receive 10% off any purchase at Simply Hike by using the code TRAVELZOO19.

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