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National Parks in England

Author: Alex Boag-Wyllie, Marketing Executive
More by Alex

England's 10 Beautiful National Parks

England is a diverse country of beautiful landscapes. This ancient land offers rolling green hills beside plunging cliffs, white sand beaches beneath heathered moorland. England is home to 10 of the 15 national parks in the UK, each park offering its own character and charm. From the rugged beauty of Northumberland National Park on the Scottish border to the wild moorland of the Dartmoor National Park down in Devon, every national park in England offers accessible wilderness for everyone.

Join us on a journey through the national parks of England. We’ve peered under rocks to discover the rarest flora and fauna and hiked iconic trails to reveal the prettiest parts of these famous parks. Whether you visit one or many, visitors can enjoy a variety of outdoor pursuits such as hiking, cycling and SUPing.

Read on to find out more about the natural wonders that make each of the national parks of England such special places.

Take Me Straight To:

What is a National Park?

A national park is a protected area of natural beauty, full of wildlife and heritage. There are 15 national parks across England, Scotland and Wales. Each park is managed by a National Park Authority responsible for promoting and protecting the park.

The first national park in the world was Yellowstone, established in 1872. This was the first in a great global movement. The first national park in the UK was the Peak District, established in 1951. This followed a 1949 Act of Parliament to establish national parks in the UK. However, unlike national parks in the United States, people live and work in the national parks of England, Scotland and Wales.

Located in East Anglia, the Broads is the UK’s smallest (by geographical area) national park. The Broads National Park is often mistakenly referred to as the ‘Norfolk Broads’, but this peaceful network of water and reed stretches south from Norfolk into Suffolk too.

The Broads can be characterised by their weaving ribbons of shallow waterways. These rivers formed in the scars of the past, flood water collecting in the channels hewn from peat cutting in the Medieval period. The reeds that sprung up across the landscape caused a boom in the industry, the reeds cut for roof thatching.

Today, the Broads is a haven for some of the rarest plants and animals in the county. Plants include the fen orchid and crested buckler fern. Look out for cranes and the Norfolk hawker dragonfly across almost 30 Sites of Scientific Interest (SSI).

The Broads National Park is an iconic piece of the East Anglian landscape. Although you can drive in the Broads, the best way to experience the area is out on the water. Break up peaceful days in a small boat or canoe with walks out to hidden history gems and charming country pubs.

The Prettiest Part of the Broads Read More

Twirling ribbons of calm water lend themselves to a multitude of beautiful locations in the Broads National Park. Our favourites include:

  • Hickling Broad. The largest of the broads, Hickling is a haven for wildlife. Look out got bittern, swallowtail butterflies and cranes amidst the country’s largest reed bed.
  • Hoveton Little Broad. Located on the northwest stretch of the Broads National Park, Hoveton Little Broad is better known as Black Horse Broad. As with all good nomenclature, the name comes from a pub which once stood nearby. Open from Easter to mid-September, there is a charming paddle route to the broad from the quaint village of Horning.
  • St Benet’s Abbey. Standing proud against the wide Norfolk horizon, the Abbey of St Benet is the only Anglo-Saxon monastery in Norfolk. The only monastery in the country to survive Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries, the abbey is a picturesque ruin today.
Wildlife of the Broads Read More

The Broads offer a unique haven for flora and fauna. Watch out for a glimpse of cranes, bittern, marsh harriers and the Norfolk hawker dragonfly, to name a few.

Can you drive in the Broads National Park? Read More

Yes, you can drive around much of the Broads National Park. For the best views and the full experience, take to the water and enjoy the park by boat.

Dartmoor National Park is best known for the majestic Dartmoor pony, but there is much more to this wild national park located in Devon. Archaeological evidence reveals over 10,000 years of human activity in the area, and, older still, the landscape is full of fascinating geology. More than 60% of Dartmoor is hard granite.

An inspirational landscape for Victorian writers and artists, the national park has more recently played a pivotal role in the campaign for access routes in England. In 1985, the Dartmoor Commons Act was passed, safeguarding the moor, opening it to public access, and establishing the Commoners’ Council. Heralded as the last haven for wild camping in England, a new ruling in early 2023 changed this. Campaigning by the national park overturned this in August of the same year. Most land in a national park in England is under private ownership, and national park authorities work hard to maintain open access for the public.

A combination of atmospheric moorland, windswept ponies and fascinating industrial history, Dartmoor is a walker’s paradise and definitely worth visiting.

The Prettiest Part of Dartmoor Read More

The Dartmoor National Park is an atmospheric landscape of wild moorland and dramatic tors. The most beautiful part of Dartmoor is Haytor. To the east of the national park, Haytor offers panoramic views of Devon and the coast. Half a mile from the Dartmoor National Park visitor centre, this is a great palace to get a feel for the area. Make a day of it following the 29 km/18 mile Templar Way walk along the shadow of the former granite tramway from Haytor to Teignmouth on the coast. In the spring, listen out for the call of cuckoos, a traditional symbol of spring’s arrival in England.

On the western edge of Dartmoor National Park, visit the pretty Sourton Tors. Offering expansive views across to neighbouring Cornwall, the landscape also bears the scars of the late 1800s ice works here, part of Dartmoor’s long industrial past.

Wildlife of Dartmoor Read More

The moorland of this national park in England offers a great environment for wildlife. Look out for barbastelle bats, skylarks and ring ouzel. There is also livestock roaming Dartmoor including sheep, cattle and, of course, the iconic Dartmoor pony.

Can You Drive in Dartmoor? Read More

You can drive around much of the Dartmoor National Park. Be mindful of animals – there is a 40mph speed limit in places.

Stretching across the Bristol Channel from Somerset to Devon, Exmoor National Park is a varied landscape of untamed moorland plunging into steep sea cliffs. The first International Dark Sky Reserve in Europe, Exmoor is an atmospheric haven of wilderness from the bustling metropolis of southern England. A mix of archaeology, legends and extensive walking routes, Exmoor rightfully holds a place as a national park in England. Inhabited for over 4000 years, Exmoor National Park continues to offer a tranquil wilderness to reconnect with nature. Discover more about our ancestors as you encounter standing stones, prehistoric burial mounds, hillforts and more.

Walkers on the South West Coast Path will spend the early portion of their hike passing through this picturesque national park. The longest national trail in the country, this coastal route is best done in smaller sections. Discover more of this national trail around sunny Cornwall.

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The Prettiest Part of Exmoor Read More

A varied landscape of heather moorland, soaring cliffs and ancient history, Exmoor is a picturesque national park. One of the most iconic sections is the Valley of the Rocks. Falling into the sea, the valley is surrounded by steep cliffs. Offering dramatic views out to sea, keep an eye out on the rock face for the wild goats who scramble around the craggy terrain. The valley is best seen on foot – the 5 km/3 mile loop from Lynton is surprisingly level.

Another one of the prettiest parts of the Exmoor National Park is Dunkery Beacon. At 1703 ft/519 m, the beacon is the highest point in Exmoor, offering gorgeous views of the surrounding countryside and across the Bristol Channel to Wales. A fine heather moorland, the landscape is dotted with Bronze Age archaeology.

Wildlife of Exmoor Read More

Much like Devon’s other national park, Exmoor has its own breed of pony which can be seen across the park. Look for wildlife like red squirrels and a kaleidoscope of butterflies alongside the livestock.

There is a legend of a big cat on Exmoor, the Beast of Exmoor, dating back over 50 years. Although you are unlikely to encounter a big cat roaming the moor, you never know…

Can You Drive in Exmoor? Read More

Yes, you can drive in the Exmoor National Park, and plenty of car parks are available. However, the park is best enjoyed by foot along the extensive rights of way, or on bike along the West Country Way cycle route.

The Lake District National Park is the largest national park in England. Not to do anything by half measures, this national park in northwest England is also home to the tallest mountain in England, Scafell Pike (3209 ft/978 m). A landscape of towering fells (a mountain, hill, or high moor) above glittering blue meres (lakes), it is no surprise that the Lake District is the birthplace of British mountaineering.

The Lake District is a UNESCO World Heritage Site alongside other British landmarks such as St Kilda, Stonehenge and the Giants Causeway. Synonymous with the great fell walker and author Alfred Wainwright, creator of the Coast to Coast trail. Over 200 fells in the Lake District are affectionately recognised as Wainwrights.

One of the best-known national parks in England, the Lake District has inspired artists, Romantic poets and visitors alike.

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The Prettiest Part of the Lake District Read More

With so many beautiful areas, you are never far from the prettiest part of the Lake District. Stroll beside iconic lakes like Windermere and Buttermere, soaking in the atmosphere of the Lakes, or stop by a charming village such as Grasmere. Once home to the great poet William Wordsworth, the village is also home to the famous Grasmere Gingerbread. Follow your nose to uncover this unique treat.

Wildlife of the Lake District Read More

The Lake District is full of fascinating wildlife. Enjoy sightings of deer, red squirrels and otters while red kites and peregrine falcons circle overhead. The Lakes are also home to the cute Herwick sheep, a symbol of the national park.

Can You Drive in the Lake District? Read More

Yes, you can drive in parts of the Lake District. However, don’t miss enjoying the area on foot; the best views are from the water. There is also a reasonable bus service across the national park and surrounding areas.

The New Forest National Park is located in Hampshire, with just the northern tip stretching into Wiltshire. The largest area of lowland heath in the south of England, the New Forest is an ancient area of wilderness. William the Conqueror established the ‘Nova Foresta’ as a hunting ground around 1079. Thanks to the New Forest Act of 1877, the area is one of the last lowland commons in England, where commons rights are still practised. Commoner’s rights vary, but the government recognises “the right of a commoner to take resources from a piece of common land… called a right of common”.

One of England’s newest official national parks, the New Forest is a charming landscape of moorland, woodland and coastline. The land has inspired artists, poets and writers. Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of the great detective Sherlock Holmes, is buried here.

The Prettiest Part of the New Forest Read More

Despite being one of the smallest national parks in England, the New Forest packs in plenty of attractive features, from meandering rivers to a Georgian shipbuilding hamlet.

  • Beaulieu River is one of the few private rivers in the world. The water winds through the New Forest, from its heart down to the Solent. Find out more about this attractive river and 13th century village in our list of England’s Secret Nature Spots.
  • On the bank of the Beaulieu River sits Buckler’s Hard. A former shipbuilding yard and accompanying 18th century village, the site has remained unaltered over time. A two mile walk from Beaulieu, combine the two for an idyllic day of history and picturesque architecture.
  • If you prefer your locations to be more shaped by nature, the New Forest has many such sites. Some of our favourites include Telegraph Hill and Rhinefield Ornamental Drive.
Wildlife of the New Forest Read More

The New Forest offers no shortage of animals, including the iconic New Forest ponies, one of many free-roaming farm animals in the national park. Watch for other wildlife, including bats, dragonflies, oystercatchers, deer, and more.

Can You Drive in the New Forest? Read More

You can drive in much of the New Forest National Park, although some roads have a 40mph speed limit to protect the animals. The national park has a good bus network and many lovely walking trails.

At the very top of England, the Northumberland National Park is famous for its wild, windswept landscape. Northumberland is the least populated and least visited national park in the UK, an emotive and rugged place. The national park offers visitors blissful solitude amidst an expanse of wilderness. The area has low light pollution and one of the darkest skies in the country. Perhaps it is no surprise that the national park became England’s first International Dark Sky Park in 2013.

Northumberland National Park is home to parts of the iconic Hadrian’s Wall and the tranquillity of the Cheviot Hills. Once the northern frontier of the Roman Empire, Hadrian’s Wall is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Visit The Sill, the National Landscape Discovery Centre, to start your adventure. This visitor centre offers the perfect starting point to discover Northumberland’s history, wildlife and geology.

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The Prettiest Part of Northumberland National Park Read More

The rolling hills and rugged moorland of the Northumberland National Park provide endless beautiful locations. Perhaps the most iconic is the sharp slopes of the Sycamore Gap on Hadrian’s Wall.

Walk out on the Simonside Hills for panoramic views of the surrounding area. A distinctive ridge, Simonside is packed with history. Look out for Bronze Age burials, evidence of 18th century farming and more. To the west, the region of Coquetdale is not to be missed.

Wildlife of Northumberland Read More

The Northumberland National Park is a haven for many animals, including red squirrels, grouse, wild goats and owls.

Can You Drive in the Northumberland National Park? Read More

Yes, you can drive through the Northumberland National Park, and plenty of car parks are available. Head out along the paths to experience the remote landscape that inspired great writers and artists.

Located on the eastern edge of North Yorkshire, the North York Moors National Park is a rolling purple and green landscape of moorland. Miles of heather-clad moor create a dramatic and captivating backdrop to your adventure in the area. A dynamic landscape, the moor changes with the seasons.

The stunning North York Moors has inspired poets, authors and other writers for centuries. The park is also a treasure trove of history and archaeology, with sites including Young Ralph Cross, the distinctive symbol of the North York Moors National Park.

A popular place with hikers, the North York Moors is the third and final national park on Alfred Wainwright’s famous Coast to Coast trail. The old fishing village of Robin Hood’s Bay, the end of the walking route, is in the national park.

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The Prettiest Part of the North York Moors Read More

The North York Moors includes over 40,000 hectares of heather moorland. In the summer, when the flowers bloom vivid purple, anywhere is spectacular. Walk out along the trails for a peaceful private viewing.

On the western edge of the North York Moors sits Helmsley Walled Garden. Filled with orchards, wildflowers and more, this garden is a tranquil beauty loving created by a team of volunteers.

Wildlife of the North York Moors Read More

Animals found in the North York Moors National Park include grouse, golden plover, Duke of Burgundy butterfly, and moorland merlin, the UK’s smallest bird of prey. Off the coast, whales can also be seen.

Can You Drive in the North York Moors? Read More

Yes, you can drive in much of the North York Moors National Park.

Nestled in the heart of England, the Peak District National Park spans five English counties. Known for its picturesque hills, dramatic rock formations and long human history, the Peak District was the first national park in the UK.

Established in 1951, the Peak District played a crucial role in the history of national parks in England. In April 1932, a mass trespass occurred on Kinder Scout, the highest point in the national park. This protest was part of a growing movement for the ‘right to roam’, which started in the late 1800s. The harsh punishment of the Kinder Scout mass trespass organisers sparked public sympathy. This aided the passing of the ​​Rights of Way Act of the same year.

The history of the Peak District is not limited to its pivotal place in the history of the national parks of England. During the Second World War, the RAF’s 617 Squadron used Derwent Dam to perform practice runs for their famous Dambusters Raid on German dams. Today, the dam is a picturesque site steeped in this legacy. Further back in time, the historic village of Eyam is in the Peak District. Eyam gained fame during the plague outbreaks of the mid-1660s. Villagers isolated themselves from surrounding communities following a plague outbreak. Their actions prevented the spread of the disease even as many of the residents died. Today, visitors can learn about this village’s tragic history while enjoying the pretty surroundings.

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The Prettiest Part of the Peak District Read More

The Peak District National Park has no shortage of lovely spots. One of the most iconic is Stanage Edge, a plunging stone face famous for its breathtaking views. Another site for stunning views of the region is Mam Tor, and of course, Kinder Scout, the highest point in the national park, is worth the climb.

Towards the southern end of the Peak District sits the pretty village of Bakewell. It is best known for its ties with Bakewell pudding, better known today as delicious Bakewell tarts. Further north, Hathersage is another charming village. With streets of quaint cottages, the town also has connections to Charlotte Brontë’s novel, Jane Eyre.

Wildlife of the Peak District Read More

Many species call the Peak District home, including the golden plover, mountain hare and grouse. More endangered residents include the white-claw crayfish and willow tit.

Can You Drive in the Peak District Read More

Driving is a popular way to experience the Peak District, but with a good bus service available, especially in summer, it’s easy to leave the car at home. Heading out on foot, there are numerous trails to enjoy. The Pennine Way, or the ‘backbone of England’, starts in the Peak District.

The South Downs National Park sits in the picturesque countryside of southern England. Stretching from the charming city of Winchester to the seaside resort of Eastbourne, the South Downs offer an enchanting pocket of the English countryside. These sweeping landscapes and rolling hills inspired the hymn Jerusalem.

The best way to discover this national park is along the South Downs Way. This 160 km/100 mile national trail stretches the width of the South Downs. This trail showcases this diverse chalk landscape, rich in picturesque villages, ancient woodland and panoramic views. Discover the national park at night to enjoy this Dark Skies Reserve. With minimal light pollution, enjoy an immersive display of the wonders of the night sky.

Stretching into Sussex, the South Downs also boasts a collection of English vineyards. The chalky soil and warmer southern climate create the perfect conditions for wineries. Enjoy vineyard tours and wine tastings among the gently rolling hills of the South Downs.

The Prettiest Part of the South Downs Read More

The most beautiful part of the South Downs Way is hard to choose amidst a landscape full of charming scenery. Some of our favourites include Harting Down, Kingley Vale and Devil’s Dyke. Perhaps the most iconic sight is of the Seven Sisters, a row of white chalk cliffs stretching along the English Channel.

Wildlife of the South Downs Read More

The chalky soil supports a unique range of flora and fauna. Look out for rare species such as the adonis blue butterfly, chalk carpet moth, barbastelle bat and greater mouse-eared bat. The otter, barn owl and brown trout are more common but no less special.

Can You Drive in the South Downs? Read More

You can drive through much of the South Downs National Park. Excellent bus routes and affordable bike hire offer a greener alternative. There are also several trains which stop in the national park.

The Yorkshire Dales are an enchanting landscape of hilly green fields broken up by a patchwork of drystone walls. Known for its captivating charm, this northern national park offers much to explore. The Yorkshire Dales National Park is an idyllic natural playground with historic walls and awe-inspiring waterfalls. The traditional walls define field boundaries and serve as habitats for plants and animals. The waterfalls of the Yorkshire Dales are iconic. From the majestic Aysgarth Falls to the breathtaking Hardraw Force, the Dales are dotted with waterfalls. These enchanting falls provide the perfect serene spot for a lunch break on your hike.

The Yorkshire Dales are also famed for limestone geology. Rugged cliffs, underground caves and extraordinary rock formations showcase the national park’s geological heritage. This fascinating history helped establish the region as a national park. Find out more about the limestone geology of the Yorkshire Dales here.

If it’s food you’re looking for, the Yorkshire Dales do not hold back. From the renowned Wensleydale Creamery to an up-and-coming Michelin-star culinary scene, there is a treat for every tastebud here. Read more about Yorkshire’s cuisine here.

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The Prettiest Part of the Yorkshire Dales Read More

The Yorkshire Dales offer an abundance of scenic spots. Some of our favourites include the towering Malham Cove, the dramatic waterfalls of Gordale Scar and the enchanting Janet’s Foss. Bolton Abbey, and the stepping stones, are a charming stop on any adventure in the area.

Wildlife of the Yorkshire Dales Read More

The sheep are perhaps the most iconic animals in the Yorkshire Dales. From fluffy white Wensleydale to round-eyed Swaledale, sheep have a long history in the national park. While not an animal, keep an eye out for the moss in the Yorkshire Dales – some of these species are unique to the Dales!

Can You Drive in the Yorkshire Dales? Read More

You can drive through much of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. However, hop on a regular bus to enjoy the Dales without worrying about the directions – the added height will mean you can see over those famous walls too!

For a more green alternative, hop on your bike to experience roads used at the start of the 2014 Tour de France. For the adventurous hiker, take advantage of the chance to attempt the Yorkshire Three Peak challenge.

Visit England's National Parks With Us

Meet the Author: Alex Boag-Wyllie

Born in the Scottish Highlands, I was lucky enough to spend my early childhood playing on beautiful, sweeping beaches and learning to ski (or, more often, fall over). My father’s job kept us on the move though, and I was soon just as at home amidst the rolling Wiltshire downs, the dramatic Yorkshire Dales and the expansive East Anglian coast. I’ve had almost 40 bedrooms to date across the UK, so I’m your gal if you need a good cafe recommendation (almost) anywhere in the country; if I haven’t been there yet, you can be sure it’s on my trip list…

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