Best National Parks in the UK for Families

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Best National Parks in the UK for Families

Sprinkled across England, Wales, and Scotland, there are over 15 national parks in the UK. From sky-high peaks to limitless moors to beautiful coastline to uncharted backwaters – UK national parks are a dream come true for outdoor-loving families.

The national parks in the United Kingdom, best known for their gorgeously beautiful countryside (think lush rolling hills, glacial lakes, veiled valleys, rocky mountains, and quaint villages, and towns) charm their visitors with picture-perfect beauty.

Here, we have collaborated with some of the best travel bloggers and national park experts from the UK to bring this amazing list of the BEST British National Parks for you all.

Before you talk about the best United Kingdom National Parks, let’s look into the list of all the 15 National Parks in Britain by country:

  • National Parks in England: Broads, Dartmoor, Exmoor, Lake District, New Forest, Peak District, Northumberland, North York Moors, Yorkshire Dales, South Downs
  • National Parks in Wales: Brecon Beacons, Pembrokeshire Coast, and Snowdonia
  • National Parks in Scotland: Cairngorms and Loch Lomond & the Trossachs (Check out the best walks in Loch Lomond )

Best National Parks in the UK

Here’s a low down on the best national parks in UK:

Best National Parks in England

Peak District National Park, England

Jenny from Peak DistrictThe Peak District, nestled between the big cities of Manchester, Sheffield, and Derby, is the oldest National Park in the UK. It’s a place I visited frequently as a child and is now the place I call home with my own family

With our boys’ ages 5 and 6, we love to spend our days off hiking through the green rolling hills and over dry stone walls to a cozy old pub serving real ale in front of a roaring fire. Our favorite family walks are the Nine Ladies Circle through Stanton Moor Peak and the Padley Gorge walk or perhaps head to the stunning views from Baslow Edge. Alternatively, hire some bikes and ride the Monsal Trail or Tissington Trail; these are disused railway tracks that have been converted into traffic-free gravel cycle paths and are relatively flat, perfect for family days out in Peak District.

The National Park is dotted with farmyards to visit (Blaze Farm, Matlock Meadows) and deep limestone caverns to explore (Speedwell Cavern, Poole’s Cavern). A ride on the cable car up to The Heights of Abraham to visit the caves and play in the adventure playground is a must. As is a visit to Crich Tramway Museum to ride the heritage trams. The theme parks of the Gullivers Kingdom and Alton Towers lie just outside the national park boundary too! There really is so much for families to do here.

The Peak District is totally free for all to explore and wonderful in all seasons. If you can, try and avoid school holidays as that’s when the National Park is at its busiest, and parking can be an issue (although that’s easier said than done with school-aged kids).

Book a day trip from Manchester

Our top tip is that kids need good walking boots, wellies just won’t do if you want those little legs to cover a good distance, and make sure you wear layers as the weather can change very quickly upon the escarpments.

As for accommodation, there are lots of gorgeous holiday cottages dotted around the park, but for families, we recommend Knockerdown Cottages by Carsington Water as they have a swimming pool and playground on site.

Best National Parks in the UK for Families

Yorkshire Dales National Park, Bainbridge, England

For some outdoor family fun, head to Yorkshire Dales National Park in the English county of Yorkshire. Spanning 1762km², the park is known for its quaint rolling hills, gorgeous dales (valleys), as well as extensive limestone rock and cave formations.

For the best weather, head to the National Park between June-September, when you can enjoy the lush greenery and wildflowers. Keep in mind that July and August will be the busiest due to school holidays!

Yorkshire Dales’ living landscapes are the perfect place to spend time with children. Check out the Aysgarth Walk near Wensleydale – this short trail takes you through the woods to admire the stunning Aysgarth waterfall. Another great walk is the Ribblehead audio track. Download the audio guide and map before heading out for a unique experience with the family. You’ll learn about the construction of the stunning Ribblehead railway, and particularly, the famous Ribblehead viaduct that is a key attraction in the park.

The Park also boasts a family cycling track dubbed Swale Trail, a 12-kilometer path that was designed to encourage young mountain bikers and their families. The track is quite easy making it the perfect place for beginners. This is a shared path and is open to those walking and using electric wheelchairs as well.

There are several cities near the Park including York, Harrogate, Bradford, and Leeds, all of which are easy to reach by local train or bus. Or to avoid any hassles book a day-trip to Yorkshire Dales from York.

We recommend this beautiful cottage in the heart of the Dales which you can book through Airbnb. For those camping or traveling in a caravan, check out High Laning Camping & Caravan park, for a great place to stay.

Best National Parks in the UK for Families

Lake District National Park, Cumbria, England

England’s Lake District is famed for its glorious countryside and abundance of activities in the great outdoors both on and off the water. If you’re an adventure-seeking family then the Lake District can deliver thrills and relaxation in equal measure.

Honister is England’s oldest and last working slate mine and visitors can take a trip deep underground to discover what life was like for those that spent their working lives in the mine. With demonstrations and even explosions, it’s an experience not to be missed.

Hire a canoe at the Derwent water marina and take a paddle powered trip out onto the lake. There’s plenty to enjoy out on the water and you can explore uninhabited islands like St Herbert’s for some back to nature fun. Alternatively, take a thrilling paddleboard trip out across Ullswater with escorted visits for the whole family.

For families looking for an energetic challenge Scafell Pike, England’s highest peak is well worth a day’s climb, but make sure you’re well prepared for the weather to change and don’t set out without a map or compass.

The largest lake in the Lake District is the Lake Windermere. Explore the beautiful countryside and take a cruise along the lake Windermere.

There are a number of great Lake District family hotels to make your stay there the best it can be. At the end of the day, there’s no better place to lay your head than Another place, The Lake, a hotel where ‘active relaxation’ is promoted and adults and children alike are treated to a luxurious and blissful night’s stay. The hotel is located right next to Ullswater and has a host of lake-based outdoor activities, a huge indoor infinity pool, hot tubs, saunas, and a spa offering manicures to massages.

Best National Parks in the UK for Families

New Forest National Park, England

The New Forest makes a great destination for anyone, including families. The vast expanse of woodland was originally commandeered as a Royal hunting ground for William the Conqueror.

One of the best features of the New Forest is the sheer space – you can almost always find a quiet spot by walking just a little way from the car parks. These are free to use, and there is no entrance fee. Once you arrive in the area, it’s yours to explore and enjoy.

The forest is easy to get to, as the train trip from London to Brockenhurst takes about 97 minutes. Driving to the New Forest is also simple, as there are major routes connecting this part of Hampshire with the rest of the UK.

You can visit at any time of year. It’s beautiful in spring and summer, but that’s also the busiest time. The autumn leaves are spectacular in fall, and while it’s colder in winter it’s also quieter.

The entrance fee is £12.50 per adult; £9.50 per child (3 to 16 years); £38.00 per family (2 adults and 2 children or 1 adult and 3 children)

Accommodation options are varied and of a high standard, ranging from Forestry Commission-run campsites to deluxe five-star spa hotels. My favorite is the great value Balmer Lawn Hotel in Brockenhurst – a welcoming, four-star, family-owned property with a relaxed yet refined atmosphere.

Check out some amazing Airbnb options in New Forest

Don’t miss Beaulieu, a picturesque English village that’s home to the National Motor Museum and historic Palace House. Lymington’s sea-water
baths
are popular with families during warmer weather. Rhinefield Ornamental Drive is breathtaking, or take the Solent Way walk along the coast.

The best things in the New Forest are often free. Children love to see the native New Forest ponies wandering around freely, and a picnic and walk at one of the many scenic areas like Wilverley Plain is my recommended highlight.

Best National Parks in the UK for Families

South Downs National Park, England

The beautiful South Downs National Park stretches across the south of England from Winchester to Eastbourne. Home to several important habitats, including chalk grassland and lowland heath, the South Downs National Park is a vital home to several rare species, including the Adonis blue butterfly, and all 12 of the amphibian and reptile species native to the UK.

For a family day out, or for a short UK break, the South Downs National Park has plenty to offer, including dozens of beautiful walking routes. No matter what time of year you visit, the 100-mile long South Downs Way National Trail is a beautiful hike to do with the family. Although it spans the length of the national park, you can easily hike, or bike, sections of it.

My personal favorite area is from Lewes to Alfriston. After a relaxing breakfast and slow wander in the historic market town of Lewes, you can wander the South Downs Way through stunning British countryside until you arrive in the quaint village of Alfriston. You can enjoy a delicious afternoon tea here at one of the charming tea houses.

Stroll past fields of friendly horses, grazing sheep, and apple orchards and stop at one of the traditional pubs en route. After Alfriston, you could continue on to Seven Sisters Country Park which is another few miles along or jump on the local bus. In this stunning country park, there’s plenty of opportunities to get on the meandering water the weaves towards the sea, such as kayaking or SUP.
You could take a day trip from Brighton to the Seven Sisters and South Downs or a day tour from London.

Finally, the South Downs National Park is just one of 16 ‘International Dark Sky Reserves’ in the world, meaning it’s one of the best places to take in the night sky on a clear evening. A great place to stay is the Deans Place Hotel in Alfriston, which has plenty of land and a delightful outfit swimming pool.

Best National Parks in the UK for Families

Best National Parks in Wales

Snowdonia National Park, Wales

In our opinion, the best trips you can go on with kids are to the national parks. They can be cheap, easily accessible, and versatile, with something to impress everyone. Plus, it’s a great chance to let your kids explore, try something new and get in touch with nature.

Here in the UK, we’re pretty spoiled for choice with national parks, with 15 in relatively close proximity. We think the top of the pile is Snowdonia National Park in northern Wales and your kids will likely love it too.

Without a doubt, the main draw here is for the natural beauty and outdoor activities. Snowdonia is a haven for hiking, cycling, camping, rafting, you name it. If your kids like an adventure you could even climb Snowdon, the tallest peak in Wales, something the family will never forget.

If you fancy something easier, you’ll find plenty of more family-friendly walks in and around the national park too. For things like cycling or watersports, there are heaps of outfitters that can rent you the equipment for a modest price.

For a visit, we’d recommend staying at a local campsite. This can be an exciting experience if your kids aren’t used to camping and will teach them lots of new skills too. On top of that, camping will be much cheaper than staying in hotels or AirBnB’s which is always a bonus.

In terms of weather, Wales isn’t known for its sunshine so going in the summer will have the best conditions but you can still have fun year-round.

A little tip would be to avoid popular parts of the national park during summer holiday weekends or bank holidays as it can get pretty busy!

Best National Parks in Scotland

Cairngorms National Park, Scotland

By Elina from Empnefsys & Travel

A great national park for families, Cairngorms National Park in the Scottish Highlands is the biggest national park in the UK. The numerous activities provided in the Cairngorms make it an ideal place for families. Many of the activities I recommend are close to Aviemore, which provides a great base for the area with many amenities.

When in the Cairngorms, you should not miss visiting Rothiemurchus estate. This large spread of land in the forest provides many activities for children of all ages. You can go pony trekking, head on a river adventure, try fishing, visit the Treezone, and more.

A short distance from the Rothiemurchus Estate, you can find the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre. The center organizes daily hill trips, where you have the chance to get close to the deer. They also keep some deer in their Paddock and have an informative exhibition room about the herd. Another activity with animals in the area is RZSS Highland Wildlife Park.

If your kids are into water sports, you should visit Loch Morlich or Loch Insh. Both have a good selection of equipment to hire including canoes, paddle boarding, and kayaking.

Of course, there are lots of trails of varying difficulty around the Cairngorms. From demanding hikes to mountain peaks to leisure walks around lochs. If you will be based in Aviemore, Craigellachie National Nature Reserve offers some short and easy hikes.

Last but not least, is the Strathspey Railway. A not physically demanding activity that takes you in a steam train to Boat of Garten and Broomhill. If you visit the area close to Christmas, then you can check out their timetables for their annual Santa Express service.

Accommodation-wise, I recommend staying at the Macdonald Aviemore Resort in Aviemore. It is the perfect place for families, with comfy rooms, many dining options, some shops, and even a cinema.

You can visit the national park year-round, but paid activities have more availability during weekends and school holidays. If you want to do some skiing too, you should visit the Cairngorms during the winter, but if you prefer more outdoor activities then summer is better as the weather is milder.

To get there, you need to take the plane or train to Edinburgh, Glasgow, or Inverness and then drive to the Cairngorms. Otherwise, you can take the train to Aviemore and then use public transport to move around.

There is no entrance fee to enter the park.

I recommend getting a car to move around, as buses in Aviemore are not very frequent.

Best National Parks in the UK for Families

So, that’s the wrap up of the most beautiful Great Britain National Parks! Out of all the best National Parks in UK, which one would you choose to visit?


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Last Updated : Apr 29,2021
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