To Summit All Up: The UK’s Best Rated National Parks

With so many months spent inside our homes and day trips currently set to resume in the UK from the 12th of April, it’s no surprise that Brits are already looking for their next socially distanced adventure. Lucky for us, the UK is home to some fantastic National Parks that offer up everything you could possibly need; from rugged coastlines to extraordinary mountain ranges, you could encounter quaint rural villages, glacial lakes, picturesque castles and plenty of stunning trails that offer some jaw-dropping views.

For anyone eager to escape the four walls of their home this summer, the UK’s National Parks offer an ideal outdoor retreat; and with an average area of 1,511km² per park, keeping socially distanced won’t be too difficult. With so many to choose from, it can be tough to know which one to head to first, so we created an index of the best parks across the UK for you to look forward to visiting as the weather warms up.

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The Great Outdoors

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15 National Parks exist in the UK, covering more than 10% of its total landmass and seeing an estimated 110 million visitors each year. However, our parks didn’t exist until much later than others across the rest of the globe. For over 50 years, groups of leisure activity enthusiasts and nature conservationists campaigned to be allowed access to the countryside here in the UK, most of which was privately owned. In 1949, the British Government decided that after so many years of conflict during the Second World War, it was finally time to allow the public to reap the benefits of our breathtaking country.

With this in mind, it feels almost fitting that after the year we’ve all had, it’s time to explore and appreciate our nation’s most scenic landscapes. As such, we decided to scrutinise the data (using a combination of Google Review and Instagram statistics) in order to reveal the best National Parks in Britain. What’s more, we even worked out which ones rank the highest, but see the least visitors to find you a list of the hidden gems, for those of you that really wish to get off the beaten track.

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Top 10 Most Highly Rated National Parks

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1. Peak District, East Midlands

The Peak District was the UK’s first officially recognised National Park and is the second-most visited park in the world after Mt. Fuji in Japan. With over 50,000 more Instagram posts than the next most popular National Park on the list and a high average Google review score of 4.8, it successfully cements itself as the UK’s favourite park. The #PeakDistrictNationalPark hashtag has over 294,000 posts on Instagram and the park itself spans 5 different counties and houses 2,900 listed buildings, making it a truly prized national treasure. History buffs should head to the famous Chatsworth House to explore the home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, thrill-seekers hoping for an adrenaline fix can abseil, mountaineer or even jump on a cable car and of course, there’s watersports and less demanding trails for those just looking to casually explore. Harry Potter enthusiasts should head to Hardwell Hall to enjoy one of the filming locations that featured in the final installment of the franchise, and foodies - you’re going to want to head straight to Bakewell to sample the iconic British dessert in its original home.

·         27,768 Google Reviews
·         4.8 Average Review Score
·         294,119 images under #PeakDistrictNationalPark
·         For the Peak District stay at our Premier Inns at Buxton or Matlock.

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2. Lake District, North West

Nestled in Cumbria lies England’s largest national park, the Lake District. Swooping in at a close second with an average review score of 4.8 and total number of hashtags under #LakeDistrictNationalPark reaching more than 243,000, this phenomenal location is an old favourite, boasting activities for the whole family. Here Scafell Pike holds the title for England’s highest mountain, standing at 978m tall, while Wastwater Lake, just one of 16 bodies of water in the park, holds the title for England’s deepest lake. The combination of both land and water here allows for adventures of all kinds, from windsurfing to abseiling and rock climbing. The Lake District offers plenty of awe-inspiring views and has truly secured its place as a cultural hotspot, having inspired the works of countless artists and writers, including Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter. Aside from its natural beauty, it’s a haven for food lovers too; with the lakes playing host to four Michelin starred restaurants, and being the home of the UK’s favourite dessert, the famous sticky toffee pudding.

·         33,710 Google Reviews
·         4.8 Average Review Score
·         243,779 images under #LakeDistrictNationalPark
·         For the Lake District, stay at Penrith or Kendal (Killington Lake)

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3. Snowdonia, North Wales

Snowdonia slips into the top 3 as one of the UK’s most picturesque National Parks with its endless miles of sandy coastline and rugged heights. It has 70,000 less Instagram posts than the Lake District, but with an average Google review score of 4.9 Snowdonia is the most highly rated of all 15 parks in the study. The Lake District might have the tallest peak in England, but North Wales soars straight past with Mount Snowdon sitting at an impressive 1,085 metres tall. With almost 1,500 miles of public footpaths, Snowdonia has all the traditional National Park pastimes and more. Hailed as the adventure capital of Europe, there’s some hair-raising options for the adrenaline seeking Brits; like surfing waves at the world’s first inland lagoon, speeding down a zipline, mountain biking and even gorge walking, where you’ll find yourself jumping and scrambling down a set of waterfalls. For those that want to reach the dizzying heights of Mt. Snowdon, but aren’t looking to exert too much energy doing so, the Snowdon Mountain railway has been running its steam engine trains for years; hop on and head up to the top, where on a clear day you might even be lucky enough to spot Ireland. Make sure you bring a raincoat with you though, as Snowdonia is one of the wettest places in the UK!

·         20,121 Google Reviews
·         4.9 Average Review Score
·         173,050 images under #SnowdoniaNationalPark
·         For Snowdonia stay at the Caernarfon or Bangor Premier Inns.

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4. Dartmoor, South West

With over 114,000 posts under the #DartmoorNationalPark hashtag, the renowned wild moors of Dartmoor National Park lie in the south west of England, where wild ponies graze on moorland, medieval market towns sit peacefully tucked away and dramatic sights are around every corner. This National Park is Britain’s largest source of granite, with over 160 ancient granite tors creating infamous scenes atop the hills, attracting visitors from all over. These stacks of rocks may look pretty unassuming, but some have been sitting there for over 280 million years and cover 65% of Dartmoor itself. The Tors are a unique part of the area and are the focal point of an annual weekend hike, organised by the British Army each May, that has seen young people hiking to checkpoints on ten of the tors since 1960.

·         12,996 Google Reviews
·         4.8 Average Review Score
·         114,191 images under #DartmoorNationalPark
·         Stay at the Newton Abbot Premier Inn when visiting Dartmoor.

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5. Cairngorms, Scotland

With just over 83,000 images under the #CairngormsNationalPark hashtag, this Scottish destination has less than half the number of Instagram posts of its Cumbrian counterpart, the Lake District. But at double the size, the Cairngorms is the biggest National Park in the entirety of the UK and its average review score of 4.8 keeps people gathering in the spectacular Scottish Highlands year after year. For the vast majority of the months, the peaks are dusted with a layer of fluffy white snow and in the winter season people flock here to go skiing. In summer, visitors can go rock climbing, hiking and mountain biking through the ancient Caledonian pinewood forests, but the real treat here is the wildlife. With nearly 25% of the UK’s threatened plant, animal and bird species located in the Cairngorms, and the Highland Wildlife Park zoo being home to tigers, polar bears and wolves, you’ll certainly find your share of our earth’s impressive natural world here.

·         8,809 Google Reviews
·         4.8 Average Review Score
·         83,165 images under #CairngormsNationalPark
·         For a trip to the Cairngorms, stay at one of the Premier Inns in Inverness.

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6. Brecon Beacons, South Wales

With just 4,000 less Instagram posts than the Cairngorms, Brecon Beacons narrowly missed out on a spot in the top 5; but Wales makes its second feature in the top 10 with the National Park and its grassy moorlands forever a crowd favourite, scoring 4.8 overall for its average Google review. This National Park was only the fifth location in the world to be accredited as an International Dark Sky Reserve, meaning that the area has some of the clearest and most extraordinary night skies and is protected against any development that might affect it; on a clear night people have been lucky enough to spot the Milky Way and even the Northern Lights. For hikers, Pen y Fan is almost a rite of passage for people visiting the Beacons, and the circuit can take as little as two and a half hours, making it ideal for visitors of differing abilities. Take note too, newly engaged couples, as lying 150m below ground is an underground cave and waterfall system called Cathedral Cave that is actually licensed for civil ceremonies!

·         11,788 Google Reviews
·         4.8 Average Review Score
·         79,093 images under #BreconBeaconsNationalPark
·         Stay at Premier Inns in Abergavenny or Ebbw Vale for a Brecon Beacons visit.

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7. South Downs, South East

South Downs is the newest National Park on the scene, only receiving its recognised status as recently as 2011. The iconic Seven Sisters chalk cliffs have drawn in millions of visitors however, surpassing even the Lake District, with a cool 39 million people turning up each year and over 77,000 images shared under the #SouthDownsNationalPark hashtag. The downland is particularly popular with walkers, horse riders and mountain bikers, with the South Downs Way running the length of the entire chalk ridge, finishing up 100 miles later in Eastbourne. Interestingly, the chalky soil is actually much the same as that of the Champagne region in France, giving rise to some of the finest wines in the UK and multiple vineyards that any wine connoisseurs in the area will surely want to visit. For anyone looking for a twist on the traditional British seaside day out, this is the place to do it. Classic ice cream shops, aesthetic lighthouses and more than 5,000 listed buildings ensure there’s plenty to entertain any guest that ventures down here, with Parham House’s grandiose gardens and luxurious interior providing a dreamy day out.

·         15,807 Google Reviews
·         4.7 Average Review Score
·         77,591 images under #SouthDownsNationalPark
·         For the South Downs, stay at the Bognor Regis Premier Inn.

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8. Yorkshire Dales, North East

The Yorkshire Dales is full of natural beauty and eye-catching scenery, with its iconic limestone hills and charming stone villages a draw for many visitors. For a relaxed getaway, there’s some mellow walks, striking waterfalls and as any Wallace and Gromit fan may know, the famous Wensleydale Creamery. Serving up the classic Wensleydale cheese, here you’ll get to taste the original, crumbly recipe and can even learn how it’s made. The #YorkshireDalesNationalPark hashtag on Instagram is inundated with over 65,000 wholesome adventure snaps, but it’s worth noting that the park also offers some more adrenaline filled pursuits, with the Yorkshire Three Peaks challenge providing anyone with an appetite for a challenge a 24.5 mile circular route that thousands of hikers compete to summit in 12 hours or less.

·         9,968 Google Reviews
·         4.8 Average Review Score
·         65,025 images under #YorkshireDalesNationalPark
·         For the Yorkshire Dales, stay at a Premier Inn in Harrogate.

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9. Exmoor, South West

Exmoor may be famous for its ponies, but there’s an enormous, beautifully hilly area of moorland with a ton of incredible activities for visitors here too. With both dense oak forests and a stunning coastline, Exmoor is a gorgeously diverse area where you can find yourself rock climbing, mountain biking, canoeing or hiking. This National Park scored an awesome average Google review of 4.8 and has an incredible 49,000 images of it’s stunning coastline and incredibly cute wild ponies highlighted under the #ExmoorNationalPark hashtag. The area has the highest coastline on the entirety of the British mainland, and is even home to numerous waterfalls on the sea cliffs. With some dropping over 200 metres down to the sea, these are some seriously special sights, given that coastal waterfalls aren’t common anywhere else in Europe, apart from Norway. If you’re looking for an even bigger adventure, Exmoor is also home to the beginning leg of The South West Coast Path, a 630 mile long trail that runs all the way through Cornwall and along the south coast of Devon, making it the longest national trail in England and Wales. If you haven’t got a full 40 days to devote to it, however, the Exmoor portion will take you just 2-3 days to complete.

·         4,485 Google Reviews
·         4.8 Average Review Score
·         49,297 images under #ExmoorNationalPark
·         Stay at the Tiverton or Barnstaple Premier Inns for a trip to Exmoor.

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10. New Forest, South East

With ancient trees over 1,000 years old, the New Forest is not actually all that new. When William the Conqueror decided to set aside the area as a royal hunting ground back in the 11th century, they had to destroy about 20 small hamlets in the process and in doing so renamed the area as though it was new. Spread out over dense woodland, open heathland and soft, sandy beaches, this National Park has something for everyone. Under the #NewForestNationalPark hashtag, over 42,000 images are shared of the vast landscapes. Stay inland and explore by bike, or head to the impressive coastline to breathe in the salty air and opt for some water-based adventures like paragliding. The New Forest is a cherished part of British culture, with its captivating landscapes an inspiration to a great many writers, among them Sherlock Holmes, Lewis Carroll and even Florence Nightingale.

·         19,661 Google Reviews
·         4.8 Average Review Score
·         42,137 images under #NewForestNationalPark
·         For the New Forest, stay at the Lymington New Forest Premier Inn.

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The next most popular National Parks according to Google Reviews and Instagram are:

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11. Loch Lomond & The Trossachs

11. Loch Lomond & The Trossachs

- 12,354 Google Reviews
- 4.8 Average Review Score
- 34,718 images under #LochLomondAndTrossachsNationalPark

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12. Northumberland

12. Northumberland

- 2,904 Google Reviews
- 4.8 Average Review Score
- 22,650 images under #NorthumberlandNationalPark

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13. North York Moors

13. North York Moors

- 9,920 Google Reviews
- 4.8 Average Review Score
- 13,553 images under #NorthYorkMoorsNationalPark

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14. Broads

14. Broads

- 7,713 Google Reviews
- 4.7 Average Review Score
- 6,656 images under #BroadsNationalPark

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15. Pembrokeshire Coast

15. Pembrokeshire Coast

- 9,421 Google Reviews
- 4.8 Average Review Score
- 5,898 images under #BroadsNationalPark

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The Top Hidden Gem National Parks

While the most popular spots draw visitors from all over for a multitude of reasons, it’s easy to forget that the less popular locations are often pretty magical in their own right. For individuals looking to go down the more secluded route, don’t fret. We’ve also indexed which of the UK’s National Parks are the most highly rated, but have the lowest number of reviews, indicating that while they may see less visitors, they’re certainly wowing those that do make the journey.

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Yorkshire Dales, North East

The Yorkshire Dales made its debut in the national top 10, but due to its high score of 4.8 and low number of just under 10,000 reviews it takes the top spot as the UK’s most highly rated hidden gem among our National Parks. Beyond the famous Wensleydale Cheese Creamery and Yorkshire Three Peaks challenge, there’s a number of secret treasures waiting to be visited. For anyone brave enough to take on some wild swimming, there’s a crystal clear pool at the bottom of the waterfall at Janet’s Foss and a scenic stretch of meadow next to Loup Scar, where locals and kids splash around in the River Wharfe during the summer months. Lord of the Rings fans, don’t miss out on visiting Gordale Scar, just upstream from Janet’s Foss, it’s said to be the inspiration for Helm’s Deep.

·         9,968 Google Reviews
·         4.8 Average Review Score
·         65,025 images under #YorkshireDalesNationalPark
·         For the Yorkshire Dales, stay at the Catterick Garrison Premier Inn.

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North York Moors

The North York Moors makes its mark as the second best hidden gem in the UK with a high rating of 4.8 but just under 10,000 reviews in total. In 2020, they were officially designated as another of the UK’s International Dark Sky Reserves, meaning this National Park is home to some of the most dazzling dark skies in the country, now protected against any form of light pollution. With over 3,000 listed buildings, up to 2,000 stars to see at night and 1,408 miles of Public Rights of Ways, there’s plenty to keep you busy in this part of the UK. 22% of the whole park is covered by ancient woodland and forest, there’s a 26 mile stretch of coastline where you can spot Minke whales, magnificent stately homes and even an old school Victorian steam railway. It is said that you could walk or cycle every day for a year and still not cover every corner of the whole park. Soak up the fresh fragrances emanating from the glorious Helmsley Walled Garden, the filming location for the 2020 version of the Secret Garden and don’t miss Fortune’s Smokehouse, famous all over the country as the original home of Yorkshire’s smoked kippers.

·         9,920 Google Reviews
·         4.8 Average Review Score
·         3,553 images under #NorthYorkMoorsNationalPark
·         For the North York Moors, stay at Scarborough with Premier Inn.

 

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Pembrokeshire Coast, Wales

Pembrokeshire Coast National Park is small, but mighty, with only 9,421 reviews in total but a high average Google review score of 4.8! The smallest of all parks in the UK, it is actually the only one to be fully coastal. From brightly coloured seaside villages, to the captivating Pembrokeshire Coast Path that stretches across 186 miles, you can visit charming pubs, wander through bluebell meadows and even spot pods of dolphins catching waves in the ocean. Visitors hoping to soak up some culture can visit heritage sites like Castell Henllys, an iron age village that has been reconstructed to showcase what life was like in the area more than 2,000 years ago; while those looking for some R&R can opt to bake in the sun at one of over 50 wonderful beaches, where watersports and secluded coves are rife. Don’t miss out on a visit to the smallest city in Britain either, St. Davids is home to less than 2,000 people and contains a stunning cathedral made of a local purple coloured stone.

·         9,421 Google Reviews
·         4.8 Average Review Score
·         5,898 images under #PembrokeshireCoastNationalPark
·          For Pembrokeshire, stay at Llanelli with Premier Inn.

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Cairngorms, Scotland

The Cairngorms is another park that landed in the top 10, but snuck into the hidden gems list due to its lower number of 8,809 reviews yet remarkably high rating of 4.8. Apart from its snow capped peaks and diverse wildlife, the Cairngorms has several adventure opportunities that are still very much under the radar. For the wild swimmers, Loch Morlich is crystal clear and provides an abundance of serenity, with a small cafe fortunately located right next door serving up delicious hot drinks and snacks. Paddle boarders are also in luck, with foraging SUP tours run by Strathmashie House that allow you to collect botanicals and make your own gin upon your return back to the distillery. For the sunset seekers, Meall a Bhuchaille offers one of Scotland’s most magnificent scenes as twilight descends on the mountain. At only 810m tall, it’s a very manageable sunset hike.

·         8,809 Google Reviews
·         4.8 Average Review Score
·         83,165 images under #CairngormsNationalPark
·         For a Cairngorms visit stay at the Aviemore Premier Inn.

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Broads, East Anglia

Meandering through East Anglia are the Norfolk Broads, an intricate set of over 125 miles of man-made waterways that just clinch a spot in the top 5 hidden gems with an average score of 4.7 but only 7,713 reviews in total. Originally abandoned peat diggings that eventually filled up with water from rising sea levels, they became the perfect habitat for the wildlife and boaters that use them today. Though they make up only 0.1% of the UK itself, they’re home to over a quarter of our rarest wildlife and are the largest protected wetland in the nation. Hire a bike or a boat to explore the numerous market towns and villages that adorn the Broads, stopping off at the most scenic waterside spots, grabbing a drink at the cosy pubs and snapping pictures of the distinctive Windmills that you’ll find dotted all around! If you’re looking for some extra historical value, check out any number of the 659 medieval churches the Broads are home to.

·         7,713 Google Reviews
·         4.7 Average Review Score
·         6,656 images under #BroadsNationalPark
·         For the Norfolk Broads, stay in Great Yarmouth with Premier Inn.

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Exmoor, South West

Just like the Yorkshire Dales and the Cairngorms, Exmoor takes a spot in both the top 10 and the hidden gems, thanks to a high rating of 4.8 and small number of 4,485 reviews. Beyond the well known South West Coast Path and the semi-wild ponies that roam the moorland and feature in most people’s holiday snaps, there’s a wealth of activities here to take you even further away from the crowds. At Porlock Weir you can indulge in your competitive side, splitting your group into two to strap logs together and set sail to the finish line, or if team sports aren’t your thing but you’re looking to get into the water, enjoy white water rafting with the Exmoor Canoe Club! Exmoor is an absolute haven for aquaphiles, with Long Pool at Watersmeet and the wooded Rockford Pools offering some secluded spots for wild swimming.

·         4,485 Google Reviews
·         4.8 Average Review Score
·         49,297 images under #ExmoorNationalPark
·         For Exmoor, stay at the Premier Inn in Minehead.

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Northumberland, North East

With just 2,904 reviews but an average review score of 4.8, Northumberland is the final hidden gem on our list, and with its brilliantly clear dark skies and endless rolling hills, it’s well deserving of its spot. With a rich assortment of remarkable architecture and landscapes, Northumberland National Park makes for a beautiful staycation. Wildlife lovers will want to visit the area’s unique breed of cattle that are rarer than giant pandas, while tea enthusiasts should head straight to Howick Hall to enjoy a refreshing cup of Earl Grey. Northumberland is actually the birthplace of the Earl Grey tea blend, invented back in the 1800’s when Lady Grey requested that Bergamot oil was added to her tea, in order to offset the taste of lime in the local water. At nighttime, lucky visitors can spot the Milky Way among over 2,000 visible stars, and occasionally even the Northern Lights. Autumn and winter are best for stargazing in this National Park, with Northumberland containing the largest protected area of night skies in Europe, with Gold-tier International Dark Sky status.

·         2,904 Google Reviews
·         4.8 Average Review Score
·         22,650 images under #NorthumberlandNationalPark
·         Stay at the Berwick-Upon-Tweed Premier Inn to visit Northumberland National Park.

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Methodology

· The average score of each National Park’s Google reviews and the number of Instagram posts which used the hashtag #[location]national park were combined to determine the best National Parks in the UK

· For the hidden gems, National Parks with the highest average review but lowest overall number of reviews were combined to determine which locations were the most highly rated but saw less visitors overall 

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