The UK has more surprises waiting to be discovered than almost any destination in Europe. Wherever you live, don’t let the cosy familiarity of the UK’s cultural icons and famous landmarks deter you from exploring the rest of it.

These four nations are densely packed with variety that, away from Big Ben and Buckingham Palace, there are an enormous number of sights that most people have never heard of. Best of all for walkers are the sheer number and variety of paths through British landscapes that are always rich in tradition, varied in landscape and full of history.

Wherever you find yourself you'll never be far from a public footpath of some sort and, once outside of the urban sprawls, almost any patch of countryside makes for a pleasant stroll. But for a truly special trip, consider one of the following top-rated walking holiday regions.

Scotland

Walking north of the border

Still (at least for the time being) a constituent member of the United Kingdom, Scotland is a mecca for casual walkers and dedicated trekkers alike. There’s no way we can do the entire country justice on this page, so click here for a detailed look at Scotland’s hiking highlights.

UK Lochranza on the Isle of Arran

Lochranza, on the Scottish Isle of Arran

Northumberland

Vast, empty and wild

There’s a large area between the Tyne and the Scottish border that is little troubled by tourists but full of walking possibilities. The craggy Cheviot hills form one boundary and the sandy shores of the North Sea the other. Walkers can explore wild hills and vast forests of Northumbria National Park on a long distance trail like St Cuthbert’s Way or the Northumberland Coast Path through some of England’s most scenic but least-visited seascapes.

It’s not a widely marketed destination for walking holidays or specialist luggage movers. In fact England’s least populated countryside includes no cites and few towns, so expect to have to plan inn-to-inn holiday routes carefully around limited accommodation and transport links.

UK Northumberland Lindisfarne Holy Island

The Holy Island of Lindisfarne, on the Northumberland Coast Path

East Anglia

Looks can be deceiving

Hillwalkers look away now. This is Britain’s flattest region with pancake landscapes stretching to the hazy horizon in all directions. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t some delightful walking and the regional highlights, the Norfolk and Suffolk coasts, and the Norfolk Broads National Park, are as spectacular as anything in the UK. Way-marked, full-supported long distance trails include the 228-mile triangle formed by Peddars Way, Norfolk Coast Path, and the Angles Way while other less well-known routes celebrate local historical figures as divergent as Boudicca, Nelson and Hereward the Wake.

Walkers will be able to explore easy flat paths through gorgeous examples of rural lowland England, with frequent pastoral scenes looking like Constable paintings. Expect a good transport network but plan accommodation ahead because in rural parts options can be limited whether you are travelling inn-to-inn or based in one spot.

Turf Fen Mill in the Norfolk Broads England UK

Turf Fen Mill in the Norfolk Broads

Yorkshire

God's own country

England’s biggest county includes the Yorkshire Dales, North Yorkshire Moors and a big chunk of the Peak District National Park, a Heritage Coast and dozens of outstanding natural areas.

For walkers, its offerings range from challenging hill trails to more relaxed lowland hikes. Most routes include some rugged moorland stretches and Yorkshire’s long distance trails include tough options like the Dales Top Ten, a 77-mile trek round the ten highest hills in the Dales or the Pennine Way, a 251-mile iconic trail along the mountainous spine of the country.

There is a good choice of guided walking holidays along waymarked long distance trails, or centre-based stays in any of the national parks. The availability of accommodation varies greatly between areas but all styles of walking holiday are possible, with choices like the Inn Way trails linking country pubs or circular centre-based routes skirting Barnsley, Sheffield and Hawes in the Dales.

UK Gunnerside Swaledale Yorkshire England

Classic Yorkshire countryside in Swaledale, Yorkshire Dales National Park

The Isle of Wight

Peaceful & pretty

With a varied and fascinating coastline of 60 miles, the Isle of Wight is bigger than many outsiders expect. Safe, quiet and untroubled by mountains or wilderness areas, it has become one of England’s most popular walking destinations. There are no motorways or cities to avoid, instead expect peaceful, pretty landscapes, yachting harbours and wooded estuaries, old-fashioned seaside towns and rolling downland. The coast path is a highlight but other routes criss-cross the island. Yarmouth, Cowes and Ventnor can serve as attractive centres for walking holidays too.

UK Isle of Wight coastpath

Sea views from the Isle of Wight coastpath

The Southwest

Popular and varied

England’s southwestern peninsular of Cornwall, Devon, Somerset, Dorset and Wiltshire has the mildest climate and a varied coastline, which explains why it’s the UK’s most popular holiday area.

The 630-mile Southwest Coast Path encompasses it all but there are hundreds of others, from the 600-miles of trails in Exmoor National Park to circular day-walks like the National Trust routes around Cheddar Gorge or Stonehenge. They range in quality too: from sign-posted long distance national trails with luggage support and frequent refreshments to rugged lonely muddy tracks across Dartmoor where a compass is advisable.

Across the southwest walkers will find some serious wild moorland areas and a few cities, but generally the landscape comprises rolling farmland that’s never far from the sea. Expect crowds at holiday times but the positive side of the area’s popularity is a huge choice of accommodation that means inn-to-inn walks are an easy option. Organised self-guided walks are commonplace, with several specialist operators to choose from.

UK Hollerday Hill of the Valley Of The Rocks in Exmoor National Park

Valley of Rocks, on the Exmoor coastline

The Lake District

England's heavy hitter

Perhaps the most famous walking region in the UK, the Lake District offers a chance to wander lonely as a cloud amid impressive landscapes of mountains and water. The choices for walkers range from England’s most serious climbing routes to gentle lakeside circuits. The two main hazards to consider are that the main roads and towns get very busy with day trippers and tour buses in the summer months, while the fells include challenging terrain to be taken very seriously.

Nevertheless there are world-class scenes to discover here whether Wainwright bagging or pottering in the footsteps of poets. Classic long distance trails include the 93-mile Tour of the Lakes circuit and the start of the Coast-to-Coast and Hadrian’s Wall routes - but there are hundreds of smaller less celebrated paths including classics like Striding Edge or Borrowdale. The former will be way-marked and popular with walking holiday companies. Luggage support should be readily available. The latter fall into the category of mountain walking and you may require more self-sufficiency regarding navigation and luggage.

Across the Lakes the transport network can be a limiting factor. Roads are narrow and sometimes jammed. Nevertheless there is a huge range of places to stay, from farm B&Bs and hostels to luxury hotels and suiting either inn-to-inn or centre-based walking holidays.

UK England Lake District Buttermere surrounded by green hill in Englands Lake District

Buttermere, in the Lake District

Wainwright who?

Prolific mountain walker, author and illustrator Alfred Wainwright was the father figure of Lakeland walking. His 60-year-old guides to the fells are still definitive volumes for walking in the Lakes and he was instrumental in establishing the popular Coast-to-Coast route from the Irish Sea at St Bees to the North Sea at Robin Hood’s Bay.

South Wales

Undervalued & less-visited

Don’t let an industrial heritage and string of dour coastal cities deter you from exploring this undervalued and less visited walking region. In fact you’ll discover that most of the southern half of Wales is rural, with the Brecon Beacons National Park providing southern Britain’s highest peaks, some impressive coastal walking further west and large areas of pristine countryside to explore.

Long distance walkers have a lot of choices of well-maintained and supported routes, including the 186-mile Pembrokeshire Coast Path, part of the massive 870-mile Wales Coast Path or scenic walks through the Black Mountains that form the southern section of the 177-mile Offa’s Dyke Path along the Welsh-English border. Both those paths of course continue into…

Boat houses near St Davids Pembrokeshire

Boat houses near St Davids on the Pembrokeshire Coast Path

North Wales

Gritty & quiet

Many long distance trails span the two halves of this nation and if you completed them you’d find the north generally has a rawer, grittier nature. With the added attraction of Snowdonia’s mountain landscape and the remote rolling moorland of the Elan Valley in Mid-Wales, this is an area with rich pickings for walkers. Choices range from major trails like Snowdonia’s 97-mile Eyri Way to day routes visiting Wales’ highest waterfall, Swallow Falls. Try walking around Anglesey, explore the Mawddach Estuary or discover the new Pilgrim’s Way (135 miles) that links ancient churches, crosses and stone circles across the North.

All of Wales, like the rest of the UK, offers extremely varied landscapes and walking conditions. Research your routes in detail because some will have plentiful facilities on hand, luggage transfers and be an easy way-marked ramble—others will have scant infrastructure and may be a serious hiking challenge.

UK Wales Dolbadarn Castle at Llanberis in Snowdonia National Park in Wales

Dolbadarn Castle in Snowdonia National Park, North Wales

The Southeast

Accessible countryside

You won’t find wilderness areas along the south coast between Kent’s ‘Garden of England’ and Poole Harbour. Instead walkers enjoy safe and generally easy, well-maintained paths with excellent infrastructure and access. Expect a mix of coast and well-manicured countryside with long stretches of chalk downland between the two. Most walks include pretty river valleys and rolling farmland with a scattering of affluent villages and towns serving London commuters or escapees.

Major walks include the South Downs Way and the 1066 Country Walk while smaller routes involve the region’s landscape highlights like the Seven Sisters, Devil’s Dyke, Leith Hill, Beachy Head or the White Cliffs of Dover. Accommodation and transport options are plentiful and varied, making the southeast suitable for most types of walking holidays.

England South Downs Way 1

Chalk cliffs on the South Downs Way

The Cotswolds

Classic English countryside

For a glimpse of classic English limestone countryside with rolling hills, leafy vales, dry stone walls and pretty, if sometimes twee, villages, try some of the paths criss-crossing the Cotswold region. Footpaths are generally good quality, waymarked and well maintained, and the en-route facilities are good. The region suits either point-to-point trails or centre-based walkers.

The Cotswolds are hilly but never hardcore. Examples of routes range between the 100-mile Cotswold Way from Bath to Chipping Campden to small circuits like the craggy summit of Cleeve Hill, the Cotswolds’ highest point, or the around idyllic villages like Bibury.

Walkers may find the honey-pot villages too busy with day-trippers at peak times but the comprehensive network of footpaths makes it easy to escape the crowds that rarely go beyond the teashops and car parks. Avoid the tour-bus problem altogether by sticking to the picturesque fringes of the region, like Warwickshire and South Gloucestershire.

Expect accommodation generally on the pricey but exquisite side. Gentrified gastro-pubs are plentiful, but you’ll need to search hard for traditional ‘working village’ pubs.

UK Cotswolds Castle Combe England

Castle Combe, a classic Cotswolds village

Best Places For Walking In The UK

Simon Heptinstall

Former Top Gear writer Simon Heptinstall has slowed down a bit recently and now much prefers walking. His hikes have taken him as far as Svalbard, the Falklands and Budleigh Salterton. Find his travel writing everywhere from the Wall Street Journal to the Daily Mail.

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