There’s nothing quite like a good walk. Lacing up your hiking boots and heading into the great outdoors offers a refreshing dose of fresh air, thought-clearing exercise and an unrivalled sense of freedom.
Walking is an excellent way to experience a new place, too – you hear birdsong, smell salty sea air and feel the exhilaration of a bracing wind on your face. The best thing is you don’t have to look far to find a good walking route. From beautiful Scottish islands to the southernmost tip of England, there’s everything from gentle jaunts to hardcore hikes to choose from in the UK.
We’ve compiled a list of our favourites for you to get going. These aren’t mere walks in the park – they are bucket-list walks you need to tick off. So if you ever wanted to go on a proper walk, here are the 10 best hikes in the UK:
1. Hadrian’s Wall Path, Northumberland and Cumbria
Spanning 73 miles in northern England, this enormous wall is one of Britain’s most spectacular ancient monuments. Hadrian’s Wall was named after the Roman emperor who ordered it built. Its original purpose was to separate the Romans from the “barbarian” Scottish Picts. The 84-mile path running alongside it is dotted with ancient settlements, forts and fascinating museums.
One of the best sections to walk is the 20-mile stretch between Chollerford (near Hexham station) to Birdoswald Fort (east of Carlisle). This is the highest section of the Wall, offering magnificent views of the Lake District and Pennines. Better still, it can be done over a weekend. Don’t miss the interactive History of the Wall exhibition at the Roman Army Museum at Carvoran.
2. South West Coast Path, Cornwall
The South West Coast Path twists and turns its way for 630 miles along spectacular coastline, from Minehead in Somerset to Poole Harbour in Dorset. The path gets busy in summer, but you can still find hidden coves to stop for a refreshing dip.
Cornwall is home to plenty of secluded beaches. If you’re lucky you can have the sea all to yourself, even in peak season. Walk four miles around the rugged tip of The Lizard, the mainland’s most southerly point. Continue to the turquoise water and pale sand of Housel Bay – quieter than most beaches even in summer. The walk offers magnificent sea views and the chance to see everything from wildflowers to dolphins playing in the water below.
3. The Quiraing, Isle of Skye
Quiraing is a landslip in the wild terrain of northern Skye. The bizarre but beautiful rock formations make it popular with everyone, from geologists to photographers. But the best way to appreciate its convoluted landscape is to hike it. Handily, there’s a great four-mile loop that involves a fair bit of climbing, but with views that make the effort worthwhile.
The trail starts at either of the villages of Staffin or Uig, and takes in startling vistas of the islands of Raasay and Rona. You can look down on the people below from the top of a cliff. Afterwards, refuel with Scottish chowder and homemade treacle bread at Staffin’s Columba Centre.
4. South Downs Way, Hampshire to East Sussex
With wildlife, white cliffs and watering holes along the way, the 100-mile South Downs Way is a quintessentially British walk. That’s how it’s earned its place on our list of the best hikes in the UK! Which makes sense, if it’s on this one. The route begins in Winchester, and traverses pretty countryside until you reach the rippling chalk cliffs at Eastbourne. It takes around eight days to hike the entire easy-to-follow route. The hike is best done from west to east, or it can be split into short sections.
Highlights along the way include the Seven Sisters Country Park, the Amberley Working Museum and Devil’s Dyke. It is also dotted with some great pubs, such as the Bull at Ditchling, which is a good spot to rest weary feet.
5. Scafell Pike, Lake District
There are several ways to reach Scafell Pike, the tallest mountain in England. There’s usually a crowd of walkers leaving Wasdale, in the western part of the Lake District, heading for the shortest route to the top. But there’s a lesser-known way to reach the 977 metre-high summit. If you don’t want to follow a line of other people, start from the more scenic and less crowded north side, beginning in Seathwaite (or Borrowdale for a longer hike). Known as the “Corridor Route”, this nine-mile trail winds through the valley beneath rocky walls and crossing ravines before you reach Scafell Pike’s summit boulder field.
6. Aberglaslyn Gorge and Cwm Bychan, Snowdonia
This is a circular six mile walk, starting and ending at the little footbridge at Beddgelert. It takes in some of Snowdonia’s most stunning scenery, from the placid waters of Llyn Dinas to the spectacular Aberglaslyn Gorge with the turbulent Glaslyn River raging alongside the path. You’ll pass the rusting pulley systems of the old copper mine working of Sygun and Cwm Bychan. Plus, you will get a broad view of Yr Aran, Lliwedd, Siabod and Snowdon on your descent – if the weather’s fair. Back in Beddgelert, celebrate your completed walk with a pint of real ale at the Tanronnen Inn.
7. Coast to Coast, Cumbria to North Yorkshire
This 192-mile walking route runs from one coast of England to the other. It was devised by British fellwalker and writer Alfred Wainwright in 1973, most famous for his Lake District guides. He put a tab behind the bar in Whitby for people who completed his walk. Needless to say, this is long used up.
The trail picks its way from St Bees Head on the Irish Sea to Robin Hood’s Bay on the North Sea. Along the way, you will cross the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales and the North York Moors. Three national parks in one walking route! You also watch the geology change as you walk, switching from red sandstone at St Bees to green slate at Honister. Other highlights include the pretty Lakeland village of Grasmere with its Wordsworth Museum and the 12th century Shap Abbey.
8. West Highland Way, Glasgow to the Highlands
There’s a reason this is one of the best hikes in the UK and one of UK’s most popular walking routes. The beauty of the West Highland Way is off the scale. It runs from Milngavie, north of Glasgow, to Fort William in the Scottish Highlands. The whole route is a momentous 96 miles and takes in the country’s biggest loch (Lomond) and grandest moor (Rannoch).
Most walkers take around a week to walk it, though you can do it in shorter sections, too. One of the toughest – but most rewarding – sections is from Kingshouse to Fort William, 22 miles culminating in long slog towards Ben Nevis, dominating the skyline in front of you. If you’re interested in just doing certain sections, or checking out other treks in the area, have a look at our guide to hiking in Glasgow.
9. Causeway Coast Way, County Antrim
This dramatic, sea-sprayed walk has some of the finest cliff scenery in Europe. You will see sweeping vistas of the Giant’s Causeway with its ancient basalt columns, said to be the remains of a causeway built by a mythical Irish giant. The 33-mile trail from Portstewart to Ballycastle runs through the seaside towns of Coleraine, Portstewart and Portrush, and passes the famous Irish whiskey distillery at Bushmills – perfect for a pitstop. The terrain ranges from grassy cliff edge paths to causeway stone, mottled with lichens, plus some stiles.
10. Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge, Yorkshire
The Yorkshire Dales are home to some of the best walking in the UK. Ticking off the area’s three highest mountains is a great achievement that can be done in just one day. The Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge is no mean feat – it involves hiking a 24-mile loop with more than 1,600m of climbing as you go up and over Pen-y-Ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough in under 12 hours. There are spectacular views from all three hills and fascinating geology, too, such as Pen-y-Ghent’s two distinct sills – the lower is limestone, the upper gritstone. If you’re keen for a challenge but are time poor, this is the walk for you.