It may not have the lofty peaks of the Alps or the epic thousands-of-mile treks of the United States, but the UK is – in its own humble way – a truly world-class destination for walking. Well-signposted paths and hard-fought-for land access mean that anyone with stout boots can unlock the British landscape – from blustery Yorkshire fells to salty Cornish cliffs.
Our list of the best walks in the UK comprises smaller sections of long-distance routes (where possible, with good public transport links) to suit all abilities and for all seasons.
Hadrian’s Wall Path: Housesteads to Sycamore Gap
One day, 5 miles, OS Explorer OL43
As far as the Romans were concerned, Hadrian’s Wall represented the northernmost limit of the civilised world – two millennia later, it retains the aura of a wild, windswept frontier, especially when seen by walkers on Hadrian’s Wall Path. The central section is the most swashbuckling stretch: the trail passes bleak whin sill crags, cold lakes and stones that remember the footfalls of the legions. It’s an easy there-and-back march from the Roman fortress at Housesteads to Sycamore Gap – the site of a poetically lonely tree that found fame in Robin Hood Prince of Thieves.
Offa’s Dyke: Pandy to Hay-on-Wye
One long day, 17 miles, OS Explorer OL12
The Offa’s Dyke path takes its name from the Dark Ages fortification which, more or less, marks out the England-Wales border. The path see-saws to and fro between the two countries on its journey from the Irish Sea in the north to the murky tides of the Severn. One highlight of this 82-mile saga is the stretch from Pandy to Hay-on-Wye, where the trail scales the easternmost cusp of the Black Mountains, affording sweeping views of the brooding Brecon Beacons to the west, and Herefordshire cider orchards to the east. Finishing in the beguiling, bookish town of Hay is a fine closing chapter – there are bus connections to Hereford, which has a station.
The Cleveland Way: Staithes to Robin Hood’s Bay
One day, 18 miles, OS Explorer OL27
The Cleveland Way is an indecisive, meandering beast – winding circuitously through the abbeys and heathery horizons of the North York Moors, before changing its mind and bolting to the North Sea coast. This eastern section is many hiker’s favourite stage: start in the higgledy-piggledy fishing village of Staithes, and the path soon winds south over crumbling cliffs passing the village of Kettleness, part of which slipped into the sea in the 19th century. The fish and chip capital of Whitby is a welcome stop before continuing on to the smuggler’s haunt of Robin Hood’s Bay. It’s easy to return to Staithes by bus with a connection at Whitby.
Southern Upland Way: Over the Galloway Hills
Two days, 22 miles, OS Explorer 318-319
The Highlands get the limelight when it comes to Scottish hikes – but the Lowlands have high points too: especially the Galloway Hills, where gently-contoured summits rise over lochs and shadowy oak woods. A good way to see it is walking part of the Southern Upland Way. Starting in Bargrennan you venture east into Glen Trool – a valley synonymous with the victories of Robert the Bruce – strolling amidst forbiddingly named landforms: the Dungeon Hills, and the range known as ‘the Awful Hand.’ St John’s Town of Dalry is the end point – you might want to break it up into two days, staying midway in the White Laggan Bothy. Private transfers are useful on this walk.
The Ridgeway: Overton Hill to Sparsholt Firs
Two days, 25 miles, OS Explorer 157 & 170
The Ridgeway, so the story goes, is the oldest path in England: trodden since prehistoric times by wayfarers, soldiers and the mysterious masons who created some of Britain’s great neolithic monuments. The westernmost stage offers a chance to admire their handiwork: begin at Overton Hill – close to the standing stones at Avebury – and stroll eastwards through farmland and beech woods, clambering up the Iron Age hillfort of Barbury Castle for views of the Wessex landscape. Rest a night in Ogbourne St George, before pressing northward across the M4 through a remote and undulating section of chalk hills towards Sparsholt Firs. Private transfers can help here.
Norfolk Coast Path: Cromer to Sheringham
One day, 4.3 miles, OS Explorer 252
Norfolk’s fairly flat countryside makes for easy hiking on lazy summer days, and the stretch of seaside path from Cromer to Sheringham is among the best walks in the county. After pottering among handsome Victorian townhouses in Cromer, bear west along the cliffs, passing between the hedgerows and breakwaters, with the shimmering leagues of the North Sea as your companion. The (literal) high point of the walk is Beeston Bump: a 207-foot hill that counts as Everest in these parts, looking down onto the rooftops of Sheringham. Both towns are served by rail connections.
Thames Path: Marlow to Cookham
One day, 5 miles, OS Explorer 172
The Berkshire stretches of the River Thames inspired The Wind in the Willows: a watery world of long, languorous bends, foaming weirs and wooded islands. Join the Thames Path at Marlow Bridge – from which Budapest’s Széchenyi Chain Bridge was famously copied – then follow the current east, passing marinas and waterfront meadows. Look out for devious weasels in Quarry Wood on the south bank – it’s said to be the inspiration for the Wild Wood. You can hop aboard a train back to Marlow at Bourne End, or carry on a little further to Cookham station.
Cotswold Way: Stroud to Dursley
One day, 10 miles, OS Explorer 167/168
For all the fame of Broadway and Chipping Campden, the unsung southern parts offer more stirring scenery and some of the best walks in the Cotswolds. Join the Cotswold Way just outside bohemian Stroud: heading south, the escarpment soon rises over the landscape, with the Severn Estuary and the Welsh borders on the horizon as oak woods hug the slopes below. Detour to the village of Uley – its biscuit-hued houses huddled under an Iron Age hill fort – before ending your trek in the market town of Dursley. From Cam and Dursley station you can connect back to Stroud station, or take a bus.
South Downs Way: Lewes to Ditchling
One day 7.5 miles, OS Explorer OL11
Lewes and Ditchling count as some of Sussex’s prettiest corners, both claiming wonky Tudor mansions, cosy pubs and cottage gardens backing onto the leafy rises of the Downs. The walk between them is correspondingly lovely – join the South Downs Way not far from Lewes, then meander west along the chalky ridges, ascending the summit of Ditchling Beacon and looking out for the twin windmills at Clayton. Lewes has easy onward connections from its station, as does Hassocks, near Ditchling.
Pennine Way: Kinder Scout Loop
One day, 10.5 miles, OS Explorer OL1
The blink-and-you’ll-miss-it village of Edale is a launch pad for walks on Kinder Scout: the plateau that is the spiritual home of UK hillwalking. From the village, follow the Pennine Way west, ascending the stone steps of Jacob’s Ladder until the lakes and woods of the Dark Peak unfurl beneath you. At Kinder Downfall waterfall, you could continue along the Pennine Way all the way the Scottish border, but if you don’t have a month going spare, another (often hard to find) path heads southeast across the moorland, following gurgling brooks back to Edale and the station.
South West Coast Path: Padstow to Tintagel
Two days, 20.5 miles, OS Explorer 111/106
This stretch of the South West Coast Path walk starts out deceptively easy, with a ferry ride across the Camel estuary, from the gourmet hub of Padstow to the village of Rock. Thereafter follows two days’ intensive walking along the Cornish coast at its wildest and most wondrous: look out for bobbing fishing boats at Port Isaac, nesting seabirds in the cliffs and paddling surfers beyond the breaks. Finish at Tintagel Castle: associated with King Arthur, it has towering medieval walls that rise above Atlantic tides. Private transfers can be helpful on this walk.
Yorkshire Three Peaks from Ribblehead
Two days, 24 miles, OS Explorer OL2
Completing Yorkshire’s holy trinity of peaks requires strong nerves, with many walkers and fell runners attempting to conquer all three in the quickest possible time. For an easier approach, split your time in God’s Own County over two days: start at Ribblehead before scaling the mighty ridge of Whernside for views of Lake District fells, then head on to Ingleborough to seek out its Iron Age hill fort. Rest at Horton in Ribblesdale, before ticking off the summit of Pen-y-ghent after breakfast and looping back to Ribblehead station.
Wales Coast Path: Nefyn to Aberdaron
Two days, 25 miles, OS Explorer 254/253
A craggy finger of land reaching into the Irish Sea, the Llŷn Peninsula serves up a sublime (and relatively crowd-free) slice of the Wales Coast Path. From Nefyn, head west to Porthdinllaen, where a little pub watches over a crescent of golden sand, and sea cliffs look back to the summits of Snowdonia. Carry on over two days, passing quiet coves and patchwork fields, arriving at the village of Aberdaron at the lonely tip of the Llŷn – from here, you can see Ireland’s Wicklow Mountains on a clear day. Public transport is scarce, so you may need to arrange transfers.
West Highland Way: Bridge of Orchy to Fort William
Three days, 36 miles, OS Explorer 392/384/377
The West Highland Way is an epic 96-mile hike across Scotland: you can however tune in for the edited highlights, joining the path on the final dramatic section from Bridge of Orchy to Fort William. On the first day the windswept mountains of Glen Coe rise out of the desolate expanse of Rannoch Moor: you’ll want to rest at Kingshouse before climbing up over snow-flecked summits to Kinlochleven. On the last day, walk northward until Ben Nevis rears up among the treetops – the finishing line is at Fort William, which has connections to Glasgow, London, or back to Bridge of Orchy.
For more inspiration, see our edit of the best walks in Scotland.
Glyndŵr’s Way: Knighton to Machynlleth
Five to six days, 73 miles, OS Explorer 201, 214, 215
Glyndŵr’s Way counts as one of the quietest long-distance walks in the UK: silent hours pass without a soul on the trail as you follow in the footsteps of the Welsh rebel leader Owain Glyndŵr. Beginning on the English border in Knighton, the route snakes through the Radnorshire Hills, before the scenery steps up a notch at Plinlimmon – the highest point in mid-Wales. The one-time Welsh capital of Machynlleth is the midpoint of the Way, but it’s also a fine place to hang up your boots – like Knighton it’s served by regular rail connections.
Southwest Coast Path: Charmouth to West Bay
One day, eight miles, OS Explorer 116
The Southwest Coast Path reaches a high point at Golden Cap – claimed by some to be the loftiest cliff on the south coast of England. From its summit, the whole Jurassic Coast extends before you: pebbly beaches raked by the tides, pubs nestling in the nooks of valleys and limestone cliffs stacked with fossils (sections of which are prone to periodically slipping into the sea). It’s best climbed as part of a point-point walk from Charmouth to West Bay, passing caravan parks and patchwork farmland, with chances to peer down from the crags to see seabirds on the wing (just don’t get too close to the edge). The Jurassic Coaster bus service links the two villages, and in turn, connects to mainline trains from Dorchester.
Anglesey Coast Path: Beaumaris to Red Wharf Bay
One day, 14 miles, OS Explorer 263
Snowdonia offers some of Britain’s steepest hills, and most challenging hikes – but just over the water is Anglesey: a largely flat island whose shores look admiringly back to the mountains of the mainland. Its coast is also ringed by a long-distance footpath – one of the loveliest sections leads from the pastel-hued townhouses of Beaumaris to the striped lighthouse at Pen Mon: where the uninhabited islet of Ynys Seiriol (Puffin Island) lies across the rockpools. Continue to trace the headland westward – looking out for dolphins below the cliffs – and you’ll eventually come to the shifting tides of Red Wharf Bay, where the Ship Inn is a time-honoured place for a sunset pint. Bus 50 runs from Red Wharf Bay to Beaumaris.
Speyside Way: Aviemore to Aberlour
Five days, 45 Miles, OS Explorer OL57, OL61 and 424
The River Spey is Scotland’s whisky river: it flows through the foothills of the Cairngorms to the North Sea – but in another sense its basin encompasses the whole world, with illustrious bottles of Speyside malts finding their way to bars on every continent. For a taste of it, follow the Speyside Way, tracking the river through a broad glen from the outdoor capital of Aviemore to the historic town of Aberlour. As well as views of snow-dusted munros, ancient pine forests and the magnificent meanders of the Spey, you’ll spot the puffing chimneys and stacked casks at distilleries along the way: among those offering tours is the privately owned Glenfarclas distillery, with the much-loved Aberlour distillery also soon to reopen for visitors. Buses run from Aberlour to Grantown for connections to Aviemore: Aviemore has a mainline station with direct trains to the Central Belt and London.
Monsal Trail: Bakewell to Monsal Head
One day, four miles, OS Explorer OL24
Amidst the rugged upland trails of the Peak District, the Monsal Trail is a peculiarity – a smooth path slicing serenely through the Derbyshire landscape, disappearing into tunnels and borne by bridges. As you can tell from old platforms and stations along the route, this was once a railway – indeed, a branch line of the Midland Railway, shuttered in the 1960s. Now it’s beloved of cyclists, horse riders, wheelchair users and is also ideally suited to hikers of limited mobility too – with only the slightest of gradients to trouble you. A classic four-mile section connects the pretty town of Bakewell to the Headstone Viaduct – a Victorian span set among the forested slopes of Monsal Dale. Bus 173 returns to Bakewell from Monsal Head.