Walking vacations in the UK

Walks link A with B, but the best walking vacations don’t limit themselves to merely getting you from one place to the next. They immerse you in those places as well, with the past and with life there now, introducing you to the people who live in them. You’ll come away feeling that you haven’t just passed through a place; you’ve experienced it. And your stay has a positive impact, benefiting the local economy and helping to make sure that the routes you’ve taken will be preserved for others to enjoy in future.

Our walking vacations in the UK encompass peaks and valleys, islands and coasts, lakes, lochs, rivers and canals. They follow ancient pilgrimage routes, show you how to mindfully appreciate your surroundings, and how to dig and spend the night in a snow hole. They roam every part of the nation, from England’s national parks and the wild Welsh coast to Scotland’s Orkney archipelago and the highest mountains in Northern Ireland. They give you the confidence to head out on your own on a long-distance epic, and they show you the value of a good guide. This is not a large country, but it is criss-crossed by more than 225,000km of walkable routes – from A to B and everywhere in-between.

Where to go on a walking vacation in the UK

Northern Ireland

The Northern Ireland walking vacations that Andrew Magowan and his Inside Trek team have developed focus on the Mourne Mountains and Antrim Hills. Andrew says: “I want people to see Northern Ireland for the cracking, creative country it is. I want to help develop more sustainable tourism here. I know from personal experience the value of a good guide who knows their stuff and goes out of their way to make a vacation special, and I also realise that plenty of people don’t know Northern Ireland at all, and if they do they view it through the Troubles of 30 years ago. And I know that I want to show people what’s off the beaten track – what’s been missed in walking tourism here so far. We put all of this together.”

The Causeway Coast, of which the famous Giant’s Causeway is just a tiny part, is another scenic Northern Ireland walking destination.

Scotland

Cairngorms National Park makes for some pretty spectacular walking, especially in winter when the peaks are shrouded in snow. The West Highland Way, taking in Ben Nevis, Loch Lomond and Glencoe, is a classic long-distance walking route – around 150km in total. And walking in Orkney (easily reached by ferry from the mainland as well as by plane), promises coastal landscapes, as well as flourishing bird reserves, the Old May of Hoy, Skara Brae and the Ring of Brodgar.
Snowdonia is a magnet for walkers, and the more popular hikes can get seriously crowded as a result. The adventurous can tackle the 14 Peaks route, but there are many other more easygoing walks around the national park. At its finest in autumn, Snowdonia also has rivers and coast, as well as wondrous night skies. For those wanting a long-distance challenge, the Offa’s Dyke Path follows the England-Wales border for almost 300km, with both guided and self guided options.

England

Walk in the Lake District, popularised by writers like Wordsworth and Wainwright. Keswick, Coniston and Windermere are thick with tourists in summer, but it’s a big enough national park that you can find space. Local guides are key to avoiding the most crowded paths.

The Pilgrims’ Way, from Winchester Cathedral to Canterbury Cathedral and the shrine of Thomas Beckett, is a long-distance pilgrimage walk but – as Mandy Bright from our vacation partner Walk Awhile points out – uncrowded.

“Compare walking here with the Camino de Santiago,” says Mandy. “You can go all day and not meet another person. The history is a highlight – there are a lot of castles on the route, such as Leeds Castle where you can walk through the grounds. You can dine in a medieval pilgrims’ hall in Aylesford Priory. The Pilgrims’ Way is quite a challenge, but you’re rewarded with lovely views throughout, from the Surrey Hills to the Downs, and the Medway Valley in Kent. There are orchards, lavender fields, hops growing, and once you get Canterbury way, some excellent vineyards where you can stop and stay over.”

The South West Coast Path is another long-distance route – and at over 1,000km, the longest waymarked footpath in England. You’ll only walk a section on a vacation of a week or so, but our partners ensure that they are some of the most scenic. For more inspiration, our top 10 walking vacations in the UK span all four nations, including the Thames Path and South Downs Way.

Our top UK Vacation

Shakespeares Way & Thames Path walking vacation

Shakespeares Way & Thames Path walking vacation

Two fantastic traditional English walks.

From £595 to £1180 8 days ex flights
Tailor made:
This vacation can be booked from the 1st March to 31st October each year.
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about UK or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.

What do UK walking vacations involve?

Scotland’s Land Reform Act of 2003 is one of the most progressive and permissive in Europe, codifying a ‘right to roam’ into law. You can walk pretty much anywhere you like, so long as you walk responsibly. In England and Wales, public access to the countryside is much more limited, although there are plenty of heaths, moors, coasts and forests to explore. It’s a very different story in Northern Ireland, with restricted access to virtually everywhere you’d want to go. Walking with a local guide who knows where you can and can’t hike is a definite plus.

Despite the patchy access situation, the UK remains one of the best countries in Europe for walking vacations, simply for its sheer diversity. There are ancient pilgrimage routes, challenging long-distance walks, ‘glamping’ with ponies, winter trekking vacations and mindful walking. You have islands and coastlines, peaks to scale, routes lined with castles, hidden beaches – and always a pub somewhere along the way.

Small group tours or tailor made?

At our walking vacation partner The Inside Trek, founder Andrew Magowan likes to describe their trips as “walking and talking”. Itineraries are tailor made, but you’re accompanied throughout by a local guide passionate about showing people the area.

“Northern Ireland’s history and culture can be tricky to understand,” says Andrew, “and people who don’t know it can have misconceptions. Our trips are about enabling understanding. We want people to leave feeling a sense of connection, and a lot of that comes from knowledge.”

Small group walking vacations are just that – numbers limited to minimise your impact on rural, out-of-the-way locations. “We don’t have a standard group,” says Andrew, “but the ideal is just a few people that already know each other, because I think it’s easier to slip into a good atmosphere. There’s a big difference between walking with 4-6 people and 10. I think that the smaller the group, the more personal and special it feels.”

This kind of vacation is ideal for those who enjoy meeting new people with similar interests, and perhaps not confident enough yet to organise their own walks.

There are also plenty of tailor made walking vacations across the UK, and these are often long-distance, point-to-point walks. Routes are clearly way-marked, but you’ll also be provided with comprehensive notes and maps to ensure you know where you’re going. They allow you to set your own pace, stop for a snack or a rest whenever you fancy one, and of course there is support available just a phone call away should you need it.

Point-to-point or center-based?

A point-to-point walking vacation follows a long-distance route, or a section of one, such as the Offa’s Dyke Path, Pilgrims’ Way or Ulster Way for around a week or so. You’ll be on the trail for most of each day, arriving at your night’s accommodation by late afternoon. Your luggage will be transferred between accommodations so that you can walk with just a daypack.

“We encourage people to come by public transport to many of the start points,” says Mandy. “We used to deliver packed lunches to walkers every day but now to save fuel we ask accommodation providers to organise it, or suggest to people where they can stop en route and put money back into local communities. We use different companies in each area to transport luggage too, and we’re looking into using an electric vehicle for that in future. So everything is done to minimise the carbon footprint.”

Centre-based walking vacations see you based in one or two accommodations throughout your trip. They can be found everywhere from Snowdonia to Northern Ireland’s Mourne Mountains and the Lake District. You’ll either have a range of day walks accessible close by, or you’ll get there with a lift from your vacation company (sometimes public transport is used where suitable). This option is good for those who are not sure they will want to walk constantly, as there’s no reason you can’t just take a day off – and also for anyone who really dislikes packing and unpacking their suitcase.

How fit do I need to be?

Tackling the 14 Peaks in Snowdonia will put you to the test, as will attempting to follow the Mourne Wall from start to finish in Northern Ireland. And winter walking in Scotland’s Cairngorms will have you asking for seconds at dinner every evening. But for the most part, our UK walking vacations are designed to be very accessible. Long-distance routes are broken up into manageable chunks so that you can take your time each day to enjoy the scenery instead of rushing, and if you want to have a rest day now and again, either choose a tailor made walking vacation or a center-based trip.

The distances covered, time spent walking each day and type of terrain all vary according to where you’re going and what type of trip you choose. But if you’re a regular walker, if you can handle the odd steep gradient, and you’re happy to put up with the occasional rain shower, then most of these UK walking vacations will be well within your capabilities.

Where will I stay?

Accommodations are carefully selected by our partners as much to ensure a hearty welcome as to minimise the distances between them and the trailhead. You could stay every night in a converted barn up in the mountains, welcoming little inns, historic hotels, stylish B&Bs or a comfy home-style lodge. But what every accommodation has in common – whether it’s in the Scottish Highlands, Snowdonia, the Channel Islands or the Mourne Mountains – is that they’re run by hosts who love walkers. Nothing pleases them more than to see a pile of muddy boots by the front door, and they know how to satisfy a walker’s appetite.

Best time to go walking in the UK

“We benefit from a temperate climate, so we don’t get too many extremes,” says Mandy Bright. “During our main walking season of March to October, you might expect a few wet days but that’s it.”

That’s pretty much true of wherever you are in the UK – the best time to go on a walking vacation is from spring to autumn. A notable exception, however, is the Cairngorms National Park, where hardier types can happily trek up and down snowy mountains, even spending the night in a snowhole they’ve dug themselves.

Every season in the UK is distinct and has its own charms – and its own disadvantages. Orkney and the West Highlands in Scotland are beautiful in the summer, which is the perfect time for wildlife viewing. But it’s also midge o’clock, and the little pests can be a real nuisance. The summer months are great in Snowdonia, the Lake District and Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coast, but the popular routes become very crowded.

Autumn and spring are typically less busy, with colourful foliage in the countryside, although you do need to be aware that the UK weather, always changeable, is particularly unreliable in the shoulder months.
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Marc Najera] [Intro: Steve Bittinger] [Northern Ireland: Allie_Caulfield] [England: Robert J Heath] [Small group tours or tailor made?: Kristof Vizy] [How fit do I need to be?: Migle Siauciulyte] [Best time to go walking in the UK: d kah]