20 of the Best Areas of Natural Beauty to Visit Across the UK
From ancient woodlands and sweeping downs to idyllic villages and dramatic coastlines, Areas of Natural Beauty (AONB) are areas designated for conservation in recognition of their national importance and natural beauty. Found in some of the most stunningly scenic parts of England, Wales and Northern Ireland, AONBs boast some of the best countryside for walking, cycling, horse-riding and wildlife-watching.
We’ve compiled a guide to the best AONBs in the UK, from the craggy cliffs of Cornwall to the towering peaks of Northern Ireland.
1. Dedham Vale AONB, Suffolk
Situated on the border between Suffolk and Essex, Dedham Vale is a unique area of lowland, teeming with picturesque villages, winding rivers and rolling farmland. Made famous by the iconic paintings by revered local painters such as John Constable and Thomas Constable, Dedham Vale AONB covers 90 square kilometres of thinly populated, beautiful countryside.
2. Norfolk Coast AONB, Norfolk
Stretching over 450 square kilometres of shingle, salt-marsh and dunes, the Norfolk Coast AONB is one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline in the UK. Backed by gently rolling chalkland, including the 90 metres high Cromer Ridge, the Norfolk Coast is also a haven for migrating birds such as swifts, warblers, redshanks and sandpipers.
3. Cannock Chase AONB, Staffordshire
At just 26 square miles, Cannock Chase is the smallest AONB in the UK. The area is known locally as “The Chase” and is located in the heart of the Staffordshire countryside. Officially designated as AONB in 1958, Cannock Chase is an area of the country famous for its beautiful landscape, fascinating history and rich wildlife.
4. Cotswolds AONB, Gloucestershire
One of the most popular rural areas in the UK, the Cotswolds were officially recognised as an AONB in 1966. Renowned for its sandstone architecture, rolling hills and picture-postcard villages, the Cotswolds is a uniquely special place. Take some time to explore bustling market towns such as Chipping Campden and Cirencester, as well as charming villages such as Castle Combe and Bourton-on-the-Water.
5. Malvern Hills AONB, Worcestershire
Stretching over the counties of Worcestershire and Herefordshire, close to Anglo-Welsh border, the Malvern Hills are officially a Site of Scientific Interest as well as an AONB. Climb to the summit of the hills, Worcestershire Beacon, and marvel at the breath-taking panoramic views of the English and Welsh countryside.
6. Lagan Valley AONB, County Antrim
Lying between the Northern Irish cities of Belfast and Lisburn, the Lagan Valley takes its name from the famous river that flows through the capital and into the Irish Sea. This area is popular among locals for the riverbank scenery, peaceful meadows and pleasant pastoral lands. Uncover the valley’s fascinating heritage, including the Giant’s Ring and significant industrial archaeology.
7. Mourne AONB, County Down
Perched proudly in County Down, in the South East of Northern Ireland, the Mourne Mountains are a range of granite mountains, including Slieve Donard, which at over 2,500 feet high, is the tallest mountain in the country. Beneath the cluster of soaring peaks, the Mourne AONB descends through woodland, moorland and farmland.
8. Howardian Hills AONB, North Yorkshire
Nestled between the North York Moors National Park, the Vale of York and the Yorkshire Wolds, the Howardian Hills takes its name from the iconic Howard family who still own a lot of the local land. Consisting of Jurassic limestone, the Howardian Hills AONB boasts rolling countryside, pasture fields, historic houses and handsome hamlets.
9. Lincolnshire Wolds AONB, Lincolnshire
Running parallel with the North Sea, the Lincolnshire Wolds are a range of hills which have been vital to the local agricultural industry for centuries. Home to isolated farm dwellings and dispersed settlements, the Lincolnshire Wolds AONB is one of the quietest, yet prettiest parts of England.
10. Northumberland Coast AONB, Northumberland
Sweeping along some of the finest beaches in the UK, the Northumberland Coast is a combination of unspoilt beaches, rugged cliffs and widespread dunes. Internationally acclaimed for its diverse wildlife, the Northumberland Coast AONB is home to grey seals, puffins and dolphins. Take some time to explore the brooding castles that overlook the expansive coastline.
11. Arnside and Silverdale AONB, Cumbria
Situated in the north-west of England, spanning the border of Cumbria and Lancashire, the Arnside and Silverdale AONB encompasses 75 square kilometres of limestone pavements, tranquil meadows and ancient woodlands. With train stations at both Arnside and Silverdale, the area is easily accessible. Take a trip to Morecambe Bay to discover sand and mudflats and salt marshes.
12. Forest of Bowland AONB, Lancashire
Also known as the Bowland Fells, the Forest of Bowland boasts sweeping moorland, gentle lowland, bordered by stone walls and dotted with working farms. Located in the heart of Lancashire, the Forest of Bowland AONB covers 312 square miles of gritstone fells and sloping valleys. Explore the settlements here that have stood here since prehistoric times.
13. Chichester Harbour AONB, West Sussex
Sitting on the West Sussex coastline, overlooking the Solent, Chichester Harbour is one of the few remaining undeveloped stretches of coastline in Southern England. Backed by the chalk hills of the South Downs, Chichester Harbour AONB is a series of tidal inlets and a haven for around 55,000 birds.
14. Isle of Wight AONB, Isle of Wight
Sitting off the South Coast near Portsmouth and Southampton, the Isle of Wight is England’s largest and second-most populous island. Since the Victorian times, tourists have been flocking to the island for its natural beauty, fascinating history and charming seaside resorts. Over half of the Isle of Wight is protected as an AONB, including the southern downland and its famous coastline.
15. Kent Downs AONB, Kent
Rising to over 240 metres high, the Kent Downs AONB covers the eastern half of the North Downs as well as the stretch from the London-Surrey border down to the iconic White Cliffs of Dover. Take a trip to the Kent Downs, and you’ll find lavish stately homes, ancient woodlands and rolling farmlands.
16. Cornwall AONB, Cornwall
Covering nearly 1,000 square kilometres of Cornwall, roughly around a quarter of the county, the Cornwall AONB protects twelve separate areas of this unique landscape. The AONB encompasses some of the Cornwall’s most important landscapes, including Land’s End and the Lizard Peninsula. Take a trip to some of the picturesque harbour villages such as Mevagissey and Polperro.
17. Dorset AONB, Dorset
Stretching through Dorset and along the famous Jurassic Coast, the Dorset AONB protects almost half of the county’s stunning landscapes. Wander through Dorset’s cosy villages and find yourself in the centre of Thomas Hardy’s Wessex. Head to the coast to explore some of Britain’s best beaches, as well as the iconic destinations such as Durdle Door and Lulworth Cove.
18. South Devon AONB, Devon
Starting in Torbay and stretching to the outskirts of Plymouth, the South Devon AONB is a coastal preservation area and is home to many Sites of Scientific Interest. Covering 337 square kilometres of rugged cliffs, golden beaches and pretty seaside settlements, South Devon AONB is the perfect place for a family camping holiday.
19. Llŷn AONB, Powys
Famed for its unspoilt beauty and thinly populated beaches, the Llŷn Peninsula lies low on the north-west coast of Wales. Home to a diverse range of seabirds and a colony of grey seals, the Llŷn AONB covers roughly a quarter of the peninsula, including most of the coast and the volcanic domes further inland.
20. Wye Valley AONB, Monmouthshire
Boasting meandering rivers, verdant rolling hills and wild woodland, the Wye Valley straddles the Anglo-Welsh border. Winding down from Hereford to Chepstow, the Wye Valley AONB is one of the best river landscapes in Britain. The River Wye is the fifth-longest river in the UK and flows peacefully past dotted woods and broad meadows.
For more days out in the Great British countryside, please read our guide to the best nature reserves to visit in the UK. If you are looking for a historical day, take a look at our favourite World Heritage Sites you can visit on your next camping trip.