Forests and woodlands cover just over one-eighth of the UK’s total land area. And with winding paths, towering trees, and plenty of wildlife roaming around, they offer a refreshing opportunity to get outside and enjoy nature.
From the outer edges of cities like London to the wild highlands of Scotland, the UK is home to some of the most beautiful and enchanting woodland and forests around.
Whether you decide to use them as a place to stroll, hike, spot wildlife, or even mountain bike, exploring woodlands and forests is a fantastic year-round activity.
With this in mind, here are 16 of the best woodlands and forests to explore in the UK.
1. The New Forest, Hampshire
Having been lived in and sustained since the Bronze Age, before William the Conqueror began using it as a hunting forest in around 1079, the New Forest is anything but new!
Covering around 3,000 square miles and stretching from the Solent all the way up to Salisbury, the New Forest is one of the largest areas of pasture land, heathland, and forest remaining in southern England.
This gorgeous woodland is full of walking trails that have pretty villages, such as Hordle, Lymington, and Brockenhurst, dotted along the way. The New Forest is also famous for the 5,000 or so wild ponies that roam freely along the forest trails – they even have priority over car traffic!
2. Hainault Forest, Greater London
Despite being only a stone’s throw away from London, you’ll feel a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of city life in Hainault Forest.
Hainault Forest is one of the last remaining areas of the Forest of Essex, which was a former hunting ground and medieval woodland.
It’s home to an amazing range of plants and wildlife, making it a birdwatcher’s dream. Amazingly, 158 bird species have been recorded here – and even the rare call of a nightingale has been heard.
In the warmer months, turtle doves and butterflies are also seen roaming around. You can browse the different wildlife and plants to look out for in Hainault Forest on the Woodland Trust website.
3. Loch Ard Forest, Stirlingshire
Set between the craggy hills beside Loch Lomond and stretching to the charming village of Aberfoyle, Loch Ard Forest is undeniably beautiful.
A body of ancient oaks and towering conifers contrast with a clear pool of fresh water below, making it a unique and memorable place to walk. Loch Ard provides the ideal home for a number of rare animal species including otters, red squirrels, roe deer, and osprey, so remember to keep your eyes peeled as you explore.
4. Gwydir Forest, Conwy
In the heart of Snowdonia, Gwydir Forest is a striking woodland surrounded by mountains, lakes, and small streams that flow down craggy rocks. It surrounds Betws-y-coed, which is said to be one of the prettiest villages in Snowdonia National Park.
With various walking paths and cycle trails, Gwydir Forest is a delight to explore. It’s also a place of legends, including stories about a dragon called Garog who is said to have lived there.
5. Thetford Forest, East Anglia
Located on the border between Norfolk and Suffolk, Thetford Forest is the UK’s largest manmade lowland forest, covering around 18,730 hectares. This makes it very different to many of the other forests on this list, which are the remains of ancient forests.
It was planted in the 1920s, with the aim of increasing Britain’s timber source after World War I, and today it’s the largest pine forest in Great Britain.
Thetford Forest is great for spotting deer and hares, and the area is very popular for birdwatching and photography. There are a variety of trails to enjoy on foot or bicycle – and the entire forest (apart from the Stanford Battle Area) is open to horse riders too.
6. Grizedale Forest, Cumbria
Nestled in the heart of the Lake District, Grizedale Forest is an 8,000-acre stretch of enchanting, mixed woodland.
Close to Windermere and Coniston Water, at Grizedale Forest you’ll find beautiful walking trails set by peaceful streams and lakes, and lined by fern trees.
Grizedale Forest’s famous woodland sculpture trail, which was one of the first in the country, is also worth seeing. Made from all natural materials, along the trail you’ll find magnificent sculptures created by some of the leading names in contemporary art; including Allanah Robbin’s ‘Lady of the Water’.
Grizedale is also home to England’s last remaining indigenous woodland fallow deer herd, so don’t forget to look out for them on your visit!
7. Fingle Woods, Devon
Fingle Woods is an ancient woodland site covering 825 acres of the Teign Valley, sitting on the northern fringe of Dartmoor National Park in Devon.
The site was bought by the National Trust and Woodland Trust in 2013 to restore and protect it for the benefit of wildlife and the public.
In spring, the area is full of wild daffodils, before giving way to bluebells in early summer. These cover the woodland floor in a carpet of blue and purple! Wood warblers and redstarts are often spotted along the forest edges too, so remember to bring your binoculars.
Located at the top of the woods is also the Iron Age hill fort of Wooston Castle, which offers breathtaking views over Fingle Woods.
8. Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire
Sherwood Forest is another ancient wood famed for being an old hunting ground. In fact, Sherwood is particularly famous for its Robin Hood connection, who, according to legend, lived and roamed here.
Incredibly, Sherwood Forest is said to be unchanged since the time of Robin Hood, as the majority of trees have stood for over 500 years. Sherwood Forest’s Major Oak is thought to be around 1,000 years old.
But it’s not only rich history on offer at Sherwood Forest as today it’s also a National Nature Reserve full of rare birds, mammals, and insects, as well as the largest collection of ancient oaks in Europe.
9. Tollymore Forest, County Down
Covering almost 630 hectares beneath the Mourne mountains, Tollymore Forest offers outstanding views of the surrounding mountains and the sea beyond Newcastle beach.
There are four waymarked trails ranging from half a mile to five-and-a-half miles long – each with their own unique draw-ins.
Along the blue trail, for example, you’ll meander through various species of trees held in Tollymore arboretum (botanical garden dedicated to trees), which is the oldest arboreta in Ireland. Or, take the black trail to walk alongside the Shimna River and stand in awe at the views of Luke’s Mountain.
10. Foggieton Woods, Aberdeenshire
On the outskirts of Aberdeen, Foggieton Woods is a former farmland and the smaller, quieter neighbour of Countesswells Wood, which is just around the corner. It’s popular with dog walkers and those seeking peaceful greenspaces.
Foggieton’s Doric name translates to ‘mossy farm’, and old farm walls can still be spotted standing amongst the trees.
There are a couple of planned walking routes to enjoy at Foggieton Woods; including the Ladyhill Trail which winds through a sea of magnificent beech trees and areas where blackberries and raspberries grow in the summer and autumn.
11. Ashdown Forest, East Sussex
Just 30 miles outside of London, Ashdown Forest is one of the most beautiful open spaces in southern England.
It’s most famous for being the real-life inspiration and setting for A.A. Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood in Winnie the Pooh. A.A. Milne lived in the area and based places in his books on real-life locations in Ashdown.
As a result, special tokens of Winnie the Pooh are found throughout the forest. There are two walks that take you along all the notable locations from the books and a pooh car park – and of course, you can’t forget to play pooh sticks at the famous Poohsticks Bridge.
Though, with 6,500 acres to explore, there are plenty of other adventures to be had here too.
12. Coed y Brenin Forest, Snowdonia
Coed y Brenin Forest is located in the heart of Snowdonia National Park.
The forest was Britain’s first purpose-built mountain biking centre and remains one of the sport’s most popular destinations.
There are also waymarked walking and running trails for all abilities. These range from the one mile Afon Eden Trail that winds through well-surfaced roads lined by young oak, birch, rowan, and beech trees; to the four mile Gain Waterfall Trail that covers steep, narrow paths towards the twin waterfalls of the Afon Gain and Afon Mawddach rivers.
13. Swinley Forest, Berkshire
Swinley forest is a Crown Estate woodland that stretches over 2,600 acres of mild hills from Bracknell to Crowthorne on the southwest side of Windsor Great Park.
There’s plenty of adventure to be had at Swinley Forest, with a high-ropes Go Ape course that allows you to swing from tree to tree and ride through the canopies on zip wires. If you’re into cycling, you’ll be pleased to hear that Swinley’s mountain-bike track is considered one of the best in the UK – it was even put in the mix as a potential location for the 2012 Olympics.
Alternatively, for those seeking a simple stroll through peaceful woodland, Swinley Forest has a range of enchanting routes to pick from.
14. Kielder Forest, Northumberland
Kielder Forest, in Northumberland is the largest forest in England, covering 250 square miles. Kielder is a working forest that’s most commonly used to produce sawlogs (high-value wood that can be sawn to make timber for furniture or construction).
Surrounding Kielder Water, the UK’s largest manmade lake, the forest is the ideal spot for anyone who loves wildlife. Kielder Forest is home to around 50% of England’s native red squirrel population – and ospreys, otters, badgers, roe deer, and water voles can also be spotted here.
Kielder has miles of picturesque trails, including forest walks and dedicated mountain bike tracks. The Lakeside Way trail, for example, is a 26-mile, multi-use trail encircling the glistening shoreline of Kielder Water that’s particularly popular – suitable for walking, cycling, horse riding, and wheelchair users.
15. Ashridge Estate, Hertfordshire
Ashridge is a beautiful 5,000-acre estate filled with ancient beech and oak woodland. Whatever time of year you visit, Ashridge is famed for looking like something out of a fairytale.
It’s no surprise, therefore, that the woodland has served as the backdrop of an enchanted forest in two Disney films: Into the Woods and Maleficent.
There are miles of pathways to explore and it’s not unusual to spot fallow deer along the way, which are regarded as a key part of the landscape here.
The National Trust has a selection of self-led walks at Ashridge on their website, from gentle half-hour strolls to whole-day adventures, which will hopefully offer some inspiration.
16. Banagher Glen, County Derry
Northern Ireland’s Banagher Glen is one of the few areas of forest in the UK that remains just about untouched by humans.
It’s one of the oldest ancient oak woodlands in Northern Ireland and the steep sides of the glens are filled with old ash, oak, hazel, hawthorn, and holly trees. The shady sections along the river banks also offer the perfect habitat for various mosses and ferns.
After enjoying a short walk through the forest’s steep trails, you’ll find yourself overlooking the spectacular views of Altnaheglish Reservoir and Banagher Dam.
Exploring a new woodland or forest is a great way to escape the busyness of daily life and immerse yourself in areas of natural beauty that surround us.
Whether you decide to hike, stroll, bike, or search for wildlife, in the UK we’re lucky to have access to so many wonderful and varied woodland and forests.
For further reading, you might be interested in our articles, 22 inspiring places to visit in the UK, or 7 of the best coastal walks to try in the UK. Alternatively, head over to the travel section of our website. Here you’ll find everything from popular days out in the UK to exciting travel experiences around the globe.