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 peaceful countryside to wild highlands, the UK is home to some of the most beautiful and enchanting woodlands and forests.

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 18 of the best woodlands and forests to explore in the UK.

1. The New Forest, Hampshire

The New Forest, Hampshire

Having been lived in since the Bronze Age before William the Conqueror began using it as a hunting forest around 1079, the New Forest is anything but new!

Covering approximately 3,000 square miles from the Solent 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 where you can stop off at pretty villages, such as Hordle, Lymington, and Brockenhurst 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

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.

It’s one of the last remaining areas of the Forest of Essex (which was a former hunting ground and medieval woodland) and is home to an amazing range of plants and wildlife. Amazingly, 158 bird species have been recorded here. Even the rare call of a nightingale has been heard!

In the warmer months, turtle doves and butterflies can also be seen. 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

Loch Ard Forest, Stirlingshire

Set between the craggy hills that line the shores of Loch Lomond, Loch Ard Forest is undeniably beautiful.

The body of ancient oaks and towering conifers which magnificently contrast with the clear water below make for a unique and memorable place to walk. Loch Ard is also home to several rare species including otters, red squirrels, roe deer, and osprey, so it’s a great place for a wildlife walk too.

Unlike many other woodlands, various water sports are also available to enjoy at Loch Ard Forest, including wakeboarding, kayaking, and open-water swimming.

4. Gwydir Forest, Conwy

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.

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5. Alice Holt Forest, Hampshire

Alice Holt Forest in Hampshire can be traced back over 2,000 years to the Atlantic Period (5500 BC to 2600 BC). Iron Age, Bronze Age, and Roman relics have all been found which point to a long line of fascinating history.

Set within 247 hectares of magnificent forest, you can find peace and quiet on some of the many walking and wellbeing trails. Or, head to the forest’s activity centre to browse the health and fitness activities on offer.

There’s also a Go Ape course for adrenaline seekers, where you can venture through the trees. If you’re coming with children, tracking down the Alice Holt Gruffalo sculptures will be ideal.

6. Thetford Forest, East Anglia

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, to increase 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 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.

7. 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!

8. Fingle Woods, Devon

Fingle Woods, Devon

Fingle Woods is an ancient woodland on the northern fringe of Dartmoor National Park that covers 825 acres of the Teign Valley.

The site was bought by the National Trust and Woodland Trust in 2013 for the purposes of restoring and protecting it.

In spring, the area is full of wild daffodils, and bluebells appear in early summer which cover the woodland floor in a magnificent 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.

9. Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire

Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire

Sherwood Forest is another ancient wood famed for being an old hunting ground. Sherwood is particularly famous for its connections to Robin Hood, 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 alongside an impressive history, Sherwood Forest is also a National Nature Reserve. It’s full of rare birds, mammals, and insects, as well as the largest collection of ancient oaks in Europe.

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10. Tollymore Forest, County Down

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 of which are unique.

Along the blue trail, 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.

11. Foggieton Woods, Aberdeenshire

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.

12. Wyre Forest, Worcestershire

Wyre Forest is now the largest woodland National Nature Reserve in the UK, following the 2022 decision to bring more land within its boundaries – extending it by almost 900 hectares (160%). This sea of ancient oaks and fir trees now covers an impressive 1,455 hectares and is the perfect place to spend a day in nature.

In the arboretum, you’ll find rare Whitty Pear trees, which produce white flowers in May and June, and small pear-shaped fruits in October. And wildlife enthusiasts should look out for the large variety of birds, including redstarts, woodpeckers, and tree pipits that live here – as well as deer, otters, voles, and bats!

A range of walking, running, cycling, and horse riding trails can also be enjoyed here, which are fantastic for exploring the forest; and there’s a Go Ape course for those seeking adventure.

13. Ashdown Forest, East Sussex

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 many of the places in his books on real-life locations in Ashdown.

Special tokens of Winnie the Pooh can be found throughout the forest. Two walks 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.

14. 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 a popular destination for the sport.

There are also waymarked walking and running trails for all abilities. These range from the one-mile Afon Eden Trail, which winds through well-surfaced roads; to the four-mile Gain Waterfall Trail, covering steep, narrow paths towards the twin waterfalls of the Afon Gain and Afon Mawddach rivers.

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15. Swinley Forest, Berkshire

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 here, with a high-ropes Go Ape course where you can swing from tree to tree and ride through the canopies on zip wires. If you’re into cycling, you’ll be pleased to know 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.

16. Kielder Forest, Northumberland

Kielder Forest, Northumberland

Kielder Forest in Northumberland is the largest forest in England, covering 250 square miles. Kielder is a working forest and is most commonly used to produce sawlogs (high-value wood that can be sawn to make timber for furniture or construction).

The forest also surrounds Kielder Water, the UK’s largest manmade lake, and is the ideal spot for wildlife lovers. It’s home to around 50% of England’s native red squirrel population, and ospreys, otters, badgers, roe deer, and water voles can also be spotted.

Kielder has miles of picturesque trails, including forest walks and dedicated mountain bike tracks. This includes the Lakeside Way trail – a 26-mile, multi-use trail that encircles the glistening shoreline of Kielder Water and is suitable for walking, cycling, horse riding, and wheelchair users.

17. Ashridge Estate, Hertfordshire

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.

With this in mind, it’s no surprise that the woodland has served as 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, if you’d like some inspiration.

18. Banagher Glen, County Derry

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.

Final thoughts…

Exploring a new woodland or forest is a fantastic way to escape the busyness of daily life and immerse yourself in nature.

And, in the UK, we’re lucky to have such a wonderful selection to choose from.

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.