Why You Should Walk Your Way Through Great Britain
There’s perhaps no better way to immerse yourself in Great Britain’s vibrant cities, UNESCO sites, and gorgeous countryside than on two feet. Whether taking urban strolls, hiking the coast, or ambling through pastoral greenery, you’ll meet local people, slow down, truly take it all in, and increase your steps—all while lowering your carbon footprint.
Going by foot anywhere lets you explore at a different pace, notice the little things, and be fully present. In Great Britain, the abundance of contemporary culture, history, and stunning natural beauty makes walking an especially rewarding way to have experiences that are as active as they are enlightening—and good for the environment. Plus, the isles were practically made for walkers. Thousands of miles of long-distance footpaths, urban walks, and coastal trails pass UNESCO sights and world-famous scenery, meandering through the tiniest villages and the busiest of cities. And the “right to roam,” part of British tradition and culture, means you can wander almost anywhere in the open countryside, whether privately or publicly owned.
At half the size of California, it’s also easy to get from walkable place to walkable place. And there are plenty of lower-impact ways to do it with an extensive train network, miles of cycling paths, and more and more opportunities to use e-bikes, electric scooters, and trams, not to mention accessible routes for wheelchair users. Opt for the many eco-conscious accommodations, restaurants, and attractions here for a vacation that enriches you, the communities you visit, and the world.
The world’s longest coastal footpath
The new England Coast Path aims to hew close to the entire coast of England and will eventually cover almost 2,800 miles, becoming the world’s longest coastal trail and a National Trail. Opening in sections and created by Natural England, the route includes historic coastal towns and shorelines. Go East for fewer crowds and to explore the 90-mile-long Norfolk coast where three trail sections are currently open.
The Sea Palling to Weybourne trail takes you around northwest Norfolk, including the fishing village of Sheringham, Cromer with its traditional seaside pier and pier theatre. And at the northern end of the trail, Blakeney’s four-mile-long spit of sand and shingle that is home to the largest colony of seals in England. With time, head inland to the Norfolk Broads for a canalboat vacation on the waterways that form this intriguing habitat. Or check out Cumbria’s 40-mile Hidden Coast Trail that largely follows the England Coast Path from Whitehaven to Millom and features cycling paths and art installations.
Small guesthouses, B&BS and pubs provide plenty of intimate, locally owned accommodation in Norfolk while foodwise, menus heavily feature local ingredients. Try Cromer crab from the seaside town of the same name (extra delicious thanks to Norfolk’s chalk reef habitat), Mrs. Temples’ locally made cheeses such as Binham Blue, sea samphire (an asparagus-like coastal plant), and locally brewed ales. Book a room at The Gunton Arms near Cromer or The Brisley Bell and enjoy dining at their traditional pubs onsite.
Yorkshire is #walkshire
Much romanticised in novels by the Brontë sisters, the sweeping moors, hills, and valleys of this northern England county welcome flâneurs of all types with walking routes that are as plentiful as they are distinct. The Nidderdale Valley is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and in addition to its trails, rock art and Iron Age settlements shed light onto thousands of years of human history, from the area’s quarrying industry to its more recent textile industry.
Meanwhile, the picturesque village of Hebden Bridge on the Rochdale Canal in West Yorkshire has a bohemian flair and marks the starting point for the “Switzerland of Yorkshire Circular,” a nine-mile loop which lets you take in pretty sights such as the waterfalls and valleys of Hardcastle Crags. The artsy town also has a full, varied calendar of festivals, from piano and folk music to burlesque and steampunk.
Yorkshire’s culture capital is as bountiful as its natural assets. A diverse population means that in everywhere from Halifax and Bradford to Leeds and towns in between, you’re as likely to find mouth-watering South Asian restaurants as you are a Yorkshire pudding (baked, savory batter of flour, eggs, and milk), Sunday roast and parkin (ginger cake) in a traditional country pub. Try Vanessa Delicatessen and Café for food made with local farms and producers or the family-run Blacker Hall Farm. For a stay with a delicious onsite restaurant, go to the Gamekeeper’s Inn, near the Yorkshire Dale National Park.
City meets country in Glasgow
Largely due to Victorian culture, Britain’s cities are rich in architecture and green spaces. The Victorian love for parks and promenades includes Glasgow which, despite being perceived as a highly industrial city, gets its name from the Gaelic phrase, “green hollow.” Affectionately known as “Dear Green Place,” it’s awash in urban greenery for all to enjoy, like Kelvingrove Park, Glasgow Botanic Gardens, Glasgow Green, and Pollok Park, the Scottish city’s largest park. Stay just outside the city at the 17th-century Crossbasket Castle for even more wide-open spaces or at the Hotel du Vin for easy access to the city.
For something different, follow the City Center Mural Trail for street art that celebrates everything Glasgow, including a mural of beloved Glaswegian comedian Billy Connolly, painted in 2017 by street artist Rogue to mark his 75th birthday. Another, by Rogue and Art Pistol, honors local pioneering architect and designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh. The port city is also a short train ride from the shores of Loch Lomond, where you can take a boat trip or stay in a waterfront hotel.
There’s no shortage of delicious meals to fuel your footfall in Glasgow. Dine at Ubiquitous Chip, the restaurant known for launching the country’s modern culinary renaissance by featuring Scottish produce in dishes such as venison haggis with champit tatties (mashed potatoes with parsley). For something more casual with a side of culture, visit the Saramago Café Bar at the Centre for Contemporary Arts, which serves homemade bread along with local, seasonal produce from ethical suppliers.
In October, Scotland also launched the world’s first official UNESCO Trail, spanning the country’s cultural and natural attractions north to south, east to west, and across the islands. Pick from sections including the UNESCO city of music, Glasgow; the coastlines, woodlands, and forests of Galloway; and Southern Ayrshire UNESCO Biosphere, where rivers and forests offer hiking, wild swimming, foraging, cycling, and more in beautiful surroundings. Or venture to the Scottish Hebrides to go whale-watching from land along the Hebridean Whale Trail.
Wows in the Gower
Few footpaths in the world follow a nation’s entire coastline like the Wales Coast Path, which marks its 10th anniversary in 2022. For an accessible way to experience some of its 870 miles, head to the Gower Peninsula, home to the RSPB Rhossili Coastal Trail, which packs a lot in a relatively compact area.
Come summer, sunflowers fill the hillsides around National Trust-protected Rhossili Beach and this sweeping three-mile stretch of sand is an impressive sight all year. For an adventure-within-an-adventure, check the timings and cross at low tide to the headland of Worms Head for fantastic views and even the odd basking seal or dolphin. Elsewhere on the peninsula, Three Cliffs Bay and Oxwich Point are two of the Gower’s many other beaches that form part of the Gower Coast Path.
Locally run guesthouse and B&Bs, plus campsites, caravan sites, and self-catering options, are good bets when it comes to accommodation. Go glamping in one of Three Cliffs Bay’s modern tents that are just a short walk from the beach, book one of the cheerful rooms at Patrick’s With Rooms, or try boutique B&Bs Blas Gŵyr and Parc Le Breos.
Find delicious local delicacies, such as Welsh cheeses, Welsh cakes, laverbread (a traditional dish made from foraged seaweed) and leek-and-cheese Glamorgan sausages, resembling mozzarella sticks, in farm shops, delicatessens, and cafés, along with fresh, local ingredients playing a starring role at many restaurants. In nearby Mumbles, savor fresh seafood at Môr and organic wines and small plates at its offshoot Elwyn.
And if you’re partial to fish-and-chips, you can’t beat a good local “chippie” for a classic British seaside dinner, wherever your feet take you. Pro tip: The best are usually those with a bit of a queue and all pair well with a local pint. Cheers!