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21 truly amazing natural wonders in the UK

Fancy some truly breathtaking travel? The UK has plenty of pinch-me-moment sights you simply have to see

Rosie Hewitson
Written by
Rosie Hewitson

There are so many (so many!) sights in the UK that are worth a visit. But if you’re after the monumental, the spectacular, the otherworldly and the sublime, you’ve come to the right place.

The fact is, the great British outdoors spoils us rotten. And there are rudely overlooked natural sights and wonders all over the place. So if you’re thinking of planning your next trip – be it an outdoorsy getawayhike or biking holiday – it’s time to roll your sleeves up and get your pen and paper ready, because you’re going to want to take note of these spots.

And no, we’re not just talking about Durdle Door. We’re also talking about the dramatic gorges of Somerset, the sprawling cave network of North Yorkshire, the sandstone stacks of Caithness and the twisted woodlands of Sherwood. But you don’t need to take our word for it – get out there and see for yourself. Without further ado, here’s our pick of 21 beautiful natural wonders in the UK. 

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Amazing natural wonders across the UK

Malham Cove, North Yorkshire
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1. Malham Cove, North Yorkshire

This huge limestone cliff in Yorkshire towers 80 metres above the ground and has been attracting visitors from far and wide for centuries. It’s probably best known, however, as a filming location for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (the boy wizard camps on the cliff while on the run from that Voldemort bloke, in case you’re wondering.)

Climb to the top for spectacular views over the nearby village of Malham, or stand at the bottom and gaze up at the magnificent cliff face, which curves inwards like a natural amphitheatre.

The Old Man of Storr, Isle of Skye
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2. The Old Man of Storr, Isle of Skye

These spiky basalt rock formations sit at the pinnacle of Trotternish Ridge overlooking the rolling, mist-blanketed hills and rugged coastline of the Isle of Skye on Scotland’s west coast.

Geologists claim that the unusual pointy shapes were formed by a huge landslide hundreds of millennia ago. But according to local folklore, they’re actually the fingers of a giant buried in the ground below. I guess we’ll never know the truth.

Scafell Pike, Cumbria
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3. Scafell Pike, Cumbria

Part of Cumbria’s Southern Fells, Scafell Pike is England’s highest mountain, towering 978 metres above sea level. On land once owned by Lord Leconfield, the Pike and the rest of the Scafell massif were gifted to the National Trust in 1919 to commemorate the Lake District locals who died in the Great War. A three-metre-tall cairn can be found at its summit.

More than 250,000 climb to the top each year, including many competitors attempting to complete the Three Peaks Challenge by also climbing Ben Nevis and Snowdon within a 24-hour period. Think you’re up to it?

Winnats Pass, Derbyshire
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4. Winnats Pass, Derbyshire

Winnats Pass was forged millions of years ago, when underground cave systems created by melting glaciers collapsed to leave the steep-sided valley that exists today. A designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (or SSSI), it is a treasure trove for geologists and palaeontologists.

Once entirely underwater, it’s filled with sea creature fossils dating back hundreds of millions of years, plus rare wildflowers such as Jacob’s Ladder and Derby Hawkweed.

The Major Oak, Sherwood Forest
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5. The Major Oak, Sherwood Forest

Estimated to be anywhere between 800 and 1,100 years old – and with a gigantic 28-metre-wide canopy – this magnificent tree is the largest oak in Britain. Local folklore has it that Robin Hood would sleep beneath its branches after gallivanting around the Nottingham forest wooing Maid Marian and evading capture by the sheriff. Why not head down with your own band of merry accomplices?

Duncansby Stacks, Caithness
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6. Duncansby Stacks, Caithness

Protruding into the North Sea not far from John O’Groats, these three sandstone stacks have been gradually eroded into striking pointed cliffs by the wind and waves over millennia.

The area is one of the UK’s best bird colonies, with the offshore location providing a rich feeding ground for seabirds. Take a pair of binoculars and you might be able to spot kittiwakes, puffins and razorbills nesting on the ledges of the stacks.

Cheddar Gorge, Somerset
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7. Cheddar Gorge, Somerset

Slicing through the Mendip Hills near Somerset’s cheese capital, this limestone gorge is the biggest in Britain and features a series of stalactite-filled caves and dramatic cliffs rising more than 130 metres into the air. As well as being a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, it’s where Britain’s oldest complete skeleton, Cheddar Man, was excavated in 1903.

The wildlife here is pretty gorge-ous too. If you’re really lucky, you might spot a few wild goats or rare Soay sheep munching on the grassy scrub, plus maybe even the horseshoe bats that hang out in the caves.

The Green Bridge of Wales, Pembrokeshire
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8. The Green Bridge of Wales, Pembrokeshire

When it comes to limestone arches, Dorset’s Durdle Door gets all the glory. But you know what? It shouldn’t, because this huge bridge-like rock formation on the Pembrokeshire coast is worth a visit too. A 24-metre high arch formed of 350-million-year-old carboniferous limestone, its unusual shape is the result of millions of years of erosion by wind and sea.

Like all coastal arches, it’s destined to collapse into the sea eventually. Could be in several thousand years, could be tomorrow morning; best visit soon just in case.

High Force, County Durham
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9. High Force, County Durham

Take an anorak with you if you plan on visiting this spectacular waterfall in Teesdale. Starting as an insignificant trickle atop the North Pennines, the Tees grows steadily into a powerful, fast-moving river by the time it reaches the Whin Sill – which is where you’ll find High Force, whooshing 21 metres down into a foaming plunge pool.

It’s ideal for cooling off on a hot summer day. And just as good? The surrounding area, which is a great place for spotting wildflowers, rabbits and roe deer.

Durdle Door, Dorset
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10. Durdle Door, Dorset

Found on a secluded spot on Dorset’s 140-million-year-old Jurassic Coast, this 61-metre-tall limestone arch was formed when caves on either side of the rock were hollowed out through erosion – eventually meeting in the middle. It has become a hugely popular destination, with 200,000 walkers using the footpath between Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door each year. 

Tourists often visit the World Heritage Site to collect the fossils, which fall to the beaches as the rock is gently eroded by wind and sea. Visit in winter for the best chance of finding some ammonites to take home as a souvenir.

Lough Neagh, Northern Ireland
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11. Lough Neagh, Northern Ireland

Sure, the Lake District is beautiful, but its puny pools have nothing on this ginormous freshwater lake in Northern Ireland, which covers 151 square miles and borders five of the country’s six counties. Filled with 800 billion gallons of water, it’s the largest in the UK, and the only one where you can’t see across to the other side when standing on its shore.

According to Irish legend, it was formed by Irish Giant Finn McCool, who scooped up a bit of land to toss at a Scottish rival fleeing Ulster by way of the Giants Causeway. That piece of land then fell into the Irish Channel to form the Isle of Man.

Gaping Gill, North Yorkshire
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12. Gaping Gill, North Yorkshire

Right beneath the Yorkshire Dales lies the largest cave system in the UK. It’s so huge, in fact, it’s said you could even fit York Minster cathedral inside it. Just as impressively, the Gaping Gill is also home to the highest unbroken waterfall in England – that spray you can see (and most definitely hear) is the Fell Beck stream dropping 98 metres down into the earth.

The Gill is usually only accessible to experienced explorers, but caving clubs set up a winch for two weeks of the year around the May and August Bank Holidays. That’s when tourists can descend into the cavern and roam its sprawling network of tunnels (totalling around 21 kilometres in length).

Galloway Forest Dark Skies Park, Dumfries and Galloway
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13. Galloway Forest Dark Skies Park, Dumfries and Galloway

It’s not often you get to look up and see a night sky completely filled with twinkling stars (thanks light pollution!). But that’s not the case in this remote park in south-west Scotland, which became only the fourth certified Dark Sky Park in the world in 2009.

When night falls, more than 7,000 stars and planets are visible to the naked eye. Want to see them up close? Bring your own telescope and stargaze the night away.

The Needles, Isle of Wight
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14. The Needles, Isle of Wight

Rising 30 metres out of the water on the western coast of the Isle of Wight, these three chalk stacks are a pretty unearthly sight. They’re named after a fourth needle-shaped stack that was once found in the same spot but collapsed in a storm in the eighteenth century.

A lighthouse was built on the outermost stack in the nineteenth century and is still active. Visitors can get a closer look at the rocks on one of the short boat cruises that leave from nearby Alum Bay, or via a trip on the Needles Chairlift.

Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh
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15. Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh

No visit to Edinburgh is complete without a hike up Arthur’s Seat. Towering 251 metres above sea level, its summit offers spectacular views over the city, as well as the surrounding mountains and sea. Nobody is certain how the hill got its name, though one rumour holds that the legendary Kingdom of Camelot was located nearby and so is named after King Arthur himself. 

The highest of the hills that make up Holyrood Park, Arthur’s Seat is actually an ancient volcano that geologists reckon erupted around 340 million years ago. Mercifully for the population of Edinburgh, it has long since become extinct.

Wistman’s Wood, Devon
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16. Wistman’s Wood, Devon

Covering nine acres of high-altitude land in the middle of Dartmoor National Park, this woodland dates back to as early as 7000 BC – a relic of the ancient forest that once covered most of Dartmoor.

Mentioned in dozens of historical documents, an array of myths and legends surround the mysterious place, from stories of ancient pagan rituals to ghosts and other supernatural phenomena. And it’s not hard to see why; with their twisting branches covered in lichen, its stunted oak trees are exactly the sort of place you’d expect to run into Sir Gawain or Morgan Le Fay. Don’t stick around after dark.

Fingal’s Cave, Inner Hebrides
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17. Fingal’s Cave, Inner Hebrides

Hidden in a remote spot on the uninhabited Isle of Staffa in Scotland’s Inner Hebrides, this sea cave is found within a section of hexagonal basalt columns. This remarkably uniform rock structure is formed when fissures appear in cooling lava, and that also explains how the waves barged through – eventually eroding the rock into the huge 85-metre-deep cavern that exists today. 

Known to Celts as ‘The Cave of Melody’, it is renowned for its incredible acoustics, which apparently inspired the composer Felix Mendelssohn to write his Hebrides Overture after a visit in 1829.

Seven Sisters, Sussex
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18. Seven Sisters, Sussex

Vera Lynn’s white cliffs of Dover tend to hog the limelight, but these beautiful chalk specimens at the edge of the South Downs National Park certainly deserve their share of it too.

The brilliant white cliffs are surrounded by unspoiled grassland, with the spectacular coastal views best enjoyed on one of the area’s many scenic walking routes – the most popular being the clifftop trail from Seaford to Eastbourne. It’s not certain why the seven hilltops are known as ‘sisters’, but it might be to do with the Pleiades from Greek mythology.

Derwentwater, Cumbria
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19. Derwentwater, Cumbria

Of the sixteen lakes, meres and ‘waters’ in the Lake District, Derwentwater is neither the largest (Windermere) nor the deepest (Wastwater) but it is arguably the most beautiful. Lying just south of the market town of Keswick, the three-mile-wide lake is surrounded by some of Cumbria’s most magnificent scenery, from dense woodland to towering crags – including famous beauty spot Friar’s Crag.

A wildlife hotspot, the lake has been declared a Site of Special Scientific Interest and supports a thriving population of Britain’s rarest fish, the Vendace, as well as a variety of birds and wildfowl. There are several islands on the lake, including Derwent Island, whose National Trust-owned manor house is open to the public five days a year.

The Giant’s Causeway, County Antrim
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20. The Giant’s Causeway, County Antrim

Geologists will tell you that this expanse of 40,000 interlocking basalt columns on County Antrim’s coast was created by a volcanic explosion of molten rock 60 million years ago, with contraction of the cooling lava causing uniform fissures to appear in the rock as it solidified. But the other (very real) possibility is that it is the remnants of a bridge built by Irish giant Finn McCool, which stretched all the way from Ireland to Scotland and was destroyed by the retreating Scottish giant Benandonner after he lost a duel with McCool. Sounds plausible.

Whatever the truth may be, the Causeway has since been declared a World Heritage Site, and is one of Ireland’s most popular tourist attractions, welcoming as many as a million visitors each year.

Worms Head, Gower Peninsula
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21. Worms Head, Gower Peninsula

Just off the windswept Rhossili Bay, on the Gower Peninsula in south-west Wales, this narrow tidal island feels like the end of the earth. Be sure to check the tide times before venturing to its Outer Head, as it’s only accessible for two-and-a-half hours either side of low tide. Many visitors have been caught out and trapped as the water rushes inland, including Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, who was once forced to spend an entire night on the rock, which he described as ‘the very promontory of depression’. 

The name might sound kind of pathetic, but it’s actually derived from the Old Norse word ‘wurm’ which translates as ‘dragon’. You can sort of see why when you see the headland’s silhouette protruding from the water at a distance.

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