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Paraglider in Wales
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12 of the best extreme outdoor activity breaks in the UK

Feeling adventurous after a year stuck indoors? These ace UK outdoor activity holidays offer big thrills in beautiful locations

Rosie Hewitson
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Rosie Hewitson
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Does your holiday wardrobe favour neoprene and hiking boots over linen and flip flops? Well, the good news is that these days you don’t have to travel to far-flung corners of the world to get your adrenaline kicks. The UK has loads of picturesque natural landscapes that are ideal for extreme sports and outdoor adventures, from spectacular beaches and rugged trails to a wealth of stunning national parks. And whether it’s cliff camping in North Wales or sea kayaking in the Highlands, you can find every kind of outdoor excursion imaginable right here in good ol’ Blighty.

So if you’re feeling particularly adventurous after a year spent indoors, have a quick surf around our roundup of the best places to go climbing, windsurfing, skydiving, coasteering and more in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Go on, dive right in!

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Best extreme outdoor activity breaks in the UK

Surfing in Cornwall
Photograph: Shutterstock

Surfing in Cornwall

With an abundance of lovely beaches famed for their swell — that’s surf lingo for ‘good waves’ — and a warmer climate than much of our rainy little island, Cornwall is the go-to UK destination for those looking to ride the waves. 

Home to the huge European surfing competition ‘Boardmasters’, Newquay’s Fistral Beach is probably the best-known surfing spot in the UK but can get super-crowded in the summer. Head to the quieter Perranporth Beach or Watergate Bay nearby to find several surf schools that offer lessons for all abilities. 

Caving in the Yorkshire Dales

Yorkshire’s limestone-heavy landscape makes it the perfect destination for cavers. Over thousands of years, this soluble rock has dissolved to leave more than 2,500 known caves in the area. These include the cavernous, stalactite-filled Gaping Gill, the Long Churn Cave (with its famous narrow section known as the Cheese Press), and Britain’s longest cave system, the Three Counties, which spans across North Yorkshire, Lancashire and Cumbria

A bunch of activity centres offer caving trips, including Al Fresco Adventures, Cave and Canyon, How Stean Gorge and Lost Earth Adventures

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Cliff camping in Anglesey
Photograph: Gaia Adventures

Cliff camping in Anglesey

You might have pitched up your tent in some pretty nice places in the past, but we guarantee you’ve never gone on a camping trip as exhilarating as this one run by North Wales-based climbing experts Gaia Adventures. Because here – and there’s no chill way of saying this – your bed for the night will be a ‘portaledge’ pitched on the side of a cliff. Damn.

With the help of an expert guide, you’ll abseil down to your bed and enjoy the cliffside vistas before cooking dinner and falling asleep to the soundtrack of the waves below. It might not be the best night’s sleep you’ll ever get, but it’ll almost certainly be one of the most memorable. The perfect adventure for those who like to live life on the (l)edge.

Coasteering on the Causeway Coast

What’s coasteering, you ask? Essentially, it’s a pretty cool (and incredibly full-on) way to explore a stretch of coastline: a combination of swimming, climbing and cliff jumping. Think of it as a really extreme version of rock pooling – kind of like what parkour is to regular old walking.

As an island nation with plenty of coastlines to explore, the relatively new adventure sport is becoming popular all over the UK, with the rugged stretch of coast around the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland one of the best spots to try it. Naturally, climbing up cliffs and flinging yourself into the sea without any protective equipment or experience can be quite dangerous, so head out as with an expert from Causeway Coasteering, which runs tours in the area.

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Canyoning in Perthshire
Photograph: Jeff Collins / Geograph.org.uk

Canyoning in Perthshire

Combining hiking, rock climbing and abseiling with splashing about in waterfalls, plunge pools and natural water slides, canyoning is one of the UK’s fastest-growing adventure sports. The wealth of canyons found around Perthshire in Central Scotland make it the ideal destination for those looking to try it out, with the famous Falls of Bruar, Tummel Canyon and Calvine Gorge all in the area. 

Head out with an instructor from one of the various activity companies based nearby, including Nae Limits Adventures, The Canyoning Company and Perthshire Adventure

Bungee jumping in Windsor

The UK Bungee Club’s Bray Lake site in Windsor is home to the tallest jump in the UK: a stomach-churning drop from a crane situated 300ft above the lush Berkshire countryside.

It’s roughly equivalent to launching yourself from the top of Big Ben and attracts adrenaline jumpies (yep, we just made that phrase up) from across the UK and further afield.

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Sea kayaking in the Hebrides
Photograph: Shutterstock

Sea kayaking in the Hebrides

You’re probably familiar with regular kayaking, but how about its cooler older brother, sea kayaking? The open-water version of the sport uses narrower boats equipped with rudders to help you paddle through choppy waters. It’s often more challenging, definitely more dangerous, and a great way to explore islands and coastal areas.

Western Scotland’s zig-zagging coastline and island clusters make it a must-visit destination for keen sea kayakers, and Wilderness Scotland offers a great selection of holiday packages suiting both beginners and more experienced adventurers. The introductory courses take place across the Isle of Skye, the Inner Hebrides and North West Highlands.

White water rafting in the Peak District

If you find the prospect of being launched overboard into the frothing waters of the River Derwent more fun and thrilling than miserable and terrifying, then white water rafting might be just the sport for you. 

At roughly seven kilometres long, a small stretch of the Derwent in the south of the Peak District is one of the most popular rafting destinations in the UK. Head out as a group with Into the Blue or Rapid Horizons to tackle sections of low-grade rapids as you paddle down the scenic stretch of the river towards Matlock Bath.

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Rock climbing in the Lake District
Photograph: Andrew Stelmach / Flickr

Rock climbing in the Lake District

The craggy landscape of the Lake District is famed for having some of the best rock climbs in the UK, from the south-facing, sun-catching crags of the Langdale Valley and the towering eastern face of Dow Crag to the iconic Great Gable and the sheltered climbs of Castle Rock.

There are plenty of routes suited to complete beginners as well as experienced climbers all over the Lakes. A whole bunch of adventure companies offer climbing experiences – so wherever you’re planning to explore there won’t be one too far away.

Paragliding in the Brecon Beacons

Paragliding is an air sport where pilots use naturally occurring currents of rising air to soar above the ground for long distances. The right conditions are absolutely integral to good gliding, and the Brecon Beacons National Park offers some of the best in the UK. 

Its steep slopes and grassy fields provide plenty of ideal take-off and landing sites, while winds coming from multiple directions allow pilots to travel a variety of epic routes across the Welsh countryside. Crickhowell Paragliding offers beginners’ coursesor if you’d rather just go along for the ride book a tandem and soar above the Black Mountains with an experienced instructor doing all the legwork.

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Ziplining in Snowdonia
Photograph: Zip World

Ziplining in Snowdonia

Reckon zip lines are a bit tame to be considered ‘extreme’? Think again. On the edge of the Snowdonia National Park in North Wales, Zip World’s Penrhyn Quarry is home to the fastest zipline in the world and the longest in the whole of Europe. 

At just under a mile long, the exhilarating Velocity 2 spans the length of the quarry and can reach speeds of well over 100mph. And unlike your average zipline where you’re suspended in a seating position, this one has you lying headfirst, soaring across the sky like a bird. It’s the closest thing to flying you’ll ever experience.

Skydiving in Wiltshire

With dozens of parachuting ‘drop zones’ across the UK, you’re never too far from a thrilling airborne adventure. But only at GoSkyDive in Wiltshire do you get to see Stonehenge from a whopping 15,000ft up on one of the UK’s highest tandem skydives.

From nearly three miles up, you’ll be able to see the curvature of the earth as you freefall for a full stomach-churning minute, before a five-minute parachute descent with incredible views across Wiltshire’s Salisbury plains. 

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