10 of the best Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the UK

Coastal, Days out, Rural, Nature

Posted by Kate Atkin on 14th April 2022

Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty

With a whopping 46 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) to explore on your doorstep, make this the year you escape to the countryside and revel in its fresh air and exceptional scenic views.

Ranging from rugged coastal cliffs, towering mountain ranges and wild moorland to ancient woodlands, flower-filled meadows and picturesque villages, our precious and protected landscapes of the UK boast distinctive beauty, character, history, scientific importance and ecological value.

AONBs differ from national parks in some respects, but both offer equally awe-inspiring scenery, so why not see if you want to add any of the UK’s 15 national parks to your travel bucket list too?

Our guide to the UK's national parks

Here’s a guide to 10 of the finest Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty that we think are a must-visit.



An AONB, or an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, is a landscape that has been safeguarded due to its character and aesthetic appeal. This protection is in the national interest and ensures that the area’s natural diversity, cultural history and community are all maintained, and even enhanced. Criteria for becoming an AONB include landscape quality, scenic quality, wildness, tranquillity and cultural heritage.

There are currently 46 AONBs across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, with 34 in England alone. Scotland has an additional 40 National Scenic Areas (NSAs) which are subject to similar protections from development.

AONBs can be found as far north as the Northumberland Coast and as far south as the Isle of Scilly, while in Scotland, most NSAs are in mountainous areas such as the Highlands. Other popular AONBs include the Cotswolds, the Gower and the North Pennines.

The first AONB was the Gower in South Wales, which was given its designation in 1956. The newest AONB is Tamar Valley, which was designated in 1995. The largest AONB is the Cotswolds, at a huge 787 square miles, while the smallest is the Isles of Scilly at just 6.2 square miles.

There are plans for two new AONBs: Yorkshire Wolds and Cheshire Sandstone Ridge, as well as extensions to the existing Surrey Hills and Chilterns AONBs. This is part of the government’s aim to protect 30% of UK land by 2030.


Northumberland Coast

The Northumberland Coast AONB is home to a 40-mile stretch of spectacular coastline from Berwick-upon-Tweed in the north to the Coquet Estuary in the south of the county. Wide expanses of some of Britain’s finest sandy beaches are backed by rolling dunes and it is internationally noted for its wildlife. It’s no surprise it’s one of our top 10 holiday destinations in the UK.

Striking rocky cliffs and isolated islands including Lindisfarne with its marshes and mudflats, and the Farne Islands, a protected seabird sanctuary, offer some of the best habitats in Europe for waders and waterfowl. The coastline also forms a dramatic setting for the mighty Bamburgh and Dunstanburgh Castles, along with picturesque ports like Seahouses and Alnmouth. If that’s not enough, Embleton Quarry in the AONB is a Dark Sky Site where you can be spellbound by stars twinkling overhead, unspoilt by light pollution.

Check out our Northumberland Coast cottages



Stroll along Anglesey’s 125-mile-long scenic coastal path passing pristine golden beaches, mudflats inhabited by a plethora of birds and wildlife and Bronze Age monuments, offering a glimpse into the island’s past. You will soon see why almost this entire stretch of coastline from South Stack in the west to Puffin Island in the east is designated as an AONB.

Found just off the north-west corner of Wales, the Anglesey Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is an island home to sheer limestone cliffs, colourful coastal heath and a wilderness of sand dunes. These varied habitats are of a high level of marine, botanical and ornithological interest and coincide with three stretches of Heritage Coast. Whether you explore the imposing ruin of Beaumaris Castle – a World Heritage Site, take advantage of the wildlife spotting opportunities at Newborough National Nature Reserve or indulge in a wealth of outdoor activities including sailing, riding, cliff climbing, sea fishing and diving, this Welsh AONB is sure to impress.

Check out our Anglesey cottages

Wye Valley

Wye Valley

Winding sinuously down from Hereford to Chepstow, the Wye Valley AONB is widely regarded as one of the UK’s finest riverside landscapes. As well as attracting canoeists, climbers and riders, it’s hugely popular with hikers with its Wye Valley Walk through dappled wooded glades and Offa’s Dyke Path National Trail.

Designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest, the entire length of the Wye is a refuge for a variety of wildlife including dragonflies, more than 30 species of fish, kingfishers, polecats and ten species of bat. It is also a premier salmon fishing river. Walk in the footsteps of prominent artists and poets, drawn by the splendour of its lush vistas of the Black Mountains, Golden Valley and the Forest of Dean, picturesque riverside settlements and grand ancient ruins including Goodrich Castle and Tintern with its 12th-century medieval abbey. Symonds Yat Rock offers one of the best vantage points over the Valley, and if you’re lucky, you might spot some peregrine falcons.

Check out our Wye Valley cottages

The Cotswolds

The Cotswolds

Visit the picture-postcard destination of the Cotswolds, a highly deserving Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and be enthralled with its rural charm. Covering an area of over 800 square miles across six counties, the Cotswolds AONB stretches from Bath and Wiltshire in the south through Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire to Warwickshire and Worcestershire in the north. It boasts gentle rolling hills, sweeping meadows carpeted with wildflowers and honey-hued quintessentially English villages such as Bourton-on-the-Water, Bibury and Chipping Campden.

For walkers, there are over 100 miles of impressive trails on The Cotswold Way National Trail, which runs between Bath and Chipping Campden. The highest point of the Cotswolds hill range is Cleeve Hill, which affords breathtaking views over Cheltenham and is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, made up of limestone grassland, ancient beechwoods and rare flora.

Check out our Cotswolds cottages

The Highlands

The Highlands

Grab your walking boots, jump on your bike or saddle up for an adventure by horseback through heather-clad moors, enchanting forests, hidden beaches, magnificent peaks and unspoiled hills. Renowned for its untamed beauty, native wildlife and rich cultural heritage, the Scottish Highlands are a true haven for lovers of the great outdoors. The Highlands are home to almost 50% of Scotland’s 40 National Scenic Areas including awe-inspiring locations such as Ben Nevis and Glen Coe, the Cairngorm Mountains, the Cuillin Hills and Loch Shiel.

This natural playground is sure to take your breath away. Keep a watchful eye out for golden eagles, red deer and peregrine falcons, and don’t forget to make a stop at the world-famous Loch Ness or one of the many castles from Balmoral to Blair, where fascinating history abounds.

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Gower AONB


The first designated AONB in Britain, Gower AONB was awarded its protected status due to its diverse natural habitats including limestone cliffs, dune systems and golden, sandy beaches. Taking a walk along the Wales Coast Path will allow you to marvel at these landscapes and also give you the opportunity to stop at many of the charming villages in the AONB, including Rhossili, Llangennith and Oxwich.

Gower is also home to some of Wales’ best beaches, perfect for a seaside holiday. Let your dog run free on Rhossili Beach, go paddleboarding at Oxwich Bay or soak up the scenery at Three Cliffs Bay. If you fancy a little more buzz, head just outside the AONB to thriving Swansea, with its array of museums, galleries, restaurants and shops.

Check out our Gower cottages

Dorset AONB


Stretching from the red cliffs of the Jurassic Coast and the towering stacks at Studland, to the rolling green hills on the border with Somerset, Dorset AONB contains some of the most inspiring landscapes in the UK. Highlights include the iconic stone arch at Durdle Door, the seashell-shaped bay at Lulworth Cove, and Golden Cap, the highest point on the South Coast – and that’s without venturing inland!

Immerse yourself in the landscape by wandering the South West Coast Path, taking a coasteering adventure off the Jurassic Coast or chugging through the countryside on the Swanage Railway. Keep your eyes peeled for an array of wildlife too; around 80% of the countryside’s species of birds, butterflies and mammals can be found in the Dorset AONB, as well as all six of the native British reptiles.

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Norfolk Coast AONB

Norfolk Coast

Spanning 56 miles of wildlife-rich coastline, the Norfolk Coast AONB is home to some of the most diverse coastal landscapes in the UK. There are so many ways to explore this wonderful landscape, whether you choose to stroll the Norfolk Coast Path or the Peddars Way, cycle the waymarked trails or hop aboard the coastal bus service.

As you travel, you’ll pass through marshland teeming with birds, heathland speckled with flowering gorse, and windswept sand dunes fringing sandy beaches. This AONB is also one of the best places to spot seals in the UK, with Blakeney Point being a well-known breeding spot for these beloved marine mammals. And no visit to the Norfolk Coast is complete without a taste of Cromer crab – it pairs perfectly with the samphire that grows abundantly on the vast marshland.

Check out our Norfolk Coast cottages

Isle of Wight AONB

Isle of Wight

Around half of the Isle of Wight is designated as an AONB, such is the abundance of natural landscapes on the island. These environments span the chalky stacks of the famous Needles in the north, across heathland and salt marshes, to the famous ‘chines’ of the south. Take it all in by walking the Isle of Wight Coast Path, which stretches the entire 70-mile circumference of the island.  

Highlights within the AONB include the glorious beaches at Freshwater Bay, Ryde and Shanklin, and breathtaking walks up Tennyson Down, Shanklin Down and St Boniface Down. While you’re walking, you might spot wildlife including wild goats, peregrine falcons and 43 species of butterfly.

Check out our Isle of Wight cottages

Scottish Borders

Scottish Borders

Home to the National Scenic Areas of Eildon and Leaderfoot, and Upper Tweeddale, the Scottish Borders are a fantastic destination if you want to not only soak up the scenery of this beautiful area but also of Northern England too.

Scale the three peaks of the Eildon Hills, standing 422 metres above sea level, and learn about the fascinating folklore. Or, explore the waterside scenery of Upper Tweeddale, nestling between the fascinating towns of Biggar and Peebles, offering some of the prettiest river walks in Scotland. Look out for leaping salmon and darting otters as you stroll.

Check out our Scottish Borders cottages

Explore the AONBs on a UK staycation

For a holiday filled with gorgeous scenery, take a trip to one of these AONBs this year. We have a wide range of cottages amid some of the most inspiring landscapes in the country, perfect for some rest and relaxation in nature. Click the button below to browse our cottage collection and start planning your next UK staycation.

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Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing, please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.