The best UK hidden gems to explore

Coastal, Days out, Fall into Winter

Posted by Kate A on 18th January 2022

A couple and their dog in the hilly countryside

Now is the perfect time for adventure, a chance to seek out new experiences and embark on the kind of travel you really want to do. Forget theme parks, zoos and package holidays and start dreaming about life in the great outdoors.

Throughout the country, we are blessed with some of the most beautiful locations to explore, some that are in such secluded spots, not many people know about them. And these natural environments make for perfect adventure playgrounds. Imagine wild swimming in a secret lake, exploring mysterious islands only reached for a couple of hours at low tide, and sunbathing on the warm rocks of a hidden beach with pink sands.

Start collecting special moments with the ones you love; we have scoured the country for some of the best UK hidden gems to explore. Whether you want to go in search of adventure or slow things down and unwind, discover below exactly how you can find these hidden gems for yourself...

The UK's hidden gems

Sandwood Bay

  • The most beautiful and isolated beach in Britain
  • Sutherland, Scotland
  • Postcode for sat nav: IV27 4RT

Sandwood Bay, Scotland

Why it’s special:

This untouched, remote, 1.5-mile stretch of peach-coloured sand is only accessible by a 4-mile moorland pathway leading from a car park in the hamlet of Blairmore. While this might put many off, that’s nothing compared to the rewarding views and magical atmosphere you will experience as you break through the grassy dunes onto the beach. Reputedly the most beautiful beach in Britain, Sandwood Bay is a wild and wonderful place.

Flanked by towering cliffs, buffeted by the rolling breakers of the Atlantic and guarded by a dagger-like sea stack known as Am Buachaille (the shepherd), this isolated spot is devoid of human interference and protected by the John Muir Trust. Nature reigns supreme here with peregrine falcons, golden eagles and sea eagles soaring in the sky and seals, orca and bottlenose dolphins riding the crests of the waves. This place isn't for tourists so much as explorers, and it may just be one of the most therapeutic places on earth.

Collect seashells on the beach

Relive your childhood by:

Spend the day collecting pretty shells, scrambling around on the cliffs exploring hidden coves, and sunbathing on the warm rocks which make the perfect sun loungers.

For a new experience, why not try?

Because this bewitching place is so secluded, there is virtually no light pollution which means that the night sky can be spectacular - particularly when the northern lights appear. This is the ultimate wilderness camping spot; just bear in mind you’ll have to carry your provisions along the 4-mile track.

Browse Highlands cottages

Faskally Wood

  • An enchanting woodland hidden in Tay Forest Park
  • Pitlochry, Scotland
  • Postcode for sat nav: PH16 5JZ

Faskally Wood, Scotland

Why it’s special:

Tucked away in the Perthshire countryside, among the tall, ancient pines of Tay Forest Park, Faskally Wood offers a network of popular trails and wildlife walking routes. While many people visit in autumn to admire reflections of the coppery canopies filling Loch Dunmore with shimmering colour, few are aware that this special time of year sees the woodland really come to life with a mesmerising light and music display. As dusk falls, this award-winning Scottish event transforms the woodland into the magical Enchanted Forest.

Wander amongst the trees which are illuminated with a dazzling rainbow of colour, complemented by an original music score floating through the boughs. Whatever your age, this woodland wonderland is sure to captivate and enthral. There is no vehicular access to the Enchanted Forest, so visitors will be transported by a shuttle bus from the town of Pitlochry.

The Enchanted Forest

Relive your childhood by:

There’s a lovely timber footbridge tucked away within the woods, which is just perfect for a traditional game of Poohsticks, whether during the day or when it’s lit up at night.

For a new experience, why not try?

If you visit Faskally Wood during the day, be sure to take a pair of binoculars with you as a lovely little kingfisher is a regular visitor to Loch Dunmore. Take a seat on the first bench you pass next to the water and wait to see it flying above the reed beds. Even if the elusive bird doesn’t appear, it is a great place to sit and enjoy the scenery for a while.

Browse Highlands cottages

Llyn Y Fan Fach

  • A remote lake shrouded in Welsh legend
  • Brecon Beacons, Wales
  • Postcode for sat nav: SA19 9UN

Llyn y Fan Fach in the Brecon Beacons

Why it’s special:

Meaning ‘lake of the small beacon hill’, this fascinating site is hidden away in the Brecon Beacons National Park and is accessible only on foot. Surrounded by the amphitheatre-like escarpment of the Black Mountain, mystical Llyn y Fan Fach is the enchanting home of the Welsh folklore legend, ‘The Lady of the Lake.’ Even without the folk tales, this glacial lake has a sense of eerie silence to it. Gaze across the calm water and see fish flipping on its surface, while red kites, buzzards and kestrels soar above.

To get to this hidden gem, set off from a car park just outside of the tiny hamlet of Llanddeusant. The walk is about 3 miles alongside a river that rises and falls, forming mini cascading waterfalls. It may be a bit of a hike uphill, but the views and scenery will definitely make it worthwhile. The trail eventually joins the Brecon Beacons Way, so after experiencing the beauty of the lake you could pick this up and head east to Llyn y Fan Fawr to continue your walk.

Wild swimming

Relive your childhood by:

Stone skimming has long been a favourite lakeside pastime; the artful skill of throwing a flat little stone in such a way that it bounces off the surface of the water has been passed down from one generation to the next. Why not make a competition of it and see who can make the most bounces?

For a new experience, why not try?

This is a great spot for wild swimming if you’re feeling brave enough. Nothing beats the invigorating sensation of slipping into the cool, clear waters of a secret lake.

Browse Brecon Beacons cottages

Heddon's Mouth

  • A secluded former smuggler haunt in Devon
  • Heddon Valley, Devon
  • Postcode for sat nav: EX31 4PY

Heddon's Mouth, Devon

Why it’s special

You can’t get much more private than this. Heddon's Mouth is sheltered by towering cliffs and offers a captivating beach covered in fine white pebbles that lead down to the blue waters of Devon. You can reach this hidden cove via an easy 2-mile walk which starts from the National Trust shop, near The Hunter’s Inn, in Heddon Valley. Amble through ancient woodland, its canopy decorated in a dazzling display of rich coppers, burnt oranges and luscious greens and follow the babbling stream until it reaches the crashing waves of the sea.

Once a common haunt for smugglers, the beach offers an abundance of rock pools ripe for exploration and an interesting 19th-century restored lime kiln. Best of all, after your hearty jaunt, you can cosy up by a roaring log fire in a traditional dog-friendly country inn with a pint of local ale and a menu of old-favourite pub classics.

Soak up the sea views

Relive your childhood by:

Sit on giant boulders, cross the stepping stones where the river meets the sea and, with the aid of a trusty fishing net, see how many critters you can identify in the rock pools. And if you find a nice big shell, hold it to your ear and listen to the soothing sounds of the ocean.

For a new experience, why not try?

Bring a notebook with you and let the beauty of this secret spot inspire your creative side. Perhaps you might pen a poem, compose a song, or draft that novel you’ve always wanted to write.

Browse North Devon cottages

Kynance Cove

  • A spectacular setting for Poldark’s Nampara Cove
  • The Lizard, Cornwall
  • Postcode for sat nav: TR12 7PJ

Kynance Cove, Cornwall

Why it’s special:

Along the Cornish coastline, there are countless hidden coves nestled into the cliff faces, but Kynance Cove is perhaps one of the most striking. Found on the west side of the iconic Lizard Peninsula and often referred to as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, the cove can be accessed via a 15-minute walk down steep steps from the National Trust car park on top of the cliff. Fans of Poldark may recognise Kynance Cove as Ross and Demelza's beach at Nampara. The contrast between the cove’s glorious white sand beach, the polished dark red and green serpentine rock, and the sparkling azure sea creates a breathtaking sight.

Autumn is a brilliant time to visit, as the weather usually remains warm into late September and the beach is sheltered from cold winds by the surrounding cliffs. At low tide, you can explore this hidden gem's fascinating rock stacks and caves with names such as The Drawing Room, The Parlour and The Bishop. There are also a couple of unique blowholes to discover; Devil's Bellows produces unusual sounds at a mid-tide, while the Post Office is named for its ability to create enough suction to draw a letter into it! 

Painting on the beach

Relive your childhood by:

Pack your rucksack with a sketchpad and some watercolours, find yourself a nice big rock to sit on and spend the day capturing the beauty of this picture-postcard beach on paper.

For a new experience, why not try?

For about an hour or so on either side of low tide, an expanse of sand stretches across the cove linking up with Asparagus Island, a small tidal island aptly named because of the rare wild asparagus that grows there. For a real Robinson Crusoe adventure, make the journey across to the island and see what treasures you might find. Just take care not to get cut off!

Browse Cornwall cottages

Dancing Ledge

  • A deserted sea pool on the Dorset coast
  • Isle of Purbeck, Dorset
  • Postcode for sat nav: BH19 3HG

Dancing Ledge, Dorset

Why it’s special:

A former quarry and part of the Jurassic Coast, Dancing Ledge is an extraordinary flat stone ledge on the side of a steep cliff face and is one of the south coast’s best wild swimming spots. It’s so-called because when the waves wash over the horizontal surface of hollows, the water appears to dance. It’s not, however, an easy place to reach which means that it’s rarely busy and sometimes you can have this beauty spot all to yourself. Found within the National Trust's Purbeck countryside, you can reach this mysterious sea pool on foot via the 3.5-mile interestingly named, Scratch Arse Ware and Dancing Ledge Walk.

Upon reaching the cliffs, there’s a scramble down a vertical section of rock before walking across fossilised ammonites towards the crashing sea. At low tide, you can swim in a small pool that was originally blasted out by Victorian quarrymen for local school children as a place to bathe. As it’s cut off from the sea, there’s no tide or current to worry about and if you catch it when the sun is out, it’s pretty warm too.

Swim in the sea pool

Relive your childhood by:

As this is part of the Jurassic Coast, there’s a good chance of finding some fossils here. The best ones are those found within the boulders on the quarry floor, but please remember that this is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, so no hammering or removal is allowed.

For a new experience, why not try?

Test your nerve with a thrilling coasteering adventure. Cumulus Outdoors is just one of the companies that organise this exciting activity at Dancing Ledge, which includes rock scrambling, swimming, cliff jumping and cave exploration.

Browse Dorset cottages

The White Cliffs of Dover

  • A magnificent coastal site overlooking the English Channel
  • Dover, Kent
  • Postcode for sat nav: CT15 5NA

The White Cliffs of Dover, Kent

Why it’s special:

While we all know and love the imposing white chalk, few are familiar with the fantastic walks that carve their way across the iconic White Cliffs of Dover, and the rewarding views which make the long hike well worth the effort. Cared for by the National Trust, The White Cliffs of Dover Wildlife Walk is a popular route to follow, passing by herds of grazing Exmoor ponies.

The rare chalk grassland environment on the cliffs has been designated a Special Area of Conservation and a Site of Special Scientific Interest, providing the perfect habitat for birds, butterflies and wildflowers. In autumn, you are likely to see red admiral butterflies, peregrine falcons and the world’s largest crow boasting a wingspan of 130cm! On a crisp day, wrap up warm and experience the peaceful tranquillity of a hazy cliff top stroll – on the clearest of days you can see as far as France.

A couple walking in the country

Relive your childhood by:

You can’t beat a good picnic, even in autumn. Fill a thermos with hot chocolate, pack some sandwiches and sticky buns, and spread out your blanket on the cliff tops.

For a new experience, why not try?

A good old-fashioned treasure hunt doesn’t have to be a thing of the past. Geocaching is the hot new trend and it’s not just for kids. All you need is a mobile phone or a similar GPS device and a sense of adventure. A whole series of caches have been hidden along the White Cliffs: under rocks, inside tree stumps and behind posts.

Browse Kent cottages

Haytor Quarry

  • A forgotten quarry in the Dartmoor National Park
  • Dartmoor National Park, Devon
  • Postcode for sat nav: TQ13 9XT

Haytor Quarry, Devon

Why it’s special:

Most people are familiar with Dartmoor’s highest tor but not so many know that behind it lies a very pretty and atmospheric disused quarry. During the 1800s, rock was transported by the Haytor Granite Tramway to Stover Canal, and today it offers a combination of mini lakes, rock stacks and heather-lined pathways to discover. Along with Haytor Rocks, the quarry has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest due to its geological features. After a brisk stroll up Haytor itself, leave the crowds behind and venture off the footpath, crossing a small stile between two boulders.

Haytor Quarry is a true UK beauty spot in every sense of the word; nature has reclaimed the land and the granite rocks are now decorated in small shrubs, trees, moss and lichens, while the surface of the pool is adorned by water lilies. Enclosed by lofty rock faces, it’s also sheltered from the harshest of the Dartmoor weather. You'll often find ponies and cattle grazing beside the quarry, and there are plenty of flat grassy areas to lay out a picnic blanket.

Wild swimming in the quarry pool

Relive your childhood by:

Allegedly there is a curious shoal of giant goldfish who live in the water; perhaps if you stare long enough you might see them…

For a new experience, why not try?

The stillness of the pool makes it a great place for beginners to embark on their first wild swim – just be wary of sudden changes in depth and uneven surfaces.

Browse Dartmoor cottages

Janet's Foss

  • A hidden waterfall named after a legendary fairy queen
  • Malham, Yorkshire
  • Postcode for sat nav: BD23 4DA

Janet's Foss, Yorkshire

Why it’s special:

You will stumble upon this astonishing waterfall on one of the most secluded and tranquil walks in the country. Your efforts after a couple of hours of walking will be highly rewarded when you set eyes on Janet’s Foss and its dramatic cascading waters. Formed as Gordale Beck tumbles down over a limestone outcrop into a deep pool below, the lime-rich water has deposited a screen of spongy moss-covered tufa which adds to the pretty effect of the scene. And with the surrounding woodland alive with birdsong, there is no doubting that this is a magical hidden gem.

To reach the falls, follow the 3-mile trek from the car park in Malham village, near Settle in the Yorkshire Dales. Head along the footpaths, through golden woodlands and patchwork fields with the terrain getting rocky and uneven in some places; this is all part of the National Trust's beautiful Malham Tarn Estate.

Place a coin in the tree stump for the fairies

Relive your childhood by:

It is said that this may be the residence of Jennet, the queen of the fairies who supposedly lives in a cave behind the falls. On the footpath to the waterfall, a couple of tree stumps have become home to hundreds of lucky pennies - make a wish to the fairies by adding your own coin.

For a new experience, why not try?

Join the locals and delight in a paddle or even a swim in the crystal-clear pool. Who knows, you might even catch a glimpse of the fairy queen!

Browse Yorkshire cottages

Find your own hidden gem

Whether this is your first holiday without the children or your hundredth, these hidden gems in the UK will be just the adventure you’re looking for. Take a break from routine and start collecting special moments with those you love the most. Browse our collection of handpicked holiday cottages around the UK and replace your daily routine with something a little more unexpected.

Browse holiday cottages

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.