Day hikes are all well and good, but as any serious walker knows, nothing beats the feeling of of setting off on a long distance, multi-day hike. Exploring the world on foot allows you to really take it all in—appreciating the scenery, experiencing the sights and sounds, and meeting people that you'd never meet if you were whizzing through the same landscape in a car.
As a travel magazine, we frequently recommend foreign destinations — from the best coastal walks in the world, to the best hiking trails in the Alps, to the best places in Europe for walking holidays. But sometimes it's easy to forget that the UK is home to some brilliant long distance walks of its own.
From the wilderness of western Scotland to the oasis of calm that is the Sussex Downs, here are our ten favourites.
Offa's Dyke Path
285km / 14 Days
In the late 8th Century, King Offa of Mercia ordered the construction of a massive wall of earth to protect his lands from invasion by his Welsh neighbours in the kingdom of Powys. Today, the remains of this centuries-old feat of civil engineering provides the route for one of the best long distance walks in the UK.
The Offa's Dyke Path, as its known, runs for 285km along the present day border between England and Wales — from the Chepstow on the Severn estuary to the town of Prestatyn, on the Irish sea. Along the way, walkers cross through eight different counties, dip into the Brecon Beacons National Park and pass through three Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB): the Wye Valley, the Shropshire Hills, and the Clwydian Range.
Walking the whole long distance trail takes around 14 days, but you could also base yourself in one of the many historic towns along the route and tackle sections as shorter hikes.
For more information, check out the National Trails website.
South Downs Way
160km / 9 Days
Running the entire length of the South Downs, this 160km linear walking trail is an oasis of calm in one of the busiest parts of the UK. Inaugurated as recently as 2010, the South Downs is the newest of England's National Parks but with cities like Brighton, Southampton and, of course, London on its doorstep, it's also one of the country's most popular.
Despite the proximity of these major population centres, however, the trail itself is relatively uncrowded for much of the year, and the chalky terrain means it dries out quickly, so you walk it in all seasons. Assuming the weather stays clear, you'll be treated to spectacular views over the English Channel and out to the Isle of Wight, as well as close-up views of remarkable geological features like the Seven Sisters, the sequence of cliffs between the River Cuckmere and the Birling Gap, in East Sussex.
Most people take eight or nine days to walk the whole trail, taking the opportunity to stay in the picturesque thatched villages en route. The National Trails website has great recommendations on how best to break up the trip.
To find details check the National Trails website.
290km / 12 Days
This 180 mile (290km) loop walk is inspired by the central character from Henry Williamson's perennially popular 1927 novel Tarka the Otter. Starting and finishing in Barnstaple, the route is a figure of eight which takes you north through Exmoor and along the sea, before following the River Taw inland and running down to the edge of Dartmoor.
Like all the best long distance walks in the UK, you can tackle the trail in sections, or just hike parts of it as day trips. The southern loop of the figure eight is particularly well suited for families for example, featuring one of the longest, continuous traffic-free walking paths anywhere in England, which runs along an old railway line.
For more information, check out the Tarka Trail website.
175km / 9 Days
Running around the edge of the North York Moors, the Cleveland Way takes in ancient ruined abbeys, heather-flecked moorland, and some of the most beautiful coastline northern England has to offer.
Starting in the picturesque market town of Helmsley, the trail winds its way west to the Hambleton Hills, before turning north, crossing the moors and then running south down the shoreline through a series of fishing towns including Whitby, whose gothic monastery famously provided the inspiration for Bram Stoker's Dracula.
For more information, check out the relevant section of this website: nationaltrail.co.uk.
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Hadrian's Wall Walk
135km / 7 Days
Arguably more famous even than Offa's Dyke, the wall built by Emperor Hadrian to protect the Roman province of Britannia from marauding Scots now provides the route for one of the best long distance walks in the UK. Running from the River Tyne in the east to Bowness-on-Solway in the west, the wall (and the walking route) takes you across the whole width of Great Britain—albeit at one of its narrowest points.
Much of the original construction is still visible, and the whole thing has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are several excellent museums along the route, many on the site of old fortresses, which have proved a treasure trove for archaeologists investigating life in this furthest-flung corner of the Roman Empire. Although its often thought of as marking the start of the Scottish borders, the wall lies entirely within modern England. But the landscape is very similar to what you'd find in the lowlands, with rolling green hills and craggy outcrops of rock.
Anyone with a reasonable level of fitness should be able to walk Hadrian's Wall, and many of the most interesting sections (like the museums) are wheelchair accessible too. Even if you can't commit to the full seven days needed to walk the whole trail, the wall is well worth a visit for day hikes, and fascinating history lessons it offers.
The National Trails website has an excellent guide to hiking Hadrian's wall.
South West Coast Path
1,014km / 30 Days
The South West Coast Path is Britain's longest national trail. Fully 1,014km long, it runs from Minehead on the Bristol Channel all the way around the tip of Cornwall, before turning back west to finish in Poole Harbour, in Dorset. Tackling the whole thing is obviously a huge challenge. The current record is around 10 days, and a fit hiker could usually expect to complete it in 30. But if you have the time, our guide to walking the South West Path recommends taking even longer — perhaps as long as eight weeks — so that you can explore the stunning coastline and historic sites along the route properly.
Most people, of course, will choose to dip in and out of the South West Coast Path, tackling short sections of the trail as day hikes or 2 to 3-day weekend getaways. From the Bolt Head walk in Devon to the classic walk to Durdle Door in Dorset, there are endless options to choose from.
For more information, check out our guide to the South West Coast Path.
West Highland Way
154km / 6-7 Days
One of the best loved long distance walks in the UK, the West Highland Way runs from Milngavie on the outskirts of Glasgow, to Fort William, near the base of Ben Nevis. Along the way, the trail takes in some of the most beautiful scenery in the country: expect stunning views over some of Scotland's most famous lochs and glimpses of rugged munros as you walk through Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park.
The final stretch, while not part of a protected area, includes some of the most amazing scenery, including Ben Nevis itself, and the southwestern end of the Great Glen. (The Great Glen is the natural valley created by the Great Glen Geological Fault, which runs from Fort William to Inverness).
If you're looking to tackle the whole of the route as a one-er, expect to spend about 6-7 days on the trail. Remember too that wild camping is allowed in Scotland. So unlike other long distance walks in the UK, as long as you've got decent wild camping gear you're not limited to staying in villages or campsites — you can break up the route however you want.
To find details of the route, including maps of each day's walk, check out the trail's dedicated website.
117km / 5-6 Days
Running for 117km from the historic town of Carlisle to Ulverston, the Cumbria Way takes in many of the most famous sights in the Lake District. Originally set out by local Rambler's associations in the 1970s, the route passes by Coniston Water, Derwent Water, Langdale, Borrowdale and Skiddaw Forest, as well as the towns of Coniston and Keswick—giving walkers what amounts to a Lake District greatest hits.
Highlights include the spectacular views of the Coniston Fells around Tarn Hows on Day 2, and the walk around Elterwater on Day 3. Many of the individual sections rank among the best walks in the Lake District in their own right, and make for great day hikes. But what's special about the trail as a whole is way it leaves the walker time to take in the scenery in this stunning corner of England.
The Cumbrian Way is not a National Trail, but it is well maintained and well signposted. There's an excellent, privately-run site about the route too: Cumbriawaywalk.info too gives you lots of useful facts and maps of each day's routes.
431km / 19 Days
No list of the best long distance walks in the UK would be complete without the country's oldest national trail, the Pennine Way. Running along the backbone of England, the epic, 431km-long route starts in Derbyshire, crossing the Peak District and the Yorkshire Dales protected areas before taking in the Swaledale Valley, running through the North Pennines AONB, crossing over Hadrian’s Wall, and finishing in the Scottish borders.
It's not just the history or the landscape which makes the Pennine Way stand out among the routes listed here, it's the scale of it. Walk the full length of the trail and you'll cross no fewer than nine counties, and climb more than the height of Mount Everest. Unsurprisingly, most people choose to tackle the Pennine Way in sections, but it can also be done more speedily. The current record for running it stands at a scarcely believable 58 hours, four minutes, set by the American ultra-runner John Kelly in 2021.
The National Trails website has a great section introducing the trail and providing further details on which sections make for the best individual day hikes.
Alternatively, check out our own guides to the best walks in the Peak District and the best hikes in Yorkshire.
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