The Isles of Scilly, Northumberland Coast and North Arran have been named among the UK’s favourite scenic destinations in Which?’s survey of Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and National Scenic Areas.
The consumer champion asked almost 5,000 members to rate their experiences of Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs), in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and National Scenic Areas (NSAs) in Scotland.
Locations were marked on eight criteria including peace and quiet, opportunities for wildlife spotting, visitor facilities, food and drink, scenery, accommodation, and attractions. An overall area score was calculated based on a combination of overall satisfaction and likelihood to recommend.
The Isles of Scilly and the Northumberland Coast tied in first place among AONBs, with area scores of 89 per cent.
Taking a top spot for the third time, the Isles of Scilly consistently impressed visitors, who were in awe of the islands’ ‘speculator scenery’ and ‘beautiful beaches’. The smallest AONB in the UK, the Scilly Isles are famed for their unspoilt landscapes, with each island boasting a distinctive character and attractions, from the flower fields of St Martin’s to the tropical gardens of Tresco.
The isles scored an impressive five stars for their scenery, walks, accommodation and peace and quiet, with visitors praising the ‘tranquil’ surroundings and ‘relaxed’ pace of life. The isles also scored four stars for wildlife spotting opportunities and visitor facilities.The Northumberland Coast meanwhile scored five stars for its scenery, walks, and attractions, and received four stars in all remaining categories. Visitors heaped praise on the ‘beautiful unspoilt scenery’ and ‘fantastic sea views’ to be enjoyed along the coast.
The Northumbrian village of Bamburgh was named the UK’s favourite seaside town in a Which? survey earlier this year, and is just one of the many scenic locations this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty has to offer. As one respondent enthused, ‘this place has everything – rugged coastline, castles, villages and wildlife’. From the stark beauty of the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, an important Christian site dating back to the sixth century, to the gentle bustle of the harbour at Seahouses, there is plenty for all ages to enjoy.
Destinations in Northern Ireland and Wales tied in third place, with the Causeway Coast, Antrim Coast and Glens and Gower all receiving an area score of 83 per cent.
Visitors to the Antrim Coast can enjoy a scenic road trip via the ‘spectacular’ Causeway Coastal Route, which takes in dramatic cliffside views, historic forts and castles and deserted beaches. The region received five stars for its scenery, and four stars for walks, peace and quiet and attractions, with visitors lauding the ‘stunning, rugged scenery’ and ‘great opportunities to see wildlife.’
The Causeway Coast meanwhile scored five stars for scenery, and four stars for its walks, visitor facilities and attractions. It boasts some of the most visited sites in Northern Ireland, including the Giant’s Causeway, a UNESCO world heritage site, and the vertiginous Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. Likely owing to its popularity, the region scored just two stars for peace and quiet, though visitors noted that away from the ‘busy and touristy’ key attractions there was still tranquillity to be found – particularly on Rathlin Island, famous for its puffin population.
Gower meanwhile was the highest rated Welsh AONB, scoring an impressive five stars for the quality of walks on offer, and four stars for scenery, peace and quiet and visitor facilities. As the first region to be designated an AONB back in 1956, the Gower peninsula is famed for its unspoilt stretches of sand – with Rhossili Bay often named among the most beautiful in the world. Visitors praised the peninsula’s ‘unspoiled bays’ and ‘superb’ scenery, with one respondent deeming it ‘heaven on earth’.
Among National Scenic Areas in Scotland, North Arran topped the tables with an area score of 88 per cent. Respondents said this part of the island felt like ‘another world’, rating its ‘stunning’ scenery a full five stars, with visitors able to explore ‘breathtaking’ landscapes ranging from coastal areas to mountains, including the island’s highest peak, Goat Fell. It also scored four stars for walks, peace and quiet, quality of accommodation and opportunities for wildlife spotting, with the island playing host to a wide range of animals, from eagles to deer and even seals.
Close behind with scores of 87 per cent are Shetland and Wester Ross.
A hundred miles north of the Scottish mainland, Shetland scored a full five stars for peace and quiet, with respondents praising the ‘wild and peaceful’ countryside. It scored four stars in all the remaining categories, including wildlife spotting, visitor facilities and accommodation. One visitor said ‘everything was well organised… I enjoyed a luxurious cottage, wonderful scenery, walks and wildlife, and excellent local food.’
Wester Ross meanwhile scored five stars for peace and quiet and for scenery, which visitors lauded as ‘outstanding’, ‘stunning’ and ‘incredible’. From snow-capped mountains to the dramatic Corrieshalloch Gorge, this region boasts an incredible array of landscapes, with one visitor summarising that Wester Ross offers ‘scenery on a big scale.’
The region also scored four stars for walks, wildlife spotting and accommodation, dropping to three stars only for attractions, visitor facilities, and food and drink.
Rory Boland, Editor of Which? Travel said:
“The UK is blessed with a fantastic choice of unspoilt natural landscapes, and this year’s survey shines a light on some of the most beautiful locations these isles have to offer.
“Whether you want to explore historical sites, spot wildlife in their natural habitats or get active in nature, there’s bound to be a unique scenic area on your doorstep just waiting to be explored.”
Notes to editors:
– In July 2023, Which? surveyed 3,734 Which? Connect panel members about their experiences of Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and 1,003 Which? Connect panel members about their experiences of National Scenic Areas.
– In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, there are 46 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs). AONBs are designated as “exceptional landscapes whose distinctive character and natural beauty are precious enough to be safeguarded in the national interest.”
– In Scotland, there are 40 National Scenic Areas, defined as places with “outstanding scenic value in a national context”.
– Earlier this year, Which? carried out a survey on the UK’s favourite coastal destinations, with Bamburgh taking first place. Please see more details here: https://press.which.co.uk/whichpressreleases/making-waves-which-reveals-the-uks-favourite-seaside-destinations/
-Please note that any reproduction or use of the below tables requires a link back to the full results on Which?: https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/uk-destinations/article/the-best-areas-of-outstanding-natural-beauty-in-the-uk-aIgUm4Y9i6tT
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