The Best Places to Visit in the UK this Autumn

Whether you believe it starts on 1st September or later at the September equinox, autumn in the UK can at times rival the colours and traditions of New England.  The best places in the UK to see in autumn range from the extremes of Scotland to the tip of Cornwall and the beaches of Kent, and there are also festivals to attend and wildlife, particularly migratory birds, to enjoy.


As the leaves change to an array of shades of dark green and brown and then bronze, chestnut, orange, red, ochre and mustard the sun can still shine all day, the perfect opportunity to get out and enjoy the new crisp chill in the air and the crunch of leaves and acorns underfoot.  As the evenings get shorter and the mornings colder, grab your sweater early to get out and enjoy autumn.

When planning your trips, bear in mind that autumn will be seen first in the north of Scotland and sunny, warm days enjoyed in the south well into November.  Plan wisely and you could be enjoying the joys of autumn for weeks to come.

Scotland

Autumn arrives early here, with the leaves starting to glow with colour from early September.  Enjoy the 270 acres of woodland and parkland at Lews Castle on the Isle of Lewis.

Glen Coe also offers a special luminous beauty in autumn, and a spectacular golden light.  Or head to the area around Loch Lomond, the UK's largest inland body of water.  The picturesque lake is surrounded by the Trossachs National Park, home to red deer and oak woodland.

Find out more about Loch Lomond and the Trossachs

Created as a 'model forest' in the 19th century, Faskally Wood epitomises the big tree country that Perthshire is famed for.  The 25 species of tree including Scots pine, silver birch, hazel, ash and oak create a beautiful autumnal display, which is transformed into an Enchanted Forest at night with a shimmering light and music show.

Glamis Castle, often said to be the most beautiful in Scotland and famed as the setting for Shakespeare's Macbeth, looks particularly spectacular with leaves on the ground.

Ablaze with colour the Dawyck Botanic Garden in the Scottish Borders is well worth a visit in autumn.  Its 65 acres of planting includes the Dawyck Beech, a star of autumn planted in 1860, and a Japanese katsura tree, whose leaves are said to turn a beautiful pale biscuit colour in autumn.

Photo of  Dawyck Botanic Garden c/o M J Richardson

North East

The Farne Islands in Northumberland are home to one of the UK's biggest grey seal colonies.  They have been here for at least 800 years and are now protected rather than hunted for oil and skins.  Spot thousands of grey seals during the autumn pupping season.

The North York Moors put on a rich display of purple heather.  The largest continuous expanse of moorland in England it stretches some 108,000 acres to the east coast.

Related post: Discover Yorkshire's Beautiful Beaches


North West

The path between Rydal and Grasmere in the Lake District inspired Wordsworth to write poems like The Oak and the Broom.  It features mixed woodland, including beautiful chestnut, which burst into amazing autumn colour, with lovely glimpses of the lakes through the trees.

Head south for the far more prosaic Illuminations at Blackpool, an annual fiesta featuring a 6 mile cornucopia of lights from the glittering disco ball They Shoot Horses Don't They all the way up to Bispham.  With a projection on the front of the Tower, lights all through town, and illuminated heritage trams there's a fun party atmosphere and lots to see.

Find a great hotel in Blackpool


Northern Ireland

Strangford Lough, a large sea lake, sees the arrival of Brent geese in autumn and now hosts more than 75% of the Canadian light-bellied Brent goose population in late autumn.  The perfect place to see this iconic sight.

Mount Stewart House in County Down boasts one of the National Trust's most unusual gardens.  The warm climate caused by its proximity to Strangford Lough enables it to grow exotic plants with parts of the landscaped gardens taking inspiration from the Mediterranean.

Find the perfect holiday cottage in Northern Ireland


Wales

In the centre of metropolitan Cardiff, Bute Park & Arboretum is a riot of colour with more than 3000 individually catalogued tree species erupting into a riot of colour.  You could spend several hours amongst this kaleidoscopic array of ­colours.

Great hotels near Cardiff

At Hatterrall Ridge in the Black Mountains, on the border between Powys and Monmouthshire, you'll spot redwings, migrant thrushes, plunging peregrines and, if you go at night, a million stars.  There are a few better places to star gaze.

St David’s Peninsula in Pembrokeshire boasts Wales's oldest rocks, laid down some 600 million years ago during the Precambrian era, and the aptly named Seal Bay.  During autumn seal pups are born on the shores here.

Bodnant Garden near Colwyn Bay is simply stunning, but never more so than in its October's colour.  Overlooking the Carneddau mountains, the highlights of this woodland garden include a waterfall, striking sweet chestnut trees and a deep valley framed by towering trees.


The Midlands

The beautiful River Wye is at its best in the Wye Valley and the Forest of Dean.  At the village of St Briavels in Gloucestershire, wooded limestone slopes frame the water beautifully at the height of autumn.

Carefully planted in the mid-19th century, Westonbirt National Arboretum boasts around 600 acres filled with more than 15,000 tree specimens from all over the globe.  Bursting with autumn colour including the glorious Japanese maples at their peak it is perhaps one of the best places in the country to see autumn leaves in all their orange, red and golden glory.  Bring your picnic and spend a day amongst the trees.


East Anglia

Straddling the Norfolk-Suffolk border, Thetford Forest combines heathland and forest that is dominated by evergreens but also features oak, maple and walnut.  You can even explore the trees form up high at the Go Ape centre in this man-made forest.

The annual Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival at the end of September offers every foodie treat imaginable with street food, local vendors, award-winning spirits and live demonstrations and events.  The perfect weekend away for any foodie.

The best hotels in Aldeburgh

At WWT Welney you will see massed ranks of migratory birds, the site becoming a bit of an avian airport over the autumn and winter months.  Tens of thousands arrive from the Arctic, while those that have raised their young are now ready to head south to insect-rich African plains and waterways.

Blakeney Point in Norfolk is another popular spot for bird watching.  The fields and salt marsh provide grazing for wigeon and dark Brent geese from Siberia, while large swirling flocks of golden plover divide their time between the harbour and the marshes.

In Cambridgeshire, the Wicken Fen nature reserve is teeming with wildlife, including a large variety of bird species including the little egret, swallows and martins.  Many are gathering before their migration south, while newly arrived winter migrants such as wigeon, redwing hen harriers and fieldfares replace them.

Photo by Judith Wakelam

London and The Home Counties

Within striking distance of the City, Greenwich has much to offer in autumn, with red and ochre-leaved trees lining the park, squirrels bustling about and perhaps even deer to spot as you gaze back at the views of London.  Don't miss the climb up to the Royal Observatory to stand on the Meridian Line before heading down to the market for delicious street food and antiques browsing.  The Fan Museum is a little known delight.

Related post: Where to Go in London with Young Children

Or escape the city and head west to Richmond Park where you can walk, cycle or picnic to soak up the rich colours of autumn as the park’s ancient oak trees turn a deep orange.  A deer park since 1637, it's not hard to spot the 600+ population of freely-roaming red and fallow deer.

Ramster's spring gardens re-open for a few short weeks for a spectacular display of autumn colour dominated by the unique 100-year-old avenue of maples and American red gum tree Liquidambar featuring shades of orange, crimson and purple.  The woodland areas with oak and larch add to this burst of colour in Surrey.

Burnham Beeches in Buckinghamshire is an internationally important beech woodland that features many rare and threatened species of fungi.  The ancient beech trees offer a glorious display of gold, dotted with some beautiful oak trees.  Look for pools of rain in the shallow roots of the beech trees that criss cross the ground, perfect for toadstools - and fairies.


South East

The Ashdown Forest in East Sussex is full of colour with trees, ferns and heathland transforming into jewel like colours.  Follow the in the footsteps of Winnie the Pooh and friends as you forage for free food or simply enjoy the views.

Enjoy bonfire season at Lewes where the 5th November celebrations each year include tar barrel rolling, marching bands and topical effigies (Boris?!).  Get there early or stay overnight the night before as it gets crazy busy.

Kent offers warm days well into autumn, so take the opportunity to do some beach combing.  We have found all kinds of treasure on Margate beach in November, and enjoyed wonderful days out near Ramsgate on the Kent coast.

In The Art of Mindful Birdwatching, Claire Thompson recommends the salt marsh and mudflats of Pegwell Bay In Kent for spotting birds such as curlew, whimbrel, redshank, sanderlings, turnstones., peregrine falcon and marsh harrier.

At Bedgebury National Pinetum and Forest in Kent has one of world’s finest collections of coniferous tree collections including species from all over the world including California, Scotland and Taiwan.  In autumn leaves turn orange, red, purple and yellow, making walks here a kaleidoscopic adventure.

Hever Castle in Kent, the childhood home of Ann Boleyn, is stunning in autumn as the Boston Ivy adorning the front of the castle turns a vivid, glowing shade of red.  Enjoy a walk round the lake before taking in the castle gardens and interiors and the exquisite dolls houses.


South

The annual pumpkin display at Slindon in West Sussex is a feast for the eyes and the stomach if you buy some of the many varieties of pumpkins and squash to take home to your kitchen.  Take a walk in the National Trust Slindon Woods afterwards to crunch leaves and spot wildlife.

In Hampshire, the 50 square miles of old oak and beech enclosures of the New Forest are a sight to behold in the autumn months.  During pannage season you may even spot some of the pigs that are let loose in the forest for just a few weeks to eat all the acorns (green acorns are poisonous to ponies and cattle).

The Rhinefield Ornamental Drive which starts near Brockenhurst is one of the best places to experience the vivid array of autumnal hues, featuring mighty redwoods planted in the late 1850s, as well as alder, beech, sweet chestnut and other varieties.  Don’t miss the huge 500 year-old Knightwood Oak on the Bolderwood Ornamental Drive near Lyndhurst, and stop at Bolderwood to spot deer who have become accustomed to being fed during the summer months.

Find a beautiful holiday cottage near Brockenhurst

Autumn is also the best time to see red squirrels.  There are fewer leaves on the trees, which makes these endearing creatures easier to spot as they gather food for winter.  See them at Borthwood Copse on the Isle of Wight, where the population is thriving in carefully managed woodland, or at Brownsea Island off the Dorset coast, both grey squirrel-free havens.

The 18th-century landscaped gardens at Stourhead in Wiltshire feature a tranquil lake, classical temples and a domed grotto.  The planting includes sycamore, oak, beech, Spanish chestnut, birch, horse chestnut and ash, alongside more exotic trees and shrubs.  The golden reflection of the trees in the lake is truly breathtaking.


South West

The Somerset Levels are rich with autumn mists which make you feel like you're walking in a cloud, while throngs of water birds come and go.  The perfect place to spot the starling murmuration as groups of up to a million gather together, roosting in the reed beds for safety come evening.

Dartmoor is always a treat at any time of year, but in autumn as the tourists fade away and the wooded rivers change into colourful garb it becomes a paradise to explore, come rain or shine.

Find out more abour Dartmoor


The French philosopher Albert ­Camus called autumn a second spring "where every leaf is a flower".  The rich paintbox of colour trees open up as they die back for winter is an annual treat for us all to relish, coupled with the delights of wildlife and festivals.  Get out there and enjoy autumn.

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