6 autumnal mini-break locations for nature lovers in the UK and Ireland

For many people, the autumn is thought of as a depressing time, with the nights closing in and the warmth of summer being replaced by coats and scarves. But there are many benefits to taking a break in the autumn. Many of the UK’s most striking natural landscapes look their best as the seasons change and, because the school holidays are over, prices are cheaper and there are fewer crowds.

From the most northerly areas of Scotland to England’s south coast, the UK and Ireland are rich with locations that are ideal for autumnal mini breaks.

Hiking in Cairngorms National Park

One of the most spectacular locations in the UK, Cairngorms National Park really is an essential location to visit for hiking enthusiasts. The park contains a quarter of Scotland’s forests, is home to five of the six highest mountains in the UK and covers over 1,100 square kilometres.

While it is stunning all year round, to catch the park at its finest you will have to visit during the autumn, to witness the vibrant colours of autumn transform the landscape.

To truly discover the Cairngorms, experience it on foot along one of the numerous hiking trails. Located in the north, Glen Feshie is one of the most visually stunning regions of the park, which offers fantastic walking routes along the River Feshie for hikers of all abilities.

For those looking for more of a challenge, there’s a 7-hour route that will take you to the summit of Mullach Clach a’Blair. With so much choice, it’s worth exploring to find the ideal walking routes for you.

Photography in the New Forest

Famously beautiful, the New Forest is one of the most attractive places for a mini break in the UK and this is only enhanced by photo opportunities the colour of autumn brings – and the fact that the school holidays are over!

While the changing leaves make the forests glow with autumnal colour, there is more to the scenery than just the forests. Walking the Solent Way will take you past lagoons where there’s ample opportunity to spot lapwings and egrets. The landscape is generally flat, making for incredible views, with the Isle of Wight in one direction and forests in the other.

Alongside natural beauty, the New Forest also has a strong cultural heritage. Named by William the Conqueror, it is home to two Tudor castles and was a vital strategic costal location during the Second World War.

Between the breath-taking natural landscape and a rich history, visitors to the New Forest will never run out of opportunities to capture that perfect image.

Go back in time on the Jurassic Coast

A World Heritage Site on the Channel coast, the Jurassic Coast runs for 96 miles from Exmouth to Studland Bay. Due to costal erosion the site has revealed continuous rock formations reaching back 185 million years. With some amazing attractions and museums, the area is a very popular location during the summer, but an autumn visit allows you to explore at your own pace.

Following the coastline you’ll come to numerous beautiful natural locations and charming villages, like Charmouth and Swanage, that are just waiting to be explored. An essential stop is the highest point on the south coast – the Golden Cap. At 191 meters, it is a challenging walk, but the panoramic views are worth the trek.

From cycling and hiking to fossil hunting or simply admiring the unique and characterful coastline beneath an autumn sunset, the Jurassic coast offers something for everyone.

Experience the Northern Lights in Orkney

One of the most remarkable sights in the natural world are the Northern Lights. Each year thousands travel to Scandinavia, the Yukon and Alaska to maximise their chances of witnessing the lights in person. But you can save yourself a long trip, as they are also visible in Scotland.

As the dark nights draw in, Orkney is one of the best locations to get an incredible view of what some of the locals call the ‘merry dancers’. This is due to a lack of light pollution, Orkney’s remote location and a flat landscape in the most northern isles. Another benefit of Orkney is that the isles have a variety of landscapes, so not only could you see the Northern Lights, but you could do it while sitting on the beach!

Of course, this phenomenon is not on a timetable, so you will have to do your research to make sure your visit is timed to maximise your chances. While this trip is much shorter than heading abroad, it is still likely to be incredibly cold – make sure you prepare by taking hot drinks and wrapping up warm.

Bird spotting on the Norfolk Broads

While it’s common knowledge that Norfolk is one of the best locations in the UK for birdwatching, it is often North Norfolk that gains much of the attention. Sometimes, the Norfolk Broads are neglected as it is assumed they will be filled with tourists. While this might have some truth around school holiday time, in the autumn it is possible to explore with minimal distraction.

Autumn is also the ideal time to visit to find the widest range of birds. From the last of the summer flocks to the first of the wintering arrivals, you are sure to find the most diverse blend of native and continental birds in the UK.

A recommended area to visit is Hickling Broads on the Upper Thurne, which is an ideal location to see bittern, crane, marsh harriers, Cetti’s warblers and many other breeds.

A big benefit of the Broads for bird spotting is the water. With 200km of lock-free, navigable waterways, the Broads are vast and hiring a boat for your break will not only help you discover hidden areas off the beaten track, but will give you an ideal spot for ‘twitching’ without disturbing the birds.

See the best of Ireland on the Wild Atlantic Way

It may not be in the UK, but the west coast of Ireland is perfect for a mini break. With miles of empty beaches, the Wild Atlantic Way is most commonly thought of as a summer destination, but to see it at its most beautiful, a visit in the autumn is essential.

1,600 miles in length, the Wild Atlantic Way winds along the entire west coast of Ireland, revealing natural wonders, breath-taking costal views and charming local villages on the way.

Around the halfway point is the jewel in the region’s crown. The Burren National Park which encompasses lakes, springs, fens and cliffs within its 1,500 hectares. The dramatic Cliffs of Moher are nearby. Reaching 214 meters, they leave a powerful impression on the landscape and offer views that you will never forget.

The nearby seaside town of Kilkee also offers impressive cliff walks, and the Loop Head Drive takes you past some of the most attractive natural views on the coast of Clare, which somehow remain out of the reach of tourists.

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