Best places in Britain to see autumn colours

As the temperature falls, enjoy the warmth of the autumn colours with our guide to the UK's most spectacular woodlands, arboretums and waterways.

Canal in autumn
Canal and River Trust
Published: September 16th, 2020 at 12:30 pm
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Crunching leaves, vibrant views and the red-tinted golden hues of autumn make this earthy season the perfect time to visit the nation’s beautiful forests, woodlands, parks, arboretums and waterways.

Lace up your walking boots and head to the woods for an autumn stomp.

Lake and bridge in autumn
Palladian bridge and the lakeside Pantheon at the National Trust's Stourhead Getty

Our guide to the best places in the UK to see the autumn colours, featuring spectacular displays in woodlands, forests arboretums and along waterways

Why do leaves change colour in autumn?

Fewer sunlight hours and cooler temperatures reduce the need for chlorophyll in leaves in autumn. As the pigment breaks down, the xanthophylls and carotenes become more visible, producing a stunning array of yellow and red hues.

Sunlight shining through colourful autumn leaves
Colder autumn months can help produce a vibrant autumn glow Getty

Best places to see the autumn colours in England

Wicken Fen, Cambridgeshire

Reed beds at Wicken Fen Nature Reserve in Cambridgeshire
Reed beds at Wicken Fen Nature Reserve in Cambridgeshire

The mosaic landscape of reed bed, grassland and open water at Wicken Fen means the diversity in which autumn colour presents itself at this reserve is intriguing . In September the sedge turns russet, which becomes golden in the evenings as the setting sun shines through the leaves. This time of year is also ideal to spot some of the resident wildlife with Orb-weaver spiders spinning their delicate webs and bright blue flashes of Kingfishers diving into the waterways. Visitors may also hire bikes instead and take a long cycle around the fen, making the most of the autumn sun.

Preserving autumn leaves

King Alfred’s Tower walk: Stourhead, Wiltshire

Autumn colours across lake to building (Getty)
The view across the lake to the Pantheon at Stourhead Gardens Getty

This is one of the most celebrated sites for autumn colour. A 5-mile walk takes you up through beautiful mixed woodlands to King Alfred’s Tower, a 160ft tall folly designed for Stourhead’s owner Henry Hoare II in 1772. On a crisp, sunny autumn day you’ll be able to catch the sunlight gleaming through the trees, making the autumn foliage even more fiery. As you return, don’t forget to take a detour through the famous landscape garden to see deep hues of red, russet and yellow reflected in the lake. After, enjoy a warming drink at the Gothic Cottage nestled among the trees.

Cardinham Woods, Cornwall

Woods in autumn
Cardinham Woods is made up of oak, alder, rowan and willow trees Getty

Cardinham is a beautiful mixed woodland. Stroll aside the riverbanks and enjoy the sight of the oak, alder, rowan and willow trees in strong surges of reds, oranges and delicate golds. For families this Autumn you can enjoy The Forest Commission's Gruffalo trail, whilst those seeking a more active visit can set off on the 12km Bodmin Beast cycling trail.

Tintern Abbey, Monmouthshire

Tintern Abbey in autumn (Getty)
Tintern Abbey set against a contrasting backdrop of rich burgundies and soft oranges Getty

Travellers have been flocking to this riverbank in the Wye Valley for hundreds of years to admire the grace and beauty of the ruin of the 12th-century Tintern Abbey. The surrounding wooded slopes are particularly lovely in autumn, while close up, the ancient woodland, with gnarled trees and moss-covered boulders, looks like the setting for a Grimm fairytale. You can enjoy sensational views of the seasonal colour by climbing to a limestone outcrop high above the river.

Westonbirt National Arboretum, Gloucestershire

Acer glade at Westonbirt Arboretum in Autumn, Gloucestershire, England, UK
Acer glade at Westonbirt Arboretum in Gloucestershire Getty

Home to more than 16,000 types of trees and shrubs over 600 acres of woodland, Westonbirt is a great place for a leisurely meander. Take in autumn’s natural firework display as the arboretum’s acers (Japanese maples) become ablaze with reds, oranges and yellows, while its delicate Chinese spindle treen turns a vibrate pretty pink.

Dove Crag in the Simonside Hills, Northumberland National Park

Rock stack and forest (Getty)
Dove Crag in the Simonside Hills, Northumberland National Park Getty Getty

This autumn, take a walk through the beautiful oak woodland from Holystone to Dove Crag. Weave through the forest, rising to heather moorland scattered with stunning juniper and birch trees, which glow red and yellow against the heather. On a clear day you can see as far as the Northumberland coast.

Sunrise at Sharp Tor. Dartmoor National Park. Devon. England. UK.

Bodenham Arboretum, Worcestershire

Bodenham Arboretum in Worcestershire
Bodenham Arboretum in Worcestershire Getty

This tranquil arboretum holds more than 3,000 species of trees from across the world. At its centre is a large pool with many rare and ornamental trees adorning its banks. Autumn brings a riot of leaf colour ranging from deep butter yellow through to orange, reds and crimsons as well as an abundance of berries. The many varieties of acer are particularly vivid.

Thorp Perrow Arboretum, North Yorkshire

House and lake
Thorp Perrow, a dramatic scene at Autumn time Getty

Thorp Perrow holds no less than five National Plant Collections – of ash, walnut, lime, laburnum and cotinus (which has leaves the colour of red wine in autumn). The arboretum also holds 51 Champion Trees (this national scheme records details of exceptionally large, historic, rare and remarkable trees growing in Britain and Ireland). This collection of exotics results in a stunning seasonal leaf display of golds, oranges, reds, browns and purples.

Knightwood Oak Trail, New Forest

Autumn colours along road
Route through orange and golden trees in the New Forest Getty

This stunning woodland offers up colours of red, orange and yellow in the autumn months, which look stunning against the backdrop of open heath and moorland. Hunt for the Queen of the Forest, the largest oak to grace the woodland with a girth of 7.4m (24ft).

Pocklington Canal, Yorkshire

Canal and trees
Arching branches and autumnal reflections make Pocklington Canal a favourite for weekend strolls in Autumn Getty

Pocklington Canal is one of the country’s best canals for nature and virtually the whole length falls within one of three Sites of Special Scientific Interest. It runs from Canal Head near Pocklington to the River Derwent in East Cottingwith. Its over-hanging trees give way to colourful woodland pockets and hedgerows. As you travel along its length you’ll be able to hear wildfowl on the nearby nature reserve and spot late autumn dragonflies from the towpath as you admire the changing leaves.

Grizedale Forest, Lake District

Forest and fields
Weatherlam and The Old Man of Coniston in Autumn viewed across Grizedale Forest Getty Getty

Grizedale Forest consists of ten square miles of natural woodland in the Lake District near Coniston Water. It is famous for the many sculptures by internationally renowned artists, using natural materials such as stone and wood, made in response to the forest landscape. These can be discovered on an extensive network of walking and cycling trials, offering spectacular trips deep into the forest as it turns deep shades of red and gold in autumn.

Kennet and Avon Canal, Wiltshire

The Kennet and Avon Canal in autumn
The Kennet and Avon Canal in autumn Getty

The Avoncliff Aqueduct is a stately spot to view the beautiful autumn colours of the Bath Valley. There’s a handy, but tiny and picturesque, railway station at Avoncliff and a riverside pub, The Cross Guns. The woodland here is a rich variety and includes oak, ash, sycamore, hazel and hawthorn. There are great views from the top of the 100m long Bath stone aqueduct taking the canal over the river. It’s a great spot to see bats flying at dusk to and from the tall arches of the aqueduct and wandering deer feeding on hedgerow leaves and berries.

Grand Union Canal, Hertfordshire

Canal and autumn trees
Grand Union Canal in autumn is ablaze with colour Getty

Veteran trees provide bright patches of colour along the Grand Union Canal as it passes through formal pleasure garden at Cassiobury Park, Watford. The canal follows the River Gade along the western side of the park separating it from the ancient woodland of Whippendell Woods. Its oak, beech, silver birch and ash, with areas of hazel, hornbeam, holly, hawthorn and wild cherry, create a superb display of autumn colour.

Leeds and Liverpool Canal, North Yorkshire

Canal in autumn
An autumn afternoon on the Leeds-Liverpool canal Getty

As the mill towns drift into countryside follow the Leeds & Liverpool Canal as it snakes from Bingley towards Skipton. At Farnhill there’s a sheer wooded cutting that provides an impressive ravine to journey through. With the North Yorkshire moors in the distance, each side of this tiny wooded valley and Farnhill Wood provide displays of beech, oak, silver birch, sycamore interspersed with some evergreen holly bushes.

Trent and Mersey Canal, Staffordshire

Landscape of England.Trent and Mersey canal in Stoke on Trent, Staffordshire Getty

Fradley Junction is the meeting place of the Trent and Mersey with the Coventry Canal. Fradley Pool Nature Reserve is surrounded by native trees and offers a circular walk or a wooded canal side walk. Tree sculptures are dotted among the falling leaves and there are pond dipping platforms. The Junction is home to a number of listed buildings including the Swan Inn, cottages, bridge locks and a small warehouse with original wharf buildings – now an information centre and café.

Best places to see the autumn colours in Scotland

Birks of Aberfeldy, Perthshire

Aberfeldy Birks, Perthshire, Scotland
Aberfeldy Birks amid supreme autumn colours Getty

The Scottish Highlands and more specifically the Birks of Aberfeldy in Perthshire is aflame in autumnal shades. The colours of an artist's palette for their perfect autumn scene prevails closely with a walker's actual view here in Perthshire. The Birks of Aberfeldy, a woodland split in two by the soaring gorge of Moness Burn is a hotspot for autumn delights this season and conveniently is located near the vibrant town of Aberfeldy itself.

Loch Katrine, Stirlingshire

Loch Katrine, Scotland
Loch Katrine in Scotland comes alive with colour in the autumn months Getty

Loch Katrine has wooed artists and poets for centuries – the Wordsworths and Coleridge, to name a few. And for good reason: extending through remote country for some eight miles and overlooked by craggy hills at its southern end, it’s a place of great beauty – particularly in the vibrant autumn months. Take an autumn walk to enjoy the views at their seasonal best.

Glen Affric, Highlands

nts of the pine forest that used to cover much of Scotland. For centuries the flanks of the glen were blanketed with birch,rowan and magnificent Caledonian pines.

Forest with bridge
Bridge at Glen Affric in the Scottish Highlands with a forest backdrop Getty

Often hailed as the Highlands’ most beautiful glen, Glen Affric not only boasts shimmering lochs and rugged mountains, but it is also one of the largest remnants of the pine forest that used to cover much of Scotland. For centuries the flanks of the glen were blanketed with birch,rowan and magnificent Caledonian pines.

Mabie Forest, Dumfries and Galloway

Mabie Forest, Dumfries, Scotland
Part of the Blue route around Mabie Forest, Dumfries, Scotland Alamy

Forestry and Land Scotland’s Mabie Forest lies just outside the town of Dumfries in south-west Scotland and is managed in association with Butterfly Conservation Scotland, whose reserve – their largest – occupies 100 hectares in the middle of the forest. Ancient oak woodland, wetlands and grassland are all here, offering ideal conditions not just for butterflies, but also bats, red squirrels, roe deer and dragonflies.

Best places to see the autumn colours in Wales

Llangollen Canal, Denbighshire

Canal with boats and trees
Llangollen Canal, Llangollen, Denbighshire, North Wales ©Canal & River Trust

Starting at the Horseshoe Falls above the quaint village of Llangollen itself, follow the Llangollen Canal through to Chirk. Gaze across to the dramatic arches of the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct which provide a picture perfect frame for the eyes. As you wander along the vale of Llangollen, the valley will be cast in a crisp orange and yellow hue of Wales' autumn trees and shrubs.

Llangollen walking route

Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal, Powys

Canal in autumn
The vibrant colours along the Monmouthshire and Brecon canal in Wales Canal and River Trust

This canal is the most popular attraction in the stunning Brecon Beacons National Park, being one of the Canal & River Trust’s most tranquil waterways. The navigable section of the canal runs for 35 miles from Brecon to the Pontymoile basin. However, arguably the gem of this walk is the wooded landscape of beech trees which provide a mesmerising golden backdrop to the huge views of the Usk Valley.

Stackpole, Pembrokeshire

Footpath on the clifftop above Barafundle Bay near Stackpole Quays in autumn sunshine Getty

Experience Autumn's fireworks by the sea. A grand private estate now fully open to explore by the public, Stackpole provides access to some of the UK’s most beautiful stretches of coastline. Discover the clear water and sandy dunes of Barafundle Bay, take a bracing stroll along the wind-swept clifftops, or meander your way among the woods at the edge of the Bosherston Lily Ponds. Branches will be erupting with bright autumn foliage and if you’re really lucky you might even spot an otter.

St Mary’s Vale, Monmouthshire

Countryside view and mountain
Sunrise over the Sugarloaf and town of Crickhowell Getty

St Mary's Vale is not your average wood and in the lead up to the Halloween season, this circuit is ideal for an eery autumnal walk. Few trees have attempted to grow straight with the vast majority abandoned long ago. Towering trunks have taken on strange, twisted forms that resemble something out of a Tolkien novel. Listen out for the gentle trickle of the Nant Iago stream, before taking the steep climb up to the summit of Sugarloaf – where you’ll be rewarded with views over a flooding sea of burnished reds, oranges and golds.

Best places to see the autumn colours in Northern Ireland

Glenariff Forest, County Down

Enjoy the tree canopy in Glenariff forest in each season Getty

Delight in the seasonal fireworks of ash, oak, beech and hazel that light up this wooded glen – and discover dramatic falls and pools. Glenariff Forest Park is set in Glenariff Glen, considered to be the most stunning of all nine of the Antrim glens. Its 1,185 hectares include two beautiful rivers, the Glenariff and Inver and a couple of truly impressive waterfalls amid the trees.

Castlewellan Arboretum, County Down

Forest and lake in autumn
Castlewellan Forest Park and lake Alamy

In a breathtaking setting of mountains and sea, Castlewellan offers the chance to catch vivid glows of international colour from trees and shrubs as far afield as Japan, Chile, Australia and China. A red squirrel, pine marten or otter may even be exploring amongst the vibrant scene. Visitors wishing to enjoy the environment more actively may enjoy the walking and mountain bike trails on offer.

The Argory, County Armagh

Wooded landscape in autumn light
Enjoy autumn at The Argory, County Armagh Getty

In summer the Argory’s lime tree walk is lush and green, but as the year winds down the avenue begins to turn, and soon you’ll find yourself strolling underneath arches of golden leaves. For the more adventurous, why not explore further through the riverside woodlands? Keep a watchful eye for some blackberries to eat or fallen conkers to collect.


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