When thinking of woodland, you may not imagine an oasis of calm amidst a city's hustle and bustle. But millions of city-dwellers have woods right on their doorstep! Here's our pick of some great woods within easy reach of the UK's busiest cities. And the best bit? They're all open and free for you to enjoy.

Whether you're a wildlife watcher, sanctuary seeker, fitness fan or history hound, there's likely a wood close by that will hit the spot. 

A birdwatcher's dream

An incredible 158 bird species have been recorded at London's Hainault Forest, including firecrest, wood warbler, turtle dove and brambling.

1. London

As the most densely populated city in the UK, it might surprise you that 21% of London lies under the canopy of trees. The capital has 13,000 hectares of woodland - that's bigger than all of Liverpool.

Explore 113-hectare Hainault Forest in East London, just north of Romford. Once a royal hunting forest, it's now home to a wealth of wildlife and plant species. Wander over 4 miles of surfaced multi-use paths or check out our exciting monster trail for families. Look out for birds, bats and butterflies as you meander through stately oaks and hornbeams. If you've enough time, visit Hainault Forest Country Park next door where there's a fishing lake, petting zoo and café.

Further south, discover Joyden's Wood just 13 miles from London's centre. Tucked away behind the houses, it's a wonderful surprise to suddenly find yourself in this tranquil ancient woodland. Marvel at the remarkable flora, abundant wildlife and an intriguing history stretching back to Roman times.

Explore London woodland

2. Manchester

Over a million lucky people live within 10 miles of the spectacular Smithills Estate in the north west of Greater Manchester. 

Parking and a bus stop on site give easy access to 688 hectares of open countryside, streams and woodland. This is our largest site in England and a treasure trove for wildlife and people. The enormous, rugged landscape offers far-reaching views to Bolton and Manchester and the varied habitat is valuable for species like chicken of the woods, cuckoo and common lizard.

Follow our 30-minute trail for a quick nature fix, or contemplate the site's rich history on a longer 6-mile walk.

Enjoy a virtual visit to Smithills with our Woodland Walks podcast.

3. Birmingham

Did you know Birmingham is a Tree City of the World? It earned the status for the second year running in 2021 for its commitment to planting and conserving trees and building a healthy city now and for the future.

A stone's throw from the city, Uffmoor Wood is an oasis brimming with wildlife. The site is renowned for its amazing range of butterflies and moths, and lucky visitors might catch glimpses of deer, woodpecker and buzzard too.

Criss-crossed by streams with pockets of mature oak, spring bluebell displays and fabulous autumn fungi, there's always plenty to see. Keep your eyes peeled for the rare violet helleborine and the fantastically-named petticoat mottlegill fungus! Seek them out along the wood's 5 miles of paths, including a surfaced circular route. 

Transforming the northern landscape

Yorkshire's overall tree cover is low. That's one of the reasons we're creating the Northern Forest - an ambitious plan to plant 50 million more trees around the cities of Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and Hull.

 4. Leeds

The most populated city in Yorkshire has around 3,660 hectares of woodland. About 20% of that is precious ancient woodland, which means it's been wooded for at least 400 years.

One of these ancient woods is West Wood. Nestled between Leeds and Bradford near the village of Calverley with bus stops and parking nearby, this site will satisfy your nature needs and more besides. 

Admire bluebells lighting up the woodland floor in spring, and listen for the songs of willow warbler, wood warbler and more filling the air. Look out too for an old walled garden, hidden grottoes and other historical features - West Wood was once the garden of an impressive Victorian house. 

Take a tour of Leeds' urban woods and trees with our Woodland Walks podcast.

5. Glasgow

Need an escape from Scotland's biggest city? Glasgow is dotted with lots of small urban woods but for a real treat, head to Lang Craigs, 12 miles from Glasgow's centre.

Follow the A82 or M8 north west to find yourself at the foot of the spectacular Kilpatrick Hills in just 30 minutes. Wander among ancient woodland, sheltered glens, jagged outcrops and rugged moorland. Discover fascinating flora, an abundance of wildlife and stunning views of the Clyde, Dumbarton Rock and Ben Lomond. Spot sparrowhawk, black grouse, ruby tiger moths, foxes and field voles. If you're lucky, you might even spy otters in the Overtoun or Garshake burns.

Don't miss!

The UK's 2019 Tree of the Year, the Allerton Oak, stands in South Liverpool's Calderstones Park. At around 1,000 years old, it's witnessed enormous change and is home to a wealth of wildlife.

6. Liverpool

Liverpool has many green spaces to choose from, including several urban woods within quick and easy reach.

Just across the river in Higher Bebington, check out diverse plant life including bluebellls, broad buckler fern and wood sage among mature trees at Storeton Woods. Dinosaur footprints were also discovered here in 1838 and you can still see remnants of a 19th century tramway used for moving quarry stone. 

Time to explore further afield? Big Wood near Runcorn boasts a wealth of wildlife and history among its mix of native and exotic trees. Named one of The Guardian’s 10 best woods for spring flowers, it's also a Local Wildlife Site roamed by foxes and grey squirrels and buzzing with bird life.

7. Newcastle

Around 20 minutes drive south of Newcastle is a real jewel in the North East's crown: Hedley Hall.

A paradise for birdwatchers, listen for woodpecker, cuckoo and willow warbler and catch a glimpse of swallows, redstarts and yellowhammers. Look out for amphibians in the babbling brook and small ponds too, admiring sculptures along the way.

Closer to the city, check out: 

  • ancient Lands Wood, Winlaton Mill, with its colourful bluebells, dog violet and other plants
  • Bright Lea Wood, Ouston, where you can wander plenty of paths to admire the wood and wildflowers
  • rides, glades and wildflower meadows at Lottie's Wood, Sunniside.

8. Belfast

We look after more than 50 woods in Northern Ireland and most of them are inside an hour's drive from the capital. 

With awe-inspiring views of Newtownabbey, Belfast Lough and the coast, Carnmoney Hill is a must visit. Steeped in history and folklore with a mix of ancient woodland, floral grassland and wetland, you can choose from a range of walks for all abilities. Along the way, see if you can spot dragonflies, fox, Irish hare and a variety of birds.

Closer to Belfast, explore woods, ponds, wildflower meadows and a stream at Friends of Belvoir Wood on the city's southern edge. Burnet moths and orchids are valuable species here and the area is an important habitat for the red squirrel.

Just north of the city, enter a wildlife haven at Throne Wood where seven types of bat have been recorded. The wood is also home to a wide variety of birds and ponds offer shelter for a number of amphibians. 

Quick fact

Edinburgh has 730,000 trees for its 519,000 residents - and if council planting plans are successful, Edinburgh will be a million tree city by 2030. 

9. Edinburgh

The people of Edinburgh are spoilt for choice when it comes to green space for a little R & R. Natural areas make up almost 50% of the city, and in 2019 it was named the greenest city in the UK. 

For a tree-focused treat, don't miss Beeslack Wood. This beautiful ancient woodland is a tranquil haven just ten minutes beyond the bypass. Discover many special plants and animals as you explore over two miles of paths. Lucky visitors may spot a shy roe deer or hear great spotted woodpeckers drumming in the tree tops. Otters and kingfishers are thought to use the Loan Burn that runs through the wood, as well as dippers, grey wagtails, herons and pipistrelle bats.

10. Cardiff

Wales' biggest city has over 400 green spaces. Only 5 miles from the city centre, Cwm George & Casehill Woods has something for everyone.

Explore the early medieval hill fort and earthwork feature that are both scheduled ancient monuments - a multitude of archaeological relics have been found here. Look out too for butterflies, buzzards and other birds, and signs of the rare hazel dormouse.

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Primordial landscapes, tangled branches, breathtaking wildlife and miles of woodland trails. From the countryside to cities, we care for thousands of woods throughout the UK, all free to visit.

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