A hiker climbing Ben Nevis in Winter
Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in the UK and a beauty to climb in summer or winter... if you're prepared for snow! Photo: Getty

The best mountains to climb in the UK give you a sense of the rugged beauty of the British Isles. The UK and Ireland are islands of rugged peaks, exposed ridgelines and rolling landscapes. They may not be the tallest on earth, but the mountains of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland hold an abundance of beauty and character.

There are plenty of mountains in the UK ready and waiting for hikers - with well signposted routes. The hiking in the Cairngorms is well established, with the UK's second highest mountain, Ben Macdui, being one of the most notable routes. The highest mountain in Britain, Ben Nevis, sits just over 50 miles west looking out over Fort William, with the beauty of Torridon and Assynt further north and the likes of Ben Lomond down in the south.

They may not be the tallest on earth, but they hold an abundance of beauty and character.

That's before you even cross into England to hike the Peak District, walk the Yorkshire Dales, take in the many walking routes in the Lake District or visit Dartmoor. The beauty of Snowdonia and the Brecon Beacons sit at either end of Wales meanwhile, while Slieve Donard in Northern Ireland towers over Ulster.

Long story short? Whether you're after the easiest or the hardest mountain to climb in the UK, there are plenty of options. Here, we've listed some classic mountains. If you're looking to get an introduction to the mountains of the UK, then this list is a great starting spot. We've chosen the highest peaks in each country in the UK, plus some other simply iconic mountains.

Before setting out, ensure you’re properly kitted out in sturdy walking boots, and with waterproofs, warm clothing and food. Let someone know where you’re going and when you’ll be back, and check the weather forecast before you leave.

We've listed the location of each mountain, the length of the main out-and-back route for each, plus their height and prominence. If you're wondering about the difference between height and prominence, height is how many metres above sea level a mountain is, while prominence refers to the elevation of a mountain peak relative to its surrounding terrain.

1. Snowdon, Gwynedd

A view from the top of Mount Snowdon
The Snowdonia National Park is stunning, and Snowdon is the most popular mountain in the UK to climb. Photo: Getty
  • Location: Snowdonia National Park, Wales
  • Height: 1,085m
  • Prominence: 1,038m
  • Out-and-back distance, via main route: 9.5 miles (5-7 hours)

The prospect of climbing Wales’ highest mountain (which is also known as Yr Wyddfa) might seem intimidating – but no technical skills are needed to reach its 1,085 metre-high summit.

There are eight well-trodden tracks to choose from, with the Llanberis Path the most popular. This peak gets busy in summer, and there’s a visitor centre on the summit, which probably won’t appeal to seasoned climbers. But this is the UK’s most popular mountain for good reason – not only is it accessible for climbers of all levels of experience, but the view from the summit is outstanding and well worth the effort.

The Snowdon Challenge
A 17km cycle, 14km trek, 5km paddle and 10-hour sweat to the finish line

If that’s not enough for you and you fancy upping your Snowdon game, there’s always the Snowdon Challenge – a 17km cycle to the bottom, 7km hike to the summit and down again, finished by a 4km paddle across Lyn Padarn – all in less than 12 hours.

2. Slieve Donard, County Down

Sunset over the Mourne Mountains, Slieve Donard and Slieve Commedagh
Sunset over the Mourne Mountains, Slieve Donard and Slieve Commedagh. Photo: K. Mitch Hodge
  • Location: County Down, Northern Ireland
  • Height: 850m
  • Prominence: 822m
  • Out-and-back distance, via main route: 5.7 miles (5-6 hours)

Rising majestically out of the Mourne Mountains, Slieve Donard is the highest peak in Northern Ireland. The 850 metre-high summit features a small stone tower and the remains of two ancient burial cairns, one of which is supposedly a Neolithic Passage Tomb, the highest of its kind in the UK. Until the 1830s, people would climb this mountain as part of a yearly pilgrimage and today’s walkers are faced with the same landscape of granite ridges, boggy paths and – usually – strong winds. As you walk, you’ll trace the Mourne Wall, built between 1904 and 1922 to enclose a reservoir, which crosses over 15 mountains in the Mournes.

3. Scafell Pike, Cumbria

The summit of one of the great UK peaks, Scafell Pike.
Scafell Pike is the highest mountain in England and one of the great UK peaks. Photo: Jacob Smith
  • Location: Lake District, Cumbria, England
  • Height: 978m
  • Prominence: 912m
  • Out-and-back distance, via main route: 5.2 miles (3-4 hours)

England’s highest mountain, Scafell Pike stands at a mighty 978 metres tall in the heart of the Lake District. Its summit is the highest point for almost 100 miles, so on a clear day you get far-reaching views to Wales, Scotland and even Ireland.

The mountain is also home to Broad Crag Tarn, the highest standing water in England, and it refreshingly has no buildings at its top. The hike, which usually takes at least two hours and can be done using a number of routes, is tough and involves scrambling over steep, hard terrain. This is also the site of England’s highest war memorial, donated to the National Trust 1919 in memory of those who died in the First World War.

Scafell Pike is also included in the infamous Lakeland 10 Peaks Challenge – a 27km route conquering 10 peaks in just one day.

4. Ben Nevis, Lochaber

A pathway up Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Scotland
Pathway up Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Scotland and the United Kingdom. Photo: Migle Siauciulyte
  • Location: Fort William, Scotland
  • Height: 1,345m
  • Prominence: 1,344m
  • Out-and-back distance, via main route: 10.5 miles (7-8 hours)

Of course, the UK’s tallest mountain makes our list. Nicknamed “The Ben”, this is the highest - and of the toughest - mountains challenges you can undertake in the UK, with an altitude of 1345 metres above sea level.

Summit Ben Nevis and Learn Winter Mountain Skills
Swot up on essential mountain skills before climbing the UK’s highest mountain (1,345m)

But despite being the highest mountain in the UK, Ben Nevis is not the hardest mountain to climb in the UK. That title more realistically goes to Sgurr Dearg on Skye, also known as the 'Inaccessible Pinnacle', or perhaps to A'Mhaighdean, the most remote Munro in Scotland.

That said, climbing Ben Nevis is still not easy, but if you walk the classic Mountain Track (also known as the "Tourist Track") it is achievable without any need for mountaineering experience. Still, don't underestimate the long slog this will be on your way up and down the Ben.

The nearby town of Fort William is a magnet for tourists, with most walkers tackling the Mountain Track, starting at Glen Nevis. The route climbs steeply via several zig-zag paths before ascending up the stony west flank of the mountain.

Experienced climbers, and those who want to steer clear of the tourists, usually opt for one of the other various routes up Ben Nevis, climbing via the scenic, but dangerous CMD Arete, or on the challenging north face.

5. Cat Bells, Cumbria

The rounded summit of Cat Bells, in the Lake District
The Cat Bells looking scenic on a clear day in the Lake District. Photo: Matthew Waring
  • Location: Lake District, Cumbria, England
  • Height: 451m
  • Prominence: 86m
  • Out-and-back distance, via main route: 3.5 miles (2-4 hours)

For a scenic starter mountain, look no further. With an elevation of just 451 metres, Cat Bells is a modest summit in terms of hiking in the Lake District. But that doesn’t make it any less appealing, and it’s a particularly good option for people who are dipping their toe into climbing mountains. This rugged miniature mountain is steep in places and will leave you breathless – not only from the physical effort but also from the panoramic views of mighty Skiddaw and Derwentwater below. The Lakeland writer Beatrix Potter loved this peak, with Mrs Tiggywinkle said to have lived behind a tiny door on Cat Bells itself.

6. Pen y Fan, Brecon Beacons

Sunrise from the summit of Pen Y Fan
Sunrise from the summit of Pen y Fan. Photo: Samuel Thompson
  • Location: Brecon Beacons, South Wales
  • Height: 886m
  • Prominence: 671m
  • Out-and-back distance, via main route: 4 miles (3-4 hours)

The highest peak in the Brecon Beacons National Park, and South Wales, Pen y Fan is loved by walkers thanks to its good paths all the way to the summit, which makes it a great mountain for beginners to climb - and one of the best hikes in Wales.

However, experienced mountaineers will also enjoy reaching its 886 metre-high top – walk here and you might see soldiers from the UK Special Forces, as they use the mountain for training and selection.

Along with its twin mountain Corn Du, Pen y Fan was previously referred to as Arthur’s Seat (not to be confused with the hike in Edinburgh, Scotland). There are a number of ways to hike up the mountain, including a gentle, four-mile loop from the Storey Arms and a challenging, 11-mile circuit that takes in Corn Du (873 metres) and Cribyn (795 metres).

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Book your spot on a small group, locally-guided adventure in Eryri (Snowdonia) to tackle one of the UK’s most rewarding mountain challenges in a single weekend.

7. Ben Macdui, Cairngorms

The boulder fields on Ben Macdui, Scotland
The boulder fields atop Ben Macdui. Photo: Getty
  • Location: The Cairngorms, Scotland
  • Height: 1,309m
  • Prominence: 950m
  • Out-and-back distance, via main route: 10 miles (6-7 hours)

Standing a lofty 1309 metres tall, Ben Macdui is the second highest mountain in Britain. It is the highest point in the Cairngorms and climbing it makes for an even wilder experience than its big brother Ben Nevis thanks to it being lesser-known.

The desolate passes and summit are said to be haunted by “The Big Grey Man” – so it’s not one for the faint of heart when it comes to both fitness and being spooked. In winter, the peak is blasted by freezing temperatures and snow, pulling in skiers to the nearby Cairngorm Ski Centre, one of five ski resorts in Scotland.

Summit to Sea Expedition in Scotland
Traverse the Cairngorms National Park and canoe the rapids of the River Spey all the way to the sea

Approaching from Speyside, you will cross the vast, exposed Cairngorm plateau. This is one of the best hikes in Scotland - but good navigation skills are required.

8. Pen y Ghent, Yorkshire Dales

Pen y Ghent, one of Yorkshire's Three Peaks
Steep paths and gates up Pen-y-ghent. Photo: Getty
  • Location: Yorkshire Dales, England
  • Height: 694m
  • Prominence: 309m
  • Out-and-back distance, via main route: 6 miles (3 hours)

Another great choice for novices, Pen y Ghent is the lowest of Yorkshire’s famous Three Peaks (694 metres) – but it’s the most dramatic if you climb it via the southern ridge, though it involves some steep scrambles and a good level of fitness. Located east of the village of Horton in Ribblesdale, its name translates as “Mountain of the Winds” and it can be a formidable test on a gusty day. On your ascent, don’t miss Hunt Pot and Hull Pot, large fissures that have been carved out by water and are popular with cavers.

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