Forest bathing is a growing wellness movement that involves spending time in nature and around trees to improve health. This comprehensive guide will explain everything you need to know about forest bathing in the UK.
Beginners will learn the basics of forest bathing, while those already doing it will learn more.
Let’s get started!
What is Forest Bathing?
Forest bathing, also known as Shinrin-yoku, involves immersing yourself in the forest atmosphere to receive healing benefits. Your health naturally improves when you observe nature, breathe deeply, and stay quietly among the trees.
Using your five senses, you can do forest bathing anywhere among trees, plants, and wildlife.
- Sight – greenery all around you and above you delights your vision
- Smell – natural aromas, like the scent of a pine forest, evokes calm and relaxation
- Sound – nature’s symphony, like singing birds and rustling trees, soothes your ears
- Taste – replenish your taste buds with fresh air, wild fruits and berries
- Touch – feel ancient trees and ice-cold water flowing through your hands
Being in harmony with nature with full sensory input and mindfulness reduces stress, boosts your immune system, and makes your body more resistant to illness and disease.
Before getting into forest bathing in the UK, it’s essential to understand its origin.
Shinrin-Yoku: Forest Bathing from Japan
Shinrin-yoku is a term first coined in Japan in the 1980s and has since become a popular way for people to relax and de-stress. Shinrin-yoku (森林浴) in Japanese means forest bathing and is made up of ‘forest’ (森林) and ‘bath’ or ‘bathe’ (浴).
In 1982, Akiyama Tomohide, the director-general of the Forest Agency, first used the term ‘shinrin-yoku’ and promoted the concept:
‘Japan is one of the leading “forest-nations” of the world, so we should make use of our forests for health and recuperation. Forests have a special antimicrobial power, and being in the forest makes our bodies healthy.’ 
Forests in Japan
Travellers flying over Japan and visiting the countryside are astonished to see the amount of forest. Along with mountains and rivers, forests dominate the landscape.
Forests cover a staggering 67% of Japan’s total land area, most of which cover 70% of the land area that’s mountains and hills. 
Japan with two-thirds of forest and woodland coverage compares to just 13% in the UK; it’s double the US 34%, Germany 33%, Italy 32% and France 32%; and more than Brazil 59% and Canada 39%.  Only Finland and Sweden have similar amounts of forest land in the developed world.
It’s no surprise; therefore, that shinrin-yoku originated in Japan.
Cultural and historical roots of shinrin-yoku in Japan
Japan’s forest bathing roots go back much further than the late 20th century. Ancient Japanese and the early Shinto religion, which originated from Japan, believed everything in the world had spirituality, and every element of nature was divine.
Ancient forests and trees are central to Shinto’s practice of nature worship. It’s believed that spirits inhabit trees over 100 years old, and these spirits, known as kodama, give the tree personality. Sacred ropes called shimenawa protect old trees to this day, warning anyone who cuts them down will face an angry spirit. 
‘One cypress tree, one human head’, states Japanese folklore, meaning the feudal lord will chop off your head if you cut down a cypress tree.  In light of forest bathing’s health benefits, the reverence shown to Japanese cypress trees in early times is poignant.
With such divinity and high respect shown to trees, it’s no surprise that shinrin-yoku originated in Japan.
Still today, most Japanese live harmoniously with nature and trees, valuing them as equal life partners.
Forest bathing in Japan today
Walking and spending time in the mountains and forest is a popular pursuit in Japan today. And cherry blossom season’s hanami (flower viewing) and momijigari (autumn leaves hunting) bring out the crowds.
Forest bathing and its health benefits are promoted by the Forest Therapy Society of Japan, which accredits guides, forests, and scientific research. The society has 65 certified forest bathing places in Japan that meet its criteria.
Where to Go Forest Bathing in the UK: Self-Guided Resources
Anywhere in the UK with trees, plants, and nature is a good place for forest bathing. There are no hard and fast rules.
However, the benefits are more significant in forests and woodlands than urban parks. In addition, you will get better results if you spend more time doing it.
For places to go self-guided forest bathing in the UK, I recommend these resources.
Forests, woodlands and copse
Here are some places to find forests, woodlands and copses for forest bathing near you.
For the ultimate in mapping, turn to the Ordnance Survey. Their paper and online maps are superior for locating forests and woods in Britain.
Crucially, the Ordnance Survey online and paper OS Explorer (1:25,000 scale) maps show all walking trails, so it’s easier to plan out routes.
OS Maps Premium online maps subscription includes more useful features you won’t find elsewhere. With OS Maps Premium, you get:
Unlimited use of over 600 OS Explorer (1:25,000 scale) and OS Landranger (1:50,000 scale) maps across Great Britain to view, download and print
Discover thousands of ready-made routes, including walking and hiking in forests and woodlands
Download maps and routes to your phone, even if you do not have a signal
Print out maps and routes to a scale and orientation of your choice
Explore forests (and much more) and visualise your route in 3D
Compatible with all devices – desktop, tablet, and mobile
The Woodland Trust has an extensive directory of UK forests, woods and copses. If you know the name of the wooded area you are looking for, you should use the ‘Search for woods and places’ option.
Nevertheless, after finding a place, you’ll see dozens of other sites nearby with grid references and links to Google Maps. Furthermore, each location has a detailed description of the woodland type, topographical features, and what to expect.
However, the search does not work by postcode, town, or city name. In addition, the maps do not show walking trails.
Forestry England allows you to search for forests in England by forest, place or postcode. But it doesn’t include all their sites or walking trails.
The Forest Commission Map Browser is more valuable and uncovers more Forestry England land, including forests, woodlands and copses. Take the following steps:
- In the Forest Commission Map Browser, select the Forestry England Land checkbox under Administrative Boundaries
- Select your desired woodland area (highlighted in black)
- Zoom in on your selected woodland area using the ‘Zoom to’ link
- You can view walking trails on the detailed maps and print or save them.
National Trust countryside
The National Trust cares for over 350 countryside locations in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Their ancient forests and landscaped woodlands include woodland walks and habitats perfect for forest bathing. With 20 million trees planted by 2030, they’ll expand their current 10% of forestland to 17%.
To support forest bathing’s healing benefits, a National Trust commissioned study revealed that 30% of respondents felt more relaxed, 25% less stressed and 20% less anxious when listening to a one-minute recording of forest sounds rather than a meditative voice app or silence. 
National Trust membership is a great way to enjoy their forests and woodlands on day trips. Members get free parking at their coast and countryside places, making it easy to practice forest bathing.
Check out my collection of National Trust articles for more inspiration:
- 15 Best National Trust Walks in Cornwall to Experience Nature and Wildlife
- 21 Best National Trust Walks in Devon to Experience Nature and Wildlife
- 12 Ways to Connect with Nature on the Isle of Wight with National Trust Days Out
Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs)
The UK has a total of 86 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) and National Scenic Areas (NSAs), as they’re called in Scotland. You’ll find some of the UK’s most beautiful woodlands in AONBs and NSAs, which are ideal for forest bathing.
AONBs: England, Wales and Northern Ireland
This National Association of Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty map shows all 46 AONBs in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Discover detailed information and local maps by clicking on any AONB and linking through to its website.
The Scottish Government website has a map of the National Scenic Areas of Scotland, showing all 40 NSAs. For further information, I suggest you search for ‘[name of place] NSA’ and get local NSA maps here.
Parks and Gardens
Spending regular time in parks and gardens reaps health benefits from forest bathing. Parks and gardens come in different shapes and sizes, with many accessible to everyone.
There are 15 National Parks in the UK, each with varying forest and woodland cover. You can forest bathe in their more remote locations whether you’re on a day trip, short break, or holiday.
Usually found on the edges of urban areas, country parks are public green spaces. They may or may not charge admission. The convenient location makes them easy to reach for most people.
- England – Natural England maintains a list of accredited country parks in England, and you can find many more by searching online and checking your local tourist board or council’s website
- Scotland – NatureScot has a map of 40 country parks in Scotland around Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen
- Wales – Wikipedia lists 29 country parks in Wales
- Northern Ireland – nidirect lists seven country parks in Northern Ireland
Cities and towns in the UK offer great opportunities for forest bathing, thanks to the many local parks. You’ll have a more immersive experience if you visit during quieter times.
With thousands of local parks, the best place to find information about them is via your local government’s website, and online mapping services, like OpenStreetMap, Google and Apple.
National Trust gardens and parks
The National Trust manages 249 parks and gardens in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Their vast selection includes thousands of acres of parkland and the most extensive collection of historic gardens in Europe.
By joining the National Trust, you’ll get free access and parking to all their gardens and parks, making it easier to visit at less busy times for forest bathing.
The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) has a list of 874 gardens across the UK. It includes free-to-access and paid gardens. Search the RHS for a garden near you.
RHS members enjoy free entry to over 200 gardens and lots more. Get 25% OFF your RHS membership today.
OS Greenspace is another way to locate forest bathing opportunities near you. It’s an Ordnance Survey map layer that reveals parks, gardens, and other green spaces.
Sources and references: A Hendy, ‘The call of the wild: Forest bathing and urban greening’, TTJ Online: Website of The Japan Journal, 4 June 2018, https://www.japanjournal.jp/science/environment/pt20180604165729.html (accessed 14 June 2022)  ‘Nature conservation in Japan: Natural environment of Japan’, Ministry of the Environment – Government of Japan, https://www.env.go.jp/en/nature/npr/ncj/section1.html (accessed 14 June 2022)  ‘Forest area (% of land area)’, The World Bank, https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/AG.LND.FRST.ZS (accessed 14 June 2022)  G Moore & C Atherton, ‘Eternal forests: The veneration of old trees in Japan’, Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, 18 May 2020 https://arboretum.harvard.edu/stories/eternal-forests-the-veneration-of-old-trees-in-japan/ (accessed 14 June 2022)  ‘Awe-inspiring woodlands’ National Trust, https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/features/awe-inspiring-woodlands (accessed 14 June 2022)