Who doesn’t love a road trip? Piling into the car with your friends, you’ve got the roof down and the wind in your hair. Ahead of you is nothing but miles of empty road, adventure and freedom.
Except this version of a road trip only ever happened in Britney Spears’ cinema debut: ‘Crossroads’. For the majority of us growing up in the UK, the road trip was a darker experience entirely; featuring neither sunshine nor a summer romance with an incredibly handsome American man.
Queues of traffic, stuffy cars and arguments, the Great British Road Trip was less Route 66 and more a congested M25, with short respites inside overcrowded service stations.
Despite the lack of sunshine and Ford Cadillacs, however, the UK is an ideal place to travel by road, not least due to its size. Roughly 874 miles long from top to bottom, you can explore the length of the UK in the time it would take you to cross just one US state. Furthermore, the diversity of the UK is incredible. From its palm-tree filled southern peninsula, to mountainous Scotland, a UK road trip provides the opportunity to experience mountains and lakes; beaches and cities, all within the space of a few short days.
Below we’ve provided our suggested itinerary for a UK road trip, beginning in England’s southwest and finishing in Scotland. We hope it provides a valuable blueprint on which to base any Great British adventure. Tally ho and enjoy!
Time from London: 4 -5 hours drive
Devon: England’s land of rolling hills, beautiful coastlines and clotted cream. Although not as centrally located as some destinations within the UK, we would highly recommend beginning any road trip down in this beautiful part of the country.
Devon offers space and freedom: whether it be its wild moors (perfect for windswept walks), rugged beaches or creative towns. England’s southwest is the perfect antidote to a busy and claustrophobic London. If you’re looking for a coastal trip, then try towns such as well-heeled Salcombe, scenic Dartmouth, the award-winning beaches at Woolacombe, Victorian Dawlish or the windswept Illfracombe. Heading inland? Definitely visit Exeter – the ‘capital’ of Devon – or the wild moors of Exmouth. A little further on and the mysterious Dartmoor also awaits – home to Conan Doyle’s mythical Hound and a notorious, wind-swept prison. If visiting Dartmoor, be sure to visit Agatha Christie’s summer home, Greenway: still brimming with all of her belongings.
Time from Devon: 1 hour
Leaving Devon behind and you’ll soon cross into Somerset; a county offering much more than its legendary cider (although that’s definitely worth a try!) Perhaps its most famous city is beautiful Bath: a town boasting natural hot springs (be sure to enjoy a spa break of your own), Roman Baths, stunning Georgian architecture and an unparalleled culture scene. Once the home of Jane Austen, this romantic town offers a wealth of historical sites, fantastic shopping and diverse eateries. Definitely try and book ahead for a meal at The Circus: one of Bath’s best restaurants and for a bit of luxury, check in at the The Royal Crescent Hotel.
Aside from Bath, there are plenty of other towns worth exploring. Frome, just outside of Bath, hosts an ever-growing monthly market: The Frome Independent. This diverse market is crammed full of local produce, talented artisans and creative folk; perfect for a walk around on a lazy Sunday. Alternatively, why not spend a few hours exploring the fabled Glastonbury (home to that festival), for your fix of incense sticks, white-witchery and alternative culture.
Time from Somerset: just under 2 hours
Leave England’s southwest behind – crossing into Wiltshire/Oxfordshire – and head inland for a tearoom-fuelled visit to the idyllic Cotswolds. We’re not sure that anywhere else typifies the English countryside better than the many honey-coloured villages that make up this beautiful region. Filled with pretty thatched cottages; village churches; smoking chimneys; and cosy pubs, the Cotswolds are like something out of a Beatrix Potter tale. Although each village is as pretty as the next, our suggestions would be Bourton-on-the-Water, Snowshill, Painswick and Lower Slaughter. If you tire of afternoon tea and country pubs (unlikely) then head into Oxford; a short drive from many of the Cotswold villages.
Herefordshire and Shropshire
Time from the Cotswolds: approximately 1 hour 30 minutes
Heading north, take the time to pass through the beautiful counties that border Wales, as you follow the Wye Valley. Towns worth visiting along this route are the beautiful Ross-on-Wye: a historic market town close to the Forest of Dean (definitely worth staying in a log cabin here if you can!) or Ludlow: a foodie paradise crammed with delicatessens; cheesemongers; bakers; and amazing restaurants. If you really want to splash the cash, then try dinner at Mr. Underhill’s – a Michelin starred restaurant housed within a spectacular old corn mill. Or for an overnight adventure, try staying here in your very own wooden chapel, deep within the Shropshire woodlands. Perfect!
The Peak District
Time from Shropshire: 2 hours 30 minutes
Leaving the leafy valleys of Hereford and Shropshire behind, continue your journey north to the rolling Pennines and the Peak District. For any walking or climbing enthusiasts, this is definitely the place to visit. Far removed from the neatly trimmed lawns and flat villages of the Cotswolds, the Peak District offers stone villages, rocky hills and isolated stately homes. It’s beautiful in an entirely different way. Perhaps one of its most famous towns is pretty Bakewell: a town famous for its ‘Bakewell Pudding’. To try this firsthand, visit The Old Original Bakewell Pudding Shop (although be warned, the town is extremely busy throughout the summer!)
You might also want to try visiting Buxton, a town bordered by the sweeping Derbyshire Dales and home to Georgian terraces, beautiful gardens and an original spa, housed within a Victorian Bath House. If you fancy a fuller tour of the town, you can hop on a vintage milk-float, which will take you on an hour long ride around this lovely town (although be warned, its maximum speed is just 12mph!)
York & Harrogate
Time from the Peak District: 1 hour 30 minutes
Wave goodbye to Derbyshire and head into Yorkshire. If by now you’ve had your fix of pretty pastoral villages, then swing by Sheffield or Leeds: cities certainly worth an overnight stay.
Pass these and you’ll soon hit another Victorian spa town: Harrogate, before reaching medieval York: a city of winding, cobbled lanes and leaning cottages. Both these places are equally worth a visit, although perhaps York pips Harrogate to the post in terms of the sheer amount of history and medieval architecture it offers. Nowhere else in the country offers the opportunity to step back in time than York does. No trip to this historical city would be complete without a trip to the infamous Bettys: a tearoom offering the best afternoon in Yorkshire (so they say) or the wood-panelled Bistro, Mannion’s. After stuffing yourself with scones and jam, then be sure to visit York Minister, voted one of the most beautiful Gothic Cathedrals in the world.
The Lake District
Time from York: 1 hour 30 minutes
Rather than heading north, you’ll now be heading west into Cumbria, home of England’s beautiful Lake District. Unsurprisingly, this region is one filled with vast expanses of beautiful, romantic lakes, with villages neatly nestled around them. The UK’s most popular national park, there are plenty of villages and towns to visit in this area; each as charming as the next. If you’re looking for somewhere to stay, try the villages of Coniston or Cartmel, which may be a little less busy than the main towns of Kendal or Windermere.
For literature fans, visit the homes of William Wordsworth, at Wordsworth House in Cockermouth, or Dove Cottage in Grasmere. To experience the lakes, then try Coniston Waters: the lake said to have inspired Ransome’s classic: ‘Swallows and Amazons’.
Dumfries and Galloway
Time from the Lake District: 1 hour 30 minutes
Goodbye England, hello Scotland! We first encountered this lovely part of Scotland on our monumental drive to the Isle of Skye. With red ferns coating the hills in an auburn carpet and small, stone bridges criss-crossing the many streams, this part of Scotland is as peaceful as it is scenic. When we visited, we stayed at this amazing old water mill: arriving on a stormy and windy night to open fires and the sound of the rushing river.
Alternative route: rather than crossing straight into Scotland, travel via the Northumberland National Park. This magical park is the perfect place for star-gazing and huddling around open fires.
Time from Dumfries: 2 hours
Your last stop on this UK road trip finishes in the ever-beautiful Edinburgh. One of our favourite cities, Edinburgh is the perfect mix of winding historical lanes and an exciting creative scene. Visit in the summer and you’ll experience its international Edinburgh Fringe Festival (book ahead). Visit during the winter and you’ll experience snow-covered views of the magical Edinburgh Castle. For a true welcome to Edinburgh, head to Sandy Bell’s; home to Edinburgh’s Scottish folk music scene and great beers.
Finally – and if you have any miles left in the tank – then make your pilgrimage across Scotland to the Western Isles, particularly the Isle of Skye. A place of myths, apparent fairies and an eye-wateringly beautiful landscape, it’s a destination that sees people returning year after year.
We hope our (rather ambitious) guide to a UK road trip was helpful. Of course, it is impossible to mention every town or city worth a visit, so for further inspiration, please feel free to browse our more in-depth guides below. Most importantly, if you have any other suggestions, we would love to hear them! Please feel free to add below.
Looking for more help? Take a read of our Itineraries for Microadventures in England blog post!
Other fantastic places to stop:
- East Sussex – home to England’s only desert
- Hampshire (Jane Austen country)
- Norwich, Norfolk
- A Spa Break in Bath
- The Wilds of Dartmoor
- A Guide to Somerset
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