From coast to countryside: 8 road trips to experience the beauty of the UK

Discover hidden gems and find your next holiday destination with our list of recommended road trip routes.

Whether traversing the rugged beauty of the Brecon Beacons, winding along Scotland's iconic North Coast 500, or driving through the idyllic countryside of the Cotswolds, road trips promise a budget-friendly holiday option without compromising on experiences. 

With the flexibility to tailor your itinerary from everything to hotels, roadside stops, food and parking, road trips allow for spontaneous detours, hidden gem discoveries, and the freedom to immerse yourself in the breathtaking scenery of the UK's most picturesque regions — all while keeping costs in check.

Below are eight of the most popular destinations in the summer months:

North Coast 500

Route Map: You can plan your journey using this guide.

Driving Time: The entire route typically takes around 5 to 7 days to complete across Scotland, depending on your pace and how many stops you make.

Key Attractions:

  • Inverness Castle
  • Dunrobin Castle
  • The Bealach na Bà mountain pass
  • The remote village of Durness
  • Achmelvich
  • Sandwood Bay

Major Landmarks: In addition to castles and beaches, you'll encounter rugged mountains, tranquil lochs, and charming fishing villages.

Driving Tips: Be prepared for narrow and winding roads, especially in mountainous areas. Keep an eye out for passing places to allow vehicles to pass on single-track roads.

Causeway Coastal Route

Route Map: Visit the handy Causeway Coastal Route guide for stops and a day’s itinerary.

Driving Time: This route spanning the coast of Northern Ireland can be completed in a day, but to fully explore the attractions, plan for 2 to 3 days.

Key Attractions

  • Visit the Giant's Causeway
  • Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
  • Dunluce Castle
  • The Dark Hedges
  • The Glens of Antrim

Major Landmarks: The route follows the stunning Antrim Coast, offering views of rugged cliffs, sandy beaches, and historic sites.

Driving Tips: Some sections of the route may be narrow and winding, so drive cautiously, especially in areas with steep drops.

The Yorkshire Dales

Route Map: There is a great comprehensive guide on Driving the Dales that can offer key routes. You can plan your parking ahead of time as well to avoid surge pricing or congested tourism areas.

Driving Time: Plan for at least 3 to 4 days to explore the Yorkshire Dales thoroughly. The driving time between key locations will vary depending on your starting point and the specific route you take.

Key Attractions

  • Malham Cove: Begin your journey at Malham Cove, a dramatic limestone formation that's perfect for a scenic hike. Don't miss the nearby Malham Tarn and Gordale Scar for more natural wonders.
  • Hawes: Head to the charming market town of Hawes, known for its picturesque streets, traditional shops, and the famous Wensleydale Creamery where you can sample delicious cheese.
  • Aysgarth Falls: Visit Aysgarth Falls, a series of stunning waterfalls on the River Ure. Take a walk along the well-marked trails to view the falls from different vantage points.
  • Ribblesdale: Explore Ribblesdale, home to iconic landmarks like the Ribblehead Viaduct and the Three Peaks of Pen-y-ghent, Ingleborough, and Whernside, which offer challenging hikes and breathtaking views.
  • Bolton Abbey: End your road trip at Bolton Abbey, a historic estate set within a picturesque landscape of woodlands and rivers. Explore the ruins of the 12th-century priory, stroll along the riverside paths, and enjoy a picnic in the scenic surroundings.

Driving Tips: The Dales weather can be unpredictable, so pack clothing for all eventualities, especially if you plan to hike or spend time outdoors. Check weather forecasts and road conditions before setting out. As with many of the other locations on this list, roads can also be quite narrow and lined with stone walls which could damage your vehicle if not correctly handled. 

The Lake District

Driving Time: The driving time through the Lake District can vary depending on your starting point and the specific route you choose. However, to get a good feel for the area, plan for at least 3 to 5 days.

Key Attractions and Route

  • Windermere: Start your journey at England's largest lake, Windermere. You can take a cruise on the lake or simply enjoy the views from the shore. Don't miss the charming town of Bowness-on-Windermere, which offers attractions like the World of Beatrix Potter Attraction.
  • Keswick: Head north to the town of Keswick, nestled near the picturesque Derwentwater. Enjoy a stroll along the lakeshore, visit the Keswick Museum to learn about the area's history, and explore the nearby Castlerigg Stone Circle for a taste of ancient Britain.
  • Ambleside: Travel to Ambleside, a bustling town located at the head of Lake Windermere. Here, you can visit the charming Bridge House, explore the town's many shops and cafes, and embark on scenic walks in the surrounding fells.
  • Grasmere: Make a stop in the quaint village of Grasmere, famous for its association with the poet William Wordsworth. Visit Wordsworth's former home, Dove Cottage, and pay your respects at his grave in the nearby St. Oswald's Churchyard.
  • Coniston Water: Drive to Coniston Water, where you can take a cruise on the lake or hike to the summit of Coniston Old Man for panoramic views of the surrounding countryside.

Driving Tips: Many roads in the Lake District are narrow and winding, with some sections only suitable for one vehicle at a time. Take your time, drive cautiously, and be prepared to pull over to let oncoming traffic pass. This area is also known for its free-roaming sheep, so be prepared to encounter them on the roads, especially in rural areas.

Atlantic Highway

Route Map: There is a suggested route in this article on the road through Devon and Cornwall. 

Driving Time: Driving the entire A39 from Barnstaple to Falmouth takes around 4 to 5 hours without stops, but plan for at least a couple of days to explore the attractions along the way.

Key Attractions:

  • Hartland Point
  • Clovelly village
  • Tintagel Castle
  • Boscastle harbour
  • Seaside town of Bude

Major Landmarks: Enjoy panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean, rugged cliffs, and charming coastal villages.

Driving Tips: Some sections of the A39 may be narrow and winding, so take your time and be prepared for slower progress, especially in peak tourist seasons.

The Cotswolds

Route Map: One option can be found here for a two-day route.

Driving Time: The Cotswolds cover a relatively small area, so you can explore the highlights in 2 to 3 days.

Key Attractions: Visit charming villages like Bourton-on-the-Water, Stow-on-the-Wold, and Castle Combe, as well as historic sites like Blenheim Palace and Sudeley Castle.

Major Landmarks: Enjoy rolling hills, unique limestone villages with many classically English cottages. If you’re staying overnight, there are many B&Bs to choose from and local pubs to enjoy lunch and a pint. 

Driving Tips: Many roads in the Cotswolds are narrow, so be prepared to navigate tight spaces and watch out for pedestrians in villages.

The Northumberland Coastal Route

Route Map: Find a brief explainer of the route and key attractions here.

Driving Time: Plan for at least a day to drive the route, but consider spending 2 to 3 days to explore the attractions.

Key Attractions

  • Explore Bamburgh Castle
  • Visit the Holy Island (Lindisfarne)
  • Alnwick Castle and Garden
  • The Farne Islands

Major Landmarks: Experience sweeping beaches, rugged cliffs, and historic castles along the Northumberland coast.

Driving Tips: Some sections of the route may be remote, so ensure you have enough fuel and supplies, especially if exploring off the beaten path.

The Welsh Valleys and Brecon Beacons

Driving Time: Timing can widely vary depending on which route you take, the number of stops made, and the activities planned along the way. However, to get a good feel for the region and explore its highlights thoroughly, it's recommended to plan for at least 3 to 5 days.

Key Attractions and Recommended Route

  • Pen y Fan: Begin your journey with a hike up Pen y Fan, the highest peak in South Wales. Enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and valleys from the summit.
  • Hay-on-Wye: Visit the charming town of Hay-on-Wye, famous for its bookshops and literary festival. Explore the town's quaint streets, browse the bookstores, and enjoy a riverside walk along the River Wye.
  • Waterfall Country: Discover Waterfall Country in the Brecon Beacons, where you can explore a series of stunning waterfalls, including Sgwd yr Eira, Sgwd Clun-gwyn, and Sgwd Isaf Clun-gwyn.
  • Big Pit National Coal Museum: Immerse yourself in Wales' industrial heritage at the Big Pit National Coal Museum in Blaenavon. Take a guided tour of the coal mine and learn about the lives of the miners who worked there.
  • Tintern Abbey: End your road trip with a visit to Tintern Abbey, a majestic Cistercian monastery dating back to the 12th century. Explore the atmospheric ruins and stroll along the banks of the River Wye.

Driving Tips: Some roads in the Brecon Beacons can be narrow and winding, especially in mountainous areas. Take your time when driving and be prepared for steep gradients and sharp bends. Some popular attractions in the area, such as Pen y Fan and Waterfall Country, can get busy, especially during peak tourist seasons. Book your parking ahead of time for the best prices and guaranteed spaces.

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