Explore the undulating hills, craggy coastlines and everywhere else in between by exploring the United Kingdom by car. While motorways are pretty unscenic (and inevitable), they do help connect you with the lively cities and picturesque villages. Country roads are much more pleasant but they’re often just one single lane where you might have to proceed with more caution. Experiencing the UK by road is a brilliant way to get to grips with ever-changing landscapes of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. You can pick and choose exactly what you want to see and do, down on ground-level.
Although the South Downs in West Sussex is prime walking territory with its green valleys and rolling countryside, circling the circumference of the area by car will see you cover winding country roads with historical villages, towns and cities to stop off at.
Take the A31 south to Winchester, a tranquil market town that was once one of the mightiest Roman settlements in England and held a similar high-profile status to London. You can see Jane Austens’ memorial in Winchester Cathedral, and afterwards wind your way down College Street, where many of the buildings are listed.
Turn onto the M27 or pick your way through the country roads lining the South Downs; stop off at nearby Marwell Zoo or carry onto Rowlands Castle, where you can break up your trip and explore the expansive estate and gardens of Stansted House .
Conclude your road trip in the hilltop town of Arundel; with its castle, cathedral and wetland centre, you could spend an entire day here, even if you just decide to take a stroll along the old streets with their small shops.
Explore one of the UK’s greenest and most ancient landscapes with this route through the West Country. This UK road trip starts in Salisbury: you can spend a day or so here checking out the glorious Cathedral, and you are within driving distance from Old Sarum (an ancient hilltop settlement), various Stone, Bronze and Iron Age burial sites, and, of course, Stonehenge. You will see Stonehenge on the A303 from Andover, but be sure to make a designated stop at this incredibly mystifying site.
Continue along the A303 or the A354, both of which take you through the heart of the Cranborne Chase Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), which overlaps four counties: Hampshire, Dorset, Wiltshire and Somerset.
Celebrate the end of your trip in Taunton, an excellent base for exploring the Quantock Hills, peppered with colourful wildflowers, thick buds of trees and grass-munching horses. Quench your thirst with the classic Somerset drink: cider.
The scenic Atlantic Highway, which stretches for 70 miles on the A39, is one of the best road trips in the UK. It’s a perfect combination of coastal and countryside views. Start off with a walk in scenic Exmoor National Park; you can even stopover to make the most of the park. The next morning, continue south to Clovelly Village, a bustling fishing village that is quaint and quirky rolled into one. You’re in Cornwall territory now; if the weather’s nice stop for lunch at beachside Bude, then surfer’s hangout Fistrill Beach down in lively Newquay. Continue to Penzance, where you can set sail on a sealife-spotting tour (keep an eye out for dolphins!). You’ll end the route at Land’s End, the most southerly tip in the UK.
Looking for UK road trip inspiration? This 26-mile day trip up in the North East - close to the Scottish border - is perfect. Starting at Alnwick, head to the imposing, medieval Alnwick Castle. Most notably, this is where much of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was filmed. Needless to say, there are plenty of themed tours and dress-up opportunities to recreate your favourite quidditch scenes.
Travel north along the A1 and either detour to Dunstanburgh Castle, sleepover in one of the cottages in Benthall, park up in Bamburgh and walk along the beach. All three are covered in Northumberland’s Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty that stretches along the coast. You can extend your trip by a day or two, or simply swing by.
Back on the A1, continue north to Lindisfarne; turn right onto Beal and park up, or check the ferry crossing timings to take the car to the tiny island in Lindisfarne. There are car parks on either side, but it’s more pleasant to park up on the ‘mainland’ and walk across the wide, sandy causeway before you explore the nature reserve.
Cruise along the A487 for 57 miles and take in the stunning Welsh scenery. Starting at Aberystwyth, a coastal market town, you’ll venture south with sea views and sandy beaches - remember to pack a swimming costume and a jacket (this is Wales, after all!).
Continue down to Cardigan, where you could easily spend a day or two exploring the castle, abbey or wildlife centre. There are coastal walks with flowering cliffs, the Horse Farm (including lots of other animals) and restaurants serving some of the best trout in Europe. From watersports to dolphin spotting, it’s a great opportunity to experience the Welsh waters.
If you can bear to part with Cardigan, carry on down to Fishguard, the final stop on this route. This is a splendid pocket of isolated greenery, with boats bobbing in the glistening harbour. Browse the local shops and pay a visit to West Wales Art Centre, where you can browse and purchase a range of local-made art (think paintings, sculptures and more). Could this be one of the best driving holidays in the UK? We’ll let you decide.
The North Coast 500 is possibly the most beautiful drive in the UK. Its thin, winding roads intersect between coastline, rugged landscape and stretches of remote countryside filled with wildflowers.
Covering 516 miles in a circular route, begin by heading north from Inverness to prehistoric Black Isle; continue round to John O’ Groats and stop for a snap with its iconic white sign that really drives home how far north you are in the UK: Cornwalls’ Lands End is 874 miles away, while the Shetland Isles are a mere 152 miles away. Follow the loop around to the west to Durness - perfect hiking territory; continue down to the foodie paradise of Lochinever; go dolphin-, whale- or shark-spotting in Gairloch; and tons of other stop-offs in between.
It’s important to stress that you really need to be organised for this trip. Most of the ‘hotels’ are in fact just residents' houses that have been converted into temporary lodgings for the high season (May to October). You’ll need to book this in advance, unless you choose to camp. You’ll also want to map your route before setting off, and make sure you pack a varied kit as the weather can be temperamental!
With over half the island a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, it’s hard not to fall in love with the Isle of Wight. Plus, there aren’t any motorways on this diamond-shaped island, so there are plenty more breathtaking views along their country lanes and roads by the coastline. You don’t have to stick to one route, either: it’s easy (and tempting) to just keep going and find out what’s around the next bend. Start off in Yarmouth, in the northeast Isle of Wight; drive over Yarmouth Bridge and trundle through sleepy villages further inland. Stop off at Totland and stroll along the bay, then head back onto the B3322 until you reach the Needles car park, right up on the headland. Is this one of the most picturesque car parks in England? We like to think so.
Head along the clifftop for amazing views of the Needles –three chalk stacks rising out of the sea that once connected to the mainland, and check out the Old and New Battery sites, which were coastal defence forts and rocket testing sites respectively. Wander back along the clifftop for lunch at Warren Farm, then walk along Tennyson Down (where the Romantic poet himself liked to stroll) or drive along the road adjacent to it, pausing again at popular Freshwater Bay. Alternatively, if the weather’s not on your side, head inland to Dimbola Lodge, a house-turned-museum next to Tennyson Down, dedicated to Victorian photographer Julia Margaret Cameron. What marks this building as different from the rest in this area is the Jimi Hendrix statue in the front garden.
There are plenty of scenic routes to choose from in Northern Ireland, but you can’t go wrong with starting in Belfast. This is the home of the impressive Titanic Belfast, a museum dedicated to the famous ship. You can also take in the fairytale-like Belfast Castle and mooch along the stalls at the Victorian St George’s Market; as the capital city, Belfast is one of the livelier parts of Northern Ireland. Browsing Belfast weekend breaks? You’ll be spoilt for choice for things to do.
From Belfast, head down the A24 for 28 miles to County Down. It’s easy enough to spend a weekend here, but if time is of the essence, then the activities to prioritise would be a whisky-tasting tour of the Echlinville Distillery and exploring the grounds at Castle Ward. If you’re a Game of Thrones fan, you really shouldn’t miss the Winterfell Trail, where guided visitors explore the 1000 acres around Winterfell Castle, where a lot of the filming took place.
If time is of the essence then you can head back to Belfast from here, but take the ten-minute detour to Killyleigh along the A22, which brings you to a bay in the wider Strangford Lough. Killyleigh Castle looks over the low-set village below; although the castle itself is still in the hands of the same Hamilton family, there’s a range of self-catering accommodation available in the gatehouses.
Northern England’s charming northern countryside will sweep you off your feet - well, wheels, maybe. Start the route at Kirkbymoorside, on the southern tip of the Yorkshire Moors, before you make your way through the Howardian Hills (another Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty). Make the most of the walking, hiking or biking routes through the rugged Moors in this glorious part of the country.
Take the A170 for 15 miles and change onto the scenic A64. You can make a stop-off at York, which throbs with arts, culture, nightlife, history - it’s all here. There are beer festivals and ghost walks, but also make time for York Castle Museum, York Minster and the National Railway Museum.
Back on the road, take the M1 and M62, exiting at M606. Upon reaching Haworth on the A629, you’ll soon understand why this is Bronte territory. The Bronte sisters - Charlotte, Emily and Anne - lived in this town during the 18th century. As such the entire place is pretty much a homage to them, with the Bronte Gardens, Bronte Parsonage Museum (the family home) and frequented hikes up to the ruined farmhouse in Top Withens, believed to be a site that inspired part of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. Outside of ‘Bronteland’ stroll along the high street and pay a visit to the genteel tearooms, traditional sweet shops and intriguing antique stores.
The A149 is scenic from start to finish. There's plenty of wildlife to see here with three nature reserves. Start at Hunstanton, a popular beachside resort, where the road passes a long strip of green which tumbles down to the red-and-white striped cliffs below.
Next, there’s Holme Dunes National Reserve, a Norfolk Wildlife Trust site, which is popular with migrating birds, such as wrynecks, yellow-browed warblers and barred warbler. Pack a picnic and look and listen out for the surrounding sounds.
There are plenty of other places worth stopping off at along the way, such as Wells-next-to-the-sea; there’s plenty of parking here if you want to stop for a break. Yet the main town picks up the pace with a selection of restaurants and independent local gift shops, and is a relaxing place to spend the night.
The route ends in Cromer, another seaside resort, up in North Norfolk. It’s fun for all the family with a range of activities and sights on offer: choose from glass-blowing, wildlife gardens and bustling markets.