With summer in full swing, it’s time to make the most of the weather and time off.
For many people that means facing the horror show that is the UK’s airports and ports right now in a bid to enjoy some time abroad.But for those sticking closer to home, there is plenty within the British Isles to distract and entertain. From stunning scenery and high culture to captivating history and gastronomic delights, there is lots to explore and no better way to do that than with a road trip along some of the country’s many spectacular routes.
Whether you want a week-long tour packed with food and culture or a scenic B-road blast you can enjoy in an afternoon we’ve rounded up some of the best road trips in the UK for you to explore this summer.
The Great West Way
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The Great West Way runs from Bristol to London through some of the most photogenic parts of England. You can, in theory, cover the whole route in less than three hours but you’d miss out on its appeal. Take a few days and you can hop between campsites or luxury hotels, take detours along pretty country lanes and explore the picture postcard villages of the Cotswolds. Towns along the route have served as filming locations for everything from Poldark to Paddington and there are everything from farm shops to Michelin-starred restaurants along the way for foodies. History buffs will be in their element as the route offers access to everything from Hampton Court Palace to Stonehenge.
The Coastal Way, Wales
The Coastal Way is Wale’s answer to the North Coast 500 and offers the same mix of epic roads and stunning scenery. Starting in Aberdaron, the 180-mile route runs the entire length of Cardigan Bay, tucked between the beautiful coast and the soaring mountains. Like the NC500, the Coastal Way is more than just great driving roads, cutting through official Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and incorporating everything from fine dining and history to adventure sports and culture, allowing you to plan an itinerary to suit your interests and schedule. It also passes within 30 miles or so of the famous Evo Triangle, much loved among performance car fans.
North Coast 500
No rundown of UK road trips is complete without the North Coast 500. It might have become almost a cliche but there’s a reason it’s on everyone’s list - it is utterly spectacular. From the ever-changing challenge of its writhing roads to the sight of its rugged mountains and white-sand beaches there’s nothing like it. The 500-mile route runs in a loop from Inverness through the Black Isle, Caithness, Sutherland and Wester Ross and takes in the Scottish Highlands at their most breathtaking while offering up food, drink, history and culture along the way. You can cover the route in an adrenaline-fuelled couple of days or take a couple of weeks to explore all the hidden gems along its length. Just watch out for the inevitable snake of rental camper vans and the free-range wildlife.
The Atlantic Highway, England
Technically, it’s the A39, but the Atlantic Highway is a far more evocative name for the stretch of road that runs from Barnstaple in Devon to the outskirts of Newquay in Cornwall. The 70-mile route skirts the south-west coast with sun-kissed beaches and pretty fishing villages nestled among the cliffs before cutting inland as it heads through Cornwall. Along the way historic landmarks including Tintagel Castle and Trevose Head lighthouse stand out, along with the prospect of cream teas and some of Britain’s best surfing at its completion.
Causeway Coastal Route, Northern Ireland
The Causeway Coastal Route is another winning route that blends great driving roads and spectacular scenery with a rich history and culture. The route runs for almost 200 miles from Belfast to Derry-Londonderry, with a variety of loops to explore. Drivers will thrill in its winding Tarmac that skirts the clifftops before cutting inland through Northern Ireland’s rugged countryside. Along the way, the route is lined with imposing castles, surfer-friendly beaches, a distillery or two and the world famous Giant’s Causeway.
One of the joys of driving in the Lake District is that there are any number of stunning short drives that can be woven together over the course of a few hours or a few days. Take the short but scenic run between Grasmere and Windermere or climb into the hills on the more challenging Kirkstone Pass, which winds among the peaks between Windermere and Ullswater. The Coniston loop is a longer route and not one for the fainthearted as it takes in the notorious Hardknott Pass with its one-in-three gradients and snaking switchbacks. Brave it, however, and you’ll be rewarded with unbeatable views across the rugged landscape before plunging into the unspoilt beauty of Eskdale and finishing alongside the picturesque Coniston Water.
Yorkshire Moors and Coast
Like the Lake District, Yorkshire offers a wealth of excellent driving roads that can be tackled individually or linked together as part of a longer exploration of “God’s Own Country”. Short routes like the Buttertubs Pass or the run from Holmfirth to Woodhead Reservoir are great for a quick fix of brilliant driving and scenery but for a longer route that takes in the region’s varied attractions, try this route which starts in Thirsk just off the M1. Following the A170 leads you through the pretty villages of Pickering and Thornton-le-Dale before you continue east towards the coast, passing the photo-friendly Robin Hood’s Bay as you head towards Whitby, famous for its seafood and literary connections. From there you can follow any number of routes across the North York Moors National Park, although we’d suggest heading sound towards Goathland, then on to Dalby Forest with its wealth of adventure sports.
The Road to the Isles
A stone’s throw from the NC500, the historic Road to the Isles is much shorter but features many of the same highlights. Running from Fort William in the shadow of Ben Nevis to Mallaig, the A830 skirts Loch Eil before curving around the tip of Loch Shiel and past the famous Glenfinnan Viaduct. From there the road twists and sweeps through lush countryside and along the coast, passing the near-tropical silver sands of Morar. Bounded on one side by mountains and the ever-changing coastline on the other, it’s a driver and sightseer’s dream and once you hit Mallaig you can carry on via ferry to the equally stunning Isle of Skye. For visitors from the south the route to Fort William via the A82 is a treat in itself, skirting the banks of Loch Lomond before running across the desolate Rannoch Moor and plunging into rugged Glencoe.