With summer in full swing, it’s time to make the most of the weather and free time.
For many people, this means facing the horror show Britain’s airports and ports are putting on to enjoy some time abroad. But for those staying closer to home, there is plenty of distraction and entertainment in the British Isles. From breathtaking scenery and high culture to captivating history and gastronomic delights, there is much to discover and there is no better way to do it than with a road trip along some of the country’s many spectacular routes.
Whether you want a week-long tour of food and culture or a scenic B-road blast to enjoy in an afternoon, we’ve rounded up some of the best UK road trips to explore this summer.
The Great Western Way
The Great Western Way runs from Bristol to London through some of the most photogenic parts of England. In theory, you can cover the entire route in less than three hours, but you would miss its appeal. Give yourself a few days and you can hop between campsites or luxury hotels, meander along pretty country lanes and explore the quaint villages of the Cotswolds. Towns along the route have served as filming locations for everything from Poldark to Paddington, and foodies will find everything from farm shops to Michelin-starred restaurants. History buffs will be in their element as the route provides access to everything from Hampton Court Palace to Stonehenge.
The Coastal Path, Wales
The Coastal Path is Wales’ answer to the North Coast 500, offering the same mix of epic roads and breathtaking scenery. The 180 mile route begins in Aberdaron and runs the full length of Cardigan Bay, hidden between beautiful coastline and towering mountains. Like the NC500, the Coastal Way is more than just great roads, it cuts through official Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and encompasses 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 about 30 miles of the famous Evo Triangle, very popular with fans of high performance cars.
North Shore 500
No overview of UK road trips is complete without these North Shore 500. It may have almost become a cliché, but there’s a reason it’s on everyone’s bucket list – it’s absolutely spectacular. From the ever-changing challenge of its winding roads to the sights of its rugged mountains and white-sand beaches, there’s nothing quite like it. Looping from Inverness through the Black Isle, Caithness, Sutherland and Wester Ross, the 500-mile route showcases the Scottish Highlands at their most stunning while offering food, drink, history and culture along the way. You can cover the route in a few adrenaline-pumping days, or take a few weeks to explore all the hidden gems along its length. Just look out for the inevitable line of RV rentals and free-roaming wildlife.
The Atlantic Highway, England
It’s technically the A39, but the Atlantic Highway is a far more descriptive name for the stretch of road that runs from Barnstaple in Devon to the outskirts of Newquay in Cornwall. The 70-mile route follows the south-west coast of sun-kissed beaches and pretty fishing villages nestled between the cliffs before heading inland through Cornwall. Historic landmarks such as Tintagel Castle and Trevose Head Lighthouse stand out along the way, along with views of cream teas and some of the UK’s best surfing spots upon completion.
Causeway Coastal Route, Northern Ireland
That Causeway Coastal Route is another successful route that combines great drives and spectacular scenery with rich history and culture. The route runs nearly 200 miles from Belfast to Derry-Londonderry, with a variety of loops to explore. Drivers will be thrilled on the winding tarmac that skirts the cliffs before heading inland through the rugged Northern Ireland 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 interwoven over the course of a couple of hours or a couple of days. Take the short but scenic route between Grasmere and Windermere, or scale the hills on the more challenging Kirkstone Pass, winding between the peaks between Windermere and Ullswater. The Coniston Loop is a longer route and not for the faint hearted as it takes in the infamous Hardknott Pass with its one to three climbs and switchbacks. Dare, however, and you’ll be rewarded with unbeatable views over the rugged countryside before delving into the unspoilt beauty of Eskdale and ending along scenic Coniston Water.
Yorkshire Moors and Coast
Like the Lake District, Yorkshire offers a wealth of excellent roads that can be driven individually or linked together as part of a longer exploration of God’s Own Country. Short routes like Buttertubs Pass or the drive from Holmfirth to Woodhead Reservoir are great for a quick drive with brilliant driving and scenery, but for a longer route that takes in the area’s diverse attractions, try this route, the Thirsk direct starts at the M1. Following the A170 takes you through the pretty villages of Pickering and Thornton-le-Dale before continuing east towards the coast, past photo-friendly Robin Hood’s Bay towards Whitby, famous for its seafood and literary connections. From there you can follow any number of routes through the North York Moors National Park, although we would suggest heading towards Goathland and then on to Dalby Forest with its many adventure sports.
The way to the islands
A stone’s throw from the NC500, the historic Road to the Isles is much shorter but offers many of the same highlights. The A830, which runs from Fort William to Mallaig in the shadow of Ben Nevis, skirts Loch Eil before winding around the head of Loch Shiel and passing the famous Glenfinnan Viaduct. From there the road meanders through lush countryside and along the coast, past the almost tropical silver sands of Morar. Bordered by mountains on one side and the ever-changing coastline on the other, it’s a motorists’ and tourists’ dream, and once you’ve reached Mallaig you can continue by 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 shores of Loch Lomond before crossing desolate Rannoch Moor and plunging into rugged Glencoe.