The Great UK Road Trip Itinerary
Ever since my mate, Hogg and I tackled the Great US Road Trip back in 2016, I’ve been itching to get back out on the road and explore a new country.
There is something invigorating about stopping in sleepy little towns, exploring famous sights at your own pace, and interacting with locals.
With so many of my dearest friends now calling the United Kingdom home, I’m long overdue a more thorough inspection of the motherland, and what better way to do this than with a road trip?
Never one to do things by half measures, I’ve compiled a colossal 46-day road trip that I would love to undertake someday. With help from Aussie on the Road Facebook fans and my own friends, I’ve put together my very own dream UK road trip itinerary.
Starting Point: Newcastle Upon Tyne
London might seem like the logical starting point for a UK road trip, but my friend, Greg was quick to suggest a loop that started and ended in Newcastle.
Serviced by its own international airport and sharing a name with my childhood home away from home, Newcastle seems a perfect spot to start and end the grand UK road trip.
Newcastle might not leap immediately to mind as a ‘must see’ destination in the United Kingdom, but ‘the toon’ is not without its charms.
A city that embraces its medieval roots, its industrial past, and its modern present – there is something for all tastes.
For me, the appeal of attending a Newcastle United game, seeing the famous Angel of the North up close, and taking a day trip out to Hadrian’s Wall to see the wall that inspired George RR Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice are all on the agenda.
Stay: 1-2 nights
Highlights: Newcastle United home game at St. James Park, visit Hadrian’s Wall, and pose like an idiot in front of the Angel of the North.
2. Yorkshire Dales
When I put a call out to my friends and Facebook fans, I was astonished at the amount of love being put forward for the Yorkshire Dales. I’d never even heard of them!
A picture perfect representation of some of the United Kingdom’s most beloved images, the Yorkshire Dales combines idyllic rural villages with breathtaking limestone peaks and serene woodland in a way that I didn’t think existed in the modern UK.
While the Cotswolds are perhaps more famous, the off-the-beaten-path Yorkshire Dales National Park sounds like the perfect fit for me.
Distance: 62 miles. Approximately ninety minutes.
Stay: 2-3 nights
Highlights: Hiking and mountain biking, wandering the villages, sampling local produce, and experiencing village life.
A city oozing history, York is a must-see for fans of medieval history. In fact, York Tourism proudly boasts “more attractions per square mile than any other UK city”.
How can you argue with that?
From the largest cathedral in Europe (York Minster) to ruined castles to dungeon tours to museums, there’s plenty to be experienced on a visit to York. There’s even a Viking museum!
Insider Tip: My reader, Linda suggests including a walk down the famous York Shambles in your visit. A 14th century street with plenty of charm, it’s akin to walking through a totally different time period!
Distance: 30 miles. Approximately one hour.
Stay: 1-2 nights
Highlights: York Minster, York Castle Museum, Clifford’s Tower, National Railway Museum, and Jorvik Viking Centre.
Robin Hood and the Sherrif may be long gone, but Nottingham makes a fine stop to break up the otherwise long drive from York down to London.
Nottingham Castle is arguably the most well-known attraction in the region, but its nearby Sherwood Forest that is likely to capture your imagination.
Nottinghamshire is also home to England’s oldest pub! Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem predates my own country by more than six hundred years!
Distance: 93 miles. Approximately two hours.
Stay: 1 night
Highlights: Nottingham Castle, Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, and Sherwood Forest.
5. Oxford and Cambridge
Two of the four oldest universities in the world, the names Oxford and Cambridge are synonymous with academic excellence and the British elite.
I’ve suggested overnighting in Oxford and making Cambridge a day trip en route to London, but you could just as easily reverse it based on your personal preference.
Campuses that predate most of the world’s countries are obviously the big drawcard in both cities, but the student population does lend them both a kind of bohemian charm that translates into great food and a solid nightlife scene too.
Distance: 91 miles. Approximately ninety minutes.
Stay: 1 night
Highlights: Two of the oldest universities on the planet.
Our first big stop comes in the form of the British capital, London.
London is expensive, but it’s also home to more things to do than you can poke a stick at. It just wouldn’t be a proper UK road trip without spending a good chunk fo your time here.
Whether it’s Premier League games, history, Monopoly themed pub crawls or getting into the more bohemian side of London life, there’s something for just about everybody.
Distance: 51 miles. Approximately an hour.
Stay: 4-5 nights
Highlights: Big Ben, English Premier League games, London Eye, Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral, The British Museum, Globe Theatre, Tate Modern, the National Gallery, Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, the London pub scene, shows on the West End, Buckingham Palace… there’s so damned much!
Ever since reading Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth, I’ve had something of a fascination with cathedrals and the cities that spring up around them. There’s just something fascinating about how religion inspired such magnificent buildings and gave rise to entire communities to support them.
Canterbury Cathedral is one of the most impressive religious structures on earth, but it’s not the only reason to visit Canterbury. Check out Culture Trips’ guide to things to do in Canterbury for some inspiration!
Distance: 60 miles. Approximately an hour.
Stay: 1-2 nights
Highlights: Canterbury Cathedral, the Canterbury Roman Museum, and the Marlowe Theatre.
6a. The White Cliffs of Dover
Today marks our first scenic spot of the trip that doesn’t warrant a full day and night: the famous White Cliffs of Dover.
One of the most iconic landscapes in all of the United Kingdom, the chalky white of the Cliffs overlooking the English Channel is sure to be one of the most enduring memories from your trip. It’ll definitely be one of your most photographed!
If you’re wanting those recognizable photos of the cliffs, however, you might want to also include a visit to Beachy Head or Seven Sisters, as it’s obviously difficult to photograph the White Cliffs while you’re standing atop them!
Distance: 20 miles. Approximately half an hour.
Stay: Day trip
Highlights: Uh… the White Cliffs of Dover?
English seaside towns might seem a little sad to those of us who have grown up with gorgeous, sunny beaches on our doorsteps, but there’s a kind of charm about the UK equivalent to places like Australia’s Gold Coast or the US boardwalk towns.
What Brighton and its ilk lack in white sand and warm waters, however, they do make up for in the uniquely British approach to a beach vacation.
From the history of sites such as the Royal Pavilion and the Brighton Palace Pier to the modern and cool Lanes, Brighten offers a little something for all tastes.
Distance: 108 miles. Approximately two hours.
Stay: 2 nights.
Highlights: The Royal Pavilion, Brighton Palace Pier, The Lanes, British Airways i360, the Brighton Toy & Model Museum, and Globalls (glow in the dark mini-golf!)
8. New Forest National Park
Declared as a royal forest by William the Conqueror, the area is the largest remaining tract of unspoiled forest in southeast England and an important centre for biodiversity. Forests, farmland, heathland, and breathtaking coastline can all be seen within the park’s boundaries.
Whether you want to go on a walking safari to spot the resident deer or just like the idea of sleeping in a quaint English village surrounded by arboreal beauty, it’s the kind of off-the-beaten-path stuff I love to find while I’m traveling.
Distance: 79 miles. Approximately ninety minutes.
Stay: 2 nights.
Highlights: Beautiful landscapes and cute rural villages.
Our next stop doesn’t immediately leap to mind when you’re planning a UK road trip, but Salisbury has plenty of history worth exploring while also being on the doorstep to both Stonehenge and Avebury.
I’ll cover that important day trip next, but Salisbury is more than just a way station on our way to someplace more exciting.
The double-whammy of Salisbury Cathedral (home to a copy of the Magna Carta) and the impressive Old Sarum hillfort illustrate very different periods in British history.
Distance: 25 miles. Approximately 35 minutes.
Stay: 1 night.
Highlights: Salisbury Cathedral and Old Sarum.
9a. Stonehenge and Avebury
Stonehenge might be the United Kingdom’s most famous historic site. It’s the kind of place that, as you’re standing in the long shadows cast by its eerily silent monoliths, you’re left questioning your place in the universe.
It’s a short drive from Salisbury to Stone Henge, where a couple of hours is sufficient to wander the green fields and photograph the impressive monument.
From here, it’s off to Avebury to visit a less well-known set of Neolithic monuments that include West Kennet Avenue, The Sanctuary, and Silbury Hill.
While here, be sure to stop at the Red Lion Pub for a tall pint of beer in the only pub in the world with its own stone circle (and interior well).
Distance: 10 miles to Stone Henge. 28 miles to Avebury. Approximately 15 minutes and 35 minutes respectively.
Stay: Day trip.
Highlights: Neolithic monoliths and stone circles. A pint of beer in a quirky pub.
I’m not going to lie, I love Bath. It’s just such a gorgeous city with a lot to see and do.
Its most popular tourist attraction is undoubtedly the Roman baths that give the town its name, but Bath Abbey (burial site of Captain James Cook, the man who discovered Australia) is worth a look as well.
The aptly named Royal Crescent is a suitably impressive residential district for the upper crust, while Prior Park is a supremely gorgeous bit of park to explore on foot.
Take your time to enjoy Bath, and don’t be afraid to take a wee day trip to nearby Lacock Village for a bit of time travel.
Insider Tip: My reader, Linda suggests also taking a look at the nearby towns of Wells and Glastonbury, with the latter being the purported burial site of the legendary, King Arthur!
Distance: 27 miles. Approximately 30 minutes.
Stay: 2 days
Highlights: The Roman Baths, Bath Abbey, the Royal Crescent, and Lacock Village.
10. St. Ives and Land’s End
Today brings about one of the longest drives of the trip, as you make the ‘huge’ four-hour drive south to the United Kingdom’s most southernmost point and England’s westernmost.
To put this into context: we used to drive this far from our Outback town and still not have seen any signs of civilization greater than a sagging fence and the shredded remains of a tire.
While not an especially impressive spot in its own right, the feeling of standing on the literal end of England and gazing out over the steely-grey seas will come full circle when, later in the trip, you stand on the northernmost point of the United Kingdom in Scotland.
We’re not going to spend the night out on the headlands, but double back to the much more appealing beach town of St. Ives.
One of TripAdvisor’s top ten beaches in Europe, St. Ives has a delightfully Mediterranean climate, decent surf, and a thriving arts scene that ought to keep you entertained when you’re not relaxing on the beach.
Insider Tip: One of my readers, Andy, has suggested that you allow a little extra time here to check out the Lizard Peninsula on the opposite side to St. Ives for a chance to stand on the westernmost point of England. He vouches for the best pasties (Ann’s Pasties) and ice cream (Roskilly’s), while also recommending taking a look at the Isles of Scilly to the south.
Distance: 222 miles to Land’s End. 20 miles to St. Ives. Approximately four hours and forty minutes, respectively.
Stay: 1-2 days
Highlights: England’s southernmost point. The beaches and galleries of St. Ives.
It’s another long drive today, as we begin the journey north to Bristol.
More of a pit-stop on the way to Wales than a destination in its own right, Bristol nonetheless has enough to occupy you for a day or two.
Whether you’re hunting for Banksy on the streets, wandering across the stunning Brunel suspension bridge, or heading out to the impossible green Brecon Beacons National Park, you’re sure to find something to ensure Bristol is more than just a place to lay your head.
Distance: 189 miles. Approximately three and a half hours.
Stay: 1-2 days
Highlights: Brunel Bridge, Brecon Beacons National Park, Bristol Cathedral, and the street art scene.
We bid farewell to England (for now) and say hello to lovely Wales!
Often overlooked by international tourists, Wales has a wealth of history and natural beauty to be explored.
Our first stop is Cardiff, renowned as being one of Europe’s greenest cities. Take it in by riding the beautiful Taff Trail or enjoying a picnic lunch in the Victorian splendor of Roath Park.
For the history aficionados, you’ve got Castell Caerdydd, the National Museum of Cardiff, and family-friendly St. Fagan’s National History Museum to give you a bit more insight into Welsh history.
Finally, it wouldn’t be a trip to Wales without a visit to Millennium Stadium for a wee bit of rugby or – if you time it right – the Millennium Madness rugby league.
Distance: 44 miles. Approximately one hour.
Stay: 2-3 days
Highlights: Cardiff Castle, Welsh rugby, and natural beauty.
After breakfast, it’s time to head off to Swansea.
Another city that doesn’t get the love it deserves, Swansea’s famous Swansea Market is a great place to do a little shopping and sample some local flavor.
If that isn’t your speed, there’s a vibrant music, arts, and live comedy scene to be experienced, the option to play some FootGolf, and the lure of Dylan Thomas’ association with the city to keep you entertained. The dramatic beauty of the Clyne Gardens can’t be overlooked either.
The nearby seaside town of Mumbles is also worth a look, particularly if your visit coincides with the delicious Mumbles Oyster Festival.
Lastly, the nearby Gower Peninsula offers up suitably impressive windswept cliffs and quiet beaches for those wanting to get away from it all.
Distance: 41 miles. Approximately one hour.
Stay: 1-3 days
Highlights: Clyne Gardens, Mumbles, Gower Peninsula, Dylan Thomas Centre, and Swansea Markets.
14. Bangor and Snowdonia
We’re in for another long-ish day of driving today, as we follow the Welsh coast north to the city of Bangor. The oldest city in Wales might not be a lot to look at these days, but it’s the perfect base from which to explore the nearby Snowdonia National Park.
One of the United Kingdom’s most breathtaking parks, Snowdonia is a combination of rugged natural beauty and quaint British charm. You’ll be able to experience challenging hikes, serene valleys, and bustling little market towns in and around the park.
While the obvious attraction is the chance to challenge with a hike to the top of Mount Snowdon, there’s enough in and around the park to entertain all ages.
Distance: 160 miles. Approximately four and a half hours.
Stay: 1-2 days
Highlights: Snowdonia National Park and surrounds.
OPTIONAL: Ireland and Northern Ireland
I agonized long and hard over whether to include North Ireland (obviously part of the UK) and Ireland (not a part of the UK, but a shame to miss).
Ultimately, I decided that this post (and trip) were already long enough without adding a second island.
If Ireland and/or Northern Ireland are on your to-do list, this would be a good point to insert them.
I’d still love your suggestions for what would be must-see if you were to include Ireland and/or Northern Ireland in your trip! Comment below and I’ll come back to update this section someday!
It’s back to England today, as we bid farewell to Wales and make our way to Liverpool.
Home of The Beatles and the Merseyside derby, Liverpool has a little something for all walks of life. History, sport, parks, a lively nightlife and music scene, museums, and more clamor for your attention.
For me, the lure of experiencing the Merseyside derby between Liverpool and Everton is a big draw, but the appeal of getting a bit artsy and off-the-beaten-track as in this itinerary is huge too.
More obvious attractions include the Tate Liverpool, a ride on a brightly colored Mersey ferry, the British Music Experience, and a visit to the World Museum to learn about… the world.
Distance: 80 miles. Approximately ninety-minutes.
Stay: 2-3 days
Highlights: Liverpool FC, the British Music Experience, the Tate Liverpool, and Mersey Ferries.
Perhaps most famous for its two huge football clubs, Manchester is far more than just Manchester United and Manchester City. While football is certainly front and centre at the popular National Football Museum, there’s plenty here to entertain those of you who don’t love ‘The Beautiful Game’.
From history (Manchester Cathedral) to art (the Whitworth) to family-friendly (LEGOLAND), you’ll find a little something for everyone.
Fancy a break from the city? You’re never far from a quaint village or idyllic slice of British rural charm.
When booking your Manchester hotel, bear in mind that major Premier League fixtures and the Manchester Pride Festival can lead to huge demand. Get booked early!
Distance: 35 miles. Approximately 45 minutes.
Stay: 1-2 days
Highlights: Manchester football, Manchester Cathedral, Whitworth Gallery, and the National Football Museum.
17. The Lake District
It’s time to take a break from the city and head to the stunningly beautiful Lake District. One of England’s most popular vacation spots, I’ve written before about the many things to do in the Lake District.
Go read that. I’ll wait.
Regardless of where in the area you stay, you’ll be enjoying the great outdoors with everything from hiking and cycling to boating and canoeing.
It’s a land of mirror-still lakes, secluded valleys, and the kind of bucolic beauty that is so emblematic of the UK.
Distance: 82 miles. Approximately ninety minutes.
Stay: 2-3 days
Highlights: The great outdoors!
It’s onto Scotland today!
Our first stop in the land of Scots is Glasgow, the slightly less beautiful but nonetheless charming cousin of Edinburgh.
The Glasgow Cathedral is an obvious highlight, but there is also the abundance of museums and galleries that you would expect to find in a capital city. From the Scottish Football Museum to the religious-themed St. Mungo Museum, there’s a little something for all kinds.
It may not be the most exciting stop on the trip, but a day or two in Glasgow is a great way to recharge before we hit the road again.
Distance: 148 miles. Approximately two and a half hours.
Stay: 2 days.
Highlights: Museums and galleries.
19. Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park
Today, we trade the hustle and bustle of the city for the natural splendour of the Scottish wilderness.
A visit to Scotland wouldn’t be complete without a little time strolling the shores of a loch (lake), and the Trossachs National Park is a great way to spend a few days out in the wilderness. Combine a little camping with some cycling, hiking, and fishing for a real appreciation of the Scottish landscape.
Distance: 33 miles. Approximately an hour.
Stay: 2 days.
Highlights: Camping, fishing, hiking, cycling, and loch cruises.
20. The Scottish West Coast
Scotland’s west coast is criminally underrated, but we’re about to change that as we head off-the-beaten-path to see something a little different.
While Glasgow, Loch Lomond, and Glencoe technically fall within the West Scotland region, we’re headed to the seaside town of Oban for a taste of the simple life. While we’re here, we’re also going to take a ferry over to the Isle of Mull to indulge in a spot of birding and wildlife-spotting. From red dear and seals to a huge variety of bird life, the Isle of Mull is a mini-safari well worth the trip.
Distance: 65 miles. Approximately ninety minutes.
Stay: 2 days.
Highlights: Scottish village life, bird-watching, and animal spotting.
It’s on to one of Scotland’s most iconic landscapes today, as you’ll head into the Highlands proper to see the spectacular terrain of the Glencoe area.
I grew up fifteen minutes from a village called Glencoe, but the real thing is infinitely more spectacular than a sleepy town in rural NSW. You’ll be blown away by the brilliant greens and cold beauty of this area.
While you don’t have to overnight here to appreciate the beauty of the region, a night spent in the shadow of Ben Nevis means you’ll get to wake with a hot bowl of porridge and soak in that misty morning air. There are few more quintessentially Scottish experiences than waking up freezing.
Distance: 34 miles. Approximately an hour.
Stay: 1-2 days.
Highlights: Natural beauty.
22. The Isle of Skye
This trip is almost as much about the journey as it is the destination. While the Isle of Skye is justifiably famous for its beauty, your drive there is every bit as spectacular.
Glacier-carved valleys, mirror-still lochs, bubbling mountain streams, and perennially dewy copses of trees make for a stirring view as you wend your way through the Highlands.
I want you to take your time with the Isle of Skye, because you’ll be hard pressed to find a more beautiful spot on earth. Pull on some waterproof shoes, rug up against the elements, and spend as much time as you can just wandering amidst the pinnacles and crumbling castles that lend the island such an aura of mystery.
Distance: 116 miles. Approximately 3 hours.
Stay: 3-4 days
Highlights: Natural beauty.
23. Loch Ness
Your visit to Scotland wouldn’t be complete without trying your luck spotting the Loch Ness Monster.
While it’s perfectly possible to visit Loch Ness as a day trip from Glasgow or Edinburgh, I budgeted a night in the area so that you can overnight on the shores of the Loch and boost your chances of spotting the (non-existent) beastie.
Distance: 100 miles. Approximately two and a half hours.
Stay: 1 day.
Highlights: The Loch Ness Monster.
24. John O’Groat’s
We visited Land’s End in the southwest, so now it’s time to pay a brief visit to the northernmost tip of Great Britain. There may be a bunch of islands to the north, but you’ve now driven as far as you can along the length of the island!
The main attraction here is standing at the literal end of the road, but this area is also one of the best places in the UK to spot adorable puffins, especially on nearby Dunnet Head.
Why not spend a night or two here so you can soak in the serenity, do some birding, and take a trip out to Orkney Island?
Distance: 134 miles. Approximately three hours.
Stay: 1-2 days
Highlights: Puffins, Orkney Island, and coastal walks.
There are castles and historic sites aplenty in Aberdeen on the Scottish east coast, but it’s also one of the best places in Scotland to develop an appreciation for Scotch Whisky. With a number of whisky distilleries both in the city and nearby, it’s the perfect place to indulge in a dram of the good stuff.
If that isn’t your speed, the nearby Cairngorms National Park is a representation of Scotland’s boundless charm in miniature. Castles, highland scenery, distilleries, and idyllic villages combine in the UK’s largest national park.
You can feasibly skip this stop, but you should at least try whisky while you’re in Scotland.
Distance: 221 miles. Approximately five hours.
Stay: 1-2 days
Highlights: Scotch whisky, historic sites, and Cairngorms National Park.
We’re into the home stretch now as we make our way to the history and beauty of Edinburgh.
Like London, you’re going to want to spend a few days here to really soak in all of the history and charm that the city exudes. From ghost tours to delicious pub meals to historic sites, the city is bursting at the seams with stuff to do and see.
Grabbing a ticket for the hop on-hop off bus is a great way to get around town, as you’ll probably be sick of driving by now!
Distance: 128 miles. Approximately two and a half hours.
Stay: 3+ days
Highlights: Edinburgh Castle, the Royal Mile, ghost tours, Holyrood Palace, and more.
It’s time to say your goodbyes to Scotland make your way back down to Newcastle. We’re back where it all began!
Whether you choose to stay on here for a few days or head straight for the airport is up to you.
Distance: 120 miles. Approximately two and a half hours.
Have you visited any of the above locations? What were your highlights and lowlights?
What would be on your Great UK road trip?
If you were going to add Ireland and Northern Ireland, what would your recommendations be?
Have you already been on your own UK road trip? What lessons did you learn?
Help me to make this the best possible road trip itinerary!