The pandemic hasn’t exactly been a great time to break new ground, to head out into the world and explore the unknown. Fortunately, this period has led us to become a little more fond of what we’ve got at home. If you’ve spent plenty of time in the UK, perhaps even lived here your entire life, and you feel like you haven’t seen the best of it, now’s your chance to change that.
From the bogs of Western Ireland to the Hebridean islands dotted around Scotland, we’re taking a look at the best UK road trip ideas, with routes in Scotland, Ireland, Northern Ireland, England, and Wales. So wind those windows down and put the volume up, we're heading for the open road...
Self-drive itinerary: With 30,420 square miles to roam and varying landscapes of islands, glittering lochs, towering Munros, and quaint coastal towns, Scotland is a road trippin' paradise. For a unique road trip in Scotland, that’s world’s away from the classic North Coast 500, take the ferry over to the large Inner Hebridean island of Mull.
Begin in the Isle of Mull’s main town, Tobermory. Here, Mull’s oldest inn, the Bellachroy Hotel, serves up a dazzling range of fresh seafood. If you’re thirsty, the town is home to Tobermory distillery. This Scotch whisky haven offers a range of informative tasting sessions. If you’re doing the tasting, be sure to spend the evening in town and leave your driving for another day.
Avid hikers can wander down to Ben More, the highest point of Mull. For those looking for something a bit more leisurely, continue down to the southwestern portion of the isle, which is arguably the most scenic part of the isle. Here you will find Traigh a' Mhill, a tiny, secluded cove just south of the larger Knockvologan beach, which is also sublime. The clear, aqua waters at both of these beaches will have you pinching yourself.
Set out for Fionnphort (fin-a-fort) at the southwestern tip of Mull, where you can ditch the car for a short while. Board a 10-minute ferry to the miniature Isle of Iona. Hands down, this will be one of the must-see sites on your Scotland road trip. While it’s only three miles long by one mile wide, it packs history, friendly locals, and of course, incredible scenery.
Give the St. Columba's Bay hike a whirl or explore the Iona Abbey and nunnery. If you’re feeling like getting out on the high seas, book a local boat tour to explore the nearby Fingal’s Cave, a cavern on the uninhabited island of Staffa which is known for its haunting echoes.
Suggested tour: Scenic North Wales and Chester
Self-drive itinerary: Rain or shine - though it will probably always be raining - a road trip through Wales is a grand idea. One of the most scenic routes is the Pembrokeshire region. Begin in South Pembrokeshire, in the charming town of Tenby.
Tenby is known for its colourful homes, castle ruins in the centre of the town, and beaches that on a hot day, resemble the Mediterranean. You can swim in Tenby, or take a 30-minute drive to Barafundle Bay, a spot often voted as one of the world’s most beautiful beaches. It is a fair hike down to the bay, so pack light and arrive early to get one of the coveted parking spots.
Nearby is the Green Bridge, an incredible natural arch formed from carboniferous limestone. Around the corner is St Govan's Chapel, a fascinating hermit's cottage built right into the cliff. Look out - it’s steep!
Spend an evening in Marloes Peninsula, a dramatic coastal region with plenty of walking opportunities. Take to the Marloes Peninsula coastal walk, or break it up into smaller, more manageable parts. Another nearby walk is St Davids Head coastal walk, which offers magnificent panoramic views of the rugged coastal headland. Named after the patron saint of Wales, the city of St. Davids happens to be Britain's smallest city, St Davids.
Your road trip is nearly coming to an end. Head up the coast to the Blue Lagoon, a sea quarry luminescent with its turquoise water. What better way to wrap up your trip than with an unforgettable sunset view. Drive to Strumble Head Lighthouse, a lookout built by Trinity House in 1908, for a peaceful view of the sun setting over the rocky outcrop.
During the road trip, take your time, stopping at whatever secret coves you come across. It’s best to take a long weekend for this journey. These remote Pembrokeshire gems are what makes this one of the best road trips in Wales. Also, if you have the time, take a detour to the stunning Brecon Beacons, a unique mountain range with breathtaking lakes and hikes. Pen Y Fan and Lyn Y Fan Fach are highlights.
Self-drive itinerary: Fans of HBO fantasy hit Game of Thrones absolutely love Northern Ireland. (Just remember to bring your own costumes!) 40 minutes north of Belfast is your first stop on the trip. At the base of the striking Slemish Mountain is Shillanavogy Valley, which served as the Dothraki grasslands when the Khalasar left Pentos.
Next up is The Dark Hedges. During Arya Stark’s thrilling escape from King’s Landing, she passed through this famous hedge. The beech trees lining Bregagh Road date back to the 18th century. It’s become one of Northern Ireland’s most photographed natural sites. Be sure to arrive early in the morning to avoid the crowds, or go at nightfall. Get bonus bravery points if you head here in the evening... while beautiful, the trees are certainly an eerie sight under darkness.
Afterwards, grab a pint at Fullerton Arms, a short drive from the hedges. This old pub wasn’t used as a filming location but features an ornate, specially-carved dragon door to commemorate the show’s filming in the area.
Your road trip culminates by the sea. You might recognise Ballintoy Harbour in Game of Thrones as Lordsport, the main port of Pyke. Pyke is one of the Iron Islands, where Theon and Yara Greyjoy hail from. The harbour might have looked dreary and industrial as Lordsport (you can thank colour-grading for that one) but in reality, its grass is lusciously green and on a sunny day, the water shines.
This Northern Ireland road trip is a short one, with only 90-minutes driving it total. So you can spread it out over whatever period you like, from one day to half a week, extending your trip to include overnight stays, hikes, or visits to historical sites.
If self-drive isn’t your game, you can discover some of Northwest Ireland's finest scenery on the Donegal & the Giant's Causeway trip.
Self-drive itinerary: Some of the most picturesque landscapes can be spotted on a west coast of Ireland road trip. Begin your once-in-a-lifetime journey at the awe-inspiring Cliffs of Moher. Climbing to 702 feet at its highest, these dramatic cliffs stretch along the Atlantic coast for five miles. With clear skies, you might be able to catch a glimpse of the Aran Islands, the Kerry Mountains, and even Galway Bay. One minute here and you’ll see how this location makes this one of Ireland’s great road trips.
After a day out in nature, head to the city. Historic Galway City has an exciting range of restaurants and bars, a striking cathedral, and endless cobblestone streets to meander through on a lazy afternoon. And now back to nature.
Take the long way, winding through the almost mythical Connemara landscape of peaks and bogs. Be sure to drive past Lough Mask and Lough Corrib and continue to the Maam Cross. Kylemore Abbey is also worth a look. The waterfront Benedictine Monastery was built in 1920 and contains a six-acre walled Victorian garden just waiting to be explored.
Continue the drive past Killary Harbour, famous as Ireland's only fjord. Stretching 10 miles in from the Atlantic to its head at Aasleagh, the water is a vision amidst the verdant hills.
Finish up your trip with a bit of history at Westport House. Long considered to be one of Ireland’s most remarkable historic homes, a tour here will get you up to date on the epic tale of Grace O’Malley, the Pirate Queen of Connacht, who governed the land and seas around the home during the 16th century.
For this road trip, you might like to stretch it out over three to four days. If you’re looking for someone to take the wheel, fear not, you can travel this route with Newmarket Holidays. Check out our Galway, Connemara & Ireland's Stunning West trip.
Suggested tour: Dorset - The Jurassic Coast
Self-drive itinerary: For some of the best coastal views in England, get planning your south England road trip. Begin at one of the south coast's most popular seaside towns, Hastings. It’s a cliche, but Hastings truly offers something for everyone. There’s stand-up paddle boarding and kitesurfing, vintage stores to rival London’s, sunset at Hastings Pier, and the charming 16th-century The Stag Inn.
One memorable activity is to take the UK's steepest funicular railway up to Hastings Country Park, where you can spend the day walking. While many travellers flock to the Seven Sisters hike in Eastbourne, Hastings Country Park is a nice contrast, offering similar views of the white cliffs (it’s a much quieter option).
Head west to Brighton, or ‘London by the sea’, where you can wander along the pier, enjoy some delicious vegan food, and peruse the boutiques in the famous Brighton alleyways. Spend the evening in town, or head onto the A27 for Portsmouth.
Explore the city’s fascinating marine past at the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. During the First World War, more than 20,000 people worked here. At the British empire’s peak, Portsmouth was known as the world’s greatest naval port.
Take the long way through the countryside and head to the Jurassic Coast. This sensational 96-mile stretch of UNESCO-listed coastline is 185 million in the making. Book a relaxing stay in a seafront hotel, and by day, get your boots on to explore Durdle Door, Old Harry Rocks, Corfe Castle, and the White Nothe circular, if you’re feeling up to it.
The circular is a challenging walk that begins at the perfectly circular Lulworth Cove and hugs the South West Coast Path past Durdle Door to the chalky headland of White Nothe. It’s a brilliant way to marvel at the white cliffs for which Dorset is famous.
You might like to make your way over to Beaulieu, in the New Forest, which presents a lovely patchwork of rolling hills, quaint villages, and leafy woodlands. There’s plenty to see on this adventure, and little side-trips to fit in, so give yourself at least four days.
If you’re looking for a holiday where you can kick back and take in the views without needing to drive, why not consider an escorted tour with Newmarket Holidays? Explore our UK and Ireland tour offerings here.
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