The Best Road Trips in the UK and Ireland
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There’s something special about road tripping. Packing up the car with everything you need for a few days and hitting that open road has a real magic to it – and it’s something that made me love travelling in Australia. So much so that I road tripped around the continent for 8 months solid.
But a good road trip isn’t an exclusively Australian adventure. They can be had anywhere in the world. That’s why I’ve created this series of the best road trips in the world – to help you see each different continent by road tripping. With some other travel bloggers, I put together a post on the best road trips in the US and now it’s time for my own stomping ground… Europe.
There are hundreds of road trips in Europe that are perfect for any keen traveller to add to their Europe travel itinerary! To keep your attention, I’m going to be splitting my road trips in Europe post up regionally. So here is the first installment… the best road trips in the UK and Ireland, written by myself and other travel bloggers!
Best Road Trips in England
The South Coast
Road tripping along England’s south coast will help you see some of the best parts of ol’Blighty’s coastline. You can begin at any point on the Kent or Sussex coastline – such as Whitstable, Herne Bay, Hastings or Brighton – and road trip westwards. If you have the time, consider delving into Kent (known as ‘the garden of England’) to see highlights like Sissinghurst Gardens and Hever Castle (one of the best castles near London)
Your first highlight is the quirky, Victorian beachside town of Brighton. Make sure you check out the Brighton Pavilion, inspired by Asian architecture, have a go on the pier’s loop the loop and wander through the Laines. Bognor Regis is often the butt of people’s jokes, but it’s a great spot to enjoy some very British seaside culture.
If you’re into cathedrals, heading slightly north to Chichester is worth the visit. There is a big cathedral here, a Roman Palace and a few museums. Further down the coast, enjoy Bournemouth and the Jurrasic Coast and then the beautiful coastline of Devon. Including Exmouth and the village of Budleigh Salterton, it is home to quaint buildings with thatched roof houses.
Once you get past Plymouth, you’ll be down into Cornwall. With beautiful seaside villages and spectacular scenery that doesn’t look like the UK at all, this is a real highlight of the English coastline. If you’re just sticking to the south you can enjoy St Austell, and Falmouth – but if you want to head to the north coast, check out St Ives and Newquay.
One of the best road trips in England can be found in the form of the Cotswolds, a protected area of outstanding natural beauty just a couple of hours from London. Best visited in the shoulder season when you can enjoy the spring blooms or the autumn leaves, the best way to see this region is quite literally by car as public transportation is lacking in many of the smaller settlements.
Bath sits on the southern edge of the Cotswolds, so many Cotswold road trips begin from either here or its larger neighbouring city, Bristol. Driving northwards, you’ll start to see rolling hills and green fields while winding down small country lanes (watch out for tractors!).
Highlights of this region include plenty of beautiful Cotswolds towns, historic houses, and some incredible local food. Must-see stops along the way include a visit to the village of Painswick whose churchyard is home to 99 yew trees, Bibury which is often cited as the prettiest village in England, and Winchcombe which feels like you’ve gone back in time a few hundred years and where you’ll find plenty of antique and boutique shops. Stow-on-the-wold is a bigger, yet equally pretty, town and Burton-on-the-water is a must-visit for a stroll around the quaint canals.
If you’re looking for an escape from the hustle and bustle of busy city life and wish to enjoy the rolling hills of the British countryside and quaint chocolate box villages of this part of the world, the Cotswolds makes for the ultimate UK road trip.
By Sophie from Solo Sophie
Of course, beautiful Somerset had to be somewhere on this list. I’ve been obsessed with this county since I was about 4 and was fascinated by the fact that it twins the words ‘summer’ and ‘sunset’.
Somerset is home to some of the most British countryside you’ll ever see, with gentle rolling hills and fields that stretch on for miles. It also features quirky towns like Glastonbury, historic places such as Wells and the famous city of Bath. On its coast are beach towns like the quaint Burnham-on-Sea and on its outskirst (technically in Avon) is the best city in the world (in my humble opinion), Bristol.
You could pair this road trip with the south coast trip. From the south, enter the county at Yeovil. Attractions here include county parks and nature trails. Driving north will take you through spectacular country roads as you spend a day in Glastonbury and Wells. Then head further north to Bath (check out some free things to do there if you’re on a budget!) which is widely known as one of the best cities to visit in the UK.
Head to Bristol (my favourite city in the world and my home for 4 years) before getting back in touch with nature in the Mendip Hills. Home to Cheddar Gorge, which is a stunning area where Cheddar Man was found – this segment of the trip is well worth spending some time on. Finish your Somerset trip by the seaside – while Western Super Mare is no Barbados, it is very British! Other quaint spots along the Somerset coast include Brean and Burnham on Sea.
Heading much, much further north, the Lake District is one of the prettiest places in the UK. It’s home to- you guessed it – lots of lakes, some on an epic scale, and historic villages with lots of country town. If you’re a nature fan, heading to the Lake District while you’re in the UK is an absolute must-do.
Choose to drive the Central, North and South Lakes and see highlights like Derwent Water (which is near lots of hikes with epic viewpoints!), Buttermere with gorgeous waters that reflects the surrounding haystacks, waterfalls in Newlands Pass and gorgeous towns like Keswick, Bowness-On-Windermere and Kendal – the home of Kendal Mint Cake.
The nature in the Lake District will wow you – it has spots that you’d expect to find in Iceland or Scotland – but the towns are equally as charming. Pop in for a very British afternoon tea and learn all about the history of the different towns. The Lake District should be on any traveller’s UK bucket list.
Although the seas aren’t warm enough for a dip for around 50 weeks of the year, the Northumberland Coast is well worth the trip – even in winter. Home to castles and rugged beaches, the Northumberland Coast is a trip that many travellers to the UK don’t take, but is well worth your time.
Highlights include Druridge Bay Country Park which is home to beautiful sandy beaches and the stunning Ladyburn Lake, English Heritage owned Dunstanburgh Castle which dates from 1313, stands on a headland and is an idyllic photography spot, the touristy yet cute town of Seahouses, the Farne Islands (it is possbile to take a boat trip from Seahouses to reach them) and Bamburgh, a beach town with another famous castle that dates from the 11th century.
The Northumberland Coast is well worth checking out for a different British culture and nature to the one that you’ll see on the south coast.
Road Trips in Wales
The A470 is the humble name for the coast-to-coast road that runs the length of Wales. It shows you many aspects of the country, and you could drive it in anything from four hours to four days. I'd suggest breaking it into two days and nights, with a third morning to complete the final leg of the journey.
It starts at a set of traffic lights outside the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff Bay, working its way through the Welsh capital, passing the fairytale Castell Coch on its outskirts. It then passes through the former industrial heartland of the Valleys before reaching the lakes and mountains of the Brecon Beacons National Park, including its highest peak, Pen y Fan.
After passing Brecon, the road continues through the wild, remote upper Wye Valley past Builth Wells and Rhayader. The latter is a natural overnight stop with the Elan Valley lakes to explore for a few hours in the afternoon.
The next day, take a short cut over the B4518 big dipper road that passes Llyn Clywedog lake to Llanbrynmair. The landscape changes as you turn into the Dovey valley, the mountains suddenly higher and steeper. You then climb the dramatic Bwlch yr Oerddrws mountain pass, emerging to a view of Cadair Idris mountain.
After passing the lovely town of Dolgellau and Coed y Brenin forest, you continue along the wide open moor next to Trawsfynydd lake, with the mountains of Snowdonia all around you. The road then ascends to the stark grey amphitheatre of mountains and slate heaps that is Blaenau Ffestiniog, which never fails to make an impression. You then climb the Crimea Pass to the remote Lledr valley for ten miles, stopping for the night at the main Snowdonia hub of Betws-y-Coed.
The final run the next day takes you up the bucolic Conwy valley, and around the back of Llandudno’s suburbs. Suddenly you reach a T-junction at Llandudno seafront and that is it: journey over. Llandudno is a lovely Victorian beach resort, and the historic town and castle of Conwy is also very close by.
By David and Faye from Travel With Little One
Road Trips in Scotland
The Isle of Skye
If you are looking for one of the best road trips in Europe, then look no further than a trip to the Isle of Skye. Most people who drive in Scotland tend to miss a drive to the Isle of Skye. It takes approximately 5 hours from Edinburgh or Glasgow by drive to reach the main town of Portree. Stay in one of the cute B&B’s around the Isle of Skye and start your drive in the morning.
The Isle of Skye bridge connects the mainland to the Isle. Start with a breakfast at Kyleakin which is the first town once you enter Isle of Skye. Alternatively, many people hike the Old man of Storr to get some breathtaking views during sunrise. From here, proceed to the many gorgeous waterfalls and gorges like Mealt falls, Lealt Gorge etc.
If you want to be transported to another world, then your next stop should be Quairaing full of magical rock formations. For a touch of history, head to Dunvegan castle. Next stop is the fairy pools and end your day with a gorgeous sunset at the Neist Lighthouse before heading back to Portee for a night’s halt. Best time to visit the Isle of Skye is during Autumn since the drive is so gorgeous then.
By Soumya from Travel Books Food
Aberdeenshire Coastal Trail
The North Coast 500
One of the best road trips in the UK is Scotland’s North Coast 500. Often referred to as the NC500, this route through the beautiful Scottish Highlands has been dubbed “Scotland’s route 66.” Not only is it the best road trip in Europe, but it’s also been proclaimed the best in the world. The typical route starts in either Inverness of Applecross and then goes up and around from there.
It took us a full eight days but can be done in a day if you never stop driving. In an ideal world, I would suggest two weeks to take in the whole route. All along the 500 miles you will find sheep, highland cows, a few whiskey distilleries and plenty of great views. When you start the drive and get into the highlands you won’t even realize you’re in Scotland anymore, but rather some beautiful far-off planet.
Just a warning that in the summer months the North Coast 500 can get incredibly crowded. It’s not a hidden gem anymore, so my suggestion would be to visit in September or October. Even then it will still be busy and it’s advisable to book your accommodation in advance. There isn’t enough supply to meet demand on the route so it’s best to figure out your stops beforehand. Above all, enjoy the journey and pack a camera and a rain jacket! Get ready for one of the best road trips in the world!
By Natasha from The World Pursuit
Visiting Scotland, near Dalmellington (off the A713), the locals shared a tale about an eleven-sided castle called Loch Doon Castle. When you put Loch Doon Castle in the GPS, the instructions will include taking an “unnamed road.” So how do you get there?
The road to get there winds along Loch Doon, so once you find it, you will be able to find the castle. It may seem like it is a bit of an interesting route, but you will eventually get there.
Another important note, the road is what they call a “one track road.” That means there is two-way traffic, but the road is only wide enough for one vehicle at a time. Fortunately, there are many turn-outs, and once you get to the loch, you can see quite a ways ahead of you.
One interesting point is, the castle was moved from an island in the loch to the shore because they needed to raise the water level for an electric power project. So they took the castle apart brick by brick and re-built it.
The area has beautiful rolling hills, and there is even a place to get coffee and snacks at Roundhouse Takeaway. The castle is not really big, but a fun find and well worth the journey.
By Cindy from Blue Bag Nomads
Road Trips in Ireland
The island of Ireland is somewhat renowned for its magnificent coastlines, as they are regularly used as the backdrop for many film franchises, including the likes of Harry Potter, Star Wars, and, in Northern Ireland, it is the Game of Thrones. And the Causeway Coast would be the regular setting for the Game of Thrones series, where attractions include the quaint harbour of Port Ballintoy as the “Iron Isles’, and the now iconic arching trees of the Dark Hedges which are found a short bit inland. But the views throughout on this coastal road trip, e.g. the Cliffside remains of ‘Dunluce Castle’, look as though they came straight from the fantasy series.
Otherwise, it has been ‘The Giant’s Causeway’, a renowned UNESCO World Heritage Site, with massive interlocking basalt columns, that has always attracted visitors to this coastline of Northern Ireland. However, now the 29 kilometres of the connecting causeway coast has been included as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), and a road trip from end to end is a must, along with shorts stops along the way.
For example, a tour of Bushmills Distillery is a popular stopover for whiskey tasting. As well as the drive-on beaches of Downhill Demesne and Portstewart which are some of the best beaches in all of Ireland. And while it is possible to join big bus tours from Belfast, this coastline is by far best done relaxed and independently on a road trip.
By Allan from Live Less Ordinary
Historical Sites of Southern Ireland
One of the best road trips to do in Europe is in Ireland. Travelling from Dublin, head south so you can discover some of the most beautiful and historically rich counties in the country. After leaving Dublin, head towards Tipperary where you can visit sites such as the famous Rock of Cashel and Cahir Castle, as well as the Swiss Cottage. Less than an hour from Cahir Castle, you can also visit Lismore Castle Gardens in Waterford, it’s worth a visit.
After Tipperary, your next stop should be Limerick where you can take in three castles, depending on the time of year. Start with Bunratty Castle and Folk Park before heading into Limerick City to visit King John’s Castle, a very large impressive castle located on the banks of the Shannon. From there you can swing by Adare Castle, but this is only open during summertime.
And once you’ve covered these amazing castles, your next and final stop on this road trip should be Cork City. Blackrock Castle, on the banks of the River Lee, looks like a castle from the outside but is infact a science museum and observatory. The frequent tours and talks give you the castle’s history and explain how its uses changed over the centuries.
And no visit to the south of Ireland would be complete without kissing the Blarney Stone. Located less than 30 minutes from Cork City centre, Blarney Castle and Gardens is not to be missed. Not only can you kiss the famous stone, and hopefully be bestowed with the gift of the gab, but the gardens are extensive and absolutely beautiful. It’s a not-to-be-missed castle in Ireland.
By Cath from BattleMum
Ireland is also known as Emerald Isle, a poetic name due to its lush green countryside. As you probably already know, renting a car in Ireland is more or less mandatory: it’s one of the most amazing Countries in Europe for those who love road trips!
Divided into several regions, Emerald Isle has one specific area that offers the most breathtaking views. Connemara is on the West Coast of County Galway, a 3 hours drive from Dublin, and it looks a bit like Iceland. In fact it’s not uncommon to find a herd of ponies roaming around the cliffs, completely wild and free, just like in Iceland! But it’s not the only reason why the Connemara loop is one of the best road trips in Ireland.
This drive will in fact allow you to see the best of this region in one day (or more, if you choose to stay at one of the fairytale villages along the way!). If you’re a fan of Ireland-based movies, make sure you stop at the Quiet Man Bridge, which was featured in a John Wayne movie, and at Leenaun village, where they filmed the movie “The Field” with Sean Bean.
Looking for amazing Instagram-spots? The Connemara Loop doesn’t disappoint! You will drive over the Sky Road, a narrow road with a breathtaking view on Clifden Bay and its offshore islands, and next to Kylemore Abbey, a beautiful Neo-Gothic castle that is the perfect background for some shots that will kill it on the ‘gram.
The Connemara Loop also crosses a bit of the Wild Atlantic Way, precisely when you’ll drive over at Letterfrack, a seaside village overlooked by the majestic Diamond Mountain. This means that if you want, you can continue your journey on the Wild Atlantic Way right after exploring Connemara.
Ireland is, after all, one of the Countries in Europe that offers the best scenic road trips in every season!
The Best Road Trips in the UK and Ireland
These road trips are just the start of a fascinating country that features unique nature, incredible history and eccentric people. The UK and Ireland are places that you could explore for years and never get bored – if you can hack the rain, that is! 😉
I hope this list of Ireland and UK road trips has inspired you to see some more of these European isles. Help share this post by pinning it or following me on Facebook, and remember to check back for the best road trips on mainland Europe, coming to a computer near you very soon!
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