Hit the open road this summer with our pick of the UK’s most scenic routes. From rolling hills to coastal cliffs, our country is home to some iconic scenery – and on a road trip you can truly immerse yourself in the Great British countryside. Tuck into a pub lunch in a village gastropub, sleep under the stars at a glamping site and get ready to hop behind the wheel again the next day for more adventure.
Planning ahead is important at the moment. Before hopping in your car, double check local lockdown rules to make sure they don’t differ from where you live.
The UK’s most scenic routes to drive this summer
- The Atlantic Highway, Devon and Cornwall
- The Coastal Way, Wales
- Kintyre 66, Scotland
- Cheddar Gorge, Somerset
- Wrynose and Hardknott Pass, Lake District
- North Coast 500, Scotland
- Cat and Fiddle, Peak District
- The Causeway Coastal Scenic Drive, Northern Ireland
Scenic route one: The Atlantic Highway, Devon and Cornwall
Length: 191 miles (307.4km)
Route: Bath to Land’s End
The Atlantic Highway (or A39) takes in England’s southwest peninsula, covering parts of Somerset, Devon and Cornwall. Start in Bath and head southwest through Exmoor National Park before sweeping through charming villages and past renowned surfing beaches. The route finishes at Land’s End, the most southwesterly point of Great Britain. Take a detour to Wood’s Café for a traditional Cornish cream tea, served in a quaint woodland cottage. There are lots of well-signposted walks nearby so you can stretch your legs.
Scenic route two: The Coastal Way, Wales
Length: 180 miles (290km)
Start and finish: Llandudno to Cardiff
This driving route follows the dramatic curves of Cardigan Bay, taking in some of Wales’s most stunning beaches. It also passes through Britain’s smallest city, St David’s, which is home to a historic cathedral filled with 16th-century books. As you follow the meandering single track roads you’ll spot medieval hill forts, golden beaches and dramatic rocky outcrops. Take time out to go kayaking in the sea near Ceibwr or hike along the Pembrokeshire Coast Path. Some beaches, like Porthmelgan, can only be accessed by foot.
Scenic route three: Kintyre 66, Scotland
Length: 66 miles (106.2km)
Start and finish: Tarbert
Discover the land that inspired Sir Paul McCartney to form Wings (he owns an estate there) with this loop around Scotland’s remote Kintyre Peninsula. This scenic route follows the existing A83 and B842 roads, but if you enjoy going off-piste there are six spurs you can take to see more of the area – as well as ferries over to the isle of Gigha. On the west coast you’ll find Atlantic beaches with huge waves, while on the eastern side there are sheltered bays like Skipness, Carradale and Torrisdale that are ideal for wild swimming. Afterwards, pop in to the Skipness Seafood Cabin for a platter piled high with oysters, langoustines, scallops, crab and salmon.
Scenic route four: Cheddar Gorge, Somerset
Length: 14 miles (23km)
Start and finish: Cheddar to Ashwick
Named Britain’s most scenic route back in 2018, the short road through Somerset’s Cheddar Gorge may be short but it has plenty going for it. Such as curves – a whopping 22 bends along its 14 mile stretch. If you get carsick, it might be worth skipping this one. Otherwise you’re in for a treat. The road climbs up the steep sides of Britain’s largest gorge before sweeping along the Mendip Ridge and into the Mendip Hills, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Collect a luxury afternoon tea hamper from the Oakhouse Hotel in Axbridge, and enjoy a picnic of freshly baked scones, cream puffs and sandwiches once you reach the Mendips.
Scenic route five: Wrynose and Hardknott Pass, Lake District
Length: 88 miles (141.6km)
Start and finish: Bowness-on-Windermere to Ambleside
These two passes in Eskdale Valley combine to make a drive that has been labelled ‘outrageous’ by The Guardian and the winner of the Great British Drives competition by The Telegraph. This iconic Lake District drive is renowned for steep descents, soaring climbs and hairpin bends. If you’ve got a good head for heights, you’ll be rewarded by sweeping views across the Lake District – as well as the exhilaration of negotiating some truly tricky roads. Afterwards, steady your nerves with a hyperlocal beer from Barngates Brewery, tucked away behind the Drunken Duck Inn at Ambleside.
Scenic route six: North Coast 500, Scotland
Length: 516 miles (830km)
Start and finish: Inverness
Since its launch in 2015, the North Coast 500 (or NC500) has become one of Scotland’s most iconic scenic routes. Starting at Inverness Castle, it winds a 516-mile loop around the far north – including John O’Groats, the northeastern-most point on mainland Britain. On the route you’ll have the chance to bag munros (climb mountains), visit distilleries and lounge on some of the best beaches in Scotland. If you’re feeling lavish, swing into The Torridon Resort for a hearty lunch at Bo&Muc. Seasonal ingredients are the star here, with many sourced from the hotel’s own kitchen garden.
Scenic route seven: Cat and Fiddle, Peak District
Length: 7.5 miles (12km)
Start and finish: Buxton to Macclesfield
The A54-A537 is the most famous road in the Peak District, and one of Britain’s most notorious scenic routes. The entire stretch has a speed limit of 50mph, but you’ll struggle to go that fast thanks to the sheer number of twisting turns, hairpin bends and sweeping contours. It has some incredible views across the Peak District National Park, the Cheshire Plain and Greater Manchester. Unfortunately, the Cat and Fiddle pub that gives its name to the road has been closed since 2015, so you can’t pop in for a drink at Britain’s second-highest boozer. However, plans are in place to transform it into Britain’s highest whiskey distillery, with an attached deli.
Scenic route eight: The Causeway Coastal Scenic Drive, Northern Ireland
Length: 130 miles (212km)
Start and finish: Derry to Belfast
One of the most scenic drives in Ireland, this coastal route hugs the Atlantic shoreline as it winds between the vibrant cities of Derry and Belfast. Along the way you’ll find iconic attractions like the Giant’s Causeway and the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, which was first erected by salmon fishermen in 1755. If you’re feeling brave, check out The Gobbins – a cliff-face path built during Edwardian times. Or, for a more relaxing stroll, nip into the gardens at Glenarm Castle. If you fancy visiting a Game of Thrones filming location, take a short side trip to the Dark Hedges in Ballymoney. It’s about 15 minutes’ drive off route, but this atmospheric avenue of beech trees is worth the detour.
Get behind the wheel and explore the UK
You know your route, and you’ve got a good idea of where you want to stop off – now all you need to do is hire a car. There are lots of incredible back roads and off-the-trodden-path destinations across the UK. Why not get behind the wheel and discover somewhere new, right in your back yard?
Discover where you can go
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UK road trip FAQs
Google Maps will usually give you the quickest way to get from A to B. To go the scenic route, tap the three-dot menu button at the top corner of the screen (beside your start point) and then tap route options. From here, you can choose to avoid motorways. Another way is to tap the three-dot menu and then select ‘add stop’. This is an easy way to add some detours, without messing up your directions. Google Maps will automatically add your stop to the end of the list, so either work through methodically or drag and drop it to the appropriate spot in your itinerary.
It takes 15-16 hours to drive from Land’s End to John O’Groats. The total distance is 837 miles, or 1,347 km.
Yes, tourists can drive in the UK. If you have a valid driving license in your home country, you’re allowed to drive in the United Kingdom for at least 12 months.
Sketch out a rough route of where you want to go, working out a few places to stop along the way. Once you’ve chosen your stops, make a short list of accommodation in each area. Work on each leg separately so you don’t get overwhelmed by all the options. Check Google Maps for interesting breaks you can take along the way, such as country pubs, short walking trails and tourist attractions. Finally, give yourself time to recover. Not every day should be a driving day. Take time off to really immerse yourself in the area you’re visiting. After all, you’re on holiday.
Want to read more?
- Coronavirus travel advice: the latest information about travelling during the pandemic, from border restrictions to your rights in case of cancellation
- 7 tips for safe road trips during COVID: from carefully planning your route to packing plenty of snacks, our advice will help to keep you safe as you explore the country by car
- 10 road trip games to help you survive long car journeys: from classics like punch buggy and I-Spy to creative quizzes like ‘would you rather?’, these games will keep you entertained.