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Scenic Drives in the UK

Croquet in Bath, England
Croquet in Bath, England

England was recently voted Lonely Planet’s second most popular destination (in case you’re wondering, Bhutan came first and North Macedonia third) largely because of its coastline and rich history. England is the largest part of the United Kingdom, followed by Scotland, Wales and Northern Island, and offers so much more than fish and chips and Yorkshire Pudding.

London, for example, is recognised as one of the most multicultural cities in the world, and while there is no question this has had an impact on the rest of the UK, you’re never far away from her ancestors: the Celts, Romans, Vikings, Saxons, Normans, all left traces of their heritage, aspects their culture and, if you’re lucky, the odd castle or two. What better way to explore these Emerald Isles than hiring a rental car and embarking on a few UK driving day trips.

Popular Tourist Sites & Attractions in UK

Britain has always drawn people to her shores. It’s strategic waterways and fertile land made settling comparatively easy and, as an island, the seas around her shores created a natural border making it relatively easy to defend. This ensured that her invaders were able to spend long periods of time in the UK, permanently marking the land they occupied, shaping the hills and vistas with farms, homes and defences, the villages and hamlets connected by ancient pathways and tracks that grew into the very roads you’ll inevitably encounter on your scenic drive.

This rich history has literally etched itself into the very being of the UK, despite recent technology that has homogenised much of the country (along with the rest of the world) there are still places in the UK where you glimpse into her past, encounter timeless places and practices suspended in time. So, when someone mentions Britain or the UK, it’s not all about Big Ben (which is the name of the largest bell housed inside the Elizabeth Tower, not the tower itself) Black taxi cabs and bright red buses, venture further afield and you’ll discover a predominantly green island scattered with large cities and towns that, at times, seem to forget all the beautiful lakes, forests, mountains, national parks and moorland that stretch all the way to the coves and beaches of her coastline. Time to settle the score.

We’ll begin at the northernmost location and end at the most southern, and as we go down we’ll detour to the East or West of our descent so if you want to turn your UK Scenic drive into an epic trip, it’ll be easier to plan.

Northern UK:

Loch Ness

Location: Scotland, UK

And no, this isn’t all about the fabled sea-creature that lives deep inside this famous Scottish loch, it is, however, all about the loch. With more water than all the lakes in England and Wales combined, Loch Ness is 126 fathoms (755 ft) deep making it the second deepest loch in Scotland after Loch Morar. This huge depth gives the Loch a quality that needs to be experienced first-hand, it’s at once extraordinarily beautiful, yet uncanny; visiting it at night when it’s quiet is downright eerie and you can understand why it’s steeped in mystery.

Loch Ness, Scotland
Loch Ness, Scotland

The surrounding area is worth a visit in its own right; this is a landscape rich in nature with the famous Urquart Castle and Augustus Fort adding a distant romance to the Loch’s sense of atmosphere, foreboding, even. A great place for mountain drives, best visit in autumn for the changing colour and light and discover why Loch Ness has inspired poets and painters for centuries. Bring a camera, just in case you see something weird moving in the water.

Edinburgh Castle

Location: Scotland, UK

It’s not just about Edinburgh Castle, of course, the host city isn’t just famous for its festivals but for its sheer beauty. Nicknamed ‘Athens of the North’ it was even considered to be prettier than Athens in a recent Rough Guide poll, and only bettered by Paris, Florence and Rome. The view of the city from Arthur’s Seat (a dormant volcano) is one of the best cityscapes in the world and there, facing you in the distance is Edinburgh Castle.

Edinburgh Castle, Scotland
Edinburgh Castle

Dating from the 12th century the last monarch vacated in 1633 before it became a military barracks and then a tourist attraction taking us to the present, every day, when, at 1 pm (save Sunday, Good Friday and Christmas) a gun is fired from the Mills Mount Battery. It’s Scotland most visited paid-for attraction and open throughout the year, this gives the visitor a fighting chance to see this magnificent building when it’s not packed full of tourists.

York Minster

Location: York, UK

First and foremost, this is a working Cathedral so time your visit around services and events, unless specifically drawn otherwise, and bear in mind it can get crowded during term time for school visits. York Minster is the largest Gothic Cathedral in North Europe and dates from 1270, though there has been a church of sorts on the site since 627. The huge great east window, finished in 1408, is one the largest areas of medieval stained glass in the world and an enormous attraction in its own right; it’s one of 127 other pieces located throughout the building including the sublime Rose Window high in the South Transept.

York Minster, England
York Minster

With such a rich history ingrained into the very stone of its walls (having survived, Vikings, Danes and the Reformation) York Minster is a humbling construction, irrespective of personal beliefs and despite a fairly pricey entrance fee, remains as one of the best attractions in the UK. If nothing else, go for the stained glass.

Snowdonia National Park

Location: Wales, UK

This region in Wales, located in North West of the UK, is home to the highest mountain in the country and while it’s surmountable in good weather conditions without any specialist equipment, it’s best avoided in the winter months.

Snowdonia National Park, Wales
Snowdonia National Park

If you don’t fancy walking up there’s a historic narrow-gauge rack and pin railway that’ll do the job the for you while offering spectacular views while you relax in comfort, and if you’re railway enthusiast there are no less than seven narrow-gauge lines to choose from, many of which were originally used to carry slate from the mines.

In addition to breath-taking, rugged, scenery the whole area is populated with historic and archaeological sites, Tomen y Mur and Cymer Abbey for example and castles galore: Conwy Castle, Dolwyddelan Castle Caernarfon Castle, Harlech Castle, Criccieth Castle, Dolbadarn Castle with further ruins awaiting the curious. For walkers and hikers with an interest in history, this is the place to be in the late spring. If you like railways, this is paradise.

Central UK

Warwick Castle

Location: Warwick, UK

Like many castles, Warwick began life as a wooden structure but the builder, a certain William the Conqueror, the first Norman King of England, gives Warwick castle an extra significance that’s connected to the very heart of England. Rebuilt in stone in the 12th Century long after William had gone, it ceased to become a stronghold in 1604 when it became a country residence. These days it’s purely a tourist attraction and has been so since the end of the 16th century, opening its first ticket office in 1900 complete with guided tour.

War of the Roses at Warwick Castle, England
War of the Roses at Warwick Castle

Apart from being a superlative example of medieval architecture (it was even painted in 1752 by the Italian master Canaletto -better known for views of his hometown, Venice), it’s home to the second largest collection of armour in England, the largest being located in the Tower of London. Despite being more tourist attraction than working castle these days, it still retains that magical air of history that supersedes all the busloads of tourist, and for that reason, pick your visit carefully.

Canterbury Cathedral

Location: Canterbury, UK

Arguably one of Europe’s most famous Cathedrals (the Archbishop of Canterbury is the most important religious leader in the UK) Canterbury Cathedral is a working building so please plan your timings respectfully. There has been a religious structure on the site since 597, 500 odd years later it was rebuilt in stone and shortly after this it became well-known throughout Europe, and a place of pilgrimage following the murder in 1170 of the then Archbishop, Thomas Beckett.

The Cloisters in Canterbury Cathedral
The Cloisters in Canterbury Cathedral

The building itself is typical of the large-scale Gothic cathedrals being built in parts of Europe during the 12th century and even though it may not have the aesthetic dynamism of, say, York Minster, it’s undeniably beautiful. What is does have, and what makes it exceptional, is its historical significance. The murder of Thomas Beckett, an act that took place within its hallowed walls, attracted pilgrims which not only made the city wealthy it also changed literature forever after inspiring Chaucer to write The Canterbury Tales.

South

The Royal Borough of Greenwich

Location: Greenwich, London, UK

Yes, it’s very much in London but it doesn’t feel as if it is. Greenwich is unique and it knows it, its history is connected by the Thames to the high seas and far-off worlds, and on dry land it’s the point that East meets West making Greenwich both Longitude zero degrees and the reference point for the 24-hour day as we’ve known it, more or less, since 1884.

Greenwich, London, England
Greenwich

Greenwich is bursting at the seams with attractions celebrating British Maritime history (the largest is the National Maritime Museum) and the Prime Meridian (Royal Observatory) in addition to huge public parks and spaces with fantastic views of London and the Thames. Because of its location in the south-east, it’s quite easy to reach by car without having to traipse through the city, and if you’re flying into city airport to pick up your hire car, this should be the first or last, thing to do on your list.

Stonehenge

Location: (Near) Amesbury, Salisbury, UK

Could this be the most famous pile of rocks in the world? What makes Stonehenge such an attraction (despite being located 200 metres from the A303 a busy two-lane carriageway) is quite simply that no-one really knows what the standing stones stood for, though a clearer picture of how they got there is emerging. Some believe Stonehenge was used to study the movements of planets, others think it was a place of spiritual healing, but scholars are now leaning more towards the idea it was a burial ground.

Stonehenge, England
Stonehenge

We do know it dates back to 3000 BC and was active until the early Bronze Age (1500 BC) and there have been numerous discoveries of human bones, but it’s most famous attribution is that the entrance faces the rising sun on the day of the summer solstice, making it a popular destination for curious visitors worldwide. In recent years this once lonely site on Salisbury Plain has been given a serious makeover, now with a brand new (award-winning) visitors centre it’s a great place to visit, and there’s no better way than by car.

Bath

Location: Bath, Somerset. UK

This could be the prettiest city in the UK, located about an hour and a half east from London (by car) it’s feels as if partially locked in time because of its rich Roman history that has resulted in its historic baths (and from where it gets his name) and, more recently, a Georgian-period makeover that looks as fresh today as it did in the 1700’s.

Roman Baths in Bath
Roman Baths in Bath

The Roman’s built the baths around hot springs in about 60 AD, it became associated with Christianity in the 7th Century but it wasn’t until claims about the healing properties of the water hit Georgian society that Bath flourished into the city it’s famed for today. The Royal Crescent could be one of the finest examples of Georgian Architecture in the UK, the Roman baths are almost perfectly preserved and, as the birthplace of Jane Austen, it has a literary/cultural history keenly celebrated in numerous museums and galleries.

Eden Project

Location: Bodelva, Cornwall, UK

This is a relatively new addition to one of the best places to visit in the UK. Formerly a disused China clay pit (and later, film location) the Eden Project opened in 2000 and consists of a cluster of plastic covered biomes housing thousands of plants gathered from across the world; the organic material within is sustained by specific environmental conditions, allowing for the Rainforest and Mediterranean environments in the two major domes.

Flowers at the Eden Project in Cornwall, England
Flowers at the Eden Project in Cornwall

In addition to being an invaluable site for the study of exotic plants and botanicals, the Eden Project has held its very own annual music festival since 2002 (the same year it appears in a James Bond film ‘Die Another Day) and has hosted a diverse range of acts that include the likes of Muse, Dizzee Rascal and the late Amy Winehouse. In 2005 it opened ‘The Core’, a huge education facility and art space for exhibitions and installations which has further diversified its ever-growing audience. Outside the Project, the surrounding areas offer the motorist the perfect chance to discover this beautiful part of the UK, free from the trappings of city life.

North

Highland Perthshire Loop

Driving Route: Begin at Pitlochry on the A924, drive East to B8079, B847, West to B846, B848, A923. At Blairgowrie head north on the A93 and back on to A924.

Total Distance: 156 km/97 miles
Duration: A day to a week

Sights Along the Way:

  • Castle Menzies
  • Fortingall Yew
  • Loch Tummel

This iconic drive comes in the form of a loop and is just one of the many ways to explore the romantic region of Perthshire – rich with glens, waterfalls, lochs (lakes) forests- and featuring Pitlochry, famed for its history, outdoor activities and two whisky distilleries, including the smallest in Scotland. Leave Pitlochry early in the morning to catch the light and head west towards Loch Rannoch, passing between the Boulain Woods and Allean Forest as you go on your way.

stars on the road to pitlochry, scotland, scenic drives in the UK
Road to Pitlochry

After taking in the Loch (you may find yourself staying longer than you intended) drive back east under the mountainous shadow of Schiehallion, down through Aberfeldy and Dunkeld before resting at Blairgowie for the final leg back to Pitlochry via the Blackcraig and Kindrogan Forests. It may be a relatively short scenic driving route in the UK, especially for Scotland, but you’ll be crawling along at snail’s pace trying to see everything all at once. Outstanding, and probably the most beautiful UK driving route on this list.

The Highland Perthshire Loop FAQ

Can you drive all of the Highland Perthshire Loop?

Yes, Pitlochry on the A924, drive East to B8079, B847, West to B846, B848, A923. At Blairgowrie head north on the A93 and back on to A924.

How long is the Highland Perthshire Loop?

It’s only 65 kilometres (40 miles) and takes about half a day to do in one go, but you might want to add extra stopping time to enjoy the scenery.

How hard is it to drive the Highland Perthshire Loop?

It has climbs and descents that require concentration, if you adhere to the unwritten law that cars going down will stop and wait for cars going up, you’ll make life easier for yourself and others.

Where’s the best place to stay on the Highland Perthshire Loop?

Probably Pitlochry because it’s a warm, cosy place to set off from and arrive back to

When is it best to go to Highland Perthshire Loop?

Despite a distinct chill in the air, the autumn colours go down very well with a wee dram or two, when you’ve finished driving for the day, of course.

Isle of Arran Coastal drive

Driving Route: The A841, all the way around

Total Distance: 105 km/65 miles

Duration: One day to a long weekend

Sights Along the Way:

  • Abundant Wildlife
  • Goat Fell Mountain
  • Brodick Castle

The opportunity to witness an ever-changing sea and landscape as you drift around the four cardinal directions, wrapped around the coastline of Arran in Scotland, is unique to this UK driving route. It also makes choosing the perfect starting point challenging for this relaxed coastal drive. Quite simply, there isn’t one. You may find your journey dictated by the ferry port (there are two, one in Brodick, one in Lochranza) so anti-clockwise to and from the Lochranza highway is a safe bet, but it depends what you want out of your trip.

Goatfell Mountain, Isle of Arran
Goatfell Mountain

Winding roads pass through photo-perfect peaks and valleys with amazing areas of outstanding natural beauty; the coastline features some of the best beaches in the UK with plenty of inland viewpoints to tempt the curious driver away from their vehicles (Arran is famed for its whisky) providing an excellent excuse to buy one of their famed jumpers. Whatever you do, plan this one properly or you’ll miss out on the many delights this little island has to offer.

The Highland Perthshire Loop FAQ

Can you drive all of the Highland Perthshire Loop?

Yes, Pitlochry on the A924, drive East to B8079, B847, West to B846, B848, A923. At Blairgowrie head north on the A93 and back on to A924.

How long is the Highland Perthshire Loop?

It’s only 65 kilometres (40 miles) and takes about half a day to do in one go, but you might want to add extra stopping time to enjoy the scenery.

How hard is it to drive the Highland Perthshire Loop?

It has climbs and descents that require concentration, if you adhere to the unwritten law that cars going down will stop and wait for cars going up, you’ll make life easier for yourself and others.

Where’s the best place to stay on the Highland Perthshire Loop?

Probably Pitlochry because it’s a warm, cosy place to set off from and arrive back to

When is it best to go to Highland Perthshire Loop?

Despite a distinct chill in the air, the autumn colours go down very well with a wee dram or two, when you’ve finished driving for the day, of course.

West

Hardnott and Wrynose Pass in the Lake District

Driving Route: From Ambleside head west on the A593 then take the Wrynose Pass and Hardknott Pass to Smithybrow Lane to Eskdale.

Total Distance: 27 km/17 miles

Duration: Half a day to a day

Sights Along the Way:

  • Hardnott Roman fort
  • River Esk
  • ‘The most outrageous road in the UK’

At one of the northernmost sites of Roman Empire lies a single-lane track of Roman road that challenges the skills of even the most experienced of drivers. Boasting, in places, a 3 in 1 gradient (only Rosedale Chimney in the Yorkshire Moors can match that) and tight, twisty hairpins, with road surfaces that can be slippery and unpredictable, this might be the longest hour of your life.

The Struggle, Ambleside, Yorkshire
The Struggle, Ambleside

However it may just be the most rewarding UK driving day trip out there, viewed from above the road resembles a liquorice bootlace draped over mounds of tree moss without so much as tree-stump to punctuate the rugged scenery, and the warm pubs and inns at either end are the perfect places to start or end your trip. There is something magical, almost haunting, about driving these two passes, especially if you’ve taken the time and effort to ensure you have the road to yourself.

Hardnott and Wrynose Pass in the Lake District FAQ

Can you drive all of the Hardnott and Wrynose Pass?

Head west from Ambleside on the A593 and take the Wrynose Pass and Hardknott Pass to Smithybrow Lane to Eskdale.

How long is the Hardnott and Wrynose Pass?

A breeze at 27 km/17 miles, plenty of time to do it twice, then.

How long does it take to drive the Wrynose Pass and Hardknott Pass?

Not long at all, it could be done in well under an hour so build up to it, take it all in and savour the moment afterwards.

How hard is the Hardnott and Wrynose Pass to drive?

In a word, hard, and one for the more experienced motorist.

What’s the best town to stay in the Wrynose Pass and Hardknott Pass?

There’s nowhere to stay, you’ll need to choose from one of the places scattered either-side in and around Ambleside or Eskdale.

Black Mountain Pass

Driving Route: A4069 between Llandovery and Gwaun-Cae-Gurwen in Wales

Total Distance: 29 km/18 miles

Duration: An hour, but you got to get to the start/finish points, so give it a day

Sights Along the Way:

  • Stunning Mountain views
  • Alpine landscape
  • 600 metres of ascent and descent

Unfortunately, the Black Mountain Pass was popularised a few years ago by BBC TV’s Top Gear, following a fairly typical Jeremy Clarkson vs. car (Mercedes AMG SLK) encounter, and it’s not done this once quiet stretch of road any favours. Take that as a clear sign to avoid at weekends, bank holidays and peak seasons, but don’t let this put you off either, because it’s worth going the extra mile just to sample this most westerly section of the Brecon Beacons and the highest ground in the southern half of, ironically, the UK.

Waterfall in the Brecon Beacons in Wales
Waterfall in the Brecon Beacons

I say ‘ironically’ because it doesn’t feel like a UK scenic drive (or Welsh scenic drive to be precise) this is a, for all intense and purposes, a mountain drive incorporating thrilling hairpin bends, lofty inclines and Alpine vistas, with only the brooding skies and occasion sheep to remind you that Lake Como isn’t over the next ridge. One of the best cross-country driving routes in the UK, just make sure you time it right.

Black Mountain Pass FAQ

Can you drive through the Black Mountain Pass?

The A4069 between Llandovery and Gwaun-Cae-Gurwen is all you need to know

How long does it take to drive the Black Mountain Pass?

Hardly anytime at all, but that’s not the point, it’s the thrill of doing it

How hard is the Black Mountain Pass to drive?

It’ll challenge the inexperienced motorist; it may even give the experienced a run for their money

What’s the best town to stay in the Black Mountain Pass?

There aren’t any towns to speak of but there’s a hotel or two in and around Llandovery

When is it best to go the Black Mountain Pass?

Anytime so long as it’s empty

Central

Peak District

Driving Route: Chapel-en-le-Frith to Matlock, head East on the A6, turn left onto A623 then re-join A6 to Matlock

Total Distance: 80 km/50 miles

Duration: One day to a week

Sights Along the Way:

  • Enchanting villages
  • Areas of outstanding natural beauty
  • Chatsworth House

A week to drive fifty miles might seem absurd, but this isn’t just about driving from A to B. For a start you’ll be stopping regularly to just to wander around many of the District’s delightful villages in this eye-popping UK scenic drive, to admire the odd limestone valley or gaze in wonderment across open moorland, but just as likely will be the draw to follow all the weather-worn signposts directing you to tantalising sounding places that await down single-lane tracks.

Peak District, England
Peak District

The Peak District lies at the heart of the UK in northern Derbyshire, it was the first designated national park in the UK and has a genuine sense of timelessness -motorists seeking out the ‘authentic’ England as depicted in fiction won’t be disappointed. For those inclined to the great outdoors then make a stop at the village of Edale, a few kilometres north of Chapel-en-le-Frith, as here marks the start of the iconic Pennine Way. This cragged 268-mile-long footpath that passes through the Yorkshire Dales, the Northumberland National Park and ends at Kirk Yetholm (just inside the Scottish border) isn’t to be missed if you’re a fan of hiking.

Peak District Drive FAQ

Can you drive through the Peak District?

Yes, probably the best way is to start at Chapel-en-le-Frith, head East on the A6, turn left onto A623 to Matlock

How long does it take to drive from Chapel-en-le-Frith to Matlock?

This drive is only 80 km/50 miles so you easily have it done within a couple of hours. Just take your time.

How hard is the Peak District to drive?

It’s fairly straightforward, it depends on how many single-lane tracks you want to meander down off the beaten track.

What’s the best town to stay in the Peak District?

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a place you don’t want to stay in

When is it best to visit the Peak District?

So long as the visibility is good, all the seasons have their perks

Yorkshire Moors

Driving Route: Downholme to Nateby. B6279 all the way

Total Distance: 45 km/28 miles

Duration: One hour to a long weekend

Sights Along the Way:

  • Unspoilt wild moorland
  • Podgill Viaduct
  • Bronze Age Hill Fort

These misleadingly short UK driving routes are so much more than the sum of their parts. The Yorkshire Moors are a (comparably) vast swathe of land that demands more of you than just time; these are, of course, the very Moors that inspired Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights (the family seat in Haworth is about 50 miles south of Downholme) and Francis Hodgeson Burnett’s ‘The Secret Garden’.

Farmhouse on the Yorkshire Moors
Farmhouse on the Yorkshire Moors

The route cited on this UK driving day trip will provide a good overview of what the Moors have in terms of scenery, with its steep climbs, sudden dips, tight bends and plenty of open-sky straights, but it also acts as an incentive for further exploration: you could spend a couple of months roaming the moorland and still not see the same thing twice. But if you’re in a hurry, make sure you pass through Swaledale along the way, park up the car and just take it all in.

Yorkshire Moors Drive FAQ

Can you drive through the Yorkshire Moors?

Yes, probably the best way is Downholme to Nateby on the B6279

How long does it take to drive from Downholme to Nateby?

It may be the shortest here at 45 km/28 miles , so well under an hour. However…

How hard is it to drive on the Yorkshire Moors?

Nothing too challenging in good weather.

Where’s the best place to stay when driving through the Yorkshire Moors?

It’s all good but any of the villages in Swaledale offering accommodation is a safe bet

When is it best to drive the Yorkshire Moors?

Late spring, early summer is always beautiful

East

Norfolk

Driving Route: Kings Lynn to Norwich, North on the A149, join A148 then take the A140 from Cromer to Norwich

Total Distance: 145 km/90 miles

Duration: Three hours to a long weekend

Sights Along the Way:

  • Scolthead Nature Reserve
  • Coastal drive on UK’s most westerly point
  • Norwich Cathedral

You won’t find much in the way of hills in this UK driving day trip (or longer) but you’ll be treated to wide, open views of glorious countryside, unspoilt coastline (over 90 miles of it) and a stretch of the North Sea that separates you from the Netherlands… How do you think the Vikings got to the UK? They arrived in 865 AD (after the Romans had had a good old go some 800 years previously) and were defeated fifty years later, but not before leaving behind a legacy that, alongside the Romans, includes Norwich itself: a great place to visit – better still, stay over.

Coloured rooves in Norwich, England
Coloured rooves in Norwich

A UK driving day trip takes a good bite out of all the good stuff that Norfolk has to offer, but you might want to take it slowly, stop for a day or two in Hunstanton, Wells-on-the Sea or Cromer in addition to the many distractions along the way. A smooth, easy drive with some great places to visit along the way, just make sure you get the planning sorted in advance.

Norfolk Drive FAQ

Can you drive through Norfolk?

Kings Lynn to Norwich is good, north on the A149, join A148 then take the A140 from Cromer to Norwich

How long does it take to drive from Kings Lynn to Norfolk?

It’s 145 km/90 miles so half a day is doable

How hard is it to drive through Norfolk?

Very straightforward whatever your experience

Where’s the best place to stay when driving through Norfolk?

All in all, Norwich

When is it best to drive through Norfolk?

It can get crowded in summer but it’s still probably the best time to go, just avoid the school holidays

Suffolk Wool Towns

Driving Route: Clare to Kersey, take the A1092 and head east following each signposted village to Bildeston. Here, drop South via the A1141 to Kersey

Total Distance: 64 km/40 miles

Duration: A day to a week

Sights Along the Way:

  • Historic English houses
  • Holy Trinity Church, Long Melford
  • Constable country

This UK tourist driving route takes in the pick of the famous wool towns between Clare and Chelsworth, these include, in order of appearance, Clare, Cavendish, Long Melford, Lavenham, Chelsworth, Bildeston and Kersey. It’s unashamedly picturesque -if you thought the villages in the north were pretty then this is an entirely different story- with buildings dating back to late medieval England, these are the spoils of a long-forgotten textile industry.

Pond and Farm Garden near Halesworth in Suffolk, England
Farm Garden near Halesworth, Suffolk

Arguably the best-known town on the trip is Lavenham, home to the world-famous Lavenham Blue cloth (a plain, heavy wool fabric) which made the town wealthy in the 1600s before cheap copies destroyed the trade. Meander past timber-framed houses, some seemingly locked in time, before stopping off for afternoon tea or dinner at one of the many cosy restaurants and pubs along the way. There are plenty of beautiful countryside walks and places of outstanding natural beauty too, so why not slow it right down and book a few nights, quite literally, away from it all.  

Suffolk Wool Town Drive

What’s the best way to drive through the Suffolk Wool Towns?

Probably Clare to Kersey: take the A1092 and head east following each signposted village to Bildeston. Here, drop South via the A1141 to Kersey

How long does it take to drive from Clare to Kersey?

It’s only 64 km/40 miles so a couple of hours at most, without the stops

How hard is the Suffolk Wool Town Drive?

Simple for most drivers

What’s the best town to stay on the Suffolk Wool Town Drive?

They’re all beautiful but Lavenham may just top the chart because of its history

When is it best to go on the Suffolk Wool Town Drive?

It’s a very nice place to be cosy in winter

South

Devon Coast to Coast

Driving Route: Appledore to Plymouth. A386

Total Distance: 97 km/60 miles

Duration: Half a day to a weekend

Sights Along the Way:

  • Ancient Tors
  • Historic Plymouth
  • Sherlock Holmes Country

If the Bronte sisters can lay claim to capturing the imagination of the North Yorkshire Moors, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of the world’s most famous detective, has Dartmoor. This sunny (if you’re lucky) scenic drive south from the pretty fishing town of Appeldore, famed for its ice cream, through little villages crossing the southern tip of England is one thing, arriving on the outskirts of Dartmoor at Meldon is another entirely.

Dog in Dartmoor National Park, with sun setting behind some wispy cloud
Dartmoor National Park

It’s almost as if you’ve come to the edge of the world, looking over a vast area of rough grazing land broken by granite tors, ancient woodland and a sense of something else only experienced by actually being there. You are free to continue on this picturesque UK scenic drive through a small portion of its easternmost aspect until arriving at Plymouth less than an hour later, but you might want to stop where you are and go explore this romantic, if a little daunting, stretch of the British Isles.

Suffolk Wool Town Drive

What’s the best way to drive through the Suffolk Wool Towns?

Probably Clare to Kersey: take the A1092 and head east following each signposted village to Bildeston. Here, drop South via the A1141 to Kersey

How long does it take to drive from Clare to Kersey?

It’s only 64 km/40 miles so a couple of hours at most, without the stops

How hard is the Suffolk Wool Town Drive?

Simple for most drivers

What’s the best town to stay on the Suffolk Wool Town Drive?

They’re all beautiful but Lavenham may just top the chart because of its history

When is it best to go on the Suffolk Wool Town Drive?

It’s a very nice place to be cosy in winter

Cheddar Gorge to Bath

Driving Route: Cheddar Gorge south on the B3151 to Ashwick (also known as Cliff Road)

Total Distance: 23 km/14 mile

Duration: A day to a week

Sights Along the Way:

  • Mendip Hills
  • Geological wonders
  • Cheese!

Cheddar lies in Somerset, the unofficial capital of the West Country, and is the home of Cheddar Cheese, the most popular cheese in the UK and, after mozzarella, the second most popular in the USA. In addition to a rich history, Celts, Romans and Anglo Saxon’s aside, it has an almost unrivalled natural history in the UK too. The Mendip hills are quietly inspiring but really, it’s all about Cheddar Gorge, famed for its limestone towers and valleys pocked with caves and coves including one that once housed the 9,000-year-old Cheddar Man, Britain’s oldest complete human skeleton.

Cheddar Village in Cheddar Gorge, Cheshire
Cheddar Village in Cheddar Gorge

Before you get into the car at Cheddar you might want to enjoy a cream tea (you should, just don’t mention the cream teas in Cornwall) something to steady your nerves as you embark on a scenic drive that takes you right through the gorge: it’s short but sublime scenic drive this one, truly one of the best in the UK, carrying you through some spectacular rock formations that twist and turn through narrow roads flanked by huge limestone structures until you reach Ashwick, turn around and do it all over again.

Cheddar Gorge to Ashwick FAQ

Can I drive from Cheddar Gorge to Ashwick?

From Cheddar take the B3135 to Ashwick

How long does it take to drive from Cheddar Gorge to Ashwick?

It’s only 23 km/14 miles, most of it up and down.

How hard is the Cheddar Gorge to Ashwick road to drive?

It’s challenging, experienced drivers only

Where’s the best town to stay on the Cheddar Gorge to Ashwick drive?

Cheddar is lovely

When is it best to drive from Cheddar Gorge to Ashwick?

Avoid winter in terms of snow and ice, heavy rains can cause the road to close and it can get busy in the summer months

Major (and lesser known) Events to Visit in UK

For such a relatively small space, the UK is punching well above its weight when it comes to things to see and do, and it really is a case of everything from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Well-known fixtures include the Wimbledon Tennis Tournament, Glastonbury Festival and the Last Night of the Proms but, in addition to being expensive, they’ll need to be booked far in advance. There’s plenty of famous events that don’t cost an arm or a leg though, The Highland Games, the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race, the London Marathon, but they tend to get crowded and we’re tired out just thinking them.

Enough already, here’s a list of things you can do up and down the UK that don’t always make it into the guidebooks, a top-notch array of free family-friendly events to provide succour to the heart and soul, with one in particular that might actually cost you an arm or a leg…

North

Event: Burns’ Night

Date: 25th January
Location: All over Scotland
Cost: Free

Join the whole of the country in celebrating the life of the great Robbie Burns, famed poet, lyricist and liberal who pushed back against the church and state with his romantic prose. Scotland’s celebrated national poet has his very own day dedicated to him which can be enjoyed with family, friends, a steaming haggis, a few malty whiskies, all accompanied by bagpipes and poems penned by the great man himself.

Robbie Burns Night

There are plenty of organised Burns Night events all over Scotland there is a traditional schedule of proceedings (it’s taken very seriously by some) or you can just dip in and out of it, soak of the celebratory atmosphere and enjoy one of Scotland’s finest evenings.

Event: Edinburgh Fringe Festival

Date: August
Location: Edinburgh, Scotland
Cost: Free/ticketed events

The Edinburgh International Festival has been somewhat hijacked in the recent past by its younger brother, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. It begins before the International Festival and runs most of the way through it, but it’s not about the higher end of the performing arts, the Fringe is all about creative freedom, which translates as comedy, in every possible way imaginable.

Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Scotland

A visit to Edinburgh at this time of year should be on everyone’s bucket list, even if you don’t go and see a single event (you will, though) it’s worth it for that unique atmosphere, quite unlike anything anywhere else in the world. A word to the wise, though, book your accommodation well in advance.

Event: Hogmanay

Date: 31st December
Location: All over Scotland
Cost: Free (though you might pay the following day)

The Scottish know how to celebrate, place that alongside New Year’s Eve and you’ve got the best party of the year. The word ‘Hogmanay’ may derive from a French word (brought back from France by Mary Queen of Scots) ‘hoginane’ meaning gala day and it’s seen by many as more worthy of celebration than Christmas day itself, probably because Christmas was banned for 400 years in the 16th century during The Reformation.

Hogmanay Torchlight Procession in Edinburgh, Scotland
Hogmanay Torchlight Procession in Edinburgh: Photo on Flickr by Lawrence OP / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Traditionally, Hogmanay is a celebration of the transition from the old to new and while many of the rituals and gestures that accompanied the festivities have faded into the past its fundamental purpose, a celebration of family and friendship, is very much alive and kicking. Slàinte mhath!

Central

Event: Jorvik Viking Festival

Date: Late February
Location: York, North Yorkshire
Cost: Free/ticketed events

Billed as the largest of its kind in Europe, this family-friendly event is organised and funded by the York Archaeological Trust and consists of a programme of fascinating events that take place all over the beautiful city of York, every February, at school half term. Among a host of entertaining events, you can enjoy talks on York and its Viking history, living encampments, banquets, Viking markets and even live Combat!

Jorvik Viking Festival, York, England
Jorvik Viking Festival in York: Photo on Flickr by Rigel / CC BY 2.0

The highlight of the Jorvik Viking Festival is the spectacular finale which sees the cold Yorkshire skies alight with flame and fireworks, and when you’re all done you’ve got the beautiful North Yorkshire moors to explore as you head home.

Event: Norfolk and Norwich Festival

Date: May
Location: All over Norfolk
Cost: Free/ticketed events

Seventeen days and, doubtless, East England’s annual highlight, this internationally renowned arts festival began life in 1824, though its roots can be traced all the way back to 1772 as a way of fundraising for the local hospital.

Highwire walker in George Street, Norwich at the Norwich and Norfolk Festival
Highwire in Norwich : Photo on Flickr by Tim Caynes / CC BY-NC 2.0

Now an Arts Council approved event, the Norfolk and Norwich Festival still centres around classical music but has grown to incorporate contemporary music, dance, theatre, cabaret, circus, film, literature plus a host of other delights to entertain adults and children alike. Many events are ticketed but there are plenty of free events in and around town to ensure a convivial atmosphere all the family can enjoy.

Event: Cheese Rolling

Date: May Bank Holiday
Location: Coopers Hill, Gloucestershire
Cost: Free

Instead of going home the day after the Norfolk and Norwich Festival, why not point your car West and head over to Gloucestershire and take in the craziness that is the cheese rolling on Coopers Hill. This 200-odd-year-old event consists of people running down a very steep hill after an eight-pound wheel of Double Gloucester cheese, which sounds quite harmless on paper.

Coopers Hill Cheese Rolling
Coopers Hill Cheese Rolling: Photo on Flickr by Dennis Lam Sweden / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The competition has five downhill races, four for men and one for women consisting of about 20-40 participants in each and is open anyone prepared to risk broken and/or splintered bones to win lump of cheese. Completely Bonkers.

Event: Wales Rally GB

Date: Dates vary depending on rally season schedule
Location: Flintshire, Wales
Cost: Ticket prices vary on location

The largest and highest-profile rally in the UK, more specifically, Wales. It first began in 1932 and the principal of the event, who can go the fastest in a specially prepared car off-road, has remained largely unchanged, despite the event itself has undergone a few name adjustments. Even though the Wales Rally GB event may not appeal to everyone – it’s noisy, dirty and frankly dangerous- for petrol heads it’s a chance to witness ludicrously powerful cars spanking it over a surface so loose you could barely walk on it without losing your footing.

As with most things on the list, plan your visit to ensure you’ve got the best vantage point and unless you want to spend the duration of the rally freezing cold and soaking wet, make sure you bring your wellies, waterproofs and thermos flask of piping hot coffee.

South

Event: Olney Pancake Race

Date: Shrove Tuesday
Location: Olney, Buckinghamshire
Cost: Free

This quirky event dates back to the 15th century (apparently) when a flustered housewife, on hearing the shriving bell, dashed to the church still clutching her frying pan. Either way, the tradition carries on and to celebrate, every Shrove Tuesday, there is a race to see which of the town’s womenfolk can run, and toss, a pancake down a set course in the fastest time.

Olney Pancake Race
Olney Pancake race: Photo on Flickr by Michael Brace / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The whole Olney Pancake Race day is packed full of fun-filled events building up to the race itself and there is even a little version for kids. In a rather bizarre twist, the race became an international event of sorts in 1950 when the town of Liberal, Kansas, USA challenged Olney to a timed race and every year since the two towns have engaged in light-hearted competition on either side of the pond. *

*Olney has had 26 wins since 1950 but Liberal are in the lead with 36, with one no contest in 1980 because a van was blocking the finish line in Olney.

Event: Notting Hill Carnival

Date: Sunday and Monday of the August Bank Holiday weekend
Location: Notting Hill, West London
Cost: Free

This world-famous Carnival began in the 1960s as in indoor event before moving onto the street, as the event got a foothold it became increasingly associated with Caribbean culture -music, dance and food – and began to grow in size, by now attracting visitors from over the world. In its modern incarnation, it attracts over 2.5 million revellers served by 40,000 volunteers and 9,000 police and is the largest street festival in Europe.

To attempt to describe the event in such a short space would be doing it a huge disservice, but if you want to know what London is about, there isn’t a single event that gets as close as the Notting Hill Carnival. Open to anyone and everyone, its vibrant, brash, loud and lots of fun. And it’s all free.

Event: Tar Barrels

Date: 5th November
Location: Ottery St. Mary, Devon
Cost: Free

While everyone is camped around bonfires eating toffee and letting off fireworks for Bonfire Nightto celebrate Guy Fawkes Day, you could do a lot better than checking out this curiosity in a pretty little village nestling in a corner of the South Devonshire countryside. There are so many claims to its origins its anyone’s guess, but this 300 year-old-plus event sees local pubs sponsoring barrels that are doused in tar, ignited outside their very doors and carried through the town on the backs of its residents.

Flaming Tar Barrels in Otery St Mary, Devon
Flaming Tar Barrels: Photo on Flickr by gareth.fudge / CC BY-ND 2.0

The spectacle of people belting down the street bearing huge barrels of fire is exhilarating and the party-like atmosphere has been drawing crowds ever since. If that’s not your cup of tea (as they say in these parts) you can enjoy the pre-event procession and firework display that takes place on the Saturday before the Tar Barrel event proper. Just make sure you wrap up warm and stand back.

Car Rental Companies United Kingdom

With a wide choice of operators, it seems you can’t throw a rock in the UK without hitting a rental car outfit. Here’s a list of the key players, plus a few of the rising stars, in alphabetical order. 

Alamo Car Rental

Alamo

With over 200 locations, Alamo, are very well represented in the UK. They’re owned by Enterprise Holdings (who also own Enterprise Rent-a-Car and National) so they’re very much part of the UK car-rental establishment.

Arnold Clark Car and Van Rental

Arnold Clark Car and Van Rental is part of the Arnold Clark Group, it began in 1963 with just 12 cars. They now have over 35 branches located all over the UK.

Avis Car Rental

Avis

Well established American car rental firm founded at the end of the 1940s, Avis Budget Group (the parent company of Avis) acquired Avis Europe plc -a separate corporation licensing the Avis Budget Group brand- in 2011. Avis have over 5000 rental sites globally yet only 20 rental sites in the UK, a relatively small amount, with 18 of those in the London area.

Budget Car Rental

Budget

With over 153 locations dotted throughout the UK, Budget rent-a-car was founded in the States in 1958 and sold to Team Rental group in 1997, then to Avis owners Cendant Corporation who formed the Avis Budget Group in 2006.

easirent low cost car rental logo

Easirent Car and Van Hire

This family-run company has only been in business since 1999 and claim to be the only car British-owned car rental company based at most major UK airports. Now with limited presence in the USA, Easirent have a full fleet of new vehicles and gaining an ever-increasing share of the market.

Enterprise Car Rental

Enterprise Rent-a-Car

With a whopping 420 locations all over the country, the largest rental company in the world were founded in the US in 1957. The parent company of both National Car rental and Alamo, Enterprise rent a car are very well established in the UK.

Europcar Car Rental

Europcar

One of the oldest car rental firms in Europe, founded in France in 1949 with 255 locations throughout the UK including London, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness, Birmingham and Aberdeen. Since May 2006, Europcar has been owned by Eurazeo, a private equity firm based in Paris. 

Green Motion Logo

Green Motion

Very cheap UK-founded car rental outfit with a keen eye for low-emission vehicles and 17 offices in the country centred around London, the Midlands and Liverpool. Green Motion claim to be the only car rental company in the world to give customers a choice of four distinctive products, all of which display what mileage is included along with the applicable excess and deposits required.

Hertz Car Rental

Hertz

With almost 120 locations in the UK, this well-established car rental firm is one of the oldest (founded in 1918) and the second-largest globally. Hertz have good representation in the UK and are widely spread over the country so you’re never that far away from an office.

keddy by europcar logo

Keddy by Europcar

Europcar set up Keddy in March 2015 as a budget supplier of rental cars. It supplies the same fleet as Europcar (i.e., all cars are less than six months old) but Keddy by Europcar doesn’t have a dedicated website as it’s only offered through online aggregator and comparison websites/apps.

National Car Rental

National 

National started trading in 1947 as a collective of car rental agents, from 1987 they were owned by several companies until 2007 when they became a member of the Enterprise family. There are 48 National rental locations in the UK.

Sixt Car Rental

Sixt

Sixt are the oldest car rental firm in the world. Founded in 1912 by Martin Sixt with just three rental cars to his name, this family-owned business has nearly 50 rental sites spanning the UK, with over 20 based in the capital.

Thrifty Car Rental

Thrifty

With 300 car and van rental locations throughout the UK, Thrifty are one of the major league players in car rental with a few airport sites throughout Europe. A subsidiary of Hertz, they were formally known as Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group until relatively recently. 

zipcar rental logo

Zipcar

Last but by no means least, Zipcar -a subsidiary of Avis Budget- have flipped traditional car rental on its head with a simple premise: find your nearest parked-up Zipcar on the app, use the app to unlock the vehicle and off you go. With more rentable cars parked around London than there are Starbucks branches (seven times more, to be exact) half of London’s population are currently within a five-minute walk of their nearest car.

Preparing Your Trip

In the grand scheme of things, the UK is physically quite small so when pondering your road trip planner, perfecting your scenic drive in the UK it might be an idea to combine two or three or, if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, join the whole itinerary up together. However you do it, the UK is most definitely worth a visit -just from a purely historical point of view- and there is no better (or affordable) way to visit the highways and byways of Blighty than by car.

These are just a few of the most popular scenic driving routes in the UK. There are plenty more to enjoy, depending on where you decide to spend your vacation.

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