Exploring the UK and Ireland by road is a fantastic way to go: it’s sociable, safe and – if you choose an electric vehicle – environmentally friendly. We’ve put together a list of the 10 best road trips in the UK and Ireland, all bookable with a local expert through Rough Guides.
The good news? Our local experts are offering a free activity, from whisky tasting to riding in a London red bus, with each booking until 31 August 2020. Bear in mind, too, that all of these itineraries are modifiable to your preferences and wishes. Prefer to rent a motorhome or even take your own car? Marcela, our local expert, is happy to take care of all the hotel and activity bookings for you. It’s time to start creating your perfect on-the-road playlist and getting those wheels turning.
This self-drive trip takes in every corner of the UK over a period of twenty days, so you’ll really get a feel for the entire country. From the exhilarating capital, London, the route takes in Oxford and Gloucester before heading into the West Country to explore Stonehenge, Bath and Bristol. The end of the first week is spent soaking up the gorgeous Cotswolds, with its historic towns and pretty stone houses. Days seven to nine are dedicated to Wales, exploring gems from the Brecon Beacons to Snowdonia and Aberystwyth. Next it’s to Liverpool – birthplace of the Beatles – and the expansive grandeur of the Lake District, before heading north to sample the delights of Scotland from the open road. From Glasgow to Fort William, Pitlochry to Edinburgh, you’ll get to the heart of one of the most beautiful countries on Earth.
History buffs with eleven days to spare should book the England Historical Highlights road trip, which takes in some of England’s oldest and most charming cities. Naturally, we start in London, home to a plethora of architectural styles, from the winding old alleys of the City to charming Thames-side walks. A visit to Bletchley Park – once home to the Government Code & Cypher School – is followed by stops at Oxford and Bath, both handsome historic cities. Stonehenge, Bristol and the Cotswolds are followed by a drive into Wales to soak up the atmospheric monastic ruins of Tintern Abbey and a visit to Snowdonia National Park. Chester – with a collection of timber-framed beauties – and York – with its world-famous minster – complete the picture.
Those with a little less time on their hands, who want a truly relaxing road trip, should plump for the Refreshing English Countryside Break. This five-day tour takes in some of England’s best landscapes – from rolling hills to lush gardens and wooded hills. Charming stops include taking in Sissinghurst Castle, Alfriston, Petworth House and the Sapphire Gin Distillery. Oxford and Stratford-upon-Avon are draws for anyone with a penchant for history, while the trip winds to an end at Henley-on-Thames, the quintessential English town, bordered by the glorious Chilterns and famous for its Royal Regatta. If that sounds like a lot to fit in for five days, pare it down for an ever more relaxing time – all trips are totally customizable.
Over in Ireland, this fabulous eight-day itinerary will allow you to take in the country’s best bits from the comfort of your vehicle. From lively Dublin, we head to Kilkenny via the green valleys and gurgling brooks of the Wicklow Mountains, before covering the stretch to Killarney and the nearby southwest coast. Plenty of must-see sights are visited along the way, from the Rock of Cashel to buzzing Cork. On the coast, take in the pleasures of the Dingle Peninsula before driving north to drink in the remote beauty of the Aran Islands and the Cliffs of Moher. Next stop is the vibrant west-coast city of Galway and its surrounds. There’s no better introduction to Ireland and its legendary hospitality.
If you don’t have many holiday days left, this streamlined, four-day road trip traverses Ireland – coast to coast – taking in some of its true gems. We start and end in vibrant Dublin, famed for its charming architecture, Guinness factory, exciting Temple Bar area – and great craic. From here, you’ll drive across the length of Ireland to reach its spectacular West Coast and the wild Atlantic coastline. Natural pearls here include the Burren National Park and the majestic Cliffs of Moher. After a night spent in Doolin, it’s on to Galway. En-route, you can visit the Kilbeggan Whisky Distillery for an illuminating tour before heading back to Dublin.
If you’re travelling to the island and want to visit both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, this comprehensive itinerary is for you. Spending nights in Dublin, Belfast, Derry, Westport, Galway, Doolin, Killarney and Kilkenny, you’ll visit every coast and corner. All the major highlights are taken in along the way, from the Giant’s Causeway to Connemara National Park, the Cliffs of Moher, the Ring of Kerry and the Rock of Cashel. Gorgeous beaches, historic towns and captivating history are in plentiful supply: breathe it in.
Scotland is full of dramatic scenery, from craggy island coastlines to towering peaks and plunging valleys; take it in from the open road on Scotland’s Wildest Natural Scenery trip. Starting and ending in the handsome city of Edinburgh, drive north to Pitlochry via the historic city of St Andrews. On to the spectacular Highlands, you’ll wheel past Loch Ness – famed for its mythical monster – to Inverness. Striking out from the city on Day 4, you begin to explore Scotland’s north, from Thurso to the remote islands of the Outer Hebrides. On Day 7, a ferry trip to the Isle of Skye opens up yet more glorious landscapes and history, bolstered by the legendary hospitality of the locals. From Skye, the valley of Glencoe and glittering Loch Lomond are firm highlights on the way back to Edinburgh. Oh, and did we mention you’ll get to see the Harry Potter train?
Calling all Outlander fans: this trip follows in the footsteps of Claire Beauchamp on her 1743 trip to Scotland. Covering Edinburgh, Newtonmore, Pitlochry and Stirling, you visit a number of filming locations, from Craigmillar Castle to Pollock House and Country Park, The Covenanter Hotel and Glencorse Church, where Claire and Jamie get married. Fans cannot fail to be impressed.
This six-day tour of Scotland is perfect for anyone with kids in tow – simply pack the family into the car and hit the road. Starting and ending in the Scottish capital, there’s plenty of time to take in the draws of Edinburgh, but you’ll make the most of the great outdoors, too. Children will be entertained as you explore the spellbinding landscapes that featured in the Harry Potter films, from Torren Lagoon (where Hagrid’s House was built) to Glenfinnan viaduct (traversed by the Hogwarts Express, which you’ll actually ride yourself!). Loch Ness, Inverness and the Cairngorms National Park are other firm family favourites on the trip, with plenty of opportunity to get out the car and create memories to savour.
For the “typical” Scottish landscapes – sweeping valleys, twinkling lochs and piercing crags – you want to drive to the Highlands. From Edinburgh, the drive to Inverness (the “capital of the Highlands”) takes you through the gorgeous scenery of Perthshire, with stops to stretch your legs at the Falls of Bruar and Urquhart Castle. Highlights from Inverness include Glenmorangie Distillery, Ullapool, Wester Ross and Plockton – heralded as the “Jewel of the Highlands”. A day trip (on Day 5) allows you to explore the atmospheric Isle of Skye, before you continue to Glencoe and Oban. Day 7 brings you to another island, Mull, with its charming coloured houses. On the return trip to Edinburgh, there’s yet more in store in the form of Kilchurn Castle, Inveraray and Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. For nature at its best and boldest, the Highlands are hard to beat.
All these trips can be booked through Marcela, a local expert vetted by Rough Guides. Find all of our Trip Guarantees here to see how we select local experts. And bear in mind - if your dream itinerary is not on the list, feel free to send us your request directly. Marcela owns a boutique tour operator in Edinburgh that specializes in self-drive trips all over the UK and Ireland. During these difficult times, it’s more important than ever before to support local businesses like Marcela’s.
Top image: Snowshill church in the Cotswolds Gloucestershire © Dave Knibbs/Shutterstock