Seven picture-perfect UK road trip routes

Road through The Dark Hedges


From Scotland's incredible North Coast 500 to County Antrim's Dark Hedges which featured in Game Of Thrones, if you're going exploring this holiday season, why not take the scenic route?

We've picked seven of the very best scenic routes in the land to give you some inspiration.

Note: All distances and times given in our gallery below are rough estimates; actual times will depend on traffic and the number of diversions you choose to make.

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Seven picture perfect UK road trip routes
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Seven picture-perfect UK road trip routes

Length: 500 miles

Driving time: 8 hours, but we suggest up to 3 nights/4 days for the whole trip

Suitable for: cars, motor bikes and caravans

Pitched as Scotland’s answer to Route 66, the North Coast 500 is a spectacular and varied circular route that starts and finishes in Inverness, looping around the country’s feature-packed northern tip.

Go north from Inverness and you’ll pass the beautiful Black Isle and towering Ben Wyvis. Then skirt Cromarty Firth to reach the French chateau-style Dunrobin Castle with its 13th Century keep, then on to the lively village of Brora and the deserted ruins of Badbea village. Beyond Wick is the stunning ruined castle of Sinclair Girnigoe, not to mention the odd Iron Age broch and medieval keep.

As you descend into John O’Groats on the north coast, you might be lucky enough to glimpse the deserted Stroma island across the water – get your timing right and you can take a day trip to enjoy the wildlife. Back on the coastal road, pop into Castle Mey, a former home of the Queen Mother. Beyond are the huge dunes of Dunnet Bay and, by contrast, the decommissioned Dounreay Atomic Reactor. Head towards Durness, with the limestone Smoo sea cave nearby.

Turning south on to the west coast, head to the Kylesku Passage, which sits at the centre of Scotland’s first Global Geopark, then to Lochinver and Gairloch beach, with its wonderful marine life, and on to Loch Ewe and Loch Maree. Finally, turn back towards Inverness, winding past the lofty Torridon Massif and the vertigo-inducing Bealach na Bá pass.

If you ask us, it’s better than Route 66.

Length: 120 miles

Driving time: 3½ hours, but we suggest a couple of days to do the trip

Suitable for: cars, motor bikes and caravans

History and military buffs, fans of the countryside and devotees of Game Of Thrones alike will love this coastal road trip between Belfast and Londonderry. 

Starting in Belfast, head north towards Carrickfergus Castle: built in 1177 by the Anglo-Norman knight John de Courcy, it was used as a military garrison well into the 20th Century. About 40 minutes further on is a historical watering hole - the Londonderry Arms Hotel in Carnlough, once owned by Sir Winston Churchill. Comfort break sorted, head for the spectacular scenery of the Glens of Antrim

From there, take a detour inland to the eerie avenue of 18th Century beech trees known locally as Dark Hedges – and to Game Of Throne fans as the King’s Road. Back on the coast road near Ballintoy, there’s the chance to cross the 30m deep, 20m wide Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, originally built by salmon fishermen in 1755. And if that’s not excitement enough, Game Of Thrones fans might appreciate another detour to Ballintoy Harbour, the location used for the Iron Islands. 

A little further on – and not to be missed – is the iconic Giant’s Causeway, a World Heritage site renowned for its polygonal columns of layered basalt, caused by an ancient volcanic eruption. Handily nearby – especially if you like whiskey and have a B&B booked – is the Old Bushmills Distillery, the oldest working distillery in Ireland. A stone’s throw away from here is the medieval coastal castle of Dunluce, said to have inspired Cair Paravel in CS Lewis’ The Chronicles Of Narnia. 

Beyond Coleraine is Downhill Demesne, an 18th Century estate overlooking wild coastal scenery – don’t miss its circular Mussenden Temple, inspired by the Temple of Vesta near Rome. Before you hit Derry, there’s one more distraction – the Roe Valley Country Park, with its spectacular riverside views, woodland walks, and opportunities for fishing, canoeing, rock climbing and orienteering. 

Complete your trip in Londonderry, one of the finest walled cities in Europe. Something for everyone, eh?

Length: 75 miles

Driving time: 3 hours

Suitable for: cars and motorbikes – caravans will be tested by the twists and turns of the route

If you’re partial to a hair-raising road trip, with twisting turns and magnificent views, head for Derbyshire’s Snake Pass in the heart of the Peak District National Park. Our meandering route goes from north to south, across the Pennines and the Ladybower Reservoir via the much-lauded A57.  

Starting in Holmfirth, home of Last Of The Summer Wine, head for the imposing scenery of Holme Moss, before descending towards pretty Woodhead Reservoir and the market town of Glossop. Time to ascend again, this time to Torside Reservoir, a vast man-made lake.If the bends on the way up aren’t challenging enough for you, those of Snake Pass will be. You’ll need to keep your eyes firmly on the road, but take time to stop off and enjoy the breathtaking views. 

At the bottom of the pass is Ladybower Reservoir, beneath which nestle the drowned villages of Derwent and Ashopton. Heading for Bamford, you’ll have High Neb on your left – make sure you build in time to stop off at climbers’ favourite, Stanage Edge, a gritstone escarpment that sits at 458m above sea level. You’ll see the remains of the Long Causeway Roman road here, and if that doesn’t impress you, perhaps the fact that it was used as a location for Pride And Prejudice with Keira Knightley will. 

From here, head for the grandeur of Chatsworth House via the National Trust’s Longshaw Estate or, for contrast, check out the splendid Haddon Hall, parts of which date from the 11th Century. Enjoying an eponymous tart and a cuppa at pretty Bakewell village is a must before heading off towards the Monsal Dale. 

Nearby Dovedale, a dramatic limestone ravine, is a renowned beauty spot that’s perfect for stretching your legs (kids and adults alike will love the stepping stones that cross the river), and for concluding your trip – although another cup of tea at the stately Callow Hall won’t hurt.

Length: 23 miles

Time to drive: ¾ hour

Suitable for: cars and motorbikes – caravans will be tested by the twists and turns of the route; low-slung cars by the bumps in the road

Another pass, another challenging road to conquer: Black Mountain Pass, also known as the A4069, connects Llandovery with Gwaun-Cae-Gurwen. Its views are unrivalled, its turns truly hairpin and its sheep omnipresent…

This mini-road trip is much more about the drive than it is about what you can see and do when you stop off en route. In fact, fans of Top Gear might remember Jeremy Clarkson tackling the twists, dips and climbs of this road, which reaches a height of 493m above sea level in the western part of the Brecon Beacons National Park. It also features on dangerousroads.org, which gives you an idea of the challenges you might face driving it.

The road, which offers wonderful views of the extraordinary Tywi Valley, is best tackled north to south; look out for the hairpin known locally as Tro Gwcw, which translates to ‘cuckoo turn’.  And if you’re looking for places to visit along the way, take a cultural detour to the wonderful Carreg Cennen Castle (in ruins since 1462) and nearby Dinefwr Castle, plus the National Botanic Garden of Wales, all to the west. For walking and even more dramatic scenery, head to the stunning Carmarthen Fans (the Black Mountains’ highest peaks) and the dammed glacial lake of Llyn y Fan Fach to the east.

Otherwise, pretend you’re Jeremy (or, even better, The Stig - only not so fast), sit back and enjoy the drive.

Length: 47 miles

Time to drive: 1 hour 20 minutes

Suitable for: motorbikes – car drivers watch out for steep bends; caravanners exercise extreme caution!

Nominated by the AA as one of the greatest drives in Britain and claimed by others to be one of the 10 most scenic routes in the world, this road trip starts on the A686, and runs from Penrith in Cumbria through Alston to Corbridge in Northumberland. Whatever the claims, it makes for a fun day out – particularly for bikers – and is a perfect diversion if you’re holidaying in the Lake District. Take your camera – there are plenty of photo opportunities.

Starting in Penrith, you’ll drive through a flat forest to the pretty village of Langwathby, home to a good pub and, according to the Guinness Book Of Records, the longest-lasting temporary bridge in the country (it was built in 1968 to replace the sandstone one swept away by floods). From there, heading past Melmerby, the road climbs to Hartside Pass, at a height of 580m, from where, on a clear day, there are magnificent views across the Solway Firth to Scotland. Stop off at the summit café, have a cuppa and take in the countryside – an information plaque names the mountains that you can see in the distance.

Next, head down to Alston, the highest market town in England, with its steep cobbled main street and many buildings dating from the 17th Century – local specialities include Cumberland mustard and Alston cheese.

The gorgeous views continue as you head towards the attractive village of Haydon Bridge, which is divided by the River South Tyne. It’s worth noting that its Norman church is built with stone taken from the nearby Hadrian’s Wall

Finish the trip at Corbridge, which grew from the Roman Corstopitum, a supply town for the troops on Hadrian’s Wall, and by the 13th Century was second only to Newcastle in wealth. Today, it’s known for its boutique shops and quaint beauty.  Alternatively, head off to Hadrian’s Wall – an amazing day trip to end with.

Length: 45 miles (plus detours)

Time to drive: around 3 hours, but it depends how fast you drive

Suitable for: cars and motorbikes – caravans will be tested by the twists and turns of the route; avoid racing season, from late May to mid June 

Listed as one of the Top 10 Drivers’ Drives by National Geographic, the Isle of Man’s TT racing circuit (with a few detours we’ve thrown in) skirts the peak of Snaefell, the tallest mountain on the island at 620m. But the key attraction for many is that some roads have no national speed limit. 

Start at the Grandstand, about 10 minutes out of Douglas town, drive north along the A2 to Laxey, where you can see the world’s largest working water wheel or take a dip at the pebbly beach, should you feel the urge. From here, you can take the Snaefell Mountain Railway to the summit of the mountain. It’s worth a quick trip, too, to the beauty spot of Maughold Head and St Maughold church, founded in 450 AD. 

Now turn towards Ramsey, the island’s second largest town, then on to Kirk Michael, where you can take a tour of the A.R.E. Motorcycle Museum (pre-booking required) and see a large collection of Manx Norse crosses at the parish church. 

Go south along the coast roads, from where you can see the Mourne Mountains in Ulster on a clear day. Take time to chill at scenic Niarbyl Bay; don’t miss Magnetic Hill, between the Ronague and Round Table crossroads, where an optical illusion will fool you into thinking an uphill stretch is downhill and vice versa; and enjoy the fast stretch along the Ballamodha Straight as you head towards Port St Mary. 

Still in the mood for culture? It’s worth stopping off at Cregneash, one of the last strongholds of the Manx language and customs, where you can see restored crofters’ dwellings, volunteers dressed in traditional costume and, among other animals, Manx cats. You’ll have dramatic views of the Calf of Man as you push on towards the pretty harbour town of Castletown to explore Castle Rushden, a former prison. 

After that, it’s the home straight back to Douglas.

Length: 70 miles

Time to drive: 2 hours

Suitable for: cars, motor bikes and caravans

Enough already of vertiginous passes, mind-boggling bends and race-worthy straights… how about a gentle amble through the flatlands of the Norfolk coast, starting at the cliffs of Hunstanton and ending, well, just about anywhere in the picturesque Broads?

Hunstanton – an east coast resort that faces west – gets more than its fair share of sun and enjoys some lovely sunsets. Not that you’ll have much time for that as you head east through the pretty coastal villages of Holme-next-the-Sea, Brancaster, trendy Burnham Market and Wells-next-the-Sea (making sure you sample the shellfish and lovely beaches as you go). Blakeney, which started life as a medieval port, is worth a stop, too – don’t miss its pretty flint cottages and 14th Century Guildhall. From Salthouse, you can enjoy the views over the salt marshes, and even indulge in a spot of bird watching, while clifftop Cromer has a traditional pier and crabs on offer for lunch or dinner.

Next, turn south on the A149, perhaps detouring to Mundesley, known for its wonderful sandy beach and colourful beach huts. Soon enough, you’ll find yourself right in the heart of The Broads. With over 303 square kilometres of rivers and lakes, most of which are navigable, this might just be the time to park the car/motorbike/motor home and enjoy a boat ride. But, if you want to stay on wheels, head for Horsey, the closest Broadland village to the coast. The windmill and dyke might even lure you into thinking you’ve taken a detour to Holland – and you might spot the colony of grey seals that comes here to breed in winter.

Keep heading south and you’ll come to Winterton-on-Sea, an unspoilt beach village – the sand dunes are a nature reserve designated an area of outstanding natural beauty, and ideal if you enjoy walking or bird watching. 

We’d finish the road trip here, or perhaps turn inland to sample more of The Broads. But, if roller coasters, arcades and candy floss float your boat, head to Great Yarmouth for a touch of traditional British seaside fun.

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