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Photograph: ShutterstockNorth Coast 500, Scotland

The best road trips in the UK

A collection of life-changing UK road trips, from Scotland’s North Coast 500 to the West Country’s Atlantic Highway

Ellie Walker-Arnott
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Ellie Walker-Arnott
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Who doesn’t love a road trip? The annals of iconic travel are filled with the things, and the epic jaunt across the continent in a banged-up car on its last legs (well, wheels) is arguably the most ‘bucket list’ adventure of them all. Days of the dusty desert or the freezing tundra might not be for everyone, so maybe aim to explore the teeny-tiny United Kingdom by road instead.

The UK isn’t a continent, but a well-developed network of roads makes it a road trip destination par excellence. The country’s commitment and contributions to the motor age have always kept it at the forefront of all things ‘car’, so marrying that development to exploration and travel is a no-brainer.

With all that in mind, what are the best road trips in the UK? That all depends on where you want to visit exactly, but sauntering around on four wheels is arguably the best way to investigate the range of landscapes on offer across Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and England. You’ll find plenty to do in between drives, from the culture of the cities to the magic of the wilderness, so get behind the wheel and tick off the best road trips the United Kingdom has to offer.

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North Coast 500, Scotland
Photograph: Shutterstock

1. North Coast 500, Scotland

What is it? A super-scenic route taking in just over 500 miles of stunning Scottish landscapes, the NC500 is one of the best road trips on the planet – and the most Instagrammed in the UK.

Where does it go? It’s a loop through the Scottish Highlands. You start and end at Inverness Castle and the route takes in incredible deserted beaches, glassy lochs and heather-covered peaks, as well as castles, whisky distilleries and roadside eateries. 

How long should it take? Most people do it in seven to nine days. 

Find out more here

The Cambrian Way, Wales
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2. The Cambrian Way, Wales

What is it? A route which runs from south of Wales to the north via loads of incredible countryside.

Where does it go? You’ll mainly be sticking to the A470. Starting in Cardiff, the route finishes in the seaside town of Llandudno. You’ll pass through the beautiful Brecon Beacons National Park, the Elan Valley and Snowdonia

How long should it take? Five days. 

Find out more here

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The Atlantic Highway, England
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3. The Atlantic Highway, England

What is it? Despite its grand name, this stunning stretch of road, also known as the A39, passes some lesser known spots in Devon and Cornwall.

Where does it go? The entire road connects Somerset with Cornwall, but the stretch between Barnstaple and Fraddon is named the Atlantic Highway thanks to the almost-constant views of the Atlantic Ocean you can spy from the tarmac. The route passes photogenic places like Bude, Padstow, Newquay, Clovelly, Boscastle and Tintagel. Stop off for hikes, surf lessons and incredible seafood. You can keep driving past Fraddon, right down to Land’s End if you haven’t had your fill of Cornish charm.  

How long should it take? Five days should do it. 

Norfolk Coast, England
Photograph: Shutterstock

4. Norfolk Coast, England

What is it? Following roads that hug in close to the Norfolk coastline, you can see some of the county’s incredible sights. 

Where does it go? Start in King’s Lynn and keep the coast on your left the whole way to Great Yarmouth. Stop off and you’ll see the best of the Norfolk Coast AONB and parts of the Norfolk Broads National Park, plus seaside towns like Hunstanton, Blakeney and Cromer. 

How long should it take? Four days.

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The Yorkshire Dales, England
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5. The Yorkshire Dales, England

What is it? A chance to explore the stunning scenery of the Yorkshire Dales by car. Just stop whenever you see something you simply can’t pass by. 

Where does it go? Start in Harrogate and head out into the Dales, hitting Grassington, Hawes and Reeth along the way before circling back to the beginning. You’ll pass meadows lush with wildflowers, waterfalls, world-class rambling routes and countless opportunties to sample local produce. 

How long should it take? Allow three to four days. 

Road to the Isles, Scotland
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6. Road to the Isles, Scotland

What is it? Another stricking Scottish drive, the Road to the Isles (A830) takes travellers from Fort William to Mallaig, via lochs, coast, incredible scenery and the Glenfinnan Viaduct (which you’ll probably recognise, thanks to the Harry Potter movies).

Where does it go? Start at Fort William in the shadow of Ben Nevis and head west. The road ends where it meets the sea in Mallaig, but that’s not where your journey ends. Jump on a car ferry to the Isle of Skye to explore the otherworldly island by road. 

How long should it take? Three days, more if you want to properly explore Skye too. 

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Causeway Coastal Route, Northern Ireland
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7. Causeway Coastal Route, Northern Ireland

What is it? The Causeway Coastal Route road is not only super-pretty, it also takes in a bunch of Northern Ireland’s must-see sights.

Where does it go? It runs along the coast from Belfast to Derry-Londonderry. You can hit Belfast’s high-tech Titanic museum, Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge and the Giant’s Causeway along this route, not forgetting a bunch of snappable ‘Game of Thrones’ locations too, like Cushendun Caves and Ballintoy Harbour. 

How long should it take? Three to five days.  

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