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NC500
Photograph: ShutterstockNorth Coast 500, Scotland

The best road trips in the UK

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

Ellie Walker-Arnott
Written by
Ellie Walker-Arnott
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Ah, the open road. It’s been the source of inspiration for many a cracking anthem, and where better to belt them out than on an epic road trip. The boundless hot tarmac of Route 66 or the dramatic coastline of Australia’s Great Ocean Road might be what first springs to mind, but believe it or not, there are some equally stunning routes in the United Kingdom.  

The country’s small but mighty network of roads makes it the perfect place for a multi-day adventure in the car – not to mention its lush countryside, cute seaside towns and fairytale forests. The vistas vary wildly across Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and England, and sauntering around on four wheels is one of the most liberating ways to explore them.

From the incredible deserted beaches, glassy lochs and heather-covered peaks of the North Coast 500 to the waterfalls and world-class rambling routes of the Yorkshire Dales, get those playlists at the ready and tick off these bucket list road trip itineraries around the United Kingdom.

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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? Allow 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
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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 full of stops.

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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.  

Lake District, England
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8. Lake District, England

What is it? England's largest National Park, the Lake District is an awe-inspiring landscape of serene water, mighty fells and pretty pubs.

Where does it go? There are oodles of routes to choose from, but why not start with a scenic drive in the north from Penrith to Whitehaven, stopping at Ullswater, Keswick and Buttermere. On your trip you'll pass the iconic diesel-powered Ullswater steamboats, the bustling market town of Keswick and – if you time it right – swathes of Wordsworth's daffodills.   

How long should it take? Allow three days for some hikes along the way.

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Jurassic Coast, England
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9. Jurassic Coast, England

What is it? Starting in Poole, this route takes in nostalgic seaside towns for fish and chips on the beach, splendid hidden coves and the historic, fossil-studded coastline of Dorset.

Where does it go? The first stop is Swanage, where road-trippers can recline in a deckchair and fuel up with an ice cream, before driving along picturesque coastal roads which take in the fishing village of Kimmeridge Bay, Lulworth Cove and Dorset's A-lister, Durdle Door. From here, follow the B3157 along sweeping sandy beaches toward the fossil-hunting hub of Charmouth, before parking up for a refreshing dip at Lyme Regis.

How long should it take? Around three days.

Kintyre 66, Scotland
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10. Kintyre 66, Scotland

What is it? Officially launched just last year, this leisurely 66-mile route takes in one of Scotland's most scenic areas, the Kintyre peninsula.

Where does it go? Start anywhere on the well-mapped loop, which hugs the dramatic coastline and offers breathtaking sunsets, historic sites and butterscotch beaches along the way. Highlights include the rugged ruins of the medieval Tarbert Castle and Saddell Bay, with views towards the Isle of Arran.    

How long should it take? Around four days. 

Find out more here

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Pembrokeshire Coast 200, Wales
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11. Pembrokeshire Coast 200, Wales

What is it? This 200-mile route shows off the best of Pembrokeshire's under-explored coastline. The trip was designed by keen caravanners, so expect plenty of campsites for a welcome break along the way. 

Where does it go? Starting at the postcard-perfect village of Amroth, it takes in miles of craggy coastline before ending at the riverside village of St Dogmaels. Sights include the Blue Lagoon at Abereiddi and Britain's smallest city, St Davids. 

How long should it take? Three to five days.

Find out more here.

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