We’ve seen them in films, advertisements and on our social media feeds for years - the epic road trip. Simply load up in your car with your dearest friends or family and travel cross country, taking in the beautiful sights while getting into some adventures and hijinks along the way! Aside from serving as a means to an end, as well as an enjoyable activity, the road trip is also synonymous with freedom, adventure and discovery of inner peace. While it may seem that this rite of passage is reserved for iconic Route 66 in the USA or an epic trip across the wild terrain of the Australian Outback, there are many under-appreciated, beautiful and unforgettable routes right under your nose. This list will highlight some of the UK’s most underrated road trips, highlighting some of the many once in a lifetime trips you’ve been missing out on!
1. The Cotswolds
For an iconic English escape, there is no more quintessential road trip and a relaxing ride through the Cotswolds. Just a short trip from London, these beautiful British villages are the image of peaceful, rural English life. The third-largest protected landscape in England, the Cotswolds were designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in 1966 and it's not difficult to see why. One only has to glimpse the gold-tinted Cotswold stone which was mined locally and gives the homes the unique, retro aesthetic which the area is famous for.
If you’re planning to take this trip, visit in the summer when the local nature is at its greenest or during the Autumn when there are fewer visitors. You shouldn’t need more than a long weekend to get the full experience of the area so it’s a very realistic weekend trip.
It’s best to start the adventure from Wiltshire’s Castle Combe as the streets wind around a local low-lying stream. From here head north towards sweet Bilbury where you can enjoy a stroll along the stunning River Coln. Spend the night in one of the cosy hotels or B&Bs in the area. The next day you can explore more towns, visit a local farm shop, discover the local markets or spend a relaxing day in one of the friendly local pubs. There’s so much to explore and do but in the relaxing natural surroundings, you’ll come back from your trip feeling at peace, rested and ready for anything!
2. The Atlantic Highway
For more of a jaunty coastal route, look no further than the Atlantic Highway. For a winding route through England’s salty beach, towns and iconic seascapes follow the Atlantic Highway as it courses through Somerset, Devon and Cornwall. Starting the trip in Somerset, take in the lush green farmlands and marvel at the natural splendour. Also along the route is the town of Bruton, a very influential town in the British art scene. Be sure to plan a stop at stunning Exmoor National park to truly appreciate the local wealth of nature.
The trip continues up through north-east Cornwall, while there, plan a trip to Summerleaze, one of the best beaches in Cornwall. Summerleaze is also a bustling location for surfers so be sure to pack a surfboard! For great food, you have to visit Padstow and Port Isaac to enjoy the local cuisine and chilled atmosphere.
To cap off your trip, head all the way to Land’s End, the iconic location where the Atlantic meets the jagged shoreline of mainland England’s more westerly point. Be sure to plan enough time to properly enjoy the experience - you could easily spend a week enjoying this delightful route. It is recommended to visit during the summer when the sun is shining and the beaches are bustling.
3. The Lake District
The Lake District are a must-see for anyone who has the chance. Awarded a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the iconic Lake District is also the most visited national park in England. Start your journey at the largest natural lake in England, the Windermere. From here you head to the far smaller, but no less beautiful Wastwater. This area which is surrounded by barren was voted Britain’s favourite view. You can also visit the local village of Nether Wasdale where you can enjoy a stroll through town and visit some of the local microbreweries. If that’s not your style there are some great pubs too!
For a refreshing hike, head to Ennerdale Water, the most remote lake in the national park. The secluded lake is usually quieter than the larger, more popular lakes and boasts a stunning seven-mile walking trail around the shoreline.
Further north, head to Bassenthwaite Lake where the local Lakes Distillery offers tours of their renovated Victorian Farm. Take in the history and learn how the team at the farm today create everything from whiskey to exotic flavoured gins. Spend the night in Ullswater, a beautiful town on the water and also the location where the iconic desert the sticky-toffee pudding was invented.
While there are lots to see and do, you shouldn’t need more than a long weekend in the Lake District (any longer and you may never want to leave). It is recommended to visit in the summer when the days are longer and brighter or during the Autumn when the changing seasons make for truly stunning landscapes.
4. The North Coast 500 (Scottland)
This mammoth route runs for a 500-mile round trip, starting and ending in Inverness. Begin driving clockwise through the untamed Scottish landscape. The first step you need to take is to Loch Ness, the scenic, watery home of the World’s most beloved mystery monster. Once you’re done searching for Nessy, drive west to Kyle of Lochalsh - this should take about another two hours. There is an optional add on to the route here which takes you by a land bridge to the stunning Isle of Skye. This element of the Hebrides may not technically be part of the route but it is well worth a detour! The must-see sites on the Isle of Skye include the imposing Cuillin mountains against the mist-covered castles and the wild expanse of the countryside.
Once back on the mainland, you will want to continue North, up through Ullapool, one of the most stunning villages in the UK. The village is the site of whitewashed fishermen’s cottages along the harbour, right up to Loch Broom. For a place to stay for the night, look no further than Sutherland. Head another 60 miles north-east and visit John O’Groats which is the site of the other land’s end and connects the 873-mile route from Cornwall. From John O’Groats you can get a passenger ferry to Orkney islands which are well worth a visit too! From here it’s a simple trip back south to Inverness where you began your trip.
This long route takes about 5 days to travel, longer if you also want to visit the Hebrides. This trip is best taken either during the winter when the landscape is most dramatic, or during the summer when it’s less chilly to explore - it’s up to you!
5. The Wales Route
If you’re looking for the perfect way to explore the stunning beauty and unique culture of Wales, you’ve found it! This route takes you through some of the most stunning areas of the Welsh countryside with the freedom to explore the way you like. Start the journey from the Brecon Beacons. The mountains of this national park start near the border with England and continue for 45 miles through the countryside. For breathtaking views hike up the Pen y Fan, the highest peak in the area.
Make sure to stop in Carmarthen on your drive west from the Brecon Beacons to the coast. This little market town is a great location for a stop off and only half an hours drive from Ginst Point which is considered one of Wales’ best beaches. For the night, check out one of Pembrokeshire’s iconic rural hotels, including the Grove of Narberth, set in a 17th-century manor house.
Make a pit-stop in St. David’s, the smallest city by population in Britain. Also be sure to visit Solva Harbour, where the local sweeping inlet is nestled by brightly coloured houses with an unusual Italian fishing village atmosphere. Aberaeron is another terrific little port town that makes for a terrific day trip. Stroll through Cardigan Bay harbour and take in the local culture and cuisine.
You should only need a weekend to get the most of this route. The absolute best time to take this trip is during the summertime for the stunning weather, lush green landscapes and local water-sports offerings.
How many of these routes have you explored? Are you planning your next road trip? Where will you start? Let us know where you’ll be exploring this summer!