8 Best Road Trips in England

Highway A39 in Exmoor National Park in Somerset, England

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England is an ideal country to explore by car thanks to its compact size and numerous national parks. It's particularly welcoming to travelers who want to enjoy one of its scenic coasts, whether it's a long drive into Cornwall or a trek along the Norfolk Coast. Visitors can rent a car in any major city or airport and then embark on a long or short road trip through a specific region to better experience the small villages, nature spots, and sunny beaches. From the North York Moors to the Lake District to the Atlantic Highway, here are eight of England's best road trips.

01 of 08

Norfolk Coast

Bright morning at Winterton on Sea

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Follow the coastline of Norfolk from Hunstanton to Cromer along the picturesque A149. The road is a straight shot through numerous coastal towns, like Weybourne, Wells-next-the-Sea, and Titchwell Marsh, and passes several nature reserves, including the Holme Dunes National Nature Reserve. Stop in Brancaster for its famous mussels and take a walk along the beach in Holkham Bay, which was famously used as the final scene in "Shakespeare In Love." You can also hike part of the famed Norfolk Coast Path, which brings visitors up close and personal with the region's nature. The journey can be as long or short as you want, but give yourself at least a weekend to explore Norfolk. For a nice overnight, book into Wild Luxury, a glamping site with chic safari lodges.

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02 of 08

The Cotswolds

Castle Combe in Wiltshire, England in the Autumn

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Journey through the charming villages and green hills of the Cotswolds, which are best experienced by car. The area, north and west of London, comprises nearly 800 square miles and dozens of towns and villages, which means there's a lot to see. Because the region is varied and includes many winding, interconnected roads, it's best to pick a few towns you most want to see and plan a route that way. A possible route would be to begin in Chipping Norton and then venture west to Moreton-in-Marsh and Broadway. From there, head south via Stow-on-the-Wold, Bourton-on-the-Water, and Chedworth. There are lots of bed and breakfasts and inns dotted throughout the Cotwolds, making it easy to stay overnight in a few different spots. Don't miss the Chedworth Roman Villa and National Trust Snowshill Manor and Garden along the way. Plus, just outside the Cotswolds in Woodstock is Blenheim Palace, known as the Versailles of England.

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03 of 08

Peak District

Peak District morning view, Hope valley, England.
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Start your journey in Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, or Birmingham and drive onward to the Peak District, a national park filled with cute villages and scenic walks. It's best to explore the park without an overly set route, especially since many roads wind through the region. Be sure to include Chatsworth House, a stately home from the 16th century, and Lyme Park to your itinerary, and don't miss the walk at beauty spot Dovedale. In addition, there are several famous hiking routes, including the Ridge Walk and the Monsal Trail. Still, those who prefer less strenuous activity will find plenty of nice pubs and boutique shops dotted throughout the Peak District. Plan to stay at least two nights to explore the region fully, but you could make an entire week of the Peak District by driving completely around it.

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04 of 08

Lake District

The Lake District - Kirkstone Pass is the Highest Road in the Lake District
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England's Lake District, located in the northwest of the country, is known as one of its most beautiful areas. It's the perfect place for a two- or three-day road trip, which you can do by car or camper van. The national park can be accessed from the south via Manchester or from the east via Middlesbrough. Your best bet is to take the M6 north and start the trip in Kendal, home to the Kendal Castle, and then venture farther into the Lake District to destinations like Windermere and Ambleside, both of which sit on Lake Windermere. Your ultimate route depends on what you want to see and do, whether hiking the peaks or exploring some of the towns. Some of the Lake District is quite remote, with challenging roads, so plan ahead and take a good map with you. Check out the region's website for tips on driving around the Lake District.

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05 of 08

Atlantic Highway and Cornwall

Bedruthan Steps in Cornwall

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The Atlantic Highway, a.k.a. the A39, runs from Bath south along the coast to Cornwall. Travelers can extend their journey past Newquay onto the tip of Cornwall to see the scenic seaside towns of St. Ives and Falmouth. The entire A39 takes over seven hours, so it's best done in a two- or three-day trip, plus a few extra days to explore Cornwall. Along the route, there's plenty to see, especially if you detour off the highway itself. Stop by Bude for its beaches or take a jaunt to the Devon village of Bideford. For something unique, visit The Museum of Witchcraft in Camelford, a quaint Cornwall community known for great seafood. The roads in Cornwall are notoriously challenging to drive, so prepare ahead of time with a good map or GPS (there may not always be a great cell phone signal). It's also best to take this journey during the summer when there are more hours of daylight and more opportunities to enjoy the beaches.

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06 of 08

Southeast England

West facade of the cathedral of Canterbury
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Take in the historical sites of southeast England on a journey that begins in London. From London, follow the M2 highway to Canterbury, home of the famous cathedral, and then detour north to the coastal town of Whitstable, which is known for its oysters. Other great inclusions on your southeast itinerary are Margate, Dover, and Deal, all found on the coast. You could also venture farther west to explore the many castles in High Weald, including Bodiam Castle, Scotney Castle, and Sissinghurst Castle. High Weald, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, is also a great pick for those who want to get outdoors and walk. Opt for a self-guided walk to really delve into the area or join in the High Weald Walking Festival in September. This road trip can be as long or short as you want, depending on how much you want to see. The drive from London to Dover is only two hours, and the southeast is fairly compact, so it's easy to play some of the journey by ear and discover things along the way.

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07 of 08

North Yorkshire and the Moors

The Yorkshire Moors near Egton in late summer with the road as a lead out

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Ah, the moors. You've heard about them in literature, but it's another thing to see the expansive North York Moors in person. From York, drive northwest on the A64 and then head into the North York Moors National Park. There's tons to see and do in the area, but you'll want to make stops in Pickering, Goathland, and Sleights on the way to the North Sea coast. Don't miss the famous Whitby Abbey in Whitby (which is also known for its fish and chips) and spend a day strolling around Robin Hood's Bay, a charming fishing village with beautiful sea views. Farther west, travelers will find historic sites Rievaulx Abbey and Duncombe Park, as well as Thirsk Hall Sculpture Park. Finally, extend your road trip with a drive inland to the Yorkshire Dales National Park, another great region to explore by car.

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08 of 08

Hadrian's Wall

Hadrian's Wall at Sycamore Gap
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Hadrian's Wall is a lingering remanent of the Romans, with the structure stretching 73 miles from coast to coast. It's possible to follow the wall by car, from Newcastle-upon-Tyne to Carlisle. Drive along the A69 and look for the Hadrian’s Wall Tourist route between Hexham and Brampton (marked with road signs bearing a Roman helmet). The road was originally built by General Wade during the 18th century and trails Hadrian’s Wall very closely, often with views of the structure from the car. Along the way, visit the Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery in Carlisle, the Chesters Roman Fort and Museum near Hexham, and the Housesteads Roman Fort in Bardon Mill. From the end of the route in Carlisle, you can travel onward to Scotland or head south into the Lake District. It's best to take two days to do the Hadrian's Wall route, especially if you plan to make a lot of sightseeing stops along the way.

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