We recently had the pleasure of being offered a hire car from the nice folks at Auto Europe (our recommended way to find the best deal on car hire!), which came in particularly handy since we were moving to Scotland and needed a means to get around, particularly to reclaim belongings.
It also gave us the chance to head out and explore a few parts of the UK that we’d not yet visited, particularly those that are harder to get to without a car.
This gave me the idea of putting together an itinerary for a one week UK road trip. The idea of this itinerary is to take in some of the essential highlights of the UK, but also throw in a few curveballs – spectacular places that you would find hard to visit without your own wheels. This is in addition to my already very popular two week UK itinerary post, which covers more of the “essentials”.
Without further ado, here’s my guide for an awesome:
One Week UK Road Trip Itinerary
We’re going to kick off this itinerary in the UK’s capital, on the assumption that this is where you’re going to fly to when you arrive. There are flights from all over the world to London’s airports, so the chances are pretty high that this is where you’re going to be arriving.
1. London – 2 Days
In general, having a hire car in London is A Bad Idea. What with the congestion charge, antiquated road system, and the fact that the traffic moves slower now on average than it did when horses and carts plied the roads – well, you get the idea.
This isn’t to suggest writing it off though. My plan has you hiring a car, picking it up from the airport you land in, and finding yourself a nice hotel a little outside of the centre. Having a hire car will really open up the possibilities of locations, maybe you could find yourself a nice little B&B in the Kent countryside for example. My only tip is to find one near a public transport hub.
For your first day of exploration, I’d suggest grabbing a train into London, and spending your day seeing the essential London sights. London is an eminently walkable city, and you’ll be able to take in the majority of the key highlights, from the Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace through to Tower Bridge and the Tower of London.
Then, on your second day, take advantage of that car and head out to some of the attractions outside of London. I’m thinking Windsor Castle, or Hampton Court Palace – both eminently explorable, and easy to reach with a car.
If you want to save money on the above attractions, and will be visiting a few, then you should definitely consider investing in a London Pass. Available in 1, 3 and 6 day versions, the savings can really be quite impressive if you plan on visiting a few locations. You can read a full break down on if the London Pass is worth buying here, and buy one yourself here.
Finally, London has no shortage of accommodation options, something to suit pretty much every budget. Check out the options for London at booking.com.
2. Stonehenge, Bath and the Cotswolds – 1 Day
From London, I’m going to suggest you head west, and take in one of Britain’s most recognisable old monuments – the incredible Stonehenge. Every year new evidence comes to light as to how these got here, and you can’t fail to be impressed at their massiveness, as well as their seeming impervious nature. Since the motorway was shifted a few years ago, and the fence around the stones moved, this has become a far more pleasant attraction to visit.
From Stonehenge, head along to the old town of Bath. A favourite of the Romans, this place has, as you would imagine, some Baths to explore, where you can see how the Romans kept themselves clean, plus try some of the waters yourself. Also worth taking the time to check out the Georgian architecture, including the Royal Crescent and the Circus.
From Bath, head into the Cotswolds, where I’d recommend you spend the night. Find yourself a cosy little B&B in the countryside – somewhere you’d likely struggle to get to with public transport – and really take advantage of having your own wheels!
3. Warwickshire, The Peak District & Yorkshire – 2 Days
After a pleasant overnight in the Cotswolds, it’s time to turn North, and head up to Yorkshire. This will be a bit of a drive, but there are some highlights on the way that I’d recommend stopping at to break up the journey.
First, I’d suggest stopping off at Baddesley Clinton, a moated manor house just outside of Warwick. This is a spectacular property, over 500 years old, which will give you an insight as to how the British aristocracy lived in the middle ages. Highlights include the glorious moat that surrounds the building, and the priest-holes in the house itself, where the Catholic priests of the time would hide from persecution and execution.
If you’d prefer to explore an interesting town, then I can recommend dropping in to Warwick. There’s enough to do here to fill a day (especially if you decide to visit the Castle!), but I’d suggest at least visiting the Lord Leycester Hospital, and St. Mary’s Church.
The former isn’t, and has never been, a hospital, instead, for over 400 years it has housed military veterans of Britain’s various wars. It’s a fascinating cluster of houses, dating from the 14th century, and is basically everything you could hope for in a medieval construction.
St Mary’s Church is one of the largest churches (I thought it was a cathedral when I first spotted it) in the UK, home to a gorgeous medieval chapel, a magnificent view from the top of its tower, and 1000 years of worshipping history.
Once you’re done with the above, it’s time to leave Warwickshire behind, and head on up to the Peak District, where I’m going to suggest you spend the night – there are some really fantastic accommodation options on hand, to suit every budget.
After your night in the Peak District, set aside a morning for visiting Chatsworth House. Often voted the UK’s favourite country house – if you’re going to take in a stately home on a spectacular scale, then this is an excellent choice. Still home to the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, the property has 126 rooms, with a number of these open for public viewing. Surrounding the property itself are 105 acres of magnificent garden, constructed across six centuries, and reflecting changing times and fashions. You’ll easily be able to lose a morning at Chatsworth!
From Chatsworth, it’s a 2 hour blast up to the next stop on our itinerary – the gorgeous ruined remains of Fountains Abbey, a UNESCO World Heritage Site set in Studley Royal Park.
As well as the well preserved ruins of the giant 12th century Cistercian monastery, you’ll also find the rather impressive 18th century water garden, generally recognised as the most important in the UK. If you can, I’d suggest exploring right through until the sun sets, which should afford you some wonderful photography opportunities. There’s lots of ground to cover, and if you find yourself tiring, there’s an excellent tea room.
When you’re done, find yourself somewhere to stay in the nearby area.
4. Northumberland – 1 day
You’ll be starting your sixth day of exploration bright and early in Yorkshire, and continuing northwards, this time to the country of Northumberland, home to the city of Newcastle, the island spanning Hadrian’s Wall, and some of England’s finest medieval castles.
It’s the latter that I’m going to suggest you focus on in Northumberland. You’re unlikely to be able to do all of the following, but I’d definitely suggest that you visit at least two of the following four sights when in Northumberland, starting with:
Alnwick Castle. Home to the Duke of Northumberland, and dating from 1036, this is the sort of castle that you probably think of when you think of medieval fortress castles. It’s also the sort of castle you might think of if you’re a Harry Potter fan, as a number of the scenes from the earlier movies, including the Quidditch training scenes, were filmed here. If you’re more of a Downton Abbey fan, well, the last two Christmas specials of the show were filmed here.
It would be easy to spend a day here, particularly as the gardens are also very picturesque, so you’re welcome to do just that. But, if you’re keen to see some more of England’s incredible castles, head along to:
Bamburgh Castle. I absolutely love the coastal location of Bamburgh Castle, which is just perfect for photography, atop a rocky outcrop by a golden sand beach. The native Britons of the area thought so too – with a fort housing the original Kings of Britain located here. Of course, that all came to an end when the Vikings popped over in 993 and presumably burnt the place to the ground.
The castle that’s on the site today was built by the Normans, in the 11th century, and is another imposing fortress like construction, designed to withstand brutal assault and siege warfare.
Since you’re in the area for Bamburgh, you might also take the time to take a look at either Dunstanburgh castle, a few miles to the south, or Holy Island, a few miles to the north. The former was a 14th century fortification that fell into ruin by the 16th century – the latter is an island, accessible at low tide, and where you’ll find the still inhabited Lindisfarne Castle, which you can also tour.
If you’ve had enough of castles, or one was plenty, then I’d suggest you visit Hadrian’s Wall. Built during the time of Emperor Hadrian (122AD if you’re not up to speed on Roman timelines), this wall stretched from one side of England to the other, and marked the northern limit of the Roman empire. The precise reason for building a 73 mile wall is still unclear, I suspect it was largely just because they could.
There are multiple locations where you can visit the wall, with my favourite being Sycamore Gap, near Housesteads Crag, where a lonely tree sits amongst the remains of the highest part of the wall.
From Hadrian’s Wall, head north, to the Scottish capital of Edinburgh, either overnighting in the Scottish Borders, or Edinburgh itself.
5. Edinburgh – Final Day!
This trip finishes off in Edinburgh, one of my favourite cities in the UK, and where you’ll have no shortage of things to do. However, since you have a car, I have two suggestions that you might want to add to the list. First – head to the Pentland Hills. A few miles south of the city, these offer excellent walking, sheep spotting opportunities and iron age hill forts.
I’d also suggest you make the time to head out to an icon of the Edinburgh surrounds – the Firth of Forth bridges, and in particular, the UNSECO World Heritage Listed Firth of Forth Rail Bridge. This is a mighty red cantilevered bridge construction spanning the Firth of Forth, opened in 1890, and still operational today. At it’s time of construction it was the longest single cantilever bridge in the world, and despite now being the second longest, is still might impressive.
Finally, of course, I’d recommend spending some time exploring Edinburgh, which has no shortage of attractions, fine dining, shopping and places to stay.
Then – turn your car in, and head home – Edinburgh airport is easy to drive to, has all the main car hire operator’s, and you should be able to fly from here to anywhere you like. Whew! I hope you enjoyed that tour!
Let’s take a look at a few practicalities and things to think about for your trip.
How to Get Around the UK
Well, this one should be pretty obvious! I’m going to suggest a rental car of course. This itinerary is really only do-able if you drive yourself. As I said at the start of the post, we’re big fans of Auto Europe for helping get the best deal on a car – they search all the major providers to find you the best price, and will match or beat any other quote you find.
Once you’ve found a car, their team are available 24/7 should you have any problems during your trip. Good stuff!
Just be aware that on a trip like this, where you pick up and drop off the car at different locations, you can incur a one way surcharge.
When To Visit the UK
The UK has what could best be described as “variable” weather. The good news is that you don’t really get extremes of weather. The bad news is that being surrounded by water, it tends to rain a lot, throughout the year.
Obviously, the summer period is likely to be warmer than the winter period, but the climate is generally mild, so whenever you visit, plan for the gamut of weather conditions, from rain to sunshine. Layers are key to your clothing, meaning you can adjust as the weather changes.
My main piece of advice for a trip like this is to avoid popular weekends and school holidays if you can. The UK has a number of public holidays throughout the year, when the roads (and attractions) get very crowded. If you can avoid these times, you’ll have a far more pleasant experience. Time of year wise, there’s no “bad” time to visit, but I’d advise perhaps May / June might give you the best shot of decent weather, whilst avoiding the summer school holiday period.
Where to Stay in the UK
The UK has loads of accommodation options, from cosy B&B’s through to upscale hotels, as well as all the chains you’d expect.
- We’ve tried a lot of booking sites, and nearly always find ourselves using Booking.com. They have an extensive selection of properties, many with no-fee cancellation policies, and often run discounts and special offers. Click on each city title to see their listings: London, the Cotswolds, the Peak District, Yorkshire and Edinburgh,
- If you prefer an apartment or more of a hosted stay, then I recommend AirBnB. I’ve tried all the others, and AirBnB consistently has the most options for locations around the world. Plus, if you’ve never used them before, you’ll get up to a $100 discount on your first booking with this link!
- If you can’t find what you want on AirBnB, or you want some new options to try out, we have some alternatives we also use. We suggest trying VRBO, Flipkey or HomeAway to start with. For even more ideas to help you save money and get the best choice, we wrote a whole post on the best alternatives to AirBnB which you should check out!
Between these options, you should find the best prices and places to stay for your trip, as well as a good selection of reviews and feedback to help you make an informed decision.
Further reading for your UK trip
We’ve got lots of resources to help you plan your trip to the UK, from posts we’ve written ourselves to third party content we’re happy to recommend. Here it is:
- If you want a longer trip, taking in some more highlights of the UK including Wales and Ireland, check out this two week itinerary of the UK that I put together.
- We have guides to many of the cities and sights in the UK for you to bookmark, including:
- A guide to driving Scotland’s epic North Coast 500, as well as accommodation options on the North Coast 500
- A Two Day Edinburgh Itinerary & 21 Highlights in Edinburgh
- Edinburgh: Getting off the beaten path
- If you like Royal themed attractions, Jess wrote a full post about the Royal Edinburgh Ticket here, which can help you save money on some of Edinburgh’s top attractions.
- A guide to 10 of the best Stately Homes in England, to give you some ideas as you plan your itinerary
- A Two Day London Itinerary
- A Six Day London Itinerary
- The Best Photography Locations in London
- Tips on Buying and Using the London Pass
- Eight Things to Do in Kensington
- The Highlights of Oxford
- Visiting Blenheim Palace and the Cotswolds
- 20 Things To Do in Dublin
- A Guide to Touring the Scottish Borders
- If you want a physical (or digital!) book to accompany your travels, then Amazon do a good line in UK Travel Guides, and there is naturally a Lonely Planet and a Rough Guide to the UK available.