The Best Road Trip Routes in the UK and Ireland

Ashley Chalmers

Senior Contributor

While the capital cities of the UK and Ireland are worthy stops, it’s not until you rent a car and hit the open road that you get to really see the beauty of each country. From coastal views to mountain passes, these five drives will have you planning a vacation that relies heavily on the scenic route. And if you plan correctly, along the way you’ll find charming inns, sweet bed & breakfasts, and historic pubs worthy of frequent pit stops from point A to point B.

Roll Through the Hills of the Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland

Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way follows 2,500km of coastline, including scenes of white sandy beaches and cerulean waves. With almost two hundred scenic viewpoints called the ‘Wild Atlantic Way Discovery Points,’ this route isn’t short on classic sea cliffs and rolling, green hills. The route itself is one of the world’s longest defined coastal routes, stretching along the west coast from Derry on the Inishowen Peninsula, down to the village of Kinsale in County Cork. If the entire route isn’t possible, it can be broken down into fourteen bite-sized drives, with the Dingle Peninsula and the Ring of Kerry arguably two of the most famous portions.

Myths and Magics Along Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coastal Route

Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coastal Route packs a lot of sights into 190 km – though there are a further 410km of scenic routes that take you off the main drive. Bookended by two cities, this drive begins in Belfast and moves west to Derry~Londonderry. While it’s possible to drive the full route in one day, most guides recommend spreading the tour over three to five days, mostly to account for the slight detours that take you off the beaten path. From abandoned castles to the legendary Giants Causeway, to a tree-lined road well known for its appearances in Game of Thrones, the Causeway Coastal Route is the perfect mix of beautiful vantage points and pure magic.

Start and End with a Castle on Scotland’s North Coast 500

Coming in at 516 miles (or 830km), the North Coast 500 is technically slightly longer than its official name. It’s easy to forgive, because this loop route that starts and ends with Inverness Castle is packed with incredible beauty. As the perfect route for exploring the Scottish Highlands, this drive covers all of Northern Scotland’s hits: Wester Ross, Sutherland, Caithness, Easter Ross, the Black Isle, and Inverness-Shire. Surprisingly, this route is also fairly new, as far as established routes go. It was launched in 2015, and appeals to both drivers looking to make the most out of their time in the Highlands and endurance cyclists looking for a major challenge.

Mind the Sheep on The Black Mountain Pass in Wales

While Wales has plenty of beautiful coastline, The Black Mountain Pass in Brecon Beacons National Park is one of its most famous routes for good reason. Moving over and through the Black Mountains, this short drive stretches between Llandovery and Brynamman, clocking in around twenty miles. Driving west across the Brecon Beacons, the route is literally full of twists and turns and ups and downs - reaching 1,600ft before dropping down into the valley of Llandovery. Along with expansive views and lush, green hills, expect to share the road with plenty of cyclists and even more sheep.

A Route by Any Other Name: The Atlantic Highway aka A39, England

The Atlantic Highway is mostly referred to as the less romantic-sounding A39, but whatever it’s called, the route’s beauty remains. Stretching along the northern coast of England’s southwestern peninsula, the Atlantic Highway follows the edge of Devon through Cornwall. Driving through Exmoor National Park, the A39 offers lush forests, as well as a seemingly endless supply of quintessential English fishing villages. In between each village, expect to find waterfalls, clifftop views, castle ruins, and long stretches of bucolic beaches. 

Become a member to join the conversation!

Become part of the world's leading travel & lifestyle community!