If you and your family are some of the 2.9 million people who visit the United Kingdom every year, why not take a road trip while you are there? Popular places in the U.K. are easily accessible by road; it is just 874 miles from Lands’ End, the southwest tip of England, to John O’Groats in the far north of Scotland. That is only a few miles further than traveling from New York to Chicago. Jump in a rental car to see the best the United Kingdom has to offer.
A Kid-Friendly Guide to Exploring the U.K. by Car
Driving in the U.K.
Chances are you’ll fly to London Heathrow from the U.S.; it is the second busiest airport in the world based on passenger numbers. However, London is a large, busy city, full of traffic, and will not be the best place to start your U.K. driving experience. Instead, spend a few days looking around London and then rent a car from somewhere outside the city that you can get to easily on public transport. As for the roads, locals drive on the left, stay left on motorways unless they are overtaking, and negotiate roundabouts without a second thought. Another thing to be aware of: the vast majority of cars are manual and small compared to American vehicles, so you may need to prepare yourself in advance and pack a smaller suitcase that will fit in the trunk. And, as with any country, check out road signs and rules of the road before you set off.
Oh, I Do Like to Be Beside the Seaside
Both children and parents love the seaside, and there is plenty of coastline to discover on a road trip in the U.K.; you can easily spend a week or two driving along the coast. Start by heading south of London to Broadstairs in Kent for that quintessential English beach experience and then follow the coast along to cosmopolitan Brighton, visiting the pier to wear your kids out. Then head to the southwest, stopping off at Stonehenge, a must-see attraction, before entertaining your dino-obsessed kids by searching for fossils on the Jurassic coast. Further afield is the impressive coastline of Devon and Cornwall with sandy beaches, azure sea, secluded coves, and amazing surfing beaches. Head to Lands’ End, the most westerly point of England, and admire the never-ending view out to sea. There really is something to keep everyone entertained.
A Green and Pleasant Land
Head north of London and you will see rolling green hills and chocolate box villages and experience winding country roads (not to be missed!). Take in the Cotswolds on your road trip, visiting villages such as Bourton-on-the-Water to see traditional Cotswold stone cottages and wander around the countryside, Burford to visit antique shops, or Chedworth and its immaculate Roman Villa. For the kids, visit the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway in Cheltenham or the Cotswold Wildlife Park. Then take in the University City of Oxford, home to impressive buildings, and punt along the river before heading to Stratford-upon-Avon, a town synonymous with William Shakespeare.
220 miles north of London you will find the city of Liverpool; with more #1 Billboard hits than anywhere else, it is officially the capital of pop. Birthplace of the Beatles and home to The Beatles Story, there is plenty to occupy music-loving teenagers and adults alike. It is then only a few miles along the M62 to Manchester, home of the National Football Museum, where you can learn all about the history of soccer in the U.K. or take in a stadium tour of Manchester United or Manchester City or, if you can get tickets, even attend a match. To occupy younger kids, try something more educational at the Science and Industry Museum or the LEGOLAND Discovery Centre. Then head over the Pennines to the town of York. The children will love the Jorvik Viking Centre, the gruesome York Dungeon or the National Railway Museum, giving you chance to browse the shops of Europe’s most visited street, The Shambles.
Lakes And Mountains
The Lake District can be found in the northwest. England’s largest national park covers 912 square miles with over 200 mountains and 16 lakes to discover. The Lake District Visitor Centre at Brockhole, near Lake Windermere, is a great place to start your road trip around this stunning part of the U.K. Rent bikes, canoes, kayaks, or rowing boats to discover the local area by land or water and satisfy your adrenaline junkies at the Treetop Trek high ropes and zip line.
Once you’re worn out by the fresh air and activities, take the Lake District’s highest pass, Kirkstone Pass, also known as “The Struggle,” leading to Ullswater. With a gradient of 1 in 4, this narrow, hilly road lined by traditional dry stone walls will test your driving expertise as well as your nerves. Ullswater is surrounded by dramatic scenery, great for a hike or a more leisurely boat trip. Get off the Ullswater Steamer at Howtown and walk back to Glenridding, taking in some of the most beautiful scenery in the Lake District.
Americans love visiting the U.K. There is so much to see, and it is all easy accessible by car. Prepare yourself for driving before you set out, then drive off into the sunset in search of the myriad sights the U.K. has to offer.