England is only about the size of Louisiana, but the power of its history, literature, landscape, and military has placed it on the world stage for centuries. London and York have been the engines, but the villages and countryside have been, and are, places of renewal, beauty, and inspiration. For example, Shakespeare’s theater was in London, but his home was tucked into the sweet Cotswold’s. Get into a car, or hire a driver, and experience sublime places on your England vacation.
Devon is perfect for road trips, with paved routes for cars, vans, motorcycles, and cyclists. The combination of countryside and coastline, land and sea, is exceptional.
The best coastal drive is along the south of Devon, particularly the A379 following the Devon coast. Start in Torquay, and then leisurely make your way to Brixham, Coleton Fishacre, Dartmouth, Start Bay, Kingsbridge, Salcombe, Bantham and Bigbury-on-Sea, ending in Plymouth.
For wildlife and wild landscapes, head to north Devon. Begin in Dunster and wander inland through the Dunkery & Homer Wood National Nature Reserve, stopping in Dulverton, Tarr Steps, Exford, Porlock View Point, Porlock Weir, Lynmouth and Valley of the Rocks, and exiting the reserve at Ilfracombe. From there, follow the coast to Croyde and Hartland Abbey, ending your road trip in Clovelly.
Cheddar Gorge & Caves
The Cheddar Gorge & Caves is one of Britain’s great natural wonders—a gorge plunging more than 300 feet into the Mendip Hills, with caves in the southern cliffs. Cheddar is just outside Sommerset, and a short 20-mile drive down the B3151 gets you to the gorge. (B3135 is the road through the gorge.)
If you want a longer trip through this area of southwest England, start in Winchester and then meander through Salisbury, Wilton House, Old Sarum, Stonehenge, Longleat, Stourhead, Shaftesbury, Sherborne New Castle, Sherborne, Glastonbury, Wells, Wookey Hole, Cheddar Gorge and Prior Park. End up in beautiful Bath, an ideal place to spend a few days.
The Jurassic Coast is a 95-mile stretch of highway from Exmouth to Studland Bay. You’ll discover landslides, cliffs, and beaches that reveal nearly 200 million years of Earth’s history. The entire area was designated England’s first World Heritage Site in 2001.
Driving along the A35 between the two endpoints, you’ll travel through both the East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Taking side roads, such as A351 and the B3157, you’ll enjoy Poole, Wareham, Corfe Castle, Lulworth Castle, Lulworth Cove, Durdle Door, Clouds Hill, Weymouth, Tout Quarry, Chesil Beach, Abbotsbury Swannery, and Lyme Regis.
Cornwall has wild winding roads, powerful winds, tremendous waves, and breathtaking views of the Atlantic. A short drive starts in Barnstaple and follows the coast for 76 miles to Newquay. En route are majestic views of Constantine Bay and Bedruthan Steps.
For a longer, epic Corwall trip, start in Bude and work down the coast through Tintagel, Padstow, Newquay, St. Agnes, St. Ives, Sennen, Land’s End, Porthcurno, Penzance, St. Michael’s Mount, The Lizard, Falmouth and Eden Project, ending in Fowey. Amazing.
The Cotswolds are a collection of picturesque villages set among green hills, wildflower meadows, and bucolic pastures with grazing sheep. The Cotswolds are a taste of classic English countryside. There are a number of short drives in the area. A favorite short drive is the 30-mile trip down the B4632 from Cheltanham through a number of small towns, including Chipping Camden, to Stratford-upon-Avon.
One example of a longer drive starts in Bath and ends in Stratford-upon-Avon. Along the route are Bath, Tetbury, Painswick, Cirencester, Bibury, Northleach, Burford, The Slaughters, Stow-on-the-Wind, Chipping Camden, Broadway Tower, Broadway, Winchcombe and Stratford-upon-Avon. Stay in Bath at one end of the drive and Stratford-upon-Avon at the other. It’s pure England.
The Peak District is made for history buffs. Drives through this part of England give you a view of Victorian engineering, stately manors, and genteel living. A trip of about 60 miles begins in Holmfirth and rambles southward through the Peak District National Park. Along the way are Snake Pass, Bamford, Chatsworth House, and Ashford-in-the-Water, ending in Buxton.
A longer trip begins in southern Peak District in Derby. It then moves northward through Kedleston Hall, Ashbourne, Bakewell, Haddon Hall, Cromford Mill, Matlock Bath, Chatsworth House, Chesterfield, Eyam, Derwent Reservoirs, Edale, Castleton, Tideswell, and Poole’s Cavern, also ending in Buxton.
The Shropshire Hills border the Welsh countryside—this may be the most beautiful pastoral scenery in the world. Fields, hills, and rivers abound, and so do sheep pastures and forested dells.
A lovely short drive is the 15-mile stretch along the A458 from Shrewsbury to Harley, and then on to Much Wenlock. A bit longer drive is the 65-mile loop from Shrewsbury to Ludlow. Take the A458 south to Ludlow, then the A49 back north. Both drives have beautiful views of the Severn Valley.
Lake District & Northern England
The Lake District is often called the most beautiful place in England. It’s easy to see why—dramatic hills, verdant fields, and all dotted with more lakes than seems possible.
Hardknott Pass is a well-known overlook in the Lake District, but the drive up is not for the faint-hearted. Warm up by starting in Little Langdale, then hit Wrynose Pass before tackling the gradients up and down Hardknott Pass. Another beautiful short drive starts in Kendal—the road passes both Lake Windermere and Lake Thirlmere before ending in Keswick, 40 miles away.
A longer trip with more lake views begins in Bowness-on-Windermere, and then makes its way through Ambleside, Great Langdale, Grasmere, Keswik, Borrowdale & Buttermere, Cockermouth, Wasdale, Eskdale, Hardknott Pass & Wrynose Pass, Coniston, and Hawkshead before terminating in Ullswater.
Just east of the Lake District National Park is Yorkshire Dales National Park. The park encompasses 840 square miles of upland hills and dales (valleys) and some very dramatic countryside. One of the most iconic locations in the park is Buttertubs Pass.
The drive over Buttertubs is only 7 miles long, from Cloggerby Rigg to Penn Lane, along Cliff Gate Road. It’s a steep ascent followed by a rapid descent and tight corners. Most drivers complete the route in just 15 minutes—fans of Top Gear will recognize the pass immediately.
A longer trip through the Yorkshire Dales starts in Harrogate, turns west on the B6265 toward Grassington, Arncliffe, Malham and Skipton, then onto the A65 to Ingleton, the B6255 to Hawes, across the Buttertubs Pass, then on to the Tan Hill Inn and Richmond.
Northumberland has expansive vistas, dramatic coastlines, and ancient castles. One beautiful, short drive in Northumberland starts at Lindisfarne Castle, passes by the gorgeous Lindisfarne Nature Reserve, then on to Bamburgh, ending in Alnwick. Driving the B1340 for about 18 miles will get you from Bamburgh Castle to Alnwick Castle.
There are longer drives up and down the coast. One begins in Newcastle, then moves north through Angel of the North, Tynemouth, Newbiggin-by-the-Sea, Amble, Warkworth, Alnwick, Craster, Low Newton-by-the-Sea, Bamburgh and Holy Island, ending in Berwick-upon-Tweed.