Best Scenic Drives in the UK

For most of their lives, or leases, our automobiles are stuck in the slow lane: the familiar, traffic-choked track between home and work, work and the supermarket; the same stretch of motorway between here and grandmother’s. We expend our four-wheel drive on city streets, our sat navs on calculating the route to the out of town shopping centre, our precision handling on right-hand turns, and our best driving tunes on stop-and-go traffic. Lucky for you Britain has better routes than the one to the office and if you can coax yourself behind the wheel on a Bank Holiday you may rediscover the joy of driving, and experience some spectacular British scenery and history to boot. Pack a picnic, your TomTom, a camera and hit the road, just for the fun of it. Here are some of the UK’s best mapped and most fascinating scenic drives:

North Northumberland Coastal Route, Drurdige Bay to Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland, 103 km

This route winds northward from the excellent birdwatching and recreation at Druridge Bay, providing access to Northumberland’s beautiful span of unspoiled sandy beaches, quiet villages, and historical attractions. The fishing town of Amble provides a stunning view of the entire coast, and access to the bird reserve on Coquet Island. Wind further north and you’ll find Warkworth, a picturesque village in the shadow of the ruin of Castle Warkworth, and for a bit more civilization, the town of Craster, where, if you give up the car and set out on foot through the grass for a few miles, you’ll find the dramatic ruin of Dunstanburgh Castle. The beach at Embleton is among the safest and most pristine in Britain, a stretch of golden sand backed by sand dunes and National Trust-protected bungalows, but the more adventurous will want to drive further to Beadnall Bay, with facilities for scuba-driving, surfing, and cliff-jumping.

The village of Seahouses is perhaps the region’s best approximation of a seaside resort, with a rich fabric of restaurants, amusements, and fantastic fish and chips. Boats depart from here regularly for the nature reserves on the Farne Islands. Further along, the striking, sea-lashed Bamburgh Castle looms over its name-sake beach and village. The Grace Darling Museum there commemorates the lighthouse keeper’s daughter who rowed to rescue survivors of a shipwreck on the Farne Islands. A three-mile causeway funnels drivers to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, hub of early Celtic Christianity, home of the famous Gospels, and site of a brutal Viking invasion in 793. But if you don’t time your drive you may get stranded on the road by a swirly rising tide ad require rescue. Finally, head up to the Scottish border and the town of Berwick. Once fiercely contested land, it’s now a serene Market Town with excellent shopping and heritage architecture.

Causeway Coastal Route, Belfast to Derry, Northern Ireland, 314km

Skip the motorway and point the bonnet to Northern Ireland’s dramatic northwest coast and its gentler roads through the Glens of Antrim, a verdant quilt of farmland and forestry, hemmed in by the North Sea. Test your nerve on the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, a spindly link between the mainland and a tiny rocky island outpost and further along the coast, stop to marvel at the spectacular basalt pillars of the Giant’s Causeway. Much of the coastline doubles as the rugged, blood-soaked Westerns in the television Game of Thrones—viewers may the land above Carncastle as the site of Ned Stark’s execution of a thief in the first episode or recognize the Cushendun Caves as the place where the Red Priestess birthed a shadow baby. The real Causeway Coast is more tranquil than George R.R. Martin’s medieval pastiche: the road here are littered with small towns and villages with pubs and bed and breakfasts catering to tourists and passers-through.

Image credit: “Driving Along the Causeway Coastal Route,” by Jennifer Boyer on Flickr.

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