One of the best ways to see what England and Scotland have to offer is by completing a self-drive road trip from London to Edinburgh. Today, I’ve added all my favourite places for the ideal London to Edinburgh road trip, full of the best stops along the way.
The two itineraries cover everything from historic towns, Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, UNESCO heritage sites, film locations and much more!
Starting your trip in London without a car (honestly, you don’t want the headache of driving there) then choose whether you want to do the east or west route of England before ending up in Edinburgh. Unless you live here and have no choice but to drive through London.
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If you have enough time make sure you do the full loop and soak in what England and Scotland have to offer.
I am so excited to share all the things I love about these countries! Let’s get started!
Things to Know Before Driving From London to Edinburgh
If you are looking for the best options for car rental then I always use Europcar or Enterprise cars in the UK.
For my great British road trip, I used Europcars long rental option which gave us the car for half the price for 28 days, unlimited drivers and delivered to my door! The only drawback to this option is we were limited to 2,520 miles which just covered our round trip. There is another option at 3,360 miles.
Don’t forget to take out a travel insurance policy before travelling, even if you are local this will protect your belongings whilst you travel. I always like to use World Nomads for my travels – get a quote from WorldNomads here.
Other things to know before travelling:
- Don’t rent a car in London! – Chances are that you will be staying in Central London (unless you live here then skip to option 1 and 2 routes) and it’s honestly a total nightmare to drive here.
Not only that there are congestion charges which cover quite a large radius. For each option I have added a recommended airport to pick up a rental car, this will save you driving time and the stress of driving in London.
- Fill-up at supermarket petrol stations – Asda, Morrisons, Sainsburys, Tesco etc. will all offer cheaper petrol by some margin. If you stop at any of the petrol stations along the motorway you could easily see prices increased by 10 to 20 pence per litre!
- Choose to either drive the East or West Route – I’ve split the itinerary into two routes as it’s more logical to follow these routes rather than zig-zagging across the country.
- Overloading your trip – Try not to cram half of England and Scotland into a two-day trip otherwise you will not see much apart from the road.
- Don’t drive from London to Edinburgh in one go – Unless you are familiar with driving long distances I don’t recommend trying the 8-hour drive. As someone that grew up with long distant driving across Australia, I still struggle with driving over here and recommend at least having 1 overnight stop. Plus you will be missing all the amazing things to see driving straight there!
- Potential Tolls – Some routes suggested can have tolls but I have found these pretty easy to avoid. Check Google maps before driving and it will highlight toll roads. For example, the M6 has one (west route) however, you can just take the non-toll M6 route to save the money.
- Download Parking Apps – A lot of parking around the country is paid and I am not sure about you but I never really carry cash any more. Download these apps before hitting the road; Just Park, Pay by Phone and Ring Go. They were by far the most frequent ones I encountered. Another way I have saved money with parking in cities is by booking in advance on Just Park. Weirdly in Bristol, it was cheaper to pay for a week’s worth of parking than two days!
- English Heritage – If you’re interested in visiting a bunch of different historic sites, you can purchase an Overseas Visitors Pass or if you’re living in England a yearly membership. Not only does this save you money at each individual place it includes parking! Valid at over 100 places, you can choose between a 9 or a 16 day passes.
Start in London: 2 Day Itinerary
Before starting your road trip to Edinburgh it’s time to explore London! It’s a good idea to stay somewhere within close proximity to attractions and activities so here are some of the best places to stay in London.
Looking for something a little more off the beaten path to visit in London? Here is a list of alternative things to do in London that will not disappoint!
Psstt… To make the most of your time in London make sure you read my London sightseeing tips to get the most of your time in the city!
Day 1: West of London
Start the day by going to Kensington and pick one of the fantastic free museums:
- Natural History Museum – In my opinion this is the best museum in London. I always think of David Attenborough speaking whilst I am walking through the gorgeous building learning about dinosaurs.
- Victoria and Albert Museum
- Science Museum
If you get there by 9am you will beat all the crowds and fewer crowds means you will be able to walk around faster.
Next walk through Kensington Palace & Gardens, through Hyde Park finally reaching Buckingham Palace. If watching the changing of the Guards is on your list then make sure you get to Buckingham Palace by 10:45 (I also have some tips in my London sightseeing tips on the best spot to watch this). I would say it would be impossible to do the changing of the Guard and a muesum so if it’s high on your list choose one or the other.
Afterwards head to Westminster Abbey and Big Ben before crossing Westminster Bridge to Waterloo.
Once you’re in Waterloo you can explore Leake Street Tunnel which became a famous street art spot after Banksy hosted the Cans Festival there in 2008. It’s the largest area in London for street art so it’s frequently having new pieces added or replaced.
Ready for a drink? The Waterloo Tap is also a short walk from Waterloo Station and set up in a converted railway arch, this funky bar boasts 20 kegs and 6 casks on constant rotation. They also serve bar snacks but not full meals.
Head back to the Thames path (i.e. The Queen’s Walk) and you’ll arrive at the London Eye. Make sure you read my guide on what to book in London where I cover everything you need to know about booking the London Eye.
Continue east down the Thames and you will see either the Underbelly Festival (summer event) or Rekorderlig Cider Lodge (winter event). There are lots of stalls that offer food and drinks, alternatively there plenty of restaurants around the Southbank.
Cross back over the Golden Jubilee Bridge to Embankment. Just a short way up Villiers Street you will find Gordon’s Wine Bar which is a 19th-century wine bar in a candlelit vaulted cellar. It’s lovely to grab a glass of wine here and just relax your feet for a bit.
Finish your day off in Covent Garden and Soho. There are lots of bars, restaurants and theatre options in the area, plenty to keep you entertained for an evening!
Day 2: East of London
Start the day off at St Paul’s Cathedral, on the weekend the area is super quiet apart from the tourists in the area. For a great view head to One New Change and go to the viewing platform.
Afterward, you can go by the Monument which commemorates The Great Fire of London, decide whether you want to climb the 311 steps or just have a sneak peek at it.
Cross London Bridge to Borough Market. Everyone gets confused with London Bridge and Tower Bridge. The first one is the functional one and Tower Bridge is the beautifully designed bridge originally opened in 1894 which you can see across the Thames from London Bridge.
Have a late breakfast or early lunch (brunch) stop at Borough Market. I am always overwhelmed by the choice of food options. It suits all dietary requirements as well!
Head back to the Thames Path and you will pass HMS Belfast, get a great photo opportunity of the London Skyline before crossing Tower Bridge.
Once you are finished the next place is the Tower of London! If you decide to go inside check out the 2 for 1 on Days Out Guide or buy tickets online to save a little bit of money.
Shoreditch is a great place to stop for food, find street art, have a drink on a rooftop, explore BOXPARK for food and shopping or find a secret bar like the Mayor of Scardy Cat Town.
Brick Lane is known as the curry mile and to really get the authentic feel you need to haggle for Indian food. Otherwise, head to one of the amazing restaurants like the famous Dishoom. If you’re lucky enough to be there on Sunday then Brick Lane hosts markets full of food stalls until 5pm.
East and West England Routes to Edinburgh
Both of these routes can be customised to how many days you have available to you. As a minimum give yourself two days to allow two pit stops and one overnight stay somewhere. Seven days will truly allow you to see the best of both routes and if you want to do the loop then allow at least 14 days!
This is not including the days you wish to spend in London and Edinburgh.
Option 1: East England Route to Edinburgh
The best place to pick up a hire car for option 1 is Stansted Airport. This will cost a little bit more money to get to if you’re catching the train as it’s a National Rail line, however, booking your tickets in advance or getting the coach will save you money.
The east route will mainly take you on the A1 and A1(M)/A1 to Edinburgh.
Drive: Roughly 1hr 30mins depending on where you start your journey in London.
Cambridge is one of the most well-known cities in England, and it’s easy to see why it is so popular with tourists! The city has some of the most amazing architecture in all of England and a world-famous university as well. Due to the large student population there is so much to do as well as numerous great places to eat and drink in the centre of the city!
There are many things that are fun to do when you visit Cambridge, but an absolute must-try is the famous punting! A punt is a flat bottomed boat, which is used for leisure time and pushed across the water using a quant pole. This is a popular method of seeing some of the Colleges on the university, as well as the Bridge of Sighs which is very popular among tourists.
You can choose to punt yourself or pay for a tour like this shared tour for up to 4 people.
Some other popular tourist attractions in Cambridge include:
- King’s College Chapel – A huge and stunning chapel with beautiful ceilings and carvings.
- The Botanic Gardens – The gardens are home to several greenhouses and a seriously impressive collection of different plants!
- Mathematical Bridge – Officially known as the Wooden Bridge, this is one of the most famous bridges in the UK due to its unique design and structure.
- St. John’s College – If you want to see the most incredible college in Cambridge then this is certainly one of the most impressive. It is known across the UK for its annual May Ball, one of the best parties going!
Just to bear in mind that the preferred option for parking in Cambridge is to park and ride. Unless your accommodation offers parking as a part of your stay.
Drive: 55 minutes from Cambridge.
Fancy a quick stop off in a picturesque and historic town? Why not take a drive to the cobbled streets of Stamford, the gorgeous Georgian town in Southwest Lincolnshire. You may not have heard of the town before, but you’re sure to recognise parts of it, such as Burghley House, if you’ve seen the films Pride and Prejudice or The Da Vinci Code as it was used as a filming location in both.
Stamford is the kind of place where you can simply wander; behind every corner and down every alley is more stunning architecture to see. The town is incredibly walkable and has many pretty churches, such as St Mary’s Church (12th century) and All Saint’s Church (13th century).
Sheffield and the Peak District
Drive: 1hr 30mins from Stamford.
Sheffield is one of the greenest cities in the UK, and is right on the doorstep of the Peak District National Park.
The Peak District offers many opportunities for outdoor activities such as hiking, paragliding and rock climbing – what’s not to love? It’s also the UK’s first ever National Park back in 1951.
For a nice and easy stroll, I suggest the Mam Tor Walk trail which takes you to one of the Peak’s most iconic views. This 4.5km circular route is steeped in ancient history and you’ll be rewarded with views of the Vale of Edale, Peveril Castle and the Hope Valley.
The world famous Chatsworth House was used as Pemberleyin Pride and Prejudice; Hardwick Hall was used as Malfoy Manor in the Harry Potter films and the medieval Haddon Hall was used in Kit Harrington’s Gunpowder.
If the great outdoors isn’t for you, there are plenty of other things that Sheffield can offer:
- For a spot of shopping go to Meadowhall.
- Sheffield has the largest theatre complex outside London, the two major theatres are the Lyceum Theatre and the Crucible Theatre.
- Visit the tropical butterfly house which is popular with the locals.
- Visit Our Cow Molly which is a working dairy farm and makes delicious icecream.
Drive: 50 minutes from Sheffield.
Leeds is a thriving city and one of the larger cities in England. It’s a hub for art, culture and history so the city offers something for everyone.
For museums and art galleries, I recommend visiting:
- Royal Armouries Museum
- Leeds City Museum
- Thackray Medical Museum
- the National Coal Mining Museum
- Leeds Art Gallery
- Henry Moore Institute
- The Tetley
Microbreweries have really popped up all over the UK in the last few years and Leeds has some you should add to your list. Many of the breweries will hold tours and tasting. Some of the most established ones are Leeds Brewery, Northern Monk and North Brewing Company.
Drive: 40 minutes from Leeds.
Step back into medieval times with York’s winding cobbled streets, magnificent cathedral and stone walls surrounding the city. The best thing about York is that everything is within walking distance so it gives you a break from all that driving.
Things to add to your list include:
- Walking the city walls
- Climbing Clifford’s Tower
- Rascal buns at Betty’s tearoom
- Walk down the Shambles to see the beautiful shop fronts
- If you happen to be in York on the first Friday of the month then you need to visit York’s Farmers Market
Drive: 1hr 40mins from York.
Newcastle has a great reputation for its lively atmosphere and friendly people. There are numerous cocktail bars, trendy clubs, traditional pubs and restaurants all over the city.
The city gets its name from the fortress sitting on the River Tyne which you can go and see as a part of your tour, including the great hall and the view from the roof. To learn more about the history of the city check out the Laing Art Gallery. Alternatively visit the Discovery Museum which gives an interesting account of Newcastle’s background in shipbuilding and coal mining, and how that evolved over time through technological innovation.
Here are a few more sights to check out:
- BALTIC centre for contemporary art
- Live theatre – check out a theatrical performance
- The Biscuit Factory – a great art gallery and awesome brunch spot
- St. Nicholas Cathedral
Drive: 2hrs from Newcastle Upon Tyne
This is one of the most stunning towns in Great Britain offering beautiful beaches, amazing food and a great castle! Here are some of the best things to do:
- The Scottish Seabird Centre – See a variety of birds at this charitable research centre which dedicates itself to protecting indigenous wildlife in the area. You can also take a boat tour at some times of the year to see some seabirds in the wild! Depending on the season you may even see puffins!
- The Lobster Shack – This is known to be one of the best places in the area to enjoy a fresh catch right from the ocean! Enjoy a half lobster and chips and appreciate how incredible the fresh produce is!
- Tantallon Castle – The castle ruins sit right on the Firth of Forth overlooking the sea. It has a rich history of sieges and feuds dating back to the 14th century!
- Bass Rock – This famous rock sits proudly in the Firth of Forth and is a site of special scientific interest due to the fact that it homes the world’s largest local gannet colony.
- Yellowcraig Beach – This is a gorgeous beach that should not be missed on your travels – it makes for one of the most stunning coastal walks in the area!
Option 2: West England Route to Edinburgh
The best place to pick up a hire car for option 2 is Heathrow Airport. It will save you driving through London and therefore is a lot less stressful!
Windsor Castle (Stop en route to Oxford)
Drive: 40 minutes from Heathrow Airport.
Windsor is a stunning town and walking through it on the way to the castle is an absolute treat in itself. And the awe certainly does not stop when you reach the glorious 1,000-year-old castle. To explore the castle and its grounds in full, it will take around two hours. The highlight of visiting the castle is certainly the beautiful St. George’s Chapel where the Duke and Duchess of Sussex were married in 2018.
Windsor Castle is open Thursday to Monday, entry times start at 10am and the last admission at 3.30pm. Buy tickets to Windsor Castle here.
Drive: 50 minutes from Windsor.
One of the best things about Oxford is that you can see the city on foot, from the most famous colleges, to historic pubs, to the many free museums.
The historic Oxford University was first established in the 12th century and is the oldest speaking English university in the world. The university does not have a campus so you will see the buildings spread across the city.
Famous works of literature were written in Oxford such as Alice in Wonderland, The Lord of the Rings and the Chronicles of Narnia.
Here are some other great things to do while you are in Oxford:
- Bodelian Library
- Radcliffe Camera
- University Church of St Mary the Virgin
- Oxford University Museum of Natural History
After exploring the town, why not take some time to visit Highclere Castle which is very nearby. You may recognise the castle from the opening scenes of popular period drama Downton Abbey, and it certainly lives up to how excellent it looks on screen. The castle was built in the 17th century and encompasses 5,000 acres of land that you can explore at your leisure, including the Secret Garden, the Monk’s Garden, the White Border and some beautiful woodlands.
Drive: 1 hour and 30 minutes from Oxford.
An essential of visiting Bath is of course to visit the famous Roman Baths, which are surprisingly well preserved given how old they are. Continuing with the stunning architecture of the baths, Bath Abbey should be your next stop, where you can climb the gothic tower and admire the views.
Booking a walking tour for Bath is a great idea if you want to make sure that you see all the sights as well as getting some highly valuable and interesting information on the history of this fascinating town.
Drive: As Bath is on the edge of the Cotswolds it will be right at your doorstep. Castle Combe is an easy 30 minutes drive from Bath. It depends on which towns are on your list.
Not sure where you want to go to the Cotswolds? Here are 6 Perfect Cotswolds Day Trip Itineraries.
The Cotswolds is a continuous stream of picturesque villages and beautiful natural landscape, truly resembling something out of a storybook or fairytale. As the Cotswolds is a collection of villages it is best to know where it is that you want to go in advance of getting on the road.
On the banks of the River Coln, Bilbury is home to one of the most well-known streets in the area, Arlington Row. If you are looking for the quintessential fairytale style streets and crooked brick cottages that the Cotswolds are so well known for, then this is the place for you.
This sweet little town is perched right at the top of a hill and features a gorgeous church, a small gallery and a famous farmers market held on the second Thursday of each month. You will definitely want to grab a bite at Lucy’s Tearoom for some yummy freshly baked goods!
This is without a doubt one of the best places in the Cotswolds to admire the beautiful honey-coloured bricks of the cottages and get the ultimate photos. The southern tip of the village is where you will get that classic shot of the village.
Right on the River Windrush, Bourton-on-the-Water is a pretty Cotswolds town and is known as the Venice of the Cotswolds. Walk down the river and see what the Cotswolds is most famous for the honey-coloured bricks. Alternatively, enjoy a drink or food at one of the village’s cafes.
Drive: Gloucester is on the northeast edge of the Cotswolds so this will be a short drive as well.
Start by exploring the area around College Court where you will find The House of the Tailor of Gloucester, which inspired the author Beatrix Potter. The building is now a museum with a shop that is dedicated to the author.
Next head over to Gloucester Docks which is Britain’s most inland port. You will discover Victorian warehouses, a working dry dock and a Mariners Chapel. A lot of the buildings have been converted into restaurants, tap rooms and shops.
Don’t forget to see Gloucester Cathedral. It is an 11th century Romanesque and Gothic masterpiece. You may even recognise the cathedral’s corridor as it’s featured in the Harry Potter movies!
There is quite a lot to do in Gloucester so this could be a stop in itself but if you are short for time then a few hours will cover the main sites.
Gloucester to Stratford-Upon-Avon is 1 hour drive.
Stratford-upon-Avon is where William Shakespeare was born and most activities in this town are based around Shakespeare.
The Stratford’s Historic Spine is where the most important buildings of the town are and some of the buildings date back to the 15th century. The walk through the spine is approximately 0.6 miles (0.9 km) and will take you to mosts of the iconic sites in the town.
Starting at Henley Street you can see the building where Shakespeare was born. Tours are offered to see Shakespeares’ birthplace.
Anne Hathaway’s cottage is where Shakespeare courted his bride to be. You can pay to go inside the 500 years old cottage and see items from the 13 generations that lived there including the original furniture. Consider buying a ticket online which gets you into all of these attractions!
There are also lots of wonderful independent restaurants, cafes and bars in the heart of the city where you can have a great dining experience no matter what you’re after.
I would recommend going for some afternoon tea as it is a British tradition; this is arguably one of the most quintessentially British places you could have it!
Fancy something savoury instead? Chef Gordon Ramsay swears that Barnaby’s is the absolute best place to get yourself some fish and chips, and it’s right next to the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Drive: Stratford-Upon-Avon to Chester is around 2 hours and 30 minutes. Makes sure you avoid the toll road on the M6 and carry on the non-toll M6 route.
You are now pretty much at the halfway point between London and Edinburgh and sitting right on the Welsh border. This city has a rich history for you to explore; learn about Roman Legionnaires, Vikings, Normans and Anglo Saxons on your travels through the city.
The city is nearly completely surrounded by walls, which are considered to be the most well preserved in Great Britain running nearly two miles long. Other historic sites include:
- The oldest racecourse in Great Britain
- The largest Roman amphitheater in Great Britain
- A one thousand year old Cathedral, with some amazing medieval carvings within
- Seven hundred year old Rows galleries
Chester has one of the largest zoos in the UK and dedicates some of its resources to the conservation of endangered species. This makes for a great day out for visitors of all ages!
Drive: the drive to Liverpool is a quick one at 40 minutes.
Time to visit one of England’s major cities – the home of The Beatles, it’s Liverpool! This is the UK’s fifth biggest city, and there is so much to see and do that you could spend your entire trip there! Check out some of the historic areas, which have been granted World Heritage Status by UNESCO, like the Royal Albert Dock Area and William Brown Street.
There is also a great art and creative scene making for some awesome murals and street art as well as some art galleries. Here are some locations to check out:
- Cains Brewery Village
- Red Brick Vintage Market
- Baltic Market
- Tate Liverpool
- Museum of Liverpool
Drive: Liverpool to Manchester is 1 hour.
Manchester is known across the UK for its rich and diverse cultural scene! After all, it is the home of The Smiths, Oasis, and the Stone Roses. It also has numerous other sights such as galleries, museums and plenty of pubs and restaurants too! Here are some of the highlights:
- Afflecks Palace – This is one of the best things to do in Manchester; it is ‘an emporium of eclecticism, a totem of indie commerce in Manchester’s Northern Quarter’ – enjoy looking through craft stores and at jewellery and trinkets. It is truly a unique place.
- Chinatown – You will know that you have reached Chinatown when you see the giant red archway that leads into the area. The area has a large number of Asian restaurants and cafes serving delicious food and even some karaoke! One of my favourite places to eat is Try Thai (I know it’s not Chinese!) but it offers great food and I often visit on my trips to Manchester.
- Federal Cafe – This place is known across the city as a trendy brunch spot with fantastic coffee – it’s totally instagrammable!
- PLY – Best pizza in the city, and very affordable – enough said!
- Football – Manchester is home to premier league teams Manchester United and Manchester City. As you can imagine that means there is a football atmosphere! You can try and catch a game or visit the National Football Museum.
- John Rylands Library – This building is one of the best examples of neo-Gothic architecture in Europe and an incredible library. One of the cool facts about the building is that it was the first place in Manchester to be lit by electricity.
As I travel to Manchester a lot, I’ve tried a significant amount of hotels in the city! By far my favourite is the Great John Street Hotel which is a 4-star hotel. The building is a Victorian former schoolhouse so it has a lot of wonderful architecture. The rooms are beautiful! Last time I stayed here I had a second floor just for my bathroom which had a free-standing bath. My other hotel recommendations are the Lowry Hotel and the Midland.
Drive: 1 hour and 30 minutes to reach the outskirts of the Lake District.
The Lake District has some incredible things to do – you’ll want to take your time and make sure you’ve seen all that you wish to!
Whether you’re a literature buff or not, you’re definitely not going to want to miss visiting the home of Wordsworth, Rydal Mount in the small village of Ambleside. The famous poet resided here for the latter part of his life, and you can walk in the beautiful gardens that were once landscaped by Wordsworth himself! You can even take a look at the place where he wrote, as well as his library!
The Lakes Distillery
This distillery was founded in 2014 and has become one of the most popular in the Cumbria area in recent years. It produces gin, vodka and whisky. Even better? It uses local produce to do so!
The distillery is awesome to visit – it even has alpacas! Plus, there is a shop, so you can buy your favourite drinks and take them home with you!
This is the largest natural lake in England, and gives a great picture of the beauty of the Lake District. If you are going to go to any lakes in the Lake District, make sure its this one. There are tonnes of amazing things to do around the lake, such as boating, running, hiking and cycling!
One of the most famous things you can buy in the Lake District is Grasmere Gingerbread. When you walk into the shop you will smell the spices and the aroma of gingerbread. The perfect snack to grab for your road trip! If it is winter then pair it with a nice hot drink alongside a fireplace.
Find out more about whether you should choose the Lake District or Peak District, here.
Finish in Edinburgh
You have finally arrived at your destination; Scotland’s capital city of Edinburgh! This city is great to spend a couple of days exploring, particularly the old town which is where you will find the castle!
For ideas of what to see and do during your time here, check out my article on the 7 Day Drive Loop from Edinburgh to Glasgow.