Road Trip London to Edinburgh: West and East Routes

Road Trip London to Edinburgh

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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 site, 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 west or east route of England before ending up in Edinburgh. Unless you live here and have no choice but to drive in London. If you have enough time you can even do the full loop.

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 out round trip. There is another option at 3,360 miles.

Don’t forget to take a travel insurance policy before travelling, even if you are local this will protect your belonging whilst you travel. I always like to use World Nomads for my travels – to 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 can be quite a big 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, Tescos, Sainsbury, Co-Op etc will all offer cheaper petrol by some margin. Stopping at any of the petrol stations along the motorway you could easily see prices increased by 10 to 20 pence!
  • Choose to either drive the West or East Route – I’ve split the itinerary into two routes as it’s an easier drive and both offer great spots you can stop off. If you really wish you can drive from Bath to Cambridge (as an example) but only do this if you have time. Not trying to cram half of England and Scotland into a two-day trip, then never really see anything but the road.
  • Driving 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 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 popular ones I found offered. Another way I have saved money with city parking is booking in advance on Just Park. Weirdly in Bristol, it was cheaper to pay for a week’s worth of parking then 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 saving you money at each individual place and can include parking! Valid at over 100 places, you can choose between 9 or 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 choose a museum in the free museum-like:

  • Natural History Museum – in my opinion, 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 9 am you will beat all the crowds and fewer crowds mean you will be able to walk around faster.

Next walk through Kensington Palace and gardens, through to Hyde Park and 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 famous street art spot after Banksy hosted the Cans Festival in 2008. It’s the largest area in London for street art so it’s frequently having new pieces added or replace.

Ready for a drink? 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 unfortunately don’t serve food.

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 down the Thames to and you will see either Underbelly Festival (summer event) or Rekorderlig Cider Lodge (winter event). Here are lots of places to up food from market stores and drink places. There are chain restaurants around the Southbank.

Cross back over Hungerford Bridge and Golden Jubilee Bridges to Embankment. Just a short way up Villiers St 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 quite apart from the tourist in the area. For a great view head to One New Change and go to the viewing platform.

Afterwards, you can go by Monument, decide whether you want to climb 311 steps or just have a sneak peek at it.

Cross London Bridge to Borough Markets. Everyone gets confused with London Bridge and Tower Bridge. The first one if the ugly one and Tower Bridge is the beautifully designed bridge which you can see across the Thames from London Bridge.

Have a late breakfast or early lunch (brunch) stop at Borough Markets. I am always overwhelmed by the choice of food option. It suits all dietary requirements as well!

Head back to Thames path and you will pass HMS Belfast, get a great photo opportunity of 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 deal or buying tickets online to save a little bit of money.

Around the area, the food is all chain type place so not the best place for lunch. If you can hold off until you finish Tower Bridge, then you can head to Shoreditch. In the area you can either end the day with either the markets (if you are there on Sunday), haggle for Indian food or head to one of the amazing restaurants like the famous Dishoom.

Shoreditch is a great place to find street arts, have a drink on a rooftop, explore box park for more food and shopping or find a secret bar like the Mayor of Scardy Cat Town.

West and East England Routes to Edinburgh

Both of these routes can be customised to how many days you have available to you. As a minimum giving your self two days will allow two pit stops and one night stay somewhere. Giving yourself 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: West England Route to Edinburgh

The best place to pick up a hire car for option 1 is Heathrow Airport. It will save you driving through London and overall a lot less stressful!

Windsor Castle (Stop en route to Oxford)

Drive: 40 minutes from Heathrow Airport

Windsor-Castle

Windsor is a stunning village in and of itself, 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 should take around two hours.  The highlight of visiting the castle is certainly the stunning St. George’s Chapel where the Duke and Duchess of Sussex were married in 2018.

Windsor Castle is opened on Thursday until Monday, entry times start at 10 am and the last admission at 3.30 pm. Buy tickets to Windsor Castle here.

Oxford

Drive: 56 minutes from Windsor

Christ Church in Oxford England
Christ Church in Oxford

Oxford is situated one hour west of London, and is known for its ancient University first established in the 12th century, which can be seen in the Harry Potter movies.  The university in all its grandeur truly cannot be missed, and it’s worth taking some time to explore the stunning campus.

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 to roam.

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

Bath

Drive: 1 hour and 30 minutes from Oxford

pulteney-bridge-in-bath

Bath is like an isolated oasis nestled away in southern England, right where you least expect it.  As you approach Bath you will notice the distinctive change in architecture as it begins to look distinctly more European. 

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.

Cotswolds

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.

Cotswolds-Towns-and-Villages

Luckily, the Cotswolds is only a short half-hour drive from Bath, and it truly is a case of switching out one stunning piece of scenery for another; the Cotswalds is a continuous stream of picturesque villages and beautiful natural landscape, truly resembling something out of a storybook or fairytale.  However, the Cotswolds is a rather vast area, so it is best to know where it is that you want to go in advance of getting on the road.

Bilbury

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.

Stow-on-the-Wold

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 every second Thursday of each month.  You will definitely want to grab a bite at Lucy’s tearoom, for some yummy fresh baked goods!

Castlecombe

This is without a doubt one of the best places in the Cotswolds, and is made up of a valley and a hill and makes for some excellent exploring.

Broadway

This is one of the larger towns in the Cotswolds and offers some stunning little markets and old-style architecture.  There is also the 18th century Broadway Tower which shows some stunning views.

Bourton-on-the-Water

Right on the River Windrush, Bourton-on-the-Water gives any traveller the chance to experience a little piece of Olde England, with its old properties and hidden gem shops and cafes.

Gloucester & Stratford-Upon-Avon

Drive: Gloucester is on the northeast edge of the Cotswolds so this will be a short drive as well. Gloucester to Stratford-Upon-Avon is one hours drive.

Shakespeares-Birthplace

This stop will see you at two more stunning destinations with plenty to do!  First up is the cathedral city of Gloucester, a city of gothic architecture and interesting sites from British popular culture.

Your first stop should absolutely be the cathedral, an 11th century Romanesque and Gothic masterpiece with a corridor you are likely to recognise from the Harry Potter movies!

Next up, you can go for a wander to see the Gloucester Docks with its rich history and old victorian warehouses.  The city is great for walking in, and from the Docks you can then meander through the city centre at your own pace.

Ready for another pop culture hit?  Head up the high street toward College Court where you will find The House of the Tailor of Gloucester, which inspired the Beatrix Potter book.  The building is now a museum with a shop, which is dedicated to the author and is a truly lovely way to spend an afternoon.

Gloucester is a wonderful experience, but if you want to pack in as many places as possible into the trip then you only really need to set aside a few hours to see the main parts.  Next up I would recommend popping into Stratford-upon-Avon, especially if you are a William Shakespeare fan.  It is all down to the fame of Shakespeare that Stratford has been kept so similar-looking to how it would have back in the day, and so it looks very old-timey with its preserved buildings!

During your time here you can visit the birthplace of Shakespeare, the place where he retired, and the Holy Trinity Church where he is entombed.  You can also see Anne Hathaway’s cottage which is utterly beautiful.  To make life easier, consider buying a ticket online which gets you into all of these attractions!

Again, the town is very walkable in general, and the heart of the town is entirely pedestrianised, so you can truly take in the full beauty of it.

There are also lots of wonderful independent restaurants, cafes and bars in the heart of the city where you can have a wonderful dining experience no matter what you’re after.  However, I would have to recommend going for some Afternoon Tea as 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!

Chester

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 is truly stunning and has a rich history for you to explore, learn about Roman Legionnaires, Vikings, Normans and Anglo Saxons on your travels through the city, and soak up the atmosphere that it exudes in the present day.

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 amphitheatre in Great Britain
  • A one thousand year old Cathedral, with some amazing medieval carvings within
  • Seven hundred year old Rows galleries

Chester also has a wonderful zoo – one of the largest in the UK – which is largely dedicated to conservation of endangered species.  This makes for a great day out for visitors of all ages!

Liverpool

Drive: the drive to Liverpool is a quick one at 40 minutes.

Pier-Head-Liverpool

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 awesome art galleries.  Here are some locations to check out:

  • Cains Brewery Village
  • Red Brick Vintage Market
  • Baltic Market
  • Tate Liverpool
  • Museum of Liverpool

Manchester

Drive: Liverpool to Manchester is one hour.

View-of-Manchester

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 former Victorian 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. Followed by the Lowry Hotel and the Midland.

Lake District

Drive: 1 hour and 30 minutes to reach the outskirts of the Lake District.

swan-and-moored-boats-in-Lake-Windermere

Time for some time exploring the great outdoors!  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!

Rydal Mount

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.  Ths place honestly looks like a painting!  The famous poet resided here for the latter part of his life, and is complete with beautiful gardens to wander 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 is one of England’s newest distilleries, open since just 2014,  but it has become one of the most popular in the Cumbria area in recent years, in its production of gin, vodka and whisky.  Even better? It uses local fresh 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!

Lake Windermere

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!

Grasmere Gingerbread

One of the most famous things you can buy in the Lake District is Grasmere Gingerbread. When you walk into the shop the smell of spices and the aroma of gingerbread wafting through. 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.

Option 2: East England Route to Edinburgh

The best place to pick up a hire car for option 2 is Standsted Airport. This will cost a little bit more money to get to if you’re catching the train as it’s 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.

Cambridge

Cambridge is one of the most well-known cities in England, and it isn’t hard to see why it is so popular with tourists!  The city has some of the most amazing looking 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, while you are visiting, is the all too famous punting!  The boat has a flat bottom, which is used for leisure time and pushed across the water using a pole, along the river Cam. This is a popular method of seeing some of the colleges on the university campus, 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:

  • Kings College Chapel – a huge and stunning chapel, with some of the most 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.

Stamford

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, it if you’ve seen the films Pride and Prejudice or The Da Vinci Code as it was used as a filming location in both of them.

Stamford is the kind of place where you can simply wander; behind every corner and down every alley is more stunning architecture to gaze at.  The town is incredibly walkable, and has many stunning churches such as St Mary’s Church (12th century) and All Saint’s Church (13th century)

Sheffield and Peak District

Sheffield is one of the greenest cities in the UK, and is right on the doorstep of the Peak District national park.  The city offers many opportunities for outdoor activites such as hiking, paragliding and rock climbing – whats not to love?

If the great outdoors isn’t for you, there are plenty of other things that this city can offer you, as its wide variety of restaurants and bars by the canal where you can sit whatever the weather and take in the scenery!

Some things to add to your list:

  • For shopping go to Meadowhall
  • Sheffield has the largest theatre complex outside London
  • The tropical butterfly house is popular with the locals
  • Visit Our Cow Molly which is a working dairy farm and makes delicious icecream.

Leeds

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
  • and 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.

York

Step back into medieval times with York’s winding cobbled streets, magnificent cathedral and surrounded by stone walls. 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.

Newcastle-upon-Tyne

Newcastle has a great reputation for its lively atmosphere and friendly people, with cocktail bars, trendy clubs and more traditional pubs and restaurants all over the city.

The city gets its name from the fortress sitting on the River Tyne, and you can go and see it 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, or the Discovery Museum which gives an interesting account of Newcastle’s background in ship building and coal mining, and how that evolved over time to 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 – great art gallery and awesome brunch spot
  • St. Nicholas Cathedral

North Berwick

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 – catch up with some puffins at this charitable research centre, which dedicates itself to protecting indigenous wildlife around the area.  You can also take a boat tour at some times of the year, to see some seabirds in the wild!
  • 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 – This stunning castle ruin sits right on the Firth of Forth and 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 actually a site of special scientific interest due to the fact that it homes the world’s largest local gannet colony (wow).  If you do decide to visit the seabird centre, you can go on a ride to the rock and see some wild puffins.
  • 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!

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 the castle it!

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.

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