A Beautiful Self Drive UK Holiday from London to Edinburgh

A Beautiful Self Drive UK Holiday from London to Edinburgh

After taking a summer road trip across Britain, I’m convinced it’s the best way to enjoy this amazing island. A self drive UK holiday is the perfect combination of freedom, exploration, and relaxation. Not having to worry about train timetables or tour schedules means you can see the country’s storybook villages and famous sights at your own pace. And I guarantee this charming UK road trip itinerary will make up for the mild terror of driving on narrow country lanes!

This post contains affiliate links. For more information, click here.

Whether you’re after chocolate box cottages in the Cotswolds or a refreshing hike in the Lake District fells, this agenda has something that’s sure to please every traveler in the car.

This series of day trips from London to Scotland spans 9 days and covers 10 beautiful places to visit in Britain. If you already have London travel plans, simply skip the first two days for a 1 week UK road trip itinerary.

And don’t be concerned by the long list of destinations. My self drive UK holiday may seem ambitious, but the country is more compact than you might think. Even on a late summer weekend, the drive from Edinburgh to London can be done in a single day. You’ll even have time to stop for some Pret sandwiches along the way (I recommend the Scottish smoked salmon).

P.S: If you need to rent a car for this trip, I recommend Rentalcars.com!

Self Drive UK Holiday Itinerary

Days 1 & 2: London

It would be crazy to visit the UK and not spend a couple days in London. The Big Smoke is an incredible city bursting with history, great food, and classic British charm. It’s also a bit tricky to navigate and explore to the fullest, which is why I recommend reading my London sightseeing tips before your trip.

If you’ve never visited London, you might feel overwhelmed trying to squeeze everything into two days. To help you make the most of your time, I’ve outlined a rough itinerary that mixes popular attractions with local gems:

Day 1

  • Natural History Museum: Spend a few magical hours exploring this “Cathedral to Nature”, which includes an interactive dinosaur exhibit and a suspended great blue whale skeleton.
  • Westminster Abbey: Take in the gorgeous architecture and famous tombs of England’s historical figures, but make sure you buy your ticket online to avoid the long queue!
  • Buckingham Palace: Walk past the iconic residence of the British monarch and maybe catch a glimpse of the Changing of the Guard.
  • Afternoon Tea: There are dozens of elegant places serving afternoon tea near Buckingham Palace, including The Wolseley and Palm Court Bar. But if you’re traveling on a budget, try these places for cheap eats in London instead.
  • Hyde Park: Stroll through this massive green space to see beautiful flowers, the Serpentine pond, and the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain.
  • Kensington Palace: Just past Hyde Park, you’ll find the royal residence of Kensington Palace, a stunning Christopher Wren building that’s home to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, among others.
  • Notting Hill: Enjoy a walk past the neighborhood’s pastel-colored row homes and do a bit of snacking and shopping at Portobello Road Market.
  • Pub Dinner: Finish the day with a classic pub dinner near your accommodation, or at The Prince Edward in Notting Hill.

Day 2

  • St. Paul’s Cathedral: My personal favorite place in London, this opulent cathedral has beautiful frescoes and incredible panoramic views of the city from the upper dome.
  • Leadenhall Market: Harry Potter fans will recognize this covered Victorian market as a setting for Diagon Alley. Grab lunch from one of the building’s many restaurants, including the delectable Cheese at Leadenhall.
  • Sky Garden: Book advance tickets for this free skyscraper view over London, and enjoy a drink in the lush indoor garden.
  • Tower of London: Learn about London’s bloody history with a Yeoman Warder tour of this residence-turned-prison-turned-tourist attraction. I strongly suggest buying a skip the line ticket, as queues can get quite long!
  • Borough Market: Experience the diverse flavors of the city at this bustling marketplace, where visitors can purchase everything from paella to pumpkin fudge.
  • Dinner at an Indian Restaurant: London’s Indian food scene is outstanding, from affordable local spots like Kensington’s Masala to elegant dining experiences like The Cinnamon Club.
A note on car rental: Because of London’s notorious traffic, I highly recommend reserving a car somewhere close to Heathrow Airport. That way, you won’t need to drive through the city during the morning rush. Or, you could simply take the train from London to Windsor and pick up your rental car after you finish touring the castle.

Where to Stay in London

The city is well-connected by tube, so you don’t need to splurge on a hotel near Buckingham Palace. But you do want to be within a 5-7 minute walk of a decent tube station. Here are a few areas I recommend:

  • Notting Hill: If you want a quiet place to stay, grab a hotel or serviced flat in this neighborhood famous for its colorful homes.
  • South Kensington: This posh area has excellent shops and restaurants, and it’s on the tube lines for Heathrow Airport and central London.
  • Paddington: There are plenty of hotel options near Paddington Station that will fit any budget.
  • Southwark: Situated across the river from the Tower of London, Southwark has quality accommodation for reasonable prices.
  • Wombat’s City Hostel: This highly-review hostel chain has a great Whitechapel location and fills up fast.

There are plenty of lovely VRBO apartment rental options in London as well. They’re an excellent way to experience authentic London life (and save a bit of money on dining out)!

Get some rest after day two, because you’ll need to be up bright and early for day three of this self drive UK holiday!

Day 3: Windsor Castle, Stonehenge, and Bath

Windsor Castle UK

I’m going to be honest: this day is packed from morning til night. If you’re doing this UK road trip with young kids, it might be tough to squeeze in all of these places. In that case, I’d cut out sightseeing in Bath and just head there for the night.

Windsor

Visiting Windsor is a double treat. Not only do you get to wander a 1,000-year-old castle, but you’ll also walk through the charming Windsor village on your way there (pictured at the top of this post).

If you already have your car, you’ll find plenty of parking options within walking distance of Windsor Castle. I recommend using one of the car parks south of the main area (either William Street or Victoria Street), as it’s the most efficient walking route to see both the village and castle.For the speediest entry, book your tickets online. The castle doesn’t open until 10am, and you’ll want to get in as soon as possible.

Once inside the gate, it takes around two hours to explore the grounds and rooms. Highlights include the opulent state apartments, gilded grand reception room, and breathtaking St. George’s Chapel, where the Duke and Duchess of Sussex were married in 2018.

Once you leave the castle, pop into a cafe or Pret A Manger for a quick lunch before you depart. Driving from Windsor to Stonehenge takes around 60-90 minutes depending on traffic, so you’ll want to be on the road by 12pm.

Stonehenge

View of Stonehenge UK

Despite being called a tourist trap by some, I found Stonehenge to be a highlight of my UK road trip itinerary. This world wonder and UNESCO heritage site still holds mysteries after centuries of research. And the experience of seeing the stones up close is something I won’t soon forget.

Although it’s possible to visit Stonehenge for free, the amount of walking involved would take a serious chunk of time out of your day. Instead, pay the admission fee, which gives you access to a shuttle to and from the stones. Your ticket also includes free parking in the massive Visitor’s Centre lot, and admission to the museum exhibition full of archaeological finds.Get your skip the line Stonehenge tickets to save time!

It’s an hour’s drive from Stonehenge to Bath, so I recommend departing Stonehenge by 2:30pm.

Bath

Bath is best known for its Roman architecture, and I can see why. The view as you approach the city looks like something from the Italian countryside. Orange roofs and whitewashed buildings line the hills above the city center, and the Roman Baths are surprisingly well-preserved given they’re nearly 2,000 years old.

If you want to see these famous Roman Baths, they should be your first stop upon arrival. After that, you should have time to check out Bath Abbey and the surrounding city center. I also recommend walking past the famous Royal Crescent, a long curving row of Georgian houses facing Royal Victoria Park.At this point in the UK road trip, you’ll likely be exhausted! Instead of navigating the city yourself, consider booking a guided tour of the Roman Baths and city highlights.

Once you’ve finished sightseeing, wind down with a nice pub dinner. Bath has dozens of old character pubs, including The Huntsman and The Raven.

Luckily, Bath is only a 30 minute drive from tomorrow’s first destination in the Cotswolds, making it an ideal place to spend the night.

Save me for later!

A Beautiful UK Road Trip Itinerary from London to Edinburgh    Beautiful Britain: A Self Drive UK Holiday from London to Scotland

Day 4: Cotswolds

Cotswolds stone cottage, an essential part of any self drive UK holiday

Day four of this self drive UK holiday is all about picturesque English villages. You’ll spend the day meandering through the Cotswolds, an official Area of Natural Beauty.

The itinerary starts in Castle Combe, commonly cited as England’s most beautiful village. From there, you’ll drive north to Painswick, where a hilltop climb leads to sweeping views over the Severn Valley. After that, grab lunch on your way to the Slaughters, a mildly disturbing name for this pair of lovely residential areas. Finally, you’ll end the day in Chipping Campden, whose famous church and high street make for a relaxing end to a day of sightseeing.

You’ll be covering a lot of ground in one day, so I recommend spending the night in Chipping Campden. From here, it won’t take long to hop back on the A44 to start driving to Gloucester.

Read the full Cotswolds day trip itinerary here.

Day 5: Gloucester and Stratford-upon-Avon

Alley in Gloucester, part of UK road trip itinerary

Literature lovers and architecture enthusiasts will rejoice over today’s agenda. Aside from its abundance of British charm, Gloucester is home to an impressive cathedral, as well as a few places that inspired Beatrix Potter’s famous works. After a morning in Gloucester, it’s off to Shakespeare’s hometown for a dose of half-timbered buildings and mementos to the Bard.

Gloucester

Gloucester is an interesting mix of ancient and contemporary. There’s the famous Gloucester Cathedral, an 11th century marvel of stained glass and blended Gothic and Romanesque architecture. It’s long, ornate corridor was also used as a filming location for several Harry Potter movies.

Just a few blocks west of the cathedral stand the Gloucester Docks, with their restored Victorian warehouses looming over the waterfront.

Finally, head up the high street to College Court, a narrow U-shaped alley that’s home to The House of the Tailor of Gloucester. This building inspired the eponymous Beatrix Potter book, and now serves as a shop and museum dedicated to the author.

Gloucester is very walkable, so I recommend parking in the large lot next to the Docks and making a circuit through the town. You’ll probably need around 2 hours to see the highlights, plus some time for lunch.

Stratford-upon-Avon

Shakespeare's birthplace, Stratford-upon-Avon

After lunch, head an hour north to the land of Shakespeare. Thanks to the Bard’s fame, Stratford-upon-Avon remains remarkably well preserved. The timbered buildings and large flower displays make it feel like you’ve stumbled upon a piece of old England (even if one of those historic facades conceals a Subway).

Aside from the architecture, the main Stratford-upon-Avon attractions include Shakespeare’s Birthplace, Shakespeare’s New Place (his retirement home), the Royal Shakespeare Company theatre, and Holy Trinity Church, where Shakespeare is entombed.The easiest way to access all the Shakespeare residences (including Anne Hathaway’s cottage) is to buy a multi-entry ticket online.

All of these places are walkable as a large circuit. Stratford Greenway has the cheapest parking, though it’s slightly farther out from the main town. Otherwise, you’ll find plenty of car parks on the northern side of the town.

The only highlight that’s a bit far to reach on foot is Anne Hathaway’s cottage, the charming former residence of Shakespeare’s wife. I recommend stopping by the cottage on your way into the town.

To see all of the above, you’ll need around 3 hours. Keep in mind that it’s a 3-4 hour drive from Stratford-upon-Avon to Lake District, so plan your dinner accordingly. On my self drive UK holiday, we had a light meal to tide us over, and then ate dinner at our Lake District inn.

To get the most out of tomorrow’s itinerary, plan to spend the night somewhere north of Manchester, or in one of the southern Lake District villages.

There are tons of charming VRBO rentals in the southern lakes area!

Day 6: Lake District

Panoramic view of Keswick from Latrigg Fell, a self drive UK holiday destination

Day six is made for exploring the great outdoors. Though the Lake District sounds like a place for water sports, there are plenty activities that don’t involve boats and paddleboards. Here are a few ideas to help plan your day:

  • If you’re on this self drive UK holiday with your partner, check out this list of romantic Lake District breaks for couples.
  • Fans of Beatrix Potter should visit Bowness-on-Windermere, where the World of Beatrix Potter brings Peter Rabbit and other tales to life.
  • Waterfall chasers need to see Aira Force, a stunning waterfall reachable by an easy hike through the lush forest.
  • For panoramic views amidst grazing sheep, head to Keswick village for the Latrigg walk, an incredible vista point over the village and Derwent water.
Wherever your plans may lead, you’ll want to spend the night a bit closer to the Scottish border. It’s a 3 hour drive from the northern Lake District to North Berwick, so I recommend staying in–or north of–Carlisle.
We had a lovely stay at The Robertson Arms, a cozy traditional inn within teeny Lanark. The delicious hot meal in the downstairs restaurant was much welcome after a long day out!

Day 7: North Berwick

North Berwick Beach, a UK road trip itinerary destination

Beaches, castles, and coffee, oh my! North Berwick is one of my favorite places in Britain, so I couldn’t leave it off of this UK road trip itinerary.

The town is home to several beautiful beaches, with a combination of sand and rugged rock. After a stroll along the coast, head to Tantallon Castle, which stands in partial ruin on a seaside cliff. On your way back, have a refreshing cup of coffee or tea with a view at Drift Cafe. Finally, round out the day in the lovely town center, where several pubs and ice cream shops serve locals and visitors alike.

Read the entire list of things to do in North Berwick here.

Days 8 & 9: Edinburgh

View of Edinburgh, the last stop of this self drive UK holiday

Edinburgh is so much more than Harry Potter locations and the Fringe Festival. The city’s incredible scenery–Gothic architecture, a hilltop Castle, and Arthur’s Seat peak–combine to create a magical atmosphere unlike any other. Whether you’re a history buff, J.K. Rowling fan, or Scotch lover, you’re sure to be enchanted by this Scottish wonderland.

There’s so much to explore in Edinburgh, including Edinburgh Castle, the Royal Mile, Holyrood Palace, the Meadows, and more. Fortunately, I’ve already written a complete itinerary for the city to help you plan your visit!

Read the entire 2 day Edinburgh itinerary here.

When is the best time to do this UK road trip itinerary?

London Seven Dials at Christmas

Because these trips from London to Scotland don’t go north of Edinburgh, you can easily do this UK road trip itinerary 9 months out of the year.

Due to the potential for snowy road conditions, I’d avoid December – February. And to avoid the crowds and major traffic, steer clear of August. That’s when everyone else is going on UK self drive holidays.

It was late September when I completed this route, and it was a great balance of fine weather and reduced congestion. April and October would also be ideal for the same reasons. If you’re desperate to see London at Christmas, they typically start decorating the last week in November.

Travel Tips for Your Self Drive UK Holiday

Stylish car for a UK road trip itinerary

Here are a few helpful tips to make your UK road trip a success:

  • When driving on country roads, be prepared to pull off to let oncoming drivers pass. Many of the roads in the Cotswolds and the Lake District are not wide enough for two cars to pass side-by-side.
  • Many British roads are not well-marked, so it’s best to use GPS and have a local map handy to avoid missing your turns.
  • Have a cooler of snacks and drinks handy to keep everyone happy and hydrated.
  • Be sure to pack a first aid kit and other roadside repair essentials before you depart.
  • If you’re renting a car (I recommend Rentalcars.com), compare prices of dropping it off in Edinburgh vs. returning the car to its original location. It might be costly to drop off in a different city, but consider the petrol prices (and an extra night’s accommodation) of driving back down to London or Windsor.

My Favorite UK Travel Planning Books

These books win my travel blogger Seal of Approval for vacation planning:

Map of Self Drive Holidays: UK Destinations

Google Maps snapshot of self drive UK holiday map

Click here to open the complete interactive map!

I hope I’ve convinced you to take a self drive UK holiday. If you have any questions about this itinerary, let me know in the comments section!

38 thoughts on “A Beautiful Self Drive UK Holiday from London to Edinburgh”

  1. This is such a cool itinerary! I know lots of people who want to combine their holidays in Scotland with a trip to England and London, so that itinerary is gold! Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    • I’m glad you found it useful! July is a great time to visit, as the weather will be nice and warm. You’ll find the cities a bit more crowded in July (it’s peak travel season in Europe), but nothing too unreasonable. I hope you have a wonderful road trip 🙂

      Reply
  2. We may be in London in September 2019 for a work event and plan to tack on 7-10 days to see more of the U.K. Driving on the left side on narrow roads seems challenging. How did you find the transition? And any suggestions on a truncated itinerary using trains and or buses?

    Reply
    • Hello Christine! As I was not the one driving, I can’t speak to the difficulty of driving on the left side. However, my father-in-law said he got used to it very quickly, though he paid special attention at roundabouts and turns. As for a shorter itinerary using public transit, you can see all of the places in this post by train. I’d suggest Windsor, Stonehenge, Bath, Gloucester, and the Cotswolds if you’re going that route. You could also take the overnight train to Edinburgh, spend a few days there, and then take a train to the Lake District.

      Reply
  3. We are planning on following your itinerary for a September trip. Any recommendations for rental car places near Windsor?

    Reply
    • That’s great to hear, Brenda! I don’t have a personal recommendation, as my father-in-law rented our car in London from a small shop. However, I’ve always had good experiences with Enterprise when renting in the US. There’s an Enterprise rental agency in Slough, which is a bit north of Windsor.

      Reply
  4. This is exactly what I have been looking for! Thank you so much for sharing all of this information. I am beginning the planning now!!!!
    Melanie

    Reply
  5. Thanks a lot for such an informative post. Actually, in October, I along with my wife are planning for a tour to London. Your guide will help us.

    Reply
  6. Chelsea, we are coming to the UK in September and have nearly 3 weeks to explore before attending a conference in London in mid October. We were wondering if we could start in Scotland and use this itinerary to travel back to London over a 18 day period?

    Your thoughts would be appreciated.

    Kind regards,
    Maureen (Melbourne)

    Reply
    • That sounds like a great trip, Maureen! This itinerary is only 9 days long, so you could either spend more time in each destination, or add a few extra places. Personally, I’d explore more of Scotland, the Lake District, and the Cotswolds, but that’s just me 🙂

      Reply
    • Hi Mayur! It’s almost certainly cheaper to do this UK road trip by car, unless you’re traveling by yourself. Train ticket fares keep going up, and you’d need to hire taxis to reach some of these places from the closest station.

      Reply
  7. Hi Chelsea
    This is a great itinerary . My problem is , my husband want to see Old Trafford in manchester and he is a HUGE ManU fan.
    We have 5.5 days in UK . Is there any way we can do Stonehenge ( as i really want to see it) and manchester also in these 5 days?
    What is the best way to go about these places? Renting a car or doing by train/bus?

    P.S. We have two kids with us 3 and 6 yo. Coming in first week of Sept

    Reply
    • Hi Wafa! If you only have 5.5 days in the UK and really want to see Manchester, I would probably do a totally diferent itinerary from this one!

      If you’re starting in London, you can take a round trip bus tour to Stonehenge. Then, you can take a train to Manchester and spend a day there. Manchester is right next to the beautiful Peak District, so you could travel by train/bus or rent a car to see a few places there (Chatsworth House and the trails around Edale are nice). Finally, you can take a train back down to London assuming that’s where you’re departing from.

      I hope this helps!

      Reply
  8. Hi, Chelsea,

    It is very exciting to read thru your pre-planned on self driving from London to Scotland. We are following exact itinerary given by you. I Would appreciate that you can share on buying the tickets to Windsor Castle. Where to buy online with good bargains for 5 adults. And any other tickets to buy online or during the visit?

    Reply
  9. Thanks Chelsea for sharing such a nice post. I am planning for a self drive ride while on a tour to London with my wife next month. Going to bookmark your site.. Thanks for helping…

    Reply
    • Hello, Edy! Yes, you could use a combo of trains and buses to follow almost all of this itinerary. I’d start by using Google Maps to see what routes and train services are available, and then check the websites for specific providers (ex. Great Western Railway) to get an idea of cost.

      Reply
  10. Him read through your itinerary and was so impressed with it. Is it possible to do it at the end of October? Will the weather be wet if so than will it hinder this itinerary. Hope you can give me some guidance. Thank you.

    Reply
  11. You convinced me !! I only have 6 days to do them all , which places do you think i could miss ? im traveling with my husband ( he is not very fond on museums etc but love sightseen and enjoy the culture of the countries we visit) and my 10 yr old son .

    Reply
    • Glad I could convince you, Fabiola! With six days and a 10-year-old in tow, I would probably do this:
      Day 1-2: London
      Day 3: Windsor Castle, Stonehenge
      Day 4: Cotswolds, Stratford-upon-Avon
      Day 5: Lake District
      Day 6: Edinburgh

      I hope you enjoy your UK road trip!

      Reply
  12. Great article! My husband, granddaughter (7) and I land at LHR on a Friday morning and leave from LHR eleven days later. My husband and I did a 30 day camping trip back in 1984 when stationed in Germany (US Army) and had a great time. This time we have a rental car and our granddaughter wants to see castles! We want to only spend about 1 or 1-1/2 days in London at either end of the trip. We want to go to Bath, Windsor, York, Stratford and a couple castles in Wales. Probably skip Edinburgh due to time constraints. Any advice on a route and other castles/sites along the way? We are not interested in Stonehenge and want to NOT be in Bath the last weekend in May due to the festival then. We did enjou our time in Cornwall back in 1984 and we also want to see one or two spectacular Cathedral/Abbeys. Any advise?

    Reply
    • Sounds like the makings of a great trip, Lisa! I can’t advise on an ideal driving route, but based on where you’re traveling I would recommend stopping by Blenheim Palace, Gloucester Cathedral, Bolsover Castle, and Chatsworth House.

      Reply
    • Great question! I wish I could remember exactly what we paid for parking, but unfortunately I’m not sure… However, I’d say most lots were around £2 per hour, with some lots doing flat rates for half vs. full day parking (ex. Aira Force is £7 for 4 hours or $9 for the whole day). Several places like the Cotswolds villages and Latrigg Fell had free parking, and you can find free or cheap street parking in Edinburgh as well. Stonehenge parking was included in the ticket price.

      Reply
  13. Thank you, Chelsea, for this invaluable itinerary! Our 6 week trip was postponed until next July. My husband will be relieving a pastor in Scotland. We plan to fly in to London, explore for 2-3 days and then begin our drive to Scotland. We will live in Lairg and Mike will serve two churches on the northwest coast in Kinlochbervie and Durness. We will use your guide and also be able to explore the Scottish Highlands. Thank you!

    Reply
  14. Thank you for this informative itinerary and advice. While I have visited the areas of London [several trips],Bath, Lake District and York, you have inspired me to do this trip even if there are repeat visits to certain places for me.
    Now we are praying for a COVID-19 free 2021 so that we can embark on our travels again.

    Reply

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.