The Perfect UK Road Trip Itinerary

White Cliffs of Dover

England is among the few “repeat countries” the #AdventurePartnerForLife and I have on our lists. I’m actually half-English and a dual citizen, but hadn’t invested any time in England for almost twenty years. And neither one of us had ever been to Wales. So, we decided to go back and see some new things on a formal UK road trip.


Our UK Road Trip Route

Here’s a quick outline of our road trip. We flew in and out of London, spending a couple of days there before hitting the road. I would’ve loved to have just a little more time, but we got in as much as we possibly could. And we saw a lot of really great things, anyway.

As you can see, we really only got the southern third of England in, but there’s so much more to see if you have a longer stretch of time available. If you like the places we stopped, use this itinerary as a baseline for yourself and customize it.

1—Flew into London. Spent a couple days touring.
2—Drove to Cambridge. Continued to Norwich.
3—Drove to Canterbury and Dover. Continued to Poole.
4—Drove the Jurassic Coast. Continued to Portloe.
5—Drove to Tintagel. Continued to Cardiff.
6—Drove to Bath and the Cotswolds, to airport.
UK road trip route zoom-in

1. London

I won’t go in-depth on London right here, only because that’s an entire post unto itself. (And, yes, you’ll definitely be seeing that on Global Debauchery.) But I will give a general break down of how we got around and what we did pre- formal UK road trip.

South Bank, London

Getting Around

Getting From the Airport to Downtown

The Heathrow Express train goes straight from Heathrow Airport to Paddington Station. From there, we took the Underground to Southwark, where our hotel was located. Everything was fairly straightforward. Some notes…

  • The Heathrow Express is about 15 minutes to Paddington Station.
  • You can purchase tickets online in advance for cheaper than purchasing when you arrive.
  • Advance tickets can run as low as £5.50 one way.
  • Kids under 15 years old ride free.

Getting Around London

We used one of our old tricks to get around downtown and got hop-on/hop-off bus tickets with Big Bus Tours. Our last full day, we just used the Underground.

  • 48-hour Big Bus tickets were £40.50 for adults, bought in advance online.
  • You can purchase them on-street for £45.00. Kids ride cheaper.
  • The London tickets include free river cruises and walking tours.

London Sights

Keep in mind, this was not our first time in London and we’ve done most of the typical tourist stuff. Our goal this time around was to find some real London flavor and veer a little off-the-beaten-path. If this is your jam, too, check out some of the stuff we saw.

• Borough Market• Chinatown• Little Venice
• Brick Lane• Highgate Cemetery• Postman’s Park
• Camden Town• Leadenhall Market• Saint Dunstan of the East
• Carnaby Street• Leake Street Arches

2. London to Norwich

The first day of our big UK road trip took us from London out to Norwich, with a few stops along the way. We specifically went to Norwich to visit my family, so we didn’t do anything in Norwich. But it allowed us the opportunity to stop and see some things on the way and proved to be a good stopping point for the evening.

Cambridge

Neither the #AdventurePartnerForLife nor I had ever been to Cambridge or Oxford, so a stop at one of these academic beauties was a must. And Cambridge was indeed gorgeous. What it wasn’t was easy to get around in. It was tough to find parking and, once we found parking, it was tough to get around the campus. There was also road construction going on when we visited, so that didn’t help.

A note for visitors that the campus is physically divided by its colleges. The individual colleges all have their own gates and entry points, so you can’t navigate the campus the same way you might navigate an American university campus. There was lots of walking into—and then back out of—college areas to see all the things we wanted to see.

Cambridge boat

Our sights for the stop included the Mathematical Bridge, the Bridge of Sighs, and King’s College Chapel. We never actually made it into King’s College Chapel because we learned that you need to be escorted by someone with a student ID, so… heads up.

It sounds like we had a terrible time in Cambridge and, honestly, it wasn’t the best, but I do think it would’ve been great had we stayed a night, parked, and walked around. The city center looks really picturesque.

Mathematical Bridge in Cambridge

Bury St. Edmunds

Bury St. Edmunds is a charming little town in Suffolk with an abbey, cathedral, and some beautiful gardens. It’s probably best known for being the location where the Magna Carta first started being drafted. We parked right in the town center parking lot (no problem!) and skipped across the street to explore. The gardens were breathtaking and the cathedral was just gorgeous. It’s definitely worth a stop if you’re out that way in England.

Bury St. Edmunds, England on our UK road trip
Bury St. Edmunds cathedral on our UK road trip

The Chequers Inn

This one is personal to me, and I wanted to take the #AP4L here. The Chequers Inn in Thompson, Thetford is a pub and inn that dates back to the 1600s, and my grandparents actually owned it many years ago. It’s a small, rustic place with a thatched roof and it’s still in business.

I stupidly didn’t look up Chequers’ hours and, when we arrived, it was closed for the afternoon break. I knocked and knocked forever on multiple doors, hoping I could find someone, anyone who might let me have just one beer there. To no avail. My fault, though. I should’ve done my research.

After Chequers, we continued to Norwich to visit my aunt and have some afternoon tea. It was dark by the time we got downtown and checked into our hotel and we had a long driving day ahead of us the next day. So we didn’t even get to cross the street to see so much as the Norwich Cathedral. Need. More. Time. Always. If you do have time, I’d suggest checking out the Broads or the Norfolk Coast.

Chequers Inn in Thompson, Thetford

Stop #3: Norwich to Poole

Day two of our UK road trip took us from Norwich to Poole. Poole was a bit of an arbitrary choice as a stop. It was halfway between a couple of major things we wanted to do—Dover and Cornwall. So, it was a good major city to stop in for the night.

It’s definitely another spot that I think could be worth exploring more, along with Bournemouth. There’s a ferry that goes out to Jersey from here and the Isle of Wight is just off the coast as well.

It was a long driving day, from Norwich into the southeast peninsula, back over to Poole. But we managed to fit two stops in, anyway—Canterbury and Dover.

Canterbury

When in southeast England, you must visit the Canterbury Cathedral, right? And we stopped in Canterbury just for a cathedral visit. The city itself was really pretty and downtown has a nice pedestrian area. It’s one of the oldest Christian structures in England and was also, of course, the site of Archbishop Thomas Becket’s grisly murder.

Canterbury Cathedral

Dover

Of the few times my husband had visited England, he never actually stopped at the White Cliffs of Dover. Had I planned better, we may have skipped the Dover stop altogether since you can see the cliffs all along the south coast. But I’m certain the #AP4L would have insisted on visiting Dover itself, anyway. So, here we were.

Parking was pretty easy and we took a nice walk down some trails. The only weird part was figuring out how to open the various gates they have on the trails. But enough people were around and we all figured it out together. Group effort. There’s also a massive castle right there you can tour.

After our stop-off at Dover, we had a long driving stretch in front of us to Poole. This was mainly highway and the sun started to go down again, so I can’t speak to whether Poole would be a viable stop unto itself, unfortunately. But like I mentioned before, there’s definitely a lot to do in the area overall.

White Cliffs of Dover on our UK road trip

Stop #4: Poole to Portloe

It was this day and the next that I was most excited for of our UK road trip. Lots of coastal sights ahead of us, finishing the drive in a tiny Cornwall village overlooking the sea. Sounds magical, right? It was pretty epic.

Studland

Studland is just west of Poole, so we only had a quick drive to start the day. Jeff wanted to see Old Harry Rocks on the fly, so we headed out this way. The sad part was we never actually figured out where the best viewing spot was and we sort of drifted from village to village trying to figure it out.

We stopped off at Studland and went for a walk. Managed to find a beach and a lot of colorful little beach huts. Got to interface with some excited pups enjoying their time outside. While we never ultimately saw Old Harry Rocks, it was a nice stop nonetheless.

Studland stop on our UK road trip

Corfe

Corfe was excellent. Of the bagillion castles in England, we decided this would be one that we stopped at and toured. It’s an interesting place because, it looks like just a really old castle way up on a hill, but when you started hiking up to it, you realize there’s an entire village hiding over the back of it.

There was a school field trip touring while we were there and we got to see them launch a trebuchet for the kids. While the students were being herded at the castle entrance, we were the only tourists exploring the castle grounds. It was a super blustery day and was actually difficult to maintain our footing. But it was definitely a solid stop. It’s a bit of an entry fee, but worth it.

Corfe Castle
Village of Corfe

West Lulworth

Gosh, if Corfe wasn’t cool enough, West Lulworth knocked my socks off. And I walk away with very valuable information for anyone wanting to explore here, so keep reading. West Lulworth is home to Lulworth Cove and is also a starting point for a hike to the famous Durdle Door.

It’s a gorgeous hike. But it’s really hard. And once you get there, you’ll find out there’s a parking lot just above Durdle Door anyway. So, consider doing the super short hike to Lulworth Cove from West Lulworth. And then driving over to the other Durdle Door parking lot further west. Save your energy for climbing the stairs to the beach. There are still plenty.

Lulworth Cove
Durdle Door, best stop on our UK road trip

Portloe

You honestly wouldn’t think after Corfe and Durdle Door that things could get better, but Portloe was a tough competitor. It’s known for being a super picturesque Cornwall village. A tiny little block of homes in a corner by the sea. And we stayed right on the water. An amazing way to finish the day—some tasty beverages and a good dinner, overlooking the water. A fair warning, however—the roads getting to Portloe are not for the faint of heart.

If I was going to add just one more day to our UK road trip itinerary, I would likely spend it in the Cornwall area. Maybe even just hiking around Portloe. There seemed to be a lot of exploring to be done, some nice overlooks, fresh air. All that good stuff.

Portloe in Cornwall on our UK road trip

Stop #5: Portloe to Cardiff

We spent a portion of the morning exploring Portloe and waiting for breakfast to open before we headed out for our next major stop—Cardiff in Wales. Neither one of us had been to Wales, so we thought we’d swoop in real quick to check the box. Cheap shot, I know, but there’s just not enough time. Ever.

Tintagel Castle

On the way up to Cardiff, we stopped to visit Tintagel Castle. Weather conditions prevented the full castle from being open, but we were still able to walk down and around the grounds. Tintagel was another castle we’d decided to do a complete tour of. Among other things, it has a crazy bridge to this tiny bluff that the castle sits on and a cave called “Merlin’s Cave.” Legend has it that this is the site of King Arthur’s conception.

Tintagel Castle on our UK road trip

Cardiff

Sadly, we were so wiped out at this point in our road trip that we didn’t get out to see much of anything in Cardiff. Prioritized rest this particular day. But the weather was also a little insane, so I’m not sure how enjoyable it would’ve been, anyway. Our hotel was in City Centre, though, and right across the street from Cardiff Castle on the River Taff. Seemed like a fair enough location. We’ll just have to come back especially for a Wales visit, right? Do it the right way.


Stop #6: Cardiff to Heathrow

This day marked the last full day of our UK road trip, and we just went from Cardiff directly to Heathrow airport with stops in Bath and the Cotswolds. Turned the car in and stayed overnight at an airport hotel. We caught an early flight out the next morning.

Bath

Our first stop out of Cardiff was in Bath. We were actually supposed to this the day before, but we just needed a down day, so we rearranged some things. All worked out in the end. Bath is a pretty cool city. Jeff made the joke that he liked “the beige stone house” best. If you’ve ever been to Bath or seen photos, you’d know that all the buildings are the same beige stone.

We had a couple of sights pegged in Bath—the Bath Abbey, the Roman Baths, and Pulteney Bridge. Bath Abbey was absolutely incredible. I’ve been to a lot of churches, cathedrals, abbeys, what have you and I thought this one was beautiful. A definite thumbs up from Global Debauchery.

Bath, England on our UK road trip

We paid to go into the Roman Baths. (I mean… you have to, right?) It was pretty pricey, but not disappointing. They’ve got glass floors everywhere inside and almost steer you in a meandering way through the museum. Like an Ikea. But it was a great design, architecturally speaking, and fairly interesting.

We weren’t so impressed with Pulteney Bridge. In fact, we didn’t even realize we were looking at it when we saw it. It’s a covered bridge lined with shops, similar to—but smaller than—Ponte Vecchio in Florence. Decided against going inside and checking out the shops. Someone else said they thought it was really pretty and had a nice time at the bridge, so maybe I was missing something. Or maybe it just wasn’t for me.

Pulteney Bridge in Bath on our UK road trip

The Cotswolds

Next up on the UK road trip was the Cotswolds. Because no trip to the UK is complete without seeing the Cotswolds. Of all the times I’ve been to England, I’ve never seen them. Can you believe it? And they’re every bit as fairy-tale-ish as you’ve heard.

There are a bunch of little villages that make up the Cotswolds, but we narrowed it down to Bibury and Bourton-on-the-Water. Bibury is home to Arlington Row, a stretch of super historic homes that used to be a wool manufacturing area, I think. Bourton-on-the-Water has a precious little river going right through the middle of it and tons of charming little bridges.

The #AdventurePartnerForLife fell in love with Bourton-on-the-Water, but I think I preferred Bibury. He was just mad because we drove down to Arlington Row and learned why it’s just easier to park and walk to it. We also got lunch in Bourton, so… another reason he likely preferred it.

Arlington Row in the Cotswolds on our UK road trip
Bibury in the Cotswolds on our UK road trip

Our UK Road Trip Concludes

Bath and the Cotswolds were a great way to finish up our UK road trip. Quintessential England, really. Our trip was chock-full of stops and sights and we even had a couple of long driving days, but I don’t regret a thing. I always want an extended timeline and to see all the places in between points A and B, so that’s no different than any other road trip we’ve done.

What do you think? Have you been to any of these places before? What would you add or replace? Any and all feedback welcomed below. Or reach out via my Contact page. Until next time, friends!

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2 comments

  1. We took a road trip a few years ago, including Bath and the Cotswolds. They are now one of my favorite spots in the world! I wish I knew about Tingenel Castle. That sounds magical.

  2. It looks like you had a lot of fun. Sounds like a great route for people to explore since traveling by plane is not optimal right now. You picture are beautiful. I’m very intrigued by the Jurassic coast.

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