Planning a winter road trip in the UK? Wondering whether you should head for the Northern Lights in Scotland, the snow-capped peaks in Wales, or use the time to visit popular locations like Cornwall or the Lake District? We’ve covered the best routes to help you choose your perfect UK winter road trip.
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Why do a winter road trip in the UK?
Most people assume that you can’t have a motorhome holiday or enjoy a road trip during a UK winter. But it’s actually one of the best times to explore the British Isles- quieter roads, incredible scenery and easy access to many of the beautiful National Parks we have on our doorstep.
Even better, many motorhome sites or camp grounds have reduced prices, as do many top attractions, so it really is a great time to explore.
All you need to do is make sure your vehicle is suitable for winter road trips, dress up warmly and then head out on your winter adventure!
The best UK winter road trip routes you can’t miss
We all have different priorities. That’s one of the things I love so much about road trips- the freedom to enjoy the things you like.
Even better, the UK has LOADS to enjoy during winter, including world-class Christmas markets, winter festivals, food festivals, snow sports and fantastic walking over moors and hills.
We’ve selected a variety of winter road trip ideas to help you choose the perfect option for you. Of course, you can pick and choose or combine ones to create your perfect winter getaway.
Tips for driving in winter
If you’re planning a winter road trip, there’s not much difference from planning a UK road trip at any other time of the year, but you do need to make sure of a few things.
- Make sure your vehicle has been checked/ serviced and is capable of dealing with colder weather
- Make sure your tyres are safe and suitable for the roads. Even if there’s no snow, you can expect to drive in heavy rain at some point on your trip
- Check windscreen wipers and screenwash levels
- Carry drink and snacks with you
- If you’re not planning a motorhome trip, be sure to carry a thermos of hot drink or a stove and kettle, just in case you get stuck somewhere cold. Also, have a couple of blankets with you too.
- Make sure your phones are charged and ideally use a proper sat-nav with traffic updates so you can see if a road becomes blocked or closed.
The best winter road trip to see the Northern Lights
One of the best-kept secrets in northern UK is that you can often see the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) from up there.
Sure, they’re not as consistent as some of the other best places in Europe to see the Northern Lights, but if they’re on your bucket list, it’s time to head north during winter.
Scotland Northern Lights Winter Road Trip
Total Distance: 516 miles
Recommended No. of Days: 4-5 days
Best time to visit: December, January, February
For the best chance of seeing the Northern Lights in Scotland, you’ll want to go as far north as possible. The further north you can get on your winter road trip, the better.
If you’re driving a motorhome or campervan, you may want to combine this with a NC500 motorhome tour which goes along the northern coast.
Stop at places like Sango Sands or Dunnet Bay near John o’Groats, but ideally you’ll want to get even further north. Orkney is easily accessible on a road trip, even if you just visit for a couple of days.
The best time to see the Northern Lights is between October and March. If you’re hoping to see them from Scotland or some of the northern Isles, November to February is your best bet. Just make sure to wrap up warmly- the best nights to see them are clear and cold!
If you’re in a motorhome or campervan, these are the North Coast 500 campsites open all year.
If you’d like to explore more , here’s the only NC500 itinerary and route planner you need.
The best UK winter road trip ideas for Christmas Markets
We’re lucky that there is a decent Christmas Market in almost every big UK town or city.
Rather than visit your local one again, why not make a weekend of it and visit some further afield?
Nearly all have a campsite open all year nearby for motorhome or campervan tours, or there are bed and breakfasts in every place for you to stay on your road trip.
Most UK Christmas Markets are open from last November, but some don’t open until mid-December, so be sure to check before you start your winter road trip.
Three UK road trip routes to see Christmas Markets
- Start in Winchester (the Winchester Christmas Market is one of the best in England) and enjoy exploring the city.
- Then head to Salisbury, where you’ll find another fantastic Christmas Market
- From here, you can head to the Cotswolds, which are some of the most picturesque villages in the UK, or you can visit Bath, which is glorious at any time but especially good at Christmas.
- Start at the Christmas Market in Birmingham, which is one of the biggest Christmas markets in the UK and the biggest authentic German market outside of Austria or Germany.
- From here, continue your England road trip and head to Stratford upon Avon, Warwick or Royal Leamington Spa for more traditional Christmas celebrations, or head to Lincoln, home of the oldest Christmas Market in the UK.
- Edinburgh is one of the best cities to visit around Christmas time- the markets here are legendary.
- Although this is a great place to stop on a Scotland road trip, you could also use it as the northern point of your winter road trip route, and head south to Newcastle or Durham.
- After exploring these wonderful cities, head to Leeds, Manchester or Liverpool for more huge festivities.
Of course, you could easily spend a weekend road trip just in London, exploring the Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park and all the smaller Christmas Markets around the city.
Best Winter road trips for hiking and outdoors
The UK has some fabulous National Parks, which are open all year. During summer months, they can get very crowded, but during winter you can often have places all to yourself!
If you’re living in a van over winter, don’t forget that many National Parks have overnight parking restrictions, so be sure to follow those. Here’s how to find places to stay overnight.
Northern Ireland Winter Road Trip
Total Distance: 220 miles
Recommended No. of Days: 2-3 days
Best time to visit: November, December, January, February, March
The Causeway Coastal Route is one of the best winter road trips in Northern Ireland. Highlights include:
- Giants Causeway
- Carrick-a-rede rope bridge
- Dunluce Castle
- Dark Hedges
Winter road trip route idea
- Start your Ireland road trip by visiting the famous Giants Causeway. It’s about a 90-minute drive from Belfast and try to get there as early as possible.
- Visit nearby Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. In summer the queues can be lengthy, but in winter you shouldn’t have to wait long.
- Another unique stop is the clifftop ruins of Dunluce Castle which hang above the sea below.
- Don’t miss the Dark Hedges. This road features in Game of Thrones and is one of the most beautiful roads in Ireland. It was surprisingly badly signposted when we visited, so don’t miss it. If you’re motorhoming in Ireland you can’t drive down it- I’m not even sure you’ll make it in a campervan!
How long does it take to drive the Causeway coastal route?
You can comfortably drive the whole route in one weekend as it’s quite a short route- only 200 miles. You can actually do it in a day if you really push. Don’t miss the Titanic museum in Belfast- it’s incredible.
Yorkshire is the perfect winter road trip destination. The moors look magical covered in snow but there are still plenty of places open all year.
Highlights of a Yorkshire road trip include:
- Hardraw Force- England’s highest single-drop waterfall
- The longest show cave in England- White scar
- Ribblehead Viaduct
- Hogsmeade station (or at least the station which played it in Harry Potter!)
- Numerous castles and ruins
Yorkshire Road Trip Itinerary ideas
Start your road trip in the beautiful Yorkshire Dales. Visit the 11th century Skipton Castle or go underground to see the formations in White Scar Caves, the longest show cave in England.
Visit the waterfalls of Ingleton, Aysgarth Falls or Hardraw Force- England’s highest single-drop waterfall. These are even more impressive in winter with the increased rainfall.
Before leaving the Dales, visit the incredible monastic ruins and landscaped gardens of Fountains Abbey.
Next, head to the city of York. You can visit Viking, Roman, Georgian and Victorian sites all in one day! Don’t miss a stroll along the cobbled Shambles, which has often been voted the ‘Best Street in Britain.’
Lastly, head out onto the moors. Stop at Goathland train station (Hogsmeade station in the Harry Potter movies.)
Alternatively, stretch your legs with a hike at the Hole of Horcum, a huge ancient natural amphitheatre.
If you’re looking for a weekend UK road trip idea, head to one of the prettiest National Parks in the UK- Snowdonia in Wales.
Snowdonia is actually part of two of the Wales Way driving routes– North and Cambrian and it’s easy to see why.
Pretty much everything in Snowdonia involves being outdoors, so make sure you bring appropriate clothing for the time of year. In winter, you’re likely to get rain, cold and very possibly snow.
There are plenty of great roads with spectacular scenery and the stars at night are unreal, especially on a crisp Winter night.
Planning a trip to Wales?
Grab your FREE guide to the Wales Way road trip routes, including:
- suggested routes around Wales
- best places to see on your trip
- campsites to stay at along the way
- and other tips for touring Wales
The best winter road trip routes for popular UK destinations
Winter is the perfect time to visit places which are usually crazy busy.
Places like Cornwall, Devon, the Lake District and the Cotswolds are much quieter and easier to explore on the road trip.
Here are our favourite road trip ideas:
Cornwall is one of our favourite places to road trip in England. I spent 2 years living there whilst I was in the Navy, and have been back many times since. There are plenty of things to do in Cornwall, but there are some important tips you need to know before you arrive!
Why is Cornwall one of the best England road trips?
If you want cute villages, incredible beaches and more history than you can shake a stick at, Cornwall is perfect. Although some places do close in winter, many of the main attractions remain open all year, and the lack of crowds makes it even better.
How long should you spend roadtripping Cornwall?
How long is a piece of string!! But, as you can see on our Cornish road trip itinerary, we recommend 7-10 days minimum to see all the best places.
Where are the best places to visit in Cornwall on a road trip?
Some of my absolute favourite places in Cornwall include:
For a full list of the best places to visit on a Cornwall road trip, visit our Cornwall Road Trip Itinerary & Guide
Even in Winter, Devon is a fantastic road trip destination. It’s still full of cute villages, beautiful hills and beaches and plenty of cafes!
Highlights and best places to visit in Devon
My parents live here, so I’ve spent a lot of time exploring the county. Some of my favourite include:
- Dartmouth- one of the best towns in the county. Hire a boat and explore the river.
- Paignton- the beach with the red sand
- Exmouth with its beautiful painted houses
- Saunton Sands
- Fish and Chips from Squires in Braunton
- Salcombe Harbour
- Dulverton- head to the Copper Kettle tea room; you won’t regret it!
See the full list of my favourite Devon road trip ideas here.
The Lake District National Park is a perfect UK winter road trip idea. It has some of the worlds best scenic drives and a trip along the Honister Pass and Kirkstone Pass are a must- although if it’s snowed heavily they may be closed.
The Castlerigg stone circle is also worth a stop, as are the pretty towns of Keswick and Cockermouth.
In the South Lakes, Grasmere (home of William Wordsworth) is worth visiting and if you love Beatrix Potter, you can visit her home in Hawkshead. There is also Beatrix Potter World in Bowness- on- Windermere.
Some other highlights for winter road trips include:
- The largest natural lake in the UK, Lake Windermere. Some boat tours run all year but wrap up warmly
- The Punch Bowl Inn in Crosthwaite.
- Aira Force Waterfall
- The views at Derwentwater
Cotswolds – a magical UK winter road trip
The Cotswolds is the largest Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in England and Wales and it looks SPECTACULAR in winter.
Highlights & Best places to visit in the Cotswolds and surrounding area
- The beautiful stone villages of the Cotswolds (Bourton-on-the-Water is one of my personal favourites)
- visit the historic city of Bath
- marvel at the mysterious ancient stones of Stonehenge
- stop at the magnificent Salisbury Cathedral.
Wiltshire & Cotswolds winter road trip itinerary
- Ideally, spend 3-4 days exploring as many lovely little towns and villages of the Cotswolds as you wish to. Some of the prettiest villages include Bibury, Stow-on-the-Wold, Lower Slaughter, Bourton-on-the-Water and Castle Combe.
- The historic city of Bath is only a 30-minute drive from the village of Castle Combe- well worth a visit. Don’t miss visiting the Roman baths and having a cream tea in the tea rooms there.
- If you have time, head East to Stonehenge. If you’re in a motorhome or camper, you can camp overnight at Stonehenge (This is where we saw the most INCREDIBLE sunrise we’ve EVER seen. (Seriously, watch the video. It’s breathtaking)
- From Stonehenge, it’s only a 20-minute drive into the medieval town of Salisbury, where you can explore Salisbury Cathedral which has the tallest spire in all of Britain!
If you’re planning a UK road trip, you might find these posts helpful: