Europe is well known for its stunning landscapes and history, but as an island separated from the mainland of the continent, the UK is in a league of its own. With so many different ways of life and their own respective thriving tourist industries, there are many different attractions to visit here, whether it be England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland. During the ice age, glaciers gorged their way through the landscape, creating vast mountainscapes and deep lakes. The weather may be wet and rainy at the best of times, but because of this, the United Kingdom is one of the greenest places in Europe. Its location geographically means that while the climate is usually temperate, it can also easily change, whether it be arctic winds coming in from the north or warmer tropical winds coming up from the south.
One of the best ways to visit the country is by organising a road trip. The United Kingdom has some of the most iconic road trips in the world. Whether it be venturing along the world-renowned North Coast 500 in the highlands of Scotland, or fossil hunting along the Jurassic Coast in Dorset, England. Driving in a car or using a camper van is a great way of travelling throughout the countries. It also may be the best way to combat the weather problem - you can park up and pull up a camping chair, enjoying the warmer weather, and just as easily take cover when grey rain clouds appear over the horizon.
Buying or Renting a Camper Van
A platform that we recommend here at Live the World is Goboony. Goboony is kind of like Airbnb, but for camper van owners and renters. Social media might’ve encouraged you to buy or build your own camper van, but this can be both a financially and time-consuming endeavour. With Goboony, you can rent and tour in someone else’s van.
With a range of privately owned vans that differ in budget and amenities, there are many choices to pick out from, whether it be a cheap basic model that sleeps two for a weekend getaway or a kitted-out seven birther for the road trip of a lifetime. So if you’re planning to go on a journey with some friends, instead of spending money on individual rooms, you can all split the cost of a rental, which, depending on the vehicle, can work out to be cheaper than a night in a hostel!
If you own a campervan yourself, you can register your vehicle with Goboony and rent it out to other would-be adventurers. So, while you’re taking a break from your own travels, you can help other kindred spirits in theirs while making a few extra pennies on the side. It’s a win-win for everyone involved!
Our first route is probably the most popular route in the UK and takes us through around the highlands of Scotland, passing by beautiful beaches and high mountains. Launched in 2015 by the Tourism Project Board of the North Highland Initiative, the North Coast 500, or the NC500, is a 516-mile road trip that takes you all around the north coast of Scotland. Starting and ending at Inverness Castle, there are loads of attractions on this stream of road, from historic castles to untouched stretches of wild landscapes. Sometimes, the road you’re on is the only hint of civilisation for miles.
With all that in mind, the North Coast is a road that should be enjoyed at a steady pace, and a lot of the accommodations can wrack up in price. Plus, if you’re going to be travelling across this part of Scotland, you’ll probably want to sample some of the whiskey that is distilled here. If you book a campervan with a company like Goboony, your home on wheels will only cost a fraction of the price you would have been spending on a bed and breakfast or a hotel. There are plenty of camping spots and a few establishments on the route that will let you use their car park. Due to the nature of this route, though, you’ll have to do some homework on certain roads as some are too small for camper vans. Other notable routes in Scotland also include the South West 300, the North East 250 and the Heart 200.
Snowdonia National Park, Wales
While there is no strict route like the NC500, Snowdonia National Park offers some of the most scenic drives the Welsh countryside has to offer. Also known as Eryri, this national park stretches over 800 square miles and has around 1,500 miles of registered paths, each trail ranging in difficulty and some of them starting at various car parks throughout the region. The best time to drive around this part of the country is during the summer, though it can get busy. There are major and minor roads throughout Snowdonia. You can even drive around Mount Snowdon if you don’t fancy hiking, but you might also bump into some tractors as some of the nearby areas are used for agricultural purposes.
Most of the nearby accommodations are a bit of a distance away from the National Park. There are plenty of car parks though, and while staying at them overnight isn’t allowed, there are official campsites within driving distance, so you can stay here overnight and drive to one of the many car park trails in the morning. Just remember to pre-book a space in advance at a certain site to avoid disappointment.
The Causeway Coast, Northern Ireland
Always wanted to see the Giant’s Causeway? The Causeway Coast is a road trip that can take you there. Cutting through the cities of Belfast and Derry, this 120 miles road trip will not only take you to the iconic UNESCO landmark, it also takes you through other highlights of Northern Ireland. If you start your journey in Belfast, before hitting the road, you might want to check out the Titanic Museum. If you just want to indulge in the local culture, there are many pubs along the route. So park up your van, and share a pint with the locals!
Much like Wales, wild camping in Northern Ireland is illegal. There are a few campsites along the route, though, and they are very inexpensive, at about under £25 a night. Here are some examples of the best camping spots throughout Northern Ireland. Also, while Scotland is known for its whiskey, Northern Ireland has its own trade that is worth visiting as well.
The Cotswolds, England
In the southwest of England are the idyllic Cotswolds. A mixture of rural villages and natural beauty, the whole area had just over 90,000 permanent residents in 2021, but 38 million visits are recorded every year! There is enough here to stay out and explore for a few days or even just a weekend away, from the village of Burton-on-the-Water, also known as the Venice of the Cotswolds, or the birthplace of William Shakespeare, the town of Stratford-upon-Avon. The best time to visit this area of the country is around July and August, when the countryside’s greenery is in full bloom and the days are at their longest.
While this area is a great place for a road trip, some of the hotels and places to stay can be a bit on the pricey end. By contrast, some of the best campervan sites in the area go for as low as £10 a night, so you can park up for a couple of nights and enjoy the local sites without having to worry about accommodation costs. If you feel like chancing your luck, while you can’t wild camp in England, you can sleep on owned land IF you get permission from the landowner. Remember the A, B, C, and D rule: Ask the landowner’s permission, Be Discreet, Clean up after yourself, and Don’t stay more than one night.
The Lake District, England
One of the most spectacular must-see places in the whole of England is the Lake District National Park. Guess where the name comes from. From the highest mountain of Scafell Peak (at 978 metres or 3209 feet in height) to the deepest lake of WastWater (at 80 metres or 258 feet in depth) and the villages and lakes in between, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the most, if not THE most naturally beautiful place in the whole of England. If you’re a literature fan, this is the area that inspired author Beatrix Potter to breathe life into her Peter Rabbit stories.
If you’re planning to go through the Lake District and you’re unfamiliar with the area, you might want to book yourself a self-guided tour. Some of the best views are along walking trails which are easily within driving distance. Along with your camper van acting as a hub, the self-guided tour includes some tips and a suggested kit list to make the most of your trip.
The Jurassic Coast, England
Stretching along the coastline of Dorset and Devon for around 96 miles is the Jurrasic Coast. Starting from Old Harry Rocks in Studland Bay and finishing in Exmouth, it’s a fairly short drive compared to other routes on this list, but it is far too interesting not to mention. England’s first natural UNESCO site has geographical features which might look like something from the time of the dinosaurs, but the name comes from all the fossils that have been found here. Most of them were from the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous, periods of prehistory where dinosaurs and their cousins, like Pterosaurs and marine reptiles, evolved from humble beginnings and became dominant species. I’d say Cretaceous Coast rolls off the tongue more, but since everybody has seen Jurrasic Park.
As there are a few holiday parks along the Jurassic Coast, you can book a Goboony camper van and easily follow in the footsteps of famed palaeontologist Mary Anning. Or if that doesn’t tickle your fancy, it’s still a visually stunning part of the country where you can walk along coastal paths. Whatever the case, here are a couple of places you can stay the night in your camper van.
The Wales Way, Wales
The Wales Way is actually made up of three National touring routes in Wales - The Cambrian Way, The Coastal Way and The North Wales Way. Not to be confused with the walking trails that share the same name, you can either do one, or you can go all out and drive the full 420 miles journey. The Cambrian Way connects the north and south coasts, passing through Snowdonia and the Cambrian mountains, the Coastal Way takes you along the entire Cardigan Bay on the eastern coast,.and the North Wales Way takes you through the north and highlights much of Welsh history, like ancient castles and trade routes used by the Romans.
If you’re doing to be doing just one of the routes, some are easier than others. The North Wales Way is only 75 miles long, while the Cambrian Way is 185 miles long, mainly following the A470. Due to the vast scale of all these routes and how they don’t intersect easily, a camper van would be perfect if you decide to do the full Wales Way.
Game of Thrones Road trip, Northern Ireland
During the filming of the hit HBO series, many locations across the world were used as locations for creating Game of Thrones. Northern Ireland is just one of those places, and you can do your own Game of Thrones road trip while visiting. As a matter of fact, some of these locations intersect with the Causeway route, so you can do this at the same time. While there is no set route, most of them are grouped together in either Antrim in the north or Down in the southeast. There are tours of the Antrim locations, but if you want to see all the Northern Irish locations, you can see for yourself via this link.
If you are a Game of Thrones fan, there are loads of attractions that make Northern Ireland a perfect road trip, whether you want to go through the courtyard of Winterfell in costume, or have a look behind the scenes with a look at the Game of Thrones studio. Even if you’re not a Game of Thrones fan but still like movies and television shows, Northern Ireland has been used as a filming location for many a project, like Braveheart and Hellboy II.
Atlantic Highway, England
A picturesque route is the A39 in the southwest of England, otherwise informally known as the Atlantic Highway. Again, this route is not to be confused with the Wild Atlantic Way in Ireland, the former Atlantic Highway in the US, or the Atlantic Ocean Road in Norway (though the first and last are worth a visit in their own right). Hugging the coast where the southwest of England meets the Atlantic, this seaside road takes you through many attractions, travelling through Exmoor National Park and by surf towns. The Atlantic Highway travels across what are two of the most picturesque counties in England, Devon and Cornwall. While the route finishes at Bude, Cornwall, you can go beyond the A39 and visit Land’s End in Cornwall.
Though this is a noteworthy road trip on its own, you can easily incorporate it into a larger one. If you want to see the full length of the UK from top to bottom, you can start at the John O’Groats signpost at the top of Scotland and make your way down to Land’s End. An advantage of Goboony is that you can communicate with camper van owners, so you can organise to take different vans across the country!
Argyll Coastal Route, Scotland
While the North Coast 500 is the most popular road trip in Scotland, or even in the UK, the Argyll Coastal Route travels throughout the southwestern region of Scotland. Starting at Loch Lomond, the route travels throughout the lands where the lowlands meet the highlands, following the west coast until Fort William. The road trip is 129 miles long, and while the NC500 is a worthwhile road trip, this route is a lot less crowded. Also, some areas in the highlands are pretty remote, while you are never too far away from civilisation on the Argyll Coastal Route.
Just like the NC though, an advantage of taking a camper van is that you can park up for the night and sample some of the whiskey in the area. Near the start of the route is the Auchentoshan Distillery in Clydebank, and along the way, you will be passing through Oban, which also has its own whiskey distiller.
South Wales Circuit, Wales
Returning to Wales, our last recommended road trip for this country is the South Wales Circuit. Described as Wales’ answer to the NC500 in Scotland, this road trip takes you through the attractions like the Brecon Beacons mountain range, the Welsh capital city of Cardiff, and a variety of landscapes, from forested National Parks to seaside towns that belong on a postcard. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can even incorporate the South Wales Circuit into the full Wales Way trip and say that you have driven all across Wales!
That’s just our suggestion, though. Along with offering rental services for camper vans, Goboony also has a blog where they have their own opinion of things, which includes stuff worth doing while visiting Wales. Check out their piece on things you should do in the Brecon Beacons.
Borders Historic Route, Scotland and England
Throughout most of this list, we’ve included road trips that are respective to their own countries, but for our final choice, we’ll do something different. Though it’s only 89 miles long, the Borders Historic Route starts you off in the English city of Carlisle and takes you along the border of Scotland and England before finishing off in the Scottish capital of Edinburgh. As well as the natural and man-made marvels along the way, you will learn a lot about the history of the area, like the Gilnockie Tower, which used to serve as a hub for raiders in the contested ‘debatable lands’ (they were called that because no one knew if they belonged to Scotland or England).
These road trips will take you through the highlights of Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and England. That’s just our pick of road trips across the UK, though! There are a lot more, and we’ve touched on a couple of them. If you want to organise a camper van trip throughout the UK and beyond, check out Goboony for all your camper van needs.