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Inside: The perfect 5-day UK road trip itinerary for exploring Scotland, England & Wales.
For the third stop on our Round the World honeymoon, we are headed to Scotland!
We have just 4 nights and 5 days to spend in the UK. Now, while most people could easily spend that amount of time just exploring Scotland, I, of course, strive to see as much as possible in the UK while we’re there.
So I have a bit more ambitious itinerary in mind…the great UK road trip!
When I explained my road trip plans to my friend Jill (who lives in London) she told me I was crazy to try road-tripping around the UK in just 5 days.
And, to be fair, she’s not the first person to call my travel plans crazy. And she’s probably not wrong.
I am, after all, the person who visited 13 countries in 30 days on my first RTW trip. However, I like to think I’ve mellowed a bit since then.
Jill warned about the traffic and the long driving distances (and I have no doubt she is right).
But considering the amount of ground we want to cover during our short 5-day stay, renting a car is the only sensible option.
And hey, if we can road trip around Ireland in 4 days, we can do the UK in 5, right?
UK Road Trip Day #1 – Driving the Scottish Coast
Once Jill realized she couldn’t change my mind, she suggested we begin our road trip with a drive down the scenic coastline from Edinburgh to York.
Conveniently, that itinerary also bypasses Alnwick Castle, the inspiration for Hogwart’s in the Harry Potter books.
The Day 1 plan? A leisurely drive down the coast, stop for lunch somewhere beautiful and then visit Alnwick Castle before spending the night in York.
Yes, I married a Potterhead
This seems like as good a time as any to mention that my husband loves Harry Potter.
Now, before you decide for yourself if that is appropriate reading material for a man of a certain age, I should also point out that he read several of them while deployed in Iraq.
So yes, he’s still tough. And I suppose if there’s ever a place you could use a little light reading, it’s Iraq.
When Dave and I first met, I had never read any of the Harry Potter books, obviously assuming they were for children. But because I knew how much he loved them, I started reading the first one a few months after we began dating.
I quickly blew through all of them, followed in short order by the movies.
I get it, they’re pretty good.
So part of the reason Dave is excited about this leg of our Round-the-World Honeymoon is the opportunity to see some of the sights from the Harry Potter books and movies.
A delayed arrival in Edinburgh
Unfortunately, we got a later start than planned today on our UK road trip.
After a terrific stay in Amsterdam, our flight to Edinburgh had a mechanical problem mid-flight. So, we had to return to the Amsterdam airport and change planes before continuing on to Scotland.
Read More: Amsterdam: The Venice of the North
We were supposed to land in Edinburgh at noon but instead we finally arrived just after 3:00pm.
The good news? This time of year it’s daylight until nearly 10:00pm so we still have plenty of time to see the Scottish coast!
It’s a beautiful drive along the coast and we stop for lunch by the sea in a lovely seaside town called Eyemouth.
The bad news? Alnwick castle closes at 5 and we don’t make it there until 6. So we have to settle for seeing the impressive castle from the outside.
That night we booked a room at a B & B in a small village just north of York.
It turns out to be one of the best decisions we make for the entire trip. The quaint village is straight out of English central casting. The kind of place that would make a great little break from the hustle and bustle of London life.
Conveniently, our B&B – the Old Black Bull Inn – is directly over the town’s only pub. On a summer Saturday night, the pub is overflowing with locals when we arrive. We make lots of new friends over a few drinks before eventually heading upstairs to bed.
It was a fun night and the perfect introduction to the UK.
UK Road Trip Day #2 – An afternoon in London
The next morning we hit the road early to tackle the 4-hour drive to London before lunch.
We want to have plenty of time to sightsee a bit in the city. And then meet Jill and her husband Tim for a drink later this afternoon.
Because we have a car (despite Jill’s advice) we chose to stay outside the city center near Heathrow airport and take the Tube into London for the day.
We had originally hoped to get tickets for the Harry Potter studio tour while we were in the London area. But when we checked for tickets a few weeks before arrival, to my husband’s dismay our date was totally sold out.
Strike two on our Harry Potter tour.
Instead, we settle for starting our day in London at King’s Cross Station where they have the “Platform 9 3/4” photo opportunity (which, I have to admit, was cute…and free).
After that, we wander along the Thames and visit all the usual London sights – Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, the Tower Bridge, and Buckingham Palace.
Later, we meet up with Jill and Tim for drinks. And finally, after a full day, we head back to the hotel on the tube.
We have an early morning start planned for tomorrow!
UK Road Trip Day #3 – Stonehenge, Wales & Liverpool
The next morning we’re on the road from London at 7:30am. First up on today’s UK Road Trip itinerary, a visit to one of Europe’s most extraordinary sights.
Located in Wiltshire, England – about 90 minutes west of London – the prehistoric monument of Stonehenge is one of the most famous sites in the world.
Tickets to the UNESCO World Heritage site are on timed entry and have to be booked in advance (you can book tickets here). We booked the first time slot at 9:00am.
The mysterious history of Stonehenge
Archaeologists believe that the standing stones that form Stonehenge were constructed between 3000 BC and 2000 BC. Evidence of cremated remains discovered at the site date back as far as 3000 BC indicating that Stonehenge was likely a burial ground from its earliest beginnings.
However, further excavation suggests that the area evolved in several construction phases over the next 1,500 years.
But because Stonehenge is the work of a culture that left no written records, many mysteries remain. The most significant mystery is how on earth this ancient culture moved the enormously heavy stones such great distances. And placed them without the benefit of modern engineering?
We are absolutely enthralled by the site as we slowly circle it. It is impossible to imagine how such a place could have been created at that time. It reminds me a lot of the mystery of the giant moai on Easter Island.
Read More: The Mystery of Easter Island
How did they get there? And why?
We continue to ponder those questions as we walk back to the car.
With our first mission accomplished for the day, it’s time to continue with today’s road trip itinerary.
Who’s in Wales?
Our original plan for Wales was more of the drive-thru variety.
It’s on the way to our next stop for the night in Liverpool and I want to at least be able to say I’ve seen a bit of it.
And Dave’s heritage is part Welsh so he is keen to make it a lunch stop if we don’t have time for more.
Based on the map, the seaside town of Cardiff looks like our best option for a lunch stop so after wrapping up at Stonehenge I plug it into the GPS.
As we approached Cardiff, I begin researching where to go for a scenic lunch spot. We settle on the harbor front area of Mermaid Quay, which is full of shops and restaurants. It sounds like the perfect place to stop for a break.
Then, while searching for restaurants in the area on Google maps, I make an accidental discovery that will alter the course of our entire day – a point on the map near the harbor called, the “Doctor Who Experience.”
Cardiff’s Doctor Who Experience
My new husband also happens to be a huge Doctor Who fan.
So when I say, “Hey, there’s something on the map called the Doctor Who Experience,” the awestruck expression on his face tells me I’ve just sealed my fate for the afternoon.
Excitedly, Dave realizes that he knew Doctor Who was filmed in Cardiff, Wales but didn’t make the connection until I mentioned it. So, when we arrive in Cardiff, lunch is quickly downgraded on the priority list and we go straight to the Doctor Who Experience hoping we can get last-minute tickets.
Luckily (I suppose), we are able to score tickets for a tour scheduled for an hour from now. So, we spend the hour wait “enjoying” the memorabilia museum (also known as not having lunch).
The “Experience” part is very Universal-studios-esque and Dave loves every minute of it. And I love him, so I play along.
I admit it is fun watching him get so excited about it, especially since he’s been denied most of the UK’s best Harry Potter experiences so far.
Finally, after the tour is complete, we grab a quick lunch on the water and hit the road again.
The Fab Four of Liverpool Penny Lane & the Beatles
Thanks to our extended stay in Wales, we don’t roll into Liverpool until dinnertime and are welcomed with relentless rain.
We know our time in the city will be short but we want to see at least a few of Liverpool’s Beatles sights before heading to the hotel.
A quick internet search reveals the song-inspiring locations of Strawberry Field and Penny Lane. We stop at each for photo ops before heading downtown to the Aloft Liverpool Hotel for the night.
The hotel is located in a beautifully restored historic Liverpool building and it is absolutely gorgeous. Liverpool’s Beatles museum is long closed at this point and none of the Beatles tours run late. So we settle for a late dinner at the hotel and hope the weather will be better for sightseeing tomorrow morning.
Luckily, this morning the sun comes out for a bit and we take a walk to some of Liverpool’s nearby Beatles sights. First up, the Hard Day’s Night Hotel and then the Cavern Club (where the Beatles first got their start).
It’s actually a lovely city and I wish we had more time to see it. But our priority for the day is to get back to Scotland and see some of Edinburgh before we leave.
So, alas, it is time to hit the road again!
Have a few extra days in Liverpool?
If you have a couple of extra days on your visit to the UK, the Isle of Man is a fascinating side trip and easy to reach from Liverpool by ferry.
UK Road Trip Day #4 – Liverpool to Edinburgh
The drive from Liverpool is only about 3 hours but since we got a bit of a late start we don’t arrive in Edinburgh until after lunch.
For this stop on our UK road trip, I splurged with my Marriott points for a room at the luxe Sheraton Grand Hotel & Spa Edinburgh.
And it is totally worth it! Our room has a spectacular view of Edinburgh Castle. It is also helpful that we are right in the heart of the city within an easy walk of everything we want to see.
When time is short, location is everything.
We did want to visit Edinburgh Castle but since it is such a huge site, I knew it would take up most of our afternoon. So instead we opt for our own walking tour of the city.
We begin in the pub-lined Grassmarket neighborhood and end with a stroll down the Royal Mile before settling in at a pub for a beer and some dinner (yes, we tried haggis!).
It’s a terrific day and the perfect way to wrap up our whirlwind UK road trip through Scotland, England, and Wales in just 5 days.
But, of course, I know that we barely scratch the surface in the UK (especially Edinburgh). So further exploration and a more extended stay is definitely in order sometime soon. (Luckily, we did make it back to Scotland just a few years later!)
But for now, we have a 6:00am flight to Paris in the morning and then an overnight flight to India. The honeymoon journey around the world continues!