Ok, so even though London was recently ranked the worst city in the world to drive in, that doesn’t mean that there are some pretty epic road trips actually outside the city. Whether you’re North, East, South or West, there are a whole bunch of routes you can take to with four wheels. So if it’s road trippin’ you’re looking for and you’re wanting to get out of the big smoke for a day or two, then here’s our rundown of 12 scenic drives near London. Happy driving!
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🚗 Scenic drives from North London
1. To the chocolate box-esque Cotswolds
Now, we couldn’t do a roundup of the best scenic drives near London without mentioning this one now, could we? I mean, you couldn’t really get anywhere more quintessentially British than this cutesy pocket of rolling green hills, chocolate box-esque villages and cutesy pubs. And with a lack of major public transport here, it’s well worth bringing your own set of wheels to explore – just for the ease of village hopping!
Whilst you can’t really go wrong here, we’d recommend meandering your way through the villages of Snowshill, Bourton-on-the-Water, Bibury and Castle Combe – billed as ‘the prettiest village in the UK’, Featured in blockbusters such as War Horse and Stardust – it’s easy to see why! A drive to this idyllic neck of the woods takes around two-and-a-half hours.
2. To historic Cambridge and the Wimpole Estate
Come rain or come shine, if you go to Cambridge it’s generally recommended that you go punting down the River Cam. It’s one of those ‘when in Rome’ moments that you’re sure to remember for the rest of your days. But there’s plenty else to do here, too. Wander through the pretty cobbled streets, hire a bike, admire the beauty of the magnificent, historic buildings and the lovely green parks… you name it, it’s here!
A drive to Cambridge should take under a couple of hours, though there’s restricted parking, so make sure you plan ahead! Post-exploring the city, why not head back to the capital via the Wimpole Estate – a National Trust estate founded in 1640 surrounded by acres of beautiful farmland.
3. To the Chiltern Hills AONB
The Chiltern Hills AONB is a serene spot covering 324 square miles’ worth of countryside right across the counties of Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and Oxfordshire. It’s synonymous with hamlets tucked away in quiet valleys, woodland glades packed full with resident species of wildlife and historic hill forts rising high above the surrounding countryside. Basically – it’s a bloody lovely spot in which to take to four wheels and go for a drive.
There’s plenty to see and do here, but standouts of the area we’d argue include Missenden Abbey, Berkhamsted Castle and the Ashridge Estate – an area known for its rolling chalk hills, wildlife-rich meadows, panoramic views and 5,000 acres of woodland. All of these can be explored by car, and they’re a short 90-minute drive from the capital.
🚗 Scenic drives from East London
4. To the sweeping sands of Winterton-on-Sea
One of Norfolk’s best-kept secrets, Winterton Beach boasts an absolutely huge expanse of soft sand, backed by the rolling, grassy dunes of the Martham Broad National Nature Reserve. The sheer size of it means this beach never feels crowded, and if you make your way north to Horsey Gap, chances are you’ll spot the hundreds of grey seals that pup here!
If you ever get bored of lazing about on the sand, you can always wander through the picturesque village of Winterton-on-Sea and get yourself a hefty portion of fish and chips. A drive here should take around two-and-a-half hours, though you can break up your journey with a jaunt through the stunning Norfolk Broads – another Area of Outstanding National Beauty.
5. To Mersea and Horsey Islands
Mersea Island is located just ten or so miles to the South of Colchester at the confluence of where the River Blackwater joins the River Colne. It’s a peaceful spot joined to the mainland by an ancient Roman causeway called The Strood – and twice a day, it becomes an actual island cut-off from the mainland.
Certainly one of the most scenic drives near London, it’s a great spot to come for a bit of peace and quiet and is under two hours’ drive away – just make sure you check the tide times! If you’re looking to add even more adventure, then head a bit further north to Horsey Island – a wildlife-rich spot with wide open skies that can only be reached at low tide.
6. To Aldeburgh and Southwold via the Suffolk Coast
Another fantastic scenic drive here taking in the charming seaside towns of Aldeburgh and Southwold – both of which overflow with genteel charm and lie within the Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB. While there’s plenty to see in both, we’d recommend perusing the individual boutique stores and art galleries dotted about to see what kind of treasures you can find.
There are three National Nature Reserves in the area and many Sites of Special Scientific Interest here too – so keep your eyes peeled for rare species of wildlife such as bitterns and marsh harriers. The drive to the area should take a little bit over three hours, but with views this good – who’s complaining?
🚗 Scenic drives from South London
7. To the Surrey Hills AONB
When it comes to scenic drives near London, this one is probably the nearest to actual London. Set just outside the M25 – and in some cases actually adjoining it – you really don’t have to go far to enjoy this AONB, which was first designated as one back in 1958.
There’s plenty to see on a drive here, but we’d recommend visiting the picturesque village of Shere – which featured in Hollywood films such as Bridget Jones’s Diary and The Holiday – and Box Hill – which offers outstanding panoramic views over the surrounding North Downs. Don’t also miss a visit to Leith Hill Tower, the highest point in southeast England, and from where you’ll be able to see all the way to the English Channel and Big Ben – when the sun’s shining of course. A drive out to this serene spot should take just over an hour.
8. To Brighton, Rye and the South Coast
This one might require a whole day, but it’s well worth the time trust us. Start off by driving the two-and-a-bit hours or so to Brighton – a bohemian, eccentric and effortlessly cool spot that’s the self-proclaimed LGBTQ+ capital of the UK and the only place with a Green Party-elected MP. After whiling away the hours here rifling through the shops of the lanes and soaking up the sea air, head East to Rye, enjoying English Channel views along the way.
Rye itself is a beautiful, fairytale-like town filled with crooked, medieval, half-timbered houses, quaint pubs and cobblestone streets – the perfect spot to amble around for a couple of hours and take a step backwards in time.
9. To Botany Bay via Whitstable and Margate
Backed with dramatic white cliffs and towering chalk stalks, the tranquil Botany Bay beach in Kent is an absolute gem. Perfect for fossil hunting, rock pooling and generally just enjoying the sea air, it’s one of the South East’s most charming spots. And it’s only a two hour drive away from London! Dreamy… It’s also just a stone’s throw away from Margate, which is currently enjoying a cool-as-a-cucumber status thank you very much.
Along the way, make sure you call by Whistable – which is famed for its fantastic rock oysters – contemporary art galleries and beachfront boozers. Just remember you’re driving…
🚗 Scenic drives from West London
10. To the New Forest National Park
Now the New Forest National Park doesn’t exactly need an introduction. Despite its name, it’s actually an ancient woodland that first sprouted after the withdrawal of ice sheets some 12,000 years ago. Designated as a protected area by none other than William the Conqueror, it’s pretty damn old, and is packed full of historic artefacts, Bronze Age barrows and *ahem* wild horses and ponies, heathland birds, deer and even reptiles!
Suffice to say, it’s a great place for a drive, and while it’s all very scenic, we’d recommend taking a pootle down to Beaulieu, which has an ornate manor house that dates all the way back to the 13th century. It’s a peaceful spot that is located close to Brockenhurst – also well worth a visit. A drive down here should take around two-and-a-half hours give or take.
11. To the North Wessex Downs AONB
Our penultimate entry onto this roundup of the best scenic drives near London is the North Wessex Downs AONB, which spans the counties of Berkshire, Hampshire, Oxfordshire & Wiltshire. Undoubtedly among Britain’s most beautiful landscapes, they offer spectacular views, a wide range of different habitats and some postcard-worthy villages.
While you can’t really go wrong anywhere here, we’d recommend heading to the area surrounding Hungerford – a historic market town bisected by the River Kennet – which is around a two hour drive. There’s plenty to do in the town itself, but if you make your way to nearby Ham and Combe Gibbet, you’ll be able to enjoy incredible views of the surrounding countryside. You may even spot kestrels, buzzards and elusive sparrowhawks here too! Add on a visit to nearby Highclere Castle – AKA the real Downton Abbey – and you’ve got yourself one heck of a scenic drive here!
12. To Somerset via Salisbury and Stonehenge
Rounding off this list of the best scenic drives near London is a real bloomin’ gem it has to be said. Heading West along the A303 – which be warned often has majorrrrr traffic jams – you’ll pass by Stonehenge – one of the UK’s most iconic landmarks which dates back to around 3000 BC. Continue on to Salisbury – which is famous for its towering cathedral – before you drive across Cranborne Chase AONB and into Somerset.
Famous for the legendary Glastonbury music festival, the town of Glastonbury is also famous for its eclectic history and legends – it’s even rumoured to be the burial place of none other than King Arthur! Don’t miss a chance to climb up the mighty Glastonbury Tor here, which is the highest vantage point in the region and is topped by the roofless St. Michael’s Tower – a Grade I-listed medieval ruin. To get here will take around two-and-a-half hours or so.
So there you have it – a roundup of 12 of the most scenic drives near London. From the silky sands of Norfolk to the ancient ruined castle of Glastonbury Tor, there are many incredible places not too far from London you can visit with four wheels. So – what are you waiting for? Put your pedal to the metal and let’s go!