Autumn adventures - road trips from major airports in Britain

From Britain’s major airports, it’s easy to hop in a hire care and discover a new side of Britain this autumn. With rentals available at all key airports and with striking scenery and the buzz of city life all within easy reach, embarking on a road trip gives you the chance to explore at your own pace.

Taking less than an hour or two to reach by car, these destinations provide ample opportunity to wander through tranquil villages, sample regional delicacies and enjoy a dose of British culture - from the history and heritage of the country’s castles and stately homes, to uncovering miles of memorable walking trails and coastal paths.

Arriving into London Heathrow

The Bridge of Sighs or Hertford bridge at Hertford College, a national landmark, pedestrian covered footbridge over a road in Oxford. Credit to VisitBritain/Jon Attenborough

Situated just west of London, arrivals into Heathrow Airport have a mix of historic towns and lavish countryside within easy reach, as well as good connectivity into the centre of the capital. With its 950-year-old royal fortress – the largest and oldest inhabited castle in the world – Windsor is packed with heritage and is just a short drive from the airport. Alternatively,  journey through the Chiltern Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty on your way to discovering the enchanting architecture and scholarly history of Oxford – home to Britain’s oldest university. Its striking golden stone colleges give the City of Dreaming Spires plenty of charm, while the blend of old and modern buildings will captivate you as you explore its waterways and lush green spaces, which display a striking array of colours during the colder months. Film buffs can even embark on a wizarding journey, as the magic of Warner Bros. Studio Tour London: The Making of Harry Potter is just a short drive from the airport. You can dive into the world of JK Rowling’s famous wizard, as you explore spellbinding sets and marvel at props from the films.

Journey times

  • To get to Oxford via the M40 takes approximately 1 hour from the airport.
  • To Windsor via the M4 takes around 20 minutes.
  • To Watford via the M25 takes an estimated 35 minutes.

Arriving into London Gatwick

Brighton Pier in the evening sunset glow, Brighton, East Sussex, England. Credit to VisitBritain/Ilyas Ayub

Another of London’s key transport hubs, Gatwick provides quick access to both central London and the majestic beauty of England’s south coast. After carving a route through parts of the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, you can explore the quaint shopping streets of The Lanes in Brighton, tuck into fish and chips from one of the many beachside eateries or enjoy the thrills aboard the rides of Brighton Palace Pier. Alternatively, head east along the coast to Eastbourne, where you’ll uncover a delightful mix of Victorian seaside charm, ultramodern galleries and stunning coastal scenery, including the imposing cliffs at Beachy Head.

Journey times

  • The journey into central London from the airport via the M23/A23 takes around 1 hour 30 minutes.
  • To Brighton and the south coast via the M23 and A23 takes approximately 45 minutes.
  • To Eastbourne via the A22 takes around 1 hour 20 minutes.

Arriving into London Stansted

 Historic town houses overlooking the river Wensum, Norwich, Norfolk, East Anglia, England. Credit to VisitBritain/Helen Hotson

Found to the north of London and with a direct route into the capital, arriving into London Stansted means you’re ideally situated for exploring Cambridgeshire and the surrounding countryside. Less than an hour to the north is the university city of Cambridge, a hub of creativity packed with striking architecture, art and antiquities. Park up before punting your way along the River Cam under a flurry of autumn leaves and sampling the delicacies on offer at local institution Fitzbillies, with the bakery celebrating its centenary in 2020. Alternatively, head east from the airport to take in spectacular countryside on the way to the historic hub of Colchester. Once the capital of Roman Britain, delve into the past at Colchester Castle or the town’s Natural History Museum, before getting up close with 220 species of wildlife at Colchester Zoo. If you fancy a slightly longer drive head north east, to discover the medieval cobbled streets of Norwich, its imposing Norman cathedral and the wonders of the North Norfolk coast.

Journey times

  • Driving into Central London via the M11 takes around 1 hour.
  • Heading north to Cambridge via the M11 takes approximately 40 minutes.
  • To Colchester via the A120 and A12 takes around 45 minutes.
  • To Norwich via the A11 takes an estimated 1 hour 35 minutes.

Arriving into Bristol   

Chepstow Castle, Monmouthshire, Wales

Arriving into Bristol provides easy access to the many gems of south-west England. From artworks by Banksy and the Clifton Suspension Bridge, the latter a feat of engineering by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, to the surrounding hills and scenic countryside, there’s something to discover in every direction. Head south to uncover the awe-inspiring scenery of the Mendip Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, home to rocky outcrops and remarkable land formations, including the renowned Cheddar Gorge (currently closed). For those wishing to explore to the north, the spa town of Cheltenham provides a gateway to chocolate box villages and market towns of the Cotswolds, which are especially scenic when viewed against a golden backdrop of autumn leaves. Chock-full of narrow winding lanes, quaint properties and more than 4,000 miles of dry stone walls, as well as an abundance of nature reserves and wildflower meadows, the region boasts a rich agricultural history and harvest in the autumn too, allowing you to get a taste for some of Britain’s culinary traditions and delicious local produce. Alternatively, head west over the River Severn into Wales to explore the former medieval powerhouse of Chepstow, home to the remains of an imposing Norman castle and a wealth of independent shops, alongside walking trails through the beautiful scenery of the Wye Valley.

Journey times

  • Heading to the Mendip Hills and Cheddar Gorge via the A38 takes around 25 minutes.
  • Driving to Chepstow via the M48 takes approximately 45 minutes.
  • Going north to Gloucester, Cheltenham and the Cotswolds via the M5 takes between 1 hour and 1 hour 20 minutes.

Arriving into Manchester

Historic buildings along Liverpool canal. Credit to MarketingLiverpool/Ant Clausen

Manchester provides a gateway to the cultural gems of the north of England, a city brimming with character and reminders of its pivotal role in the Industrial Revolution. With the airport situated just half an hour to the south of the city centre, the wonders housed within the Museum of Science and Industry and the National Football Museum, as well as the splendour of Manchester’s shops and award-winning eateries, are all within easy reach. Head a short distance to the west to delve into Liverpool’s rich musical heritage, wander along its UNESCO World Heritage waterfront or enjoy awe-inspiring views of the city as part of the Royal Liver Building 360 Tour and experience. As the city that gave the world the Beatles, Liverpool has many reminders of the Fab Four, a legacy that is explored at The Beatles Story and the British Music Experience. Alternatively, head slightly to the south west to explore miles of Roman city walls, tiered shopping streets and one of Britain’s most popular zoos in the cultural hotbed of Chester. Some of the region’s most spectacular gems lay to the south east, and you can find yourself at the breathtaking Peak District National Park in around 30 minutes. Nearby, you can also discover the striking Georgian and Victorian architecture of the thermal spa town of Buxton, alongside the delicious puddings that originate in the picturesque town of Bakewell.

Journey times

  • Manchester city centre can be reached by car via the A5103 in around 30 minutes from the airport.
  • To Liverpool via the M62 takes just under 1 hour.
  • To Chester via the M56 takes around 40 minutes.
  • Travelling to the Peak District National Park via the B5358 takes just over 30 minutes

Arriving into Edinburgh

Two large horse head sculptures by a river in Kelpies, Falkirk, Scotland. Credit to VisitBritain/Cliff Williams

While the Scottish capital has an abundance of historic monuments, Michelin-starred food and captivating galleries, it also makes an ideal hub for exploring the surrounding countryside. After wandering the battlements of Edinburgh Castle and sampling a dram at the Scotch Whisky Experience, hop in a hire car to experience the magic of the country’s national parks in autumn, spy some of its rare wildlife and sample local delicacies. Head north-west from Edinburgh for the rich autumnal hues and glistening waters of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, which offer awe-inspiring vistas at every turn. Stop off en route for a dose of Scottish history in the town of Stirling or gaze at engineering achievements in Falkirk, home to the Falkirk Wheel. Alternatively, head north into Perthshire and Fife to sample the region’s incredible golfing pedigree and the medieval spires and Georgian townhouses of Perth, a compact city on the banks of the River Tay. Mixing traditional culture with mesmerising scenery, these cosmopolitan gems have something for everyone.

Journey times

  • Perth is around 50 minutes from Edinburgh Airport via the M90.
  • To Falkirk and Stirling via the M9 takes between 30 and 45 minutes.
  • Loch Lomond can be reached via the M9 in around 1 hour 30 minutes.
13 Oct 2020(last updated)

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