There’s no better time to dust off your satnav (or road atlas), plot a winding route and head for some of the most beautiful scenery the British Isles has to offer.
And, with so much to explore right on your doorstep, it might be wise to pack an overnight bag, in case you decide to make a last-minute stop at a pub or hotel en route and turn a one-day drive into a two-day adventure.
Whether it’s novelty or history that you are after, here are 10 of the best British drives for 2021 that we have picked out to give you inspiration.
1. Isle of Arran Coastal Road, Scotland
Best for: Escapists.
Why do it? It’s like Scotland in miniature, with a hint of the Med.
What to expect: This leisurely 56-mile drive around the circular coastal route offers craggy highlands to the north, rolling lowlands to the south, with ever-changing sea views all the way. Arran is a bewitching island, full of mystery, history, remote hidden glens and charming coves. On a sunny day, its sublime light and cottages tumbling down to the shore conjure a hint of the Mediterranean. When it’s stormy, brooding clouds lend extra majesty to heather-covered hills, while racing waves heighten the dramatic sense of other-worldliness.
The route: Start where the 45-minute ferry from Ardrossan on the mainland drops you, at Brodick, then drive anti-clockwise starting on the level, winding coastal route. Half-an-hour of driving brings you to remote, beautiful Lochranza Castle sitting serenely on a promontory and silhouetted against the waves. Now plunge south, enjoying breathtaking views to the Mull of Kintyre before the A841 snakes around to the wide beaches of the south – and back to Brodick.
Top tip: Don’t feel obliged to stick to the coastal route; there are soaring, deserted mountain roads, too, if you head inland – so make time for both.
More information: visitarran.com
2. Hardknott Pass, the Lake District
Best for: Confident drivers with a head for heights.
Why do it? To test your driving skills with hills and hairpin bends.
What to expect: Prominent warning signs at the entry to this famously challenging and lofty road between Eskdale (to the west) and Wrynose Pass (to the east) say it all: “Extreme caution”; “Narrow route”; “Severe bends”; “Gradient 1 in 3”. Who could resist a challenge like that?
The route: Start at Little Langdale and warm up your motoring skills on twisting Wrynose Pass; you’ll know you’ve reached even tougher Hardknott Pass when you see those signs. Then you begin to climb in earnest, via a network of hairpin bends. Now and again, you will feel the urge to pull into a handy lay-by to catch your breath – and capture the heady views on your camera. Eventually you will reach the final, daunting descent – a test of driver, machine and brakes.
Top tip: Rain, fog and gradients (not to mention ice and snow in winter) can make conditions dangerous, so this drive is best tackled on a clear day. When you reach the end, you can turn round and do it all again, the other way – just for fun.
More information: golakes.co.uk
3. The Sussex, Hampshire and Wiltshire circuit
Best for: Motor racing enthusiasts.
Why do it? For vintage motorsport – and vintage wine at the end.
What to expect: Offering sublime views of the English countryside, this 120-mile romp offers glimpses of the coast, the chalky, hilly edges of the Downs, the vast, historic plains of Wiltshire, the pretty southern edge of the Cotswolds – and the chance to visit three famous racing circuits.
The route: The pretty West Sussex harbour town of Bosham is your starting point, before pushing north to Goodwood Motor Circuit then pick up the A286 west, past old-world Midhurst, then on to the A272 via Petersfield to the meadows of cathedral city Winchester.
Now follow the winding B3049 to Stockbridge, then the A3057 to the A3023 past Thruxton Motorsport Centre, followed by the A345 past enchanting Avebury. Next, join the A4/A420/B4039, following signs for the other-worldly charms of Castle Combe, the village immortalised in the film Doctor Dolittle, and the historic racing circuit of the same name.
Top tip: The route is best enjoyed in two stages with a night in Winchester. Stay at the original Hotel du Vin & Bistro, an elegant Georgian red-brick in the heart of the city. Rooms from £108; read our expert review.
4. Wild and coastal Devon
Best for: Bend-loving motorcyclists.
Why do it? To take in the best of coast and countryside, breaking your journey with a sumptuous hotel stay.
What to expect: A combination of sheltered coastal bays, craggy cliffs leading down to the sea and wild, remote Dartmoor defines this diverting 120-mile trip. Meander past picturesque piers, historic harbours and rows of colourful beach huts with the tang of the sea in your nostrils, then feel the wind in your face as you speed across the empty moors.
The route: The quaint, buzzy quayside town of Topsham is the perfect launch pad for your trip, initially along the A379, dipping and climbing through Dawlish with its sandy beach, Teignmouth with its spires and towers, unspoilt Shaldon village and grand Torquay, before this beguiling road speeds you towards Paignton.
Kingswear Lower Ferry carries you to Dartmouth, with its dazzling harbour views. Then the A379 delivers its biggest punch of all as it climbs and narrows, offering dizzying vistas across Blackpool Sands and then Slapton Sands.
It’s at Torcross that you turn left for Start Point and its lighthouse, the southernmost point on this drive, before heading back into Dartmoor where – after a night’s rest – you can enjoy long views across the moors from the B3212 as you swoop, cross-country, to Moretonhampstead.
Top tip: Some of the minor roads on Dartmoor make it slow-going, so break your trip with a night at the quirky but sumptuous Glazebrook House, in South Brent, on the southern edge of Dartmoor National Park. The theme is 19th-century collector’s house meets Alice in Wonderland, and the food is exquisite. Rooms from £212; read our expert review.
More information: visitdevon.co.uk
5. Jurassic Dorset
Best for: Open-top motoring fans.
Why do it? For unforgettable views of Lulworth Cove and the famed Osmington White Horse.
What to expect: A combination of dramatic coastline, sleepy inland villages, rolling hills and – if you time it right – deserted roads makes this drive a classic to savour.
The route: Start at the handsome seaside town of Swanage, then head north on the A351 past famous, ruined, Corfe Castle, then the pretty quay at Wareham. Drive past the Tank Museum on the A352, then take in the beauty of crescent-shaped Lulworth Cove along the B3071 before rejoining the swooping A352 and dropping down through Osmington on the A353 to view the striking 323ft White Horse, carved into the hillside in 1808.
The B3157 takes you past famous Abbotsbury Swannery. Stay on the B3157/B3162 to the Furleigh wine estate, at Salway Ash, then the pretty A3066 through Beaminster, followed by the B3163 to the idyllic village of Evershot, with its traditional village shop, bakery, school and beautiful church of St Osmund’s.
Top tip: To make this a thrilling two-day “zigzag” tour, and to relish coastal sights en route, stay overnight at Moonfleet Manor – set on a lagoon beach in the village of Fleet, near Weymouth. Rooms from £199 per night; read our expert review.
More information: visit-dorset.com
6. Timeless Norfolk
Best for: Grand tourers.
Why do it? For long coastal views – and longer sandy beaches.
What to expect: This 100-mile route takes you through classic touring country, along a web of near-deserted, gently undulating single-carriageway roads that wind between fields, past churches and cottages, and through tranquil villages and along the stunning North Norfolk coast.
The route: Start in Norwich for a dash of cathedral culture and history, before hitting the road to Salhouse for a view of the Broads, then wind your way back to the faster A140, heading north to the dazzling coast.
Turn left at fetching Cromer with its famous pier, then make your way – at leisure – along the coast road via gems such as Cley Next The Sea, Blakeney with its gorgeous harbour, Wells-next-the-Sea with its beach huts, then park at Holkham National Nature Reserve for a stroll along the beach. Push on past Titchwell to Hunstanton with its cliffs and lighthouse, and yet more stunning beaches.
Top tip: Pack a satnav or a good road atlas and if you encounter busy coastal stretches, wander off the beaten track and zigzag inland.
More information: visitnorwich.co.uk
7. Mellow Cotswolds
Best for: Sports car fans.
Why do it? To travel back in time as you pass through perfectly preserved English villages.
What to expect: This 80-mile exploration packs in fabulous bends, far-reaching views and forgotten back roads that let you believe you are the only tourist in the Cotswolds.
The route: Start in Chipping Campden, “the most perfect high street in England” and follow Park Road/Cotswold Way to Willersey, then signs to nearby Broadway with its elegant shop frontages. Follow signs to Broadway Tower and its stupefying views over 16 counties, before heading to captivating, signposted Snowshill Manor, then the A44 to handsome Moreton-in-Marsh.
Take the A429 via Stow in the Wold, following signs to the “Slaughters”, arriving first at picturesque Lower Slaughter then Upper Slaughter.
Rejoin the A429 for Bourton-on-the-Water then Northleach and along aptly-named All Alone Lane, towards the backwater villages of Ablington then magical Bibury. Continue along the B4425 to Cirencester before following the fast, straight A419, turning left to Minchinhampton to enjoy views over ancient Minchinhampton Common then Rodborough Common.
Follow Rodborough Hill to Stroud, then the A46/B4070 to Slad and Laurie Lee’s favourite pub, the Woolpack, the spiritual home of the Cotswolds.
Top tip: Don’t be afraid to vary your route, relying on sat-nav to hop from village to village. It’s part of the fun.
More information: cotswolds.com
8. Northern Ireland’s most beautiful road
Best for: Novelty seekers.
Why do it? To see geological wonders, including the Giant’s Causeway.
What to expect: This 130-mile route offers pure driving pleasure as it follows the rugged contours of the Northern Ireland coast beneath overhanging cliffs and past craggy rocks jutting into the sea.
The route: Head north from Belfast, swiftly reaching rolling green countryside as the M2/A2 kiss the coast and the Causeway Coast Route, past Carrickfergus Castle and Glenarm where the landscape becomes increasingly wild, with long sea views to your right, dramatic hills to the left.
After windy, isolated Garron Point turn left, climbing steeply into remote Glenariff Forest Park, which feels like Alpine Switzerland. Trace the B14 past mighty Tievebulliagh mountain, tumble into the pretty towns of Cushendall and Cushendun, following the signs to rugged Torr Head.
Descend to isolated Torr Head itself for views to Scotland before following signs through Ballycastle, Bushmills, then along the A2 to romantic, ruined Dunluce Castle on the North Antrim coast. Spectacular though it is, it’s a mere curtain-raiser for the amply signposted and mind-blowing Giant’s Causeway nearby.
Top tip: Mainlanders can fly to Belfast and hire a car at the airport. Spin out your 120-mile trip by staying overnight at the characterful Bushmills Inn, a seven-minute drive from the Giant’s Causeway. Rooms from £130; read our expert review.
More information: ireland.com
9. Wild Snowdonia, Wales
Best for: The stout of heart and leg.
Why do it? For epic views of Mount Snowdon – and a night at a tranquil riverside hotel.
What to expect: This 70-mile route has mountains, moors, coastline, pretty villages, steam trains, waterfalls, steep climbs and descents, plus the chance to climb Snowdon on foot if you’re up to it.
The route: Magical Portmeirion, a fantasy village “born” in 1925, makes the perfect starting point before heading through pretty Porthmadog and Tremadog, then taking the A498 and winding B4410 through Rhyd.
Turn left on to the A487 by the Oakeley Arms and left again onto the A496 to Ffestiniog, turning left onto the B4391/B4407. The landscape becomes more rugged and isolated as you climb from the village, but softens towards Betws-y-Coed on the A5. Pause on the A4086 for photographs of 3,560ft Mount Snowdon in the distance next to the waters of Llynnau Mymbyr and from the Pass of Llanberis; the views are heart-stopping.
Whizz past – or, better still, climb – Mount Snowdon before a 20-minute drive to macho, muscle-bound Caernarvon Castle, standing defiantly at the mouth of the Seiont River.
Top tip: If you want to climb Snowdon, break your journey at Betws-y-Coed first, perhaps staying at Craig-y-Dderwen Riverside Hotel (01690 710293; snowdoniahotel.com), set in 16 acres of gardens on the banks of the River Conwy; rooms from £140.
More information: visitwales.com
10. The Peak District
Best for: History lovers.
Why do it? For an educational tour of stately homes, a gracious spa town and feats of Victorian engineering.
What to expect: The route encompasses 60 or so miles of exciting views, challenging bends, steep climbs and heartbeat-raising descents, with lots of opportunities to learn about historic buildings, bridges and viaducts along the way.
The route: Start at Holmfirth – to the north of the Peak District – then follow the A6024 as it soars over Holme Moss to plunge down towards Woodhead Reservoir on the A6024, right on to the A628 then left on to the B6105 to Glossop. Whizz high above Torside Reservoir then, at Glossop, take the A57 to tackle aptly named and thrilling Snake Pass.
Turn right on to the A6013 to Bamford, then take the A6187 via Hathersage and The Dale to wild beauty spot Stanage Edge. Follow the B6521 to Grindleford, then the A625/A623 past fetching Baslow, following the signs to Chatsworth House, the “palace of the Peaks”, then to secluded medieval Haddon Hall along the B6012 and A6.
Continue through Bakewell, turn right on the A6020 then left to Ashford-in-the-Water to admire ancient Sheepwash Bridge, where lambs were put in a pen on one side of the river and ewes were washed as they swam across to them. Take the B6465 and meander to Monsal Head to view distant Headstone Viaduct, then take your time along the B6465/A623, dropping down via Dove Holes and following the signs to the gracious spa town of Buxton.
Top tip: Don’t go too fast on Snake Pass, where there are speed traps.
More information: visitpeakdistrict.com