Southern England Itinerary | Your Guide To An Epic British Road Trip
Medieval castles, coastal paths with epic sea views, pretty towns and villages, beautiful landscapes, culture and history are just some reasons why you might think about doing a southern England road trip in the near future. The South of England is full of gems that most travellers and even locals have no idea about, but we decided to change that. We set out on this epic 10 day south England road trip itinerary that turned out to be full of magic, colour and quintessentially British culture and we’d like to encourage you to do the same.
I should probably warn you that our road trips tend to be quite full-on, starting early and ending late and this itinerary reflects that so if you fancy something a little more relaxed feel free to change parts and miss out certain destinations altogether. Equally, this southern England road trip can easily be extended to 11 or 12 days. This itinerary is best done in spring, summer or early autumn when days are longer and allow for more sunlight. It is possible to do in the winter but you’ll be pushed for time when trying to get to certain recommenced places for sunset.
We do recommend doing this southern England itinerary as a road trip to allow for the most possible flexibility. Cars can be rented in London and rates are competitive. However, it can also be done by public transportation, a mixture of train and bus but you will have to allocate more time for getting from place to place.
When travelling post-COVID-19 make sure to book your tickets for attractions, gardens and castles in advance. Tickets sales are controlled to limit visitor numbers for safety reasons so make sure you do so in advance.
SOUTHERN ENGLAND ITINERARY
Day One- Oxford, Stratford Upon Avon
Oxford is a university town, rich in history, culture, students and fun things to do. The best way to see Oxford is on foot, exploring and popping into various colleges, cafes and restaurants along the way. Most colleges are open for visitors and for a small fee you can visit some of the most famous such as Christ Church, Magdalen and Trinity College. Make sure not miss the famous Bridge of Sights and while it’s probably not as impressive as the one in Venice, it’s still worth a look. Also, don’t leave without seeing the iconic Radcliffe Camera, a circular Neo-classical building now used as a reading room and the Bodleian Library, one of which was used as a filming location for Harry Potter.
A quintessential part of Oxford and Cambridge student culture, don’t miss punting on the river- floating downriver in specialised rowboats while relaxing with a beverage- the best way to do it. If you get peckish checkout Organic Deli Cafe, for delicious cafe classics like salads, soups, sandwiches and the British jacket potato.
For the full guide check out Oxford in One Day Itinerary
Next, make your way north-west to Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of England’s most famous writer William Shakespeare. A self-guided walking tour is a perfect way to enjoy this city, filled with dozens of spectacular Tudor buildings, historic pubs and buildings notable to Shakespeare’s life. You can also take a boat tour down the River Avon. If you’re a fan of the writer, you can visit the house in which he was born, see his old school and visit his wife’s (Anne Hathaway’s) cottage. Of course, you can also see a play at the Royal Shakespeare Company and enjoy his work in action.
For some incredible Tudor inspired night, stay at Mercure Stratford Upon Avon Shakespeare Hotel or the White Swan Hotel. Both hotels are in listed Tudor buildings and offer beautifully preserved wooden beam architecture and finishings. They are the perfect place to grab a drink in the evening and get a peaceful night’s rest, all while transporting you back to the times of Shakespeare.
Day Two: Cotswolds
On the second day of your southern England road trip, continue south into the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Beauty where rolling green hills are punctuated by delightful little towns of pretty stone cottages, flower-filled gardens and the smallest streets imaginable. The Cotswolds are spread out over quite a large area so, start exploring from the north, making your way south through the day. Enjoy your day driving through and exploring villages like Stow-on-the-Wold, Bourton-on-the-Water and Upper and Lower Slaughter to start. These villages are compact and can be visited fairly quickly if you’re short on time- walk around and admire the hundred-year-old stone cottages and bridges and the calming canals, creeks and waterways.
For more on the Cotswolds make sure not to miss The Prettiest Cotswold Villages | 5 Unmissable Villages You Have To Visit and The Ultimate Cotswold Itinerary for the Perfect Weekend Trip (including Oxford and Bath) for a great Cotswolds itinerary idea.
After lunch, make your way south along the A429, with a quick detour to the popular Cotswolds village of Bibury. Bibury seems to be extremely popular in the morning but in the afternoon tourist buses seem to have died down making it a great time for the perfect Instagram photo. After marvelling over the history and beauty of this village travel south through the larger market towns of Cirencester, Tetbury and finally the stunning village of Castle Combe. Explore the village itself and Manor House nearby too, a beautiful period house with lovely gardens and if you’re feeling peckish, it’s the perfect stop for a traditional English afternoon tea.
Stay the night at Manor House if your budget stretches that far, but if not, don’t worry. I recommend The White Hart, located in the nearby village of Ford, this is a beautiful typical British pub/inn with cosy rooms and a great pub/restaurant downstairs.
Day Three: Bath, Wells, Glastonbury
Bath is one of England’s best-preserved Georgian cities, with beautiful architecture, a history that goes back to the Roman Empire and if you’re a foodie, a great restaurant scene. Central Bath is quite compact and while walking around be sure not to miss Bath Abbey, the Roman Baths, Royal Crescent and Pulteney Bridge. Stay in Bath for lunch and dine at Acorn Kitchen- one of the best veggie restaurants in England or have a traditional bun at Sally Lunn’s.
To make sure you get the most out of Bath be sure to read One Day in Bath | The Perfect London to Bath Day Trip Itinerary
Just 45 mins south west of Bath is Wells, England’s smallest city after the City of London. Wells is famous for its giant Cathedral which is worth a look from the inside and as a filming location for many British TV series through the last few decades. Other unmissable things to see are Vicar’s Close, a delightful alley right by the cathedral, full of stunning period houses, gothic arches and blooming gardens and The Bishop’s Palace, the bishop’s residence which sports a quaint palace building and stunning gardens.
For more details on what to see and where to eat in Wells don’t miss Things To Do in Wells, Somerset, England | A Short Travel Guide
After a few hours in Wells make your way down to nearby Glastonbury. Glastonbury is an ancient English town known for of course it’s music festival but also Arthurian legends, myth and history. Sights to explore in Glastonbury include Glastonbury Tor, a tower-topped hill linked to King Arthur himself, Glastonbury Abbey, an extremely cool ruined monastery from the 7th Century and Chalice Well.
Spend the night in Glastonbury at Brookshill House B&B, for a quintessentially British bed and breakfast experience.
Day Four: Exmoor National Park, Croyde Bay, (Barnstaple), Bude
Leaving Glastonbury early drive south-west, through the pretty Quantock Hills to Exmoor National Park. By zig-zagging your way through the many roads in the park, you’ll barely need to stop to see most of these beautiful rolling green hills and windswept cliffs. I do however recommend a quick stop at Valley of the Rocks, which is one of the best views in the park as well as a quick wander along the South West Coast Path which hugs the coastline giving spectacular views of the rugged, wind-swept cliffs and deep blue water below.
Keep driving until you reach Barnstaple and Croyde Bay, one of England’s most famous surf beaches. Stop briefly in the pretty town of Barnstaple for a quick look and lunch. Lunchbox is one of the only plant-based eateries in the area which provide amazing salad bowls, hot dishes and desserts. They also do great takeaway boxes too. Then, head straight to Croyde Bay to stretch your legs and enjoy the fresh sea breeze. This wide, yellow sand beach is flanked by low, green hills and pretty houses and rather large sand dunes.
End the day in nearby Bude, another small coastal town with gorgeous nearby beaches. Head to Crooklets Beach for sunset if the weather cooperates but if not spend the evening in the cosy Atlantic House from which you can see the beautiful beach and bay.
Day Five: Cornwall- Tintagel, Saint Michael’s Mount, Land’s End, Minack Theatre, Mousehole
From Bude head south through the county of Cornwall to the castle of Tintagel. Not much is left of this medieval castle but ruins but this is believed to be the supposed birthplace of King Arthur himself. The ruins along with the jaw-dropping cliff-top background will have you walking around and exploring for hours.
From here, make your way to Land’s End, the very tip and most south-western point of England. Driving to the Land’s End Landmark Attraction it’s difficult to refuse a photo with the famous sign and a walk around to take in all the marvellous views.
From here it’s a short drive to the Minack Theatre, a one-of-a-kind ancient outdoor theatre, located in the most beautiful cliff-top location. You can just visit and walk around or even catch a play or storytelling time, just make sure you buy your tickets in advance online.
After a good dose of culture head to the nearby sleepy Cornish fishing village of Mousehole. This village was one of my personal highlights of our south England road trip. The best thing about Mousehole is the beautiful sleepy harbour with all the small, coloured fishing boats floating against a backdrop of Cornish stone cottages. Wander the tiny streets, looking into the pretty shops and cafes and have lunch in this quintessentially Cornish village.
Having started the day with a castle it’s time to finish the day with another. For the final stop of the day head to St. Michael’s Mount, a medieval castle, this time, situated on an island just off the shore. The castle itself can be reached by a causeway during low tide and that is the only time it is open. On the island, you can explore the hill-top castle ruins as well as the sub-tropical gardens located around it. At Golden hour with the sun going down this is the perfect place to admire it from. If you do end up here at high tide and can’t cross, it’s still a pleasure looking at it from the shore. Before your visit make sure to visit their website for tide times and opening hours.
Make your way back to Penzance and stay the night at the stylish and unique Artist Residence Cornwall, original and unique rooms from the 17th Century designed and decorated by local British artists. Each room has it’s own bespoke, hand-crafted, rustic style that’s a pleasure to relax in after a long day of exploring.
Day Six: Lizard Point, Pendennis Castle, Dartmoor National Park, Exeter
After a delicious, early breakfast it’s time to see more of what this southern English itinerary can offer. Follow the coast eastwards to Lizard Point which provides the perfect opportunity to stop and feast the eyes on these spectacular coastal views. Lizard Point is the most southerly point in this whole area and on this southern England road trip named the Lizard Heritage Coast but don’t worry there aren’t any actual lizards here. Take a short walk along the coastal path and enjoy the cool breeze and shimmering water below before driving on.
Further up the coast just outside the historical Cornish harbour town of Falmouth, you’ll find Pendennis Castle, a huge coastal castle built by Henry VIII in the 16th Century. This circular castle stands tall amid beautiful, green-grey picturesque scenery of the British coast. After visiting the castle don’t forget to walk around the extensive grounds to find the best viewpoints in the area. Remember that if you are travelling now, post-COVID-19 you’ll have to book your ticket online in advance.
From Pendennis Castle, leave the southern England coastline and begin the two-hour drive to Dartmoor National Park, one of Devon’s gems. This untamed, natural park is full of wild moorland of forests, rivers and tors as well as free-roaming ponies. It’s dotted with villages, stone circles and farmhouses, some of which are abandoned adding an eerily atmosphere to the whole landscape. While you may not have too much time to explore the park fully, I highly recommend exploring by road and following a few paths to epic viewpoints.
End the day in Exeter, and ancient city with an impressive Gothic cathedral and typically British city centre. Take a walk through the old centre admiring the old pub buildings, riverside walkways and make sure not to miss Gandy Street, one of the most beautiful, cobblestone streets in the city.
If you’re in Exeter and ready to eat before 6 pm then make sure to have dinner at the Vegbox Cafe a delightful veggie cafe which creates the most amazing Buddha bowls- some of them are completely plant-based too. If not head to the chain Pho for some quality Vietnamese food in this part of the UK.
England has so many types of accommodation and you have a real chance to experience it all during this southern England road trip. For a chance to sleep in an authentic British townhouse, book yourself a room at Townhouse Exeter. This centrally located B&B provides you with everything you might need for a great, comfortable stay in style right in the heart of the city. They also have free parking on the premises and a wonderful breakfast.
Day Seven: Beer, Seaton Down, Lyme Regis, Durdle Door, Lulworth Cove
Leaving Exeter this morning head back down to the beautiful south coast of England, this time to the Jurassic Coast, as this part is known. This UNESCO World Heritage Site part of England’s south coast is one of the most popular places in Britain, but also contains some of the most important archaeological finds in British history. While you can walk the 96 miles of this incredible coastline I don’t recommend you try this today. Instead drive to Seaton Down from which you can walk over to Beer, a delightful little fishing village located in the most beautiful part of the coast. From Beer, you can also head down the Coastal Path to the Hooken Cliffs viewpoint for a better view of the coast.
Back in the car, drive to nearby Lyme Regis, another gorgeous little seaside town famous for its stone cottages, beach and seafood. If you feel like it, it’s possible to walk a little more of the Coastal Path from here too. On a bright, sunny day the views are absolutely stunning.
Stop in Lyme Regis for lunch at the Tierra Kitchen which does some of the best healthy veggie-pack meals around- make sure not to miss it.
From Lyme Regis, drive to West Lulworth and spend the afternoon ogling at some of England’s most well-known sea cliff formations. Park in West Lulworth and head to first, Durdle Door and then Lulworth Cove. The two are close to each other and make a great walk to stretch the legs. Durdle Door is an iconic part of the cliff made from the limestone, which, given time and erosion has left a wonderful natural arch. The best viewing point for the arch is after Man O’War Beach and Durdle Door itself. Lulworth Cove is a short walk away, a perfect beach cove sheltered by surrounding limestone cliffs. It’s a true beauty when compared with all the natural spots in England and this part of the coast is a definite must-see. I highly recommend staying for sunset in the cove as the golden light in this scenery is absolutely stunning. A perfect end to the day on this southern England road trip.
Day Eight: Portsmouth, Arundel, Brighton
From Lulworth continue your drive eastwards to Portsmouth, England’s harbour and naval city. Spend the morning learning about British naval history at the Historic Dockyard where you can see the HMS Victory, Mary Rose Museum and the HMS Warrior. The old Quays are littered with shipyards and docks unique to this city and make great exploring.
From Portsmouth it’s only a short drive to one of England’s best castles Arundel– it isn’t a southern England road trip without a stop here. Established in 1067 it was first the seat of the Earl of Arundel and for the last 400 years, the Duke of Norfolk. It’s exactly what you imagine a real-life castle to look like with large windows, spires and lookout towers that’ll have you wondering if there is a princess locked inside. If you had once wanted to be a princess or knight as a child, this is the place to realise those childhood fantasies. If there’s one castle not to miss on this south England road trip, it’s this one.
Spend the afternoon in the nearby south coast city of Brighton, taking in the true English seaside resort feel. Don’t miss the Brighton Pier and all its vintage arcades and the childhood nostalgia that comes with it as well as the famous Brighton Pavillon. Window shop in the North Laines, and sip some of the best coffee around in one of the many chic cafes and hangouts.
For some of the best accommodation options right on the seafront head to Snooze, a quirky pop culture styled B&B for the most unique sleeping experience or The Twenty One, for all the avant-garde feels, Winston Churchill would feel at home in.
Day Nine: Brighton, Beachy Head, Rye
Leave Brighton early to avoid the traffic and head east along the coastal road toward Eastbourne. The next destination on this southern England itinerary is to see the most famous cliffs in England, the Seven Sisters Cliffs and the iconic lighthouse. Arriving at Beachy Head, Britain’s tallest sea cliff, take a look at the stunning and steep Seven Sisters Cliffs and their chalk shining in the sunlight. It’s possible to walk along the tops of the cliffs and at times descend down to the beach for a different perspective. If you’re after the perfect photo I recommend finding the nearby ‘Coastguard Cottages’ pin on Google Maps; a shot with cute English cottages in the foreground with the towering cliffs behind.
Making your way back to Beachy Head don’t forget to check out the lighthouse. The lighthouse itself is located on a tiny rocky outcrop and inaccessible from the mainland, at high tide at least, it still makes for the perfect photo opportunity.
Continue on your southern England road trip eastwards in the afternoon past Eastbourne and Hastings to the pretty village of Rye. Spend the rest of the afternoon here discovering the pretty streets and miniature, Tudor-esque stone cottages as well as Rye Castle and it’s museum, the church and Lamb House, the former Georgian home of Henry James. You can go for a little drive around Rye Harbour, however, I really just recommend exploring this stunning village on foot and it’s extremely photogenic buildings and corners. Relax and have a pint of local ale in a traditional English pub and if you eat it, I’ve heard the fish and chips here is as good as it gets.
For a touch of Old English glamour stay the night at Jeakes House, a beautiful brick house with beautiful traditional interiors where you’ll no doubt feel like Jane Austen herself.
Day ten: Rye, White Cliffs of Dover, Canterbury
For the last day of this southern England road trip, it’s time to take it a little easy with a slow morning and drive to the White Cliffs of Dover. Park at the National Trust Car Park, closest to the town of Dover itself and set off along the coastal path across the tops of the cliffs themselves. If you can manage it, walking all the way to the South Foreland Lighthouse and back is a great way to get in your daily exercise with an added bonus of incredible views.
From Dover, it’s a short drive to the historical town of Canterbury, the home of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Canterbury’s Cathedral is the main highlight here, one of the best examples of Gothic Architecture in Northern Europe. I highly recommend taking a look from the outside and from the inside too. Don’t miss the cute houses around the cathedral and around the main Buttermarket square and High Street.
Toast the end of your trip at the Pound, a jail turned bar for a unique experience and much-needed rest before heading back to London.
Do you have any questions or comments about this southern England road trip itinerary? Leave them below, I’d love to hear from you.
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