England is a small country, so if you aren’t afraid of driving on the left side of the road, traveling the country by car is an easy and efficient way to make the most out of your visit. Admittedly, the driving takes some getting used to, and the country roads are laughably narrow at times, but it’s really the best way to see some of the off-the-beaten-path destinations that aren’t easily accessed by public transportation. The following itinerary can reasonably be completed in one week and covers many of the highlights in southern England. We took this road trip in the winter, but you could just as easily do it any time of year.
East Dean is a quintessential English village, located a short drive from Belle Tout Lighthouse and the wide array of hiking trails along the stunning Seven Sisters cliffs. If you fly into Gatwick, it’s a quick one-hour drive down to the coast. The village is home to the Tiger Inn, our favorite pub from our adventure through the English countryside.
Where to Stay: Tiger Inn
You don’t need to spend a full day here, but it’s definitely worth a visit. Luckily it’s located directly between East Dean and Bath so it helps break up the three and a half hour drive.
Bath is a small city that punches above its weight. The city is best known for its Roman influence, and the Roman Baths in the city center draw millions of tourists each year. Given how compact the city is, it’s extremely walkable and you can see all of the major attractions in one day. In addition to the incredible history and architecture, Bath is overflowing with excellent pubs and restaurants so finding a good place to grab a pie and a pint is not a challenge.
Where to Stay: Harington’s City Hotel
4. Castle Combe
This was a quick stop on the way from Bath to Thornbury, but it didn’t take long for us to be convinced that Castle Combe is the most beautiful village we’ve ever seen.
This was by far the most luxurious stop on our road trip. Built in the 1500’s, Thornbury Castle has since been converted into a hotel and the result is the perfect blend of medieval character and modern luxury. King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn spent ten days here on their honeymoon tour, so as you can imagine it’s a classy establishment.
*Optional Detour: Wales
Thornbury is so close to the Welsh border that it’s almost a crime not to at least pop in for a quick visit.
Bibury is one of the most picturesque villages in the Cotswolds. We’d rank it just behind Castle Combe, but the view of Arlington Row is as good as it gets.
We only spent a couple of hours in Oxford on our way to Surrey but easily could have spent much more time there. The architecture and history of the city and the university are fascinating. It has a certain Harry Potter feel to it. If you want to walk around the campus grounds, make sure you check the visitor schedule because many of the colleges are closed to the public after 4:00.
You may recognize the village of Shere from the movie The Holiday, and once you go there it’s obvious why it was chosen as a filming location. Set in the rolling hills of Surrey, Shere is more lively than some of its counterparts in the Cotswolds, but every bit as charming. The village is home to a few good eating establishments and is a stone’s throw from several walking and biking trails through the surrounding hills.
Where to Stay: Rookery Nook B&B
If you’ve never been to England, then London should absolutely be on your itinerary. Personally we prefer the more relaxed atmosphere of the countryside, but there’s no denying that London is a world class city with endless opportunities for things to see and do. As you can imagine, you’ll be fighting through crowds of other tourists at iconic sites like Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, and London Bridge, but that’s the price you have to pay to experience such popular tourist attractions. We dropped off our rental car before taking the train to Victoria Station, because driving in London seemed like a nightmare that we wanted no part of. So I suppose this marked the end of the “road trip” portion of the trip.
Where to Stay: St. Ermin’s Hotel
Obviously you can’t see everything in one week, but this itinerary gives you a nice mix of England’s idyllic countryside and historic urban areas. If you have more than a week, it could make sense to extend the route to the southwest and visit Cornwall or possibly farther north to the Peak District or Lake District.