Top 10 Roadside Wonders in the U.K. That Anyone Can See
The United Kingdom is on the rise as an adventure travel destination. But that doesn’t mean people who can’t hike have to miss out on its wonders.
“I never thought I’d see this,” Andrew shouted, as the car cut through the Scottish Highlands. “Just based on my physical condition, I never dreamed I could.”
Nearly 2,000 miles into a U.K. road trip, a man who’d had seven surgeries before age 30, a man who walks short distances with a cane and doesn’t walk long distances at all, was watching the wonder of a mountain sunset unfold before him. In all, we’d journey over 3,000 miles in six days in search of this list. “If you can’t walk and you want to see the sights, go to these places,” Andrew said. “Whether you go by car, or scooter or helicopter, just go here.”
These are the top 10 roadside wonders in the U.K. that anyone can see:
1. Yorkshire Dales National Park
Foreign travelers aren’t yet in on the secret of Yorkshire, where thick accents and incredible highways await visitors to the Yorkshire Dales National Park. From the south, the B6255 will carry you through a fairytale landscape featuring picturesque stone walls, immersive gorges and the jaw-dropping Ribblehead Viaduct (pictured below). Continuing north from Ribblehead, the choice is yours to turn west through the lunar-like fells or east towards Bolton Castle.
The views here are truly Tolkien-esque, and like all U.K. National Parks, entry is free. As a bonus, the exit of the Dales is only the beginning of the Lake District, where exceptional housing options are pouring out of the mountainsides.
2. North West Highlands Geopark
The fishing village of Ullapool, Scotland, sits four hours north of Edinburgh on the A835 on the shores of Loch Broom. Ullapool is home to a few pubs, a handful of coffee shops and a UNESCO landmark: the North West Highlands Geopark. Here, an otherworldly ice age landscape is sliced by a ribbon of smooth asphalt that carries adventurous travelers up and through geologic time itself.
Grab a roadside tea in town, watch the fishing boats saunter about the loch, then drive north into the Geopark, where a vantage point labeled “Deep Freeze Mountains” puts you in the panorama of a lifetime — all from the seat of your car. Continue north over the Kylesku Bridge at Caolas Cumhann for the turnaround point of a lifetime.
3. The Isle of Skye
You don’t have to be a hiker to enjoy Scotland’s most famous island. In fact, anyone with a love of landscape can soak in the views here. Multiple services offer guided van tours from the city of Glasgow and Portree. However, the best way to see the island is to drive it for yourself. U.S. drivers licenses do work for rentals in the U.K., so grab a set of wheels and head north.
Make a pit stop along the A830 to see Glenfinnan Viaduct, where the famed train from King’s Cross to Hogwarts crosses, then exit Skye via the Wester Ross Coastal Trail (pictured above) towards more unspoiled highland views and waterfalls in Torridon.
4. Snowdonia National Park
Situated on the Llŷn Peninsula, Snowdonia offers the most dramatic landscape outside of the Scottish Highlands. Its rocky borders take at least four hours to drive to from London, but sit less than two hours from Liverpool. Named for the 3,600-foot Mount Snowdon, Snowdonia offers views of the highest mountains in Wales, and easy access to an all-star route on the A496 along the coast of the Irish Sea. And, like the Welsh red dragon, Snowdonia’s sunset views are the stuff of legends.
5. Hadrian’s Wall
You can almost feel the weight of an empire here. Hadrian’s Wall marked a high point for the Roman Empire, and though it wasn’t the only wall built in the U.K., Hadrian’s Wall has withstood the test of time. Today, travelers of all mobility levels are free to explore the remaining sections of the wall. Birdoswald Roman Fort near Carlisle offers up an easy-to-access parking lot, along with pathways retracing the steps of the ancient garrison. You’ll be able to touch history at the fort, putting your hands on the largest remaining Roman ruin on Earth, and a real-life inspiration for Game of Thrones.
6. Raglan Castle
There’s no shortage of castles in the U.K. Unofficial estimates tally in the 600 to 700 range, depending on your definition of the term. But Raglan Castle, located just off of the A40 in southern Wales, is both one of the most impressive and most accessible. In the 1600s, Raglan was the site of an early steam engine and a siege. Today, it lays in partial ruin, but self-guided audio tours, a dirt-cheap entry fee and easy accessibility to the grounds and courtyard make Raglan a worthy stop on any Welsh adventure.
7. Central London
Home to Big Ben, Parliament, Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace, Central London delivers big bang for the buck. Each of the icons, minus Big Ben, offers wheelchair accessible tours. All are located within walking distance of each other. Though Buckingham Palace is several blocks from London’s other icons, that’s nothing a leisurely stroll through Hyde Park can’t fix. Less famous but equally impressive stops include Admiral Nelson’s arch and the House Guards Parade. Central London’s only downfall is a penchant for large crowds, but that too can be solved if you visit early or late.
Home to a recently opened visitor center, Stonehenge gives travelers of all mobility levels a close-up look at ancient history, where its 25-ton stones measuring over 10 feet high still have the power to awe. An entry fee of £16 gets you access to a museum, and a smooth path making its way through the Wiltshire countryside. While the site itself receives a regular flow of tourist traffic, the local town of Amesbury still has the charm of a quaint, English farm town.
9. Brecon Beacons National Park
Almost within sight of Raglan Castle, the mountainous Brecon Beacons still stand sentinel over the Welsh countryside, providing visitors some of the most scenic vistas and photogenic roads in all of the U.K. You won’t find many amenities here — just pure, scenic countryside and a handful of roadside food trucks. For a driver’s dream, take the A40 into the park, then veer south towards the A4059 for a road so spectacular it’s become a magnet for Ferraris.
10. The River Thames
The River Thames has a dirty secret — a fleet of water taxis that give you sweeping views of the city. Most visitors who purchase an Oyster card at an Underground station don’t realize that the piece of plastic also gives you access to the city’s clipper fleet. Piers near popular destinations include Westminster Pier near Parliament and Big Ben; London Bridge City Pier beside the battleship HMS Belfast and the Shard; and the Tower Millennium pier located within a stone’s throw of the Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. The clippers are one of the best ways to see the city without lifting a leg, and if you’re lucky enough to visit the Tower Millennium pier, you’ll find yourself floating beside the famed Traitor’s Gate, where prisoners were smuggled into the Tower for safe — or unsafe — keeping.