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Driving To Edinburgh From London: 3 Routes To Take

If you need information on driving to Edinburgh from London, you’ve come to the right place. I’ve lived in London for most of my life and Edinburgh is one of my favourite cities to visit in the UK. 

I’ve made the journey by train, I’ve driven it in one day, and I’ve done it as a more leisurely road trip.

From an efficiency perspective, taking the train is the quickest option. But you’re here because you want to use a car.

So, from someone who has taken this route several times, here is everything you need to know. 

Edinburgh Castle

Which Route Should You Take

There are two primary north-south routes in the UK – the M1 and the A1(M). There are pros and cons to both. 

If you are doing the journey over several days it will depend on where you want to stop.

Most of the stopping points on this list are cities that are difficult to park in – try to find accommodation that includes parking. 

Or, if you are just stopping for a few hours check to see if the city has a Park&Ride scheme. The local council runs these and have large car parks on the outskirts of the city with a dedicated shuttle bus to take you to the city centre. 

They are both cheaper and easier to use than trying to find parking. Most cities have more than one Park&Ride site, so check the website first, especially for what time the last shuttle is. 

Not all stately homes and estates on this list are open year-round. It’s common for these types of buildings to close over winter for restoration work. Check their websites first to see when they are open.

Always check traffic before you leave in case you need to change your route due to road closures or major traffic jams. 

M1

The M1 is one of the biggest motorways in the UK and will take you as far as Sheffield before converging with the A1(M).

M1 Pros

  • The services are better – motorway services are larger than A roads with more options for food, drinks, toilets and rest areas than services on the A1(M).
  • More lanes – the M1 has 3 or 4 lanes in each direction so it is easier to get around slow-moving vehicles. 
  • Connections – lots of other major roads connect to the M1, so there are more options for alternative routes if there are major delays on the motorway.
The M1 – not the scenic route!

M1 Cons

  • It’s monotonous and ugly. There is very little in the way of scenery along the M1. You’ll pass by industrial areas such as a massive Amazon warehouse. There isn’t much else to see.
  • Roadworks – the M1 has more upgrade work which can mean long stretches at a reduced speed through areas with workmen.
  • Traffic – sometimes the M1 is clear and easy, at other times you’ll be sitting in traffic for ages.

M1 Stops

These are the best stops to take if you are doing this journey over several days. If your aim is to get to Edinburgh in one day, then you need to make limited stops just for fuel and a break. 

Oxford

Oxford

The UK has many beautiful cities, and Oxford is close to the top of the list. You can see quite a lot in just a few hours, and it is a very walkable city centre. Oxford University is one of the oldest in the world, and many of the lovely buildings in the centre are university buildings. 

Wander around the covered market for souvenirs and snacks. Pop into the free Ashmolean Museum. In addition to paintings and ancient artefacts they have a fantastic sculpture collection, including items from ancient Greece and Rome. 

For another classic Oxford activity, try punting on the river. It’s a lovely city to just walk around. 

Nottingham's Old Market Square with a large open space n front of a large white stone building with columns and a golden dome.
Old Market Square, Nottingham

Nottingham

I studied at the University of Nottingham, so I am a little bit emotionally biased in favour of this city! It’s famous for the legends of Robin Hood, so many of the most popular attractions revolve around that theme – the Robin Hood statue, Nottingham Castle, and the nearby Sherwood Forest. 

Wollaton Hall and Park are also good options – the hall is an Elizabethan building, unusually well-preserved, in the middle of a deer park. 

In the city centre, you’ll find Old Market Square and a variety of independent shops. Nottingham is a good stop for a few hours or overnight, but you don’t need more than that to see the main sights. 

Unfortunately, Hardwick Hall was undergoing restoration, so the view was slightly ruined by scaffolding!

Hardwick Hall

Hardwick Hall is another Elizabethan estate, built by ‘Bess of Hardwick’ in the late 1500s.

Bess of Hardwick was an unusual character in an era when women had little influence and power. Thanks to 4 marriages and a talent for business, she was one of the wealthiest and most powerful women in England by the time of her death. 

The building itself is impressive, well-preserved given its age, with impressive architecture and extensive grounds to explore. In addition to paintings and tapestries, there are also displays dedicated to the Bess’s life.

It was owned by generations of the Dukes of Devonshire, until 1959 when it was given to the National Trust for preservation and public access.

Chatsworth

Chatsworth is a stunning estate and is still the primary seat of the Duke of Devonshire. 

It is one of the most beautiful houses in England and has been used in films on several occasions. If you’ve ever seen the 2005 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice with Keira Knightley, Chatsworth was used as Pemberley.

As it is still used as a home, not all areas of the building are accessible to the public and it is more expensive to visit than Hardwick. But it is also more impressive. The grounds are enormous, and the house is lovely. 

If you are interested in England’s stately homes, Chatsworth is one of the best. 

Small roads in the Peak District

Peak District

I’m a big fan of just driving around random small country roads to see the scenery and villages. The Peak District is perfect for that. Chatsworth is at the eastern end of this region, so if you want to visit one, try to do both. 

If you enjoy hiking, this is a great area for it. It’s around 550sq miles, so you will have plenty of options for trails in the Peak District

A1(M)

The A1(M) is the more scenic route and varies between a two-lane dual carriageway and sections designated as motorways with 3 lanes in each direction. Hence the (M) part of the name. 

If you take the M1 you’ll end up on the A1(M) anyway as the M1 doesn’t go all the way up to Scotland. But that doesn’t mean it’s the best option for the full journey from London. 

A1(M) Pros

Scenic – there are some boring motorway bits but you’ll also get stretches of road where you can see more of the scenery.

Driving Experience – when everything is working efficiently, the A1(M) is a nicer drive. Less stressful, prettier, and roughly the same time as the M1.

A1(M) Cons

Two Lane Sections – Generally I use the M1 as I find this incredibly frustrating. Long sections of the A1(M) are two lanes in each direction. That doesn’t sound too bad in itself, but a lot of large lorries use that route, and they have a tendency to try and overtake each other on uphill sections when the faster lorry is only quicker by 1MPH.

Lorries have a lower speed limit than cars anyway so you frequently have to slow down significantly as a queue of cars forms behind the overtaking lorry until they manage to get back into the left lane. Ten minutes down the road you’ll repeat the process again. If you are more patient than me, this won’t be a major issue for you. 

Services – The services on the A1(M) generally aren’t as good. They may just be a petrol station with very limited facilities. 

Fewer Connections – There aren’t as many major routes connecting to the A1, so if there are road closures or traffic queues you won’t have so many options to get around them. 

A1(M) Stops

Hatfield House

Another stately home, Hatfield House is famous for its connection to Queen Elizabeth I. She was sitting under a tree in the gardens when she was informed that she had become Queen in 1558. 

The house is another beautiful stately home, with many rooms to explore and a variety of paintings to view. It’s not far north of London and very close to the A1(M) so it’s an easy place to stop at the beginning of your journey, however if you do leave London early in the morning it will likely open too late for you. 

Hatfield isn’t open every day so check their website if you are considering this as a stop.

Cambridge

Cambridge

In many ways Cambridge is similar to Oxford, so whether you take the M1 or A1(M), you can spend a bit of time in a lovely university city. 

Like Oxford, Cambridge has lovely university buildings to see in the city centre, punting on the river, a daily market (although outside rather than covered), and free museums. 

Whichever route you take, I would recommend detouring to either Oxford or Cambridge. 

Burghley House

Burghley House (pronounced Burr-lee)

I’ve only been to Burghley once when driving back to London. I got there not long before it closed so had to rush through the house. 

This is the best estate to stop at on the A1(M) route. It also dates back to the Elizabethan era (so many of the best stately homes do). 

There are many ornate rooms to explore, with tapestries, paintings and ornaments to look at. 

Lincoln

In Lincoln, visitors can explore the imposing Lincoln Cathedral and stroll around the medieval Bishop’s Palace. 

Lincoln Castle, with its impressive views from the walls, is a must-see attraction, along with the annual Christmas Market that lights up the historical streets during the festive season.

A1(M) Stops After Being Joined By The M1

York

York is one of the UK’s most historic cities and was an important fortress in Roman Britain. Not much remains from Roman times, but there are still some medieval remains. Walk the medieval city walls and explore the city centre. 

The Shambles is a shopping street with several restored medieval buildings. It is one of the streets in the UK that may have been the inspiration for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter world – so there are a few Harry Potter shops on the street. 

The Shambles. This was the day before the first pandemic lockdown was announced when people were already staying away from normally busy areas.

York Minster is a Gothic cathedral and one of the city’s most famous landmarks. Construction began in the 1220s but the cathedral wasn’t completed until 1472! 

Other attractions include the Jorvik Viking Centre and the York Castle Museum.

Although little remains from the Roman ages, much of the city is still built around very old streets, making the city centre not very car-friendly. 

If you are staying overnight, try and find accommodation that includes parking. If you are just there for a few hours use one of the Park&Ride sites. 

Durham

Durham

Durham is a lovely city in the north of England. It is often overshadowed by Newcastle, which is substantially larger and only slightly further north, but I think Durham is a nicer city to visit. 

One of the main attractions is Durham Cathedral, a magnificent building that dates back to the 11th century. You can also visit Durham Castle, which is part of Durham University and offers guided tours. Take a leisurely walk along the River Wear or explore the independent shops and cafes in the city centre.

Beamish Living Museum

Beamish Living Museum

Slightly north of Durham is Beamish Living Museum. The site is a recreation of farms and towns between the 1900s and 1950s, with characters in traditional costumes. 

It’s quite a large place, but they run traditional buses and trams between different parts of the museum.

If you’ve ever been to Colonial Williamsburg, it’s a similar idea.  

Alnwick Castle

Alnwick (pronounced Ann-ick)

Alnwick is a historic market town in Northumberland. It is known for Alnwick Castle, a stately home that has been the residence of the Duke of Northumberland for over 700 years. Visitors can explore the castle’s rooms and grounds, including a large garden. 

The town itself offers a range of shops, cafes, and restaurants for visitors to enjoy, including one of the UK’s largest second-hand bookshops – Barter Books. 

For a smaller town, it gets lots of visitors, so you may have to drive around a bit to find somewhere to park.

A68 Alternative

If you want a bit more countryside before reaching Edinburgh, take the A68 rather than the A1(M) once you get to Newcastle. It’ll take you through Northumberland National Park, rather than the towns near the Scottish border on the A1. 

Duration

This is largely dependent on where you are starting from in London. If you are in North London then it is roughly 7 hours of driving, whether you choose the M1 or A1(M). If you are starting in south London, add on an extra hour. 

However, that time assumes you won’t hit major traffic, which is always possible whichever route you take. When I drove up in one day it took me about 9 hours on the M1, with traffic and brief stops adding to the journey time.

Start your journey as early as possible to get away from London before traffic starts to build up. 

The Indirect Scenic Route

If you have time to spare and have 3 or more days before you need to get to Edinburgh, take this inefficient but pretty route!

This London to Edinburgh road trip itinerary involves lots of smaller roads, so you’ll need to work out your route as you go depending on traffic and road closures. 

Use Google Maps to get to each area in turn, and then just drive around them to see the prettiest parts of England!

I love UK road trips, and this meandering route is a stunning London to Scotland drive. 

Oxford

As in my M1 route – Oxford is a lovely city to spend some time in. 

Cotswolds

The Cotswolds runs through 6 English counties and is known for its country roads and chocolate box cottages. The slightly odd name comes from the pictures of villages that once appeared on the boxes of Cadbury’s chocolate. 

There are lots of villages that are perfect for wandering around – Bourton-on-the-Water, Castle Combe and Ston on the Wold are some of the most famous. 

You could also pass through two tiny villages that appear on most lists of the UK’s weirdest place names – Upper Slaughter and Lower Slaughter. 

Peak District National Park (and Chatsworth)

Once you’ve finished exploring the Cotswolds, head on north to Chatsworth and the Peak District. You could stop in Birmingham on the way, but personally I’d skip it and head straight up to the peaks. 

Yorkshire Dales

Yorkshire Dales

The Yorkshire Dales National Park is another great area for driving through on small roads with miles of green fields around you. 

There are many walking trails you can take if that’s your thing, as well as caves and waterfalls.

Just make sure you fill up on fuel before you get there. This national park is mostly made up of country roads and a few small villages. There aren’t many places to get petrol if you start to run low. 

I would also avoid this area in the dark – there are lots of narrow roads without any lighting. Plus you won’t be able to see anything which defeats the point!

Lake District

The Lake District is another very pretty part of England. Unsurprisingly there are many lakes in the area, but the most well-known is Windermere – England’s largest lake and one of the inspirations behind Taylor Swift’s song The Lakes.

There are also many mountains in the area, so the Lake District is full of beautiful peaks and valleys, making it a lovely place to explore. In addition to hiking, you can also hire boats on several of the lakes. 

North Pennines AONB

North Pennines Area of Natural Beauty

The North Pennines AONB is known for its rugged terrain and expansive moorlands. The region is home to a variety of wildlife and boasts a rich mining history. Visitors can enjoy scenic drives through the area and explore its numerous walking trails.

Northumberland National Park

This is the same as the A68 alternative provided above – a route to Edinburgh via country roads. 

Gardens at Chatsworth

FAQs

Can you do it in one day?

Yes, but I don’t recommend it. 

I’ve done similar length journeys in the USA and it’s not the same experience. Interstate roads in the USA often have limited traffic away from cities. The M1 and A1(M) are busy the whole way. They require more concentration.

Also, you won’t have time to stop and see anything until you get to Edinburgh. Unless you have to do it in a day, take at least two.

What about using an electric vehicle?

This really depends on the range of your vehicle. The M1 will have more charging points, so if you are taking an EV then the M1 is the better choice. 

I wouldn’t take the scenic route in an EV, or at least not without a lot more planning. 

Are there weather issues in winter?

The M1 and A1(M) aren’t much fun in heavy downpours, but the volume of traffic means that you don’t generally get ice or snow settling on the roads.

If you are taking the scenic route, you do need to be careful. Areas like the Peak District and Lake District have steep roads. They are unlikely to be closed in winter, but if they are icy they won’t be much fun to drive around. 

Conclusion

So, there you go. Three routes, lots of tips and all the facts you need. Take the M1 for a straightforward option, the A1(M) for a bit of scenery, and the scenic option for the national parks and areas of natural beauty. 

If you are driving in the UK for the first time I have an article full of tips for the UK roads.

If you are planning on exploring Scotland, have a look at my one-week itinerary, and my guide to a day in Edinburgh

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