Greetings from the second road trip of the year! We have just spent 9 wonderful days driving through North Wales and England, and after resting for a couple of days (yes, travelling can sometimes be exhausting), I think I’m finally able to put some thoughts and photos together and memorize the route and the highlights of our road trip.
Consider this post as a little appetizer for what’s coming up in the following weeks—where did we go, what did we see, how many miles did we manage to drive and how much did 9 days driving through North Wales and England actually cost—seasoned with some useful tips for renting a car in the UK.
Day 1: A scenic route to Bala in North Wales
The destination of our very first day of driving was Bala, a small town in Snowdonia in North Wales, where we had booked our first bed and breakfast. During this trip we aimed to avoid the main highways as much as possible, as they normally don’t normally offer much views. Just traffic jams.
We hadn’t really planned beforehand where to stop on the way. We decided to go by feel and stop where it looks nice (and whenever we are hungry or need some other services). We couldn’t have made any better decision with our first stop: The city of Gloucester was absolutely stunning with a cathedral that beats up even the Milan Cathedral, Duomo di Milano!
Gloucester Cathedral might be familiar at least among Harry Potter fans; Scenes from three different Harry Potter movies were filmed in this cathedral. But let’s dive deeper into Gloucester a little bit later and continue our road trip.
Before reaching our destination Bala we had quick stops at two castles, Stokesay Castle and Powis Castle, both located nearby the border of England and Wales. Unfortunately we reached the castles a bit too late, and both castles had already closed their gates from new visitors. Well, next time.
Day 2: From the castles of North Wales to the lakes of Northern England
We had to face the first disappointment already on the second day of our road trip. We had hoped for a sunny day as we meant to take over the peak of Snowdon, but the lord of the skies clearly decided to disagree.
On this trip also Daniel’s two kids were travelling with us, so instead of hiking the plan was to drive to Llanberis and catch the train that takes you on top of Snowdon. Well, we did drive to Llanberis, but the whole mountain was covered with thick clouds. Adding the rainy weather and the time and money we would have wasted for seeing absolutely nothing from the top, we decided to skip the train and come up with a back-up plan.
But they day turned out pretty great after all. When driving through Snowdonia National Park we had a little walk in Betws-y-Coed and went to see the two wonderful waterfalls nearby, Conwy Falls and Swallow Falls.
As we skipped the train trip to Snowdon, we had some spare time, so we visited Carenafron Castle, had an emotional drive through the city of Bangor where Daniel was studying some 15 years ago and had a little walk on the wall of Conwy Castle. After Conwy we took the direction towards Lake District National Park where we stayed in the tiny but idyllic village of Hawkshead.
Day 3: Through the lakes and the dales to the historical city of York
On the third day of our road trip we kept avoiding the main roads and concentrated on great views instead. Before leaving the Lake District behind us we had a little exploration in Coniston, Grasmere and Bowness-On-Windermere. After the lakes we headed for York and chose the route that lead us through the bright green Yorkshire Dales.
Snowdonia in Wales, the Lake District in Northern England and Yorkshire Dales National Park—that makes three national parks in three days. Quite an achievement, or what do you think?
Day 4: An efficient tourist day in York and return to Frinton-On-Sea
The city of York has a lot to offer, but I have good news for you; You can manage a lot in only one day in case you have as tight schedule as we did when rushing through England. This charming city is definitely worth visiting when exploring the UK, and when you do, check out this extensive list of things to see and do in historic York.
After our super efficient tourist day in York we took the car and started driving towards the East Coast of England. Our main destination of this whole trip was a lovely small town called Frinton-On-Sea.
Days 5 and 6: Relaxing weekend on the coast: Frinton-On-Sea and Walton-On-The-Naze
You might wonder why on earth our main destination was non-touristy Frinton. Well, the reason for that is very simple; Frinton-On-Sea is home to Daniel’s family and therefore it’s our main destination pretty much every single time we travel to England.
Besides the free accommodation (thanks for our lovely hosts again <3 ) I really enjoy the peaceful East Coast and the presence of the sea. Going back to Frinton always feels like returning home, even if I’ve never even lived there.
A couple of days break from driving was exactly what we—and especially the juniors travelling with us—needed. But no, we didn’t end up being lazy on the couch (all the time)! Instead we had a little exploration in the Nature Reserve, war bunkers and tower of the neighbouring town Walton-On-The-Naze.
Day 7: A day trip to Cambridge
Whenever we get a chance to save a little extra on our travel budget, we’ll take it! So we decided to spend one more night in Frinton and save another hundred quid with accommodation. We didn’t let the car rest, though; On the 7th day of our journey we made a day trip to Cambridge. Luckily we had a local guide also in Cambridge, as Daniel has been living also in this city.
On the way back to Frinton we wanted to have a little peek into one of the most haunted buildings in England, but that’s a whole other story…
Day 8: Hitting the road again: Stonehenge and Salisbury
Fifth time lucky—yes, it took five trips to England until I was finally able to cross Stonehenge from my travel bucket list! Better late than never, right?
Day 9: A walk through Windsor before flying back to Finland
We had more than enough time to walk through Windsor before our late afternoon flight back to Finland. Unfortunately we didn’t have quite enough time to visit the Windsor Castle, but at least we managed to spot the changing of the guard at 11 am. Windsor Castle is actually the oldest and largest occupied castle in the whole world, and it impressed us so much even from the outside that we have already decided to add it on our list for our next trip to England (whenever that will be).
So, 9 days of road tripping in North Wales and England went quite well… but what would a 9-day road trip be like without the one final unfortunate incident, right? Yes, the very last morning, when leaving the hotel car park, we noticed a fairly decent scratch on the side of our rental car. Great!
Nine long days, more than 2 000 driven kilometers, and THE LAST MORNING right before heading back to Heathrow some idiot had scratched our trusted friend without leaving any other sign of himself. *Lots of bad words*
Want to have a guess what was the price the car rental charged from us? As little as 520 pounds for a scratch which for sure was visible, but took probably 10 minutes and 10 pounds to fix. Did our insurance cover any of it? You’ll find the answer below:
Driving through North Wales and England: What should you check when renting a car?
There are things that are obvious when renting a car… and then there are things that seem obvious but are worth double-checking. We rented our car from a company called Green Motion that we found on a car rental comparison website CarTrawler. CarTrawler is a partner for many airlines, including Finnair that we flew with, and that’s also how we found their website. I think we got a good deal on the car (costs specified below), and most importantly, through CarTrawler we also found our insurance.
I can truly recommend our insurance company Axa to anyone who is planning a road trip in the UK or anywhere else. As mentioned above, we found this insurance via CarTrawler when booking the car. At the time of buying the insurance they even warned us that the car rental company will most probably try to make us buy another insurance. ‘Stay firm, say no, you are fully covered’, they mentioned.
And it’s good that we got the warning, as the car rental really tried to sell us another insurance. Way stayed firm. We already were fully covered, according to Axa.
And we sure were. Remember the nasty surprise that was waiting for us on the last morning of our road trip? The scratch that Green Motion charged 520 pounds for? After coming back to Finland we claimed the costs from Axa, and only ONE HOUR after filling out the online form we received a ‘yes’ to our application, and we received every penny back to our bank account in only three weekdays.
We couldn’t believe it! I mean, yes, we were fully covered, but we assumed it would take at least a week or two to claim the money. Well done and thank you Axa, amazing work! You have two very happy customers here!
It was also a great reminder to ditch the ‘nothing will happen’ attitude. ALWAYS make sure you’re fully covered when renting a car. It protects you also against stupid idiots who damage the car when you’re not around!
Another thing that’s good to double-check is the mileage, and in some cases, whether the mileage is actually in miles or kilometers—there’s a big difference between the two. At the time of the booking it might still seem like unlimited mileage is included, and yet it isn’t. This is exactly what happened to us. Thank god we realised to double-check it as we exceeded the mileage limit by 500 miles. That could have ended up expensive!
The final mileage, rental and driving costs listed: What did a 9-day road trip in the UK cost?
Our car was Citroen C4 Cactus (which we felt was like an upgrade to the car we chose and paid for, thank you very much), that luckily enjoyed diesel on every meal. That saved us a little extra whenever fueling. And the car didn’t really eat much, we only had to fuel three times during the whole trip.
As per our experiences, they really don’t have free parking or free sites in the UK, which is good to take into consideration when planning a road trip. For some people it feels weird, for some it doesn’t. For me it does, as I live in a town that has absolutely no parking fees, not even in the town centre.
If you ever manage to find a free parking spot when visiting any city, hold on to that! Always check when booking accommodation whether the b&b has a parking space for you and if yes, does it cost extra. If they do have a parking spot for you, try to benefit from it. For example in York we got to keep our car parked for the whole day even after checking out, which was fantastic, as we were only a few minutes walk away from the city centre. Another few quid saved again!
Car rental, fuel, insurance and parking altogether cost approximately 465 pounds (556 euros) as follows:
Miles driven in 9 days: 1 301 miles / 2 094 km
Car rental for 9 days: 209 pounds / 250 euros
Unlimited mileage: 45 pounds / 54 euros
Diesel: 120 pounds / 143 euros
Parking fees (estimated): 50 pounds / 60 euros
Insurance: 41 pounds / 49 euros and was definitely worth it. The alternative cost for us without an insurance would have been 520 pounds / 621 euros (thanks to some unknown idiot who ran away like a man).
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