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The best New Year road trips to boost your mood in 2024

Take a look at the best road trip routes to start 2024 right

A green BMW M5 driving near fields

With the winter holiday season coming to a close, hitting the road to explore new places can help ease the notorious ‘January blues’.

Travelling can have a positive impact on your mood and overall well-being, helping you change your mindset and alleviate the stress and grind of everyday life.

In fact, simply planning your next trip can work wonders on your mental health, with 97% of travel lovers saying that organising future getaways can boost their energy and spirits.

So, if you want to keep those back-to-work woes at bay, why not map out a road trip aboard your used BMW or VW? Here are some fantastic destinations for your January escape to start the year right. 

North Coast 500, Scotland

The Kylesku Bridge along the NC500 in Scotland

Arguably one of the most scenic routes in the country, the North Coast 500 (NC500) offers a spectacular backdrop as you cruise through quaint towns like Durness, Dornoch and John O’Groats.

Sam Sheehan, our motoring editor, said: “If you’re planning a road trip in Scotland, consider making your way along the famous North Coast 500 (NC500).

“Starting at Inverness Castle and covering more than 500 miles of stunning scenery, the Scottish NC500 is the perfect road trip for anyone hoping to unite historic landmarks, rolling hills and remote fishing villages.

“If you’re hoping for a more action-packed adventure, you won’t be disappointed either. With plenty of windswept beaches and rural pathways en route, there is a chance for travellers to fit in some trekking, mountaineering and even sea kayaking, no matter the time of the year.”

If this Scottish route seems right up your street, don’t forget to pack your camera. With 645,000 posts on Instagram featuring the hashtags #NC500, #NorthCoast500 and #NC500Adventure pinned in the route’s official account (@northcoast500), you’ll definitely have several photo opportunities along the way.

Land of the Lakes, Lake District

Lake Windermere view from Loughrigg Fell

If you’re looking for peace and inspiration, you can’t go wrong with a long ride through the Lake District.

Brimming with picture-postcard villages mostly located on the banks of crystal-clear lakes, this part of the world will no doubt tickle your imagination. In fact, over the years, it has stimulated the minds of poets, writers and children’s authors alike.

Don’t forget to stop in the beautiful town of Windermere, right in the heart of the Lake District National Park, where you can make the most of calming boat tours.

If you’d rather stay on dry land, you can hike along Scafell Pike – England’s highest peak – or hop on a steam train to take in some unforgettable sights from a different point of view.

So, if you’re hoping for a memorable two- or three-day getaway, the Land of the Lakes is a special route all year round.

The Dragon’s Spine, Wales

The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct in Wales

With the coolest name on the list by a country mile, the Dragon’s Spine route is the ideal way to explore Wales’ top attractions from top to bottom.

Sam added: “This road trip comes with a jam-packed itinerary, stretching from the quiet town of Conwy in the north to the busy capital city of Cardiff in the south.

“As you make your way along the A470, you’ll also get the chance to cruise through the national parks of Snowdonia and the Brecon Beacons.

“If you’re not afraid of heights, you could have a go at Europe’s longest zip line, located inside Snowdonia National Park – it’s also the world’s fastest zip line!

“But if speed is not your cup of tea, there are several other stops to fill your agenda with, including medieval castles, green forests and the impressive Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.”

Atlantic Highway, Devon and Cornwall

Aerial shot of St Audries Bay

If you have a soft spot for coastal towns and sandy beaches but would rather not share them with the loud summer crowds, organising a January road trip along the Atlantic Highway could be just the solution for you. This route averages a total of 2,900 monthly searches on Google, suggesting it’s a favourite among car travellers.

The A39, one of the longest roads in south-east England, extends over two counties and connects Bath to Falmouth.

You can take a moment at the beachfront waterfall of St Audries Bay, soak up the Swiss-like views in Lynmouth or go canoeing in Watersmeet’s wild, flowing rivers.

With so many picnic spots along the way and coastal resorts for families, the Atlantic Highway is a great option for drivers with a few passengers at the back. And with relatively mild weather all year round, you won’t have to worry about them catching a cold when touring all the wonderful Devon and Cornish sights.

Causeway Coastal Route, Northern Ireland 

The Giants Causeway in Northern Ireland

The Causeway Coastal Route is a jaw-dropping itinerary steeped in myth and legend.  

From Belfast to Derry and hugging the Atlantic coast, the route is home to some truly incredible sites and landmarks, including the Giant’s Causeway, Dunluce Castle and Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. It’s a popular trip among social media users, with Instagram hashtags such as #causewaycoast and #causewaycoastalroute receiving 138,000 and 74,000 posts, respectively. 

If you’re a fan of the world-famous TV drama ‘Games of Thrones’, you’re bound to recognise some iconic locations en route, such as the haunting trees of the Dark Hedges. 

If you want to sample a piece of history, stop at the Old Bushmills Distillery, the world’s oldest working distillery. Enjoy its 400-year-old whisky and warm up after a chilly day of exploring – but make sure you’re sitting in the passenger seat when you set off again with your fellow travellers. 

Bear in mind that some of the roads of the Causeway Coastal Route are steep and narrow in places, so always keep an eye on your wing mirrors. 

European routes

If you’re looking to escape home soil for a while and enjoy a road trip across Europe, January is a great month to do so.

Whether you’re after some wintery sunshine or chilly excursions through ice and snow, navigating the continent at the start of the year will allow you to beat the crowds and benefit from off-peak car rental deals.

Here are a few panoramic European routes to keep in mind to begin 2024 on a high:

Ring Road, Iceland

A lake view on the Iceland Ring Road route

If you’re craving an adventure like no other, Iceland is no doubt a top-spot choice for a tour packed with breathtaking landscapes.

The Ring Road is an 820-mile loop that covers the entirety of the island, running along majestic waterfalls and iconic natural sites. However, weather conditions in the winter can be extremely harsh, so check the weather forecast before you set off or simply stick to the ‘milder’ southern part of the country.

Icelandic nights tend to be the darkest from November to January, meaning you’re in with a better chance to gaze at the Northern Lights from late afternoon until the next morning.

Alsace Road Trip, France

Alsace in France, known as the Capital of Christmas

Not ready to bid the Christmas season farewell? You can keep your spirits high by crossing the English Channel and driving through the historic region of Alsace in eastern France. With plenty of fairytale-like villages and quirky markets along the way, there’s always lots of magic in the air.

A road trip in Alsace is perfect for those travellers with little holiday time available, as this picturesque region isn’t too vast. It’s also home to the city of Strasbourg, the self-proclaimed French capital of Christmas. If you’re lucky, you might still spot some festive decorations as you admire its striking cathedral and the cobblestone lanes of La Petite France.

Silver Coast route, Portugal

Porto City on the Silver Coast route road trip

If you’re tired of the cold and gloom of British winter, a sunny road trip across Portugal can get the endorphins flowing. The Silver Coast route stretches from Lisbon to Porto, featuring peaceful towns, colourful castles and golden beaches. Don’t forget to stop in the coastal town of Nazaré, where – on stormy January days – you’ll be able to witness fearless surfers facing huge Atlantic waves.

The entire trip lasts about four hours, but with so much to see and enjoy, you can take a few days to visit the area at a leisurely pace. Start your travels in a boutique hotel in Lisbon and celebrate the end of your trip in Porto with a glass of red wine.

Starting afresh in the new year can hit you hard. So why not jump at the wheel and clock up the miles to crunch the January blues?

Whether in the UK or elsewhere in Europe, there are hundreds of appealing itineraries that will help you kick off 2024 with a smile.

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