Our AMAZING 4200 KM Self-Drive UK – Ireland Family Trip on Budget

Self-Drive UK - Ireland Family Trip on Budget

Here I am reporting back on our August 2022 adventure in Europe. This time we set off on a great self-drive across the UK and Ireland. I will try to mention the detailed costs of our journey to make it more beneficial.

I will also include some tips I learned in this self-drive UK and Ireland family trip to help others avoid my mistakes. Visiting the UK doesn’t need to be too expensive. You can do it how we did the UK on a budget and create amazing memories.

This post doesn’t include London as it is so amazing and to be fair it requires its own dedicated blog post.

The Giant Dinosaur Egg In Front Of Iceland Keflavik International Airport (KEF)
The Giant Dinosaur Egg In Front Of Iceland Keflavik International Airport (KEF)

Main Visited Cities

  • Oxford
  • Stratford-Upon-Avon
  • Birmingham
  • Leeds
  • York
  • Manchester
  • Glasgow
  • Edinburgh
  • Skye (Full Loop)
  • Belfast
  • Dublin
  • Liverpool
  • Chester
  • Cardiff
  • Windsor
  • London
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Visited Parks

  • Lake District National Park
  • Cave Hill Country Park (Northern Ireland)
  • Snowdonia National Park (Wales)
  • Brecon Beacons National Park (Wales)
  • Wicklow Mountains National Park (Ireland)

Transportations

  • Ferry from Scotland to Northern Ireland
  • Ferry from Dublin, Ireland to Liverpool, England
  • Rental Car for all outside London
  • Public transportation in London

Accommodation

  • Premier Inns (Outside big cities much cheaper and include free parking) except London
  • London we stayed in an Airbnb, 5 min walk from Goodmayes station (30 to 60 minutes ride to London’s main attractions using the subway or train)

Meal

  • We only eat twice a day. Breakfast and dinner so only once in a restaurant
  • Breakfast in hotels or sandwiches we made plus snacks every 1-2 hours 😊 We check the prices online mostly.
  • We used deals when we found them. For example we found a place where we could get 2 12” pizza (buy 1 get 1 free) for 11 GBP
  • We also used Uber Eats twice with the delivery to the hotel

Sim Card

  • I pre-ordered giffgaff and amazingly it arrived within 3 days to my home in Canada! I then created an account online and loaded it with unlimited (Speed cap after 80 GB) data for 25 GBP. It includes 5 GB roaming which worked great in Ireland andIceland.

Arrival Day In London, United Kingdom

Our flight from Iceland was delayed so we arrived later than expected in London. Immigration and customs were less than a minute. Our premier inn was at terminal 4 so we took the train from terminal 2 to terminal 4 and then walked about 7 minutes to our first accommodation. We bought food from Premier Inn and head to bed (Around midnight).

Where to stay close to Heathrow airport in London? Premier Inn at Terminal 4 was our choice. It was walkable from the airport so eliminated the need to take a taxi plus it was very convenient for my trip to London to pick up the rental car.

Instead of doing everything on your own, you can book a guided tour from one of the amazing tour providers on Viator.

Day 1 – Picking Up the Rental Car In London

I rented the car from Budget in London. You might wonder why not at the airport? Well, the price difference for the 17 days rental was over 1,000 GBP between the 2 locations. I preferred the inconvenience of taking the bus and metro to Victoria Station in London to save the 1000 GBP.

Surprisingly, the Budget rental rep at the kiosk was confused and asked if I booked the car over a year ago considering the price which isn’t the case.

Note: I booked the flights and car rental 1.5 months before the departure date.

I had the cheapest economy car booked but as always, they ran out of those, so I ended up with a big SUV (I hate driving those in the tiny European cities) but it was very comfortable for the kids especially.

Total Rental Cost: 367 GBP

I got the car around 11 AM and drove back to the hotel and picked up my family before noon which is the check-out time in all Premier Inns.

Note: If you are a solo traveler, you can always save a lot of money by choosing a hostel on Hostel World. This is also a great way to meet other travelers and share memories with.

We then drove straight to Oxford. Oxford is a very charming city but it was my first stop, so I ended up paying a lot for the pay and display close to the historical center. I then figured the Just Park app that can save a lot of money!

Note: Download Just Park app and then compare the prices using the app and listed parking on Google Map. You might end up walking 5 minutes more but saving 10-20 GBP in parking.

What To Do and See In Oxford, UK For Free

Here is the list of places we visited while walking around Oxford, England. All below places were free. There is an extra fee to tour Bodleian library which we didn’t. We only walked around outside and took amazing photos.

  • Bodleian Library
  • Oxford University Museum of Natural History
  • Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology
  • University of Oxford & Historical Oxford walk
Self-Drive UK

What To See Between Oxford and York

After visiting Oxford, we started our long journey to Leeds and of course I had to see the little charming English towns along the way. I stopped at Stratford-Upon-Avon and took some photos of Shakespeare’s Birthplace.

We then headed to Birmingham and drove around the city and took some pictures with the interesting Library of Birmingham building and around Nottingham before finally making it to Leeds. We stayed at Premier Inn Leeds City Centre.

Day 2 – Visit The Charming City Of York, England

Today we headed to York and visited York Castle Museum (Family £39), Shambles (Free), Walked for an hour on York City Walls (Free), and the National Railway Museum (Free).

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The National Railway Museum was interesting and not too crowded. However, it has a very reasonable size and can be seen in 2 hours unless you need to do lots of reading.

York

Day 3 – Things To Do and See in Manchester, England

We drove to Manchester and visited the Manchester Cathedral, Albert Square, Science and Industry Museum, and Manchester Art Gallery. All these places are free to enter but as with all other free attractions in the UK, donations are appreciated and encouraged.

We also drove around the city randomly and enjoyed seeing it from the comfort of our air-conditioned rental car.

Day 4 – Long Drive From Manchester To Scotland

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This day was a long day due to the drive. The plan was to arrive in Scotland. We drove to Kendal and then to Keswick (through Lake District National Park) with a stop by Brougham Castle. Next stop was Carlisle and a visit to Carlisle Cathedral which is free.

I stopped a lot during this drive whenever there was a photo opportunity in the lake district. We stayed in Premier Inn Glasgow (Motherwell). As our visit to Scotland was during the Fringe Festival, all hotels were super expensive. This hotel was the most reasonably priced Premier Inn with a good distance from Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Stirling Castle.

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We didn’t do much after arriving in the hotel as it was already late and kids were tired.

Day 5 – Glasgow Is Amazing

We drove to Glasgow on our day 5. The visit to Glasgow included below places:

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  • Buchanan Street
  • George Square
  • Doulton Fountain
  • Glasgow Cathedrals
  • Glasgow Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum (Free)
  • The Riverside Museum of Transport and Travel (Free)
  • University of Glasgow (Walk around Free)
  • The Necropolis (Free)
  • Glasgow Cathedral (Free)

We loved Glasgow and returned in the following day just to drive and walk around.

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Day 6 – Things To Do Around Scotland

We headed to Stirling Castle (£47.50 for a family). Parking lot was full, but I got lucky and found a spot by the road just a couple meters from the entrance stairs. After enjoying the castle with its gorgeous views of the valley, we drove to Kelpies and walked around.

Note: I think Kelpies is overrated. There isn’t much here except the horses’ heads of course.

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As I mentioned earlier, we headed to Glasgow in the evening to see more of this charming city.

Day 7 – Oh WOW! Edinburgh Day

I was so much looking for our Edinburgh day but honestly it was a chaos. So many people and crowd everywhere. Yes, it is August and Fringe festival so we expected the crowd but the volume was more than what I could handle mentally.

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We usually don’t like crowds and even though Edinburgh is a very pretty city with lots of things to see, do, and enjoy, it wasn’t our taste. We got drained and even the parking was crazy expensive. 30 GBP for 5 hours close to the Edinburgh Castle.

Anyway, we saw everything we wanted in the city including Dean Village (Free), Princes Street Gardens (Free), Edinburgh Castle (£52.00), Walked Royal Mile (Free) and explore Edinburgh Old Town (Free).

We also enjoyed lots of artists performing all around and my then 7-year-old daughter joined one of them which I am sure will be one of her best memories 😊

Scotland Trip

The only thing I wanted to do but didn’t get the chance was the walk up to Arthur’s Seat for the view. As I said, I got drained mentally and felt so tired to do it.

Day 8 – The Most Epic Day Of The Whole Trip, Skye In a Day

This was an epic day! It is the day I have been waiting for the most. It is the Isle of Skye in one day time! Why crazy? The plan was to go to Skye, see it all, and drive back to Glasgow. In case of feeling too tired I planned to pull over and take a nap which gladly wasn’t required.

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I left the hotel around 4 AM and headed to Isle of Skye in Scotland. Around Sunrise I got the first great waterfall experience (All alone in darkness).

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I then got all the beautiful Skye views with no traffic! My drive was through Glencoe. I then stopped at The Storr and hiked it all the way up to the rock itself, I then headed to the Kilt Rock and Quiraing before driving to Fairy Glen.

I then headed to the Fairy Pools and drove back through Sligachan Old Bridge to Glasgow.

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I think the most impressive sites are all the views around and the hike to the Storr. Fairy pools are okay. Please don’t get me wrong, it is a beautiful scene but not as spectacular as the reviews say (Or maybe I expected more).

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Regardless, it is worth the trip and the hike isn’t long but there are millions of mosquitos and bugs so be prepared (and sprayed).

What did I miss in the Isle of Skye? Neist Point Lighthouse. Well, I wanted to go to the other side of Skye but I was already too tired and it was getting late so I skipped this one.

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I started my drive back to Glasgow around 8 PM and made it back in one piece to Premier Inn at 1 AM. And that’s how to do Skye in less than 24 hours from Glasgow!

Day 9 – Last Day in Scotland

We drove to Edinburgh today, walked around, watched some shows, and visited National Museum of Scotland (Free) before heading back early to the hotel in preparation for our early departure to catch our ferry to Northern Ireland.

I highly recommend the National Museum of Scotland. There are so much to see and learn here plus it was one of the most organized museums we have visited in the UK. I assure you it is more organized than the British Museum in London.

Day 10 – Ferry From Scotland To Northern Ireland

We departed the hotel at 8 AM and drove 2 hours to the ferry terminal in Cairnyan. This was a very smooth P&O Ferry ride which started at 12:00 PM. We arrived in Larne around 2 PM.

We had enough energy so drove straight to the Dark Hedges and walked around for half an hour before driving to the Giant’s Causeway. We just paid for the parking lot in a close by farm field and walked for 2 hours to the top then made a loop back through the shore. We got lucky as it started pouring rain by the time we made it to our car.

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We then headed to our hotel, Premier Inn Belfast City Centre. This was the only premier inn with no free parking. However, there was free parking until 8 AM around the hotel streets which I used.

I woke up around 7 AM and decided to go for a hike alone. It was a very clear sky morning, and the Cave Hill Country Park hike was great. I also got to see Belfast Castle and garden on my return. I retuned to the hotel around 10 AM.

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We did a quick tour of Belfast by visiting St. George’s MarketVictoria Square Shopping Centre, CS Lewis SquareParliament BuildingsUlster Museum (Free), City Hall, and a drive through Falls Road!

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After our Belfast city adventure, around 5 PM we started our drive south to Dublin the capital of Ireland. We arrived in our Premier Inn Dublin Airport before 8 PM and drove around the city at night. We took lots of pictures by the Famine Sculptures, the Custom HouseHa’penny Bridge, and Temple Bar Road.

Day 11 – Things To Do In Dublin & Around

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We visited the National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology (Free), Walked around to Dublin Castle (Didn’t enter), Chester Beatty (Free), and Grafton Street. We then had a lot of extra time so decided to drive to Wicklow Mountains National Park.

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The park has some great views and stop points. The best part are the lakes. We hiked down one of the lakes which was fantastic and spent around 4 hours around the park before heading back to the hotel.

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Day 12 – Ferry From Ireland to Liverpool, UK

Today was the ferry back to the UK day. We left the hotel at 7 AM and took the ferry which headed to Liverpool at 9 AM. This was another P&O Ferry. I booked a 2 bed room here which we shared. The best part of the ferry was the inclusive meals which I didn’t know about.

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We got breakfast, soup for lunch, and dinner. We arrived after a smooth sailing around 5 PM at Liverpool and drove to our hotel, Premier Inn Liverpool (West Debry).

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Day 13 – Drive Around Liverpool, UK

I didn’t have much planned for Liverpool, so we had plenty of time. We visited Liverpool Central Library (Free), World Museum (Free), Mathew StreetPier Head (Free Walk), Royal Albert DockLiverpool Cathedral (Free), and the Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King Liverpool (Free).

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The Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King Liverpool is a uniquely designed cathedral and has its own underground parking. Liverpool is a modern city with its historical charm.

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Day 14 – Drive From Liverpool, England To Cardiff, Wales

This was the longest driving day for the family. We left Liverpool to Chester. Took some photos outside Chester Cathedral and Chester Rows and walked over Chester Gate, Wall, and River.

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We then headed to Conwy and took pictures by the smallest house in Britain which is another overrated attraction which sounded unique. We then drove and took pictures outside Caernarfon Castle before heading to Cardiff through Snowdonia National Park and Brecon Beacons National Park.

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I loved both Wales parks and stopped a lot along the way to take photos and enjoy the scenery. We finally made it at our hotel, Premier Inn Cardiff City South around 9 PM.

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Day 15 – Tour Cardiff and Drive To London

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I didn’t have anything other than driving around Cardiff Bay planned so we drove around the bay and Cardiff city before heading to Clifton Suspension Bridge. We stopped here, crossed the bridge, and took photos. What an impressive bridge.

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We then drove to Bath. Parked the car and walked around the city. This is such a little charming city which was full of tourists. We visited Pulteney Bridge, Bath Abby, and Royal Crescent. I think this was the second most crowded city during out visit. Finally, we made our way for 2 nights in Premier Inn Addlestone.

Day 16 – Hampton Court Palace Day

A very nice palace but 3 hours was enough to see it all in a slow pace. We had extra time so drove to Crystal Palace Park and enjoyed the park (and dinosaurs).

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It was a bit after 6 PM so we decided to make our way to London considering we wouldn’t have had to pay any tolls at this time. There wasn’t any major traffic and driving through all the nice attractions for the fist time was a fantastic experience.

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We kept driving around and took photos with many places including the Tower Bridge and Big Ben. Honestly, after viewing them during the day, I am so glad we did that drive at night as it is way more spectacular.

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Day 17 – London Off The Beaten Track

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This day we visited Windsor Castle (£67.20) and then drove to BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir for a change of cathedral sceneries. This is such a charming place with a free parking and entry. We then drove and walked around Portobello Road Market, and ArcelorMittal Orbit before heading to our London Airbnb.

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We had the car for the following day, day 18 in London which we didn’t use and returned on Day 19 around 10 AM.

Total UK & Ireland Cost Including Flights

In this section I am going to provide the breakdown of our UK trip expenses. All expenses are in $CAD but you can do the math to convert to other currencies.

  • Flights: RT Montreal to London with a multi-day stop-over in Iceland: $2160
  • YUL Airport Parking (4 weeks): $255
  • RT drive Gatineau to Montreal: $50
  • Rental Car (18 days UK): $605
  • Car Parking and Fuel: $1200
  • Premier Inns: $1150
  • Attractions (Including London): $600
  • Meals: $1100
  • Ferries: $720

In total, excluding London Airbnb and transportation, we spent $7,840. If we add London, the total will come up to $9,100 Canadian Dollar ($6700 USD, 6300 Euros, 5,570 GBP).

Conclusion Of Our Trip Around the UK and Ireland

This trip was fantastic. We drove over 4000 KM around and saw a lot. The Brits are some of the nicest folks we dealt with during our traveling experience. Attractions are organized to the best of their ability, but the free ones are very crowded especially in London.

Driving and parking is easy honestly especially if you have a small car. The most challenging drive was through narrow windy Isle of Skye roads but other than that it was a breeze.

Parking is everywhere but it might be pricy. Petrol isn’t cheap and I filled anywhere between 1.65 to 1.95 GBP per Liter (Cheaper now). Our car expense was the highest in the trip even more expensive than all the accommodations and meals.

Was it worth it? Absolutely. Will I do it again? 100%. Considering this was a total of 25 days around the UK and Ireland, the average $364 for 4 of us or $91 per person is a bit more than what I like to spend usually on a vacation.

However, nothing beats the convenience of owning your wheels and driving or stopping whenever anywhere you desire. The idea of no kids and luggage dragging from station to station is enough to encourage having a rental car.

For more travel stories, visit my travel blog here. Stay tuned for the next adventures starting by a London, UK trip report before heading to the wonderful island of ice and fire, Iceland.

If you read till here, Congratulations! You are a great reader. Please let me know if you have any questions.

3 thoughts on “Our AMAZING 4200 KM Self-Drive UK – Ireland Family Trip on Budget

  1. Re: Car rental in UK
    I am a Canadian who lived and worked in UK for 4 yrs. I would not suggest a novice Canuck show up at Heathrow and rent a car and start driving all over England. It’s big adjustment… right side driving and motorway/ city differences. U might add, your advice on that UK driving experience is needed. Otherwise, great pics and advice. All the best . Bob

    1. Hello Bob,

      Thank you for stopping by. I honestly didn’t find it difficult at all. The only challenging part was getting the car out of Central London due to the traffic and taxi drivers. Driving in every other city no matter how busy was easy.

      Thanks for your kind words and Happy Travels,
      Mr. Dreamer

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