Driving from London to Manchester should take you less than four hours, from city centre to city centre. It’s a distance of roughly 200 miles (320kms), varying a little depending which route you take, but almost all of the drive is on motorways. The shortest route is by leaving London on the M1, exiting onto the M6 near Rugby, and then staying on the M6 till you see the exit signs for Manchester.
Manchester Town Hall, Photo (c) Donna Dailey
Manchester is a big city, surrounded by motorways which get very busy at peak times, so you need to be comfortable driving in city traffic if you’re going to drive from London to Manchester.
We would recommend an alternate route to avoid the M6, which in our experience always has traffic jams somewhere along the way. A much prettier route which is about the same distance (though it takes a little longer as it's on slower roads) is to stay on the M1 all the way to Chesterfield. Exit at Junction 29 and make your way through the Peak District National Park. It’s a beautiful drive, and won’t take you that much longer than if you stayed on the motorway the whole way.
If you only plan to visit Manchester from London then going by train is the best option. However, if you want to do some exploring along the way then renting a car is a great idea. If you’re not too worried about the time it takes you to drive to Manchester from London, then you can choose between several scenic routes, including the Peak District National Park mentioned above.
You could also drive via Oxford and the Cotswolds before heading north. If you have time, then after visiting Manchester you could explore the rural areas of Lancashire, or go to either the Yorkshire Dales National Park or the Lake District National Park
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