Christmas travel getaway in numbers

Traffic Image copyright Gareth Fuller
Image caption Millions of drivers will hit the roads during the festive period

About 14 million journeys of at least 20 miles will be made on Friday 18 December as people going on holiday mix with shoppers and commuter traffic, according to the AA.

The figure, from a survey of its members, represents a rise of about three million journeys on the Friday before Christmas last year.

Hundreds of rail services are also set to be disrupted by engineering work between Christmas and New Year; Thousands of people will also take to the sky on flights to visit family and friends.

However you choose to travel, you might encounter traffic or delays. So which is the best way to get to family and friends and when are the worst times to make the journey?

Hitting the road?

Chris Rea might have sung fondly of driving home for Christmas but for most families it is a necessary evil.

Highways England is promising to lift almost 400 miles of roadworks by 06:00 GMT on 23 December, which it says will leave 98% of the motorway and major road network clear. However 43 sets of roadworks will remain in place for safety reasons.

According to the AA, which surveyed its members, about 6.7 million journeys of 20 miles or more are expected be made on Christmas Day.

But the survey reveals the busiest day of the festive period is expected to be 18 December, when schools break up for the holidays.


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Spokesman Gavin Hill-Smith said: "It will be a combination of parents picking the children up from school and heading away, people going Christmas shopping and, of course, the normal commuting traffic.

"It's also advisable to try to avoid driving near town and city centres or out of town shopping centres on the Saturday as that is shaping up to be a very busy day."

The AA survey revealed 45% of its members were planning to travel at least 20 miles on the Friday before Christmas, with another 41% on the Saturday, 19 December. Things then quieten down towards 25 December.

Driving home for Christmas

14 million

cars will travel at least 20 miles on the last Friday before Christmas

  • 400 miles of roadworks lifted by 23 December, but 43 sets stay in place

  • 17.5 miles of work will not be lifted on the M3 near Farnborough

  • 50mph speed limits will be in force on the M1 near Luton and Leicester and on the M25 near Aveley

  • 5 miles of work on the M6 near Lancaster will also not be lifted

Getty Images
Image caption Millions of drivers will be on the roads on 18 December

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Travelling by rail?

Travellers are being warned to expect delays and cancellations on the UK's railways between Christmas Eve and 3 January.

There are 221 warnings of disruption as 20,000 Network Rail workers carry out 500 separate pieces of engineering across 7,500 sites. The disruption includes the complete closure of the West Coast Main Line between Stafford and Crewe on 27 and 28 December.

Network Rail has warned passengers to plan ahead.

The largest number of warnings are for Sunday, 3 January - just as many people prepare to return to work. The National Rail Enquiries website gives 43 individual alerts. However, Network Rail says the majority of its work will be carried out during 25 and 26 December, when fewer trains run anyway.

A spokesman said: "Some of these improvement works... will ultimately deliver more trains, more frequent services, and quicker journeys.

"We are grateful to [passengers] for their understanding while we work to keep disruption to a minimum.

Christmas rail disruption

Engineering work on major routes

2.2 million

people are expected to use trains between Christmas and New Year

  • 500 separate pieces of rail engineering work between Christmas and 3 January

  • 20,000 workers will be on the railways when services are stopped or quieter than usual

  • 95% of journeys will be unaffected, Network Rail has said

Image copyright Network Rail

Heading on to the railways? Check BBC travel for latest incidents

Taking flight?

About five million people flew abroad for Christmas from UK airports last year.

Heathrow Airport said 106,000 passengers will arrive at and depart from its terminals on Christmas Day. But it expects Saturday to be the busiest day as 219,000 people take to the skies from the UK's biggest airport.

Almost two thirds of passengers travel to see family and friends, nearly double the percentage for the rest of the year. The most popular destinations according to flights booked are New York, Dubai, Dublin, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Doha, Madrid, Amsterdam, Paris and Delhi.

Christmas abroad

Airports expect to be busy with passengers visiting family


people went abroad in the week before Christmas last year

  • 1,543,218 going to/from Heathrow from 19 to 25 December

  • 20,775 Heathrow passengers will be flying 1pm to 3pm Christmas Day

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Millions will fly away

'Panic Saturday'

Town centres are likely to be at their busiest on 19 December, which retailers have dubbed "Panic Saturday" because of people heading to the shops, including those who may fear new online orders will not arrive in time.

Jane Bagnall, of discounts website Voucher Codes, said there was a very specific time they expected shops to be at their busiest.

"Peak times on Panic Saturday will be 2.05pm," she said. "Drivers will struggle with traffic. There will be people heading out to the shops after lunch, grudgingly in some cases because it might be the night after their Christmas party."

Peak Christmas shopping times

When the high streets and websites will be at their busiest before the big day


on 23 December as shoppers pick up fresh food or presents, then 5.45pm after people finish work.

  • 2.05pm on 19 December

  • 11.30am on 24 December

  • 8.32am peak online shopping

Getty Images
Image copyright Getty Images

Rail disruption over Christmas

  • Cleethorpes


    No trains to / from Cleethorpes on some days from Sunday 27 December to Sunday 10 January. The line between Barnetby and Cleethorpes will be closed for work and on some days the line closure will be extended to Doncaster. Buses replace trains between Market Rasen and Cleethorpes. And on Sundays 27 December, 8 January and on Monday 28 December, buses replace trains between Doncaster and Cleethorpes.

    Weekdays and Saturdays, buses replace trains between Cleethorpes and Scunthorpe as well as Barton-on-Humber.

  • Leeds


    Engineering work is taking place between Leeds and Huddersfield and between Burnley and Blackburn with some lines closed.

    On 27 December trains between York/Leeds and Blackpool North and also between Manchester Victoria and Blackburn (via Todmorden) will be replaced by buses between Burnley Manchester Road and Blackburn.

    From 22:30 on Saturday 2 January until approximately 07:30 on Sunday, buses will replace trains between York and Huddersfield. The 07:29 Manchester Airport to Newcastle service will start from Leeds. Passengers should use alternative services between Manchester Airport and Leeds.

  • Manchester


    From 28 December to 1 January engineering work is taking place over some parts of the First TransPennine Express network

    From Monday to Thursday the 21:55 Newcastle to Manchester Airport, 22:30 York to Manchester Piccadilly will arrive at Manchester Piccadilly/Manchester Airport later than the normal timetable, the 23:15 Manchester Airport to York service will not call at Huddersfield, a connecting bus will run to/from Huddersfield and Dewsbury.

    07:09 Glasgow Central to Manchester Airport will start from Carlisle.;08:12, 10:08, 12:12, 14:16, 16:12, 18:13, 20:14 Edinburgh to Manchester Airport will leave earlier and not call at Haymarket.;Most trains from Manchester Airport to Edinburgh will not call at Haymarket and will be retimed to arrive at Edinburgh up to 15 minutes later than normal.

  • Stafford


    All lines between Stafford and Crewe will be closed on 27 and 28 December.

    CrossCountry will run an amended service to and from Manchester Piccadilly, with journey times extended by 30 minutes.

    London Midland will use replacement buses.

    Virgin Trains will divert services and cut them to two per hour each way.

  • Norwich


    Changes on the Norwich to London line will be in place on 27 and 28 December and 1, 2 and 3 January.

    Abellio Greater Anglia services will travel as far as Ingatestone and passengers will have to use a replacement bus to Newbury Park tube station on the Central Line taking passengers into London.

  • Cardiff


    On New Year's Day The Cardiff Central to/from Portsmouth Harbour service will be retimed with some trains not calling at Severn Tunnel Junction.

    Most trains between Cardiff Central and Bristol Temple Meads/Taunton and beyond will start/terminate at Newport, passengers should use rail connections to/from Cardiff Central.

    And on 2 January trains that usually run between Coryton and Radyr will run between Coryton and Heath Low Level only. Passengers travelling between Heath Low Level and Cardiff / Radyr are advised to use alternative services to / from Heath High Level.

  • Reading


    Long distance services through Reading will be diverted into London Waterloo on 27 and 28 December. There will be replacement buses from Maidenhead to High Wycombe.

    A train service will operate between Reading and Slough, but will not call at Burnham or Taplow.

  • London


    No trains between London Liverpool Street and Ingatestone/Southend Victoria/Southminster on Sunday 27 and Monday 28 December.

    No Southeastern services at London Cannon Street, London Charing Cross, London Waterloo East or London Bridge stations from 27 December to 1 January. Trains will be diverted to either London Victoria or London Blackfriars.

    No services into London Paddington on 27 and 28 December.

    Affecting TfL Rail, engineering work is taking place between Seven Kings and Shenfield with various line closures.

    From Boxing Day to Monday 28 December no trains will run and from Tuesday 29 December to New Year's Eve an amended service will run.

    On New Year's Day, Saturday 2 and Sunday 3 an amended service will run between London Liverpool Street and Seven Kings with buses between Seven Kings and Shenfield.

    London Overground will run Saturday services on 28, 29, 30 and 31 December, subject to engineering work.

  • Exeter


    Buses replace trains between Exeter St Davids and Honiton / Exmouth from Friday 1 to Sunday 3 January.

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