Which UK roads to avoid and when at Christmas and New Year

Motorists driving home for Christmas will want to know which roads to avoid this week and next. 

Fortunately, we have teamed up with the AA to identify which routes will be worst hit on the busiest days from Thursday 19 December to a week later on Boxing Day.

With both Sunday 22 December and Christmas Day on Wednesday predicted to not be too busy, we have an exclusive rundown of the Christmas congested routes over the festive week.

Most jammed roads: These are the five roads that the AA said will suffer the worst jams during the week around Christmas. See which routes will have worst tailbacks each day below

Thursday and Friday are expected to be the two worst days over the holiday season, with a combination of Christmas-bound motorists and usual-day commuters sharing roads those days.

More than half of AA members who responded to a survey said they planned to drive on main roads and motorways on both days. 

The motoring group estimates that this will see 17million vehicles hitting the roads on each of these days, potentially causing traffic chaos.

Predictions have been made by the AA after reviewing its route planner traffic searches, historical travel data and breakdown assistance records from previous years.  

With Christmas Day falling mid-week, it means people will have fairly staggered holiday dates as savvy workers take advantage of favourable bank holidays to enjoy an extended period of time off.

That should mean that travel periods will be extended and could see fewer jams on major routes. 

However, the AA says traffic will likely peak from 4pm on Friday, with delays to journey times on some stretches of motorway including the M25, the M5 between Bristol and Weston-Super-Mare and the M6 around Birmingham. 

In addition stretches of the M1 ‘smart’ motorway from Luton northwards can often suffer congestion from incidents or breakdowns, as can the M62 and M60 in the North West.

But what about the other days over the course of the week? 

See the table below to find out which routes the AA says could be jam packed on each day over the course of the week and at what times. 

We’ve included the five worst-hit roads for each day and only those with maximum tailbacks of 25 minutes or more:

Busiest roads over the Christmas holidays (AA) 

– Thursday 19 December

M25 Junction 16-7 (anti-clockwise): 45 minute delays at 16:00

M5 Junction 15/16-29: 30 minute delays at 16:00

M4 Junction 4-10: 35 minute delays at 16:30

M6 Junction 20-21A: 25 minute delays at 16:30 

A303, A30 Yarcombe – A338 Cholderton: 45 minute delays at 16:45

– Friday 20 December 

M25 Junction 13-24 (anti-clockwise): 1 hour delays at 15:00

M1 Junction 11-22: 45 minute delays at 15:30

M4 Junction 23-18: 40 minute delays at 15:30

M60 Junction 18-12: 40 minute delays at 15:30

M20 Junction 1-6: 35 minute delays at 15:45  

– Saturday 21 December

M60 Junction 9-10 (Manchester Trafford Centre): 30 minute delays between 09:00-10:00 and 15:00-18:00

B225/A256 and A2 (Bluewater shopping centre): 45 minute delays between 09:00-10:00 and 15:00-18:00

A4540 (Birmingham Bullring shopping centre): 40 minute delays between 09:00-10:00 and 15:00-18:00

A562/A5053 (Liverpool ONE shopping centre): 25 minute delays between 09:00-10:00 and 15:00-18:00 

– Sunday 22 December

Predicted steady traffic

– Monday 23 December

M40 Junction 9 – A34 Abingdon: 30 minute delays at 14:45

M1 Junction 19-12: 30 minute delays at 15:00

M6 Junction 12-23: 30 minute delays at 15:30

M4 Junction 15-19: 40 minute delays at 17:00

M3 Junction 1-4: 35 minute delays at 18:15

– Tuesday 24 December

M27, M3 Junction 14 – M275 Junction 12: 40 minute delays at 13:00 

M1 Junction 29-43: 45 minute delays at 13:30

M25 (all): 30 minute to 1.5 hour delays at 14:00

M5 Junction 14-25: 35 minute delays at 15:00 

M4 Junction 2-12: 45 minute delays at 16:00

– Wednesday 25 December 

Predicted steady traffic 

– Thursday 26 December

M6 Junction 1-10a: 30 minute delays at 12:00

M1 Junction 17-25: 35 minute delays at 12:30

M60 Junction 18-24: 25 minute delays at 13:30 

The M6 is one of the routes drivers are being warned will be heavily congested over the Christmas break

The M6 is one of the routes drivers are being warned will be heavily congested over the Christmas break 

More than two fifths of drivers will be making journeys on Saturday 21 December as last-minute shopping traffic combines with visits to friends and family.

Later in the week on Christmas Eve, nearly half of drivers will be making festive journeys. 

Reduced commuter traffic will to some extent be offset by increased leisure traffic, with more than one in five visiting family and friends.

How many motorists will be on the road at Christmas? 

Thursday 19 December: 17 million

Friday 20 December: 17 million

Saturday 21 December: 15 million

Sunday 22 December: 12.7 million

Monday 23 December: 16 million

Tuesday 24 December: 15.4 million

Wednesday 25 December: 11 million

Thursday 26 December: 12.7 million

Friday 27 December: 13.7 million

Saturday 28 December: 12.4 million

Source: AA 

Christmas Day is typically one of the quietest of the year for both traffic and breakdowns and the AA says traffic should be fairly free-flowing as 11million cars hit the streets, with most people enjoy the festivities at home.

That said, last year the AA responded to around 2,700 breakdown calls on Christmas Day in 2018.

While that might seem high, it’s almost a quarter of the daily average call outs.  

Ben Sheridan, AA’s patrol man of the year, said drivers should check traffic reports before setting off on journeys and travel at times when roads are quieter – using the data provided above.

‘Getting stuck in traffic isn’t part of anyone’s Christmas plans and we hope our hotspot list will help drivers avoid a Christmas getaway nightmare,’ he told This is Money.

‘If you can’t avoid travelling on busy routes then try to avoid peak journey times and, if all else fails, make sure you are well prepared for the journey. 

‘The last thing you want in a traffic jam is to be worrying about whether you are going to run out of fuel or trying to placate hungry passengers.

‘The pressure of being late can be particularly stressful at this time of years and, with some delays estimated at up to 90 minutes, drivers should make sure they build extra time into their journey.’

This year, a third of drivers say they will be making a journey on Christmas Day – equating to nearly 11 million

This year, a third of drivers say they will be making a journey on Christmas Day – equating to nearly 11 million

Date Net Visiting family/ friends Shopping/ other day trip Travel to/ from work Going/ returning from holiday
Thursday 19 December 53% 8% 16% 32% 1%
Friday 20 December 52% 9% 17% 30% 1%
Saturday 21 December 45% 15% 24% 9% 1%
Sunday 22 December 38% 17% 16% 7% 1%
Monday 23 December 48% 12% 19% 20% 1%
Tuesday 24 December 46% 21% 13% 15% 1%
Wednesday 25 December 33% 29% 2% 3%
Thursday 26 December 38% 27% 6% 5% 2%
Friday 27 December 41% 15% 13% 12% 3%
Saturday 28 December 37% 14% 15% 7% 2%
Sunday 29 December 29% 13% 9% 6% 2%
Monday 30 December 35% 9% 11% 15% 2%
Tuesday 31 December 37% 14% 10% 14% 1%
Wednesday 1 January 24% 14% 5% 5% 1%
Thursday 2 January 36% 7% 8% 20% 2%
Source: AA           

Workers can get 16 days off by taking just 7 days of holiday

Savvy employees who have planned ahead and taken advantage of this year’s favourable Christmas dates are set to enjoy a fortnight-long festive break starting this Friday, while using just seven days of annual leave.

Three bank holidays, Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day, combine with three weekends this year, meaning workers can get an extended break from their bosses without having to use too much of their annual leave allowance.

Anyone who has checked their calendars ahead of time and booked off December 23, 24, 27, 30, 31 would get 12 days off work.

And those wanting an even longer period away from the work place can drag their holiday break to 16 days by booking off January 2 and 3 too. 

This graphic shows the days workers need to book off to bag 16 days of holiday over Christmas

This graphic shows the days workers need to book off to bag 16 days of holiday over Christmas 

Post-Christmas activity on the roads 

The AA’s member poll, which quizzed nearly 18,000 motorists, found that relatively few plan to brave the high street sales on Boxing day, with just 6 per cent heading out to the shops. 

By comparison, more than a quarter will be driving to visit family or friends the day after Christmas Day.

The motoring organisation added: ‘Travel intentions remain comparatively low between Christmas and the New Year, with commuter traffic building up slowly. 

‘The bank holidays falling mid-week means there will be a gradual return to work, as just over one in 10 head into the office on Friday 27 December, 15 per cent on Monday 30 December and 14 per cent on New Year’s Eve.’

It also believes that the big work return after the holiday period will be staggered, with just a fifth of drivers on busiest roads heading to work on Thursday 2 January. 

The AA says it is preparing for a flood of breakdown calls on Friday 3 January and Monday 6 January due to flat batteries after the Christmas break.

Travel intentions remain comparatively low between Christmas and the New Year, with commuter traffic building up slowly

Travel intentions remain comparatively low between Christmas and the New Year, with commuter traffic building up slowly


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