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Wembley finals, M25 chaos and rail works: How to survive the busiest May bank holiday weekend ever

A sweltering bank holiday weekend is set to be the busiest for drivers on record.
A sweltering bank holiday weekend is set to be the busiest for drivers on record.

More than 20m leisure journeys are expected to be made in the coming days, marking the busiest late May bank holiday weekend since 2019.

Drivers have been warned not to travel before 6pm on Friday, when more than 4m journeys are planned at the beginning of half term for many UK schools.

Traffic volumes are expected to stay high throughout the long weekend, with 3.7m trips on Saturday and 3.4m trips on Sunday and Monday.

Other modes of transport including plane and rail will also likely be busier than usual, boosted by the FA Cup and play off finals at Wembley.

Engineering works are taking place across the UK, disrupting some train operators.

Road

On Saturday, road traffic is expected to peak between 3pm and 6pm, with motorists advised to start their journeys as early as possible in the day.

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The warmest areas will be the busiest, with transport analytics specialist INRIX forecasting routes from cities to coasts to have some of the worst delays.

In the middle of the day, the M5 southbound, a major holday route, is likely to suffer major hold-ups with journeys on a 45 mile stretch between J16 north of Bristol and J25 for Taunton in Somerset expected to take more than an hour longer than usual.

Congestion is also forecast on the M25 anticlockwise towards the M23, the A14 eastbound towards the east coast, as well as the M3 and A34.

Peaking on Friday, clockwise M25 is expected to again be the busiest route for traffic, with journeys between the M23 and M1 likely to nearly triple in duration.

RAC Breakdown spokesperson Alice Simpson said: “Our research suggests this weekend could be the busiest of the year so far on the roads, with millions of people embarking on getaway trips to make the most of the three days and, for those with school age children, the start of the half-term holiday.”

It comes after unprecedented closures between junctions nine and 11 on the M25 in March and early May caused severe disruption.

Rail

Britain’s railways will also experience some disruption as Network Rail shuts some intercity lines for engineering works. This could impact passengers travelling into London for Saturday and Sunday’s FA cup and play off final at Wembley.

Work is taking place between Saturday and Monday, and passengers have been advised to check National Rail or the nearest train operator’s website for the latest travel information. For updates, follow #MayRailWorks on X.

The projects include a refurbishment of a junction in north London, meaning services between Liverpool street and Enfield Town/Cheshunt will be disrupted between Sunday and Tuesday.

Major work around Crewe and Carlisle to improve drainage and lay new track will mean a reduced service on the West Coast Main Line, which runs from London-Manchester-Glasgow, on all three days of the bank holiday.

Fortunately, no strikes are forecast this time.

Flying

Flying won’t save you from this weekends carnage.

Some 2.1m seats, equating to 11,959 flights, are scheduled to depart UK airports between Friday and Monday, according to the aviation analytics firm Cirium.

Across the weekend, departure numbers will be five per cent higher than the same dates in 2023 and around 92 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.

Heathrow will record the highest number, followed by Gatwick, Manchester, Stansted and Edinburgh. The most popular international destinations will be Dublin, Amsterdam, Palma, Alicante and Malaga.

Jon Fowler, London Stansted’s Chief Operating Officer, said:“With places not as busy as during the peak summer season and pleasant temperatures in many of the destinations we serve at this time of year, the spring half-term break is a popular time to get away.

“We’ve a busy week ahead so the advice as always is to allow good time for your journey to the airport and prepare for the security checks before leaving home to avoid any unnecessary delays.”