Ahh – the road trip. Few forms of adventure have been so romanticised or lovingly remembered as the act of getting your friends together in a car and heading out into the sunset. Whether you’ve borrowed your mum’s car for an afternoon, got a weeklong rental or pimped out a campervan to head for the hills – here are our top European picks for spellbinding road trips.
Amalfi Coast – Italy
Starting with a tried and tested classic, this is Italy at its most dazzling. Stretching along the south-west coastline on the Tyrrhenian Sea, this road trip takes in beautiful beaches and crumbling cliff-side villages. Simply follow the famous Blue Highway, known as the “road with 1,001 turns” for picture perfect views every step of the way.
Most visitors will stop in Positano – with its staggered rows of coloured houses – but the best attractions tend to be the towns that are less touched by tourism, such as Praiano or Cetara. Puncture your journey with stays in glorious hillside hotels or local Italian guesthouses, and be sure to pack in plenty of detours and excursions – such as a boat tour of the Grotta dello Smeraldo cave between Amalfi and Praiano.
Valle delle Ferriere waterfalls
Atlantic Drive – Ireland
Whilst Italy brings Mediterranean coastal charm, the Atlantic Drive in Ireland is a journey through emerald hillsides, misty mountains, and dramatic windswept beaches. Located on Achill Island, off of north-western Ireland, this drive forms a circular route around the coastline, taking in the sweeping views of the eastern Atlantic Ocean.
For those with a fascination for history, this drive takes in several crumbling forts and ancient agricultural settlements, offering a glimpse into this isle’s deep-rooted heritage. Many of the cliff-sides give way to pebbled coves and road trippers will find many opportunities to stop for a picnic or even camp for the night.
Dooega fishing village
Arctic Coast Way – Iceland
Following the northern coastline of Iceland, this route is the perfect adventure for any budding polar explorers. Snaking through fishing villages and whale watching hotspots, the route showcases the best of Icelandic culture and the splendour of Icelandic natural scenery.
Visitors even have the opportunity to straddle the tip of the Arctic Circle, by taking a boat out to the northernmost point of Grímsey. With 150 permanent inhabitants, this island is fascinating both for its anthropological features as it is for its natural. For a bit of a break, rugged explorers can be rewarded with their pick of 18 geothermal pools that line the Arctic Coast Way, not to mention the many hotels that line the routes with full spa facilities!
Husavik – for whale watching
Les Corniches – France
Another classic, this is the French Riviera – a region documented in novels, movies and poetry countless times over. Though bursting with resort towns, the route still manages to maintain its classic charm, with medieval villages and stunning coastal views dotted in between the seaside cities. Some may find this route too touristy, but for those that want to stay in glamorous hotels each night, you’ll have your pick of the bunch.
Be sure to check out Beaulieu-sur-Mer for fabulous villas, restaurants and the super-yachts of the rich and famous. If you’re looking for more secluded beaches, you can check out Eze-sur-Mer, but your best bet is stop off at the many roadside coves that can often be accessed via steps from the main road.
The Romantic Road – Germany
Connecting the biggest and most beautiful sights of southern Germany, this state-recommended “romantic road” is a perfect way to cover Germany’s highlights over a few days to a week. Starting in the North, the trail starts southeast of Frankfurt in the town of Würzburg and ends in Fussen, southwest of Munich.
Along the way, visitors can stop off at the traditional towns and villages of Lauda Königshofen and Weikersheim, before taking in the beautiful castles south of Nuremberg, such as Schloss Baldern. Entering Bavaria, be sure to end your days in a traditional bierkeller for a schnitzel and weißbier, before settling in for a night in a cosy guesthouse. On your final day, head to Neuschwanstein castle – Germany’s crown jewel – for an incredible end to your German adventure.
North Coast 500 – Scotland
Another coastal road, this time round the most northernly point of the Scottish Highlands, is a staggering way to take in rugged Scotland. Looping from Inverness, visitors can drive along the North Coast (500 mile) scenic route, taking in distilleries, castles, and beaches along the way. Since wild camping is legal in Scotland, many visitors simply pitch a tent by the side of the road for the night, but there are also plenty of lovely guesthouses and hotels along the way.
By far the highlight of the trip is the stretch around Applecross, where the road narrows to wind around tiny inlets and fishing villages – with beautiful views out onto the Crowlin Islands and Loch Carron. Read our full guide to find out more.
Transfagarasan – Romania
Not forgetting Eastern Europe, we’ve picked the Transfagarasan road (DN7C) from southern Romania as our next pick. Winding through the misty mountains, the road connects Transylvania with Wallachia. The road is known as the “road to the clouds” on account of its high altitude and vertiginous twists and turns. Connecting to beautiful hiking trails and the castled hilltops of mysterious Transylvania, the route makes for a wonderful off-the-beaten-track European road trip.
Furka Pass – Switzerland
Our final pick is the stunning Furka Pass in Switzerland – another high-altitude road that passes through the Swiss Alps. Linking Andermatt with Gletsch, this route offers stunning views of iconic Swiss green mountain scenery in summer and shimmering snow-capped peaks in winter.
Take in the Urseren and Hospen valleys, Realp and the romantic Furka Cogwheel Steam Train. You may recognise this area from the 1964 James Bond film, Goldfinger! Visitors come from far and wide to view the Rhone Glacier, where it is possible to go right inside the glacier grotto. Due to the effects of climate change, this glacier will soon be gone, so make sure to pay it a visit whilst you still can.
Furka Steam Train