10 of the best road trips in Europe

  • 12.09.2023 21:31
  • Bruno Arcos

A list of the top 10 road trips in Europe, in a compilation of the very best destinations across the Old Continent where renting a car and exploring at your own pace is an absolute must!

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While it might not always be the most cost-effective or environmentally friendly choice, there’s something undeniably appealing about the sheer convenience of hopping into a car and hitting the open road for hundreds of kilometers. Sure, it might lack the romantic allure of a train journey, the speed of a flight or the adventurous spirit of bus travel, but there are certain places where a road trip feels almost mandatory, as if putting on a pair of sunglasses and letting the wind gently caress your hair have become integral parts of experiencing those destinations.

So, with that in mind, we’d like to introduce you to a list of the top 10 road trips in Europe, in a compilation of the very best destinations across the Old Continent where renting a car and exploring at your own pace is an absolute must. Join us!

NOTE: To try to even things out among destinations, I’ve decided to stick to just one option per country 😊

10 best road trips in Europe

Iceland waterfall

Ring Road, Iceland

Let’s kick things off with the one that is frequently considered the ultimate European road trip. Way up north in the remote and isolate of Iceland, the Ring Road winds its way around the entire country, taking you on a journey of over 1300 kilometers through some of the most incredible natural wonders that humankind has ever laid eyes on.

While it’s technically possible to explore Iceland without renting a car or camper, this will be quite the tricky (not to mention costly) task. While there are buses that connect the major Icelandic cities, the same can’t be said about its waterfalls, glaciers, hot springs or national parks. Without a car, your best bet to visit those would be to sign up for private or group tours, which, just like everything else in this country, can put a serious dent in your wallet.

Be that as it may, and once you’re out on the road, don’t miss the chance to witness Iceland’s most awe-inspiring sights, such as the iconic Golden Circle (Thingvellir, Geysir, and Gullfoss), the picturesque South Coast (Seljalandsfoss, Reynisfjara Beach and Vatnajokull National Park) and the unforgettable Golden Circle (Dettifoss and Asbyrgi Canyon). Along the way, try to sign-up for a whale-watching tour in Husavik and take a relaxing soak in the famous thermal waters of the Blue Lagoon.

Tuscany, Italy

From the icy, inhospitable terrain of Iceland to the rolling green hills of Tuscany, our next road trip leads us to one of Italy’s most popular regions. While it’s true that you can explore Florence, the crown jewel and one of the world’s most beautiful cities, without a car, having your own vehicle makes it all the more convenient (and enjoyable) to explore the rest of Tuscany.

Once you’ve soaked in the splendor of the region’s largest city, hit the open road to discover other beautiful spots in this picturesque Italian corner, such as the lovely and increasingly popular Siena, home to one of the planet’s most magnificent squares, the medieval towers of San Gimignano, the walled city of Lucca, and, of course, Pisa with its iconic leaning tower. Along the journey, and constantly standing in the background, you’ll enjoy the breathtaking landscapes of Val d’Orcia.

To be honest, the country boasts such a wealth of cultural and natural beauty that one could easily fill a list of the best road trips in Europe with nothing but Italian entries. So, if you’ve already visited Tuscany, it’s equally worth it to rent a car and explore the region of Puglia, the Sicilian Loop, the island of Sardinia or the Italian Riviera.

Romantic Road, Germany

When you consider its size and vast economic, political and industrial importance, I can’t help but feel like Germany is probably one of the most underrated tourist destinations in the Western world. Due to the extensive destruction caused by World War II and the subsequent Soviet presence in part of the country, it’s true that many of Germany’s major cities lack the classical beauty found in their European counterparts.

However, if you venture beyond the urban centers, it’s possible to find plenty of charming towns and villages, especially in the region of Bavaria and its surroundings. Therefore, let me introduce you to the Romantic Road, Germany’s most popular road trip which will lead you through a picturesque landscape of colorful villages such as Dinkelsbühl, Nördlingen and Rothenburg ob der Tauber, classic castles like the ones in Fussen and Neuschwanstein, and historic cities like Augsburg and Wurzburg. And if you have the time and budget to spare, you can even take a few detours to explore nearby gems like Bamberg, Heidelberg and the bustling metropolises of Munich and Frankfurt.

Plus, is there any other country in the world with better highways than Germany? Just hop on the famous Autobahn and pick where to go next!

Albanian Riviera, Albania

Albania Saranda

Hidden away in a tiny corner of the Balkans, Albania is probably among the fastest-growing tourist destinations in the world, owing much of its new-found popularity to this particular region. Spanning less than 200 kilometers, from the city of Vlore to the land border with Greece, the Albanian Riviera is a small piece of paradise, made up of pristine beaches, awe-inspiring landscapes and picturesque villages.

Driving along the region’s main road – the SH8 – is an attraction in itself, as it winds along the seaside cliffs and provides scenic views of the Adriatic down below. Along the way, make sure to stop at the beaches in Gjipe (which happens to be my personal favorite), Borsh and Himare, at the quaint villages of Dhermi, Vuno and Upper Qeparo, at the intriguing Castle of Porto Palermo, and at the vibrant city of Sarande, the largest in the Albanian Riviera. At the end your journey, the road will finally lead you to Ksamil, arguably the most popular place in the country, as well as its neighboring Butrint National Park.

While the Riviera definitely stands out, you can extend your stay and see what else Albania has in store for visitors, such as the historic Ottoman towns of Berat and Gjirokaster, the bustling capital city of Tirana, Kruje (considered the nation’s birthplace) and the unforgettable Albanian Alps, where you can complete the famous trek between Valbona and Theth.

Transylvania, Romania

While I jokingly call it “The Tuscany of the Poor”, the truth is that very few regions in Europe are as beautiful or charming as Transylvania. The world might recognize it as the home of the famous Dracula, but Romania’s heart and soul hides a wealth of colorful historic villages, majestic castles and fortresses and countless, expansive green hills. It’s like a vivid emerald canvas, in stark contrast to the gray and misty imagery most people expect.

As you traverse the land of the sharp-toothed count, make sure not to miss the cities of Brasov and Cluj-Napoca, the small towns of Sibiu, Sighisoara and Alba Iulia, the numerous local castles (like Bran, Peles and Corvin), and the historic Rasnov Fortress. Along the way, you’ll also have the opportunity to check out some less common spots, like bear sanctuaries (Transylvania is one of their natural habitats), salt mines (Turda), fortified churches (Biertan, Calnic or Prejmer) and even some bizarre cemeteries (Maramures).

Finally, and since I’ve selected this as one of the best road trips in Europe, make sure not to miss the iconic drive along the Transfagarasan Highway, a winding road capable of making your head spin just by looking at photos!

Vicentine Coast, Portugal

At a time when tourism seems to have taken over the country, the renowned Vicentine Coast remains relatively shielded from the influx of foreign visitors (at least in comparison to more popular destinations): and that’s precisely why I couldn’t resist including it in this compilation of the best road trips in Europe! Alongside the National Road 2 (EN2), this is probably the most iconic road stretch in Portugal.

Although there is some debate about the exact starting point of the Costa Vicentina, for the sake of this article, let’s consider the entire region encompassed by the Southwest Alentejo and Vicentine Coast Natural Park. After all, the more the merrier, ain’t it right? Stretching from São Torpes to Burgau, this fabulous road spans roughly 150 kilometers, passing through some lovely places like Porto Covo, Vila Nova de Milfontes, Zambujeira do Mar and Aljezur.

As expected, this route is also renowned for its vast sandy beaches, with places like Samoqueira, Odeceixe, Monte Clérigo and Arrifana drawing thousands of sun worshippers each year. For those who prefer to stay active, there are loads of popular hikes all across the region, such as the Fishermen’s Trail or the Pontal da Carrapateira Trail.

Atlantic Road, Norway

Moving on to our next destination up north, it’s time to head to Scandinavia for an adventure that truly lives up to its reputation as one of Europe’s finest road trips! Over the course of nearly 9 kilometers, the Atlantic Road stands as a remarkable feat of engineering, earning its well-deserved title as a National Monument. It links several islets through a network of eight bridges, and the landscape is so uniquely captivating that at times, you might feel like you’re literally driving over the water, making the whole trip even more surreal!

From this point, you can go either north or south and explore the rest of magnificent Norway. If you go with the former, you can explore the region of Trondheim, significantly increasing your chances of seeing the mesmerizing Northern Lights, before moving on officially crossing into the Arctic Circle, eventually reaching the enchanting Lofoten Islands. On the other hand, if you head south, you can explore the historical cities of Alesund and Bergen, visit some of the most iconic fjords in Norway (Geirangerfjord and Sognefjord) and hop on one of the world’s most beautiful train journeys aboard the Flam Railway.

Whichever path you choose, you can’t go wrong!

Andalucia, Spain

Land of flamenco dances, tapas and bullfights, Andalusia is, for better or worse, the ancestral home of Spanish soul and traditions. Moreover, it was also the last region of the country to be occupied by the Moors, so Islamic architecture still remains prominent in many of the region’s major landmarks.

With your own vehicle in hand, you have the freedom to explore the region at your own pace, hopping between its major cities, like Seville, Granada, Córdoba and Málaga; famous tourist villages, like Ronda, Antequera and Nerja; and glorious Andalusian beaches, with the renowned Costa del Sol taking center stage. Furthermore, there’s an array of charming whitewashed villages (think Arcos de la Frontera and Zahara de la Sierra), vibrant nightlife hubs (like Marbella and Benalmádena), pristine national parks (such as Sierra Nevada and Doñana), and even the opportunity to tackle one of Spain’s most stunning and popular trails – the Caminito del Rey!

And if, by some stroke of luck, you manage to squeeze all of this into your undoubtedly limited vacation time, you can even take a quick jump to the United Kingdom and explore the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar.

Dalmatian Coast, Croatia

While the Dalmatian Coast does stretch into some territories of Bosnia and Montenegro, for the sake of simplicity (think time management, car insurance and currency) we’ll focus exclusively on Croatia. After all, alongside the Albanian Riviera, this is the most celebrated road trip in the Balkans!

Kicking things off in the legendary, and undeniably touristy, city of Dubrovnik, this journey includes stops in other historic walled cities as well, such as Split, Zadar and Trogir. On the other hand, if you’re in the mood to escape the heat and the hustle and bustle of the towns, it’s always a good idea to stop by the Krka National Park, famous for its breathtaking waterfalls. Finally, should you not mind leaving the car for a few days and enjoying the “island life”, you’re also welcome to visit the islands of Korcula and Hvar.

As for the rest of Croatia, if you have a few extra days to spare, you can extend your coastal adventure to include visits to the Plitvice Lakes National Park and the charming city of Pula.

Loire Valley, France

We wrap up our list of the best road trips in Europe with a visit to France, a country that, much like Italy or Spain, could easily fill out a list on its own. Among the many options available, I’ve chosen to highlights the Loire Valley, a region renowned for its medieval towns, exquisite wines and almost absurd array of fairytale-like palaces and castles. Besides, its scenery is so quaint and green it came to be affectionately known as “The Garden of France”.

Starting in Tours, this road trip will lure you into exploring the countless châteaux scattered throughout the region, with the palaces of Chambord, Chenonceau, Cheverny, Valençay and Azay-le-Rideau standing out from the absurdly vast pool of choices (these barely scratch the surface). So that you don’t get “over-châteaux’ed” too quickly, consider interspersing these castle visits with stops in some of the Loire Valley’s most picturesque towns and cities, including Chartres, Orléans and Bourges.

It’s worth noting that if your visit to France falls between mid-June and mid-August, you might want to set aside the Loire Valley for another time and go on a road trip through Provence instead. Besides visiting beautiful places like Aix-en-Provence, Avignon and Arles (not to mention the vibrant Marseille) you’ll also have the chance to witness the region’s iconic lavender fields in all their resplendent purple glory.

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