The lure of the open road entices many of us at some time or another. Although a spontaneous journey can be fun, road trips are better when intentional. With some planning and an itinerary to guide you, a road trip through these European countries will provide an unbeatable cultural experience with outstanding scenery along the way. Whether you're on a personal pilgrimage to explore your heritage or looking to indulge a passion for driving, food, or world history, the best way to experience your journey is by hitting the highway.
Circumnavigating the island country, Route 1 provides access to Iceland's dramatic volcanic landscapes. Start in the capital city of Reykjavik and allow yourself about a week to complete the 800-mile route. Use a sturdy vehicle with four-wheel drive, as you'll encounter some gravel roads along the way. Expect to see lava fields, deserts of volcanic ash, hot water geysers, and spectacularly photogenic waterfalls and hot springs. You may want to stop for a whale-watching tour at Husavik on the north coast, or to camp near Vik in the south to experience its famous black beach.
An iconic drive around the Iveragh peninsula in southwest Ireland, the Ring of Kerry loop typically begins and ends in Killarney National Park. You can complete this trip in one day, but stretch it out to enjoy highlights like the beach at Glenbeigh, the off-shore Skellig Islands, and Moll's Gap. This route is popular, so it may be beneficial to schedule your trip in the off-season to avoid the traffic congestion of the summer months.
The legendary Amalfi Coast in southwest Italy makes for a white-knuckle road trip that will delight brave and experienced drivers. Following the rocky coastline and full of hairpin turns, the Strada Statale 163 yields rewards like no other highway. Passing through scenic hilltop towns like Positano and Ravello, your biggest problem on the short 25-mile route may be where to stop for lunch. Be sure to descend to sea level for a day trip to the magical island of Capri.
Winding through the forests and alpine beauty of Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg in the south of Germany, this classic route is indeed romantic. Allow several days to cover the 220 miles between Würzberg and Füssen, as you'll definitely want to stop and explore some of the charming villages and sites along the way. Highlights include the medieval town of Tauberbischofsheim and the walled city of Dinkelsbühl just before you cross the River Danube. Wrap things up by visiting the quintessential fairytale castle of Neuschwanstein in Füssen.
Expert drivers will love the challenge of the Col de Turini in the Alpes-Maritimes region of France. Both the famed Monte Carlo car rally and the Tour de France have been raced on this road, which follows a mountain pass 5000 feet above sea level. Don't attempt this drive unless weather conditions are perfect; it's a balcony road cut into the cliff sides with many hairpin turns that can be treacherous in rain or snow. If you take it on, you'll be rewarded with one of the most scenic road trips in Europe.
The Peloponnese peninsula in the southern region of Greece presents an amazing 400-mile drive packed with fascinating sites to visit. From the crazy chaos of Athens traffic, head south through the olive groves towards the sandy beaches and historical riches of Nafplio. After a few days in the sun, tasting wine and Greek seafood cuisine, history buffs can loop back and visit the ancient ruins of Messini and Mycenae on the way back to Athens.
A mystical 500-mile loop around the Scottish Highlands, the North Coast 500 is best experienced during the fall months. The narrow road meanders around mist-covered lochs, castle ruins, and several whiskey distilleries. Plan to stay a few nights in Inverness or the charming town of Ullapool, or near the spectacular beaches of Durness.
This gorgeous Croatian coastal drive begins in the picturesque fortress town of Dubrovnik and ends in Zadar, the UNESCO world heritage site of Venetian and Roman ruins. The road connects with Split and the Venetian island town of Trogir, both of which are great destinations to explore. Be sure to allow a week or more for this 220-mile road trip, as you'll certainly want to take your time experiencing the glorious seafood and architecture of this coast. You may find yourself detouring to explore some of Croatia's many islands as well.
No great European road trip list would be complete without this remarkable route through Romania. Creating a series of passes through the Carpathian Mountains, the Transfagarasan is 70 miles of switchbacks, hairpin turns, tunnels and bridges. This one is for confident drivers in good weather only. Begin in the Byzantine town of Curtea de Arges and drive north to south, ending in Cartisoara, where you'll want to celebrate with tuica, a spirit distilled from plums and the Romanian national drink.
You can road trip your way right around the island of Sicily in about 10 days to experience its dreamy culture, historic ruins, and dramatic volcanic vistas. Off in the distance Mt. Etna rumbles, and you can make day trips to the active volcano if it's deemed safe. Better yet, you'll never be far from a beautiful beach, an excellent seafood dinner and a glass of wine. Other destinations along the route include the hilltop town of Taormina, the Valley of the Temples, and the Baroque city of Ragusa.