K.C. was a featured writer for Yahoo! Travel before joining trips to discover in 2013. She is the author of Best Travel Guide for First Time Visitors to Ireland, an Amazon bestseller every year between 2013 and 2016. She has been a featured expert on Newsweek, Travel + Leisure, Travelocity, among others.
Read full bio
Many people associate road trips with America, but there are many spectacular drives across the Atlantic from Ireland and Scotland to Germany, Switzerland, Austria and beyond. If you want to discover some of Europe’s best scenery, reserve a rental car and choose any one or more of these routes that are sure to provide an unforgettable experience of a lifetime.
Scotland is one of the most breathtaking countries on earth, and while there are many possibilities for a scenic drive, you can’t go wrong with the Isle of Skye. Getting there offers a spectacular adventure through the Highlands in itself. Once you’ve crossed the Skye Bridge, take the circular route on the A855 from Portree heading north. This may be the most incredibly beautiful drive you’ve ever embarked on. The dramatic landscape is absolutely intoxicating, including everything from unique rock formations to emerald covered mountains, sheer sea cliffs, seashell-strewn beaches and waterfalls that plunge down to a turquoise sea below. If you want to get out and hike, you’ll find numerous opportunities, like the Fairy Pools and the Old Man of Storr, which is likely to look familiar to fans of sci-fi films. This iconic basalt spire was featured in the opening scene of the Ridley Scott hit “Prometheus.”
This impressive Alpine road near Salzberg takes its name after the highest peak of the Australian Alps, Grossglockner. It passes through Hohe Tauern National Park and the Fuscher Ache River to the 12,000-foot-high mountain as well as the Pasterze glacier. The route’s historical traces go back thousands of years, bringing road trippers by numerous landmarks like Fucher chapel, an observation tower and Nature’s Museum, a free museum with an impressive display of minerals, plant species, birds and animals that live in this natural reserve.
The Atlantic Highway, or A39, is a 135-mile stretch of road that passes through a section of Exmoor National Park on the way to Barnstaple Exmoor, famous for its scenic walking trails that span for miles over vast areas of open moorland. Here you can spot wild Exmoor ponies that call this region home. On one side of the road are increasingly wild hills, on the other, some of the nation’s most stunning coastline. Along the way, you’ll discover many quaint villages, like Tintagel, which according to legend was the birthplace of King Arthur. Others to keep an eye out for include Brendon Hills and Quantocks. Bude, the first seaside town you’ll come to in Cornwall, is famous for its wide, golden sandy beaches backed by rugged cliffs, perfect for building sandcastles or taking surf lessons.
Also referred to as the “Road to the Sky” and the “Road to the Clouds”, Romania’s Transfagarasan climbs, twists and descends through the highest peaks of the Fagaras Mountains, also known as the “Transylvania Alps.” The region is especially rich in wildlife as well as home to many scenic hiking and mountain biking trails. The route built with a military purpose, connects two historic provinces of the country – Transylvania and Walachia, through a series of 831 small bridges, 27 viaducts and five tunnels. Today, it’s popular with tourists as well as locals who want to discover the mysteries of Dracula country.
This breathtaking route travels for about 111 miles, leading visitors through some of the Emerald Isle’s most impressive scenery. Drawing a circle between steep mountain slopes through lush valleys and across countless rivers and lakes as well as magnificent beaches and rocky coastlines, this is a journey of a lifetime. Stop in the picturesque village of Steem, with its colorful villages and spend the night in Portmagee, where during the summer months, weather permitting, you’ll have the chance to take the boat trip out to Skellig Michael. Other highlights include the Ogham Stones near Beaufort, Torc Waterfall and the Cloghereen Blue Pool Walk in Killarney National Park and Ross Castle.
The mountainous drive from Bergen to Oslo is well-known as one of Europe’s grand road trips. The 350-mile stretch is green the entire way. You’ll go through mountain passes and even make an occasional ferry crossing. Along the way, pass fjords and beautiful fjord villages, snow-capped mountains, waterfalls and an ancient stave church. The most memorable place for a break is in the town of Flam, situated on the Aurlandsfjord, a tip of the Sognefjord, Norway’s most scenic. Return along the coast road through Kristiansand and Stavanger, and you’ll trade mountain scenery for picturesque coastal towns and rocky islands. The country’s southernmost point at Mandal, has a picturesque lighthouse, and toward the end of your journey, the quaint white cottages along the sea at Skudeneshavn were once voted Norway’s prettiest village.
The 350-mile Adriatic Highway, or Jadranska Magistrala, as it’s known in Croatia, follows the rugged coastline and crystalline blue waters of the Adriatic from Rijeka in the north to Dubrovnik in the south. A quick glance at a detailed map will reveal its many sheer drops and serpentine twists and turns, with the glistening water on one side, and views of forested islands in the distance. You’ll pass red-roof-tiled towns and medieval ruins along the way, though the highlight for many is when the two-lane road passes under Velebit Mountain, providing a view of Pag Island. Some compare this drive to the legendary stretch of Highway One known as the Pacific Coast Highway between San Francisco and Los Angeles.
This is the grande dame of Germany’s scenic routes. It runs for 300 miles through the Alpine foothills of southern Bavaria, twisting and turning through small towns and charming villages with baroque churches, passing 21 mountain lakes, 25 castles, palaces and abbeys as well as over 60 spa resorts and hundreds of peaks. Start at the island town of Lindau on Lake Constance, where you can stroll the maze of narrow streets lined with old gabled houses. Along the way, you’re likely to spot numerous cows with bells around their necks, dine at eateries where barmaids serve massive-sized beers and sausages as well as an abundance of ornate wooden chalet-style houses with flower boxes overflowing with red geraniums. You’ll also have the opportunity to visit Neuschwanstein Castle, which served as the model for Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland.
South Italy is one of Europe’s most popular vacation destinations, and driving the Amalfi Coast, starting in picturesque Sorrento just south of Naples, is a true highlight. This magnificent drive follows along the seashore, winding through small fishing villages and historical towns, hugging sheer cliff faces on one side, with the other dropping straight down to brilliant blue sea vistas. Here, the mountains merge with the sea, the climate is mild and the architecture has been preserved for centuries. The route connects 13 towns that are set so close to one another that they are rarely considered separately, though all bring their own distinct charm. Stop in Minori to explore Roman ruins, enjoy a fish lovers’ paradise in Cetara and explore Emerald Grotto at Conca dei Marini.
The White Villages, or Ruta de los Pueblos Blancos, route winds through the Sierra de Cadiz Mountains and crosses the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park, allowing visitors to explore the interior of Andalucia for a wonderful look at untouched Spanish culture. Arcos de la Frontera is one of the most beautiful villages in the region, with its center declared a Monument of Historical and Artistic Importance. Stroll the maze of whitewashed streets to discover places of unimaginable beauty. Towns with “de la Frontera” in their names were established on the front line of the Christians’ centuries-long fight to recapture Spain from the Moors, who were slowly pushed back into Africa. Today, these hill towns are passing time peacefully. Visit a Moorish castle for insight into the Arab heritage of the entire area.
This route through the High Alps in France was one of the first tourist roads built in the country, constructed solely for those who wanted to travel via a scenic route. This spectacular drive will take you through four national parks: Vanoise, Ecrins, Queyras and Mercantour. You’ll also wind across 16 mountain passes – the highest at Iseran, towering at more than 9,000 feet. Follow the road from the shores of sparkling Geneva Lake to the Mediterranean Sea, discovering not only awe-inspiring landscapes and magnificent valleys, but delicious local cuisine and authentic cultural features.
Unlike some of the other passes in the Alps, there is a highway alternative to Klausen, which means the road is rarely busy, despite its close proximity to Zurich. It will take you directly into the heart of the Alps, winding through the fabled Swiss mountains through a journey of incredibly beautiful scenery. The descent to the foot of the pass culminates at Burglen, the birthplace of William Tell, a great place to stop and wander around with a museum there dedicated to Switzerland’s folk hero. Every four to five years, the Klausenrennen, a wild car race traveling the pass, takes place. Rolled out in 1922, it’s still considered the most legendary vintage mountain race in the world.
The Great Dolomite Road is another one of the most strikingly beautiful drives, as an alpine highway traversing through northern Italy with rugged cliffs, limestone walls and sharp hairpin turns. This 62-mile drive from Bolzano to Cortina d’Ampezzo cuts through the Dolomites in the Italian Alps, providing travelers with a glimpse of a more authentic Italy, away from the trendy cities and tourist traps. While it can be driven in just three hours, it’s best to take it slow and stop in at least one of the many rural villages for a meal or two, you’re sure to discover a host of culinary delights.
The longest and busiest river in Germany, the 820-mile Rhine flows north and east from Rheinwaldhorn Glacier in the Swiss Alps to the North Sea. One of the most spectacular stretches is the roughly 112-mile section from Cologne to Mainz, dotted with stony towers, battlemented walls and fairy tale castles, some no more than 1,000 feet apart. The dulcet tones from the clifftop lair of the Lorelei once lured riverboats to their doom against the rocks. It was an evil dwarf hoarding gold and a magic ring in a riverside cave that gave rise not only to Wagner’s operatic Ring cycle, but was also reinterpreted and added to by J.R.R. Tolkien to create the core of his “Hobbit”/”Lord of the Rings” epic.
The sun soaked coasts of the French Riviera is a land of resort towns, drawing Hollywood A-listers and yacht owners by the thousands. The coast is dotted with luxury villas and casinos that seem to be straight out of a James Bond movie, but this area is a lot more than that. The Riviera still has quaint fishing villages where fishermen can be seen mending their nets in the shade of medieval churches. Even when standing on one of the many beaches devoted to sophisticated hedonism, you’ll never be far from the chance to take in cultural attractions like ancient Roman ruins, medieval hill towns and art galleries. Begin in Nice, the second most popular city to visit in France, driving through Monaco and ending at Cannes, internationally renowned for hosting the popular Cannes Film Festival. Once a quiet fishing village, today it’s considered one of the most opulent towns in the world.
If you don’t have enough time to drive Iceland’s breathtaking Ring Road, which circles the entire country, driving the small Golden Circle route is an amazing, and popular, day trip for visitors. The roughly 186-mile journey covers numerous jaw-dropping sights in a short period of time. Starting clockwise from Reykjavik, the first stop is the Continental Divide between the North American and Eurasian tectonic place – and at, Silfra Canyon, you can even go diving in incredibly clear waters that have been filtered through surrounding lava fields from a nearby glacier. The next stop, Geysir, is the home of a spouting hot spring similar to Old Faithful in Yellowstone, which erupts several times a day. The main event is Gullfoss Waterfall, which is one of the best waterfalls in Iceland and it produces a thick mist and frequent rainbows.
The Old Military Road, or A93, is an ideal driving road set within the heart of Cairngorms National Park in the Scottish Highlands. Here, you’ll see more sheep than other vehicles with dramatic landscapes and endless mountain vistas. In the late summer, the hills are often covered with vibrant purple heather flowers, creating an especially magnificent scene. To get there, head toward Perth and then get on the A93 toward Blairgowrie, which is where the route really starts to get interesting. When you reach the Bridge of Cally, the scenery begins to rise up around you, bringing lots of oohs and aahs. Enjoy curves with wonders around nearly every corner as well as roller coaster-like ups and downs. The most breathtaking stretch is from Glenshee ski station, following the path of the river down through a long valley toward Braemar.
The Causeway Coast is Northern Ireland’s answer to California’s Central Coast around Big Sur. This 52-mile-long route follows cliff tops from the seaport town of Larne to Dunluce Castle. It curves around the northeast corner of Northern Ireland, hugging the coast, boasting picturesque seascapes and craggy coastal scenery for nearly the entire journey. Here, the “70” on the road signs aren’t speed restrictions, but the number of sites you’ll encounter within the next mile. Of course, Giant’s Causeway is the star of this road trip, a mass of 40,000 hexagonal basalt columns packed tightly together, with the tops of the columns forming stepping stones that lead from the cliff, slowly disappearing under the sea.
This beautiful 142-mile ride along the Algarve coast in Portugal follows the windy, undulating road through scenic towns like the resort town of Portimao and Lagos, with its 16th-century walls enclosing the old town’s cobbled streets and picturesque plazas and churches. The closer you get to the end of the road on the south-westernmost tip of Europe at Cabo de Sao Vicente, the more dramatic the scenery gets. At the end of the cape, there’s a wind-whipped red lighthouse and a former convent.
This pass in southeastern Switzerland connects Chur with Bellinzona, offering some of the most dramatic and striking Alpine scenes on earth. The road is also dominated by churches and castles, as well as sprawling bridges and gorges, making it one of the country’s most engaging regions. Along the way, you’ll travel through the Domleschg, a valley that boasts the greatest concentrations of ruins and medieval fortresses in all of Europe. Take time to explore mountain villages like Splugen as well as the beautiful towns of Roveredo and Grono. At the bottom of the valley headed toward Bellinzona, three fortresses come into view.
This route starts in the historic city of Krakow, one that escaped bombing during World War II. Here, you can purchase well-priced amber jewelry and stroll one of the most colorful medieval squares in the world. The drive southwest will take you to Auschwitz and Birkenau, the Nazi’s largest death camp, followed by a drive west to Wieliczka Salt Mine with its magnificent underground lakes and medieval sculptures in salt. In the High Tatra Mountains, the snow caps are dotted with tall, lush evergreens. In the rural village of Zakopane, you can take a cable car higher up into the Tatras for an even better view.