The next time you head to Europe, consider applying the classic American road trip formula to your vacation abroad. Hitting the road in Europe is a great way to get off the beaten tourist path and spontaneously discover small villages, regional cuisine, and friendly locals. And you’ll surely find plenty of roadside attractions (just maybe not a giant ball of twine). Here are 10 of the best road trip routes to try in Europe.
Romantic Road, Germany
The Romantic Road, or Romantische Strasse in German, is one of Germany’s most popular tourist routes. That’s because it gives visitors a taste of everything that makes the country idyllic: vineyards and the palace in Wurzburg, medieval towns like Rothenburg ob der Tauber, and the soaring Alps and fairytale-like Neuschwanstein Castle near Fussen. No matter what you like to do when you travel, there’s something for you along or just off the Romantic Road–from spa towns to fortified villages.
Length: About 240 miles.
Best Detour: From the southern-most point of the Romantic Road in Fussen, Germany’s highest peak, Zugspitze, is about an hour away.
Don’t Forget: Rothenburg ob der Tauber is home to the Kathe Wohlfahrt headquarters. Save room in your luggage for typical German holiday decor, like wooden incense smokers and handmade ornaments.
Bordeaux, France to Bilbao, Spain
For anyone who appreciates food, the drive between France and Spain from Biarritz to Bilbao is packed with Michelin-starred restaurants (several of which appear on the 2016 World’s 50 Best Restaurants list) and enough food variety to keep even the pickiest traveler satisfied.
Start in Bordeaux vineyards with a wine tasting course at Maison du Vin de Bordeaux before exploring the UNESCO World Heritage-listed city center. In Biarritz, it’s all about the beaches like Cote des Basques with Villa Belza, a 19th-century chateau as your backdrop. Dine at acclaimed Elkano in Getaria, near San Sebastian. Finish the trip in Bilbao with pintxos at Irrintzi.
Length: About 208 miles.
Best Detour: Axpe, Spain, is only about 20 minutes south from Durango off the main road between San Sebastian and Bilbao, but it’s worth it for a stop at Asador Etxebarri, where Basque barbeque meets ingredients from the sea in an unassuming village.
Don’t Forget: Make reservations in advance for restaurant heavy-hitters like Mugaritz in San Sebastian (Spain), or L’Impertinent in Biarritz (France).
The Normandy coast, best known for its role in the D-Day landings, is a must visit for history buffs. Begin the trip in Etretat for a walk along the white chalky cliffs with views of Natural sea arches. Seaside towns, in particular Honfleur and Trouville-sur-Mer, are worth a stop.
From this direction, Juno Beach is the first of the Operation Overlord beaches you’ll hit. About 50 miles of coastline separate it from Utah Beach. Other sobering points of interest include the artificial quays seen at low tide in Arromanches, the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach, and enormous shell craters at Pointe du Hoc.
Continue the trip on a more light-hearted note to Mont St. Michel (beware: tourist crowds are no joke) before heading inland to the tiny town of Camembert to sample lits the famed cheese of the same name. Finish the trip in Monet’s Giverny.
Length: About 430 miles.
Best Detour: Cross into Brittany from Normandy for a visit to St. Malo, about an hour from Mont St. Michel. The walled-in town was once a port for privateers and is now a short ferry ride from the Channel Islands.
Don’t Forget: In addition to cheese, the region is known for its cider and calvados, or apple brandy. If you don’t drive by a roadside stand or two, you may be in the wrong place.
Trollstigen National Tourist Route, Norway
Also known as the Troll’s Route, this mountain road, designated as one of Norway’s national tourist routes, affords drivers with views of mountains, waterfalls like the Seven Sisters, and the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Geirangerfjord.
Like any road trip, this one is best when you get out and explore the areas of the drive between Valldalen and Andalsnes. Get up close to the area’s waterfalls by kayaking Geirangerfjord. There are also several historic fjord farms, including Skagefla and Knivsfla.
Length: About 65 miles.
Best Detour: Dovrefjell-Sundalsfjella National Park, a protected alpine area, is home to reindeer, musk ox, and wolverines. Hiking and fishing, particularly for trout, are good reasons to stop.
Don’t Forget: Consider traveling in summer as you’ll have more daylight, which means more time to explore.
High Alpine Road, Austria
The Grossglockner Hochalpenstrasse, or High Alpine Road, takes drivers through Hohe Tauren National Park in the eastern Alps with views of Austria’s highest mountain, Grossglockner, as well as Pasterze, the longest glacier in the country at about five miles.
Beyond the 36 hairpin turns, you’ll want to get out of the car for a hike to any of the alpine huts dotting the landscape, or go further into the national park for hikes like the easy five-mile round-trip trail to Stappitzer Lake.
Length: About 30 miles, or about 185 miles from Salzburg to Carinthia via Grossglockner.
Best Detour: From Grossglockner, it’s only about 2.5 hours onward to picturesque towns in the Dolomites, like Cortina d’ Ampezzo, or Bled, Slovenia, bordering Triglav National Park.
Don’t Forget: The road closes in early November and reopens in early May, with gates closing at nighttime during the season. Tickets cost 35 euro for a day pass or 41 euro round-trip per car. Electric vehicles and motorcycles receive a discount.
Athens to Olympia, Greece
While Greece’s islands usually hog the vacation spotlight, the mainland is the perfect place for countryside cruising. Start in Athens to explore the ruins (Acropolis, Parthenon, the Temple of Hephaestus, etc.) before hitting the road to the Laconia countryside.
Visit Sparta, the modern city believed to be the site of ancient Sparta, if only to pass through on your way to Mystras. The archeological site of medieval ruins sits among a breathtaking landscape and has the distinction of being on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Finish the trip in Olympia to take in the ruins of temples and the ancient Olympic Games before heading back to Athens.
Length: About 420 miles.
Best Detour: To add more seaside to your trip, head south to Cape Matapan (also known as Cape Tainaron), the southernmost point of mainland Greece. The drive is just over 60 miles from either Mystras or Sparta
Don’t Forget: The Museum of the Olive and Greek Olive Oil in Sparta is worth a stop for lovers of the Mediterranean fruit.
Begin with a visit to Florence before packing up the wheels and taking off into the Tuscan countryside. The first stop is Orvieto, a hilltop town known for its Gothic cathedral, network of caves, and Classico wine. Leave your car at the bottom of the hill for free and head up tot he medieval town.
Make the trip a loop by taking in some of Italy’s less-visited coastal areas, starting with Talamone, a small fishing village with an ancient castle towering over it. From there, the beaches of Marina di Grosseto and the Riserva Naturale Scarlino in Follonica are worth stops. The area is known for its agriturismo, so look for farmhouse accommodations. Head back toward Florence with stops in Siena and Castellina in Chianti.
Length: About 340 miles.
Best Detour: Rome is less than 80 miles from Orvieto. As they say, when in (almost) Rome…
Don’t Forget: The unleaded gasoline in Italy is benzina verde. Don’t use gasolio or diesel unless you have a diesel rental car.
Ring of Kerry, Ireland
The Irish countryside is the ideal setting for a road trip any time of the year. The Ring of Kerry, a route circling the Iveragh Peninsula, gives you a variety with mountains and medieval villages, beaches and lakes. The chiseled coastline offers dramatic views, while cozy pubs along the way provide the perfect spot to pop in for a pint and wait out any inclement weather. (But don’t drink and drive, obviously.)
Get out for a walk along a stretch of the Kerry Way, a nearly 125-mile walking trail, and pay visit to Ross Castle and Rossbeigh Beach. Make your trip more relaxing by adding in extra overnight stops at the area’s bed and breakfasts, renowned for their hospitality.
Length: About 110 miles (add 80 miles for the drive from Shannon Airport to Killarney).
Best Detour: The Cliffs of Moher are about 115 miles north of Killarney. The cliffs stretch five miles and tower more than 700 feet above the Atlantic Ocean. From here, you can drive more of the Wild Atlantic Way to extend your trip.
Don’t Forget: Ireland is known for its unpredictable weather. Pack a raincoat and know that while the drive will inevitably be beautiful, you may not get crystal clear views for miles out to sea.
Transfagarasan Mountain Road/Highway, Romania
Made famous by Top Gear, Romania’s national road 7C or Transfagarasan Mountain Road takes you through the Fagaras Mountains, part of the Carpathian range. The maximum speed is 25 miles per hour to account for the hairpin turns and steep climbs.
Crossing viaducts and driving through tunnels, you’ll pass through the Arges River gorge and by Poenari Castle, infamous for its connection to Vlad the Impaler (the supposed inspiration for Count Dracula). Stick to 7C around Vidraru Lake, as it’s better maintained than the road going along the other side. Check road conditions before you plan your trip, as the road is usually closed from October to June.
Length: About 56 miles.
Best Detour: Bran Castle, commonly called Dracula’s Castle, is just over 60 miles from Cartisoara, at the northern point of the Transfagarasan Mountain Road. Add 10 extra miles if you head to Bran from the southern point of the road in Bascov.
Don’t Forget: Splurge on a rental car upgrade. Why not?
Ring Road, Iceland
Route 1 circles the entire country of Iceland, thus its nickname–the Ring Road. Starting and ending in Reykjavik makes sense for most travelers flying into the country. Give yourself plenty of time for stopping and exploring the varying otherworldly landscape and dramatic fjords, like Eyjafjordur.
Volcanically active areas with lava fields, geysers, mud pools, and other geothermal features near Lake Myvatn in the north, contrast dramatically with the Vatnajokull ice cap in the southeast, making the case for Iceland’s name. In the west, just off Route 1, Thingvellir National Park (also a UNESCO World Heritage Site) shows another side of the islands with rocky outcrops and greenery surrounding traces of Vikings remains.
Length: About 830 miles.
Best Detour: The so-called Diamond Circle is about a 160-mile loop in the northern part of the country. Some of that overlaps Route 1, but get off it to see the coastal town of Husavik, canyon of Asbyrgi, and Dettifoss waterfall.
Don’t Forget: Rent a four-wheel drive vehicle so you can tackle any spontaneous trips off the main road.
More from SmarterTravel:
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- Why Travelers Are Flocking to the Middle East in 2018
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2016. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.
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