Just you, the car, and the road ahead.
Taking a road trip is a must-do on any travel bucket list. Just jump in the car and start driving for these 20 incredible road trip adventures.
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Great Ocean Road
Arguably Australia’s best coastal road trip, the Great Ocean Road in the state of Victoria starts at Torquay, then passes 157 miles of near-deserted beaches, lighthouses, rainforest, and pretty villages before reaching its finish in Warrnambool. Encounter exotic animals like anteaters, kangaroos, penguins, koalas, and multi-colored parrots, or have a swim or surf at the countless beaches (mind the sharks though!). The most sensational stretch is the appropriately named “Shipwreck Coast”, home to the Twelve Apostles (now reduced to eight by natural erosion), a formation of rock pillars up to 200 feet high.
Experience some of Canada’s best mountain scenery on this road through the Rockies which winds through the hearts of two national parks between Jasper and Lake Louise via Banff. Bring your best camera for this photogenic journey along limestone cliffs, cascading waterfalls, and pristine mountain lakes. With a bit of luck, you might spot wildlife like bighorn sheep, elk, black bears, and coyotes along the stretch, and with a lot of luck, wolves, mountain goats, or even grizzlies can be seen. It’s possible to complete the 144 miles road trip in three hours, but the jaw-dropping scenery will tempt you to spend a lot more time.
North Coast 500
WHERE: United Kingdom
Officially opened less than three years ago, the NC500 is already hailed as one of the world’s best coastal routes. The circular road, which starts and ends at Inverness, showcases the atmospheric ruggedness of Scotland‘s coast on some 800 miles. Perfect for a long weekend or even a whole week, remote roads take you past craggy mountains, deep lochs, weathered stone monuments, Highland cattle, and century-old castles. Try some fresh fish at The Kishorn Seafood Bar in Wester Ross.
WHERE: South Africa
Stretching 125 miles, this drive is a great introduction to the beauty of South Africa with mountains, lakes, forests, and vineyards on one side and rocky shores, sandy beaches, and lagoons on the other. Beginning in the old-fashioned harbor town of Mossel Bay, Western Cape, the road heads northeast to the colonial town of George before entering lush Wilderness National Park, followed by the seaside resort of Sedgefield, and ending at Storms River, Eastern Cape. If you love adventure then include bungee jumping, cage diving with sharks, and ostrich riding on this road trip.
A visit to the Costiera Amalfitana, or Amalfi Coast, is a highlight for many travelers to Italy. There are a number of roads to take but the most popular one is from Sorrento south to Salerno with a pristine coastline to one side and pastel-colored villages, green mountains, and historic churches on the other. The drive itself is pretty narrow and winding with enough hairpin bends to keep your eyes forced on the road instead of the spectacular scenery. But there are plenty of scenic stops like Amalfi, the church Duomo di Sant’Andrea, Positano, the cave Grotta dello Smeraldo, and Michelin-starred Rossellini’s restaurant in Ravello, which sits right next to the water.
Also called Abra Anticona, Ticlio Pass is not just one of the most spectacular roads on the planet but also one of the most dangerous. At an elevation of 15,807feet, the mountain pass in South America is prone to landslides, falling boulders and tight bends–not to mention the risk of altitude sickness due to lack of oxygen this high up. The pass connects Peru’s capital Lima with other cities like Huancayo, Jauja, and Tarma and the Ticlio railroad, which crosses the pass is one of the highest in the world, built to transport minerals down the mountain.
Southern Scenic Route
WHERE: New Zealand
Discover the majestic beauty of the jagged Fiordland mountains and the rugged coast of New Zealand’s South Island on this 3-5 day long journey. From Dunedin, with its Edwardian and Victorian architecture, the road winds through the Catlins, home to rare wildlife like penguins and sea lions, before reaching Invercargill, where Bluff Oyster and blue cod await the hungry traveler. From the small town of Te Anau, the dead end road leads to Milford Sound and passes steep cliffs, snow-capped mountains, glacial waterfalls, and dense rainforest. Have a break at the famed Mirror Lakes and watch the rubber bits on your car when waiting at the traffic light at Homer Tunnel. The cheeky Kea mountain parrots have an unexplained fascination with them!
Causeway Coastal Route
WHERE: Northern Ireland
The Causeway Coastal Route between Belfast and Londonderry is approximately 120 miles long, though it connects to the Wild Atlantic Way and the Mourne Scenic Route if you simply can’t get enough of Northern Ireland. The arch-shaped drive hugs a narrow strip of coastline, flanked by high cliffs and sea on either side. There are several must-see stops for Game of Thrones fans such as Ballintoy Harbour (used for The Iron Islands) and the Dark Hedges (a path on which Arya Stark escaped from King’s Landing). Also plan for a stop at the Giant’s Causeway, famous for its 40,000 polygonal columns of layered basalt, thought to be some 50-60 million years old.
Guoliang Tunnel Road
Located in the Taihang Mountains of China, the small village of Guoliang was only accessible by 720 stone steps, a rather grueling journey, until 1972. After unsuccessfully petitioning the government for an access road, villagers sold their livestock to pay for tools and explosives and chiseled a path through the mountain themselves which took them five years to complete. The workers were all laymen, so construction of the tunnel was highly dangerous. The Guoliang Tunnel Road, three-quarters of a mile long, 16 feet tall and 13 feet wide (enough for two vehicles to pass), opened to the public on May 1, 1977, and has spectacular views from the openings in the tunnel walls.
Grossglockner High Alpine Road
The longest and most scenic highway through the Austrian Alps, this route twists and turns between Heiligenblut and Bruck over the country’s highest peak, the Grossglockner. Stop at Kaiser-Franz-Josefs-Höhe visitors’ center at 7,772 feet for sweeping vistas over the Pasterze Glacier, the Grossglockner massif, and snow-covered Johannisberg in the northwest. Tackle the 36 hairpin bends while enjoying the alpine scenery of pine-clad hills, glaciers, meadows, and mountain lakes. Opened in 1935, the Grossglockner High Alpine Road is generally passable from early May to late October, although in 1937, it could only be traversed for 132 days, while in 1963, just 276 days.
Yukon Golden Circle
Estimated to take around three days for the 487-mile round trip, the Yukon Golden Circle takes you right into old Gold Rush territory. Follow in the footsteps of the old pioneers through historic towns like Klondike, high-altitude passes, and snow-capped mountains. Fly into Whitehorse, pick up your rental car or even better RV, and travel past the glaciers of the Kluane Ranges to the Alaska Panhandle. Take the ferry to the former frontier town of Skagway for an overnighter before returning to the starting point via Haines Pass, White Pass, and the Carcross Desert, often considered the smallest desert in the world.
Salar de Uyuni
Taking your car on a drive across the world’s largest salt flat, the Salar de Uyuni, at an altitude of 11,985 feet, is an experience like no other. Perfectly flat, the white expanse is breathtakingly beautiful. After rain, the wet surface reflects the clear sky and it will feel like you’re driving through clouds. In dry weather, the salt is so white it could be mistaken for ice. This is one adventurous road trip, so why not stay in a salt hotel where everything in it–including the beds, walls, and toilets–is made from bricks of cemented salt while you’re there?
Not for weak nerves, this mountain pass in northern Italy is legendary for its 48 hairpin turns. At an elevation of 9,045 feet above sea level, it is the second highest paved pass in the Alps. The original road was built from 1820–25 by the Austrian Empire and it has changed little since. For many, this is the ultimate test drive as you accelerate and break bend after bend. Stelvio Pass is also a favorite with cyclists, and every August for one day around 12,000 of them try to conquer the pass with sheer pedal power on Bike Day.
Driving the Atlantic Road in Norway will be over in the blink of an eye as it measures a mere 5.1 miles, but rest assured, it’s worth every minute of it (it was voted Norway’s “Engineering Feat of the Century”). Eight bridges connect Averøy with the mainland via a series of small islands and islets. While you’re traveling “over water,” unusual birds fly overhead and seals and whales might swim next to you. Frequent dramatic storms pound the road and the orange sunsets are spectacular. Stop at Bremsnes Cave, Norway’s largest, which extends 262 feet into the mountain, and learn about dramatic legends surrounding the almost 10,000-year-old Fosna culture.
Giant sand dunes, camel rides, purple sunsets, and overnighters in a yurt–off-roading in the Gobi Desert is the trip of a lifetime only a few get to experience. It’s advisable to hire an (old-school) van with a driver for this adventure, as road signs are scarce and petrol stations even scarcer. The sheer endlessness of the desert invites flexibility and freedom, so you can stop when spotting wild horses, trek the Khongoryn Els Sand Dunes, and camp under stars which are free from light pollution. Just make sure to bring enough supplies for your trip, or it’s camel cheese for a week!
The Transfăgărășan Road is Romania’s best-known drive in part thanks to an appearance on British TV show Top Gear. It was built in the 1970s for military purposes when president Nicolae Ceaușescu wanted quick mountain access in case of a Soviet invasion. The road has more tunnels (the longest is over 2,500 feet long) and viaducts than any other in Romania. As you zigzag through Dracula Country, don’t miss out on climbing the 1,480 concrete stairs to Poenari Castle, the former residence of Vlad the Impaler, the inspirational historical figure behind Bram Stoker’s book.
Active volcanoes, blue glaciers, roaring waterfalls–there are plenty of natural phenomena to see on Iceland’s Ring Road. Running over 800 miles right around the island the road passes lava fields, fertile valleys, geothermal pools and black-sand beaches. Estimated at taking 10 to 14 days to complete, a great time for a trip on the Ring Road is between August and April when the Northern Lights will illuminate the sky. Not to be missed are Jökulsárlón Iceberg Lagoon, 200 feet high Seljalandsfoss waterfall, hiking Sólheimajökull Glacier, the crystal ice caves under Vatnajökull glacier, and Myvatn Geothermal Area.
Plan a day (or better, two) to see the many sights along the Cabot Trail, a 185-mile roadway traversing Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton island in Canada. If you drive clockwise, the coast will be on the “outside” lane as you make your way in a loop up and down steep grades and curves. The northern part of the trail is home to bald eagles, moose, and black bears, but there are also cultural heritage sites like the Alexander Bell Museum in Baddeck and whale-watching hiking trails to explore. Take your time on this road trip past charming fishing villages full of French and Scottish influences.
Black Forest Panoramic Route
Rent a BMW, Audi, or Mercedes to drive in style through Germany’s Black Forest region. At high altitude, between 2600 feet and 3300 feet, the Black Forest Panoramic Route runs from the spa town of Baden-Baden to picturesque Freudenstadt. See cuckoo clocks, half-timbered houses, and the famous red Bollenhut hats while you enjoy culinary delights like Black Forest ham, Black Forest gateau, or cherry brandy (Kirschwässerle). Before you know it, the short 40-mile trip will be over, but you can always turn around and take your auto for another spin.
Maybe the world’s most famous road number, the Route 66 was one of the original highways in the USA and the main connection between Chicago and Santa Monica, California where a sign still signals the end of the road. This is the classic, nostalgic road trip through small town America, covering a total of 2,448 miles. Once a major path for immigrants heading west, the original Route 66 doesn’t exist anymore, but you can still follow parts of it on portions marked “Historic Route 66.” Rent a convertible, eat in old-school diners, and fill up at desert gas stations–a true slice of America awaits!