Do you love a good road trip? Is it more about the journey than the destination? If you’re looking for Europe’s best driving roads and a few off the beaten track choices, these are some of the great driving roads of Europe.
The Stelvio Pass, Italy
Having covered over 5,000km in Italy in our motorhome, we were heading north. Through the beautiful landscape of Emilia-Romagna and the Italian lakes, we meandered slowly towards the mighty Alps and Bormio.
Bormio is a small, pretty unremarkable town in the Italian Alps, and the start of the Stelvio Pass, one of the best Alpine roads in Europe. A twisting, snake of a road with dozens of hairpin bends, we had ridden it on a motorbike several years before, but never tackled it in a 9m, 5,000kg motorhome; it has to be one of the most demanding roads in Europe!
The pass is pretty breathtaking in itself and surrounded by incredible scenery and huge skies. It was a slow drive up, we were passed by lots of sports bikes and fast cars but we were the only motorhome. It was cold at the top (there was still snow in early June and the pass is usually closed from December to May) and we stopped to take some photos before heading down the silver ribbon of the SS38 road traversing the mountainside.
We crested another two mountain passes on our route to Zurich and stopped in Davos in the Swiss Alps for lunch, to celebrate our epic and unforgettable tour of Italy by motorhome!
If you’re looking for a hotel in Bormio for the night before tackling the Stelvio Pass, check out the QC Terme Hotel Bagni Vecchi which has an amazing spa with outdoor infinity pool overlooking the mountains. Get the best prices and special offers through Booking.com.
The Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland
The 2,500 km Wild Atlantic Way coastal drive winds its way along Ireland’s west coast from the most northerly tip of Malin Head, County Donegal, to the gourmet capital of Kinsale in County Cork in the south, making it one of the best scenic drives in Europe.
Revel at the chance of seeing the Northern Lights on the Inishowen Peninsula and be awed by the dizzying heights of the cliffs at Slieve League and the Cliffs of Moher. Spend some time soaking up the vibrant atmosphere of the cities en route, including Galway, the European Capital of Culture 2020, and also rightly dubbed the street performance capital of Ireland. There are so many things to do in Galway that you could spend a month in this stunning county!
Visit the Burren, County Clare, to see Ireland’s unique limestone “lunar” landscape. Don’t forget to stop by in the nearby small town of Doolin, internationally famed for its live traditional music. Star Wars fans are in for a treat with filming locations for Episode VII “The Force Awakens” (2015), Star Wars Episode VIII “The Last Jedi” (2017) and Star Wars Episode IX “The Rise of Skywalker” (2019), scattered along the coastal route at Malin Head, Loop Head, on the Dingle Peninsula and Skellig Micheal island off the coast of Kerry.
For outdoor enthusiasts, there are superb surfing locations around Bundoran, as well as hikes with stunning views in Connemara National Park. Regardless of whether you are looking for empty windswept beaches or lively pub sessions, Irish culture or nature, the Wild Atlantic Way has something for everyone. Make sure you see it for yourself!
Emer and Nils are Ireland enthusiasts and thoroughly enjoy advising people about the country. They blog at Let’s Go Ireland.
Transfagarasan Highway, Romania
One of the best mountain passes in Europe and the second highest paved road in Romania, the Transfagarasan highway is still a hidden gem, not too much explored by many looking for popular destinations. It is true, the road had a short-lived peak of popularity some years ago when it was announced as one of the best driving roads in Europe by Top Gear, who closed it down for a fabulous drive featured on one of their shows (E1, S14).
Starting at the amazingly beautiful Lake Vidraru, passing Poenari Castle (Vlad the Impaler’s residence) and Balea Lake, the 90km highway climbs and winds all the way to the top of the mountain, reaching an altitude of 2024 m.
The road can easily be done in a few hours, but a stop every now and then is absolutely necessary, since the view will enchant you with lush green forests, shortly followed by alpine sights and small waterfalls. The view from the top, over the long S-curves and sharp descents might be one of the most popular attractions in Romania and should be added on anyone’s bucket list. That, and a stay at the ice hotel on top of the mountain.
Because of it’s location and heavy snow, the Transfagarasan highway is usually closed down between October and late June, leaving tourists with only a small window of opportunity.
Europe is perfect for an epic road trip; from the rolling fields of Tuscany, the soaring mountains of the Sierra Nevada to lux living in the South of France, you can find whatever suits your taste and travel style. Whether you have a week, a month or a year, our top fifteen bucket list road trips in Europe will give you plenty of inspiration to get on the road.
A journey along the Bealach-na-ba road is a highlight for those warriors embarking on a larger North Coast 500 trip. Landrover drivers claim this mountainous path across the infamous Applecross peninsula as their own territory one of the best roads in Europe!
The entrance at Shieldaig warns that this former cattle track is unsuitable for learner drivers or motorhomes, filling drivers with trepidation and excitement! We drove cautiously, seldom venturing over 30 mph, enjoying the breathtaking views over Loch Kishorn.
There is a generous sense of camaraderie as drivers chivalrously pull aside at designated points on the zigzagging, dizzying single-track.
As we reached Upper Loch Torridon the amazing vista made the slight odour of burning clutch and the gradients approaching 20% something to simply smile at!
We parked at the summit gazing in awe to Skye and the Outer Hebrides. We couldn’t put the camera away! We were unsure whether to admire or think crazy those cyclists braving the winds and extreme chill factor.
My family was happy to jump back into our trusty old Defender (not at all worried about our brakes on the vertiginous descent) and head down to Applecross Village to enjoy, with some relief, fish and chips on flatter territory!
Sally is a former teacher and librarian. She loves to travel and blogs about travel, life and books at sallyflint.com
Col du Tourmalet, France
Cresting at 2115m, the Col du Tourmalet is the highest paved mountain pass in the French Pyrenees. This incredible road, which skirts the Pic du Midi de Bigorre is one of the most famous roads in Europe for cyclists and includes the legendary Tour de France climb. But this road offers spectacular views and a heart stopping drive for drivers, with many parts of the route having no barriers.
The drive up from Bareges involves hairpin bends and steep drop-offs, levelling out at the Col and then offering a gentler descent into Gripp. Stop at the top for the most amazing views across the mountains of the Massif du Neouvielle and the Pic du Midi.
Check out our Pyrenees hiking and road trip post for more great drives and routes.
Lake Thun, Switzerland
Unfortunately, the road also has a downside; it is only about 25 km long!
Arzo is a German solo female travel and lifestyle blogger at Arzo Travels.
Isle of Skye, Scotland
A road trip around the Isle of Skye in Scotland at any time of the year will leave you breathless from its raw and natural beauty. Majestic mountains, mesmerising lochs and weather-beaten castles allow you to lose yourself to another land and time.
Start your journey by crossing the Skye Bridge leading you onto the largest island of the Inner Hebrides measuring just 50 miles long by 25 miles wide and be ready for the landscape to transform before your eyes.
The incredible scenery is the main focal point for your road trip but the traditional fishing villages, medieval castles and gardens, delicious Scottish food challenging outdoor activities and of course, whisky distillery tasting tours, all offer you a glimpse of life on this beautiful but fierce Scottish island.
Take in the delights of Portree, the islands main village situated close to the hills of the Old Man of Storr and continue on to Dunvegan castle where the clan McLeod have had their ancestral seat for 800 years. Continue on to Fairy Glen, an area of rock pools and waterfalls with access to fabulous hiking and spend a while on one of the many beaches on the island to relax and recuperate.
Food and drink on the Isle of Skye offers visitors a wide choice from simple traditional haggis, neaps and tatties (swede or turnips and potatoes!) to more formal dining. Visit the 18th century Stein Inn before you leave, the oldest pub on the island, or do a tour of the Talisker distillery and grab yourself a bottle of whisky to enjoy when you are back in your hotel.
A road trip to the Isle of Skye, whether it be just for a day or for longer, will leave you with lasting memories you will treasure.
Angie is an experienced traveller and full-time travel writer from the UK who blogs at Where Angie Wanders.
Route Napoleon, France
From Grenoble to Cannes, the Route Napoleon is a 325km stretch of road wending its way through the beautiful mountains of Provence. The road follows the route taken by Napoleon in his escape from the island of Elba to Grenoble and is one of Europe’s best drives.
From Grenoble, through Gap and Sisteron, you’ll enjoy fabulous scenery, hair-pin bends amongst the gentler stretches and glorious views of the French Alps as you head south on one of the great drives through France. Twisting and turning through rocky arches and along cliffs with steep drop-offs and not many barriers, this route offers an ideal antidote to the busy autoroute du soleil, the A7.
Stop along the way and take in all that the towns en route have to offer. The castle in Sisteron, the thermal baths at Digne and the perfume tours in Grasse before arriving in Cannes and and the sparkling sea of the Cote d’Azur
Ring of Kerry, Ireland
Snakes Pass, England
In the heart of the beautiful Peak District, winding its way through the valley connecting Sheffield and Glossop, Snake Pass is one of the best roads to drive in England. Running for roughly 20 miles, Snake Pass makes up just one small section of the A57, one of the only roads that connects the two major cities of Manchester and Sheffield.
With spectacular views in every direction and being surrounded by moorland, valleys, reservoirs and woodland, it truly makes for a scenic and memorable drive. Not surprisingly, it has long been heralded as one of the best drives in Europe.
During the winter months, this road is often inaccessible, however when the A57 isn’t cut off with snow and ice it attracts people from all over the UK, especially those based in the Midlands who venture out to drive the length of Snake Pass at the weekend.
With its sharp twisted roads, moulded around the rugged landscape, Snake Pass really is a road to be celebrated by driving enthusiasts. Just a word of warning though, this road is considered one of the most dangerous in the UK, so take it slowly and savour the drive. Once your drive over the pass is completed, head to Castleton, a picturesque village just a few miles away.
Stacy is a photographer based in the Peak District in the heart of England and blogs at What Stacy Did.
Norcia to Ascoli Piceno, Italy
One of the most spectacular driving roads in Italy is the route from Norcia in Umbria along the narrow SS447 to Castelluccio and then on into Le Marche towards Ascoli Piceno.
Norcia is the perfect place to stock up on a picnic before undertaking this drive. The town is famed for its pork produce and there are plenty of norcinerias selling delicious cured meat. From there, it’s a short drive along the SS685 to reach the SS447 which winds up through the mountains before taking you down onto the vast Piano Grande plateau. The drive is best undertaken in late spring or early summer when the plain is carpeted with wild flowers.
Pause in hilltop Castellucio, a town sadly affected by a massive earthquake in 2016. Visitors spending their euros is essential for the survival of this remote settlement which is famed for its lentil production. From there, continue through glorious mountain scenery picking up the SP89 and then the SP237 which twists its way towards the lovely town of Ascoli Piceno.
Bay of Kotor to Skadar Lake, Montenegro
Montenegro may be a little country, but if you like driving it is the perfect place to organize a road trip of a few days through breathtaking scenery.
One of the most fascinating routes will take you from the bay of Kotor to Skadar lake, then back via the coast.
The route starts from the bay of Kotor and climbs zigzagging on dizzying hairpin bends on the Lovcen mountain just behind its namesake village. Despite the tricky road it will be impossible not to stop several times to admire the view and take pictures of the enchanting Kotor bay.
From Mount Lovcen you proceed to the viewpoint of Lake Skadar. Soon the road becomes more and more a small country road, not only rough but also very narrow, where two cars need various manoeuvres to pass each other!
The difficult driving dissuades many people and so you get the opportunity to visit the viewpoint and enjoy the superb vista often in solitude.
From here you can drive to Virpazar, but not before stopping to admire a landscape frozen in time in Rijeka Crnojevica. Once in Virpazar it’s time for a short stop to take a boat ride on the lake before heading to the coast.
The journey back will take you to Budva, itself of little interest, but it is near Sveti Stefan, a favorite island of celebrities in the 60s, but which you can only observe from afar unless you have at least a restaurant reservation. From here in one hour you will be back at your starting point…and no, you don’t need to go down the hairpin bends!!!
Clotilde is a travel addict and mother of two beautiful identical twin boys. She blogs at A Princess Travelling with Twins.
The Lake District, England
The seasonal colours, dramatic peaks and changing mood of the English Lake District National Park have inspired many great artists, writers and poets. A meandering route to explore every corner will reveal that there is no one ‘Lake District landscape’ and locals certainly have their preference.
For five years, we called Cockermouth ‘home’ so it should be no surprise that the more rugged and angular mountains of the West Lakes is our favoured region compared to the more gentle undulations of the South East corner of the park.
Most tourists coming up from the south exit the M6 at Kendal and head straight for Windermere or Ambleside and then don’t go any further. This is a huge error! I recommend continuing your journey through Grasmere (stop here at the gingerbread shop – it’s amazing!) and then on through the heart of the Lake District along the bank of Thirlmere and under the shadow of Helvellyn to your right.
At Castlerigg, take a stroll around the stone circle, which dates from around 3200BC, and from its centre, see if you can spot some of the highest peaks in Cumbria. Keswick, with its quintessentially British pubs and market town buzz (and who could forget the Pencil Museum?!), is worth a stop. From here you can take the Keswick Launch, a hop-on hop-off boat around Derwentwater. Alight at Lingholm to discover where Beatrix Potter spent her summer holidays and gathered inspiration for much of her work. The Lingholm Kitchen and Walled Garden is a great place to stop for lunch or a cuppa.
From Kesick, instead of continuing along the A66, head south along the eastern bank of Derwentwater. This will take you through the Borrowdale valley: lush countryside, wooded valleys, sparkling streams and many beckoning fells. As you join Honister Pass, one of the highest passes in England and the location of many films and adverts, you will notice the landscape shift slightly. You’re in Westmorland Green Slate territory. The Honister Slate Mine is the last working slate mine in England and the tours will take you underground to see, hear and learn about the mine’s history. If you’re feeling adventurous you could also try the via ferrata, infinity bridge and cable climb through the mine.
Honister Pass is undoubtedly breathtaking, but further up the road you pass Buttermere and then Crummock Water on what has to be one of the most stunning lake-side stretches of road (just watch out for sheep!). If you happen to be there in late April to mid-May, stop at the carpark alongside Crummock at Rannerdale Knotts to see the spectacular display of fell-side bluebells. The rest of the four and a half mile hike to the peak is one of my favourite Lake District fell walks.
Continue your journey to Lorton and then turn right on to the B5292. This will take you on the Whinlatter Pass and down through the Thornthwaite Forest. At the top, pause to admire the views over Bassenthwaite Lake (which, incidentally, is the one and only ‘lake’ in the Lake District) and I highly recommend the mountain bike trails in the Whinlatter Forest Park; there’s a trail to suit every skill and fitness level.
At the bottom of the pass, you can join the A66, turning left towards Cockermouth and the coast, or right towards Penrith and the M6. I obviously have a soft spot for Cockermouth; it’s managed to retain its quaint beauty despite being popular with tourists. The stretch of road that runs alongside Bass’ with Skiddaw, Dodd and Ullock Pike towering above the opposite bank is a jaw-dropper at dusk or during a full moon; the light bounces off the water and dances around the fells. The drive to Penrith in the opposite direction is a continuous treat (but my favourite views are at Scales). Take a detour at Troutbeck and head south to Ullswater. The lake-side road up to Pooley Bridge and then back up to the A66 is worth the added time and distance!
Joss and her husband are worldschooling their two young boys. They are currently based in New Zealand. She writes about sustainable travel for adventurous families at Little Green Globetrotter, where you can also check out her photography.
There are plenty of attractions in Malta and places to explore. A road trip sure is one of the best ways of doing so. Known for having some of the best and most scenic roads in the region, the island is perfectly made to get into your car and head for the open roads.
It is small enough to ensure getting lost is not a regular occurrence, while large enough to hold many distinguished features. From the start point in Sliema don’t miss a stop at the Birgu Waterfront for great views of Valletta, before moving onto the picturesque fishing village of Marsaxlokk. After a stop in Golden Bay, the drive down from Mellieha to Ghadira comes with many good stops along the way, including Ghadira Bay and The Red Tower. On the way back to Valetta, a stop in St. Julian’s is recommended.
Most of the scenic drives in Malta will have the sea featuring in one way or another, and the ability to make you feel as if you’ve stepped back in time. The country is just so compact that you can see all that this island has got to offer in a daylong road trip.
Rai is driven by curiosity, courage, connection and growth. He blogs about travel at A Rai of Light.
Val d'Orcia, Italy
When most people think of Tuscany Italy, they think of Florence, Venice, the leaning tower of Pisa, and maybe the medieval town of San Gimignano (the city of the five towers). But in reality, that’s not the essence of Tuscany at all. Tuscany is all about the countryside. Those infinite lush green rolling hills, those lines of cypresses dotting the roads, and those endless fields of grain and sunflowers… now that’s Tuscany! And that’s exactly what earned it UNESCO World Heritage Status.
The Panoramic Road of the Val d’Orcia winding through quaint farmhouses and exquisite vineyards is an iconic and bucket list road trip that will definitely leave you thirsty for more colors, nature, and well wine! Driving through you just can’t help but hear the Gladiator soundtrack play in your mind, accompanying you on road-side picnics in the middle of wheat-filled meadows. Every little turn of the road leads to some sort of different setting; from isolated chapels (the Vitaleta Chapel is a must) to picturesque towns reminiscent of those found in the chalk drawings of Mary Poppins.
I go every year as a tradition to just recharge my batteries. The colors are best and most vibrant in the spring and if you’re into food, wine, nature, tranquility, and history, well… there is no better road trip in Italy!
Linda escaped her nine to five job to reach her dream of full-time travel and blogs at La Dolce Fit Vita.
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The Golden Circle, Iceland
Barcelona to Zarautz, Spain
If you’re ever in Barcelona, Spain and it’s within your means, I strongly recommend you rent a car and drive north to Zarautz.
After enjoying everything that the great metropolis of Barcelona has to offer, hop in your rental and get on the A2, heading northeast. The six hour drive begins pleasantly, with flat green pastures, before the topography rises up dramatically. Turning onto the A22 at Lleida and the E7 at Huesca, you’ll soon find yourself driving through gorgeous rolling hills. As you continue on the A21, you’ll notice highway signs adding a baffling language: congratulations, you’ve entered the Basque Country.
As you progress further into the mountains, you’ll come across the first sizeable city; Pamplona. If you’re travelling in the middle of July, be sure to enter Pamplona during the Festival of San Fermin, known outside Spain as “the running of the bulls.” If you’re feeling up to it, don the white and red uniforms of fellow festival-goers and take part in the run, giving yourself an adrenaline boost and living a great story in the process.
Finally, take the A15 out of Pamplona up towards the north coast of Spain, to the beachside town of Zarautz, where you’ll end your trip. This charming little town, dating from the 13th century, offers easy access to the water and to the mountains, as well as the cities of San Sebastian and Bilbao. Wherever you end up, you can be sure that the journey will be as cool as the destination.
Alek offer travel stories, recommendations, gear reviews, and book reviews. He blogs at 9 to 5 Voyager.