The best countries for a self drive holiday

written by
Kirsten Powley

updated 03.09.2019

There's something about road trip travel that always captures the imagination. You can take it all at your own pace, choose where to go and set off with a true sense of freedom and adventure. Thanks to the good old invention of the road (we have the Mesopotamians to thank for that!), we have access to plenty of landscapes on many travellers' bucket lists simply by sitting behind the steering wheel. Here are some of the best countries for a road trip - and of course, each one of our suggestions is bookable as a Rough Guides tailor-made trip. All you need to do is get in touch and we can sort out your dream self drive holiday.


Perhaps nowhere else in the world is there a road trip destination that takes you through such varied and brutal landscapes while remaining safe and enjoyable. Iceland is full of arresting views and routes: the Ring Road is one of the most well known – and is still as worth doing as it has ever been – a 1,339km route around the island. It offers the best of Iceland's awe-inspiring scenery, from snow-capped mountains to lava fields, dramatic fjords and expansive volcanic craters.

Trekking across glaciers or volcanoes is a jaw-dropping way to stretch your legs outside the car, and unique activities like snorkelling between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates raise the adventure quotient.


The Ring Road in Iceland has spectacular mountain views © Mathias Berlin/Shutterstock

United Kingdom & Ireland

The UK and Ireland have some great opportunities for a fulfilling and exciting road trip – especially if you head away from the major traffic-clogged routes. For incredible mountain views, there nothing quite like a self drive holiday in Scotland, with its North Coast 500 route. Make sure to complete the experience with a whisky distillery visit.

For the ocean lovers, surfers and wannabe hippies, there's the UK's Atlantic Highway, taking you along the Devon and Cornwall coast (and inland for a portion to Exmoor National Park).

Ireland offers the craggy landscapes of the Wild Atlantic Way, and there are several Game of Thrones locations for the TV fanatics to explore in both Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Those wanting a short but spectacular road trip, the Welsh Black Mountain Pass through the Brecon Beacons won't leave you disappointed. Or, simply get in the car and drive your way aimlessly through the ales and cheeses of Yorkshire.


A rural road through the rolling hills of the Cornish countryside © Marcin jucha/Shutterstock

Costa Rica

With so much to do in Costa Rica, ranging from cloud forests to spectacular beaches, it's often difficult to see it all in one trip – especially when the transport options available are either very slow and crowded or expensive. The solution? Road trip. As one of the most visited Central American countries, Costa Rica's major roads are fairly easily navigatable, although in several areas of the country you'll come across dirt roads best tackled in a 4x4 or avoided entirely in the rainy season.

In Costa Rica you can take things as easy or action-packed as you like, seeking out relaxing eco-lodges in the forest or trying adrenaline-inducing zip-lines, and then there's the beaches, where you can swim, chill, surf or go horse-riding. The country's many national parks can be explored at a leisurely pace by car, from Manuel Antonio to Monteverde. There's not a moment of boredom when heading to Costa Rica for a self drive holiday.


Driving in Costa Rica is a great way to see the country at your own pace © Guadelupe Polito/Shutterstock

South Africa

South Africa is destined to charm with its vineyards, mountain views, lush scenery and relaxing atmosphere. It's most well known for the Garden Route, located in the Western Cape province – a perfect introduction to South Africa and easily paired with Cape Town. Stretching along the coast between Mossel Bay and Storms River Mouth, this is one of the most admired routes in one of the best countries for a self-drive holiday. As you drive you'll see mountains and vineyards on one side and rugged cliffs and beaches on the other. You could even drive on further to Hermanus, known for its excellent whale watching from July to November.

Of course, we can't forget one of the main reasons people visit South Africa: a safari. The best way to do enjoy the experience is by joining a guided trip in a 4x4 so you can get up close and personal to the wildlife while learning about the environment and animals within it.


Bloukrans Bridge on the Garden Route in South Africa © LMspencer/Shutterstock


Sticking with the vineyard theme, France's excellent roads and wide-open spaces makes it a great self drive holiday candidate. The biggest country in the EU, there's a huge amount to see on any trip, and driving allows you to stop off at whatever villages take your fancy. Tour the castles and famous vineyards of the Loire Valley, combine architecture and wine in Bordeaux, stop off at the beaches and seafood restaurants of the Cote d'Azur, or take in the scent of lavender in Provence. With any of these, you're not limited to the confines of your car: there are many activities beyond road-tripping, from bike tours, hikes, museums, art galleries and winery tours.


Lavender fields in Provence, France © Flystock/Shutterstock


Italy's landscapes are some of the most dreamt about in the world, and a road trip here can be an idyllic, romantic way of immersing yourself in the gorgeous surroundings. From the rolling hills of Tuscany to the winding Amalfi Coast (not forgetting a stop off via boat to glamorous Capri), sampling everything from pizza and pasta to limoncello and wine, there's no wrong way to do Italy as long as your stomach is full and the scenery is beautiful!

Tuscany road with cypress tree © Shutterstock

Tuscany's iconic cypress trees © Pawel Uchorczak/Shutterstock

Kirsten Powley

written by
Kirsten Powley

updated 03.09.2019

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