If you've got wheels, wanderlust and a spot of time, a road trip in Europe offers the chance to see the continent at a more relaxed pace. From the sunny shores of Portugal to the dungeons of Dracula's castle in Transylvania in Romania, the following itineraries can be easily combined, shortened or altered to suit your wayfaring tastes. Here are 9 of the best road trips in Europe, a clutch of which also feature in our run-down of the best countries for summer in Europe.
Spend a night in the medieval village of Bacharach in Riesling wine country, before wandering the riverside streets of Heidelberg. Onward to Nuremberg, and then to Leipzig for a strong dose of hot caffeine with your Cold War history, classical music and cake. Make sure to check out the complete guide to the UNESCO world heritage sites in Germany to visit some of the palaces and gardens, industrial heritage sites or historic town centres along the way.
For a longer trip, start in London and take the ferry or channel tunnel to France, transforming this road trip into a pilgrimage between Europe’s holy trinity of artistic hubs.
Begin in Bilbao, where the surrounding beaches boast world-class surf, then drive along the Atlantic to San Sebastian: watersports wonderland and foodie heaven. From there venture south through the rugged wilderness of the Pyrenees to Pamplona. Climb the Roncesvalles Pass before looping back to the coast. Or continue along the Bay of Biscay to the attractive seaside resort of St-Jean-de-Luz.
Travellers with a little extra money lining their pockets will be happy to spend days lingering on boho beaches in Biarritz, while those looking for gargantuan swell can do no better than the surfer hangouts in Hossegor.
Finish the trip northward in Bordeaux – the Pearl of the Aquitaine – where café-strewn boulevards and world-class wines are your trophies at the finish line.
Kick off in the city of Bergen, on Norway’s southwest coast, and make way past mighty fjords to Voss and the colossal Tvindefossen waterfall. Then check the world's longest road tunnel off your to-do list, a cavernous 24.5km route under the mountains.
Catch a quick ferry across the Sognefjord and carry on to the Fjaler valleys, a land of glaciers and snowy mountain peaks, to the waterside towns of Stryn or the mountain village Videster.
Work your way northward to the well-touristed towns of Geiranger, down the death-defying hairpin turns of Trollstigen (literally “The Troll Path”).
After the descent, ferry across the Eresfjord to Molde and Kristiansund. For the final stretch, drive the iconic Atlantic Road with its roller-coaster-style bridges, and conclude with some well-deserved downtime upon the still waters and stilted homes of Trondheim.
Start from Bucharest, travelling northward through the Carpathian mountains to Transylvania, and make a mandatory stop at Bran Castle (claimed to be the old stomping grounds of Dracula himself).
Take the Transfagarasan mountain road, one of the most scenic routes in the world, towards the age-old cities and countless castles of Sibu, Brasov and Sighisoara. Then set course to the unexplored architectural gems of Timisoara.
Carry on towards the tranquil hot springs and hip ruin pubs of bustling Budapest, and be prepared to stay at least a few days. Depart for Bratislava – a capital full of surprises – from where it's only an hour further to the coffeehouses and eclectic architecture of Vienna.
Find out why we picked Austria as one of our best places to travel in 2020
Start in Braga, before driving south to the medieval town of Guimarães, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Then it’s onward to the breathtaking "second-city" of Porto, though it's nothing less than first-rate. Check here for the best places to stay in Porto.
Drive east to the vineyards and steep valleys of Penafiel and Amarante before hitting the coastal road to the vast white beaches of Figueira da Foz - among the best beaches in Portugal. From here it’s on to Peniche, Ericeira and then Lisbon: the country's vibrant capital that's on course to beat out Berlin for Europe’s coolest city. Check out the best areas to stay in Lisbon as well as the best places to eat to match your taste.
If you’ve still got itchy feet when you reach Faro, take the ferry from nearby Algeciras in Spain to Morocco. Imagine the satisfaction of parking your ride in the desert village of Merzouga, before exploring the Sahara – that's right, it would feel awesome.
When to go: actually, any time of the year is great. Especially the Algarve is an all-year travel destination
The Alpenstrasse, or Alpine Road, is your ticket to a bonafide Bavarian odyssey: a safe route through the unforgettable vistas of Germany's high-altitude meadows, mountains, crystal-clear lakes and cosy village restaurants. Start lakeside at Lindau on the Bodensee and head to Oberstaufen for a therapeutic beauty treatment in the country’s “Capital of Wellness”.
Venture eastwards to the Breitachklamm gorge, where the river Breitach cuts through verdant cliffs and colossal boulders. Carry on to the town of Füssen – famous for its violin makers – stopping along the way at any quaint Alpine villages you please. The iconic Neuschwanstein Castle, the same structure that inspired Walt Disney to build his own version for Cinderella, isn’t far off either - one of those places even more beautiful in winter.
Speaking of winter, hit the slopes of Garmisch-Partenkirchen for some serious skiing if the season’s right. Stop at Benediktbeuern on your way to the medieval town of Bad Tölz, then up through the stunning wilderness scenes of the Chiemgau Alps before ending in the regional capital of Munich. If you’re missing the mountain roads already, carry on to Salzburg in Austria and stop in the ice caves of Werfen on the way.
Start in Athens and take the coastal roads south through the Athenian Riviera to Sounion, situated at the tip the Attic peninsula. Watch a sunset at the Temple of Poseidon, then drive northward through mythic mountains to the fortress of Kórinthos before posting up in the legendary city of Mycenae (home of Homeric heroes).
If you’re craving a luxurious seaside stay, look no further than the resort town of Nafplio. If not, carry onwards through the unforgiving landscapes to Mystra, the cultural and political capital of Byzantium.
Want more? Then it’s on to Olympia, sporting grounds of the ancients, and the mystic ruins of Delphi. Loop back towards Athens, approaching the city from the north.
Leave the hectic pace of England’s capital London behind. Make for Oxford, home of the world’s oldest English-language university, and a place of storied pubs where the likes of J.R.R Tolkien and Lewis Carrol regularly wet their whistles.
Take the two-and-a-half-hour drive north to Manchester for a city fix and watch a football match. Carry on north to the Lake District National Park, one of the most beautiful places in England. Drink in the scenery that inspired England’s finest romantics, then head across the Yorkshire dales to the quirky medieval lanes of York, founded by the Romans nearly 2000 years ago.
From there it's north again past tiny villages to the majestic wonders of Edinburgh. If you’re craving the rugged comforts of the highlands go to Stirling, Inverness, or the Western Isles – worth the drive indeed. And if you are going by electric car, check out this great guide to plan your electric car road trip in Britain.
Hit the gas in the Sicilian capital of Palermo, the biggest historic centre in Italy after Rome and arguably the country’s most chaotic metropolis.
Adventure onwards along the Tyrrhenian coast to the golden sands of Cefalù – a great holiday spot for families, with a mellow medieval town centre to boot.
Get to the island’s heartland and the ancient city of Enna. Surrounded by cliffs on all sides, and built atop a massive hill, you'll feel as though you've walked on the set of Game of Thrones. Head southeast to the shores of the Ionian Sea and dock in Siracusa, once the most important in the western world while under ancient Greek rule with much of its historic architecture intact.
Then it’s up to Catania for a trip to molten Mount Etna, the tallest active volcano on the entire European continent.
Finish the trip in Messina, or ferry across into the Italian province of Calabria where rustic mountain villages, friendly locals and the idyllic sands of Tropea and Pizzo await – refreshingly devoid of foreigners.
If after reading this article you've been inspired by our road trips in Europe, then please do get in touch. Through our Tailor-Made Trips service, we can create a personal itinerary for the ultimate self-drive trip around Europe.
Top image: Bieszczady mountains, Poland © Milosz_G/Shutterstock