If you're dreaming of setting out to hit the open road, look no further. This is our pick of the greatest world trips around the world, from majestic day-trips to week-long epics.
The world’s greatest road trips
1. Cabot Trail, Canada
This 298km road traverses the island of Cape Breton, arguably the most beautiful part of Nova Scotia. The highlight of the trail is the northern section, which takes you through the magnificent Cape Breton Highlands National Park, home to bald eagles, moose and black bears. Take the journey at a leisurely pace to explore charming small villages where the French and Scottish influence is still obvious.
Looking to explore more of Canada? The Cabot Trail is just one of our top 5 road trips in the country.
The lush, slender stretch of coastal plain between Mossel Bay and Storms River Mouth makes for an easy – but beautiful – introduction to South Africa, with mountains and vineyards on one side, and rocky shores and sandy beaches on the other. The coast is at its most dramatic at Storms River Mouth; abandon your wheels here to walk the trails, with the surf pounding the rocks below you.
3. Colombia River Gorge, USA
Travelling east out of Portland, Oregon, Interstate-84 winds its way beside the beautiful Colombia River Gorge. Though it’s just 112km and easily covered in one day, a few days will enable you to get the most out of the area and to take your time soaking up the views of the USA’s second-longest river, and its many dramatic waterfalls.
4. San Juan Skyway, USA
This 380km drive through Colorado’s dramatic San Juan Range will take you past gushing streams and waterfalls in spring, bright wildflowers in summer, and snowy slopes in winter. However, this fabulous route is at its most spectacular in autumn, when the landscape is ablaze with the yellows, oranges and reds of the leaves. It's also one of the highlights that we think makes Colorado one of the most beautiful states.
5. Gobi Desert, Mongolia
Off-road to your heart’s content in the Gobi Desert, where kilometre after kilometre of nothingness stretches out seemingly infinitely around you. This truly remote region has a rugged beauty (not least the sand dunes of Khongoryn Els); when you get tired of being behind the wheel, explore on camel back and spend your nights at a traditional Ger camp.
6. South Island Circuit, New Zealand
The South Island is where New Zealand’s landscape is at its most remarkable, and driving around it at your own pace allows you to really soak up the many varied vistas, stopping for an adrenalin fix every now and again. Arguably the most stunning part of the drive is between Te Anau and Milford Sound, which crosses tranquil Fiordland and some of the Southern Alps.
Driving across the perfectly flat white expanse of the world’s largest salt lake, it’s easy to believe you’re on another planet. After rain, the salt flats are turned into an enormous mirror that reflects the surrounding peaks; when dry, the surface is so intensely white that it appears to be ice; at night, the landscape is illuminated by the eerie white glow of the moon.
There are plenty adventures to be had in Bolivia, too – start with these beautiful journeys across the country.
Sardinia’s beautiful northern coast, the Costa Smeralda (or “Emerald Coast”), sees the meeting of dramatic headlands and turquoise waters. This is the island’s best-known resort area, with a reputation for glitzy opulence – visit in late spring or early autumn for the best experience; quieter roads, beautiful weather, and uncrowded beaches.
9. Iceland's ring road
A 1339-kilometre road that runs right around the island, the N1 enables you to enjoy Iceland’s awe-inspiring scenery, taking you from fertile valleys and snow-capped mountains to lava fields, vivid blue fjords and volcanic craters. This beautiful, if brutal, landscape of big open spaces is perfect for exploring on four wheels.
The highest paved road in the world, the Karakoram Highway connects China and Pakistan across the rocky mountain range that separates the two countries. Undoubtedly one of the world’s most stunning routes, the journey takes you through some suitably epic scenery, from towering snow-capped mountains to rocky gorges and pale blue rivers, not to mention past numerous pieces of rock art, which date back as far as 1000BC.
11. Tasmanian peninsula, Australia
This southeastern corner of Tasmania is one of the most stunning parts of Australia, boasting a rugged coastline that leads down to crystal clear waters. Self-driving is the best way to explore – allow plenty of time for stops to get up close to the spectacular scenery, not least to see Tasman’s Arch and the Devil’s Kitchen.
Need more convincing? We've compiled 10 reasons why Australia's smallest state should be top of your travel itinerary.
12. Highway 61, USA
There’s no greater musical odyssey to be had in America than that of the Blues Highway – one of our top 5 road trips in the USA. Running south for 2300km from Wyoming to New Orleans, Louisiana, it follows the course of the mighty Mississippi River for much of the way. The greatest stretch for music lovers is undoubtedly that from the Blues city of Memphis to intoxicating New Orleans.
13. Northern and eastern coastline, Brazil
A road-trip for beach-lovers, taking you between Jericoacoara, with its fine white-sand beach and turquoise lagoon, and Salvador, second only to Rio for the magnificence of its natural setting. In between stretch kilometre after kilometre of unbroken beaches that are undoubtedly among the most beautiful in the world, from sheltered reef beaches to wilder ones backed by mountainous sand dunes and palm trees.
Running parallel to the spine of the Andes, this is one of the longest roads in the Americas and one of our top 6 journeys in South America. The route takes you from tranquil lakes and lush national parks to salt flats and the wilds of Patagonia. Best of all, you can relax at the end of the day with a glass of delicious local wine.
15. The Pan-American Highway
This has to be the ultimate road trip, travelling from Patagonia, the southernmost tip of Argentina, to Alaska – or rather, from the Antarctic to the Arctic – and covering an astounding 48,000km. The world’s longest driving route (only broken in Panama by the rainforested Darién Gap), you encounter almost every ecosystem and habitat on earth along the way.
16. The Golden Road to Samarkand, Uzbekistan
Trace traders’ footsteps through the heart of the historic Silk Route in Uzbekistan. An eight to ten day trip, best experienced by hiring a 4WD, the Golden Road journeys through breathtaking landscapes and historic cities – nowhere more impressive than your end goal, Samarkand, home to the beautiful turquoise-domed Registan.
17. The Atlantic Road, Norway
The short length of this road – a mere 8.3km – belies just how impressive the route is. Eight low bridges link the islands between Molde and Kristiansund in the western fjords, the most stunning of which is Storseisundet, curving scenically above the water. In calm weather, you can spot seals and whales, while autumn brings its own appeal with dramatic rain storms that pound the road.
18. The Outer Hebrides, Scotland
The single-track road that runs down this island chain is one of Britain's greatest driving experiences; rugged, windswept and jaw-droppingly beautiful. Travelling both by road and sea, the route enables you to do a bit of island-hopping, experiencing beautiful beaches like Luskentyre, ancient standing stones, and the justifiably renowned Hebridean hospitality.
19. Bollenstreek Route, Netherlands
The Netherlands are renowned for their flowers, and there’s no better way to experience them then on the Bollenstreek – or Bulb – route. The best time of year to drive the road is, unsurprisingly, spring, when brightly-coloured flowers carpet the plains – it’s not just tulips that you can expect to see, but also narcissi, hyacinths, irises and dahlias, among many others.
20. The Atlantic Highway, England
The A39 from Bridgewater to Bude runs scenically along the northern coast of Devon into Cornwall, boasting some of the country’s best sea views on one side, and wild, dramatic hills on the other. With pretty villages and sweeping beaches to explore, not to mention the great expanse of Exmoor National Park, this is perfect for a leisurely few days of exploring.
21. The Black Forest, Germany
Arguably Germany’s most picturesque region, with sweeping evergreen forests and rolling hills dotted with pretty villages and historic towns, the Black Forest is ideal driving territory. At the end of a long day exploring, retreat to one of the spa towns like Baden-Baden for a restorative soak in the local waters.
22. Basque Circuit, Spain
This 480km route through northern Spain takes you through some of the country’s (many) highlights – Bilbao, Pamplona, the Pyrenees, and back along the coast, with the beautiful Bay of Biscayne on your right. You’ll want plenty of time to explore – not least to sample some of the wonderful local food – and to allow for the views to distract you along the way.
Extending 285km between Torquay and Warrnambool in southwestern Victoria, the Great Ocean Road was conceived as a scenic road of world repute to commemorate the soldiers who died during World War I. The most spectacular part of the drive is undoubtedly the appropriately named “Shipwreck Coast”, home to the dramatic, and iconic, rock formations of the Twelve Apostles.
Looking for more great road trips in Australia? We've put together 5 more ideas.
24. Skeleton Coast, Namibia
This barren stretch of coast – named for the countless shipwrecks that have occurred here over the centuries, many of which can still be seen – is often shrouded in mist. Its appeal lies not only in its dramatic scenery, but also in the hostile remoteness of its location. In addition to windswept sand dunes, expect black lava ridges and granite massifs, and spot elephants, black rhinos and springboks from your 4WD.
25. Avenue of the Baobabs, Madagascar
This dusty road in western Madagascar, between Morondava and Belon’i Tsirbihina, is lined by remarkable baobab trees – especially striking in contrast to the low shrubland that surrounds them. With the lofty trees reaching up to 30m height and 11m diameter, and up to 800 years old, the majesty of the baobab can only really be appreciated by seeing them in person – a truly extraordinary sight.
26. Driving to Uluru, Australia
There’s nothing quite like driving through the brilliant red, parched desert of Australia’s Northern Territory and seeing Uluru rising up in front of you for the first time. Despite being one of the most recognizable rocks in the world, it’s hard not to be awestruck by it – whether drenched in fierce Australian sunlight, or softened by the colours of sunrise and sunset, it’s a memory you won’t ever forget.
27. The Oman Circle
A wonderful way to explore this fascinating country, allowing you to experience a whole range of its beautiful landscapes, from deserts and dunes to cave systems and exotic souks. Be sure to take a break from the road to spot turtles on Ras Al Jinz beach, or to try wild-swimming in the river at the bottom of a wadi.
28. Powder Highway, Canada
British Columbia’s Powder Highway is the perfect road trip for lovers of the white stuff. The roads that make up this 1094km loop run through the heart of the region, taking in traditional ski resorts – including Kicking Horse and Fernie – and backcountry ski lodges, not to mention the fabulous mountain views that unfold with every turn in the road.
29. Ocean Drive, USA
There’s no denying that Portland, Oregon, is currently one of the coolest cities in the USA – start your journey with a few days here, soaking up the vibrant music scene, before heading south down the coast. Here, mile after mile of beautiful – and empty – beaches await, complemented by sweet villages; you might even be able to spot grey whales just off the coast.
30. The Road to Mount Nebo, Jordan
Following the road 10km northwest of Madaba leads you to Mount Nebo, said to be the final resting place of Moses, and of unique resonance to Jews, Christians and Muslims. Though there’s nothing to see in terms of remains, the journey is more than worth it to experience the isolated mountain, which is crowned by an ancient church that houses some marvellous mosaics.
31. New York City to Niagara, USA
This is an epic drive, covering an impressive 2100km, from New York City to Niagara Falls, before returning to the bright lights via the Amish farms and vineyards near Ithaca. A fantastic route throughout the year – whether you experience snow in the Catskills, the lush green countryside in summer, or the irresistible colours of the autumn leaves in the Adirondacks.
The USA is full of iconic drives, and undoubtedly one of the most famous is that along California’s Highway-1 – of which the highlight is the Big Sur. With 145km of wild and undeveloped coastline, the road curves through bedrock cliffs above the ocean; below hide sandy beaches, while inland are grand redwood groves lining river canyons in the shadow of the Saint Lucia Mountains.
There’s a rugged beauty to Badlands National Park, where the layered rock formations, ravines and mesas provide particularly striking panoramas. The classic route through the park is on Highway 240 – or the “Badlands Loop” – where the 51km drive takes you past fourteen different viewpoints where you can appreciate up the sheer scale and isolation of the national park.
34. The Road to Hana, Hawaii
Short but dramatic, the Road to Hana on the Hawaiian island of Maui may be just 109km, but it encompasses six hundred twists and turns, and fifty narrow bridges, making it surprisingly white-knuckle at times. The pay-off is more than worth it, however, as you pass lush jungle, cascading waterfalls and steep cliffs that lead down to stereotypically picturesque Hawaiian beaches.
35. Coastal Route 15, Mexico
An unforgettable road that runs from Nogales, on the US border, to the seaside resort of Puerto Vallarta – once you hit the Pacific, expect ocean on one side and anything from desert to rainforest on the other. You’ll need at least five days to do the stretch justice, allowing time to take in tiny seaside pueblos, colonial villages and the vivid blue of the ocean.
36. Corsica's northwest coast, France
The 112 hair-raising kilometres of the D81 from Calvi to Cargèse takes you through jagged mountains with a unique, savage beauty. Ten days will allow you to really make the most of the journey, from Calvi’s bustling port to the vivid-red rock gorge of the Fango River, and the fabulous views of the Scandola headland to be had from the Croce Pass.
Relatively untouched by tourism, travelling around Azerbaijan by road allows you to really experience this fascinating country – taking you from sleepy towns and vineyards to mud volcanoes, tea plantations and cloud forests, and complemented in between by deliciously fresh cuisine, which blends the best of the flavours of its neighbouring countries.
38. Drâa Valley, Morocco
Following the valley carved out by the Drâa Valley for 95km between Agdz and Zagora takes you through some truly fabulous scenery in the High Atlas Mountains. The route follows craggy cliffs and steep canyons, and is flanked by an amazing series of turreted, creamy pink ksour and kasbahs, many of which are grouped just off the road, up above the terraces of date palms.
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