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There are few other ways of traveling that offer the freedom and flexibility of taking a car and setting off on a road trip, be it a day-long journey or an epic adventure that crosses entire continents. If you are looking to be inspired for your next road trip, here is our selection of the world’s best road trips; each giving you the chance to experience the exhilaration of turning the key and hitting the open road.
Cutting through a stretch of the Rocky Mountains in Alberta, the Icefields Parkway is widely regarded as one of Canada’s most breathtaking stretches of road and is counted among the most scenic drives in the world. This trip through rugged mountains, forested river valleys and turquoise lakes is a drive through nature at its most dramatic.
- Distance/duration: 232 km, around 3 hours non-stop. However, you’ll want to spend at least two days taking in the splendour of the natural attractions along the route.
- Start/end location: Jasper to Lake Louise
- Stop to contemplate the power of Athabasca Falls just south of Jasper, one of several impressive waterfalls you can visit along the route
- Walk out onto the glacier at Columbia Icefield, one of many icefields from which the road takes its name
- Ascend to the viewpoint above Peyto Lake, arguably the most exquisite panorama in the whole of Canada
- Ride a gondola at Lake Louise and look for wild grizzly bears foraging below
- Road conditions: Most of the road is tarmacked and in good condition, especially the southern part. Expect one or two bumpy sections but nothing extreme. Watch out for the odd stray moose, elk or bear that may wander out onto the road, especially during dawn and dusk.
- When to go: The road is technically open year-round, but during winter (December to February), it may be closed due to snow — and most of the facilities will be closed anyway. The main driving season is between May and September. July and August offer the best weather but are also busiest while June and September have fewer crowds but can be significantly colder. For more information, check out our best time to visit Canada guide.
In 1986, when Life magazine named a stretch of Route 50 across the Nevada desert “the Loneliest Road in America” it wasn’t intended as a compliment — but such an intriguing moniker proved to be more of a draw than a deterrent. Now, this remote yet well-resourced road trip has become a magnet for those in search of adventure as well as an almost meditative sense of solitude. If this sounds like you, this could be one of the best American road trips.
- Distance/duration: 657 km. It takes anywhere from 6 hours to 3 days, considering all the side trips, but we recommend breaking up the stretch with at least one overnight stop.
- Start/end location: Reno to Great Basin National Park
- Enjoy miles and miles of desolate, unpopulated desert broken up by towering mountains in the distance
- Gaze in wonder at the starry sky in the Great Basin National Park — designated as an International Dark Sky Park
- Attempt the infamous Middlegate Monster Burger Challenge at Middlegate Station and leave with the t-shirt if you succeed
- Take an official Highway 50 survival guide, have it stamped along the way and receive a “survival certificate” signed by the Governor of Nevada for completing the drive
- Road conditions: In general, the road is in good condition and is dead straight. The main issue is the interminable sections with no signs of life and no opportunities to refuel. Make sure you don’t miss the chance to fill up when you can.
- When to go: The road is open year-round, but temperatures can fall well below freezing in December and January while July and August can be dangerously hot. For the most pleasant temperatures, aim for May, June, September or October.
A route that guarantees high adventure on the road but will challenge your endurance to the limits is Argentina’s Ruta 40. Spanning over 5,000 km and ranging from sea level to upwards of 5,000 meters in altitude, it is quite simply one of the world’s greatest road trips. It promises innumerable sights and unforgettable experiences along the way, not to mention huge bragging rights if you manage to complete it all.
- Distance/duration: 5,224 km. While it is possible to drive the entire length in a week and a half, giving it two weeks minimum—or preferably more—will allow you to enjoy much more.
- Start/end location: Cabo Vírgenes, Santa Cruz province to La Quiaca, Jujuy province
- Take a detour to Cueva de las Manos in the Santa Cruz province to see prehistoric cave art thought to be up to 13,000 years old
- In Mendoza, taste local wine made from the Malbec grape, a variety that is now practically synonymous with Argentinian winemaking — but remember, just a small taste if you’re the one driving!
- Take a break at the pleasant tourist town of Bariloche to enjoy outdoor activities and take advantage of the facilities before hitting the road again
- Marvel at the imposing arctic landscape of UNESCO-listed Los Glaciares National Park near the town of El Calafate
- Road conditions: The stretch includes sections of paved roads, dirt or gravel roads and even roads that don’t exist at all. If you want to drive the whole distance, a 4x4 with a spare tire is a must. Keep in mind that some sections are remote, so refuel whenever you have the chance.
- When to go: For a trip that covers such a huge distance and passes through many different climate types, it is hard to generalize about the best time to go. Perhaps the summer months between November and March are preferable since that is when it is easiest to find accommodation. Here is a full guide to the best time to visit Argentina.
A road trip along Brazil’s Costa Verde (or Green Coast) will allow you to discover a stretch of coastline between the port of Santos to the south and Río de Janeiro to the north. It is an area that is blessed with countless paradisiac beaches, plenty of interesting small towns and dense rainforest teeming with wildlife just inland from the sea.
- Distance/duration: 340 km. You can complete the drive in a day, but it is better to spend several days or longer stopping off at different towns, visiting the many beaches and venturing into the rainforest along the way.
- Start/end location: Santos to Copacabana (Río de Janeiro)
- Take in a match at Santos’ renowned football club before you start the trip
- Stop along the many beaches in Costa Verde and experience the beach culture
- Spend at least one night in Ubatuba. There are good beaches here for surfing or you can also head inland to hike the trails into the tropical rainforest
- Explore Río de Janeiro at the end of your trip. In the city is Copacabana, the iconic beach; and you can’t miss the historic Maracanã stadium or the instantly recognizable statue of Christ the Redeemer atop the Corcovado mountain
- Road conditions: The roads are generally in good condition and the drive shouldn’t present any particular problems.
- When to go: The weather is best between December and March. If you want to see Río at its most flamboyant and colourful, go in February to catch the world-famous Carnival.
Officially decommissioned in 1985, Route 66 is perhaps the most iconic road trip of them all, although it technically doesn’t even exist anymore. However, you can still drive most of the original stretch from Illinois to California, heading through a historic part of middle America. This trip is the essence of everything a road trip should be — you can still feel the almost tangible sense of history and tradition that clings to the countless mid-American towns you pass through along the way. Just note that if you plan to take on this road trip, you’ll have to combine parts of the original road with the new interstate road.
- Distance/duration: 3,940 km. Minimum 9 days but we recommend taking up to one month, allowing you to take the time to enjoy the experience.
- Start/end location: Chicago, Illinois to Los Angeles, California
- For a true taste of authentic Americana, stop off at the Cozy Dog drive-in in Springfield, Illinois
- Learn more about the journey you’re undertaking at the Route 66 museum in Clinton, Oklahoma
- If you leave the route for one detour, it should be to visit the Grand Canyon in Arizona, one of the world’s most spectacular natural formations
- Head to The Strip, Las Vegas — even if you’re not there to gamble, you have to witness Sin City at least once in your lifetime
- Road conditions: Only about a fourth of the original route is still drivable, mostly on state highways and local roads. The missing sections need to be filled in on more modern roads. Distances can be vast. On desert sections, you may drive up to 160 km between filling stations, so make sure you have enough fuel, food and drink for these stretches. Temperatures can soar so air conditioning is a big advantage. Many of the original turns are now poorly indicated. A description of each turn is available and will be an invaluable aid.
- When to go: The best times to drive Route 66 are spring, early summer (late April – June) and autumn (September – early October). At these times, temperatures are neither too hot nor too cold allowing you to wind down the window and enjoy the open road. Traffic is also not too heavy.
The Great Ocean Road is one of the premier destinations for an Australia road trip. It offers a diverse range of stunning scenery, strange geological formations, plenty of local wildlife and an abundance of worthwhile places to stop. Conveniently located only a few hours drive from Melbourne, it is a route that would be ideal for a family or kid-friendly road trip.
- Distance/duration: 243 km. It can be driven in a single day, but you could easily spend a week or two exploring the many places of interest along the way.
- Start/end location: Torquay, Victoria to Allansford, Victoria
- At Torquay, take advantage of the town’s famous surf spots to catch a few waves before you set off on your road trip
- Head to Kennet River near the Grey River Road to try to spot koalas in the wild
- Take an obligatory selfie at one of the most famous landmarks, the Twelve Apostles, a bizarre rock formation in the sea
- Leave the road and take a trip inland for a short hike in the rainforest at Great Otway National Park
- Road conditions: The surfaces on the Great Ocean Road are all in excellent condition and driving or finding your way should present no difficulties.
- When to go: The best months for this trip are February and March or October and November. This is when you will benefit from the best combination of good weather and fewer crowds. For more information, check out our best time to visit australia post.
Launched in 2014, the North Coast 500, also known as the NC500, is a new entry into the canon of the world’s most spectacular must-do road trips. It consists of a loop that starts and finishes at Inverness and showcases all the rugged and mysterious beauty of Scotland’s northern Highlands. The road follows the UK’s dramatic northern coastline and takes in welcoming rural communities as well as desolate stretches where you are unlikely to come across another living soul. This drive sits comfortably among the best road trips of northern Europe.
- Distance/duration: 830 km. Allow around a week or more to complete the circuit at a comfortable, leisurely pace.
- Start/end location: Inverness to Inverness
- Scotland is famous for its castles and there are several to see. Look out for Cawdor Castle, Dunrobin Castle and the Castle of Mey, among others, all located along the eastern section
- Spot typical local wildlife that includes squirrels, deer, martens, birds of prey and even whales, dolphins and seals
- Look out for lovely deserted beaches. You can even test your mettle and go for a dip in the North Sea if you’re feeling brave
- Don’t miss out on tasting world-famous whisky; there are a number of worthwhile distilleries that are open to visitors
- Road conditions: The roads are generally in good condition. However, many of the roads are very narrow, may include blind corners or hairpin bends, often hug the coast and are occasionally invaded by livestock. You should drive carefully at all times, and larger vehicles or caravans are not advised.
- When to go: The best months are from May to October. This is when the weather is most likely to be good and the greatest selection of attractions, restaurants and accommodation is open. However, bear in mind that good weather is never guaranteed at any time of year! Go through our best time to visit Scotland for a better overview.
- Insider tip: Go slow. Many people try to speed along the route in a few days, but we recommend slowing down to have time to explore. We recommend at least 5 days and the more the better. Give yourself time to enjoy the hikes, visit the attractions, find a hidden beach, and meet the locals. We've driven the route several times and always discover new things to see and on each road trip. — by Jessica Norah from Independent Travel Cats
For a Europe road trip, the drive from Sorrento to Salerno in Italy’s southern Campania region could well be the continent’s most attractive stretch of coast. Although now extremely popular, overpriced and often congested, this short road trip will still reward you with breathtaking Mediterranean views, quaint fishing villages and picturesque towns clinging to the craggy cliffs.
- Distance/duration: 56 km. The actual drive only takes two hours, assuming there’s no traffic. However, you’ll want to make it last at least two days, possibly with an overnight stay at the town of Amalfi.
- Start/end location: Sorrento to Salerno
- Before you begin your drive, take a day trip from Sorrento to the gorgeous island of Cápri, a renowned beauty spot in the Bay of Naples
- Stop off at the mid-way point and spend the night in Amalfi, an ancient town with several interesting sights that include its 13th-century cathedral and contemporary Cloister of Paradise next door
- If you can find somewhere to park, the hilltop town of Ravello offers some of the best views found anywhere along the coast
- Salerno, the town that marks the end of the route, is a lively place and is a good spot for a drink and a meal to celebrate the end of the journey
- Road conditions: The roads are in good condition but are narrow and often vertiginous as they wind their way along the coast. More of a problem is traffic during high season.
- When to go: Try to visit between April and June or in September. At this time, the weather is at its most pleasant and you will also avoid the busiest months of July and August. For more information, here is out best time to visit Italy guide.
- Insider tip: Driving the Amalfi Coast is a unique, exhilarating experience — but if you’re new to driving in Italy, don’t try to drive like the locals. You might find that locals frequently speed up behind you — if this happens, just pull to the side and let them pass. They know the roads well and can safely drive at that speed, but tourists should take time. You’ll see more of the scenery that way, as well! — by Claire Martin from Claire's Footsteps
Remote and dramatic, Iceland has become a “hot” tourist destination in recent years, and a road trip along its Ring Road, a road that circumnavigates the country, is the perfect way to discover this sublime volcanic island.
- Distance/duration: 1,332 km. It can be completed in only 12 hours of non-stop driving, but you’ll want to spend at least a week or more doing it properly with breaks along the way.
- Start/end location: Reykjavik to Reykjavik
- Do not miss out on the famous black sand beach located along the Reynisfjara shore
- Take a break off the Ring Road to complete the Golden Circle, a 300 km loop that takes you to Gullfoss waterfall, the Thingvellir National Park, the Kerid Volcanic Crater and more of Iceland’s iconic sites
- Akureyri is one of the top spots in Iceland for whale watching. Stop off here and take a boat trip. If you are lucky, you may be able to catch sight of an elusive blue whale
- Spend a day exploring the bizarre landscapes of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula before heading back to Reykjavik at the end of your trip
- Road conditions: Roads in Iceland are generally in excellent condition, and you will be able to complete this road trip in a regular car. However, by choosing a 4x4, you will give yourself extra freedom to branch off and explore more inaccessible areas as you make your way around.
- When to go: July and August are the months that have the most pleasant weather and are probably the best time to go. However, they are also the most popular, and if you want to avoid the crowds, April, May, September and October are also recommended. For a full guide, check out best time to visit Iceland.
Follow in the footsteps of ancient caravans that passed along this route millennia ago while discovering some of Uzbekistan’s little-known but splendid monuments. If you enjoy a challenge, driving a section of the Silk Road from Tashkent to Khiva in Uzbekistan is one of the best road trips available and could be just the kind of adventure you’re looking for. Uzbekistan has only really opened up for tourism in the last couple of years and is still an undiscovered secret.
- Distance/duration: 1000 km. Allocate one day of driving between each town along the way, but you would need at least ten days and up to two full weeks to fully appreciate the trip and everything there is to see.
- Start/end location: Tashkent to Khiva
- Explore UNESCO-listed Samarkand, the capital of notorious 14th-century ruler Tamerlane. The city has been described as an open-air museum
- Look out for the Kalon Minaret in Bukhara. The 47 meter-high tower has stood for almost 900 years. It is also known as the “Tower of Death” because criminals were once executed by being pushed from the top
- Don’t miss out on Khiva, an important staging post on the Silk Road. There’s plenty to see, but perhaps the star of the show is Ichon-Qala, the old town and former site of the khan’s palace
- Drive through deserts and semi-arid landscapes and meet the locals in exotic and far-flung locations that are well off the beaten track
- Road conditions: Most of the roads are in relatively good condition, although a few sections may be potholed or bumpy. More of a problem might be fuel. The main fuel in Uzbekistan is propane, so if you are cross-country driving in your own vehicle, you might find it hard to fill up. We recommend renting vehicles in the country instead. In more isolated regions, fuel is often sold in plastic bottles by the side of the road.
- When to go: The best times to visit are spring and autumn (April to May and September to November respectively). This is when the weather is at its most pleasant, avoiding both the heat of the summer and the cold of winter.
Few experiences can encapsulate the offbeat adventure of road-tripping through the massive sand dunes of Gobi Desert in Mongolia. Imagine bouncing in an off-road vehicle through an endless sea of golden sand as blood-red cliffs pop in and out of view in the horizon. A drive through the desert will allow you to explore a land that in many ways has changed little since the days of Genghis Khan. Yet perhaps the biggest thrill of this trip is the anticipation of finding a Mongolian village to rest in at the end of the day.
- Distance/duration: 586 km. Theoretically, the distance could be covered in eight hours or certainly in one day, but you should realistically plan up to a week to allow yourself to explore.
- Start/end location: Ulaanbaatar to Dalanzadgad, Umnugovi
- The Gobi is expected to be an interminable and unchanging landscape, but the truth is, it is an extremely varied place — the biggest highlight is the ever-changing and unfailingly breathtaking terrain you pass through
- Look forward to encounters with Mongolian nomads who, due to their lifestyle, have a tradition of hospitality and openness. However, without a guide, communication may be something of a problem
- Relish in the night sky! A clear night in the Gobi will allow you to enjoy a sky alive with stars from horizon to horizon.
- Explore the Gobi Gurvan Saikhan National Park at Dalanzadgad
- Road conditions: In the desert, roads are sometimes no more than tire tracks and signage can be non-existent; traveling in this vast empty landscape can sometimes feel more like navigation at sea than driving on a road. Opting for a 4x4 is advisable, and you are strongly recommended not to travel without a GPS. Even experienced Gobi drivers can become disorientated and becoming lost in the desert, which can quickly develop into a very serious situation.
- When to go: Mongolia is a country of extremes, with summer highs reaching 40° C and winter lows plummeting to below -40° C. Spring (April – May) and autumn (September – October) are the most pleasant times, although even then, the climate can be harsh. A lively alternative would be to time your visit to coincide with Nadaam (11th to 13th July of each year). If you are in the capital at that time, you will witness the country’s greatest festival where Mongols compete in the “three games of men” — archery, horse riding and wrestling. Check out our best time to visit Mongolia for a better overview.
The Karakorum Highway, also known as the Friendship Highway, between Pakistan and China is possibly one of the most hair-raising road trips. One of the world’s highest paved roads, it’s certainly not for the faint-hearted or anyone who suffers from vertigo — but the views as you wind through the high mountains are nothing short of spectacular.
- Distance/duration: 1,300 km. Allow a minimum of two weeks, although, as ever, longer than this will allow you to take your time and enjoy the trip more fully.
- Start/end location: Abbottabad, Pakistan to Kashgar in Xinjiang, China
- Kashgar, the end of the road on the Chinese side and once an important stop on the old Silk Road, is a vibrant mix of peoples and cultures
- One to tick off your traveler’s bucket list, the Khunjerab Pass is the highest border crossing in the world
- Other than the pure adventure of completing such a remote and extreme drive, the exquisite mountain scenery is one of its main draws
- This is not an area that receives large numbers of visitors, and the friendly locals keen to interact with foreigners on both sides of the border will be one of your most enduring memories
- Road conditions: The road itself is in relatively good condition, but the border crossing at the Khunjerab Pass is at an altitude of over 4,800 m, almost exactly the same height as Mount Blanc in France, and is easily high enough for altitude sickness to begin setting in. Roads can also be blocked periodically by landslides. The roads have no barriers to protect cars from sheer drops of hundreds of metres and will be quite terrifying for anybody with a fear of heights.
- When to go: The monsoon from July to September increases the risk of landslides in the mountains while the summer months (especially July and August) can bring unbearably hot temperatures lower down. On the other hand, the highest sections may be closed from January to April due to snow. This means the best time to drive the route is May or October.
One of the best ways to experience South Africa in just one trip is to drive the Garden Route. Undoubtedly one of the best coastal road trips in the world, the Garden Route features a wild variety of sceneries, topography and activities, with well-established, convenient facilities. Dotted with beaches and lagoons, the stretch also opens doors to many hiking trails and other adventures to keep you occupied throughout.
- Distance/duration: 366 km. Minimum would be three days, but there is enough to do and see to fill up to two weeks if you have the time.
- Start/end location: Port Elizabeth to Mossel Bay
- Take on one of the many hiking trails in Tsitsikamma Forest for scenic views of the coastline
- At the town of Knysna, take a boat trip out onto the lagoon, one of the classic Garden Route activities
- Jump one of the world’s deepest bungees at Bloukrans Bridge. There are also plenty of other adventure activities including canyoning, kayaking and canopy walks available in the region
- Although not technically part of the official Garden Route, Hermanus is only a little further along the coast from Mossel Bay and is one of the best places in the world for whale watching
- Road conditions: The roads are in good condition and can be driven in any type of car. The route is well-established and there are plenty of shops, restaurants and hotels along the way. This is one of the safest parts of South Africa although you should always use the same amount of common sense you would in any other place.
- When to go: For the warmest weather, the best months are from November to March. However, this is also the most popular time. If you prefer to visit when it is less crowded, opt for February to April or September to October.
Namibia’s ominously named Skeleton Coast is a remote and brooding landscape that is enticing for its isolation and inaccessibility. This hostile stretch of coastal desert that Portuguese sailors once called “the Gates of Hell” is strewn with the carcasses of around 500 wrecked ships. Often cloaked in an eerie ocean fog, it exudes a kind of brutal attractiveness that makes it an irresistible destination for an adventurous road trip.
- Distance/duration: 485 km. Allow at least two days to drive to Cape Cross and one day for the Skeleton Coast National Park, although a couple of extra days will let you do the trip at a more leisurely pace.
- Start/end location: Windhoek to Skeleton Coast (National Park)
- Stop off at the coastal town of Swakopmund, a beach resort that showcases typical German colonial architecture and was also used as a location for the film Mad Max: Fury Road
- Visit the seal colony at Cape Cross, home to an impressive spectacle of up to around 250,000 honking Cape fur seals
- Enjoy the wildlife in Skeleton Coast National Park. Look out for elephants, rhinos, lions, jackals, brown hyenas, giraffes and more, all of which are adapted to the harsh life of the desert
- Snap away in the eerie and ominous landscape of Skeleton Coast National Park that makes you feel as though you have driven into the end of the world
- Road conditions: Road conditions before the park are reasonable and should present no significant problems. However, once into the park itself, you need to make sure your vehicle is in good condition. After all, a desolate and isolated place with a name like the Skeleton Coast is not the kind of place you want to get a puncture when you have no spare wheel.
- When to go: The dry season (from June to October) is probably the best time to do the drive. However, from November to December is the breeding season for the seals and this is when the highest concentration of these animals is present. Here is our guide to best time to visit Namibia.
Labelled by The Sydney Morning Herald as “one of the world’s great undiscovered drives”, the Southern Scenic Route allows you to explore a charming portion of coast on New Zealand’s South Island. It is a drive of outstanding natural beauty that offers sublime rugged landscapes, unique wildlife and plenty of activities to keep you busy along the way.
- Distance/duration: 610 km. Allow yourself at least three to five days to complete the drive, or more if you want to take your time.
- Start/end location: Dunedin to Queenstown
- Queenstown, on the shores of the serene Lake Wakatipu, is a great place to chill before you set out or the ideal location for a few days rest at the end of your trip, depending on which direction you travel
- Discover local Maori culture, the Kai Tahu people retain a strong presence in the area
- Take a break at the Catlins to explore the thick forests and lovely beaches — this is a photographer’s paradise
- If you are a fan of seafood, try the Bluff oysters, supposedly the best oysters in the world
- Road conditions: Roads are generally in excellent condition and the route is well marked.
- When to go: The dry season is from June to October, and this is the best time to visit since driving conditions are at their best. This is also the best time to see wildlife if you visit any national parks.
Perhaps more than any other type of travel, road trips give you the chance to branch off from the beaten track, leaving the tourist trail far behind. With your own vehicle, you can discover authentic places you won’t find in the guide books and meet the real people, seeing sights and living experiences that not many others are fortunate enough to enjoy. Here, we have only scratched the surface of what is possible. Out there, on the road, the possibilities are endless.
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