Sometimes the best getaway is a good old-fashioned road trip, and those of us from the United States are no stranger to the concept. The Great US Road Trip has been popular since the at least since the 1950s, made famous by the Beat Generation writers such as Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady, as well as non-Beat authors, most notably John Steinbeck.
But when you’ve driven down the West Coast at sunset and crossed the Arizona desert and hitchhiked through the Dakotas, why not take the concept across the Atlantic and have a go at your own Great European Road Trip?
Whether you want to backpack across countries or tour the beaches of Italy, you can turn your European holiday into a road trip with as little as a rental car and a GPS.
This list contains 20 breathtaking routes through every type of landscape, medieval village, and bustling city that can all be driven in under 24 hours, mapping out the most scenic roads from Point A to Point B (of course, leave extra time for stopping at surprise landmarks you encounter along the way).
This time, when you’re packing, don’t forget your driver’s license along with your passport, and make sure it’s valid for the country you’ll be driving in!
20 The Amalfi Coast- An Upgrade From California
One of Italy’s top destinations for tourists, the Amalfi Coast draws visitors for its dramatic seaside cliffs and colourful towns clinging precariously to mountains tilting into the ocean.
Picking up a car in Naples, just north of this scenic coast, you can drive south and skirt Mount Vesuvius before reaching Sorrento. Further along is Positano, a muse for artists throughout history, and Amalfi village. Keep going and you’ll eventually get to medieval Salerno.
The Amalfi Coast rivals the coast of California and is perfect if you want a road trip where you can roll down the windows and let the salty wind ruffle your hair.
19 Bucharest To Budapest- The Rugged East
Eastern Europe is often overshadowed by more traditional destinations for tourists, so you’ll likely not bump into so many run of the mill vacationers over here. What you will find are ancient villages, towering mountains, medieval castles, and vast forests.
Driving from Romania to Hungary, you’ll start in the capital of Bucharest in the south, an equally historic and fresh city. Travel through the region of Transylvania, spooked by stories of the 15th century prince who inspired Bram Stoker’s vampire Dracula.
Your final destination is Budapest, where you should definitely check out the thermal baths and ruin pubs.
18 Brussels To Amsterdam- Cross The Low Countries In A Day
Get ready to smell the tulips, because the next road trip will take you across Belgium and the Netherlands. Get your fill of chocolate in Brussels, then head north through Antwerp and into the Netherlands.
The countryside of the Netherlands is full of character, so be sure to get off the beaten track and explore some of the smaller villages and natural areas.
This route is short, so it’s ideal for taken detours, especially with so many cities along the way, from Eindhoven to Rotterdam or The Hague, or even going a bit past your destination to check out the Hansa trading towns.
17 Dubrovnik To Zadar- An Underrated Mediterranean Coast
The textbook Mediterranean trip means you’ll probably end up in Greece or Italy, but there are over 1,000 miles of Adriatic coastline belonging to Croatia, peppered by exhilarating towns and searing beaches.
Dubrovnik is a small, walled city that’s a blend of Slavic and Mediterranean cultures and famed for its Old Town district. It’s a good place to get in your car and head north up the coast. You’ll have time to stop at beaches or landmarks as you see them before reaching Zadar, an ancient city in Croatia. Stop and listen to the sea organ, an experimental instrument that plays music with the tide.
16 Atlantic Road- A Highway Slicing Through Land And Sea
This highway in Norway is designed for road tripping, connecting the island to the mainland in a way that isn’t anything like your traditional bridge. While the road itself is only about 5 miles long, you’ll have viewpoints along the way that will make you feel like they’re 500 miles apart.
Since the Atlantic Road, or Atlanterhavsvegen can’t comprise an entire road trip, why not extend it to the surrounding mountain areas? Geiranger village, famed for being at the heart of the iconic Geirangerfjord, is only three hours away, and quaint Ålesund with its colourful Art Nouveau Town is only two and a half.
15 Porto To Lisbon- Cruising The Edge Of Europe
If you’re traveling the coast of Portugal in summer, a car with air conditioning is going to make you a lot more comfortable. This trip will take you past plenty of beach towns exposed to the mighty Atlantic, so you can still soak in all the sun as you’d get in a resort.
Going to Lisbon, start from Porto and you’ll be in the Douro region famous for its vineyards, and you might mistake it for Tuscany. While you could stop at any of the dozens of beaches on the way, the town of Peniche has unmatched beaches, snorkelling, and surfing, as well as a nature reserve and a 17th century fort.
14 Estonia- The Versatile Tour
Estonia probably isn’t at the top of your bucket list, but it should be. This Baltic country was once controlled by the hands of the Soviet Union and Germany and is now a flourishing country with endless sights.
There are a few ways one could experience Estonia (it’s small enough to see lots of the country in a small amount of time). Whichever way you decide, you absolutely must visit Tallinn, as enchanting as any European city. From here you can travel to all corners of the country in a matter of hours, including such sights as Lake Peipsi or the university town of Tartu.
13 Bordeaux To Nice- For Those Who Dream Of The South Of France
For those who dream of owning a vineyard in the south of France, a road trip through them may be the next best thing. From Bordeaux to Nice on the Riviera, you’ll pass through France’s most romantic region where you’ll hardly believe the scenery isn’t out of a fairytale.
While Bordeaux to Nice might seem a trek on the map, the sights you’ll pass on the way will keep you interested for the entire ride, and you’ll still have time to stop in one of the pretty towns along the way.
12 The Alpenstrasse- Winding Roads And Lush Mountains
Straddling southern Germany, the Alpine Road stretches from Lindau to Schönau and takes drivers on back roads that slice and snake through low Alpine mountains that practically beg you to take their path.
You’ll see the best of Bavaria, from mountain to valley, lake to castle. If you want to avoid the major Alpine regions of Switzerland that are packed with tourists year-round or the high cost of holidays in Switzerland, you can still experience as much natural beauty along this route in Germany.
The road is about 12 hours total so its best to pick a section to explore if you have limited time.
11 Epirus- Because Athens Doesn't Make For A Great Road Trip
Although the Greek Isles and ruins of Athens are often fantasized about, Greece’s Epirus region is probably its best undiscovered locale. Forget the crowded beaches and head for central Greece, where you’ll find craggy mountains and wild forests, dotted by the occasional waterfall.
Although the area is suited to nature lovers who could spend weeks exploring, you’ll have no trouble finding historic buildings and villages that will charm any visitor. Stop at Nicopolis, a Roman-founded city, or one of the region’s many stone bridges, but be careful, some of them can’t be crossed!
10 Seville To Granada via Córdoba- On The Paths Of The Moors
The region of Andalusia in southern Spain makes an excellent road trip for history lovers and warm weather seekers. Andalusia was ruled by Moors from the 8th-15th centuries, who left many landmarks reminiscent of Northern Africa.
In Seville, the impressive Alcázar palace showcases a blend of Christian and Muslim architectural styles and a union of the tastes of both religions. Start here and drive to Córdoba, home of La Mezquita, a mosque known for being photogenic. Through more arid countryside you’ll go, reaching Granada. Stay here a while and take in the sights and sounds, especially the Alhambra, a stunning Islamic palace whose history transcends religion.
9 Ring Of Kerry- Dare To Drive The Mountain Passes Of The Macgillycuddy's Reeks?
This circular road on Ireland’s southwest corner is part of the much longer Wild Atlantic Way road trip along the entire west coast, both of which are designed for touring. The Ring of Kerry’s 3.5-hour trip will take you through Killarney National Park, a thriving green reserve nestled in the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks mountain range, the tallest range in Ireland.
Start and end in Killarney and the route will take you to the ocean, passing coastal villages like Kenmare and rocky beaches. At this windswept edge, there is nothing standing between you and the continent of North America.
8 Sarajevo To Mostar- Experience The Beauty Of Bosnia And Herzegovina
Don’t let Bosnia and Herzegovina’s rough past deter you from this dynamic and captivating country. A young nation, Bosnia and Herzegovina has a rich history and landmarks to prove it.
Stay a few days in Sarajevo and visit its historic marketplace, Baščaršija, in the city centre, or the Sarajevo Tunnel, a haunting underground museum dedicated to the Bosnian War. Then, pick up a car and drive on to Mostar, where you might believe you’ve just successfully time travelled. Take in the 16th century Old Bridge and stay long enough to experience the wonder of the Neretva River.
7 The Atlantic Highway- Seas As Blue As The Mediterranean
If you travel the Atlantic Highway in summer, you might mistake the turquoise waters and sandy beaches for something Mediterranean but make no mistake—this is southern England.
The highway crosses Devon and Cornwall and covers dizzying cliffs and breath-taking views of both ocean and grassland. If you fancy castles, Tintagel Castle on the route has Arthurian connections, rumoured to be a location where Merlin performed magic.
Just beyond the end of the highway, you can visit Land’s End, the most western point in England and a lovely holiday location.
6 Route 500- The Best Way To See The Black Forest
It’s no wonder Germany is famous for some of the best fairytales ever written, because in the Black Forest, you might get the feeling that you’ll run into a witch’s cottage (check out Witch’s Hole) or a prince on horseback.
Luckily, Germany has the Route 500, a highway cutting directly through the middle of the forest in its southwestern corner, to showcase this natural wonder. The road connects the town of Baden-Baden to Freudenstadt and Triberg to Waldshut, however a gap in the middle exists where the two roads do not meet.
5 Jungfrau Region- Picturesque Switzerland
For the ideal Swiss Alps road trip, linger on the roads in the Jungfrau region, named for the mountain Jungfrau, the star of many famous Alpine photographs. The area is also known for other mountains, Eiger and Mönch.
The three mountains offer jaw-dropping views of snow-capped peaks and icy glaciers, beckoning hikers and skiers (and road-trippers) from around the world. And when you need a break, the village of Grindelwald offers scenic views from the bottom of the surrounding Bernese Alps. If you’re up for it, try a different form of transportation and take a gondola through the sky and to Männlichen.
4 Copenhagen To Oslo Via Gothenburg- Ideal For All Seasons
With this trip, you’ll hit three Scandinavian countries in under a day, unless of course you find yourself distracted by the surrounding wonders. From Copenhagen to the Swedish city of Malmö, you’ll have to cross the Øresund Bridge and Drogden Tunnel, a five-mile-long bridge and two-and-a-half-mile submerged tunnel.
Gothenburg is the gateway to West Sweden, scattered with islands and fishing villages and continues up to the border of Norway. In the land of Vikings, fjords greet you as far south as Oslo, though the most imposing fjords are further north. In Oslo, the world-famous Viking Ship Museum is a must-see.
3 North Coast 500- The Best Of Scotland's Highlands
The full North Coast 500 loop is a 500+ mile track around the Highlands of Scotland, and while if you have the time this is a fantastic trip, but for a shorter journey follow this route from Inverness to Scarfskerry.
In under three hours, you’ll see the jagged landscape of the northernmost part of the Isles of Britain, where the scenery almost resembles that of Scandinavia, and plenty of landmarks narrating local heritage. Inverness marks the point where Loch Ness meets the ocean, and while you could spend all day searching for the Loch Ness Monster, but if you make it to Scarfskerry, you’ll be in the most northern village on the mainland.
2 Milan To Lyon Via Geneva- Where Northern Italy Meets The Alps Meets France
While Italy and France may be the initial attraction for this road trip, the real gem is in Geneva, Switzerland. It may be known for its political affiliations and as the headquarters for United Nations in Europe, but its also a cultural centre resting at the edge of Lake Geneva, so clear that you might want to drink from it.
When you depart Milan, the roads will take you through the Alps in Italy to the border with France, where Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Europe, greets you. From there you’ll drive through the resort town of Chamonix and through a corner of Switzerland before ending in Lyon.
1 Tatra Mountains- Charming In Poland Or Slovakia
The roads running through the Tatra Mountains offer extraordinary views, but if you stop and hike, the trails will lead you to some fantastic overlooks. Providing a border between Slovakia and Poland, you could drive through them while passing through countries, perhaps from Košice to Kraków, or drive with the mountains on either side of the border.
The many villages along the mountain range will give you a look into life in the mountains in Poland and Slovakia, and imagine living here hundreds of years ago, isolated perhaps from major cities but blessed with untouched forested mountains.