European road trips you must do in summer

A road trip to the Isle of Skye in Scotland is a not-to-miss experience
Image courtesy: ©elxeneize/Shutterstock

Packed with ancient history, sophisticated cities, cultural treasures, fine food and even finer art, Europe has an embarrassment of riches and is a dream for all kinds of travellers. And with landscapes boasting rugged coastlines, rolling country fields and mighty mountains (to name but a few), this is a region that suits road-tripping down to a T.

These nine diverse and dynamic countries represent some of the top spots to hit the road in Europe. Discover what makes them so special and kick your trip planning into gear with our recommended road trips.

GREAT BRITAIN

Great Britain overflows with unforgettable experiences and spectacular sights. There’s the grandeur of Scotland’s mountains, England’s quaint villages and country lanes, and the haunting beauty of the Welsh coast. You’ll also find wild northern moors, the exquisite university colleges of Oxford and Cambridge, and a string of vibrant cities boasting everything from Georgian architecture to 21st-century art.

Recommended trip: The best of Britain – 21 days, 1815 km
Start and finish: London (via Edinburgh and Cardiff)
Swing through three countries and several millennia of history as you take in a greatest hits parade of Britain’s chart-topping sights.

ITALY

 

Stelvio, Italy
With many thrilling roads to explore, Italy it offers plenty of epic driving.
Image courtesy: ©Matt Munro/Lonely Planet

Few countries can rival Italy’s wealth of riches. Its historic cities boast iconic monuments and masterpieces at every turn, its food is imitated the world over and its landscape is a majestic patchwork of snowcapped peaks, plunging coastlines, lakes and remote valleys. And with many thrilling roads to explore, it offers plenty of epic driving.

Recommended trip: World Heritage wonders – 14 days, 870 km
Start: Rome
Finish: Venice
From Rome to Venice, this tour of Unesco World Heritage Sites takes in some of Italy’s greatest hits, including the Colosseum and the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and some lesser-known treasures.

FRANCE

Writers Christa Larwood and Oliver Smith on country road following trail led by Lonely Planet founders 40 years prior.
France is a true gem for road-trippers
Image courtesy: ©Matt Munro/Lonely Planet

Iconic monuments, fabulous food, world-class wines – there are so many reasons to plan your very own French voyage. Whether you’re planning on cruising the corniches of the French Riviera, getting lost among the snow-capped mountains or tasting your way around Champagne’s hallowed vineyards, this is a nation that’s full of unforgettable routes that will plunge you straight into France’s heart and soul. There’s a trip for everyone here: family travellers, history buffs, culinary connoisseurs and outdoors adventurers. Buckle up and bon voyage – you’re in for quite a ride.

Recommended trip: Champagne taster – 3 days, 85 km
Start: Reims
Finish: Le Mesnil-sur-Oger
From musty cellars to vine-striped hillsides, this Champagne adventure whisks you through the heart of the region to explore the world’s favourite celebratory tipple. It’s time to quaff!

IRELAND

Narrow coastal road in Ireland
Ireland offers dramatic coastal roads.
Image courtesy: © grafxart8888 / Getty Images

Your main reason for visiting? To experience the Ireland of the postcard – captivating peninsulas, dramatic wildness and undulating hills. Scenery, history, culture, bustling cosmopolitanism and the stillness of village life – you’ll visit blockbuster attractions and replicate famous photo ops. But there are plenty of surprises too – and they’re all within easy reach of each other.

Recommended trip: the long way round – 14 days, 1300 km
Start: Dublin
Finish: Ardmore
Why go in a straight line when you can perambulate at leisure? This trip explores Ireland’s jagged, scenic and spectacular edges; a captivating loop that takes in the whole island.

SPAIN

Overview of tracks winding through Picos de Europa mountains.
Tracks winding through Picos de Europa mountains
Image courtesy: ©Matt Munro/Lonely Planet

Spectacular beaches, mountaintop castles, medieval villages, stunning architecture and some of the most celebrated restaurants on the planet – Spain has an allure that few destinations can match. There’s much to see and do amid the enchanting landscapes that inspired Picasso and Velàzquez.

You can spend your days feasting on seafood in coastal Galician towns, feel the heartbeat of Spain at soul-stirring flamenco shows or hike across the flower-strewn meadows of the mountains. The journeys in this region offer something for everyone: beach lovers, outdoor adventurers, family travellers, music fiends, foodies and those simply wanting to delve into Spain’s rich art and history.

Recommended trip: Northern Spain pilgrimage – 5-7 days, 678 km
Start: Roncesvalles
Finish:Santiago de Compostela
Travel in the footprints of thousands of pilgrims past and present as you journey along the highroads and backroads of the legendary Camino de Santiago pilgrimage trail.

PORTUGAL

Panoramic view of River Douro at sunset
View of River Douro at sunset.
Image courtesy: ©wayfarerlife photography/Getty Images

Portugal’s mix of the medieval and the maritime makes it a superb place to visit. A turbulent history involving the Moors, Spain and Napoleon has left the interior scattered with walled medieval towns topped by castles, while the pounding Atlantic has sculpted a coast of glorious sand beaches. The nation’s days of exploration and seafaring have created an introspective yet open culture with wide-ranging artistic influences.

The eating and drinking scene here is a highlight, with several wine regions, and restaurants that are redolent with aromas of grilling pork or the freshest of fish. Comparatively short distances mean that you get full value for road trips here: less time behind the wheel means you can take more time to absorb the atmosphere.

Recommended trip: Douro Valley vineyard trails – 5-7 days, 358 km
Start: Porto
Finish: Miranda do Douro
The Douro is a little drop of heaven. Uncork this region on Porto’s doorstep and you’ll soon fall head over heels in love with its terraced vineyards, wine estates and soul-stirring vistas.

GERMANY

Half-timbered buildings of Rothenburg ob der Tauber.
Drive through the picturesque town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber along Germany's Romantic Road.
Image courtesy: ©zoom-zoom/Getty Images

Grandiose cities, storybook villages, vine-stitched valleys and bucolic landscapes that beg you to toot your horn, leap out of the car and jump for joy – road-tripping in Germany is a mesmerising kaleidoscope of brilliant landscapes and experiences.

Recommended trip: The Romantic Road – 10 days, 350 km
Start: Würzburg
Finish: Neuschwanstein & Hohenschwangau Castles
On this trip you’ll experience the Germany of the bedtime storybook – medieval walled towns, gabled townhouses, cobbled squares and crooked streets, all preserved as if time has come to a standstill.

SWITZERLAND

Scenic view of Grindelwald.
Go from cute towns to green meadows and mountaintops in Switzerland.
Image courtesy: ©www.tonnaja.com/Getty Images/Moment RF

A place of heart-stopping natural beauty and head-spinning efficiency, Switzerland lies in the centre of Europe yet exhibits a unique blend of cultures. Dazzling outdoor scenery, such as the ever-admired Alps, pristine lakes, lush meadows and chocolate-box chalets, combines with local traditions, cosmopolitan cities and smooth infrastructure.

In short, Switzerland makes it easy for you to dive deep into its heart: distances are manageable and variety is within easy reach. You can be perusing a farmers’ market for picnic provisions in the morning, then feasting on them on a mountaintop come lunchtime. At nightfall, try gazing at stars in the night sky from cosy digs or revelling in the cultural offerings of one of Switzerland’s urbane cities.

Recommended trip: The Swiss Alps – 7 days, 612 km
Start: Arosa
Finish:Zermatt
From Arosa to Zermatt, this zigzagging trip is the A to Z of Switzerland’s astounding Alpine scenery, with majestic peaks, formidable panoramas, cable-car rides and local charm.

AUSTRIA

High Alpine Road - Grossglocknerstrasse.
Spellbinding scenery on Austria's Grossglockner Road.
Image courtesy: ©Mariusz Niedzwiedzki/Shutterstock

Austria is a road-tipper’s fantasy land. Not only are there spectacular backdrops of spellbinding landscapes and storybook architecture, but opportunities abound to get out and experience them. Along these routes, you can scale soaring peaks, ski year-round, raft white-water rapids and pelt down toboggan runs.

When you’ve had enough thrills and spills, Austria’s multitude of cultural pursuits span medieval castles to monumental palaces, art-filled museums and magnificent churches. You can taste cheese at Alpine dairies, schnapps at distilleries, and beer and wine in monasteries where they’re still made by monks. Or just hop aboard a horse-drawn carriage to clip-clop through cobbled, lamp-lit city streets.

Recommended trip: Grossglockner Road – 5-7 days, 644 km
Start: Salzburg
Finish: Bregenz
Austria’s most exhilarating trip takes you on a wild roller-coaster drive over three legendary Alpine passes and packs in outdoor activities from year-round skiing to windsurfing and white-water rafting.

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