European road trips: 15 of the best journeys across the continent
In light of the recent travel chaos at airports across Europe, there has never been a better time to buckle up and explore Europe’s legendary landscapes by road.
Lonely Planet’s new Epic Road Trips of Europe book is the perfect inspiration to get out there and explore Europe by road. The new book offers a gorgeous collection of routes, gathered from contributors around the world. Enjoy the unique freedom a road trip allows while exploring Europe’s wondrous landscapes, delicious regional food and drink and fascinating local culture and history.
From ancient ruins to some of the world’s best wine, here’s a first look at the new essential European road trip companion guide.
Ancient ruins and coastal views
The picture-perfect coast of Gythio in Peloponnese, Greece © Gatsi / Getty
The Peloponnese, Greece
Start: Ancient Corinth
Distance: 395 miles (635km)
History and legend collide on this mountainous peninsula where you’ll find classical temples, Mycenaean palaces, Byzantine cities and Venetian fortresses. Combined with dramatic peaks and deep gorges that give way to turquoise seas and deserted beaches, it makes a glorious spot for a road trip.
In the northeast corner of the peninsula sits Ancient Corinth, a mostly Roman city, home to Jason of the Argonauts, stealer of the Golden Fleece. From here, you can take a route that combines historic, fortified cities with beaches and some of Greece’s most interesting wineries.
Head for the sanctuary of Zeus at Nemea, hilltop Mycenae or coastal Epidavros with its 4th-century-BC theatre, one of the best preserved ancient Greek structures in the country. Then loop by the mountaintop Byzantine city of Mystras, ancient Olympia, home to the original games, and the Lousios Gorge where you’ll find the cliffside Prodromou Monastery.
Mixing Greek and Roman ruins with medieval towns, the eccentricities of Salvador Dalí and a wild and rugged coast, Spain’s Costa Brava makes a fascinating, eclectic destination for a road trip. Begin by exploring Girona’s hilly medieval core with its web of alleys and Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque churches.
From here it’s an easy trip to Besalú, its strikingly well-preserved medieval streets fanning out around the handsome 11th-century Pont Fortificat (Fortified Bridge). Heading east to Figueres things get decidedly more bizarre at the Teatre-Museu Dalí, a fittingly trippy tribute to the local hero and Surrealist artist.
Dalí spent his later life nearby in Port Lligat near Cadaqués, a whitewashed village with a pretty harbor and bohemian vibe. South along the coast are the extensive ruins of the Greek city Empúries and its later Roman neighbor, while inland is Castell de Púbol, a 14th-century castle that was Dalí’s gift to his wife and muse, Gala.
Taking a pit stop in Hvar Town, Dalmatia, Croatia © pkazmierczak / Getty Images
Start: Hvar Town
Distance: 22 miles (35km)
Fought over by the Illyrians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines and Venetians, Hvar has long been a sought-after destination. Medieval walls topped by an imposing Spanish fortress enclose the Old Town, whose marble streets are lined with elaborate Gothic and Renaissance palaces.
In high summer, Hvar attracts a party-hard international jet set, but outside the peak it’s a magical place that acts as the perfect gateway to crystalline waters and quiet villages. Head for Stari Grad on the north coast, a quieter town set on a horseshoe bay, to visit Stari Grad Plain, a Unesco Cultural Landscape whose stone walls and terraces of olives and grapes were laid out by the ancient Greeks.
Drive backcountry roads through a patchwork of lavender and rosemary to discover isolated beaches and hidden coves, colorful former fishing villages such as Vrboska or Jelsa, and some of Croatia’s best wineries.
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Captivating lakeside drives
Sveti (Saint) Jovan Kaneo Church on Lake Ohrid, Macedonia at sunset © outcast85 / Getty
Lake Ohrid to Lake Prespa, North Macedonia
Distance: 34 miles (55km)
Lake Ohrid is one of the oldest and deepest lakes in the world, straddling the border between North Macedonia and Albania. Despite its Unesco status and being home to a multitude of endemic species, it remains remarkably unvisited.
Begin in the ancient, picturesque city of Ohrid, continuously occupied since Neolithic times. Its Grecian theatre, recently rediscovered and restored, hosts an arts festival each summer. As you drive south you pass fortresses and monasteries, teetering dramatically above the water.
Leave Lake Ohrid on a series of switchbacks climbing up through Galičica National Park, where at the road’s highest point a trail leading farther up offers a view across both lakes. Descend to the tranquil Lake Prespa in time for dinner, stopping at one of the many small restaurants in Oteshevo that serve fish landed straight from the lake.
Just back from: driving the Route Napoléon in France
Distance: 25 miles (40km)
Lake Annecy found fame in Paul Cézanne’s Le Lac d’Annecy painting, a post-Impressionist masterpiece that captures all the beauty, grandeur and violence of the landscape here. But nothing beats seeking out that drama yourself. It takes just a lazy day’s driving to travel its circumference, along glimmering blue water with snowcapped Alps behind.
Base yourself in Annecy and explore the gorgeous Old Town and lively markets before setting off. Impressive Château Menthon is well worth visiting and has guided tours throughout the summer months.
Stop at Talloires for lunch – it has a fine selection of restaurants and good swimming beaches – and then, if you’ve still got the energy, hike one of the many trails that wind up to the peaks that surround the lake. Finish back in Annecy for a sunset drink with panoramic views across the water at the Hotel Belvédère.
Distance: 86 miles (138km)
A quarter of the Finnish Lakeland region is water – there are at least 55,000 lakes here, making it the largest lake district in Europe. To drive in this area is to lose all distinction between the water and the road. From Varkaus, it’s less than an hour’s drive to the Järvisydän spa, offering every type of soaking and sweating you can imagine.
It’s not all about relaxing though – as you drive across this watery landscape there is ample opportunity for swimming and canoeing, fishing and boat trips, or, in winter, skating and snowshoeing. Finland’s ‘Right to Roam’ means that camping is permitted just about anywhere, but the hotels might still tempt you.
The Ollinmäki Wine Farm, just outside Anttola, has villas, fabulous food, homemade wine and nearby lakes for a final road trip dip.
Drives around Mediterranean islands
Traditional fishing boats in Gozo, Malta © Caron Badkin / Shutterstock
North Coast Gozo, Malta
Start: Ramla Bay
Distance: 10 miles (16km)
Gozo is the second-billed island in the Maltese archipelago, but for scenic appeal it easily rivals Malta proper. A drive along Gozo’s north coast reveals one of the country’s least built-up corners.
Begin with a dip at Ramla Bay, a wide and largely wild beach not to be confused with the resort of the same name on the main island. Once you’ve brushed off its characteristic orange sand, take a coastal drive through the small harbor of Marsalforn, beyond which the route passes a surreal landscape of seaside salt pans.
The road gets gravelly after it ducks round the inlet of Wied il-Għasri, but stick with it if you can along the clifftops to reach Wied il-Mielaħ, a natural sea arch to replace the famous Azure Window that collapsed in 2017. The location of the latter still makes a fitting trip finale, with sunset views beside the Dwejra Inland Sea.
Sustainable Food Destination: Greece
Mount Pantokrator Circuit, Corfu, Greece
Distance: 41 miles (66km)
Mount Pantokrator is the highest point in Corfu (2972 ft/906m), and a lap of its flanks brings generous mountain and coastal views as you round the northeast corner of the island. Start in Pyrgi village and proceed north and clockwise if you want to get the climbing done early. From Pyrgi the road zigzags up past olive groves through the villages of Spartylas and Strinylas.
Here you can drive east on a road up to the summit of Pantokrator itself (a car with a nimble turning circle is an advantage) where there’s a small but richly decorated monastery under a rather unfortunate communications mast.
Return to the coast at the resort town of Acharavi, and head east as the road snakes round lushly wooded bays and charming villages such as c and Kalami, with views towards Albania just two miles across the water.
Lipari Loop, Italy
Start: Lipari Town
End: San Salvatore
Distance: 17 miles (28km)
Lipari is the middlemost of the Aeolian Islands, and as you drive the encircling main road, each of the other volcanic islands puts in an appearance on the horizon. Lipari Town is reached by car ferries and faster hydrofoils from Sicily, and heading out north the route is a palm-lined corniche running along a yacht-filled bay.
From the road skirting the shingle beach at Canneto, you’ll have views towards the islands of Panarea and – half-concealed behind it – the ever-smoking cone of Stromboli. Past the pumice quarries at Lipari’s northeast corner, twin-peaked Salina lumbers into view, and after that, more distant Filicudi and Alicudi, if summer haze doesn’t obscure them. Last to appear as you turn the southwest corner is Vulcano.
It’s visible from the main road, but for a close-up, end your drive at the viewpoint beside the Geophysical Observatory in San Salvatore, at Lipari’s southern tip.
Europe’s best vineyard drives
The vineyards of Douro Valley near Peso da Regua, Portugal © PIXEL to the PEOPLE / Shutterstock
Douro Valley, Portugal
End: Miranda do Douro
Distance: 222 miles (358km)
Portugal kept this one up its sleeve for a long time, but oenophiles have finally clocked on to the romance – and increasingly outstanding wines – of the Douro Valley. The world’s oldest demarcated wine region (in 1756, for the record) is a real beauty, with mile after mile of twisting, terraced vineyards that rise sharply from the Douro River.
Its true heart is the Alto Douro (Upper Douro), a Unesco World Heritage Site. The drive kicks off in the grand port lodges of Porto, gradually inching east to the Spanish border. En route expect to find an abundance of historic wine estates – Quinta Nova and Quinta do Crasto are names to remember. And you’ll want to linger at the Casal de Loivos lookout, where the gasp-eliciting view over the vines is the Douro reduced to postcard format. Allow five days to a week to do the drive justice.
Lavaux Vineyards, Switzerland
End: Château de Chillon
Distance: 25 miles (40km)
Easily doable in a day trip from Geneva, this short but sublime drive takes in the Unesco World Heritage-protected Lavaux vineyards, which stagger up from the northern shores of Lake Geneva in a series of sheer, stone-walled terraces that beggar belief.
The road trip along Rte 9 begins in the higgledy-piggledy French-speaking city of Lausanne and takes in pretty lakeside towns like Vevey before swinging southeast to Montreux (of summer jazz festival fame) and Château de Chillon, an extraordinary 13th-century fortress, brought to world attention in 1816 in Lord Byron’s poem ‘The Prisoner of Chillon’.
Painters William Turner and Gustave Courbet subsequently immortalized the castle on canvas. In the vineyards, pause at a cave to taste beautiful Chasselas white wines that are crisp, minerally and usually only produced on a small, artisanal scale. Lavaux Vinorama in lakeside Rivaz whisks you through the region’s 300 wines and offers insightful tastings.
The best road trips in Italy
Chianti Road, Italy
Distance: 44 miles (71km)
Toscana simply doesn’t get more bella than this classic drive on the SR222 through Chianti country. Linking two great medieval cities, the road meanders languorously through gently rolling countryside striped with cypress trees, olive groves and vines.
After an art and architectural feast in Florence, it’s time to head south to Siena, crowned by its magnificent cathedral and 12th-century Piazza del Campo. In between are honey-colored hill towns, where life revolves around the town square, and is punctuated by the chiming of the campanile.
Stop by enotecas (wine shops), open for tastings of the region’s revered red wines, including Chianti Classico, a sangiovese-dominated drop. The road is technically drivable year-round but is perhaps at its most photogenic during the late springtime eruption of poppies and other wildflowers.
On tap at the source: the best European beer routes
A parade through Belgium celebrating Belgian Beer Weekend, Brussels © Kutredrig / Getty
Trappist beers of Belgium
Distance: 347 miles (558km)
Explore Belgium while tasting beers from Trappist breweries, where monks have been creating flavourful beers for centuries before the contemporary focus on craft beer.
Begin northeast of Antwerp at Café Trappisten, where Westmalle beers are matched with cheeses also made by monks from the adjacent Westmalle Abbey. Heading south through Brussels, beers from the Rochefort Brewery are partnered at local cafés with venison from the nearby Ardennes region.
It’s then a 50 mile (80km) drive further south to Orval for their bottle-conditioned beer, a favorite of many craft brewers around the world. To the northwest, a quick spin of the wheels through France brings you to Scourmont Abbey, the base for Chimay.
At the Poteaupré Inn at the Espace Chimay visitor center, try the Chimay 150, originally brewed in 2012 to celebrate the brewery’s 150-year anniversary. From here, it’s then a two-hour drive north to Vleteren, to end the trip with some excellent beers from Westvleteren.
Southeast Ireland suds explorer
Distance: 236 miles (380km)
Guinness in Dublin and Murphy’s in Cork are two of Ireland’s most renowned breweries, and linking these heavyweights is this itinerary visiting up-and-coming craft breweries in between. After touring Guinness’ historic St James’s Gate brewery, continue south for a hoppy Wildfire red ale from Wicklow Wolf Brewery, before making the 20-minute drive along the Irish Sea to the Wicklow Brewery. Sunday roast for lunch is always a good time to visit the brewery’s Mickey Finn’s pub. Continue through a patchwork of farmland to YellowBelly Beer in County Wexford.
YellowBelly’s seasonal brews include unusual sours and farmhouse ales, while the Gallow’s Hill barley wine, found west at the Dungarvan Brewing Company, is ideal in cooler months. Complete a hop-fuelled Irish journey with a pint of Murphy’s stout at the Shandon Arms in Cork.
The Düsseldorf, Germany skyline from across the Rhine River © Allard Schager / Getty Images
German beer loop
Distance: 1130 miles (1818km)
Beer has been brewed in Germany for three millennia. It’s a major part of the country’s culture, with many regional styles.
Begin with a delicate straw-colored kölsch in the shadow of Cologne Cathedral before heading southeast to Bamberg, home of interesting rauchbiers made with smoked malt. South, near the border with Austria, Munich is famous for its golden Helles lagers and the annual Oktoberfest beer festival, while to the north, in former East Germany, the traditional beer style of Leipzig is gose, a tart beer flavored with salt and coriander. Nearby, Berlin is famous for Berliner Weisse beers, refreshingly low in alcohol, and often spiked with berry syrup.
To the southwest, via Hanover and Saxony, Düsseldorf is the heartland of copper-colored altbiers – the name translates to ‘old beer’, as this is one of Germany’s most historic brews.