The World’s Ultimate Road Trips
Just you, your car, and a whole world to explore…
In a world where everything is instant – instant messaging, instant coffee, instant gratification, isn’t it nice to slow down and enjoy the ride every now and then? As they say – it’s the journey that matters, not the destination. You can jump on a plane and be somewhere in a few hours. But can you really experience the journey from 30,000 ft in the air? Can you really appreciate the distance and changing landscapes when you’re immersed in an in-flight film? When choosing to fly, you sacrifice experience for convenience. In a car you can engage with your surroundings. You can take it slow and stop wherever you like – you can personally witness the terrain, climate and architecture transform as you cross boundaries and borders. You can meet people, experience their lives and stumble across unexpected wonders. The road trip is the ultimate freedom and one of the best ways to really experience a place.
Here, we’ve compiled some of the best routes in the world…
Best Coastal Drive: California Pacific Coast Highway
What could be more American than heading off for a Californian road trip?
Fly ten hours from London to San Francisco, where the Pacific Coast Highway begins. There are plenty of car hire companies in the city, where you can get your hands on practically anything you fancy driving – whether you’ve always dreamed of zooming along in a flashy Aston Martin, or you’ve got your heart set on a classic Cadillac.
Take your new wheels over the iconic Golden Gate Bridge for incredible views over the bay, before heading out into the wine districts of Napa and Sonoma. Wind down the windows and take in the warm air as you whip past vine-covered valleys on the scenic Silverado Trail.
A hundred miles south you’ll stumble across the coastal community of Monterey, home to the world-renowned Moterey Bay Aquarium. Take an evening stroll around the waterfront, visiting some of the many shops, restaurants and cafes along the way. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot harbour seals, pelicans and sea otters in their natural habitat.
Back on the road, head to Route 1, which climbs more than 1,000ft above the sea. Stop off at Soberanes Point to watch sea otters, which are protected under California state law. Over the Old Coast Road you’ll pass through remote forest, canyons and 90 miles of unobstructed ocean views.
Route 1 will take you all the way to Santa Barbara, a collection of coastal cities overlooking beautiful beaches skimming the Pacific. This is one of the best places in the world to spot endangered blue whales as they pass on their ancient migratory routes.
A few miles down the road and you’ll hit Los Angeles – your final destination. Here you can explore all the iconic attractions, including Universal Studios Hollywood, Disneyland, the retail meccas of The Grove and the Beverley Centre, and drive down the famous Sunset Boulevard to dip your toes in the Pacific Ocean.
Best Nature Drive: South Africa, Bloemfontein to Durban
If you’re looking for a long drive with plenty of wildlife along the way, try the 416 mile stretch between Bloemfontein to Durban, one of South Africa’s most scenic routes.
Fly 11 hours and 22 minutes from London to Bloemfontein, the capital of South Africa’s Free State. Bloemfontein is known locally as the ‘city of roses’ because the flower grows abundantly all over the city. Before setting out on your South African road trip, take a day or two to wander around the city visiting the main attractions, such as the Botanical Garden Tree Route, a self-guided 1km walk featuring 43 indigenous trees. Nature lovers can buy a booklet sponsored by the University of the Free State’s Botany Department, which takes you through the tree names and their role in nature.
There are numerous car hire places in Bloemfontein, where you can find the perfect vehicle for your adventure. Set off early on the freeway, past yellow sunflower fields and pastoral flatlands towards the landlocked Kingdom of Lesotho. As you zip around the edges, passing through Ladybrand nestled at the foot of the majestic Maluti Mountains. Although small, Ladybrand is bustling with life and culture. Roughly 3km east lies Rose Cottage Cave, where Paleolithic people lived over 50,000 years ago. Here you can still see the rock paintings the ‘San’ people left, documenting their lives.
Continue on through the Eastern Highlands, a backdrop of jagged, snow-topped peaks, to Clarens – a picturesque ‘art town’ with as many as 20 galleries jostling for customers on the town’s main street. Enjoy the many boutiques, restaurants and bars around the grassy square here before heading onto the Golden Gate Highlands National Park, where antelope bound alongside the road. Here you can hike through 11,600 hectares of highland habitat, home to black wildebeest, springbok, zebra and vultures.
The last leg of the journey to Durban takes you through one of Africa’s greatest mountain ranges: the Drakensberg (meaning Dragon Mountains). The Royal Natal National Park is nearby with a variety of walking trails – including a chain ladder up the ‘Amphitheatre’, an 8km/5mi-long curtain of rock.
Your journey ends at the Indian Ocean and the busiest port in South Africa: The City of Durban. Durban offers a host of attractions. Wander around the ninth largest harbour in the world; dive at Durban Ailwal Shoal, one of the world’s top diving sites; try a spot of surfing; or check out the marine life in the huge uShaka Marine World – Africa’s largest aquarium.
Best Mountain Drive: Scotland, Old Military Road
Considered to be one of the best driving roads in the UK, the Old Military Road near Glenshee in Scotland is a must-try for car lovers. The road – the highest public road in the UK, starts at Perth and winds through the Glen Shee valley for 80 miles to Grantown-on-Spey. Hairpin bends, thrilling plunges and glorious mountain views dominate the drive, making this road a destination in its own right.
Before setting off, take some time out to explore Perth, the former capital of Scotland. The city sits at the heart of the stunning rural area of Perthshire, on the banks of the 119-mile river Tay – Scotland’s longest river. With a rich history stretching over 800 years, Perth has an abundance of cultural attractions, including Scone Palace, where many Scottish kings were crowned on the Stone of Destiny. Perth is also widely recognised and one of Scotland’s culinary capitals, with plenty of picturesque waterfront restaurants to choose from, whether you’re looking for a light bite or a spot of fine dining.
Once you set off into the glorious Glen Shee valley, which translates as ‘glen of the fairies’, you will encounter an ancient landscape, a magical gateway to Scotland’s past. Along the route stop off for a hike to stretch your legs. At Glenlochsie Lodge you can follow the old railway line for 8 miles, taking you through beautiful scenery including an old bridge across a waterfall.
Grantown-on-Spey, nestled at the end of the Old Military Road, is a traditional Highland town surrounded by ancient woodlands. There are numerous walks and trails through here and around the town offering spectacular views over the surrounding mountains.
The town has a pretty market square and High Street lined with interesting boutique shops selling everything from whisky to clothes. Visit the Grantown Museum to understand more about the town and its people, or enjoy the Malt Whisky Trail, which takes you to the many distilleries located in this town.
Most Romantic Drive: Bavaria, Romantische Strasse
For all the Cassonovas out there, a scenic drive can be irresistible. In Bavaria, Germany, there is a sign-posted route called Romantische Strasse, translating quite simply as Romantic Road. It takes drivers through chocolate-box medieval towns lined with half-timbered houses, Gothic cathedrals, fairytale castles and Boroque palaces.
Fly 1 hour 50 minutes to Munich Airport to pick up the southern part of the road, winding north past the town of Fussen, which is home to one of Germany’s most beautiful castles, Neuschwanstein Castle, jutting up from a rocky crag with elegant spires and Disney-like turrets (it was the inspiration behind Sleeping Beauty’s castle). It was completed in1892, intended as a personal refuge for reclusive King Ludwig II – but he died in 1886 and it was opened to the public immediately.
Drive north for 255 miles, passing through mountainous landscapes, alpine forests, cobblestoned villages and the walled towns of Nordlingen, Dinkelsbuhl, Rothenburg ob deer Tauber and Bad Megentheim.
At your destination, Wurzburg, you will find a wealth of historical attractions, including the UNESCO World Heritage site, the Residence Palace. The town is set at the heart of Germany’s biggest wine producing area. Here, vines cover 15,260 acres of land in the region. There are a number of wineries around Wurzburg offering wine classes, tours, tastings and festivals.
Fighting Boredom on the Road
Road tripping by nature involves long stretches of inactivity, and the novelty of travelling through beautiful scenery can wear off after a few hours in the car. So stave off boredom by…
- Taking a great music playlist you can sing along to
- Playing travel games
- Taking regular stops for leg stretching
- Chatting to locals at petrol stations/cafes
- Planning active ‘days off’ like cycling, walking or kayaking
- Rotating the role of driver
- Bringing books or audio tapes
- Listening to local radio stations – you’ll learn a lot about each place you pass through
- Writing a blog to keep family and friends updated with your adventures