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The best road trips in the world

The best road trips in the world

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If you’re dreaming of setting out to hit the open road, look no further. This is our pick of the best road trips in the world, from majestic day-trips to week-long epics.


1. Cabot Trail, Canada

This 298km road traverses the island of Cape Breton, arguably the most beautiful part of Nova Scotia. The highlight of the trail is the northern section. This takes you through the magnificent Cape Breton Highlands National Park, home to bald eagles, moose and black bears. Take the journey at a leisurely pace to explore charming small villages where the French and Scottish influence is still obvious.


2. The Garden Route, South Africa

The lush, slender stretch of coastal plain between Mossel Bay and Storms River Mouth makes for an easy and beautiful introduction to South Africa. As you drive you’ll see mountains and vineyards on one side and rocky shores and sandy beaches on the other. The coast is at its most dramatic at Storms River Mouth. Abandon your wheels here to walk the trails, with the surf pounding the rocks below you.


3. Columbia River Gorge, USA

Travelling east out of Portland, Oregon, Interstate-84 winds its way beside the beautiful Columbia River Gorge. Though it’s just 112km long and easily covered in one day, a few days will enable you to get the most out of the area. Take your time soaking up the views of the USA’s second-longest river, and its many dramatic waterfalls.


4. San Juan Skyway, USA

This 380km drive through Colorado’s dramatic San Juan Range will take you past gushing streams and waterfalls in spring, bright wildflowers in summer, and snowy slopes in winter. However, this fabulous route is at its most spectacular in autumn, when the landscape is ablaze with the yellows, oranges and reds of the leaves. It’s also one of the reasons that we think makes Colorado one of the most beautiful states in the USA.


5. Gobi Desert, Mongolia

Off-road to your heart’s content in the Gobi Desert, where kilometre after kilometre of nothingness stretches out around you. This truly remote region has a rugged beauty – not least the sand dunes of Khongoryn Els. When you get tired of being behind the wheel, explore on camelback and spend your nights at a traditional Ger camp.


6. South Island Circuit, New Zealand

The South Island is where New Zealand’s landscape is at its most remarkable. Driving around it at your own pace allows you to really soak up the many varied vistas, stopping for an adrenalin fix every now and again. Arguably the most stunning part of the drive is between Te Anau and Milford Sound, which crosses tranquil Fiordland and some of the Southern Alps.


7. Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

Driving across the perfectly flat white expanse of the world’s largest salt lake, it’s easy to believe you’re on another planet. After it rains, the salt flats are turned into an enormous mirror. In the reflection, you’ll see the mountain peaks that surround the area. When dry, the surface is so intensely white that it appears to be ice. At night, the landscape is illuminated by the eerie white glow of the moon. There are plenty of adventures to be had in Bolivia, too – start with these beautiful journeys across the country.


8. Costa Smeralda, Sardinia

Sardinia’s beautiful northern coast, the Costa Smeralda (or “Emerald Coast”), sees the meeting of dramatic headlands and turquoise waters. This is the island’s best-known resort area, with a reputation for glitzy opulence. Visit in late spring or early autumn for the best experience; quieter roads, beautiful weather, and uncrowded beaches.


9. Iceland’s ring road

A 1,339-kilometre road that runs right around the island, the N1 enables you to enjoy Iceland’s awe-inspiring scenery. Drive past fertile valleys and snow-capped mountains to lava fields, vivid blue fjords and volcanic craters. This beautiful, if brutal, landscape of big open spaces is perfect for exploring on four wheels.


10. The Karakoram Highway, Pakistan

The highest paved road in the world, the Karakoram Highway connects China and Pakistan. Along the way, it crosses the rocky mountain range that separates the two countries. Undoubtedly one of the world’s most stunning routes, the journey takes you through some seriously epic scenery. You’ll see towering snow-capped mountains, rocky gorges and pale blue rivers, not to mention past numerous pieces of rock art, which date back as far as 1000BC.


11. Tasman Peninsula, Tasmania

This southeastern corner of Tasmania is one of the most stunning parts of Australia. It boasts a rugged coastline that leads down to crystal clear waters of the many beaches. Self-driving is the best way to explore. Allow plenty of time for stops to get up close to the spectacular scenery, not least to see Tasman’s Arch and the Devil’s Kitchen.


12. Highway 61, USA

There’s no greater musical odyssey to be had in America than that of the Blues Highway – one of our top 5 road trips in the USA. Running south for 2,300km from Wyoming to New Orleans, Louisiana, it follows the course of the mighty Mississippi River for much of the way. The greatest stretch for music lovers is undoubtedly that from the Blues city of Memphis to intoxicating New Orleans.


13. Northeast coastline, Brazil

A road-trip for beach-lovers, taking you between Jericoacoara, with its fine white-sand beach and turquoise lagoon, and Salvador, second only to Rio for the magnificence of its natural setting. In between stretch kilometre after kilometre of unbroken beaches that are undoubtedly among the most beautiful in the world. This is unspoiled Brazil, from sheltered reef beaches to wilder ones backed by mountainous sand dunes and palm trees.


14. Ruta 40, Argentina

Running parallel to the spine of the Andes in Argentina, this is one of the longest roads in the Americas and one of our top 6 journeys in South America. The route takes you from tranquil lakes and lush national parks to salt flats and the wilds of Patagonia. Best of all, you can relax at the end of the day with a glass of delicious local wine.


15. The Pan-American Highway

Undoubtedly one of the best road trips in the world, travelling from the southernmost tip of Argentina to Alaska. In other words, it takes you from the Antarctic to the Arctic and covers an astounding 48,000km. The world’s longest driving route (only broken in Panama by the rainforested Darién Gap), you’ll encounter almost every ecosystem and habitat on earth along the way.


16. The Golden Road to Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Trace ancient footsteps through the heart of the historic Silk Road in Uzbekistan. An eight- to ten-day trip, it’s best experienced by hiring a 4WD. The Golden Road journeys through breathtaking landscapes and historic cities – nowhere more impressive than your end goal, Samarkand, home to the beautiful turquoise-domed Registan.


17. The Atlantic Road, Norway

The route may be short – a mere 8.3km – but it’s incredibly impressive. Eight low bridges link the islands between Molde and Kristiansund in the western fjords of Norway. The most beautiful is Storseisundet, curving scenically above the water. In summer you can spot seals and whales, while autumn brings its own appeal, with dramatic rainstorms that pound the road.


18. The Outer Hebrides, Scotland

The single-track road that runs down this island chain is one of Britain’s greatest driving experiences. Rugged, windswept and jaw-droppingly beautiful, this route shows Scotland at its best. Travelling both by road and sea, you can do a bit of island-hopping, experiencing beautiful beaches like Luskentyre, ancient standing stones, and the justifiably renowned Hebridean hospitality.


19. Bollenstreek Route, the Netherlands

The Netherlands is renowned for its flowers, and there’s no better way to experience them then on the Bollenstreek – or Bulb – route. The best time of year to drive the road is, unsurprisingly, spring, when brightly-coloured flowers carpet the plains. And there’s more than just tulips – you can expect to see narcissi, hyacinths, irises and dahlias, among many others.


20. The Atlantic Highway, England

The A39 from Bridgewater to Bude runs along the northern coast of Devon into Cornwall. You get some of the country’s best sea views on one side, and wild, dramatic hills on the other. With pretty villages and sweeping beaches to explore, not to mention the great expanse of Exmoor National Park, this is perfect for a leisurely few days of exploring.


21. The Black Forest, Germany

Arguably Germany’s most picturesque region, with sweeping evergreen forests and rolling hills dotted with pretty villages and historic towns, the Black Forest is ideal driving territory. At the end of a long day exploring, retreat to one of the spa towns like Baden-Baden for a restorative soak in the local waters.


22. The Basque Circuit, Spain

This 480km route through northern Spain takes you through some of the country’s (many) highlights – Bilbao, Pamplona, the Pyrenees, and back along the coast, with the beautiful Bay of Biscay on your right. You’ll want plenty of time to explore – not least to sample some of the wonderful local food – and to allow for the views to distract you along the way.


23. The Great Ocean Road, Australia

Extending 285km between Torquay and Warrnambool in southwestern Victoria, the Great Ocean Road was conceived as a scenic road of world repute to commemorate the soldiers who died during World War I. The most spectacular part of the drive is undoubtedly the appropriately named “Shipwreck Coast”, home to the dramatic rock formations of the Twelve Apostles.


24. Skeleton Coast, Namibia

This barren stretch of coast in Namibia is named for the countless shipwrecks that have occurred here over the centuries. Many of the sun-bleached wrecks can still be seen – often shrouded in mist. The Skeleton Coast’s appeal lies not only in its dramatic scenery but also in the hostile remoteness of its location. In addition to windswept sand dunes, expect black lava ridges and granite massifs. You might even spot elephants, black rhinos and springboks from your 4WD.


25. Avenue of the Baobabs, Madagascar

This dusty road in western Madagascar, between Morondava and Belon’i Tsiribihina, is lined by remarkable baobab trees. Their stark silhouettes are especially striking in contrast to the low shrubland that surrounds them. Reaching up to 30m height and 11m diameter, and up to 800 years old, the majesty of the baobab can only really be appreciated by seeing them in person – a truly extraordinary sight.


26. Driving to Uluru, Australia

There’s nothing quite like driving through the brilliant red, parched desert of Australia’s Northern Territory and seeing Uluru rising up in front of you for the first time. Despite being one of the most recognizable sights in the world, it’s hard not to be awestruck. Whether drenched in fierce Australian sunlight, or softened by the colours of sunrise and sunset, it’s a memory you won’t ever forget.


27. The Oman Circle, Oman

Driving this route is a wonderful way to explore this fascinating country. I will allow you to experience the full range of its beautiful landscapes, from deserts and dunes to cave systems and exotic souks. Be sure to take a break from the road to spot turtles on Ras Al Jinz beach, or to try wild-swimming in the river at the bottom of a wadi.


28. The Powder Highway, Canada

British Columbia’s Powder Highway is the perfect road trip for lovers of the white stuff. The roads that make up this 1,094 km loop run through the heart of western Canada take in traditional ski resorts – including Kicking Horse and Fernie – and backcountry ski lodges, with fabulous mountain views that unfold with every turn in the road.


29. Ocean Drive, USA

There’s no denying that Portland, Oregon, is currently one of the coolest cities in the USA , so start your journey with a few days here, soaking up the vibrant music scene, before heading south down the coast. As you drive, mile after mile of beautiful – and empty – beaches await, complemented by quaint towns. You might even be able to spot grey whales just off the coast.


30. The Road to Mount Nebo, Jordan

Following the road 10km northwest of Madaba leads you to Mount Nebo, said to be the final resting place of Moses. It’s a place of unique resonance to Jews, Christians and Muslims. Though there’s nothing to see in terms of remains, this journey through Jordan is more than worth it to see the special mountain, which is crowned by an ancient church that houses some marvellous mosaics.


31. New York City to Niagara, USA

This is an epic drive, covering an impressive 2,100km, from New York City to Niagara Falls, before returning to the bright lights via the Amish farms and vineyards of Ithaca. It’s a fantastic route throughout the year – you’ll see snow in the Catskills, the lush green countryside in spring and summer or the irresistible colours of the autumn leaves in the Adirondacks.


32. Big Sur, USA

The USA is full of iconic drives, and undoubtedly one of the most famous is that along California’s Highway 1. The road’s undoubted highlight is Big Sur. With 145 km of wild and undeveloped coastline, the road curves through bedrock cliffs above the ocean. Below hide sandy beaches, while inland are grand redwood groves lining river canyons in the shadow of the Saint Lucia Mountains.


33. Badlands National Park, USA

There’s a rugged beauty to Badlands National Park, where the layered rock formations, ravines and mesas provide particularly striking panoramas. The classic route through the park is on Highway 240 – or the “Badlands Loop” – where the 51km drive takes you past fourteen different viewpoints where you can appreciate up the sheer scale and isolation of the national park.


34. The Road to Hana, Hawaii

Undoubtedly dramatic, the Road to Hana on the Hawaiian island of Maui encompasses six hundred twists and turns, and fifty narrow bridges, making it surprisingly white-knuckle at times. The pay-off is more than worth it, however, as you pass lush jungle, cascading waterfalls and steep cliffs that lead down to stereotypically picturesque Hawaiian beaches.


35. Coastal Route 15, Mexico

An unforgettable road that runs from Nogales, on the US border, to the seaside resort of Puerto Vallarta – once you hit the Pacific, expect ocean on one side and anything from desert to rainforest on the other. You’ll need at least five days to do the stretch justice, allowing time to take in tiny seaside pueblos, colonial villages and the vivid blue of the ocean.


36. Corsica’s northwest coast, France

The 112 hair-raising kilometres of the D81 from Calvi to Cargèse takes you through jagged mountains with unique, savage beauty. Ten days will allow you to really make the most of the journey, from Calvi’s bustling port to the vivid-red rock gorge of the Fango River, and the fabulous views of the Scandola headland to be had from the Croce Pass.


For adventures in France, try Rough Guides Tailor-Made Trips.

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