Rev up the engine, and get out the map. It’s time for a road trip! Whether you’re longing to see the Northern Lights in Iceland or wild kangaroos in Australia, these 6 best road trips in the world will lead you in the right direction – and might even include a few off-road adventures along the way! Fuel up for the North Coast 500 to admire castles and the northernmost point in the UK, or turn up the tunes in the US for a nostalgic cruise down Historic Route 66.
1. Best Road Trips | The Ring Road, Iceland
A road trip in Iceland doesn’t include just a few destinations. It covers the entire country! Start at Reykjavik and follow the Ring Road, or Route 1 as it’s sometimes called, around an 830-mile stretch of road that circles all of Iceland. Along the way, savor long looks at mesmerizing glaciers and icebergs, lava fields and waterfalls. Plan for daytime breaks at geothermal pools and black sand beaches, and each night, lie under the Northern Lights.
How long does it take to drive The Ring Road? 10 to 15 days, depending on how long you linger at each spot.
Avid road-trippers love to make the trip in a camper or RV, but tourists can rent a driver in Reykjavik. Costs vary by driver and season, but prices usually average between $500 to $1,000 for the entire trip. Travelers who want to drive themselves in a rental car need a valid national driver’s license or an International Driving Permit. Icelanders drive on the right side of the road, so if this is weird for you, consider hiring a driver.
Popular stops along Iceland’s Ring Road
Snaefellsnes peninsula: just off Route 1, west of Reykjavik, is Snaefellsness peninsula. It’s easy to spend several days exploring the area, which features Kirkjufell Mountain and Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall. In the town of Stykkishólmur, find Volcano Museum, a harbor full of boats and the Sugandisey Island Lighthouse.
Myvatn Geothermal Area: during the 5-hour journey from Reykjavik to Myvatn, road-trippers will enjoy viewing wildlife and glacial scenery as well as frequent stops in quaint villages. While the journey is rewarding in its, the gold at the end of the rainbow lies in Myvatn Geothermal Area. Travelers generally set up camp here for a few days, as the region offers other popular attractions like Myvatn Lake, Hverir boiling mud pits and Hverfjall volcano. Sightseers also can see lava fields and take a warm soak in Stóragjá hot springs caves. Sigugeir’s Bird Museum is a popular stop, too.
Jökulsárlón Iceberg Lagoon: following another 5- to 6-hour trip around the northeaster coast of Iceland, travelers will come to Jökulsárlón Iceberg Lagoon on the edge of Vatnajökull National Park. Plan a DIY tour of black sand beaches and Icelandic wildlife, or book a boat tour and float right past 1,000-year-old icebergs – that guests are allowed to taste!
Vatnajökull glacier: the largest ice cap in Iceland lies in the center of Vatnajökull National Park. Take a tour to see the country’s highest peak, Hvannadalshnúkur, and learn that the glacier actually sits on several active volcanoes!
Eldhraun lava field: created by an eruption that lasted nearly a year, the Eldhraun lava field is the largest lava field of its kind in the world. It encompasses more than 218 square miles of land and contains dozens of explorable lava tubes.
Sólheimajökull glacier: the next stop is a gorgeous viewing area, but travelers can hire guides to go for a hike on Sólheimajökull glacier.
Skógafoss Waterfall: be prepared for a walk up about 400 steps to take in this beauty. The climb is well worth it as Skógafoss Waterfall is one of Iceland’s most impressive at more than 80 feet wide and 200 feet tall. On sunny days, rainbows adorn the waterfall, giving off the perfect picturesque glow!
Seljalandsfoss waterfall: this enormous waterfall can be seen from Ring Road, but real road-trippers require a close-up view. This natural wonder spills water over a cliff from a height of more than 320 feet. Walk 10 minutes north to see Gljúfrabúi, another stunning waterfall.
Reynisfjara Beach: end a road trip through Iceland at Reynisfjara Beach, a black sand beach with unique rock formations. The beach is on the southern coast of the island and a 2.5-hour drive from Reykjavik.
Northern Lights: the best part about road trips is the open sky! The glorious Northern Lights of Iceland often can be seen anytime from August to mid-April, but the best light shows take place from September through March.
2. Best Road Trips | North Coast 500, Scotland
Forget Glasgow and Edinburgh! One of the newest and already one of the best road trips in the world, the North Coast 500 takes travelers on a loop through the rarely-visited regions of Northern Scotland. The route officially opened in 2015 and showcases points like Cape Wrath, the most north-westerly point in mainland Britain, and John O’Groats, on the northeastern tip.
The journey begins and ends at Inverness, with sights like Cairngorms National Park and Rogie Falls. Along the way, travelers will pass through northern villages like Applecross, a row of houses on the coast of Highland known locally as Shore Street, or The Street, for short. The circuit then takes drivers northeast to Ullapool, nestled on the banks of the Loch Broom. In Ullapool, drivers can take a break from the road and board a ferry to visit the Outer Hebrides islands or stay in town to tour the Ullapool Museum.
Further travels reveal centuries-old castle ruins, working farmlands and plenty of rolling hills and coastline.
The 500-mile drive can be completed in two or three days, but to get the most out of the trip travelers should plan a 5- to 7-day itinerary.
Notable stopping points along the NC500
Inverness: the gateway to the NC500 hosts some of the best attractions. Plan on seeing Inverness Botanic Gardens and The Highlanders’ Museum before taking off, and hit Inverness Castle upon return! Road-trippers also can go off-road by booking a boat tour with Dolphin Spirit Inverness, which offers cruises that promise incredible views of dolphins and seals frolicking in their natural habitat.
Rogie Falls: not far from Inverness, and a predictable first stop, Rogie Falls features wild waterfalls and unbeatable nature walks. Dare to cross over the falls via a small suspension bridge. The bridge offers an awesome bird’s-eye view but requires some guts to cross: it’s wobbly, involves a steep set of stairs and supports only five people at a time. Still, travelers who have survived the crossing say it is an adrenaline rush they’ll never forget!
Cape Wrath: designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest, Cape Wrath lies on the most northeasterly point of mainland Britain. Tour buses take passengers around the area, which features views of the Atlantic Ocean and the famous Cape Wrath Lighthouse, built in 1828.
John O’Groats & Wick: some say John O’Groats is a bit of a tourist trap these days, but standing on the northeasterly tip of mainland Britain is a road trip must-do. The town of about 300 people is quaint, yet sometimes busy, especially during the annual Wildcat Motorcycle Rally that draws enthusiasts to the area annually on the second weekend in July.
Dunrobin Castle: open from April to October, Dunrobin Castle dates to the 1400s (and some say earlier) and still contains remnants of the original castle building. Renovations and extensions have turned the castle into the largest house in the north of Scotland. The landmark features 189 rooms, a sweeping courtyard and gardens as well as a museum that displays trophy heads of animals shot by royal family members.
3. Best Road Trips | Route 66, USA
Plenty of people still get their kicks on Route 66, which runs from Chicago, Illinois, to Santa Monica–Los Angeles, California, in the United States. The route was made famous during The Great Depression and the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, when migrants from the Midwest followed the road in search of employment – and promises of gold – in California. John Steinbeck further emphasized the route’s impact on America in his Nobel Prize-winning book “The Grapes of Wrath.” While most of the highways that make up one of the best road trips in the world are no longer designated as Route 66, “Historic Route 66” signs mark a clear route for dedicated road-trippers.
The entire Route 66 road trip covers 2,448 miles and takes road-trippers past quirky landmarks, like Cadillac Ranch, in Amarillo, Texas, and a 13-mile stretch of road in Kansas that has preserved the Route 66 name.
A complete tour of Route 66 takes drivers through the states of Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. Road-trippers who have conquered the whole journey recommend setting a pace from the get-go. The drive can be done in about a week, but there is so much to see and do along the route, planning an itinerary over three or four weeks is best.
A few highlights & things to see on Historic Route 66
Oklahoma Route 66 Museum in Clinton, Oklahoma: having the look and feel of a 1950s American diner, the Oklahoma Route 66 Museum is a fun place to stretch your legs along Route 66. The museum highlights the importance of the historic route, also known as the Will Rogers Highway in Oklahoma, as well as the many businesses and workers that were impacted by its popularity.
Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas: add your own personal touch to this bizarre art installation on the outskirts of Amarillo in the panhandle of Texas. The exhibit features 10 graffiti-covered cars half buried in a vacant field. Guests are welcome to bring their own cans of spray paint (or use ones left there) and leave all the graffiti they want!
San Miguel Mission in Santa Fe, New Mexico: this adobe-style chapel is the oldest known church in the continental United States and dates to between 1610 and 1626. The church once served as a chapel for Spanish soldiers, and visitors to San Miguel Mission can still attend mass on Sundays.
Meteor Crater Natural Landmark (Barringer Crater) in Winslow, Arizona: seeing close-up is believing for this famous landmark. The Meteor Crater is visible from Interstate 40, but turning off the highway to see this dynamic hole in the ground is well worth the short detour. The site is believed to be created by what is known as the Canyon Diablo Meteorite, which fell to the earth more than 50,000 years ago. The crater measures a whopping 3,900 feet in diameter and is 560 feet deep. Perhaps what impresses visitors the most is the 148-foot rim around the crater that resulted from the meteorite’s powerful impact.
Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles, California: ending with a view of the Pacific Ocean from Santa Monica Pier is the cherry on top of Route 66. Spend the day on Santa Monica State Beach, and grab a souvenir at Route 66 Last Stop Shop. The pier also is next to the Original Muscle Beach, an outdoor workout area established in the 1930s. Before heading out, have look through Santa Monica Pier Museum, and if you’re up for it, cut loose on a roller coaster or Ferris wheel ride at Pacific Park. After this epic journey, you’ve earned it!
4. Best Road Trips | Great Ocean Road, Australia
Zipping down Great Ocean Road through Victoria in southern Australia only takes about two hours, but there’s no need to hurry one of the best road trips in the world. The stretch of road is only 150 miles long, but attractions along the way include quiet beaches, picturesque lighthouses, rainforest and more than likely, kangaroos! Travelers also have reported seeing anteaters, koalas, tons of multi-colored parrots and even penguins. Shipwreck Coast is perhaps the star of Great Ocean Road, which goes from Torquay to Allansford. The coastal region features the Twelve Apostles, a unique set of rock pillars shaped by years of standing in the ocean.
Famous highlights along Great Ocean Road
Bells Beach: a surfers’ paradise, Bells Beach was made famous in the movie “Point Break” and hosts the annual Rip Curl Pro Surfing Competition. Newbies shouldn’t try to surf here, though, as waves are massive and sharks have been seen in the area.
Apollo Bay: this popular coastal village features a safe swimming area, bike paths and horseback riding.
Great Otway National Park: this massive green space is the perfect place for road-trippers to stretch their legs. Great Otway National Park is famous for its 57-mile hiking trail along with its waterfalls, Hopetoun Falls, Beauchamp Falls and Triplet Falls. Get a panoramic view of the area and the coastline from Cape Otway Light Station Lookout, and visit the Cape Otway Lightstation (a separate attraction) itself. Great Otway National Park also offers camping. Just look for the Cape Otway GOW Campsite.
Twelve Apostles: witness the power of nature at the Twelve Apostles rock formations just outside of Princetown. Formed by years of water and wind erosion, the figures (now numbering only eight) change colors at sunrise and sunset and make for some pleasing eye candy during a road trip break.
Gibson Steps: while visiting the Twelve Apostles, visitors should also check out the Gibson Steps. This stunning cliffside lookout offers steps leading down to an unnamed beach.
The Grotto in Port Campbell National Park: stop for photos at this gorgeous hole in the ground. The Grotto is an arch rock formation formed from years of erosion. Guests can hike down to the pool that stands in the sink hole beneath the arch and also watch from above as waves further carve out space in the cliffside.
- Mutton Bird Lookout
- Island Arch Lookout
- The Blowhole
- Tom and Eva Lookout
- The Razorback
5. Best Road Trips | South Island, New Zealand
There’s no preferred route to follow while road tripping on South Island in New Zealand. Die-hard roadies say it’s all good! South Island is home to Fiordland National Park and Mount Aspiring National Park, both excellent spots for spying endless forests, tranquil lakes and stunning glaciers. Travelers will find hot springs for relaxing, hiking trails for stretching and an interconnected roadway in tip-top shape.
Plan to spend seven to 10 days exploring New Zealand’s South Island. Though, those who have gone before will testify that even a month-long road trip in New Zealand is not too long.
Must-see destinations in South Island in New Zealand
West Coast: with a road that skirts the coast line, the West Coast offers ocean views on one side and mountain views on the other. Campgrounds are nestled along the roadway, so stop when you like and enjoy a hike. From September to mid-November, lucky travelers will get roadside samples of mouthwatering whitebait fritters, an omelet loaded with locally-caught whitebait fish. Road-trippers passing through from September 9 to October 23 can catch the West Coast Whitebait Season Festival, popular for its annual photography competition, whitebait menu challenge and plenty of samples of New Zealand’s favorite fish.
Haast Pass to Queenstown: plan to spend at least five hours cruising around these parts, which extend from the foothills of Mount Victor all the way down to Queenstown. In between, travelers will get views of Mount Aspiring and Mount Edward as well as Lake Hawea and Lake Wanaka.
Milford Sound: located in Fiordland National Park, Milford Sound is perhaps the top destination for many on this road trip. This scenic body of water runs between Mount Pembroke and Llawrenny Peaks in the northern territory of the park, which is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Don’t miss Mirror Lake and Bowen Falls – or the view from The Chasm Viewing Bridge. Cruises also are available near the Milford Sound Visitor Center.
Pukaki and Mount Cook: set up camp in this quaint village known for its lakeside views and snow-capped mountain. Mount Cook is New Zealand’s highest mountain, and the lake area contains multiple hiking trails.
6. Best Road Trips | Leh Manali Highway, India
It’s the perfect season to plan a road trip through the Himalayan region, and the road from Manali to Leh is a great stretch to explore. Known officially as the Leh Manali Highway (and to some as the Manali-Leh Highway), the roadway takes drivers through Solang Nala (Valley) and Rohtang La (Pass). It’s also a popular pilgrimage for devout Buddhists. Drive alongside the Chandra River, admire mountain peaks from the Himalayan Ranges, and most of all, breathe in the crisp mountain air.
The almost 300-mile stretch of road takes about two days to drive straight through, but a proper road trip should last at least three or four days. The road is officially open from June 1 to September 15.
Must-see attractions along Leh Manali Highway
Manali: just below 7,000 feet above sea level, Manali is a resort town in Himachal Pradesh. Road trippers who start here might have a hard time leaving as the area is popular for adventure sports like paragliding, rafting, hiking and skiing.
Rohtang Pass: stop at Snow Point just before entering Rohtang La, or Rohtang Pass, to make a snow angel and take in stunning views of surrounding mountain peaks. Once you’re on your way through the pass, look forward to seeing Pangi, one of the most remote tribal areas in Himachal Pradesh, and the cliffside villages of Lahaul-Spiti.
Keylong: the administrative center of Lahaul-Spiti is a cool stopping point, and travelers can spend a couple days exploring landmarks like Lahul (Bhaga) Valley or just chilling with other tourists and backpackers in the area.
Jispa: pass by more than a dozen local villages on the way from Keylong to Jispa, which sits at 10,000 feet and demands an overnight stay.
Lachulung La (Pass): looming at 16,000 feet above sea level is Lachulung La. Traveling along this route affords mind-blowing views of mountain peaks and vast greenery.
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