Our Favorite European Road Trips & Car Rental Tips

We love a good road trip. In fact, it’s probably our favorite type of vacation. Road trips are a popular way to travel and explore, especially here in the States.  But even if you are thinking of traveling to another country, planning a road trip can make for a memorable vacation experience.  This is particularly true if you are considering planning a trip to Europe.  With diverse landscapes, loads of history, a variety of architecture, and a mix of cultures all within a short drive, renting a car to go on a Europe road trip is perhaps the ultimate way to see it all!

European Road Trip Routes & Maps Below

I’ve been fortunate enough to have visited Europe a number of times over the years. And during most of those trips, I actually rented a car in Europe to drive around and explore throughout the vacation. So in this post, I’ve gathered some of my most favorite road trips through Europe that I’ve taken, and I’ve even created some maps so that you can see where I went and what I did. My goal is that this information will help you in planning your trip to Europe as well!

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View of church and mountains in Europe during a road trip
Photo by Kyle Taylor

 

Why Road Trip Around Europe?

Even though most of Europe has excellent public transportation, including comfortable and efficient trains, there is something about a good ol’ fashioned road trip that really gets me excited. Having the freedom to go at my own pace, change my route, or take a break if I find an unexpected sight is what I really enjoy about traveling by car. 

** Read More:  Don’t forget to fill your mobile device with some great road trip songs & playlists!

Our silver rental car parked in Tuscany on side of road next to a tree with Cortona on hill in background
Driving around in beautiful Tuscany, Italy!

Driving on Europe’s well-maintained highways is efficient and safe, but venturing off on the back roads to visit villages and mountain towns is much more entertaining. It’s also great to be able to stop off at a store or local village market to buy lunch, then pull over at a scenic spot to have a picnic.

Having traveled many ways around Europe, including trains, bus, and tour group, I must say that road tripping around Europe really is the best!

road trip view in Bavaria Germany of bright green fields, red rooftops and snowcapped mountains in distance
Views while driving in Bavaria, Germany near the Austrian border.

Can I Take a Car Rental in Europe Between Countries?

This is a popular question that we often get asked when it comes to renting a car in Europe to drive between countries. And it makes sense that people who have never done this before would wonder about it. While you should double-check with your rental car agency just to be sure, the answer is typically yes. 

Yes, most rental car agencies in Europe will allow you to take the car across borders. In fact, nowadays within the EU there are many crossings where you hardly realize you are going into another country. It’s almost as if you are in the USA and driving from Georgia into Florida. As long as you are still within the EU, then you can freely travel back and forth between EU countries however you want. Including your rental car.

Definitely make note though, that Switzerland is technically not in the EU. Being that it’s in the middle of Europe, chances are you may cross into or out of Switzerland sometime (as we have on our trips). No worries, though because the border crossing is quite normal and doesn’t take very long most of the time.

When you are planning your vacation itinerary for your trip, make sure to account for any border crossings and definitely allow for plenty of time to stop off and explore. I’d say, double your estimated travel time just to be safe and not feel rushed!

** Read More: Check out some of our favorite travel map apps that will come in handy during your road trip!

Are There Any Special Rules for Driving a Rental Car in Europe?

Generally speaking, no. However, you should absolutely bring some common sense with you and stay vigilant at all times. Driving in a foreign country is different.  They could have some unique laws, road signs, or other protocols that you should be aware of. So it’s recommended that you ready up on tips for driving in a foreign country, as well as researching any other specific driving advice and laws for tourists in that destination country.

It’s also advisable that you get yourself an international driver’s license. Some countries in Europe do require it, although not all of them. Regardless, it’s good to have just in case you pop into a country that does require it. No worries though because it’s quite easy to get an international driver’s license. Just pop into your local AAA office, complete the paperwork and pay a small fee, and you will be all set!  Keep in mind, this international driver’s license is more of a supplemental permit. It doesn’t replace your actual driver’s license, so you need to keep both with you when driving in Europe.

** Read More: Before you leave, make sure to download a copy of our International Travel Pre-Departure Checklist to ensure you are fully prepared!

Our Top Road Trips We’ve Taken Around Europe!


1. The Scottish Highlands

Road tripping around the Scottish Highlands is probably the best way to see it. Buses and local transportation can take you between main cities and village, but it’s more direct and you won’t have the chance to stop and explore.

And the scenery is too magnificent not to stop and have a look around!

Josh literally couldn’t stop taking photos during our drive around the Highlands (I think he took 500 pics in a day!) and we were constantly stopping and jumping out to go explore. There are small towns, shops, hiking trails, ruins and old castles. We just loved it here – and you really must have a car to experience it and be able to go at your own pace.

Our only regret was that we didn’t have a few more days to explore. Time always seems to be limited, and we would have loved to poke around more, and venture even further off the beaten path.

Map of our Scotland Drive (click for a larger view)

 

Favorite Parts of Our Drive in Scotland:

  • Picnicking alongside a lake, or “loch” as they call it (there are many of them)
  • The Glencoe area & hiking – wow was it gorgeous!
  • Basically, everywhere in the Highlands when the mountains were covered in the misty fog
  • The soft, mossy-like green grasses that were everywhere carpeting the landscape
  • Staying at a castle-like hotel in Ballachulish overlooking a lake
  • Visiting with locals in the pubs and when we were generally out and about
  • Golfing at St. Andrews
  • The random Geocache we hiked to in the misty evening which took us to the site of an old battle long ago along the slopes of the hills

 

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2. Driving Around the Emerald Isle – Ireland

What a wonderfully beautiful place Ireland is! If you are planning to stay and go sightseeing in Dublin, then you do not need a car while you are in the city. However, if you plan on venturing outside the city for a few days (which we highly recommend) then a car is a great asset and will add a lot to your experience.

We actually made a loop all around Ireland, and loved every moment of the drive. The landscape is just beautiful, and so varied! Driving on the backcountry roads (off the main highways through the countryside is breathtaking, but scary as the roads are narrow – so be on alert!

Also, driving the Ring of Kerry is popular…but incredibly busy and perhaps too touristy! We opted to drive the Dingle peninsula instead and had a much better experience with hardly any traffic.

Map of our Ireland Drive (click for a larger view)

Favorite Places During our Drive in Ireland:

  • Killarney National Park
  • Charming Kenmare and the talkative bartender we met that evening
  • Driving the Dingle Peninsula – because there were so few cars and we mostly had it to ourselves!
  • Hanging off the Cliffs of Moher (a bit terrifying, but wow!)
  • Oh so many castles to see and explore!

** Read More:  Ireland Travel Guide for loads more details to plan your trip

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3. Classic Germany Drives

Driving in Germany is a charming experience, and it’s much more than just the famous Autobahn! Having driven the length of Germany on a few occasions, there are some areas that definitely rise above others as far as scenery goes. And much of that is actually on the side highways, off the Autobahn (freeway).

 

The Rhine Valley is an example of a really great drive in Germany. While driving along the river can take longer with traffic and the slower, winding road, but it is so much more scenic! Not only is it a beautiful drive, but you can stop off at some of the different villages, and go exploring. You will also notice many castles and ruins of castles along this journey. If you have time, stay overnight in a village and relax – soak up the atmosphere, or go on a boat ride down the Rhine river. It’s a wonderful way to experience the history and culture of Germany.

The Black Forest area is another area that is wonderful for a road trip. Again, getting off the Autobahn and taking the different highways through the mountains and villages makes for a wonderful drive. Be sure to build in plenty of time, because it does take longer to drive on these side roads. But we just loved the open landscapes, beautiful vistas, and quaint towns. We even stayed in a B&B out in a small village in the countryside and just loved the peace and quiet. Definitely worth a visit.

Another area that is great for driving is Bavaria. There are many roads and villages in this region that are scenic, so it’s tough to pick out a route. We’ve done it a few different ways, linking into Austria, Switzerland, and back. The mountains, famous fairy-tale castles, and villages with traditional Bavarian architecture and murals on the sides of the walls make for an iconic German experience.

Perhaps it is my German heritage, I’m not sure…but there is something wonderful about being in Germany. I could road trip through Germany over and over again – loving it every time!

Maps of our Germany Drives (click to view larger)

Favorite Places During Our Germany Road Trips:

  • St. Goar village, along the Rhine River 
  • Wine tasting and visiting castles along the Rhine Valley
  • Quiet village B&Bs in the Black Forest (so memorable!)
  • Neuschwenstein Castle in Schwangau (near border with Austria and town of Reutte)
  • Charming Bavarian villages that transport you to another time 

 

eiffel tower view in paris european road trip pin

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3. Driving Around the Iconic Swiss Alps

Switzerland has a really great train system. If you are only planning to visit a few places in Switzerland and stay in those areas doing activities (such as skiing or hiking), then you may not actually NEED a car. But again, it is nice to have it – especially if a visit to Switzerland is just part of your road trip around Europe.

 

Switzerland has a great road system, but you do need to pay a tariff fee when you arrive (you can purchase this at the border and put the sticker in your window). Technically, it’s like a toll, but you pay it up front.  

The thing to keep in mind is that there are some popular tourist places deep in the Alps where you cannot take the car. For example, Murren and Tasch villages (among others). These places are not accessible by car, so you will have to park it at the lot and take a train, gondola, etc. to get up to these alpine villages.

Visiting these villages are highly recommended, but again if they are you only destination, then perhaps you don’t need the car. For us, they were just stops along a bigger route – so it was worth it for us to park the car for a few days.

Map of Switzerland (click to view larger)

Favorite Places During Our Switzerland Road Trips:

  • Lauterbrunnen Valley holds a special place in my heart
  • Visit the higher alpine villages above Lauterbrunnen, including Murren and Gimmelwald – wonderful and quiet place to stay!
  • Taking the train up the Jungfrau
  • The time I went paragliding off the top of a mountain from Murren
  • Seeing the waterfalls, mountains, and picturesque villages
  • Walking the shores of Lake Lucerne
  • Watching people waltz in Zurich
  • Eating traditional fondue (and feeling a bit drunk afterwards, wow it’s strong)

 

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4. Driving Through Alpine Gorgeousness in Austria

Austria often takes a back seat in our minds when we think of Europe, overshadowed by Germany and Switzerland…but this place is not to be missed! I’ve driven through a few different areas of Austria on different occasions, and never have I been disappointed!

The areas near Innsbruck and Hopfgarten and beautiful in the summer for relaxing, hiking, biking, and swimming – as well as wonderful mountain drives. The mountainous area near Reutte is convenient to popular sights in Germany and is a nice route to take as well. 

 

Also, the journey from Munich to Salzburg is quick and quite scenic and a highly recommended route to take if you are driving from Munich to Italy. If you have time, there are some historic WWII sights along the way, but it’s more about the scenery for me. And while Salzburg is a wonderful and charming city, I must admit that driving south all the way from Salzburg to Italy made for one of the best highway road trips I have ever been on!

We drove on a wide, well-maintained and fast driving highway among gorgeous mountain scenery, which castles dotting the landscape around us. Tunnels through the mountains added to the smooth journey, and always gave us a surprise scene when we exited the other side. I will never forget that road – honestly, it was an unexpected and stunning drive!

Map of our Drives (click for a larger view)

Favorite Places During our Drives in Austria:

  • Honestly, the drive south from Salzburg to Venice, Italy was one of the most beautiful drives I have ever been on! We drove this route on a Munich to Italy road trip and it was one of the most spectacular drives ever!
  • Reutte (northwestern Austria) is a beautiful area along the border with Germany — making it easy to see the most famous castle in all of Germany Neuschwanstein.
  • South of Bavaria toward Innsbruck has a lot of picturesque alpine towns & scenery
  • If you can stay in the Alps of Austria in one of the mountain towns, even in the summer, it’s a lovely peaceful stay – great for bike riding, hiking, swimming, etc. 

 

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5. Driving Around Italy by Car

Italy is another place that is well served by both trains and buses, at least around and between major tourist areas. It is definitely easy to plan a trip to Italy just using public transportation. And while I would never recommend driving into the historic center of Rome or any other big city in Italy, there are some parts of the country that are wonderful for a drive.

ADVICE FOR RENTING A CAR IN ROME: I don’t recommend driving in Rome. First of all, you don’t need a car in Rome. There are plenty of ways to get around town easily (plus parking is nuts). However, if you want to rent a car in Rome to drive out into the countryside or elsewhere, I recommend going to the outskirts of town by some type of public transport and renting a car there so you don’t have to drive through the center of town. 

For example, Tuscany. I think that seeing Tuscany by car is the very best way to go! There are so many wonderful villages to stop and visit, and you will want to go at your own pace. During my road trip around Tuscany with one of my girlfriends, we actually took a train from Rome just a short distance toward Tuscany. Once we were out of the city, we exited the train at a town and picked up our rental car for the road trip portion of our journey.  Driving the rental car was much easier because we were already outside the craziness of the city!

Spending a few days driving around Tuscany by car is an absolutely wonderful trip! It’s been years since I did this trip with my good friend. And frequently she brings it up as one of her favorite trips and asks if we can please go again soon. I totally agree. Renting a car to drive around Tuscany was an absolute blast. A super relaxing, yet enjoyable trip.

 

Italy can easily be a standalone road trip vacation in Europe, or combined with other destinations as part of a larger epic European road trip. For example, during one particular trip we drove south from Germany, through Austria (the amazing road that I mentioned above) going all the way down to Venice. Of course, you cannot bring a car into history Venice city, but there is plenty of parking on the mainland where you can leave the car for a few days

Another scenic area that is great for a drive in Italy include driving southwest from Venice to Florence and west into Pisa, then northward all along the coastline toward France via Monte Carlo on the coast (you are really only in the country for a couple minutes if you stay on the highway). There are plenty of places to stop and explore along the way, including a visit to the famous Cinque Terre! But you will have to park your car for another couple days as well.

Overall, if you are planning to just visit one or two destinations in Italy and stay within the city, then you might not need to rent a car and drive. Driving in Italy is not necessary if it isn’t your cup of tea.  However, I believe that driving across Italy can make for a fantastic vacation.  Hence, why I’ve done it a few times now.  There’s nothing like being able to go at your own pace driving around Tuscany, or just doing whatever you want!

Maps of Our Favorite Italy Drives (click to view larger)

Favorite Places to Drive Across Italy:

  • Driving in Tuscany is the BEST!  All the hill towns and small country roads are GREAT for exploring.
  • Pisa is a wonderful town…but careful of driving in it (I got a ticket mailed to me 5 months after for driving in a “no driving” zone). Don’t drive in the center of downtown!
  • Orvieto was a surprise of a town, with a beautiful morning view (this is where we picked up our car when we left Rome to drive into Tuscany)
  • The drive from Milan to is Lake Como…wow!  And from there into Switzerland is stunning – full of waterfalls and mountains.
  • The drive along the coastline north of the Cinque Terre and up into Monte Carlo and France is quite spectacular as well. But traffic can get heavy. 
  • Definitely stop off at the rest stops on the highway in Italy. They are kind of like a truck stop or rest area here in the States. There is gas, a bit of shopping — and seriously, so of the BEST food and coffee you will find! My mom had the best lasagne once at one of these gas station restaurants at the rest areas when driving from Austria into Italy. And we sat outside overlooking a valley, it was a spectacular lunch!

** Read More: Plan your trip with our Italy Travel Guide!

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General Advice for Renting a Car and Driving in Europe


Some people are worried about driving a car in Europe, especially if they have never done it before.  But there isn’t much to worry about. Across all the major EU countries, you will find good highways, signage, and plenty of roadside services.

Many of the side roads are just as well maintained too. Good maps are available for countries, and GPS works well in most places – so you shouldn’t have any trouble navigating either.  Although, you may need to adjust to driving on the opposite side of the car (and road) in countries like England, Ireland, and Scotland.  However, it’s honestly not as hard as you might think!

** Read More: How to Use Your Cell Phone Internationally 

Our black ford fiesta rental car in Ireland - me in the opposite side of the car driving on opposite side of road
Our Ireland rental car (driving opposite side)

What’s the Age to Rent a Car and Drive in Europe

Age can be an issue for younger travelers who want to rent a car and drive around Europe, because some rental agencies will have age requirements, typically around 25 years.  However, doing some extra research pays off — and younger drives aged 21 can actually rent cars from some companies, including Renault Canada.

Don’t Drive in the Heart of Major European Cities

While driving between major cities and towns in the countryside is ideal in Europe, driving in the heart of a major city, such as Rome, is not advisable! Traffic is a nightmare, navigating the tiny and confusing roads is nearly impossible, and some cities have toll fees for driving in the city center. In these cases, it is best to park your car outside of town and use public transportation, or (depending on your visit length) turning in a car and renting another when you leave.

Just like my Tuscany, Italy trip — I planned my week in Rome at the beginning of the trip. I didn’t have a car and just used public transportation. Then I took the train outside of town to pick up the rental car and drive around Tuscany. Much more convenient and I saved money during the trip because I didn’t need the car in Rome anyway!

tall green grasses of rolling hills in the beautiful Irish countryside out the car window during our road trip
The beautiful Irish countryside out the car window

Car Rental Considerations in Europe

It’s really not difficult to rent a car when you travel, especially in Europe.

The biggest consideration is what kind of car you will need for your road trip around Europe. There are many options out there, but if you can get away with a small economy car, that is best. Not only is it better on gas (petrol), but it will be easier to navigate in the towns and countryside. Big SUVs are not the thing in Europe!

Speaking of Petrol, many diesel cars and hybrids tend to get better gas mileage. Something to keep in mind…because the price of Petrol in Europe is much higher than in the USA.

Our car in Ireland - not only was it a stick shift, but driving on the opposite side means using your opposite arm to shift! Coordination required - but doable!
Our car in Ireland – not only was it a stick shift, but driving on the opposite side means using your opposite arm to shift! Coordination required – but doable!

Another consideration is the transmission of the car. Many cars in Europe are a manual transmission (stick shift). These are also the most cost-effective cars when it comes to rental rates, as well as gas mileage. However, if you don’t know how to drive a stick shift, then be sure to specify that when you are searching for car rentals!

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Final Tip:  Give Yourself Plenty of Time to Road Trip Around Europe!

If you do choose to rent a car and road trip around Europe for your next vacation, our very best piece of advice is to give yourself plenty of time.  While Europe is small and you can easily drive across many countries in a day, there is a LOT to see!  Venturing off the highway and taking the slower roads will also add a significant amount of time to your journey, but those are best places to visit.

Don’t rush your trip so much that you can’t sit back and enjoy yourself & the marvelous scenery.  After all, that’s one of the best parts of taking a road trip!

 

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Photo Credits:  Photos fall under CC 2.0Unsplash, Mariamichelle, goranmx, Gic, Kyle Taylor

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