We love a good road trip! Road trips are a popular way to travel here in the States, but even in other countries a road trip can make for a memorable vacation experience. With a diverse landscape, history, architecture, and cultures all within a short drive, a European road trip is perhaps the ultimate way to see it all!
Check out our favorite European road trips below (with maps), as well as our rental car tips to help make your visit to Europe a great one!
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.
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!
These Are Our Favorite Drives From Around Europe!
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)
- Picnicing alongisde a lake
- The Glencoe area & hiking
- Staying at a castle-like hotel in Ballachulish overlooking a lake
- Visiting with locals
- Golfing at St. Andrews
Around the Emerald Isle – Ireland
What a wonderfully beautiful place Ireland is! If you are planning to stay 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 side roads 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)
- Killarney National Park
- Kenmare village &-a bartender who told us all about the “Fecking Squirrels’ in the Grand Canyon!
- Dingle Peninsula
- Cliffs of Moher
We really loved our time in Ireland. Check out the short video we made of our time in Ireland, set to local music from an Irish band that we met in Dublin!
Classic Germany Drives
Driving in Germany is a wonderful 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.
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. 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 this place. I could road trip through Germany over and over again – loving it every time!
Maps of our Germany Drives (click to view larger)
- St. Goar village, along the Rhine River
- Wine tasting and visiting castles along the Rhine
- Quiet village B&Bs in the Black Forest
- Neuschwenstein Castle in Schwangau (near border with Austria and town of Reutte)
- Beautiful Bavarian villages
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. For more details about driving in Switzerland, and the tariff fee, check out this post about Switzerland travel.
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)
- Lauterbrunnen Valley holds a special place in my heart
- Higher villages above Lauterbrunnen include Murren and Gimmelwald – wonderful to stay!
- Taking the train up the Jungfrau
- Paragliding from Murren
- Seeing the waterfalls, mountains, and picturesque villages
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.
Also, the journey from Munich to Salzburg is quick and quite scenic. 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)
- Honestly, the drive south from Salzburg to Venice, Italy was one of the most beautiful drives I have ever been on!
- Reutte (north western Austria) is a beautiful area along the border with Germany — making it easy to see the most famous castle in all of Germany!
- South of Bavaria toward Innsbruck has a lot of picturesque alpine towns & scenery
Italy by Car
Italy is another place that is well served by train and bus, at least to 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.
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 girl friends, we actually took a train from Rome up toward Tuscany. Then we exited the train and rented a car for our drive, once we were outside the craziness of the city! Spending a few days in this area by car is an absolutely wonderful trip!
However, Italy can also be on your itinerary as a part of a larger, epic European road trip. For example, we drove south from Austria (the amazing road that I mentioned above) going all the way down to Venice. Of course, you cannot bring a car to Venice – but there is plenty of parking on the mainland where you can leave the car for a few days.
Another scenic area to drive is south to Florence and onto Pisa, then northward all along the coastline toward France. 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, driving in Italy is not necessary if you plan to just stay at major cities – you can easily take the train. However, I do recommend driving in Tuscany and travelers can easily experience the north of Italy by car if they are traveling between other countries by car as well.
Maps of Our Favorite Italy Drives (click to view larger)
- 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)
- Orvieto was a surprise, and a beautiful morning view
- The drive from Milan to Lake Como…wow! And from there into Switzerland is stunning – full of waterfalls and mountains.
General Advice for 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 road side 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!
Driver’s License & Age
Most anyone with a valid driver’s license can rent a car and drive around Europe. Some countries do require an international driver’s license, but those are easy to obtain through your local AAA office. Just check the requirements for the countries that you want to visit in advance of your trip.
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 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 because I didn’t need the car in Rome anyway!
Car Rental Considerations in Europe
It’s really not difficult to rent a car — 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.
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!
Lastly, consider the length of your trip to Europe. If you are planning to take a long vacation, closer to a month, then you may look at the Buy Back Renault Canada program. This unique solution is actually a special kind of leasing program that provides you with a new Peugeot car out of the dealer inventory.
The contract includes a strong warranty that protects you from legal liability during the lease. This actually becomes a cheaper option for long-term rentals in Europe. Further, drivers as young as 18 can use this service.
Final Tip: Give Yourself Plenty of Time for Driving Around Europe
If you do choose to rent a car and drive 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.