There’s no shortage of stunning road trips here in the United States. However, some of the most beautiful drives are so good they’re worth flying for. Here are 12 of the best road trips in the world.
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Argentina’s simply named Route 40 (it clearly needs a marketing department) is one of the longest, continuous, most breathtaking road trips in the world. For its more than 3,000-mile stretch, it runs north to south, mostly parallel to the Andes Mountains. The journey covers a wide range of South America’s most dramatic landscape from the mountains to the glaciers to the South Atlantic Ocean in Patagonia. Although much of the route is paved, its southern stretches are steep, dirt and gravel passes with no center lines, no guard rails, and few (if any) road signs. In winter, it can prove all but impassable and it certainly isn’t for the faint of heart, so preparation is key. The drive is so popular — particularly for adventure tourists — that there’s an entire website dedicated to Route 40.
Great Ocean Road
The vast, rugged space between the coasts of Australia is replete with amazing road trips. However, Great Ocean Road — a 151-mile route that stretches along its southern edge — is the continent’s most spectacular. Along the four-hour drive, travelers will find a long list of must-visit stops including London Bridge, Bay of Islands, and the Gibson Steps. But, the pinnacle of this journey is a stop at the 12 Apostles, an impossibly beautiful limestone formation that’s one of Australia’s most iconic natural wonders.
The Alps boast some of the most breathtaking scenery in the world; however, most of the terrain is impassable or, at the very least, requires hardcore skiing expertise and a healthy fear of 8,000-foot vertical cliffs. Italy’s Stelvio Pass is unique. Situated more than 9,000 feet above sea level, it’s the highest — and, no doubt, most dramatic — paved road in the Eastern Alps. Coupled with its elevation and the 48 hairpin turns that mark its north face, it’s easy to see why the gentlemen of Top Gear once dubbed it “the best driving road in the world.”
Chapman’s Peak Drive
As if we need another reason to visit Cape Town, the city is also home to one of the world’s most beautiful road trips. Chapman’s Peak (known locally as “Chappies”) bookends South Africa’s Western Cape between Noordhoek and Hout Bay. The nearly 100-year-old road — known as Chapman’s Peak Drive — that winds for less than seven miles around the base of the mountain, is a short, but spectacular drive. From sea level to scenic overlooks nearly 2,000 feet above the Atlantic and back again, the scenery is literally jaw-dropping. Driving so close to the ocean’s edge, it’s easy for the line between the water and the horizon to disappear completely. It’s not uncommon for drivers to spot dolphins and whales just offshore, and baboons are a frequent source of “traffic” along the way.
The Alcan Highway
Canada and Alaska
If you’ve already conquered Route 66 and are seeking North America’s second most awesome road trip, look no further than the Alcan Highway. Sometimes just called “The Alaska Highway,” this roughly 1,400-mile trek connects Dawson Creek, British Columbia, with Delta Junction, Alaska, over a mostly paved highway. Don’t let the “paved” part fool you, though. This is among the most adventurous long-distance treks through some of the wildest terrain on the continent. The road’s completion was, and still is, a marvel of civil engineering. Expect dramatic, snow-capped mountains; pristine lakes; and plenty of wildlife, including wolves and grizzly bear along the way. While you could complete the drive in two long days of driving, allow plenty of time to stop for hikes, dog-sledding, and dips in Canada’s best hot springs.
Ticlio Pass may be the most adventurous — or downright dangerous — road on this list. This drive in Peru cuts a winding path through South America’s highest paved road at nearly 16,000 feet above sea level. Along the way are impossibly sharp bends, steep, unguarded drop-offs, and wildlife that doesn’t think twice about jetting into traffic. What’s more: You’re almost certain to encounter rockslides along the way. But, if you’re cool with slaloming around massive boulders for some of the most breathtaking scenery on the continent, it’s totally worth it. Don’t miss the numerous roadside snack shacks serving fried guinea pig.
We’ve previously shared many, many reasons to visit Scotland. If you’re looking for one more, add “road-tripping NC500” to the list. The relatively new North Coast 500 route debuted in 2015 as part of a broader initiative by Prince Charles to preserve the stunning, dramatic landscape along Scotland’s coastline. It showcases some of the country’s most breathtaking natural and historical beauty — the iconic scenery that defines rural Scotland for many people. We’re talking pristine lochs, ancient castles, white sand beaches, and dramatic glens dotted with massive heads of cattle.
The Atlantic Road
Norway is home to some of the cleanest air, the happiest people, and the most pristine landscapes in the world. The Atlantic Road is a stunning, albeit brief, way to experience the latter. At barely 5 miles long, the technical drive is surprisingly harrowing, exhilarating, and gorgeous. While a nonstop ride requires less than 30 minutes, you’ll want to pack your camera and allow for several hours. There are plenty of stops, including Bremsnes Cave, the charming nearby town of Halåsen, and abundant marine mammals and wildlife viewing opportunities along the way. The sunsets aren’t half bad either. If getting in the water is more your speed, the winter diving is unbelievable with pristine waters offering nearly 200 feet of visibility.
South Island, New Zealand
The fact that New Zealand served as a believable stand-in for the fantastical Middle-earth in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films tells you everything you need to know about how eye-popping the landscape is. A road trip almost anywhere in the country is worth the flight to get there. But, so many of the highlights are found along the west coast of the South Island. The relatively short, 144-mile drive along Milford Road (State Highway 94) between Milford Sound and Te Anau is bucket-list worthy in its own right. Here, roadtrippers will pass The Chasm, Mirror Lakes, the UNESCO World Heritage Fiordland National Park, and miles upon miles of rugged mountain scenery that’s among the most beautiful in the world.
Iceland’s Ring Road (Route 1) is an obvious choice for any roundup of the world’s greatest road trips. But, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention it. The country’s dramatic, otherworldly landscape is staggeringly beautiful. Its Instagram-worthy fjords, waterfalls, volcanoes, and glaciers have made it the go-to spot for travelers — especially American travelers — these days. Route 1 circumnavigates the entire island, following a literal ring around the country’s perimeter. There are plenty of guided bus tours to handle the driving for lazy travelers, but we’d argue that renting (a.k.a. “hiring”) a car or a fully outfitted, self-contained van like those offered by Happy Campers in Reykjavik and driving it yourself is the best way to go.
Wild Atlantic Way
Few countries live up to the hype like Ireland. A short drive from its city centers reveals all the castles, centuries-old churches, quaint villages where Gaelic is the language of the day, towering cliffs, and the impossibly green hills most of us have only read about in storybooks. The Wild Atlantic Way traverses more than 1,600 miles of Ireland’s Atlantic coastline from the town of Kinsale in the south all the way to the Inishowen Peninsula in the north. It includes some of the country’s most spectacular views and highlights along the way. If that’s a bit more than you can commit to, it’s still worth tackling the route in shorter sections.
The Red Center
Australia is impossibly vast. While it’s roughly 80% the size of the United States, its population is less than a tenth. The area between the coasts is a harsh, wide-open expanse of almost literal nothingness. (see also: Mad Max: Fury Road) At the heart of it all lies The Red Center. A drive through this rugged outback landscape begins in Adelaide in the south or Darwin in the north and covers nearly 2,000 miles in between. Here, travelers will find some of Australia’s most famous highlights, including a visit to Alice Springs, a stopover in the opal mining town of Coober Pedy where most residents live underground, photo opportunities at the Devils Marbles, a trek along the rim of Kings Canyon, and a sunset hike to Uluru.
Article originally published August 28, 2017.
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