Flying to a new city, renting a car and hitting the road can seem either daunting or downright exhilarating, depending on how you look at it. We here at Cheapflights consider it the latter. There’s no better way to discover a new culture or navigate an unknown terrain than by car.
Road tripping empowers you as a traveller with the flexibility to route – and re-route – your itinerary at any time. Whether it’s stopping to taste wine at vineyards in New Zealand or to pitch a tent in Alberta’s Banff National Park, the play-it-by-ear options are endless. And so, here’s our list of the best of the best – the top 10 road trips worldwide.
Pacific Coast Highway, California, United States
There’s no better vantage point for spectacular views of the Pacific than from California’s Pacific Coast Highway. Start your drive in sunny Los Angeles and, after dipping your toes in the waves at Malibu’s highfalutin beaches, point your car due north – well, nearly – to San Francisco. Stop in coastal towns like Santa Barbara and Monterey, or wherever you feel like pulling off. The absolute must-see is Big Sur. Situated roughly 240 kilometres south of San Fran, the cluster of seaside national parks offers wonderful options – camping, hiking and surfing – for even the hardest-to-please adventure travellers.
Wine lovers, art lovers, food lovers – heck, even lavender lovers – love Provence. From Paris, take a train to Avignon – there, visit the Papal Palace and grab a chèvre chaud salad al fresco – before renting a car and touring the back roads of a region that astonishingly resembles works by Monet. Drive between Montpellier, Salon-de-Provence and Arles, and stop for exquisite wines (the region produces the best rosé in the world) and light fare. Stock up on satchels full of lavender – wonderful souvenirs for friends back home – and shop for antiques among endless fields of sunflowers, lavender and grapes.
Northwest Passage, Oregon, Washington, United States and British Columbia, Canada
For the more urban roadtripper, a week-long drive from Portland, Oregon, to Whistler, British Columbia, is as good as it gets. Spend a few days in Oregon’s granola capital – leave the car and make a bike your main mode of transport – then zip north to caffeine-filled Seattle. Grab a latte at the original Starbucks, sit down for a seafood lunch at Pike Place Market, say a quick hello to Bill and Melinda, then cross the border to lovely Vancouver. Once your passport’s been stamped, stretch your legs along the seawall, a seven-plus-kilometre path that surrounds Stanley Park, before shopping in Vancouver’s stellar boutiques. Then it’s back to your car for the final, and arguably most beautiful, leg of your drive to Whistler, a charming vacation spot year-round.
Bohemia and Moravia, Czech Republic
Prague alone offers enough reasons to add the Czech Republic to your lifelong list of countries to see, but it’s the city’s surrounding regions – Bohemia to the west and Moravia to the east – that make a rental car worth the investment. Start in the thriving city of “Praha,” as it’s called by Czechs; stroll down cobblestone streets, admire the gothic Týn Church in Old Town Square, and see an opera at Estates Theatre, where Mozart’s Don Giovanni was first performed. After a taste of Czech city living, drive to lesser-known towns like Cesky Krumlov, Milukov, and Olomuoc, which boast medieval charm and beer halls galore.
Seward Highway, Alaska, United States
If snow-capped mountains and magnificent fjords seem of interest to you, then fly to Anchorage today for the drive of a lifetime. Alaska’s Seward Highway links Anchorage to Seward via 200 kilometres of glorious terrain across the Kenai Peninsula, nestled between the Cook Inlet and Prince William Sound. Leave your lens cap in the backseat as you snap shots of ice caps and glaciers while winding your way through Kenai Fjords National Park. Chances are you’ll grab more than a few frame-worthy photos of the area’s wildlife – whales and migratory birds abound.
Florida Keys, United States
The Florida Keys have lured visitors, from Ernest Hemingway to Jimmy Buffett, with its absolutely intoxicating appeal for years. Turquoise seas and a laid-back atmosphere set the scene in Key West, the southernmost point in the lower 48 states. Start in sizzling Miami and drive south 180 kilometres along Overseas Highway, stopping along the way at Key Largo, Islamorada, and any other key that that floats your boat. (Spoiler alert: they all might.) The drive itself is a sight to behold; it feels at points on Overseas Highway like you’re actually driving on water.
North Island, New Zealand
You may find yourself channeling Frodo Baggins as you journey through New Zealand’s North Island. Lucky for you, though, it doesn’t have to be on foot. Rent a car in Auckland, the country’s largest city, and drive along the coast of arguably the world’s most picturesque country. Wellington’s the destination, and everything in between is your call. Pitch a tent overnight after a day of hiking for a rustic adventure, or go the upscale route with wine tastings at New Zealand’s up-and-coming wineries. Active volcanoes, relaxing hot springs and jaw-dropping coastlines are just the beginning as you weave your car through Kiwiland.
Pan American Highway, Central America
Take as many months as you’d like to see all that Central America has to offer by car. The Pan American Highway stretches the length of the Americas, from Alaska to Chile, but nowhere is it as diverse or culture-filled as Central America. Start in Mexico and drive south through Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama, stopping for out-of-this-world cuisine, art, music and customs along the way. The trip can take days, weeks or months, so plan ahead accordingly. Beach retreats and outdoor excursions, like zip lining and hiking, are perfect activities after hours in the car.
Amalfi Coast, Italy
Situated on the southwest coast of Italy, just south of Naples, the Amalfi Coast is a stretch of coastline you won’t soon forget. Drive from Sorrento to Salerno along the Mediterranean and stop in Italian villages that are so charming, you may consider investing in real estate. The rocky coast offers just a narrow road for drivers to navigate, so nervous riders should stay in the back seat – with their eyes closed. Stop in Amalfi, a former trading port, and visit the 13th-century cathedral and its neighbouring Cloister of Paradise. From there, head to Positano, stopping at La Grotta dello Smeraldo (the Emerald Grotto) on the way. Take a boat out to catch Italy’s magnificent coastline on a different – and less stressful – mode of transportation.
Banff and Jasper, Alberta, Canada
Campfires and world-renowned hikes await you in Banff and Jasper, Alberta’s most famous national parks. The Canadian Rockies any time of year are worth a visit, though the best time to see them by car is in the spring, summer and fall – to avoid treacherous winter weather conditions. Whitewater raft, mountain bike, horseback ride or hike through the stoic mountains in both parks. Wind your vehicle around twists and turns, stopping at Johnston Canyon to hike and take in its stunning waterfalls. Lake Louise is popular and sometimes weighed down by tourists, but during the right time of year it’s perfect for water excursions like canoeing and rafting.
Featured image: Ryan Cadby used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license