It doesn’t matter whether you’re sitting amid the high whine of an old Mini Cooper or feeling the swirl of acceleration from the bucket seat of a Bentley Bentayga V12, the open road is one of life’s great levelers.
Fresh air, great scenery and a wide open road are the Holy Trinity of freedom – and it’s there for anyone with a set of wheels. But with about 64 million kilometers of roads girdling the globe, where’s the best place to open up the throttle and chew up the miles?
From a morning’s jaunt to clear out the cylinders to epic road trips of sun, sea and sand, here’s a fast countdown of the best 10 road tours worldwide:
10. Route 62, South Africa
Distance: 748 kilometers.
Approximate route time: Nine-and-a-half hours (nonstop).
Over 65 wineries along the way will have you wishing you were a passenger rather than the driver.
Shift driving works best along this long tourist route stretching between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, with stops at dozens of non-boozy attractions splintering off the main path, such as cliffs, fauna, rivers, valleys and plains.
Chapman’s Peak Drive is a recommended diversion at the start of your journey, a spectacular nine-kilometer marine drive winding its way around the mountainside between Hout Bay and Noordhoek.
Highlights: The hot mineral springs and private Roman baths at the Warmwaterberg Spa are a godsend for shoulder muscles after hours of driving.
Alternatively a two-day hike on the famed Donkey Trail over the Swartberg Mountains will get the blood pumping again before the next stretch of road.
The Klaasvoogds Game Reserve further along Route 62 is speckled with black wildebeest, leopard tortoise and Burchell’s zebra.
Stop for a bite at: Ronnie’s Sex Shop. Initially the sign was “Ronnie’s Shop” but when “Sex” was graffitied as a prank Ronnie decided to leave it up and run with the theme. It’s now a bizarre sex-themed popular pub hangout for bikers, local farmers and regulars along the road.
Warmwaterberg Spa; R62, Barrydale 6750, Warmwaterberg, South Africa; +27 28 572 1609
Klaasvoogds Game Reserve; Kleinfontein, Klaasvoogds West, Robertson; +27 23 626 6115
Ronnie’s Sex Shop; Route 62 Barrydale, Klein Karoo, South Africa; +27 285 721 153
9. NC500, Scotland
NC500: Has Scotland created greatest road trip ever?
Distance: 830 kilometers (500 miles)
Approximate route time: Three to seven days.
While you can complete Britain’s latest coast road in a long weekend, you’ll want to linger along some of the most scenic roads in the Northern Hemisphere.
Only opened in 2015, the North Coast 500 (NC500 for short) is part of an initiative set up by Prince Charles to showcase the craggy grandeur of Scotland’s coast, both east and west, and already it’s won plaudits as one of the world’s best road trips.
Highlights: Castles, lochs, glens and mop-topped Highland cattle are the stars of this loop road which has been billed as Scotland’s answer to Route 66.
Stop for a bite at: The Kishorn Seafood Bar where the seafood is as good as the Highland views. Its seafood platter regularly rates a mention and is rated as one of 10 best places to eat by the sea in the UK.
Kishorn Seafood Bar; Kishorn, Strathcarron, IV54 8XA; +44 (0)1520 733 240
8. Ticlio Pass, Peru
Distance: 132 kilometers.
Approximate route time: Three hours (nonstop).
One for the adrenaline junkies, this hairy drive along the highest paved road in South America (almost 4,877 meters above sea level) sweeps through the Andes and has prayer-inducing bends, suicidal wild llamas darting out of the scenery and mountains prone to landslides.
Potentially you’ll be dodging giant boulders falling from above, but the view at the end of the paved road is worth nearly dying for.
Highlights: The Ticlio railroad is definitely worth a gawp. At 4,758 meters above sea level, this is one of the highest railway lines in the world and was built to service the local mining community as well as send rich minerals including zinc and lead down the mountain.
Stop for a bite at: The roadside cafés. Choose wisely between a Russian roulette of ceviche and fried guinea pig.
7. Jebel Hafeet, United Arab Emirates
Distance: 11.7 kilometers.
Approximate route time: Up to 30 minutes (nonstop).
Built so that rich residents can get their kicks in their million-dollar toy cars, this road doesn’t take you anywhere – except to a private palace and an exclusive hotel.
Carved into the desert, the road is worth the journey up and back for the smooth surfaces and 60 race-track-worthy corners that snake around the Hafeet mountain.
“This is a cracking stretch of road for driving enthusiasts,” explains Phill Tromans from Evo magazine. “There’s a fast section and slow sections, it’s just perfect for technical driving.”
Highlights: Magic-eye fans eat your heart out; during summer the 45 C heat creates the illusion that the golden barren dunes in the distance are moving. If that’s not entertainment enough, there’s also a golf course at top of the hill.
Stop for a bite at: Le Belvedere at the Mercure Grand hotel on the Hafeet mountain will whip up a few Moroccan, Italian and French bites.
Mercure Grand Jebel Hafeet Al Ain; Jebel Hafeet, Al Ain, United Arab Emirates; +971 3783 8888
6. The Atlantic Road, Norway
Distance: 8 kilometers.
Approximate route time: Less than 30 minutes (nonstop).
Belly-flips and bridges make up this high-octane drive along the Norwegian coastline.
The overpass dips during this journey can be experienced between Kristiansund and Molde, and regular vicious storms in the area intensify the ride.
If “technical” driving does nothing for you, get ready to see unusual birds flying overhead, while seals and whales swim off the coastline. Plus, at dusk there’s a wickedly orange sunset.
Highlights: The dark 80-meter long Bremsnes Cave, found at the Bremsneshatten Mountain, is well worth a visit.
Scuba diving off the shore during the winter months is a must-do. Marine life in this area is abundant and visibility reaches up to 60 meters. Book a trip with Strømsholmen Sea Sports Center.
Stop for a bite at: Derinngarden in Halåsen is a cute farm shop selling delicious syrups, jams, handmade cheese and yogurt. Alternatively the Bjartmars Favorittkro tavern serves decent local bacalao (dried cod).
Derinngarden; Halåsen, N-6490, Eide, Norway; +47 (0) 7 149 1100
Bjartmars Favorittkro; Atlanterhavsveien 6530, Averøy, Norway; +47 (0) 7 151 6060
5. The Alcan Highway, Canada to Alaska
Distance: 2,167 kilometers.
Approximate route time: One day and seven hours (nonstop).
If Bear Grylls did road trips he’d be all over this mammoth long-haul route in the moody North American wilderness. Snow chains, a down jacket and a cooler full of sandwiches will serve you well in these harsh weather conditions.
In between the snowstorms, find classic mountains, sparkling lakes, dog-sleds, wolves and the odd grizzly bear.
Highlights: Hiking detours are a must. Finish up at Muncho Lake and Liard River and Liard River Hot Springs (the second-largest hot spring in Canada) and take a dip in piping hot waters.
The Watson Lake Sign Post Forest is worth a bash. Alternatively, the owners at the family-run Burnt Paw and Cabins Outback motel in Tok are fanatical about dog mushing and provide free dog-sled demos daily.
Stop for a bite at: Klondike Kate’s Restaurant in Dawson City serves vegetarian meals and healthy smoothies, the sickly sweet tin-roof chocolate pie is top banana.
At Delta Junction, Rika’s Roadhouse serves awesome homemade chicken noodle soup and hearty doorstep sandwiches.
The Liard River Hot Springs are located in Liard River Hot Springs Provincial Park, at kilometer 765 of the Alaska Highway 97, +1 250 427 5452
Burnt Paw & Cabins Outback; Mile 1314.3 Alaska Highway, Box 7, Tok, Alaska, United States; +1 907 883 4121
Klondike Kate’s; 3rd Avenue & King Street, Box 417, Dawson City, Yukon, Canada; +1 867 993 6527; open from April to September
Rika’s Roadhouse; Mile 275, Richardson Highway, Delta Junction, Alaska, United States, +1 907 895 4201
4. Transfagarasan Road, Romania
Distance: 116 kilometers.
Approximate route time: 100 minutes.
Spooky dark tunnels (the longest is more than 800 meters and pitch black), plus endless twists and turns make for a thrilling ride through Dracula territory.
The winding road from Cartisoara goes south to Curtea de Arges then zigzags from Transylvania into Muntenia, and later ascends to 2,034 meters, to the highest peak in Romania (Moldoveanu Peak).
Highlights: A surefire way to creep out your road trip buddies is to climb the 1,400 steps to the Poenari Castle, the former residence of Vlad III, the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
The Balea Waterfall and Vidraru Lake and Dam lie further along the track are spectacular sites.
Stop for a bite at: Guest lodge Pensiunea Balea is just seven kilometers from Cartisoara and serves home-cooked Romanian dishes in a secluded foresty setting.
Pensiunea Balea; Transfagarasan 711, Cartisoar; Call ahead to book: +40 7 4438 8487
3. Great Ocean Road, Australia
Distance: 253 kilometers.
Approximate route time: Four hours.
For fewer thrills, but extra frills, this drive has more attractions than it has cars.
Here mountains meet oceans, rainforests meet dramatic cliffs, and lighthouses meet national parks (home to stacks of anteaters, kangaroos, penguins, koalas and multi-colored parrots). At the end of the route you’ll want to U-turn and ride it again.
“You can’t speed along, because of the speed cameras,” explains Imthishan Giado, editor of motoringme.com, “but it still offers an incredible coastline, little towns, world-class surf and The Twelve Apostles.”
Highlights: Bells Beach – made famous by the epic surf flick “Point Break.” Though the movie wasn’t actually filmed here, it still draws surfers from far and wide (word of warning before you don your wetsuit: great white sharks attack in this spot).
Swimmers are best off going for a dip at Apollo Bay, one of the safest spots in the area; the cute coastal village here also runs horse and bike riding.
At Great Otway National Park, detour to Otway Lighthouse for an incredible view of Australia’s Shipwreck Coast.
The climax of this journey is, of course, the breathtaking Twelve Apostles, a collection of limestone stacks towering 65 meters above the water.
Stop for a bite at: The Pickled Pig at Warrnambool serves fennel and cinnamon slathered pork cutlets and scallops doused in basil and cashew pesto.
Pickled Pig; 78 Liebig St., Warrnambool, Victoria 3280, Australia; +61 3 5561 3188
2. Amalfi Coast Road, Italy
Distance: 56 kilometers.
Approximate route time: 75 minutes.
We’d forgive you for smashing up your vintage convertible MG when distracted by the pastel villages, historic churches and pristine lapping coastline here.
This is one of the prettiest routes we’ve ever encountered, and the coastal roads are crammed with enough hairpin bends to get your pacemaker screaming.
“It’s absolutely beautiful, the scenery makes this road trip,” says David Light, motoring editor at Khaleej Times. “The best way to experience it is in the summer, in a drop-top sports car.”
Highlights: The stretch from Praiano to Positano for the corniche, plus Grotta dello Smeraldo, a cave with jade waters that look like they glow.
Stop for a bite at: The two-Michelin-starred Rossellinis restaurant in Ravello is a fancy spot for traditional European food, and a killer view of fishing boats beneath.
Rossellinis, inside Hotel Palazzo Sasso; Via San Giovanni del Toro 28, Ravello, Italy; +39 8981 8181
1. Milford Road, New Zealand
Distance: 120 kilometers.
Approximate route time: 90 minutes.
This is the sort of the landscape that gets hobbits hot under the collar, and we don’t blame them.
A drive through the mountains of New Zealand’s South Island, from Te Anau towards Milford Sound into Fiordland National Park, this is possibly the most scenic route on the planet.
Think mighty cliffs, snow-capped summits, waterfalls and fern trees that stick their middle fingers (or branches) up to gravity.
Highlights: It’s hard not to stop and stare at the ridiculous beauty of Eglington Valley and the Mirror Lakes (which mirror their surroundings with crystal clarity).
The Avenue of the Disappearing Mountain is also staggering – an optical illusion causes the approaching mountain to get smaller rather than larger.
Stop for a bite at: The cozy Blue Duck Café & Bar, at Sound Lodge in Milford Sound Village, serves hearty grub and local beer and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Blue Duck Café & Bar; State Highway 94 Milford Sound, New Zealand; +64 (0) 3249 8071