The Best Driving Roads in Europe
Want to open up that Lambo? Here’s where to do it.
From highways that swerve around the contours of Norway’s wild fjordscapes to iconic routes traveled by Napoleon through the French hinterlands, here’s where to give it a gas when you’re on the continent.
Norway: The 63 from Geirganger to Trollstigen
Photo: Getty Images
No place on the continent does jaw-dropping scenery quite as well as Norway. The hardest part of planning a driving holiday in this Tesla-loving nations is picking which scenic road you want to speed down. The country has 18 National Tourist Routes unspooling from the sunny south to well north of the Arctic Circle. The most spectacular of these rides takes stick jockeys around eleven hairpin turns, past waterfalls, along fjords, and through the verdant Geirangerfjord valley, which is the only spot en route where it’s well-advised to press the pedal all the way down.
Switzerland: The Furkastrasse from Zurich to Pontresina
Love speed and hate oxygen? Call Ultimate Drives, rent that Aston Martin, and roar through Stelvio, Bernina, and San Bernardino, three of Switzerland’s most scenic alpine passes. Yes, you do recognize the winding Frukastrasse from the chase scene in Goldfinger and, yes, you should splurge on a nice hotel. After spending your day gaining momentum, enjoy a bit of stasis at Grand Hotel Kronenhof in Pontresina, a five-star European classic with sweeping views of the mountain peaks.
France: The Route Napoleon from Digne to Grasse
One of Europe’s best drives, the journey from lavender-scented Dignes-les-Bains in southeastern France to the ville of Grasse on the Cote d’Azur, happens to follow the path traveled by Napoleon on his return from exile on the Italian island of Elba. Today, that route is defined by the N85, a fast-as-hell highway thick with supercars belonging to Monaco’s elite. “The road’s curves are enough to challenge any driver,” says Olivier Chavaren, founder of European tour company Coloratour. “Around every bend is another stunning view of the Alps, it’s a thrilling driving experience.”
Croatia: The 414 from Orebic to Trstenik
Istria and ancient cities like Dubrovnik and Split tend to hog Croatia’s press, but the country also has more than its fair share of beautifully planned and maintained roads, which run along the Adriatic in the less-visited south. Head to the Peljesac Peninsula in southern Dalmatia and enjoy the ride from Orebic town to Trstenik. The twisting route offers spellbinding Adriatic views between hair-raising, cliff-top turns and tempting straightaways through lush vineyards. If you’ve got a passenger, they’ll want to stop and buy some fruit. Ignore them and upshift.
Ireland: The R558 Around the Dingle Peninsula
Hire a car from the airport in Shannon or Cork (we’d recommend a Land Rover, the road is rough in spots) and depart for a clockwise route around Ireland’s rugged Dingle Peninsula. Travel past Inch Strand to Dingle then on to Slea Head before heading back out via Dingle to the Conor Pass – the highest mountain road in the country. “There are sandy beaches, ancient archeological sites, early Christian heritage, and mountain walks as well as surfing and other outdoor activities,” says Irish photographer Darren McLoughlin, a fan of the area. And at the end of the coastal route you can order a pint of Guinness. Just don’t get over eager. The road pump fakes, turns rapidly, and slides beneath unexpected herds of sheep.
Greece: The Distomou Iteas between Athens and Delphi
The peninsula route is the long way between the popular tourist cities, but well worth the detour. The asphalt threads through the rocks, up and over scenic lookouts, and along the top of cliffs that drop straight down to the sea. There are two viable approaches: Take it slow and enjoy some local color or take it fast and maximize the thrill. We suggest picking based on what car you’re working with and piloting said car toward the historic ski resort of Kalavryta, which is as strikingly beautiful as it is lightly policed.
Italy: The SS163 from Salerno to Positano
Italy’s most scenic coastal route is a timeless classic that never grows old, no matter how many international drivers come here to take a joy ride. Leave from the port city of Salerno and hug the dramatic coastline, passing through terraced landscapes dotted with hill towns, heading west through Ravello and Amalfi to the coastal village of Positano, where a seafood feast is always in order. “To maximize your trip and take advantage of the best golden hours of photography, take your breakfast to go and hit the road early in the morning,” advises Manny Ruiz, who has logged more than 40,000 road tripping miles in Europe and the US. Just make sure you’ve got a place to park for the night so you can immoderately enjoy the wine flowing out of all those vineyards.
Spain: The A-374 Through Siera de Grazalema Natural Park
Exclusive tour operator Blue Parallel offers a decadent driving experience in Andalucia worth the trip down from Madrid. The itinerary starts in Granada and Cordoba with tapas tours and luxe hotel stays before unleashing you and your luxury sports car in Seville for a roar through the topographically exuberant landscape, the famed white villages around Ronda and wild Siera de Grazalema Natural Park. The Iberian road trip finishes with a ride on a closed circuit track (and a bottle of Rioja).
Scotland: The A82 from Glasgow to Crianlarich
Originally constructed as a military road, the A-82 runs parallel to the bonnie banks o’ Loch Lomond and through the Trossachs, a darkly wooded glen that looks like a cursed forest, on its way north from Glasgow to the medieval pitstop of Crianlarich. Before making it to the “Gateway of the Highlands,” the intermittently-maintained highway does its best to shrug drivers off its narrow shoulder, dodging between boulders and dashing up small mountains. The straightaways – the few that there are – allow speed lovers to zip through the valleys before climbing cutbacks towards sheep-clogged passes. Though it can be hard to get a head of steam with the traffic and livestock, the road is a worthy adversary to any super car. Just keep one foot on the brake.
Germany: The Nurburgring
The motorsports palace south of Cologne is open on most Sundays, some Saturdays, and the occasional weekday evening to anyone with a road-legal car. Under the amazingly named “Touristenfahrten” program, visitors can drive both the Nordschleife circuit and – occasionally – the actual Grand Prix circuit. There is no oncoming traffic, so race fans turned loose can get aggressive, but accidents are common and many insurers don’t cover damages. Fair enough, but it’s still too good an offer to turn down if you’re sitting behind the wheel of a Porsche.
Estonia: The Ice Road to Hiiumaa
The only road on this list that isn’t at its best in summer doesn’t even exist after the spring thaw. But, from January to March, the ice road from Rohukula to Hiiumaa is one of the most fascinating places to drive on the planet. The government-maintained road stretches across the Baltic, which freezes solid due to its unusually low salt content. The Estonian government prohibits drivers from wearing seat belts on the road because they might have to exit their cars quickly if the ice breaks, but otherwise the 16-mile highway to the austere, beautiful island of Hiiuma is basically the same as every other highway in the former socialist republic. That said, it also provides drivers with a chance to put their SUVs to the test or race their bimmer against a ferry. Just remember to make a reservation at one of the island’s guesthouses so you don’t have to drive home at night. The ice might be thicker, but it’s damn cold out there.