Updated: Aug 13, 2020
Attempting to the top scenic drives in Europe is a gratifying way to experience the old continent. For centuries, European royalty escaped to the country to enjoy the scenery. Peasants led horse-drawn carts through mountain valleys to trade wares in neighboring villages. The pathways they took have now changed into modern roads, yet the beautiful vistas remain virtually the same. They reveal a side of Europe not seen in such cosmopolitan giants as London and Paris.
Whether you peek over the Swiss Alps, coast past Scottish castles, or England’s sprawling garden estates, there seem endless sceneries to feast on. Enjoy the open continent via the open road which offers a plethora of options, where you’re in control over what attractions to visit.
The Amalfi Coast, Italy
The key is to drive south, where your lane will twist and turn right next to the edge. Only a stout stone wall separates your vehicle from the sea hundreds of feet below.
Southbound from Sorrento leads you through the charming resort towns of Positano, Praiano, and Amalfi. Many stay for a few days before hopping back into their car to continue driving down the coast to Ravello and beyond. Eventually, the road ends at the Ionian Sea, but memories of this trip will never fade. It provides breathtaking panoramic views at every turn. The hard part is keeping your eyes on the road.
Causeway Coast, Northern Ireland
From the city of Larne to Dunluce Castle, curving around the northeast corner of Northern Ireland, you will arrive at the Causeway Coast. It is a drive where the 70″ on the road signs are not speeding restrictions. Rather, it is the number of amazing sites you’ll encounter within the next mile. It is indeed, an area of exceptional natural beauty, where the rugged coastline seamlessly merges into a landscape of deep glens.
Yet the true star of this drive is Giant’s Causeway, a mass of 40,000 hexagonal basalt columns packed tightly together. The tops of the columns form stepping stones that lead from the cliff and disappear under the sea. The columns were either formed by a volcanic eruption or, according to the locals, by a Scottish giant tricked by the Irish giant, Finn McCool. Either way, they’ll leave a giant impression on you and your camera.
Officially a part of Portugal, Madeira is an island in the Atlantic closer to Morocco, north of the Canary Islands. For such a small island (30 miles long, 13 wide), Madeira offers a varied and eye-pleasing landscape. Discover steep green mountains sliding into valleys covered with wildflowers, sprawling vineyards, and quaint villages.
San Bernardino Pass, Switzerland
Driving around the entire island requires a full day along the coast and across the rugged interior. Begin from Funchal, the cosmopolitan capital city, and drive counterclockwise up the southern coast. Find yourself in a breathtaking mountain route to the northwestern tip at Porto Moniz. Here, it’s wise to disembark from your vehicle and swim in the natural tidal pools in the volcanic rock shoreline. Then follow the dramatic north coast road, where the street flirts close to the ocean just above the surf and passes through a waterfall. Yes, that is through a waterfall.
Connecting Chur with Bellinzona in southeastern Switzerland, the San Bernardino Pass is a driver’s dream road. It offers Alpine scenes so dramatic and striking, you’ll often find yourself throwing the car into reverse to drive past them a second time. This road is dominated by castles and churches, earth-splitting gorges, and sprawling bridges. It brings you face-to-face with Switzerland’s most engaging region.
En route, you’ll travel through the Domleschg, very much a historical landmark. It is an area that boasts the greatest concentration of medieval fortresses and ruins in all of Europe. Then you’ll conquer the Alps, with the help of lengthy tunnels and high bridges. After which you will go past mountain villages like Splügen, beyond the picturesque towns of Grono and Roveredo. This then leads to the bottom of the valley to Bellinzona, where three fortresses fill the sky. This thus brings the city’s historical significance as a key Alpine site into awe-inspiring focus. Truly, this is one of the top scenic drives in Europe.
The Romantic Road, Germany
A European drive, to most people, means soaring down Germany’s Autobahn, possibly the world’s most famous superhighway. Yet exit A-7 off the Autobahn acts as a time machine, transporting you into a seemingly ancient world. Find yourself among medieval towns, walled cities, aged churches with carved wooden altars, Bavarian beer halls, and gothic cathedrals. All these with the Alps—a towering wall of white in the distance—as the backdrop.
Exit A-7 leads to the Romantische Strasse, the Romantic Road, a 220-mile journey through the Middle Ages from Wuerzburg to Fuessen. Wherever you drive, you’ll find something sublime. Be amazed by the stunning Wuerzburg Residence Palace, Roman remains in Augsburg or King Ludwig II’s dream-castle of Neuschwanstein. You could drive the entire length in less than 10 hours, but no one ever does. Spread out over two or three days, the Romantic Road is a fairytale drive straight into the heart and soul of Germany.
The Best Drive: To Your Travel Agent’s Office
Travel agents make the best co-pilots for all European vacations, especially if you’re dreaming of seeing the top scenic drives in Europe. Travel agents can set up your car rental (ever tried a Ferrari?) and help map out which scenic detours to take (the Loire Valley is gorgeous). Get tips too on the best places to park your car each night. You can stay overnight on the Romantic Road at Rothenburg-ob-der-Tauber, which is the best-preserved medieval town in Germany. With all the details taken care of, all you have to worry about is learning to fold the road map and converting kilometers into miles.