Road Trips

Europe road trip holidays: The top 10 European coastal drives

You scarcely need to leave you car to admire some of Europe’s most splendid scenery. Here are 10 top coastal driving routes that will give you good reason to take the slow lane.

1 ALGARVE COAST, PORTUGAL

This short, windswept 38-kilometre drive on the N125 between Lagos and Cape St Vincent on Europe’s south-west corner is wild and wave-pounded, yet also takes in millennia of history, from ancient megaliths to Roman ruins, baroque churches to the charming resort town of Lagos. At Sagres a huge medieval fort looms. The drive ends near a red-and-white lighthouse above a foaming Atlantic Ocean – time your arrival for sunset, which is often lurid. See visitalgarve.pt, www.traveller.com.au/portugal

2 CAUSEWAY COAST, NORTHERN IRELAND

Ireland’s northernmost coast features a string of glorious (if chilly) beaches, rugged headlands and whitewashed fishing villages, plus a beautiful hinterland of stream-tumbled glens opening up to the sea. Its dramatic landscapes feature in Game of Thrones and are peppered with ruined castles, though most famous is the Giant’s Causeway, where 40,000 hexagonal rock columns edge the sea. Cliff-spanning Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge will test your head for heights above frothing waves. See www.visitcausewaycoastandglens.com www.travelller.com.au/northern-ireland

3 AMALFI COAST, ITALY

The road from Sorrento to Positano and on to Ravello along this famous holiday coast south of Naples plunges up, down and along a coastline that is World Heritage listed for its landscapes and historic towns. Pastel-coloured houses tumble towards an emerald sea and are backed by lemon groves and forested crags. Narrow bends, tourist traffic and limited parking are frustrations, but this is the ultimate romantic seaside drive. See amalfitouristoffice.it www.traveller.com.au/italy

4 THE HIGH COAST, SWEDEN

This section of Sweden’s E4 highway from Härnösand to Örnsköldsvik takes under 1.5 hours, but runs through a World Heritage-listed, glacier-produced landscape to make you linger. The Baltic coast here is one of Sweden’s best hiking regions and is a convolution of red-granite cliffs and islands, rocky outcrops and pine forest. The route’s highlights are Bönhamn fishing village, the unique rock-slab coastline at Rotsidan and green countryside around Nordingrå. See hogakusten.com www.traveller.com.au/sweden

5 TROTTERNISH PENINSULA, SCOTLAND

Wind-whipped beaches, moors and peat bogs, sheep farms and lush, deep valleys characterise Skye, an island off Scotland’s west coast, making almost any drive spectacular. But take to the A855 around the Trotternish Peninsula in the north for the best landscapes. Mountains have a dramatic, cloudy beauty, heather glows on the hillsides and waterfalls plunge off cliffs into the ocean. The jagged rock pinnacles of the Quiraing are magnificent. See skye.co.uk www.traveller.com.au/scotland

6 ADRIATIC HIGHWAY, CROATIA

It takes six hours to motor almost the entire Croatian coast from Rijeka to  Dubrovnik on the D8, but budget at least a week. At times the road follows bay edges and passes through seaside towns, at others climbs over cliffs in switchbacks and blind bends to test the nerves, with fine views over the Mediterranean and Croatia’s gorgeous islands. Zadar and Split are two top towns for a pause. See croatia.hr www.traveller.com.au/croatia

7 ROUTE ONE, ICELAND

Iceland is famously scenic thanks to its collision of waterfalls, fjords, volcanoes, hot springs and glaciers. Route 1 circumnavigates the whole island nation, taking in most of its notable towns and some truly remote regions where the road occasionally becomes gravel. The whole loop is nearly 1300 kilometres, but the northern section through waterfall-thundering mountains, dramatic coastal rock formations and past the fjord at Akureyri might be the best section. See visiticeland.com www.traveller.com.au/iceland

8 LES CORNICHES, FRANCE

You don’t have to get remote to get fabulous views. The French Riviera’s three pine-scented corniche routes head from Nice to Menton through some of the most densely populated real estate in Europe. Follow the lowest to inspect glitzy resort towns such as Cannes and Monte Carlo. The highest, the cliff-hugging Grande Corniche or D2564, has you suspended between sky and Mediterranean with plunging views of villas and yacht-crowded harbours. See frenchriviera-tourism.com www.traveller.com.au/france

9 ATLANTIC ROAD, NORWAY

This wild 36-kilometre drive between Kårvåg and Bud on western Norway’s RV64 highway runs along a coast of fjords and mountains. It packs a particular punch on an eight-kilometre section that runs over numerous eye-popping bridges connecting several islands. Norwegians voted it the engineering feat of the century in 2005. Don’t wait for the sun: the sinuous road is sprayed by spume from Atlantic waves on dramatic, windy days. See fjordnorway.com www.traveller.com.au/norway

10 RING OF KERRY, IRELAND

The 179-kilometre circuit around the Iveragh  peninsula, mostly on the N70, has superb views of coast, loughs and mountains that culminate in the south-west in a bedazzlement of beauty. It’s rightly famous and often crowded; tour coaches generally travel anticlockwise, so head in the other direction. The landscape is dotted with historic standing stones, ruins and castles. It’s worth detouring to the inland Gap of Dunloe for more tremendous scenery. See theringofkerry.com www.traveller.com.au/ireland

Brian Johnston has travelled as a guest of tourist offices or tour companies in many of these destinations.

See also: World’s best road trips: The top 10 drives

See also: Australia’s most scenic routes to drive

Listen: Flight of Fancy – the Traveller.com.au podcast with Ben Groundwater

To subscribe to the Traveller.com.au podcast Flight of Fancy on iTunes, click here.

Robin Cole