From cruising sun-kissed coastal routes or motoring through dramatic mountain passes to hanging on to the dashboard around super-tight hairpin bends, one thing is for certain: the allure of the open road is irresistible.
Nothing beats the freedom road-tripping affords, nor its versatility. Regardless of whether you’re a solo traveller, family unit, young or old, desert-lover or wildlife spotter – when you’re behind the wheel the adventure is in your hands. Inspired to hit the road? Check out these trips, featured in Lonely's Planet's book Epic Drives of the World, and kick your road trip dreams into gear.
Namib Desert, Namibia
Start – Lüderitz; end – Walvis Bay; distance – 466 miles (750km)
You could drive the paved road between the two coastal Namibian towns of Lüderitz and Walvis Bay, but the more direct route, across Sperrgebiet National Park and the dune fields of the Namib Desert is far more adventurous. Coastways Tours Lüderitz offers guided expeditions across this otherwise inaccessible route. This is one of the most beautiful and challenging desert routes on the planet, crossing as it does the world’s oldest desert and with very few passable tracks. Where the dunes meet the Atlantic Ocean at Sandwich Bay is one of Africa’s most beautiful corners. It’s a six-day epic and one of the most dramatic desert crossings in the world.
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Tanami Track, Australia
Start – Alice Springs; end – Halls Creek; distance – 643 miles (1035km)
Highlights: This route is classic Outback Australia, passing through remote Indigenous communities, miles of desert terrain, cattle stations and isolated desert massifs.
Grand Teton to Yellowstone, Wyoming, USA
Start – Jackson; end – Mammoth; distance – 250 miles (402km)
Yellowstone is nature’s tour de force. Its unique supervolcano features half the world’s geysers, the country’s largest high-altitude lake and a mass of blue-ribbon rivers and waterfalls. To the south, Grand Teton National Park complements with craggy peaks, peaceful waterways and sublime alpine terrain. Wildlife spotting can start at Jackson, where elk, bison and bighorn sheep congregate in winter at the National Elk Refuge, and grizzly sightings are not uncommon as soon as you head out onto the Moose-Wilson back road.
The wet lowlands at Oxbow Bend provide a scenic spot to view moose, elk, bald eagles and other birds, while bear (or bison) jams are sometimes an issue from Yellowstone Lake on. Beyond Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, head east towards Lamar Valley, dubbed the ‘Serengeti of North America’ for its herds of bison, elk and the occasional grizzly or coyote. It’s also the place to spot wolves, particularly in spring.
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Gippsland and Wilsons Promontory, Australia
Start – Phillip Island; end – Walhalla; distance: 308 miles (495km)
Highlights: The sunset Penguin Parade at Phillip Island, witnessing one of the country’s largest colonies of fur seals and meeting some cuddly creatures at the region’s Koala Conservation Centre.
Kaikoura Coast, New Zealand
Start – Picton; end – Christchurch; distance – 219 miles (352km)
Highlights: Spotting shearwaters, petrels, albatross, whales, dolphins and seals, plus a few stop-offs at the region’s world-class wineries. The Willowbank Wildlife Reserve in Christchurch offers a rare opportunity to view kiwi.
Susten-Grimsel-Furka Loop, Switzerland
Start/end – Andermatt; distance – 75 miles (121km)
Taking in three Alpine passes, the Susten-Grimsel-Furka loop offers switchbacks, chicanes and vertigo-inducing drops. You’ll pass lush forests, glaciers, reservoirs, barren mountaintops and sweeping panoramas of the peaks. A wide road with manageable gradients, the Susten Pass eases you into things before the more challenging terrain of Grimsel where the climbs are relentless, the grades steep and the switchbacks awkward. It’s closed from October to May, due to heavy snowfall. Then there’s Furka, a narrow road with no guard rail, steep drops and hairpin bends, made famous as the scene of James Bond’s car chase in Goldfinger. Check the forecast before you set out.
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Cirque de Combe Laval, France
Start – Vassieux-en-Vercors; end – Pont-en-Royans; distance – 28 miles (45km)
Highlights: Incredible karst landscapes, dizzying heights, low overhangs, limited passing places. Drivers should have a good head for heights, but the views and the sheer thrill of this route make it worthwhile.
Serra do Rio do Rastro, Brazil
Start – Tubarão; end – São Joaquim; distance – 83 miles (134km)
Highlights: Spectacular scenery: weaving through lush valleys of colourful houses, canyons, waterfalls and forests.
Dempster Highway, Canada
Start – Dawson City; end – Inuvik; distance – 457 miles (736km)
If you’re looking for another drive of comparable magnitude and challenge, Canada’s Dempster Highway fits the bill. This hard-packed gravel road branches off the North Klondike Highway near Dawson City, Yukon, and swings north through pristine wilderness for 457 miles (736km) before ending in Inuvik, the northernmost town of any size in Canada’s Northwest Territories, way beyond the Arctic Circle.
It's also possible to drive all the way to Tuktoyaktuk, a tiny settlement on the shores of the Arctic Ocean, 75 miles (120km) north of Inuvik. It’s a gorgeous, lonely drive that passes through dense forest (you may spot grizzly bears), past snow-tipped mountains and finally through vast expanses of flat tundra. There are two tiny settlements near Inuvik – Fort McPherson and Tsiigehtchic, where you have to take a car ferry.
Top tip: Rent a 4WD, take two spare tyres, and fill up on gas. Bring emergency supplies in case you break down as there is practically no phone reception here.
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Highway 500, Malaysia
Start – Kota Kinabalu; end – Tambunan; distance – 47 miles (75km)
Highlights: Trucks with homemade water-cooled brakes, tortuous tight corners and hairpins that wind up to this route's 1800-metre ridge line.
Uluru and the Red Centre, Australia
Start – Uluru; end – Tyler Pass Lookout; distance – 761 miles (1224km)
Highlights: Spellbinding and soulful landscapes capturing the essence of the Red Centre: red earth, red rocks and ghostly gum trees in a spiritually charged landscape.
Chianti Road, Italy
Start – Florence; end – Siena; distance – 44 miles (71km)
Toscana simply doesn’t get more bella than this classic drive on the SR222 through Chianti country. Linking two great medieval cities, the road meanders languorously through gently rolling countryside striped with cypress trees, olive groves and vines. After an art and architectural feast in Florence, it’s time to head south to Siena, crowned by its magnificent cathedral and 12th-century Piazza del Campo.
In between are honey-coloured hill towns, where life revolves around the town square, and is punctuated by the chiming of the campanile. Stop by enotecas (wine shops), open for tastings of the region’s revered red wines, including Chianti Classico, a sangiovese-dominated drop. The road is technically drivable year-round, but is perhaps at its most photogenic during the late springtime eruption of poppies and other wildflowers.
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Douro Valley, Portugal
Start – Porto; end – Miranda do Douro; distance – 222 miles (358km)
Highlights: Mile after mile of twisting, terraced vineyards that rise sharply from the Douro River. Grand port lodges and historic wine estates.
Lavaux vineyards, Switzerland
Start – Lausanne; end – Château de Chillon; distance – 25 miles (40km)
Highlights: Unesco World Heritage-protected vineyards that beggar belief, lakeside towns and an extraordinary 13th-century fortress.
B9 Road, Mauritius
Start – Le Morne; end – Souillac; distance – 25 miles (40km)
Skirting the Indian Ocean–facing Mauritius shoreline, the B9 belies its boring name. From Grande Riviere Noire, the road rounds sheer-faced Unesco World Heritage-listed Le Morne Brabant, a stunning monolith with a poignant memorial to the island’s Maroons (people who escaped slavery). Threading through Baie-du-Cap, it then wends around an eye-popping U-bend, past a famous viewpoint at Macondé Rock, before reaching sandy Saint Martin and Bel Ombre’s beaches. Passing Jacotet Bay, where a reef break has created a hot surfing spot with a rich history involving invasions and lost pirate loot, drivers reach Mauritius’ best beaches – St Félix (snorkelling), Riambel (beachcombing) and dramatic (and dangerous) Gris Gris, with ocean-overlooking clifftop trails – before arriving at Souillac.
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Coral Coast Road, Fiji
Start – Korotogo; end – Pacific Harbour; distance – 45 miles (73km)
Highlights: A cracking coastal drive between the rainforest and the deep blue southern seas. Pass palm-fringed beaches, beautiful resorts and blue lagoons as well as the traditional-style Vatukarasa village.
Shek O Road, Hong Kong
Start – Central Hong Kong; end – Shek O; distance – 14.5 miles (23.5km)
Highlights: Away from the congested city, enjoy serpentine switchbacks along the territory’s tallest peak Tai Mo Shan. Then cruise the coastline to discover little fishing villages, a coquettish cove and beautiful beaches.
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