Last updated on November 8th, 2022
There’s simply something special about hitting the road and exploring the unknown. To me, it’s like a vacation within a vacation, an essential part of a holiday. From deserts to ocean roads and even tropical islands, here’s my personal list of the best scenic drives in the world.
Spanning across three states, including a stretch of the legendary Route 66, the scenic drive from Las Vegas to Monument Valley is one of the great American road trips. Begin with a visit to Hoover Dam, just outside Vegas, and continue on roads that are as straight as an arrow for miles of empty desert. Stop for lunch in classic roadside diners as you near Glen Canyon and time your visit to Antelope Canyon when the sun’s rays shine directly above. Reach Monument Valley just in time for a glowing sunset, and spend the night at The View Hotel, where you’ll experience a star-filled night sky and sunrise over the valley’s famed buttes. Hire a local Navajo guide and explore Monument Valley in the morning, before heading back via Grand Canyon National Park.
More information: 6 Days In The Southwest USA
East of Madagascar, Reunion Island is one of the most diverse travel destinations. Known for its superb hikes, Reunion is also a paradise for road trippers, thanks to scenic drives that reach almost every corner of this rugged island. From the coastal town of Saint-Louis, the RN-5 heads into Cirque de Cilaos for 35kms of pure thrills and extreme scenery. It will take a lot of courage and patience to negotiate one-lane bridges and tunnels, blind sections, and 400 turns, some of which are almost full circle and uphill. Feeling completely walled in by the high peaks on both sides of the road, it’s hard to imagine that the Indian Ocean is just a few kilometers down the road. As you inch closer to Cilaos, the scenery opens up and the cirque’s hamlets come into view, looking as if clinging for dear life on the only flat ground found on the high ridges.
More information: Top 10 Things To Do In Reunion Island
The 75 km scenic drive from Cape Town to the Cape of Good Hope mixes spectacular scenery of seaside towns, pristine beaches, and ocean views. Starting from the ‘Mother City’, head south via Camps Bay and catch a view of South Africa’s version of the Twelve Apostles. Go off the grid in the secluded beach at Sandy Bay and pause to feed the seals in Hout Bay before starting Chapman’s Peak Drive. This engineering marvel stretches for 15 km, twisting its way through Atlantic scenery and carved into the mountain in extra tight sections. Pause for lunch in historic Simon’s Town and say hello to the African penguins at Boulders Beach. For the grand finish, spend a few hours in the Cape of Good Hope, part of Table Mountain National Park. It is the southwesternmost point in the African continent, highlighted by the famous lighthouse at Cape Point.
More information: 4 Days In Cape Town Itinerary
From Naples to Salerno, the drive along Italy’s Riviera is the most romantic road trip on this list of the best scenic drives in the world. Begin the drive in Naples and explore the excavated remains of the ancient city of Pompeii. From here, the coastal road dramatically meanders along breathtaking scenery of hilltop villages, lemon groves, and vineyards, overlooking a Mediterranean that radiates under the summer sun. From Sorrento, catch the ferry to Capri and spend the night like royalty, or head to lesser-known islands like Ischia. Continue to scenic Positano and Amalfi, pausing to hike the Path of the Gods in between, and drive up to Ravello where the coast’s panoramic scenery can best be appreciated over some limoncello.
More information: Top 10 Things To Do In The Amalfi Coast
On the island of Maui in Hawaii, the scenic drive on the Hana Highway is part of a 16th-century native Hawaiian trail that encircled the island. In the early part of the 20th century, the road was gradually paved and now connects the remote village of Hana with the rest of the island via a 44-mile (70 km) journey that includes 54 one-lane bridges. The road is beautifully slow-going, not only because of the challenging terrain and mix of local and tourist traffic but also due to frequent stops to admire the tropical scenery and countless waterfalls. Not-to-be-missed highlights include the giant bamboo forest of the Pipiwai Trail, the Red Sand Beach in Hana, and the black sand beach in Waianapanapa.
More information: 5 Days In Maui Itinerary
Best known for its beaches, the island of Mallorca offers serious visitors the chance to get away from the package-holiday scene on a scenic drive through the countryside of the Tramuntana Mountains, on the island’s rugged west coast. Explore the charming hilltop villages of Valldemossa and Deia which are especially exciting on market days, and check out the region’s historic capital, Soller. Feel the thrill on the challenging drive to Sa Calobra, where 270-degree turns must be negotiated before reaching this picturesque beach. Continue to the Formentor Peninsula, where the mountain range splashes down to the sea, and drive to the end of the line at Cap de Formentor and its lighthouse, amid a range of fine beaches.
More information: Top 10 Things To Do In Mallorca
It’s back to the desert for this top scenic drive from the Holy Land. Beginning with the mountain air of Jerusalem’s hills, the drive quickly enters the arid land of the Judean Desert, and a small pitstop even marks sea level. From here it’s downhill all the way to the lowest point on earth. After the turnoff to Jericho, the scenic road reaches its climax, tucked between towering limestone cliffs and the shores of the Dead Sea. From time to time, an occasional date palm orchard breaks the desert landscape. Pause for a few hours and climb the ancient hilltop fortress of Masada, built by King Herod in the 1st century BC, before wrapping up the drive with a mineral mud bath and a float in the salty water of the Dead Sea.
Australia’s greatest scenic drive, the Great Ocean Road meanders along 243 kilometers of coastline in Victoria. It’s a prime detour from Melbourne and a great road trip into the Outback via Adelaide. The Great Ocean Road boasts many diversions, such as winery tours and forest hikes, but its star attractions are the scenic lookouts over magnificent limestone formations that have been sculpted by years of erosion into arches and stacks. Of those, the most iconic is The Twelve Apostles, a collection of limestone pinnacles rising just a few meters offshore. Susceptible to the elements, the apostles are being driven back to the ocean so it’s best to put this top scenic drive on your bucket list before it’s too late.
Road tripping is an essential ingredient in a visit to Ireland, always a perfect blend between breathtaking nature and stereotypical Irish rural life. The Ring of Kerry is the most popular scenic drive in Ireland, a circular route that begins and ends in Killarney, and is also a hiker’s delight thanks to the Kerry Way. Of the countless highlights along the Ring of Kerry, it’s worth mentioning the ruins at Ross Castle, dramatic mountain passes locally known as gaps such as Moll’s Gap and the Gap of Dunloe, and isolated communities like Valentia Islands. For those looking for extremes, spend an extra night and try to score a boat visit to remote Skellig Michael, and if you have a few extra days, it’s well worth extending the drive and circling the Dingle Peninsula.
Perhaps the most iconic scenic drive in the United States, the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) stretches along much of California’s coastline. It’s the ultimate way to travel between San Francisco and Los Angeles. The section between Carmel-by-the-Sea and San Simeon along Big Sur is the most scenic, rugged, and mountainous, with thrilling views and frequent stops. From San Francisco, visit popular surfing beaches before reaching the region’s surfing capital in Santa Cruz. From Monterey, cruise along 17 Mile Drive and overnight in Carmel, with its art galleries, historic Spanish mission, and white sand beach. Continue to Point Lobos and say hello to the seals before crossing Bixby Bridge to Big Sur, where the real fun begins. Admire the view of McWay Falls and continue to Hearst Castle before heading to the City of Angels via and trendy Santa Barbara.
More information: Pacific Coast Highway itinerary
Though it was a tough task, this wraps up my personal list of the best scenic drives in the world. Now it’s time to hit the road and discover what else is waiting just around the corner!
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