How to go on a road trip
Road trip suggestions
How to go on a road trip
With the rest of Europe just a short ferry trip away, a road trip is a brilliant way to explore our amazing continent. The metallic clank of the ferry doors opening in Calais always fills me with such excitement. The open road to almost 50 countries is there for the taking. So how do you take it?
Where do you want to go?
With a British or European passport most of Europe is open to you so it's just case of thinking about what you really want to see or experience.
The biggest factor will probably be time, so to get an idea about travel times use Google Maps. Either click on your starting point and then a left-hand menu will appear from which you can select 'directions' or you can right click the mouse on your starting destination and your end destination. Remember mountainous regions take way longer to travel through and avoiding motorways and toll roads can also add considerable time to your journey. Google maps will also show you ferry routes which you may want to consider as part of your journey. For all ferry info check out our How to book a ferry guide.
Once you've had a play on Google maps pick out a few places you really want to visit that are possible within your time frame and make this the basis for your trip. It's realistic to travel about 4 to 6 hours in a day but you really don't want to be doing this every day. Also a few one night stopovers are fine but it's nice to build in at least two or three nights for the key places you want to visit. Obviously if you have weeks and weeks to explore you can take it really easily.
Once you've identified a few key places then look at the possible routes and find out what else you might be interested in seeing along the way. While it might be tempting to just go with the flow and stop where you like this might not be as easy as it sounds. If you're travelling by motorway as it's really hard to get a sense of the places you are passing by. A bit of research beforehand will really be worth it and ensure that you don't completely miss something amazing without knowing it was there! Google maps can be really helpful also take a look at our How to choose a destination guide.
Where are you going to stay?
If you are going outside school holidays you may well not need to book anything before you go. It's lovely to have the flexibility to stay longer of you love somewhere and move on if not. If the thought of not having a confirmed bed for the night fills you with horror you can either book the key locations and wing the bits in between or use Booking.com* and reserve accommodation that has a free cancellation policy (just read it really carefully to make sure you are fully aware of the terms). Another alternative is to take a tent and camp. Europe is covered in campsites and they make great accommodation for a road trip. See How to go camping for details on how to find a good site. The only downside of camping if you want to move quickly is the time it takes to pack and unpack your camp so either keep it simple, stay a bit longer in each place or look for campsites with other accommodation such as mobile homes, cabins, pre-erected tents which are all really popular in Europe.
Preparing your vehicle
It can be much more complicated breaking down in another country so getting your vehicle in tip top condition is really important.
Tolls and other charges
Many other European countries have a system of road tolls or vignettes for travelling on motorways. A toll usually involves stopping at a toll booth and paying the charge by cash or card. A vignette is a sticker you buy in advance and display it in your windscreen which allows you to drive on certain roads or in certain areas.
It is possible to buy a toll tag before you go which you position in your windscreen and it gets picked up as you drive through the tolls and payment is made automatically via the card you register the tag to. This can speed up the process of going through tolls and eliminates the need to queue (and you get to feel really smug!!). To find out more about toll roads in France, Spain and Portugal and to buy a tag go here.
To find out about road tolls and vignettes in other countries see the AA guide to driving in Europe, country by country, which tells you what you need and how to get it.
To work out how much your drive will cost including fuel and road tolls Michelin have a route planner calculator. Sixt have a tool which allows you to see how much each journey will cost you in tolls charges.
Low Emissions Zones (LEZ)
10 European countries operate Low Emissions Zones which affect over 200 cities. In these Zones the most polluting vehicles are either banned or are charged a fee to enter. To find out more information about LEZs go here.
Road trip suggestions
Bruges, Belgium - beautiful little place with canals, cobbled streets and chocolate. Get the ferry from Dover to Dunkirk and then it's just over an hour along the coast.
3 - 5 days
Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Ghent and Bruges - Get the ferry from Harwich to Hook of Holland and head to Rotterdam where you can check out the stunning architecture, museums and Art. Motor up to Amsterdam for some more masterpieces, fine dining and chilled out cafe culture. Head home via Ghent for some riverside fun and amazing Medieval architecture and stop off in Bruges (see above).
Honfleur and St Malo - Get the overnight ferry to Le Harve and head to the Norman port in Honfleur for some art, mooching around the cobbled streets and people watching from a waterside cafe. A 2.5 hour drive will take you to the spectacular Mont Saint-Michel where, if you get the tide right, you can reach the island and climb to the top of this ancient abbey. At the end of the day you can snuggle down on the overnight ferry from St Malo and be back in the UK the next morning.
1 week +
A great amount of time to start exploring France and possibly further. A couple of trips we've enjoyed are exploring the West coast of France - get the ferry to any of the west coast ports and meander down the coast. There are lots of great places to stop along the way - Biarritz, Arcachon, La Rochelle -and then you can come home in style on the Brittany ferry from with Bilbao or Santander (both of which are lovely to explore first).
Alternatively, with a bit more driving involved, (and a favourite of ours) is a Coulioure and Arcachon combo. Both lovely towns with lots to see and do and great beach life too. A side trip from Arcachon to Dunes du Pilat is also brilliant fun for everyone!
With 10 days you could easily see a bit of Germany perhaps take in a few cities along the Rhine. The river offers some great cycling and cruising options and there are lots of interesting and beautiful places along its banks to visit such as Cologne, Koblenz or Düsseldorf.
2 to 3 weeks
2 to 3 weeks gives you the opportunity to go a bit further from home and even find some sunshine out of season. Southern France is in easy reach and as well as the sparkling Mediterranean coast you could stop off in the Ardeche National park and try a bit of kayaking in the amazing gorges. Troyes makes a great first stop off before you head further South.
This is a tour I'm yet to do, but a circuit of Berlin, Prague, Vienna and Munich looks so much fun. These incredible cities offer something for everyone with an overwhelming mix of history, culture and fine dining. A 3 week trip would give you plenty of time to explore each one for a few days and you could even make it to Budapest too!
One trip we have enjoyed was grabbing a Brittany ferry to Northern Spain where we travelled westwards visiting Santander, A Coruna, Santiago de Compostela and Vigo. We then dipped into Portugal to visit Viana do Castelo ending up in the beautiful city of Porto. We cut back across to Bilbao where we checked out the Guggenheim museum before catching our ferry home.
Finally how about Slovenia and Croatia? Both offer up amazing adventures to be had. In Slovenia Lake Bled is set in the most breathtaking scenery and Triglav National Park is a great place for hiking, climbing and a whole host of other activities. Next head into Croatia and the Istrian Peninsula where you can find a Roman amphitheatre in Pula and pretty towns such as Rovinj and Novigrad. With a bit of extra time you could visit the stunning Plitvice Lakes and take in an island or two. On the way home you could pop in on Venice before you head through the Italian lakes and into Switzerland.
3 weeks +
With 3 or more weeks you can really go for it. Greece is a wonderful option for ancient history and stunning beaches. Head to Venice and get the ferry to Patras or Igoumenitsa. Consider staying on the mainland to save ferry costs to lots of different islands. It is beautiful, great value and full of ancient sights. If you have time come home along the coast through Albania, Montenegro and Croatia.
The Mediterranean islands of Sicily, Corsica or Sardinia are all worth visiting if you have 3 weeks. All have stunning beaches, wild interiors and lots to see and do. Ferries leave from Southern France and Northern Italy and will whisk you across the Med in no time.
How about a Scandinavian adventure? With Ferries zig zagging across the Baltic Sea there's loads of opportunity to enjoy nature and culture throughout this region. If you time it right you might even get a glimpse of the Northern Lights.
4 weeks +
With a month or more you will be truly spoilt for choice as to where to go and what to see. We did an amazing 3 month road trip to Morocco last year and it was so satisfying reaching another continent without flying! Turkey is now high on the list for our next big trip and the chance to dip our toes into Asia
And remember just cos you've got more time doesn't mean you have to go further you could just get to know a smaller area really well.
How to book a ferry
How to choose a destination
How to go camping
How to book a hotel or guesthouse
Preparing your vehicle
Breakdown cover - Moneysupermarket.com
AA country information here
RAC handy checklist here
Information about tolls and other charges
Toll road information in France, Spain and Portugal and to buy a tag go here.
To find out about road tolls and vignettes in other countries see the AA guide
Route planner calculator Michelin
Toll charge calculator Sixt
Information about Low Emission Zones go here
Random other links!
Fuel Flash - search real-time fuel prices wherever you are in 7 European countries.