When you're traveling, driving offers a chance to slow down and let everything you've experienced up to that point sink in. And then there are the drives that you travel specifically for -- drives that reveal incredible natural phenomena, a palpable sense of history, or just beautiful scenery. Whatever your reason for hitting the road, one (or more) of the routes we feature below should fit the bill. From cliffside coastal roads to drives through quiet deserts, around glacial lakes, and past legend-inspiring geological features, here are seven drives to add to your bucket list now.
Although a section of this coastal road was buried by a massive landslide last spring, things should get back to normal once the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge reopens in October, allowing car traffic into Big Sur to resume. The full length of this classic California route measures about 656 miles, from Orange County to Leggett, a town north of San Francisco. But for the most dramatic scenery, head to the Central Coast section that allows for stops in small towns like Cambria and Cayucos, and twists and turns through Big Sur.
This drive in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, is a designated UNESCO World Heritage site because it passes by the Giant’s Causeway, which features around 40,000 black basalt columns emerging from the sea. While the sight has strongly influenced the earth sciences, it has also inspired tales of giants walking across the sea to reach Scotland, just visible in the distance. The drive itself is just as spectacular as it winds along the water’s edge to the bucolic Glens of Antrim, coastal villages, ancient ruins, and even the “Game of Thrones” filming location, the Dark Hedges.
While has gorgeous coastal routes, a drive through the sparsely inhabited desert of the Northern Territory offers an unforgettable perspective as well. This is especially true if you finish up at Uluru (formerly Ayers Rock), an enormous red sandstone monolith that glows spectacularly at sunset. For a multi-day road trip, start in Sydney and drive along Stuart Highway, an isolated stretch named for explorer John McDouall Stuart. As an alternative, the trip from Alice Springs to Uluru takes only six hours and reveals the Outback’s mountains and trees, in addition to the desert’s arid beauty.
A simple way to approach a road trip in this bicoastal region that extends into both Chile and Argentina is by focusing on the alpine Lake District. Plan on spending at least a full day exploring the Road of the Seven Lakes, beginning in Bariloche, a city in the Andes’ foothills that offers skiing in winter and hiking and climbing in summer. Head north to San Martin de los Andes, a town on the edge of glacial Lácar Lake. Along the way, the road hugs pristine lakes, and you can stop for short hikes to waterfalls in the forest, sleep in rustic family lodges, and experience Nahuel Huapi and Lanin National Parks.
This zig-zagging, mountain-carved route is not for the weak of stomach. It leads through Fjord Norway, showcasing UNESCO-protected fjords, cascading waterfalls, and mountains dusted in snow. The steepest section, known as the Eagle Road (Ornevegen), features no less than 11 hairpin turns and ascends from Eidsdal, 2,000 feet above sea level, to Stigora, about 2,815 feet above sea level. A platform protected by glass and steel offers views around the mountainside. Try to avoid the summer season, when tourists descend in cars and on bikes. The route is open from June until the first snowfall, typically in October.
Yes, there are heart-pounding cliffs and hairpin turns along this 35-mile road, but the views are so gorgeous that even the most nervous driver probably won’t mind. Boats dot the turquoise sea below, and terraced villages cling to the mountainside. Stop for fresh seafood in Praiano, stroll the elegant gardens of Ravello, and follow the corniche road to Amalfi and its 11th-century Duomo di Sant’Andrea.
If you really love to drive, then Jebel Hafeet Mountain Road in Abu Dhabi is your pick. While only about seven miles long, the trek is a memorable one. There are dozens of turns to navigate, and the desolate, rocky surroundings only add to the drama. Take it slow and savor the panoramic views as you near the 4,000-foot peak of Jebel Hafeet mountain. There are three lanes, two up and one down, and you’ll likely encounter other drivers as well as cyclists who come here to train. Green Mubazzarah, a pretty tourist area at the foothills of Jebel Hafeet mountain, features natural hot springs, as well as swimming pools and hot tubs for post-drive unwinding.
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