In an effort to bring you some new voices on Ottsworld, here is a guest post from writer blogger Cazzy Magennis. Cazzy is from Europe and is an expert road tripper – so I asked her to write an article about how to plan a Europe road trip based on her experiences. After all, when we can travel again, who doesn’t want to take on Europe by car?! All opinions, experiences, and photos here are hers. –Sherry
If you’re planning on road tripping Europe this year, then all I can say is that you are in for a treat!
It truly is an incredibly diverse continent, with each country offering something equally as unique as the last.
At the same time of year, you could find yourself driving through snow-filled mountain passes in Austria, or across the barren, desert-like plains in southern Spain.
Everywhere you go, you get to discover the rich cultural heritage each country offers. With new foods, music, and traditions; all of which date back hundreds of years.And in my opinion, a Europe road trip is the best way to discover as much of Europe as possible. Regardless of whether you visit for a week, or a month.
Here’s a look at all of my top Europe road trip tips, built up after years of personal experience driving or campervanning across almost every country there.
Table of Contents
Best Europe Road Trip Ideas
First off, here’s a look at 4 of the best road trips you can take through Europe, each unique in its own way.
Drive Around Lofoten Islands, Norway
This is a large collection of islands stretching out from mainland Norway into the Norwegian Sea. In the 1900s, these islands were connected into a long string via a number of bridges.
Many of which are the most beautiful bridges we drove across in Norway. It is a truly breathtaking drive, offering new jaw-dropping vistas around every bend you take.
Along the way, you can stop off at untouched beaches, or take time to climb rugged mountain peaks. Above all else, spend a day in the picturesque town of Reine, located right near the bottom of the Lofoten Islands, before enjoying the long drive back again.
Experience the Tiny Roads of the Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland
Stretching roughly 2500km, the Wild Atlantic Way is the best road trip Ireland has to offer. It is a windy, twisty turning road that follows the entire western coast of the country.
As you venture further north (or south) the landscape changes dramatically. In the north, it is much more rugged and barren, whereas the south of Ireland is home to rolling lush fields of green in all directions (and at all times of the year).
Road Trip Around the North Coast 500, Scotland
If you plan on visiting the UK, then my top tip would be to head straight to Scotland. In particular, to drive the NC500, an epic 500-mile journey covering many of the country’s most beautiful landscapes.
The entire northern and western coastline is extremely rugged, and offers the chance to wild camp on untamed beaches and even atop cliffs overlooking the ocean.
It is widely considered one of the best road trips anywhere in the world, not just in Europe. And to be honest, it’s not surprising why.
Helsinki to Lapland, Finland
If you are able to road trip Europe in winter, then my number one recommendation would be Finnish Lapland. If you can spare the time, then fly into Helsinki first, and drive the entire way north.
First experiencing Lakeland and then gradually entering the snowy wilderness further north.
Lapland at Christmas time is pretty much unbeatable. After all, it is home to Santa Claus! I recommend basing yourself in the city of Rovaniemi for a few days. From here, you can visit Santa Claus Village, see polar bears at a nature park, hunt for the northern lights and even stay in an arctic igloo.
As you drive north, not only do you get the chance to wild camp by frozen lakes and in snowy forests, you can even visit an amethyst mine, and along the way see hundreds of wild reindeer grazing by the road.
Check out more Ottsworld European Road Trips
13 Top Tips For Planning Europe Road Trips – Especially for Americans
1. Make sure you have the correct license
If you are visiting from another country within the EU, then your regular license should suffice. If you are coming from further abroad, like the US, then you may also need an International Driver’s Permit.
You will need to research this before your trip, ideally a month or more in advance. It can take time for these to be issued, and you don’t want to end up not being able to drive by the time you are due to travel to Europe!
By the way, there are countries in Europe that aren’t a part of the EU, and these have their own country-wide restrictions on license and driving requirements. There’s more info on this here.
2. Check your car meets legal requirements
If you are driving your own car into Europe, then make sure that it meets the legal requirements for all countries you are set to drive in. For example, all countries in Europe (except for Ireland, Malta, Cyprus, and the UK) drive on the right-hand side of the road.
If your car was designed for left-hand drive countries, then the lights will need altering. If not, they can cause glare for oncoming drivers. Also, most European countries require you to carry certain items.
These can include:
High visibility jackets for everyone in the car
Spare bulb kit
I recommend checking out this page on the RAC website. You can select any country from the dropdown list and it gives you a full breakdown of up-to-date requirements.
3. Consider renting a campervan
Hands down, the BEST way to road trip Europe is in a campervan.
One reason … wild camping! Across most European countries, wild camping is 100% legal. Meaning you get the chance to spend your evenings in truly mesmerizing locations, with often no one else around.
Another big bonus is that it saves you a fortune on accommodation. Hotels and even hostels across Europe are very expensive. Renting a campervan may be more expensive than a car, but it can end up saving you a lot of money across the trip.
4. Get off-the-beaten-path
Rather than sticking to main roads and typical tourist sites, I recommend heading off the tourist trail as much as possible.
This could be as simple a job as taking the smaller roads when heading between destinations.
For example, in France the toll roads are extortionately expensive. But there are the old roads that follow the same route, have no tolls, but take a little longer to get to your destination.
Not only do you save money taking the smaller roads, but you get to pass through small French villages and take in views that few other travelers get to see.
Similarly, if you are limited on time then don’t just head to the same major tourist sites that you know you’ll spend hours queuing to get into. Instead, find the smaller villages, or head up the mountains and into the forests.
When planning your adventures, I like to use Atlas Obscura. A website solely dedicated to weird and wonderful sites all around the world.
When visiting driving through Sweden, two of our favorite memories are from visiting their space station (which is in the middle of nowhere) and seeing the world’s largest knitted mitten.
Both pretty random right? Heck yeah, but no one else was there for either of those experiences and it made it all the more special. No websites talked about them, I only found them through Atlas Obscura.
5. Try to visit in the shoulder months
Peak tourist season in Europe usually fall in the summer months of June-August; though it does depend on which country you visit.
As a way to avoid the crowds and get more out of your visit, try to visit countries in their shoulder months; which lie just either side of these peak seasons. Not only are these countries less busy then, but accommodation is cheaper, and the weather can actually be more bearable.
One of the great things about Europe is that every country has different shoulder months. So do your research ahead of time and visit countries that will likely have fewer other tourists crowding the streets and attractions.
6. Research tolls ahead of time
We have been stung a few times when driving through Europe. As one of the big costs we never factored in were tolls.
Some countries don’t have them, but others do, and they are EXPENSIVE! France in particular, where to drive across the country from Calais to Switzerland cost us about €20 an hour, just in toll fees.
Norway is also really bad for this, as is the crossing from Denmark to Sweden over the Oresund bridge which cost us more than €85.
Not only do these unexpected costs eat into your budget, but they can also be very awkward to pay. Many of these toll points don’t have booths, or if they do then you’ll need to queue up for a long time to reach an attendant.
Instead, many countries in Europe allow you to pay these online ahead of time. Others ONLY allow you to pay online, and if you don’t then they issue a large fine. The responsibility is on you to spot the tolls and pay them.
7. Don’t schedule in too many miles each day
As a rule of thumb, we don’t schedule more than 2-3 hours of driving each day. Which, if your purpose is to “road trip”, might not sound very much.
Well, the reason is simple … there is nothing worse than feeling like you are constantly fighting to stay on schedule! It takes away from so much of the experience.
Many of our favorite moments driving through Europe have been had when we particularly liked a spot and decided to stop early for the night to wild camp.
Or maybe spend a few extra hours in a random town or village because their coffee shops are cute and we want to peruse the stores in the sun.
If you only have a week or two for your road trip, don’t take this to mean you need to squeeze in as much as possible. Instead, do the reverse. It is far more enjoyable.
Europe’s not going anywhere, you can always return next year to see even more!
8. Pick up a local sim card
Full disclosure, this is NOT so that you can check your Facebook feed 20 times a day! Instead, it’s just really helpful to have access to a data connection during your trip.
This may be to:
Pay a toll you’ve suddenly passed through
Update your map because you’ve gotten lost
Buy tickets for an attraction
Research wild camping spots for the night
And, let’s face it, a million other jobs along the way.
The great thing about Europe is that you can now pick up sim cards that are valid in all other European countries. We have sim cards with o2, which is a company from the UK. For less than £20 a month, we each get 150GB, which can be used anywhere in Europe, as well as a bunch of other countries around the world.
It also allows us to hotspot our laptops as we work and travel the world at the same time.
Different countries offer different sim card deals, but you will certainly be able to find something. You may even be able to grab one at the airport when you land.
9. Check local alcohol laws
If you’re partial to a few drinkypoos in the evening, then make sure to research local alcohol laws before getting back behind the wheel. Many countries in Europe have a zero-tolerance policy. Meaning, if you get pulled over and have even a trace of alcohol in your system from the night before, then you are in big trouble.
Similarly, even if you are wild camping for the night, then you are still legally “driving”. It all depends on the country and the police officer who may patrol you.
But if you are wild camping in Scotland for example and are over the limit (even though you have no intention of driving”, it is still considered “intent to drive” as you have the keys in the van. There are plenty of people I have read about online who have done exactly this and had their license taken away as a result.
10. Rent a small car if you aren’t used to driving in Europe
Be prepared to feel squeezed when you drive in Europe. If you’ve ever been there before, then you know that everything in Europe is smaller; the cars, trucks, and even the food portions!
European roads are more narrow than what most North Americans are used to. The shoulders are non-existent! Parking spaces and parking garages are also extra small. I remember a few tight spaces we barely got out of!
I recommend you use/rent a small car that is easier to maneuver in these smaller than normal roads and parking.
When I travel, I find the cheapest rental car rates at RentalCars.com. Check out their prices for a European road trip!
11. If you only drive an automatic, then make sure you ask for it in advance
Most Europeans drive manual transmission cars and that means that the majority of rental cars are also manual transmission.
If you don’t want a road trip crash course (no pun intended) in driving a stick, then make sure you ask for an automatic transmission car when you rent your car. European rental companies have a limited supply since they normally aren’t in demand.
And a little bit of bad news – be prepared to pay more for the rental if you ask for an automatic.
12. Don’t be afraid of the round-a-bouts
Another North American challenge in Europe is roundabouts.
Whatever the reason, Americans aren’t used to driving through roundabouts. You may want to brush up on the rules of a roundabout before you head out on your European road trip.
And remember, you can just keep on going around the roundabout until you figure out what to do…no judgement.
13. Prepare your road trip playlist!
Let’s end on a more upbeat note! Get it? Upbeat note …
That’s right, you should prepare an epic road trip playlist to accompany your adventure! All modern car and camper rentals will offer USB or Bluetooth connectivity. Meaning you can sync up your phone and bust out the tunes.
We have a few playlists we like to shuffle between, and even mix it up sometimes by listening to audiobooks.
Whatever takes your fancy! Either way, it’s great to have this sorted BEFORE you leave so you’re not streaming on the go and having to skip those pesky ads in between songs!
Check out the Ottsworld Songs for Great Journeys Playlist on Spotify
Well, that’s about it! My top Europe road trip tips, designed to help make any adventure through Europe more enjoyable.
Trust me, you are going to have a blast, no matter where you visit in Europe. It is such a diverse place with so much to offer any kind of traveler.
Now over to you …
Is there a particular road trip in Europe you are planning?
Or do you have any more tips you think I missed?
Let me know below!