Pulling over to buy tiny wild strawberries, foraged mushrooms, or dried buffalo meat from kids at a makeshift roadside stall. Stopping to swim in a sea cove or soak in hot springs at sunset. Sighting a coyote pup between snow-covered trees. Road-tripping is so much more than just the journey or the destination.

It is all about embracing the unexpected and marveling at the everyday. It is about getting giddy on the unknown and the joy of acting on impulse. Turning left instead of right. Ditching asphalt for bone-rattling washboard. It is about disconnecting the GPS and simply following your nose or an old-school crinkled paper map.

Some road trips are iconic: Route 66 across eight US states; Iceland’s Golden Circle; the Route des Grandes Alpes across the French Alps or the Riviera’s corkscrew corniches. Or Australia’s bucket-list Great Ocean Road; South Africa’s Garden Route; Vietnam’s Ha Giang Loop spun from ethereal paddy fields and crashing waterfalls.

But it is these six road-trip destinations that deliver world-class motoring, spectacular scenery, privileged access to wildlife, and side adventures to keep you busy for days. Hitting the open road here is not limited to one legendary route or itinerary. From short-and-sweet afternoon drives to exhilarating multi-day odysseys, these road-tripping stalwarts cover all bases.

As with any journey planning, consider the season (shoulder is always best, with quieter roads and less extreme temperatures) and your own travel mood (romantic open-top cruise; white-knuckle safari). Don’t forget to check the weather conditions and phone connectivity on the road ahead before belting up. Bonne route!

The A837 road, part of the North Coast 500 route, meanders past rivers and low hills in the glacial landscape of Assynt, with Quinag mountain in the distance, in the Northwest Highlands of Scotland
The roads that weave through the Scottish Highlands are among some of Britain's best © Joe Dunckley / Shutterstock

1. The Scottish Highlands: best for moody landscape

There’s a feral beauty to the Highlands’ sensual landscape which can render a road trip here as spellbinding as it is spectacular. Watch for wild deer and hairy ginger Highland coos straying onto the road; stick to the left (single-track roads included, of which there are plenty) and save the whisky drams for nightcaps.

Avoid busy July and August to enjoy sinuous roads beaded with silvery lochs, pristine glens and windswept sands in splendid isolation – perhaps bagging a Munro or kayaking at sea along the way. Scotland’s weather is famously capricious; always check road conditions.

The iconic North West 500, a 516-mile (830km) loop around the rugged northern coast from the highland capital Inverness, is the week-long classic trip, but there's more. The Great Glen Way, from Fort William to Inverness along the Caledonian Canal and storied Loch Ness, is the on-road version of the popular hike – same Ben Nevis views guaranteed. Thrill-seekers gravitate to the sinuous Snow Roads route in the mountainous Cairngorms National Park or the Applecross Peninsula’s heart-thumping Bealach na Bà – Britain’s steepest zig-zag of a road.

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The golden colour of vineyards in Burgundy in the fall evening light.
Take a road trip through Burgundy © Marco Bottigelli / Getty Images

2. Burgundy, France: best for wine lovers

Plotting routes around medieval villages and wine cellars, pairing playlists with pinot noir, breaking for a pee stop or lunch at a 16th-century chateau: Motoring in France doesn’t get more belle than in rural Burgundy. Producing some of the world’s most prized French wines, Burgundy demands you roll back your vintage 2CV roof and ribbon through world-famous emerald vineyards, sunflower-yellow mustard fields and story-book forests.

Road tripping here is French flânerie on wheels: whichever route you take, carefully honed or deliciously hapless, the wine-country ride is serene and elegantly picturesque. Regional capital Dijon is the place to pick up a hire car (classic or electric) and the 1930s motorist favorite Route des Grands Crus driving itinerary. Route de Crémant de Bourgogne is a 120km-long deep-dive into Burgundy’s sparkling wines, and Route 71 has southern Burgundy covered. Santé (and remember to spit when tasting).

You'll see locals, cyclists and more, even on a dirt road, on the Carretera Austral highway © Guaxinim / Shutterstock

3. Chile: best for epic wilderness

To head north or south – this is the eternal question for intrepid road explorers seeking South American adventure in long and skinny Chile. From the world’s driest, star-spangled desert and Pacific coastline in the desolate north, to Patagonian fjords and glaciers 2650-odd miles (4270km) south, landscapes here are colossal and exhilaratingly biblical.

Driving can be desolate and off-grid. The multi-day Carretera Austral is an unforgettable journey along every road surface known to mankind – paved, gravel and earth; pot-holed to death-defyingly precipitous – through out-of-this-world scenery (several nature reserves and national parks) from Puerto Montt in the Chilean lake district to Patagonian backwater Villa O’Higgins, 760 miles (1223km) south. Compass pointing north, buckle up in San Pedro de Atacama to blaze 4WD dust trails through Mars-red desert to smoldering volcanoes, steaming geyser fields, shimmering white salt flats and flamingo-pink lagoons.

A white four wheel drive vehicle descends the sand dunes between Walvis bay and Sandwich harbour, Skeleton Coast, Namibia
Road tripping in Namibia is a great adventure © Nikki Bidgood / Getty Images

4. Namibia: best for rare wildlife and family adventure

After being off-bounds for almost a century, driving across certain parts of the Namib dune fields – the oldest desert on earth – is still only possible by guided 4WD expedition. Yet this jaw-droppingly beautiful country of dramatic red sands, canyons, and crashing Atlantic waves on Africa’s southwest coast also delivers some of the continent’s safest, easiest, and most accessible self-driving.

Many roads are unpaved, but compensate by being laser-straight and panorama-heavy – this is ‘the open road’ at its thrilling extreme. Bag 4WD wheels (and roof-top tent to camp under star-studded dark skies) in Windhoek and drive north on the left to the Etosha National Park.

Park by a waterhole to watch the elite of African wildlife – cheetahs, elephants, endangered black rhinos, dozens more mammal species – amble by. Or hit the ocean to spot sand-mad gemsboks in Sossusvlei in the Namib-Naukluft National Park and sand-ski in Swakopmund. Fish River Canyon, with scenic hikes and hot springs to stretch and spoil stiff legs, is the road-trip star of the far south.

A car drives between the cypresses  trees of rural Tuscany during sunset with its headlights on
Roads curve and curl around the countryside in Tuscany, Italy © valio84sl / Getty Images

5. Tuscany, Italy: best for food and art

Forested truffle estate to third-generation winery, frescoed Renaissance palazzo to medieval monastery, sea-splashed vineyard to sun-toasted sands: whichever Tuscan road you wind along, dolce vita joins the dots. Spun from cypress-tree alleys, centurion olive groves and honey-gold hilltop hamlets, this green ‘n graceful region in central Italy is tasty slow-travel terrain – by car, campervan, e-bike, or glamorous Harley.

Key towns FlorenceSiena, and unsung Arezzo, brim with Renaissance art and architectural masterpieces. Romanesque abbeys, illustrious wine towns Montepulciano and Montalcino, and lazy Brunello-fueled lunches seduce in the rolling hills of Unesco World Heritage-listed Val d’OrciaChianti is a ludicrously good-looking wine country. If tangy olive oil is more your cup of tea, take your pick of 20 themed Strade del Vino, dell’Olio e dei Sapori di Toscana (Wine, Oil and Flavor Routes of Tuscany) driving itineraries.

A car drives along an empty road through California redwood trees.
Sequoia National Park is one of the amazing places in California for a road trip © Images Etc Ltd/  Getty Images

6. California, USA: best for mind-blowing variety 

As predictable a choice as it might be, little beats a Golden State road trip. Crank up the volume, hit cruise control, and drink in seamless vistas of sun-soaked sand beaches and crashing surf, snow-capped mountains and desert spotted with palms, wild canyons and rushing rivers, burnt-red Sequoia groves and forests of wizened old cacti.

Whether you’re after a celebrity city like San Francisco or SaMo, a historic trail following 19th-century gold prospectors, or rare marvels of nature ­protected by a flush of national parks (whimsical Joshua Tree and Yosemite crossed by the famous 64-mile Tioga Road), it is honestly all here.

The coastal San Diego-to-San Francisco Pacific Coast Highway via glitzy LA is California’s iconic classic-car drive – preferably done in a convertible. But America’s third-largest state sports enough memorable drives (63 designated scenic byways for starters – only North Carolina has as many) to keep open-road aficionados California-dreaming for weeks. Rattling along rock, dirt, and sand by rental jeep out of Furnace Creek in the hottest place on earth (aka Death Valley) is the ultimate off-roader.

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