Requirements: U.S. driver’s license
Maybe a drive that begins in your driveway doesn’t sound like the most adventurous idea, but the fact of the matter is this giant landmass is pretty hard to beat. It offers every type of topography you can think of, great routes both on and off paved roads, and nearly every imaginable climate. Licensing is easy and both cars and gas are cheap compared to the broader developed world. Just don’t speed. The big rub of driving here in America is that the archaic and often strictly enforced speed limits instituted during the gas crunch of the early 1970s remain in effect in many places.
Justin Sullivan – Getty Images
There are paved roads in Iceland, but you’re missing out if you stick to them. Iceland’s otherworldly topography demands exploration in something with four-wheel-drive and lots of ground clearance (may we suggest a Land Rover?). It’s easy to rent just the truck you’ll need to follow the myriad rocky roads and dry riverbeds across the small island, and you can have a great time traversing river crossings to witness waterfalls, glaciers, hot springs, and volcanoes. You will seldom come across another traveler, yet there is a strange sense of safety on the island that’ll keep you plodding along.
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And you thought the United States was the painfully obvious recommendation for this list. Hey, Germany may be a predictable choice but it merits inclusion. There are the remaining stretches of unrestricted Autobahn your friends keep bragging about, sure, but don’t miss the ancient architecture, rivers, and thick forests along Germany’s many rural winding roads. While you can blast away with just your U.S. license in pocket, strict local licensing requirements ensure a refreshing level of sanity among the native drivers. Not sold? Consider this: The famed, harrowing Nürburgring racetrack is actually a public road that you can lap for a fee, although be sure your car rental agreement doesn’t specifically disallow such behavior.
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No, we’re not going to recommend jumping the vast sand dunes just outside Riyadh while howling at the moon. But if you were going to, may we recommend doing so in a 4×4 you can’t buy in the U.S.? Maybe a hotted-up Nissan Patrol or a lifted Toyota Hilux? Or maybe skip that altogether in the interest of self- and vehicle preservation and stay on the pavement. Saudi Arabia is home to the world’s longest straight road, and the roads are impeccably paved, too. To find good driving roads, head to the mountains outside Taif and prepare to be blown away by miles upon miles of twists and vistas.
Hassan Ammar – Getty Images
Requirements: U.S. driver’s license, International Driving Permit
If you’re a regular Car and Driver reader, you won’t be surprised that the place that brought us Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, and Lamborghini makes our list. And you’re no doubt aware of Italy’s famous Stelvio mountain pass, an undulating road that looks like a piece of yarn scattered over the Alps by a fevered cat. You can pretend to be a vintage rally car driver along the ridiculously scenic Amalfi Coast. Heck, you may even have driven the Great Dolomite Road and Via Aurelia in one fell swoop. Even if you have, you should probably go do it again, preferably in something fast and red.
Frank Bienewald – Getty Images
If you thought Italy had a good mountain pass or two, its next-door neighbor Switzerland will leave you gobsmacked. Plan your route correctly and you can link one ridiculously good mountain road to the next, queueing up hours of driving nirvana until the Dramamine wears off or you run out of fuel (or both). Here are a few pass recommendations, in no particular order: Great St. Bernard, Furka, Simplon, Klausen, Susten, San Bernardino, Bernina, St. Gotthard. No matter which one you choose, it’s just as easy to slow down and soak in the fact that you’re cutting through hundreds of years of history, too. You could do worse than a car trip to the Swiss Alps.
A stark contrast from both the highly regulated American driving experience and the extreme civility and civil engineering you’ll enjoy on European roads, Mongolia is where you go to do . . . almost whatever. Those seeking drivable areas, not roads, can head there for unending vastness capable of providing every view you can think of. It’s advisable to spec a rugged vehicle with plenty of ground clearance and the stomach for a pothole or much worse. You’ll contend with just about every climate imaginable, so factor that in, too. If you play your cards right (or wrong), you might just end up somewhere nobody else has been.
Taylor Weidman – Getty Images
For its size, Australia offers a wealth of impressive roads. Gormanston Road on the west coast of Tasmania boasts the local nickname of “99 Bends” (locals pronounce that “binds”) for the number of twists and turns it offers, and Victoria’s Great Alpine Road and Great Ocean Road are also appropriately named. That’s not to mention the legendary off-roading opportunities, should you get sick of the roads altogether. You can get really off the grid in Australia, and there is a vibrant overlanding (car camping) culture to back you up.
In Norway, long and snaking highways are the name of the game. More than 1300 miles of these are classified as state scenic routes for their architecture, design, and views. Whether you’re looking for postcard-perfect fishing villages on the north coast, ancient archipelagos, or even a jaunt across the Arctic Circle, Norway offers it all. We won’t bother trying to help you pronounce any of these routes, such as the Helgelandskysten or Gamle Strynefjellsvegen (pictured here), but be assured you’ll have no trouble finding them.
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If you’re headed to northern Europe for Nordic adventures, why not tack on a stop in Finland? The country is frequently voted the happiest place on earth, and there must be something in the water, because they churn out world-class rally drivers like the U.S. Mint prints money. Those interested in drinking some of that mystery water can partake in some ice driving at one of the country’s excellent rally schools. Afterward, consider a night drive through Lapland to catch the Northern Lights (pictured) before you head home.
Thomas Niedermueller – Getty Images
Even though you will find no shortage of fine driving roads and world-class history anywhere in Spain, you should probably start in the north amongst the Pyrenees and against the northern Atlantic coast. After that, make your way southeast, near Barcelona, where the zig-zagging roads up to Montserrat (pictured) offer great driving and striking views of the sheer rock climb. And that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check out the south of Spain; the mountain roads up to El Chorro can be a good time, though you might try a weekday morning to avoid traffic.
Christian Ender – Getty Images
France has famous roads—Route Napoleon, the Millau Bridge, and the cyclist-jammed Col de Turini—but if you want to really drive, head near the Swiss border. The reason is as simple as it is in Italy: The Alps. Land somewhere like Annecy or Chamonix and get lost in the mountain roads. Finding your way out might just be the driving experience of a lifetime. Just keep an eye out for the cops—you’re not in Spain anymore.
Miguel Medina – Getty Images
Requirements: U.S. driver’s license, International Driving Permit to rent a car
A person can really get out of Dodge in Chile, and the country has the road network to pull it off. Light off-roading is easy (and sometimes necessary) in order to reach your destination, so it is an ideal environment for a little fun, rally-car-style dirt-surface hooning. The obvious destinations in Chile include Patagonia (it can’t be oversold) and the Atacama desert. You should drive both, but before you get that out there, try some of the mountain roads outside Chollay such as the one to Punta Colorada, which is beautifully paved and features more than 30 hairpin turns.
Andia – Getty Images
Requirements: U.S. Driver’s License
If Switzerland is the place to go for tightly coiled mountain passes, Scotland is where you find mile after mile of completely deserted, rolling country roads. Narrow and frequently lined with stone walls and packing hidden bumps and undulations, these roads demand that you choose your vehicle correctly and proceed with awareness. It isn’t tough to plan a route that hardly ever touches a freeway, and you can lace one twisting road together with the next.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t suggest taking a proper SUV into the Sahara Desert. This is a place truly unlike anywhere else on earth. And there’s nothing like seeing it off the road and with the freedom of your own transportation. It’s not all vast swaths of sand in Morocco, however. Despite its relative fame, the “N9” highway doesn’t get that busy as it snakes through the Atlas Mountains from Marrakesh to Mhamid, offering incredible views to boot. Or trace the Atlantic down the coast, powering through the hard packed sand on the beaches. Just don’t forget to slow down for checkpoints!
Dea / S. Vannini – Getty Images
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