Top 5 Atlantic Road Trips in Europe
When you think of road trips, you probably imagine the wide, open spaces and endless highways of the United States, but America is not the only destination in the Atlantic Ocean with epic drives. See our guide to unforgettable coastal road trips in Europe; then check out Nova Car Hire for cheap car rental in France, the U.K., and Ireland: You’ll be on the road in no time.
Pas de Calais, France (257km)
Rent a car in Calais, France, and head along the D940 via Boulogne, hugging the Côte d’Opale until it reaches Le Touquet. The 41.5km stretch from Le Touquet to Hesdin (D349) along the river Canche is one of the most picturesque drives you will enjoy in northern France. This loop then leads north (D928) to St Omer, before heading north-west back to Calais via Ardres (N43).
The highlights of this trip are the sweeping, sandy beaches and typically French, tree-lined roads. Admire the views of Dover at Cap Gris Nez, wander Boulogne’s cobbled streets, and browse the stylish 1920s boutiques of Le Touquet. Park up for the evening and sample the local rhubarb wine and St. Omer’s legendary beer.
Atlantic Highway, England (217km)
This drive starts in the pretty setting of Bridgwater’s Somerset Levels (J23), about an hour’s drive from Bristol, and heads west along the A39. Abandon your maps and soak up the exceptional views, with rugged hills on one side and spectacular coastal scenery on the other.
Initially, the road winds through photogenic Somerset villages such as Kilve and Holford. Stop at Nether Stowey, just off the A39, for a wander among quaint pubs and shops and a look at the historic cottage where poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge once lived.
The best section of the Atlantic Highway slices across Exmoor’s foothills as they plunge to the ocean. The drive ends in the Cornwall seaside haven of Bude, though you should wander on for the gourmet delights of Padstow or the surfer vibe of Newquay.
Delights of the Atlantic Highway include the picturesque hamlets of the Quantocks and Brendon Hills. Take a trip on Lynmouth’s water-powered cliff funicular railway for stunning views and wander off the route for the craggy coasts of Ilfracombe and Combe Martin.
You wouldn’t expect a little island like Ireland to have a route longer than California’s Pacific Coast Highway or South Africa’s Garden Route, but the Wild Atlantic Way extends a breathtaking 2,500km from Cork in the south via Galway in the west to Donegal in the North. Embracing what is arguably the most beautiful section of the Atlantic coast, the Wild Atlantic Way is something you can dip into and explore at your own pace.
It’s divided into five sections: Cork (350km), Kerry (350km), Clare (190km), Galway/Mayo/Sligo (520km), Donegal (460km). Tackle the Kerry section and your next stop is the United States: the coastal road at Slea Head on the Dingle Peninsula arcs around the most westerly point in Europe, with scenic gems including views of the Blasket Islands and the Skelligs.
The peninsulas of the Clare section are not so well-known, so that at times you actually feel you have the enormous sky and sea to yourself. The rugged landscapes are mind-blowing, with wave-whipped sea arches and lone lighthouses. Then there are the soaring cliffs and sugar-sand beaches of Donegal. It’s hard to decide where to start.
The Hebrides, Scotland (237km)
The Hebrides offer one of the U.K.’s great driving experiences. Take the ferry from Ullapool to Stornoway for the start of this stunning (if tortuously winding) 237km trip. Launch your journey by heading across the flat and sweeping landscape of Lewis to visit Stevenson’s lighthouse at the Butt of Lewis and Port of Ness fishing village.
Then head south past the ancient Callanish Standing Stones through a string of islands framed by towering mountains, roiling seas, mystical lakes, and magnificent white sand beaches. A definite highlight is the drive through the mountain pass of Harris, and you will also get a thrill as sea spray splashes your windscreen on the causeways threading the islands together.
Watch out for basking seals and open the windows to smell the wildflowers that line the roads in spring. Take time out from the car to enjoy a boat trip to Kisimul Castle on its own island off Castlebay in Barra, where the route ends. You can then take the car ferry back to Oban.
Rent a car in Bordeaux drive the rugged Atlantic surf coast for a completely different side of France to the manicured Riviera. It might be an idea to hire a car big enough for surfing equipment, as this is a route that encompasses breaks to suit even novice surfers (groms!) and most resorts offer lessons and rental equipment.
A hidden treasure on this drive is the Lacanau surf beach and club, flanked by forests and sand dunes and perfect for families. Continue south along the coast to the vibrant surf town of 4 Hossegor, near Capbreton. Local surf camps provide accommodation in the area, if you fancy lingering a little longer.
Give yourself a few days to enjoy the celebrated surfer haven of Biarritz, part of the BAB trio of Bayonne, Anglet and Biarritz and home to legendary surf breaks, pretty villages, and surfer dude hangouts. The main beach, La Grande Plage, has a reputation for its hollow waves and is suitable for all surfing abilities, but it does get pretty packed, so try the long surfers’ beach on the Boulevard du Prince de Galles – Cote de Basque. Arrive during low tide if you want sand.