Back when they were first introduced, cars embodied the freedom of the open road. You could drive anywhere, see anything. Times have changed, but the open-ended promise of driving hasn’t, especially when you’re travelling.
It’s hard to top the convenience of a self-drive vacation. You have all your accommodations, flights, tours, and even the car rental itself planned ahead by your travel advisor, but you get to drive yourself around once you’ve arrived in whatever country you’re visiting. This means you can stop where you want, when you want. It means freedom and convenience, which, if you’re an independent traveller like so many of us, is one of the great joys of travel. If you’re wondering which countries best accommodate a self-drive vacation, we have a few ideas.
1. New Zealand
New Zealand is possibly the prettiest country on the planet and the kind of country where you want to follow your fancy. That’s why it’s the ideal self-drive destination. Turn down that side road along the lake, stop off at a mountain for an impromptu hike. Oh, that café looks lovely—how about we grab lunch? If you love The Lord of the Rings as much as I do, you can stop off at filming locations during your journey. Explore the Hobbiton Movie Set near Matamata, drive to Wellington to go behind the scenes of Weta Workshop, then head to the nearby Putangirua Pinnacles, where the Paths of the Dead were filmed. There are plenty of self-drive itineraries available: cruise along the Bay of Islands, venture from Auckland to Wellington to Queenstown, or amble your way through wine country. In New Zealand, the open road never ends.
Lord of the Rings Self Drive
FIRST-CLASS | SELF-DRIVE: Tolkein fans rejoice! On this two week adventure you'll visit Middle Earth to experience the breathtaking, almost magical scenery where the epic “Lord of the Rings” trilogy was filmed. Along the way, explore and discover wonderful New Zealand, always remembering that "not all those who wander are lost".More Details
There are only two ways to explore Iceland: on a self-drive or a coach tour. Opt for the self-drive because it affords you the kind of freedom you want in this beautiful country. You will want to stop every five minutes because every kilometre is home to something amazing. This island nation is ringed by a highway known as the Ring Road, which makes it easy to navigate. Hit the Ring Road and explore at will. Every few kilometres, you’ll find towering waterfalls, glaciers, black-sand beaches, and Viking settlements to explore. Hitting the open road here is so enjoyable, you may never want to stop driving.
3. Costa Rica
You may not normally think of Costa Rica as a country to explore in your own car, but it’s a great option if you want to hit the open road in a warmer climate. This Central American country is one of the global leaders in eco-tourism, with over a third of the country enjoying environmentally-protected status, so it’s a great place to get back to nature. Drive into national parks where you can hike through cloud forests, stroll along the rims of active volcanoes, zip-line through the jungle, and get cuddly with a friendly sloth.
Costa Rica Elements Self-Drive: Arenal & Monteverde
MODERATE | SELF-DRIVE: Costa Rica is one of the most eco-friendly nations on earth. Here, roughly one-third of the country has been declared protected land, and eco-tourism is seen as an avenue to ensure the country remains pristine. Discover the incredible microclimates and jungles of Costa Rica on this weeklong self-drive adventure.More Details
History and nature collide in fabulous ways in Scotland, with spots all along the road demanding your attention. Spend days driving between castles, lochs, and glens, learning about medieval history in the morning before going for a hike in the afternoon. You’ll visit cities such as Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Inverness along the way, but the real appeal is unfettered access to the stunning landscape and its wealth of stories waiting to explore.
5. South Africa
You may think that Africa isn’t made for self-drives, but you’d be wrong. South Africa is a great country in which to rent a car and venture between diverse landscapes. You can start in Cape Town and explore the Cape Peninsula before ambling your way along the wine route, tasting celebrated vintages along the way (just be sure that the designated driver doesn’t partake in the libations). Later you can head into one of the national parks or reserves and see the incredible animals like rhinos, elephants, and lions that attract people from all around the world.
Like Costa Rica or South Africa, Malaysia may not be top of mind when considering self-drive destinations, but it’s a great country to explore by car. Start in Kuala Lumpur and work your way through the jungle on route to Langkawi. You’ll cross through mountains of terraced rice paddies, explore the Cameron Highlands, stop by the rainforest resort in Taman Negara, and have the chance to see several lovely temples along the way.
Malaysia Self Drive: Taman Negara, Cameron Highlights, Penang & More
FIRST-CLASS | SELF-DRIVE: This program gives adventurous travellers the opportunity to explore Malaysia at their own pace. Malaysia has some of the best roads in Southeast Asia. You may choose to drive on the excellent main highways, or turn onto coastal roads passing through sleepy towns and local scenery.More Details
Ireland is an easy spot to explore by car, because it’s small, meaning driveable, and friendly. You can easily drive to the big destinations like Dublin, Galway, and the Cliffs of Moher, but having your own car also allows the freedom to stop off at lesser-known spots like the pretty medieval village of Adare, with its yellow cottages and old ruins, or the Valley of the Two Lakes in Glendalough County. If you’re a huge fan of Game of Thrones, you can also drive across the border into Northern Ireland to see filming locations of the show like Castle Ward and the Dark Hedges of Armoy.
Where to begin in Australia? This is a perfect country to explore by car. You can drive through the Outback, stop off at surf spots on the coastline, explore one of the many wine regions, or cross the remote crags of Western Australia. Pick a region, say Victoria and the Great Ocean Road, and explore it on the open road. Stop off for hikes between visits to Melbourne, Geelong, and Twelve Apostles. Spend some time in Torquay or commit a day to venturing through the forests of Great Otway National Park. Whether you’re driving from Alice Springs to Darwin, Brisbane to Cairns, or the epic stretch across the Kimberley in Western Australia, you’ll find countless sites to explore at your leisure.
Denmark is a small country, but small is ideal when you have the freedom of a car. Start in Copenhagen to get a sense of why it’s called the happiest city in the world. Then head west to discover smaller cities and towns that aren’t included in most Scandinavian tours. In Roskilde, you’ll find viking museums and one of Europe’s largest music festivals. In Odense, you can learn about the life of Hans Christian Andersen, as he was born there. In Arhus, you can be a trendsetter and enjoy the cultural attractions of a city on the cusp of stardom.
Denmark Self-Drive: Copenhagen, Roskilde, Odense & Arhus
MODERATE | SELF-DRIVE: Denmark is a land of fairy tales, boasting colourful harbours, charming timber houses and impressive royal palaces. Visit the royal palace in Copenhagen, celebrate the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen in Odense and get your fill of museums in Arhus.More Details
Driving along mountain roads may not be for everyone, but if you’re undaunted by winding along the mountainside on the edge of a cliff, you should consider renting a car for a journey through Switzerland. When you’re on a self-drive, you’ll be looking out your front window for a lot of the time, so you’ll want to make sure you have something beautiful to look at. Luckily, in Switzerland, you get an abundance of stunning views no matter where you go. Stop off in cities to discover medieval old towns, go for hikes along alpine lakes, ride gondolas up to skiing resorts, and drive your way through the pastoral landscape of rolling hills and green meadows.
Classic Switzerland Self-Drive: Zurich, Lucerne, Interlaken & Bern
FIRST-CLASS | SELF-DRIVE: Discover the nature, history, and culture of Switzerland on this weeklong self-drive tour through the country. Heading from the banking center of Zurich to tranquil Interlaken to the capital Bern, you’ll experience the best that Switzerland has to offer.More Details
20 Jan 2020, 6:48 p.m.