Why road trip, you may ask? When planes can get us there so much faster? When taking an Uber can allow us a few more hours of precious screen-time on social media?
So much of our lives has become rushed, hectic, or filled with long-lasting bouts of coasting on auto-pilot. A road trip helps us slow down, have a look around, stop to take a peek into unknown shops and roadside food stands, or a little drive off the main drag to see where a hidden road leads. It gives us a perspective of the wonder for our beautiful world: the texture of the siding on a barn in the middle of nowhere, a herd of cattle or a lonesome field, the stark contrast of the mountains silhouetted against the setting sun. It sparks conversation with locals in tiny restaurants, admiration of the handiwork of a local craftsman in a hidden shop you just can’t resist stopping into, and photos you might have missed if you weren’t so focused on the road ahead of you. It’s good for the soul.
I don’t think I’ve laughed harder, or bonded more than on a roadtrip. My mom and I drove cross-country from the East Coast to California one year, singing at the top of our lungs to Barenaked Ladies as we wove our way across the U.S. We did it again years later, and both are some of my most cherished times with her. We made random stops at tons of memorable, and not-so-memorable spots, but every detour was filled with wonder and curiosity and lots of exploration. I learned more about my family and its history on those trips, the early years of my parent’s marriage, and my mom’s dreams for the future. Even the long, drawn-out silences were precious, as one of us dozed or stared off into the flatlands of middle America; just knowing we were together was joyful in its own right. I’ll never regret those trips or the things I discovered in my solo time with my mom. Every year, I try to schedule time to make a short, or long trip, to a new location to get back to that slow, curious and easy way of travel, alone or with my family. The trips never cease to bring me joy.
I hope you can take the time to try this mode of travel too, with a loved one, a best friend, or on your own. Below, I’ve included two of our team’s favorite road trips, from what to see and how to make the most of the journey. See if you can plan time for your own 2020 roadtrip; it’s sure to bring you closer to your loved one, your best friend, or your own fabulous company.
One of the most spectacular roadtrips, by our standards, is a journey in Iceland to see the Northern Lights. What could be more spectacular than seeing Europe’s highest glacier, getting to know some Viking lore, and floating in geothermal waters, surrounded by steam wafting into the arctic air?
On this trip, we suggest flying into Keflavik International Airport, which will put you within a 30-mile drive to Reykjavik. Our tour (like all the ones below) includes the car (and accommodations); pick it up and head towards your pre-booked hotel in Reykjavik. Along the way, make a stop at the Blue Lagoon, famous for its soothing geothermal waters. The temp of the water hovers around 100 degrees Fahrenheit, so there’s no worries about getting cold… except on your trips in and out of the water. With temps in spring and summer hitting the mid-40’s, it’ll be chilly. But in the lagoon, and the surrounding spa, it’s fabulous. If you have the time, book a massage on a float.. right in the lagoon. It’ll be one of the most memorable massages you’ve ever had.
When you reach Reykjavik, check out the old town, where you’ll find museums and galleries, or, take a stroll down the main shopping streets of Laugavegur and Skolavordustigur.
Next, take the drive to scenic Borgarfjordur via the Hvalfjordur tunnel, or take the scenic coastal road. It won’t add much time to your trip and is definitely worth the detour. Once you reach Borgarfjordur, stop to take in the natural wonders and Viking history. Then head on to Borgarnes, where you can learn about the first Viking settlers at the popular Settlement Museum. A must-see on the route is Deildartunguhver, known as Europe's most powerful hot spring, and two of the nearby waterfalls, Hraunfossar (the Lava Falls), where melted water from a glacier flows through interesting lava formations. At Barnafoss (the Children's Falls) there are spectacularly brilliant blue waters. You can also take a dip in a hot spring at the new Krauma natural geothermal spa, near Deildartunguhver. The spa is known as a "fire and ice" experience since it combines Deildartunguhver's hot spring waters with cool spring water that originates from the Ok glacier.
If you’re visiting in the winter months or around the vernal and autumnal equinoxes (March 21 and September 21), you’ll have the best chance of seeing the Northern Lights. Of course, they’re a natural phenomenon, so conditions need to be just right for the best sightings. But a trip to Iceland is well worth it, no matter what.
Head on to Langjokull Glacier, where you can see a man-made tunnel built into the icy-blue heart of the glacier. You can reach the tunnel by taking an adventurous ride up the glacier in a monstrous 18-wheeled vehicle. Or, take a guided cave visit into the colorful Vidgelmir lava cave. If you’re a culture junkie, visit Reykholt, home of a medieval chieftain who penned some of Iceland's greatest Sagas. And if you love horses, check out Icelandic Family Horse Farm, where you can take a tour and learn about Iceland's unique horse breed. For lunch, stop into the farm’s cafe where you can try home-made rye bread baked in a nearby hot spring.
Continue on to Snaefellsnes: this peninsula is Iceland in a nutshell. It contains most of the different landscapes found around the country all in one location and is home to Snaefellsjokull National Park. Be sure to set off early, and stop at the Arnarstapi sea cliffs and the rocky beach of Djupalonssandur, the crown jewel of the peninsula. Legend has it, the mountain is home to a benevolent half-troll guardian, so prepare to do some negotiating if he emerges. From here on, you’ll pass fishing villages and Kirkjufjall, the most photographed mountain in the country.
Next, visit Thingvellir National Park, and the mind-blowing Gullfoss waterfall, formed by the waters of a glacial river. Stop into Laugarvatn Fontana for another drip into the hot springs, if you have the urge; healing steam simmers directly from the ground through grids in the cabin floors of this wellness center, where nature meets tradition.
Along the south coast, one of Iceland's main farming areas, keep an eye out for shaggy-haired herds of Icelandic horses along the Ring Road. The magnificent waterfall Skogarfoss is well worth a stop, and the Skogar Folk Museum, well known throughout Iceland for being the best of its kind, preserved in old turf-roofed buildings. From the road, you’ll also see a black sand beach, the black basalt columns of Reynisdrangur, and Europe's largest glacier, Vatnajokull. Vatnajokull National Park, Western Europe's largest national park, has an endless array of things to do. Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon, known for its blue, white, turquoise and black-streaked icebergs, is sure to delight your Instagram followers and Game Of Thrones devotees. Or hit Diamond Beach, where icebergs sit on black sands, which has also made a sensation on social media.
Seljalandsfoss, a waterfall that you can walk behind, is a must, and for lunch, stop at the historical Skyrgerdin (Skyr Factory), a cafe built in a former dairy factory. The cafe has restored the original factory and makes skyr (a delicious, low-fat Icelandic dairy product) the old-fashioned way.
Finally, head back to Keflavik for your departure. All of this can be done in about 8 days, but of course, the journey is yours. If you choose to take a long, slow trek and enjoy days at each destination, so be it! It’s your roadtrip! To learn more about this trip, click here. To see another of our Iceland journeys, check out Classic Iceland or the Iceland Grand Tour.
Those who love great food and great wine will never be disappointed in Spain. The food culture, while always fantastic, has blossomed into a world-renowned phenomenon of late. Below, we detail some of our most beloved food and wine areas, in a 7-day drive through Madrid, La Rioja, and Basque Country.
Fly into Madrid, where you can grab your car and get underway. Along the trek to the Ribera del Duero wine region, take in some of Spain’s Castles, while cruising through the Rueda Appellation of Origin. If you’re going to stay in Spain, why not do it the authentic way? We recommend the Cistercian 12th-century monastery, in the center of the Ribera del Duero.
Next drive along the Golden Mile, where internationally acclaimed wineries, with hundreds of years of experience perfecting the art of winemaking can be found. Enjoy a traditional meal at a local restaurant in the heart of the Duero region, made with fresh, local ingredients and age-old recipes. Continue on to Castile the next day, stopping in Burgos along the way. Burgos, an extraordinary city steeped in history, is famous for its astounding architecture, rich culture and of course, delicious cuisine.
Finally, head to the world-famous Rioja. You can take a walking, or biking tour of the vineyards in the area, and test your wine knowledge with the local winemakers and sommeliers. Head on from there to the medieval village of Laguardia, well preserved within its city walls. Stroll the cobblestone streets, admire the beautiful facades and the old-world charm the village has to offer. If you choose, you can also take advantage of the local spa treatments, hiking, biking, air balloon, rafting or canoeing.
La Rioja is internationally acclaimed for its fine wines, with over 500 wineries found in the province; however, the region is also closely linked to the famous Way of St. James, or El Camino as it is commonly known. The Santo Domingo de la Calzada Monastery and San Millan are well worth the visit, as is the seaside city of San Sebastian in Basque Country. You’ll see stylish art nouveau buildings, ornate bridges, manicured parks and plazas here, and the unique language, culinary traditions and distinct geographic and cultural landscapes of the Basque region are fascinating to explore.
Further on is San Sebastian, once a fishing village, it is now a cosmopolitan coastal city with a strong Basque characteristic and exquisite gastronomy. Its excellent restaurants boast a total of 16 Michelin stars, so if you were holding off indulging this is the place to dive in. The old town of San Sebastian, famous for having the highest concentration of bars in the world, is the perfect place to sample typical pintxos (pronounced "peen-chos"). Pintxos are similar to Tapas, held together by toothpicks. Accompanied by cider, txakoli, beer or wine pintxos will satisfy the most demanding palates.
Toward the end of your journey, head along the coastal road, where you can stop into cozy fishing villages until you reach the largest city in the Basque Country, Bilbao. The medieval old quarter of Bilbao, popularly known as the Seven Streets, is filled with cobbled streets, charming corners and squares. A must-do before you depart Spain is a visit to the Guggenheim Museum, featuring works by Spanish and international artists. Even if you’re not an art fan, it’s worth a look: the building, designed by Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry, is hailed as one of the most admired works of contemporary architecture, and frequently named as one of the most important works completed since 1980 in the 2010 World Architecture Survey among architecture experts.
We hope you’ll take the time to make your own road trip this year. If we can help in any way with your journey, let us know. We’re always here to help. And be sure to look out for new and existing self-drive tour itineraries for Ireland & Scotland coming in 2020!