Summertime is right around the corner. You’ve read “Roadtrip: Here’s All You Need To Know” and exhausted our top 10 road trips in the United States. Now you’re ready for something bigger. Like internationally bigger.
Europe is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, with a high season during the summer. It has some of the best scenic routes, views, and cities that are must-sees for any solo-traveling backpacker.
Because there are so many options, we have split our ultimate list into three parts. Here is part one of GlobeSisters’s list of the best road trips you should take in France and Spain this summer.
Marseille – Aix-en-Provence – Luberon – Avignon – Arles
Distance: 169 miles (272 km)
The Provence Region is a historic province in southeastern France, known for its stunning landscapes, rich medieval history, and cultural heritage. The region is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the south, the Rhone River to the west, and the Alps to the north.
Start your journey in Marseille, the largest city in Provence, and explore the old port of Vieux-Port and the iconic Notre-Dame de la Garde basilica for a stunning view of the city.
Head to Aix-en-Provence, the charming town known for its beautiful architecture, fountains, and markets. Take a stroll through the Cours Mirabeau, a wide avenue lined with cafes, restaurants, and boutiques.
Further north is the massif Luberon, home to unique hilltop village Gordes, a village perched on a rocky hilltop with incredible views of the surrounding countryside, and Roussillon, known for its red ochre cliffs that have been the subject of many paintings and its Ochre Trail.
To the west is the walled city of Avignon where Palais des Papes, the former residence of the popes in the 14th century and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, stands. The famous 12th century bridge Pont d’Avignon also crosses the Rhone River and offers beautiful views of the city.
Finally, Arles is a Roman hotspot, boasting one of the most well-preserved Roman amphitheaters, the Arles Antique Museum, Romanesque and Gothic churches, and the home of the great painter Vincent van Gogh.
Orleans – Chambord – Blois – Amboise – Tours – Chinon
Distance: 112 miles (180 km)
The valley of chateaux is a must-see in France. If you’re looking for the best views of castles, medieval towns, food, and wine, this is a drive you have to take!
Start in Orleans, the city of Jeanne d’Arc. The Maison de Jeanne d'Arc is dedicated to the life and legacy of the famous French heroine who liberated the city from the English in the 15th century. Close by, the Cathédrale Sainte-Croix is a stunning example of Gothic architecture and is famous for its beautiful stained glass windows.
Chambord is a little village but it is home to the most famous and spectacular chateaux in the valley. The Château de Chambord was built in the early 16th century as a hunting lodge for King Francis I and is the most visited French castle by tourists.
Our next castle is the Château de Blois, which is a beautiful Renaissance-era castle in Blois that was once the residence of seven French kings. Visitors can take a guided tour of the castle that spans four different eras and hosts a range of cultural events throughout the year, including music festivals and art exhibitions.
Then there’s Amboise, the resting place of Leonardo da Vinci. His tomb lies in the royal castle of Château d'Amboise and his home is the beautiful mansion of Clos Lucé. Several other historic sites include the Château de Chenonceau that spans the River Cher and the Château de Chaumont that sits atop a hill overlooking the Loire River.
The heart of Loire Valley is the city of Tours, with great access to the banks of the Loire River. It has the Cathédrale Saint-Gatien, the stunning Gothic cathedral that dates back to the 12th century with access to the bell tower and a crypt. There are plenty of museums like Musée des Beaux-Arts that houses a world-class collection of art by some of the world's most famous artists, including Rembrandt, Rubens, and Monet.
Finally, the medieval town Chinon holds the Royal Fortress of Chinon with access to its dungeon! Maison de la Rivière is an interactive museum dedicated to the wildlife and ecology of the Loire River. And if you’re looking for a wine stop, Chinon’s vineyards are the place to go.
Rouen – Honfleur – Bayeux – D-Day Beaches
Distance: 113 miles (182 km)
Normandy is a region of historic events across multiple eras, from Joan of Arc’s feats to the D-Day landings of WWII.
Start at the historic city of Rouen by the Seine River. Its Rouen Cathedral starred in many paintings by Claude Monet, and the Place du Vieux Marché was where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake. Don’t miss the astronomical clock the Rue du Gros Horloge either!
“Jewel of Normandy” Honfleur was the favorite place of 19th-century artist Eugene Boudin, who has an art museum dedicated to him in this coastal town. At the heart of Honfleur is Vieux Bassin, or Old Harbor, surrounded by picturesque buildings and boats. Also don’t miss the largest wooden church in France, the Sainte-Catherine Church that dates back to the 15th century.
Bayeux is close to the D-Day beaches, so it holds cemeteries and museums dedicated to the Allied invasion of Normandy. The city is most famous for its 70-meter-long Bayeux tapestry at the Centre Guillaume-le-Conquérant that tells the story of the Norman Conquest of England in 1066.
Finally, the untouched 54-mile D-Day beaches, with Sword in the east and Utah in the west, are preservation of one of the key battles in world history, Operation Overlord. Omaha beach was one of the most heavily fortified beaches during the D-Day landings and was the site of fierce fighting that left behind remnants of the war, including bunkers and gun emplacements.
Seville – Cordoba – Granada – Ronda – Jerez de la Frontera
Distance: 400 miles (642 km)
Andalucia is Spain’s southern iconic region and possibly the most famous, known for flamenco and bullfighting.
The region’s most famous city is Seville, regarded as the birthplace of flamenco; be sure to see a flamenco show at one of the many venues in the city. The Cathedral of Seville, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world and houses the tomb of Christopher Columbus
Next up, the Moorish city of Cordoba includes another UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Mezquita. This mosque-cathedral features famous horseshoe arches and a forest of columns. Be sure to visit the Mihrab, the prayer niche that indicates the direction of Mecca. You can view the Mezquita on the Roman Bridge from the 1st century that crosses the Guadalquivir River.
Near the Sierra Nevada mountains is Granada, famous for the Alhambra Palace and one of Spain’s most popular tourist sites. This palace and fortress complex was built by the Moors in the 14th century and features stunning architecture, beautiful gardens, and fountains. Be sure to see the Nasrid Palaces, the Court of Lions, and the Generalife Gardens.
The gorge near Ronda is best viewed on the Puente Nuevo, one of the most famous landmarks in Ronda built in the 18th century. Ronda is also known for its bullfighting tradition, and the Plaza de Toros is one of the oldest and most famous bullrings in Spain.
Finally, get your wine and spirits from Jerez de la Frontera’s Sherry Wineries, especially Bodegas Tio Pepe. Consider the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art, an equestrian school that preserves the traditional horsemanship of Andalucia. Visitors can attend a performance or take a tour of the stables.
Bilbao – San Sebastián – Pamplona – Vitoria-Gasteiz
Distance: 174 miles (281 km)
Basque Country covers northern Spain and a snippet of southern France and features a landscape of mountains and beaches that is very different from the metropolises of Spain.
One of the two most renowned cities in Basque is Bilbao, where you must see the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao known for its stunning architecture and impressive collection of contemporary art. The Old Town of Bilbao, also known as the Casco Viejo, is also a historic district with narrow streets, beautiful architecture, the Plaza Nueva, and the grand covered market Mercado de la Ribera.
The second of Basque’s best cities is coastal town San Sebastian. La Concha Beach is crescent-shaped, crystal-clear, and golden-sanded, and the San Sebastian Aquarium located at the end of La Concha Beach is home to numerous species of marine life from the Bay of Biscay. Be sure to check out the shark tunnel and the giant octopus tank.
Pamplona is the capital of the Navarre region and hosts its annual festival of San Fermín that features the famous Running of the Bulls. During the festival, bulls are released onto the streets and participants try to outrun them. If you're not up for the adrenaline rush, you can still witness the spectacle from a safe distance.
Finally, we arrive at the capital of the Basque Country, Vitoria-Gasteiz. Visit its Casco Viejo district and the Virgin Mary statue in Virgen Blanca Square. The sprawling Salburua wetlands and the beautiful La Florida park are great green spaces to enjoy the natural beauty of Basque.
Santiago de Compostela – A Coruna – Lugo – Ourense
Distance: 174 miles (281 km)
It might not be teeming with tourists like Barcelona, but that’s also what makes this underrated road trip in Galicia more enjoyable. It also boasts a fair share of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. If you’re looking for some real countryside and coastal vibes, this is the place!
Santiago de Compostela is the capital of Galicia. Its cathedral is the final destination of the famous Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route and home to the remains of Saint James the Apostle.
Coastal city A Coruña holds another Spanish UNESCO World Heritage Site: the Tower of Hercules. This ancient Roman lighthouse is the oldest working lighthouse in the world, and you can even climb to the top for panoramic views of the city and the sea.
We cover a fourth Spanish UNESCO World Heritage Site in Lugo: the Lugo Roman Walls. These extensive ancient walls are the best preserved example of Roman fortifications in Spain, andyou can walk along the top of the walls for great views of the city.
Finally, the small town of Ourense has the ancient hot springs of As Burgas at the heart of the city, as well as thermal baths!
That concludes part one of the ultimate list of this summer’s best road trips in France and Spain! Looking for more? Part two of this list explores famous roads in the central European countries of Germany and Italy. Or skip straight ahead to part three, where we head across the English Channel to the United Kingdom and Ireland.