Cruise along the Mediterranean Sea, and traverse through the mountainous landscapes in the Pyrenees Mountains and the Central Alps. This ~1,000-mile road trip takes you from Barcelona, Spain, up into Andorra, along the southern coast of France, into Monaco, and northward up Italy, into Liechtenstein, and ends in Zurich, Switzerland.
While there are a number of different road trip routes to take in Europe, we suggest this as an optimal and intermediate-level trip. Sun-soaked coastlines, open countryside, quaint old towns, and towering mountains amid countless waterfalls trickling down the mountains with forts and towers constructed high up into the mountains await you across this journey. Immerse yourself in history while having abundant opportunities to indulge in local cuisine and wines. Here’s how to get started.
IN THIS GUIDE:
Travel Tips and Practicalities
Travel at your own pace. Depending on time contraints (or lack thereof), you can spread this itinerary across two, three, or even four weeks. This road trip starts in Barcelona, Spain, and ends in Zurich, Switzerland partly due to the ease of flying into and out of Barcelona (BCN) and Zurich (ZRH).
You can check flight deals on flights into either city here. Renting a car or arranging private transfers will be your most convenient option. Browse rental car options that you can drop off and return at many of the stops we mention below. Browse options on Viator for flexible customizable private transfers with local drivers with the option of adding side trips.
NOTE: Before traveling, visit each country’s respective Embassy website for the most current visa and tourist information and monitor the ever-changing Covid-19 restrictions and regulations. Stay current and confirm all openings.
Barcelona, the capital city of Catalonia and the largest city on the Mediterranean coast, is located on the northeast Iberian Peninsula. Transcendent and unique architecture flourish throughout Barcelona. Antoni Gaudi is Catalan’s most famous and beloved architect. His distinctive style is portrayed with voluptuous multi-colored buildings complete with vibrant mosaic tiles. The Basilica de la Sagrada Familia is perhaps the most celebrated work of Antoni Gaudi and a must-see. The Casa Batlló, Casa Milà, and Park Güell are a few other well-known buildings designed by Antoni Gaudi. Purchase tickets to Sagrada Familia in advance to ensure a spot as tickets are often sold out.
RELATED: 5 Architectural Wonders You Must Visit in Barcelona
As described by Winetraveler’s Lori Zaino covering gorgeous city parks in Europe,
“The whimsical structures designed by Antoni Gaudi make Park Güell a very unique place to visit. Meander past flowers, trees, giant gingerbread houses, tiled benches reflecting the sunlight, even a giant mosaic lizard as you soak in the mystical mood the park emits.”
The lively Gothic Quarter is the oldest part of Barcelona and the historical center. Don’t miss the famous Las Ramblas street, the amazing gothic cathedral, the Catedral de Barcelona, or the Plaça de Sant Jaume, which is the city’s political center. The Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar is another stunning example of gothic architecture that is worth a visit.
Ciutadella Park, Barcelona’s largest park, is a popular public space for its abundant greenery and its showcase of monuments. It’s also the home to the city’s zoos, a lake, museums, and a fountain designed by Antoni Gaudi.
Get by the waterways via a visit to the Port of Barcelona and sunbathe on the sands of one of the beaches.
The Hotel Colon and H10 Madison are located in the heart of Barcelona and boast views of the Barcelona Cathedral. The Catalonia Park Güell Hotel features a rooftop pool and is great for those wishing to be closer to Park Guell.
RELATED: 7-Day Spain Itinerary: Drive the Mediterranean Coast – Valencia, Alicante & More
Andorra la Vella, Andorra
Andorra is a small independent principality located in the Pyrenees Mountains sandwiched between the borders of Spain and France. Andorra is known for its ski resorts and tax haven status. From nearly anywhere you venture in Andorra, towering mountains surround you. Stroll the cobbled streets, visit the Església de Sant Esteve, an old stone church designed with beautiful 13th-century murals, stained glass windows, and a bell tower, and the Casa de la Vall, a historical manor house of the General Counsel of Andorra. Make a point to go somewhere elevated for the views. There is a short trail by the aforementioned church that you can follow for panoramic views. For those traveling with kids, the Plaça del Poble Playground, located on the rooftop of a building in the heart of the capital, is sublime. Watch your kids play while soaking in the mountain views. Visit vineyards and taste Casa Auvinyà wines (Reservations are required).
The Holiday Inn Andorra has all the comforts while being just a ~5-minute walk to many of the top sites. The Andorra Park Hotel offers spectacular views, a spa, a Nordic sauna, indoor/outdoor pools, and a gym, along with a restaurant.
Montpellier is situated in southern France a short distance inland from the Mediterranean Sea. It is a place where cafés, markets, shops, art galleries, churches, dining, and wine options abound. Louis XIV made Montpellier the capital of the Languedoc region, which is notably famous for wine.
Stroll the narrow pebbled streets in the historic city center, Ècusson. Feel the bustling energy in the expansive oval-shaped plaza, Place de la Comédie. Visit the Saint-Pierre Cathedral, a Gothic cathedral with twin conical towers constructed in 1364 initially as a monastery. The elegant Triumphal Arch, built in honor of Louis XIV, is near the Palace of Justice and the Promenade du Perou. The Promenade offers a beautiful setting and includes a mounted statue of Louis XIV on horseback headed toward Spain, a water tower, and the Saint-Clement Aqueduct.
Jardin des Plantes (botanical gardens), Carré Sainte Anne (a deconsecrated church used for exhibitions), Èglise Saint-Roch de Montpellier, a church dedicated for Saint-Roch, the patron saint of Montpellier, and Montpellier’s zoo are a few other things to add to your list.
Indulge in French cuisine while in Montpellier. Winetraveler’s Kristy Wenz recommends Trinquefougasse O’Sud that centers on pairing wines of the region with local dishes, and Le Petit Jardin that offers seasonal French cuisine in a quaint spot near the Saint-Pierre Cathedral.
The Best Western Hotel le Guilhem, a renewed 16th-century house, emanates historic charm while being just a ~3-minute walk from the Saint Pierre Cathedral.
RELATED: Languedoc Itinerary: Essential Wineries, Hotels & Restaurants Near Montpellier & Pézanas
The sun-drenched town of Nice rests off the pebbly shores of the Baie des Anges on the French Riviera. It is an idyllic place to experience leisure blended with art and history dating back to the ancient Greeks. Start the morning with a visit to the Cours Saleya Market to energize with fresh produce and maybe get your special someone some flowers and try regional delicacies. Meander through art museums, and admire churches, such as the St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Cathedral, the Basilica of Notre-Dame, and Nice Cathedral. Stroll arm-in-arm along the Promenade des Anglais with your sweetheart and soak in the sun’s rays along the pebbled beach. Head up the steep hill at the Parc de la Colline du Château for expansive panoramic views of the Promenade des Anglais.
Hotel Suisse is situated between low mountains and the turquoise waters of the Mediterranean Sea along the French Riviera where the beach curves on the Promenade des Anglais. The balcony rooms overlooking the promenade are perhaps one of the best places in Nice to enjoy a glass of wine. The hotel is near the #ILoveNice sign and walking distance to the port, Place Massena, and old Nice.
RELATED: France’s Provence Wine Region – Examining the Sights, Flavors and Famous Rosé Wine
Monte Carlo, Monaco
Monte Carlo, marked by soaring cliffs rising out of the crystal clear turquoise waters of the Mediterranean Sea along the Côte D’Azur, is known as the playground for millionaires. Images of glamour and wealth often come to mind when thinking of Monaco. Monaco is a small city-state perched on the Mediterranean on the French Riviera. To put its size in perspective, Monaco is smaller than New York’s Central Park. It has been independent since 1297 with the Grimaldis as the royal family.
Megayachts, luxury shops, hotels, and nearly incomprehensible wealth surround you at every turn. Panoramic views of the Port of Monte Carlo are offered from the Prince’s Palace since it is located high on a cliff. The Prince’s Palace is the official residence of the Sovereign Prince of Monaco and has been the residence of the Grimaldi family since the end of the 13th century. The nearby Saint Nicholas Cathedral (aka Saint Nicholas Cathedral) is where Prince Rainier III married Princess Grace Kelly (a famous American actress from the 1950s).
The iconic grand and lavish Casino de Monte-Carlo is a must even for non-gamblers to appreciate the architecture and décor. The casino has been featured in several films, including a couple of James Bond movies. Discover the underwater world at the Musee Oceanographic de Monaco, home to an estimated 6,000 species of sea creatures.
Winetraveler Tip: The inaugural Formula 1 race in Monaco was in 1929. The Monaco Grand Prix is generally held around the US Memorial Day holiday. Getting around will be more difficult due to road closures since the Circuit of Monaco track wraps around the narrow city streets. Hotels book well in advance. Plan accordingly depending on whether you wish to attend.
The luxury hotel options in Monte Carlo are plentiful. If you stay near the Prince’s Palace and the Cathedral, note that there is a strictly enforced noise ordinance at night. The elegant Hôtel Hermitage Monte-Carlo, located in the heart of Monaco, has a spa, and a Michelin-starred restaurant.
Genoa, well-known for its once-expansive city-wall and a ferocious fleet of sailors and warriors during the Middle Ages, is a port city that rests on the Gulf of Genoa on the Ligurian Sea in northwest Italy. It is still famous for its marinas, ports, and shipyards, and hosts a wealth of piazzas, palaces, and cathedrals.
The main square in Genoa, the Piazza de Ferrari, has a beautiful large fountain as its centerpiece and is surrounded by historic buildings, such as the Palace of the Doges and the Carlo Felice Theatre. Meander through piazzas, the Galleria Giuseppe Mazzini (a classic walkway), the Porta Soprana (a towered gate in the old walls), tour cathedrals, such as the San Lorenzo Cathedral (aka Genoa Cathedral), and dine and wine by the port. Learn about Genoa’s history as a major naval power at the Maritime Museum. Enjoy a blend of history and views at the Albertis Castle and the Forte Begato.
The NH Collection Genova Marina is located at an enviable location in the Old Harbor and within walking distance to the city streets, historic areas, and the largest aquarium in Italy, the Aquarium of Genoa. Many rooms offer balconies overlooking the marina.
Milan is a walkable city known for churches, basilicas, fine art, fashion, and design. The authentic things to do in Milan as previously covered by Winetraveler author, Lori Zaino, include: exploring the canals of Navigli, the Duomo, eat some of the best pizza in the country, see Leonardo Da Vinci’s famed painting The Last Supper at the Santa Maria delle Grazie church, and indulge in gelato. Winetraveler’s favorite cocktail bars include Rita & Cocktails and Mag Cafe, and top gelato picks include Gelateria Oasi, Frozen, and Gelateria della Musica.
Winetraveler Tip: As previously covered by Lori Zaino, Winetraveler “recommend[s] planning to see [The Last Supper] sooner rather than later, which is in a rather fragile state due to years of wear and tear and a couple of botched renovation attempts.” To admire this painting, purchase tickets to the Santa Maria dell Grazie church in advance.
RELATED: 10 Essential & Authentic Things To Do in Milan, Italy
Lake Como, Italy – Cernobbio
The small town of Cernobbio is an enchanting place to discover Lake Como. The majestic lake is tucked between lush forestry and surrounding hills and mountains. It naturally exudes charm while being near the city of Como. Stroll the waterfront, hike up into the hills or mountains around the lake, explore the old town featuring Roman and medieval elements, admire the famous villas such as Villa d’Este and Villa Erba (visits by appointment only) and their mystical gardens, and indulge in fine dining with local wines by night. The movie Ocean’s Twelve included scenes from Villa Erba.
Stay at the quaint Asnigo Hotel located high above Lake Como. Breathtaking views of the lake surrounded by lush mountains are offered from the common areas, as well as from private balconies. Travelers desiring to splurge on ultra-luxurious accommodations can look into staying at the opulent Villa d’Este overlooking Lake Como that has been praised for its gardens, cuisine, celebrations, and décor.
The small landlocked country of Liechtenstein, at roughly 62 square miles, is surrounded by breathtaking Alpine scenery rising above the Rhine Valley. Liechtenstein is only one of two countries in the world that are doubly landlocked (i.e., a landlocked country surrounded by countries that are also landlocked). The Vaduz Castle is prominently displayed on a hilltop and is the residence of the Prince of Liechtenstein. Walk up to the castle for panoramic views of Vaduz and the Rhine Valley.
Learn about the country’s history at the medieval Gutenberg Castle, and visiting any of several museums, such as the National Museum, the Walser Museum, the Küefer-Martis-Huus, the Postage Stamp Museum, and the Traditional Farmhouse Museum. Outdoor adventurists can go hiking, cycling over the Rhine via the Old Bridge, or skiing (depending on the time of year). Taste local wine at the Cellars of the Prince of Liechtenstein Winery.
Be welcomed by stunning views overlooking the grand Alps and down into the valley with a stay at the Hotel Kulm in Triesenberg, Liechtenstein.
While the cosmopolitan yet medieval city of Zurich, Switzerland is a convenient city to fly home from for purposes of this itinerary, it is also a must-stop. Winetraveler’s Greig Santos-Buch highlighted the top things to do in Zurich as a stop along the 3 Week Central Europe Itinerary for Active Travelers.
“Take a stroll by the lake, enjoy a glass of Swiss Chasselas or Blauburgunder wine and take in the crisp alpine air, or stroll through the back alleyways of Old Town with its cobblestone corridors and quaint shops and restaurants.”
Bahnhofstrasse is a world-famous shopping street. Explore the city on foot, by bicycle, or take a boat cruise. Find more ideas and tips here.
Three major churches in Zurich include the Fraumünster, the Grossmünster (a personal favorite), a Romanesque-styled church, and the St. Peter-Kirche, a church with the largest clock face in Europe. Head up to Uetliberg for panoramic views of Zurich.
RELATED: Switzerland Wine Guide – Discover Swiss Wine & Regions
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What an awesome trip that would be! Some of my favourite places there – and others I’ve longed to visit for a long time, like Andorra and Lichtenstein 🙂 Another thing to note about Genoa is that it’s the birthplace of Christopher Columbus.