Driving guides

Easy Road Trips for First Timers

The excitement, adventure and freedom of a road trip starts with the planning

Just thinking about a road trip is exciting – the idea of hitting the open road, making up your own rules and creating a carefree, bespoke adventure is one of the main reasons people choose self-drive holidays in Europe. If you’ve never organised a road trip before or you’re looking for spontaneous road trip ideas, planning a trip to Belgium or holiday in northern France is a good place to start.

Taking your own car and using Eurotunnel Le Shuttle means you’ll arrive in Calais in just 35 minutes; from there, roads lead further into France, and to Belgium, Germany, Spain and beyond.

If this is your first European road trip, start with a shorter drive to northern France or Bruges. Or you could even just pop to Calais itself for a spot of shopping on a fun day trip.

Here are three of the best road trip ideas for first timers:

The French riviera on your doorstep

Where: Le Touquet
Distance from Calais: 70.2km / 52mins
Best for: Seaside charm

A black dog looks at an empty beach in Le Touquet

Le Touquet should definitely be on your France to-do list. It’s the perfect mix of French and English, with fromageries and pâtisseries next to fish and chip shops and pubs. Less than an hour’s drive from Calais, the wide, sandy beach and relaxed riviera feels like a different world. Parisians come here to escape the city for the weekend and everything is geared up for outdoor living.

There is an endless list of things to do in Le Touquet, from beach bars to sports including horse riding, cycling, tennis, sailing, surfing and swimming. With fares on Eurotunnel Le Shuttle priced per car, rather than per person, a road trip here with friends or family is both simple and affordable. For £19 each way, your dog can even join you for long walks along the sea wall promenade.

Stray from the beach and take a walk down Rue Saint-Jean, a pedestrianised shopping street with a mix of familiar brands, boutiques, craft stalls and a king’s choice of places to eat and drink. You could spend all day wandering up and down, stopping off at a café to sample a delicate pastry or fill up on frites and bière. Work off lunch with a climb up the iconic Le Touquet lighthouse for the best views in town. Before you leave, grab some goodies to take home from the Marché Couvert. The covered market can be found flaunting its wares of fruit, veg, wine, cheese and bread at bargain prices two or three days a week, depending on the season.

A picture-perfect Belgian city

Where: Bruges
Distance from Calais: 116.1km / 1h 19mins
Best for: Medieval history

Colourful medieval buildings line a canal in Bruges and are reflected in the water

If you want to try something a bit different and are looking for spontaneous road trip ideas, consider skipping France completely and planning a trip to Belgium. Believe it or not, the friendly, laid-back city of Bruges is just over an hour’s drive from Calais, following a simple and picturesque route passing lush green fields and small villages.

The quaint and historic city looks like it jumped straight out of a children’s book. Think topsy-turvy houses painted all colours of the rainbow, cobbled streets and thatched roofs. Winding around the city is an intricate network of canals, and tourists can take a casual boat tour for around €10, which is a great way to get a feel for the place. If you fancy some fresh air and have a bit of energy, rent bikes and cycle to the edge of town to follow the path of the ancient windmills, one of which – Bonne Chiere – was built in 1844.

Back in the city, the history tour continues with the famous Belfort, a 13th-century belfry standing proudly in the main square. If you look closely, you’ll see the bell tower is leaning to one side, but you can still climb to the top. A short stroll will take you to the Church of Our Lady, home to Michelangelo’s renowned sculpture ‘Madonna and Child’, believed to be the only sculpture to have left Italy during the artist’s lifetime.

Baskets full of Belgian chocolates in a shop

If you prefer your museums quirky, the Frietmuseum is a surprising highlight, showcasing the history of the humble French fry. To end your trip on a sweeter note before driving home, try Belgium’s most famous export: its delicious chocolate. There are chocolate shops everywhere, as well as a chocolate museum, exhibitions and galleries. Sample a few bites from different stores, then go back to your favourite to bag up some tasty treats to take home.

Bargains on the border

Where: Cité Europe
Distance from Calais: A five-minute drive from our Calais terminal
Best for: Shopping

View of Calais’ Hôtel de Ville set in landscaped gardens with flowers

Sometimes, the best road trip ideas are the ones you keep simple and easy. Did you know that Calais itself has quite a lot to offer for a holiday in northern France, without travelling too far afield? Known as a place to bag a bargain on discounted wine, Champagne, beer and food items, the destination lives up to its reputation.

First stop should be Cité Europe, a huge shopping centre close to the Eurotunnel Le Shuttle terminal that has over 120 shops, a Carrefour hypermarket and more than 15 restaurants. Travelling by Eurotunnel means no strict baggage fees on luggage, so you can take home a boot full of bargains.

For a more authentic shopping experience, peruse the open-air markets at Place d’Armes in Calais’ old town. Much of the old town was destroyed during World War II to protect England from a German invasion, but some of the original buildings still remain. The stunning Hôtel de Ville, the grand town hall of Calais, was inaugurated in 1925. This striking building has a colourful history, including hosting the wedding of Charles de Gaulle, who went on to become president of France. Climb to the top of the elaborate clock tower and on a clear day you might even be able to see as far as the White Cliffs of Dover.

The Museum of Lace and Fashion, which is inside a former lace factory, tells the story of the area through the intricate fashions that dominated 19th- and 20th-century France. There are some beautiful displays and interactive workshops on how garments were created by hand or on classic machinery.

Are you feeling inspired to take to the road? Remember, book a ticket with Eurotunnel Le Shuttle early to secure the best fare.