There are lots of ways to travel the famous Route 66 in the US – from dedicated coaches offer Route 66 tours and self-drive trips to even taking the train! So, if you’re looking to travel along this icon American road, it’s worth knowing your options so you can plan the best Route 66 holiday, taking in the amazing landscape right up the California coast.

Route 66 is one of America’s original highways. Also known as the ‘Mother Road’, it passes through the heart of the United States across eight states from Chicago, Illinois to the sun-drenched beaches of California.


Route 66 tours are one of the most popular destinations on many a bucket list. It offers the chance to see archetypal American roadside scenes made famous by Hollywood – everything from neon signs, retro diners, low rise motels and middle-of-nowhere gas stations.

For many people, the best way to get your kicks along Route 66 is to drive this iconic route in a convertible Ford Mustang with the radio blasting classic songs. But if long periods spent driving this 2,278-mile (3,665km) long road doesn’t appeal, don’t worry.

There are lots of other ways to go on Route 66 tours, so there’s no need to miss out on a holiday of a lifetime.

We’ve rounded up the main options for travelling Route 66 – from Route 66 tours to letting the train take the strain.

Get the best from Route 66 holidays with our guide to planning your perfect historic Route 66 road trip.

Escorted Route 66 tours

Not everyone can or wants to drive, so escorted Route 66 tours by coach is a good alternative to a self-drive Route 66 holiday. Most escorted tours have a set itinerary, with pre-booked accommodation along the way. Most are on a room-only basis, though a few include breakfast along with the odd dinner or two at specific locations. Expect to pay for lunch, drinks and snacks yourself, however. Companies such as Titan and Virgin Holidays offer escorted Route 66 tours.

Itineraries for escorted Route 66 tours vary, though most take in the key destinations and attractions along Route 66. A typical tour lasts around 14 to 17 days. Group sizes can vary too. If you want to avoid being lost as part of a large group, look for firms that specialise in small travel group around 12 -14 in number.

Travel will be on coach, with commentary along the way. Coaches are usually fairly luxurious and you’ll have the benefit of taking in the scenery rather than concentrating on the road.

Advantages of escorted Route 66 tours

Far less hassle – With no need to plan your Route 66 holiday, you can just turn up and travel. You don’t have to book accommodation or sightseeing activities along the way, and there’s no need to keep an eye on travel time to ensure you hit your next rest stop.

Ideal for solo travellers – Route 66 can be a daunting trip to make solo by motorcycle or car. Escorted tours are ideal for inexperienced solo travellers, and a great way to make friends as you’ll be eating in the same restaurants and staying in the same lodgings. Don’t worry if you want some me-time – there are plenty of opportunities for time on your own at stops along Route 66.

Easier to budget – You’ll usually pay a single price for an escorted tour, and these typically include airport transfers, flights and accommodation. This can help you stick to your holiday budget – though you’ll need to factor in dining and drinks.

A good way to travel – You’ll have access to a tour guide who can provide interesting information about the places you’re visiting, and you can sit back and enjoy the ride in a comfortable air-conditioned coach.

Extend your holiday – While itineraries are set, your holiday doesn’t have to start or stop when the escorted tour does. Consider booking a few extra nights at the start or end destinations to extend your holiday.

Not sure if an escorted tour is for you? Our expert guide to escorted holidays: why choose an escorted tour will help you decide.

Disadvantages of escorted Route 66 tours

Less flexibility – Your itinerary is set so there’s no opportunity to explore a location for longer should you be interested in it.

Fast pace – You’ll be travelling every day to a new place, which can become tiring – and there can a definite whirlwind tempo to some escorted tours. After a week, it can feel like you’re being shepherded from place to place with little time to relax.

Can feel a bit shallow – While such whistle-stop tours allow you to sample lots of places along Route 66, you may end up just skimming the surface of each stop. By making your own way, you can really get to know each place.

Single supplements – Solo travellers may have to pay a single supplement, especially if you’re not willing to share accommodation with someone of the same gender.

Route 66 tours – self-drive

A self-drive tour is the most iconic way to travel this legendary road. It conjures up images of the open road, freedom and being able to explore Route 66 at your own page. You’re also not limited to hiring a car either. Whether you’re driving an open-top classic car, an RV or sitting astride a Harley Davidson, driving Route 66 is a pure adventure.

It’s also the easiest way to travel. In most cases, you can pick up a hire car, fill up with gas and head out along Route 66. You’ll need to ensure that your car hire arrangement allows for pick up and drop off in different locations. Some car rentals add a surcharge for different pick-up and drop-off points, so look for car rental companies that wavier this fee.

If you don’t fancy planning the entire journey, there are self-drive Route 66 tours that include accommodation and itinerary. Travel companies such as Virgin Holidays, Kuoni, Hayes & Jarvis and My American Holiday offer self-drive Route 66 tours.

Typically these are around two weeks in duration and include car hire, accommodation along Route 66, and flights. If you have the right licence, you can hire a Harley Davidson – although you’ll need to be prepared to pack far lighter than travelling by car.

Route 66 tours – self-drive advantages

A more personal experience – Travel Route 66 at your own pace, at your leisure, stopping to see the things you want rather than following someone else’s itinerary.

Tailor your holiday on-the-fly – By driving yourself, you can get off the beaten track and see parts of Route 66 that are less tourist-centric, stopping off at smaller towns and stops along the way.

More flexible accommodation – Driving gives a wider choice of accommodation than can be typically booked on a tour. You can choose from B&B, motels, hotels and even teepees. You can stay in small quirkier, historic hotels or retro style motels that are usually too small for coach tours to consider.

Cheaper accommodation – You’d think that staying in accommodation arranged by a Route 66 tour company would be cheaper but that isn’t always the case. Using sites such as Expedia, and TripAdvisor can result in far cheaper, more flexible accommodation, saving money.

Route 66 tours – self-drive disadvantages

It’s a long drive – Route 66 is over 2,200 miles long. To complete all of it and see things along the way means a lot of driving per day. Expect the route to take around two to three weeks including stops to do it properly. While it is possible to drive Route 66 in a week, driving at a 50mph (80 km⁄h) would take 46 hours of total driving time without traffic or stops, and you’d need to be spending nearly 7 hours a day behind the wheel. Not fun.

You’ll need a decent car – With a lot of miles to travel, opt for a spacious, comfortable car with air conditioning, cruise control and plenty of seat adjustments. You’ll need space for plenty for luggage as you’ll be living out of suitcases – and all of this can add to the overall cost.

You might miss out – Pre-planned itineraries ensure you get to tick off all the major stopping points on the way, whereas planning your own route might mean you miss out on spending optimum time at a destination, and the best times to visit. You’ll also miss out on the expert knowledge that many tour guides on Route 66 tours bring.

See our guide to How to plan a Route 66 holiday.

Route 66 tours by train

If you want to experience the legendary Route 66 but don’t want to deal with a long road trip, let the train take the strain.

America’s main rail passenger service is Amtrak, which runs a train service called The Southwestern Chief between Chicago to LA with stops in Kansas City, Missouri, Albuquerque, New Mexico and Arizona along the way. It is not directly parallel to all of Route 66 (only between Albuquerque and Los Angeles) but is the one train that offers the closest match.

The route passes through some lovely desert and mountain scenery, cutting through narrow canyons and red rock country. Service on the 40-hour route is daily.

There’s an option on Amtrak’s website to book a multi-city trip, but this allows only four destinations stops along the route. If you want to stop in more places, you’ll need to book it as two or more separate tickets for the various legs of the journey.

Advantages of Route 66 tours by train

Flexible timing – You can book your own ticket or a buy a 15 or 30-day rail pass, which gives you the freedom to explore the various stops along the route.

Go on a rail holiday – If building your own train itinerary doesn’t appeal, opt for a rail package holiday. Many travel firms offer train-based Route 66 tours. Amtrack offers its own 14-day vacation called Route 66 By Rail for £1,599 from Chicago to Los Angeles with stops at St Louis, Albuquerque, Williams, Grand Canyon National Park. It includes 11 nights’ hotel accommodations; 2 nights’ onboard Amtrak and 3 meals (1 breakfast, 2 dinners).

Amtrak trains have sleeper cars and dining cars – There are also observation cars – the ‘Sightseer Lounge Car’ – with large glass windows and ceiling so you can enjoy the stunning landscapes and sweeping vistas. Thanks to these communal areas, there is often a sociable atmosphere onboard with fellow travellers interested in the same sights as you, making it easier to make friends on board.

National Park Service guides – Thanks to a partnership between Amtrak and the National Park Service, the Trails & Rails programme offers educational activities at various stops along the route. National Park Service guides are onboard the Southwest Chief between Albuquerque and La Junta, Chicago and La Plata.

Disadvantages of Route 66 tours by train

For purists, travelling by train isn’t technically travelling Route 66. You’ll miss much of the actual Route 66 journey, and without a car, you won’t get off the beaten track and you may not see all that you’d like. And while you’ll need to stick to a rigid timetable, you’ll also need to factor in local transport at any stops you make. Finally, rail delays can happen and these can adversely affect your itinerary on a time-limited holiday.



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