You’ve probably heard people profess their fondness for getting behind the wheel and taking off on an unplanned trip. They see “the road” as an attraction in an abstract sense. At the same time, some streets are so eye-catching or strange that they’ve become more than a connection between point A and point B; they are attractions in and of themselves. A few of these offbeat avenues pass through mountains and at least one goes through the middle of a building. Then there’s a European highway with a bridge that appears to have been inspired by a Dr. Seuss illustration, and an interchange in Asia that has a roller coaster-like design.
Measuring less than a mile, the Guoliang Tunnel in the Taihang Mountains is modest in length, but it has become one of the most notable roads in China. The tunnel cuts through the rock, but sections run past gaps in the mountainside. Watching traffic from a distance, viewers can see vehicles repeatedly disappear into the tunnel and appear again as they pass each of the gaps, which locals call “windows.” The history of the tunnel is almost as amazing as its “windows.” It was constructed in the 1970s so that residents in the remote Guoliang Village, in an interior valley, could access the outside world without having to walk a dangerous footpath hewn into the mountainside. Most of the work on the tunnel was performed by 13 villagers, who used drills, hammers, and chisels to dig the route over a five-year period. The resulting tunnel, which is wide enough for a bus, has become a tourist attraction as well as finally providing the village with much-needed access to the outside world.
According to the Guinness Book of World Record, New Zealand’s Baldwin Street in the South Island city of Dunedin is the world’s steepest residential street. At its steepest, near the top, the slope is 19 degrees (or a rise:run of 1:2.86 meters). The average rise-run ratio for the entire length of Baldwin Street is 1:3.41. Other streets have made similar “steepest in the world” claims, but Guinness currently recognizes Baldwin as the steepest. The street has become a tourist attraction, with pictures of people trekking up the slope going viral on social media. Locals like to celebrate the unique roadway as well. The Baldwin Street Gutbuster is a footrace up and down the hill, while the annual Chocolate Festival involves a decidedly more offbeat contest during which competitors roll chocolate-centered hard candies known as Giant Jaffas down the hill.
Norway’s Atlanterhavsveien, or Atlantic Road, seems to collect superlatives. It has been referred to as the “world’s most beautiful drive” and the “Norwegian construction of the century” (not to mention being dubbed one of the “best places to mend a broken heart” by Lonely Planet). There are plenty of highlights for road trippers on this short drive along the Scandinavian coastline, but one of the most thrilling is the “Road to Nowhere.” The Storseisundet Bridge is the longest of eight bridges on the Atlanterhavsveien. It is quite oddly shaped, with a steep upward curve at its top. It appears almost Seussian when seen from a certain angle. Drivers cannot see the abnormal curve when on the road. In fact, they cannot see the road on the other side of the curve at all. The bridge appears to disappear, and it looks like any car that attempts to cross it will simply fall into the water. This is, obviously, an optical illusion. The strange shape is meant to give large ships room to pass under the bridge.
Winston Churchill Avenue
Winston Churchill Avenue provides access to the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar. The road intersects with the main (and only) runway at Gibraltar International Airport. When commercial and military planes land, traffic is stopped and security barriers are put up to keep vehicles from crossing. Though plans for a tunnel under the runway are in the works, Churchill Avenue is currently the only way to get from Spain to Gibraltar, so there’s no way to avoid the runway. Traffic stops for a few minutes at a time whenever a plane lands. Despite repeated delays, a new under-airport tunnel is slated for completion in late 2018. Luckily, the airport is not overly busy, with several hundred “movements” (takeoffs and landings) each month, peaking during summer vacation season. There’s really no way around this unusual intersection.
Nanpu Bridge Interchange
The Nanpu Bridge helped Shanghai kick off its efforts to become one of the world’s largest cities. The bridge is one of the spans that connect older Shanghai with the newer Pudong area, negating the need for slow and tedious ferry trips. The bridge’s multi-lane interchange is part “spaghetti junction,” part dizzying roller coaster. It spirals between the bridge and the ground, requiring vehicles to make two orbits before even reaching the exits for city streets and highways. The space-age look of this automotive spiral staircase doesn’t seem out of place in this city. The bridge was built in the 1990s, which makes it relatively old by Shanghai standards.
The Magnetic Hill in Ladakh, a region in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, seems to defy the rules of gravity. The hill is located on the main highway in the region, so anyone driving through this part of India will encounter it. Despite its name, it has no special magnetic (or magical) properties. Rather, the surrounding slopes create a kind of optical illusion that makes it appear like cars are traveling uphill, when, in fact, they are rolling downhill. The hill has become a tourist attraction. There is even a sign that announces where it begins and tells drivers how to experience the illusion. If they put the car in neutral at the “starting line,” they will gently roll forward, seemingly uphill, at a few miles per hour.
Trollstigen, Trolls’ Path, is a narrow mountain road in western Norway. It snakes up the mountainside and features a series of hairpin turns. When seen from higher elevations, the road resembles Silly String randomly sprayed on the valley walls. In reality, the road was carefully constructed and supported with stone. Trollstigen is closed during the winter and usually only passable between May and October. Thanks to the thrilling curves and views of the mountain range and waterfalls, this is a popular road. About 150,000 vehicles travel on Trollstigen each year; the number has steadily increased yearly since the road was built in the 1930s.