From bustling city centres to treacherous cliff sides, Europe is home to some of the most fascinating, historically important, and best driving roads in the world. Knowing that, we thought we’d take a step back and look at some of the most iconic roads in Europe. These include bustling shopping streets, historic landmarks, dangerous hairpin turns, and one that isn’t even really a road (but who’s checking right?). Some of these are generally considered ‘streets’ in that they are meant for public interaction while others ‘roads’ meaning they are used for transportation. Still, they are all equally fascinating. Read on to discover some of the roads you simply must visit or drive on in Europe.
Location: Paris, France | Length: 1.9 kilometres | Construction: 1670
The Avenue des Champs-Élysées is one of the most well known roads not just in France, but the entire world. Running from the Place de la Concorde (known for it’s obelisk) to the Place Charles de Gaulle – famous for the Arc de Triomphe – the Champs-Élysées is one of the most iconic central landmarks in the city, and that’s saying a lot for a place like Paris.
Prior to Louis XIV, the area generally consisted of fields and gardens. Over the next century, the boulevard was gradually constructed and rows of trees (that remain to this day) were planted to line the sides. Near the end of the 1700’s, the Champs-Élysées had become a fashionable route. Napoleon Bonaparte further enhanced its pedigree by beginning construction on the famous Arc – thought it was not be completed while he was in power. The Avenue is closely linked with military history. German troops marched down the Champs-Élysées in celebration in 1871 and 1940 but the procession of the Free French 2nd Armored Division on August 26, 1944 after the liberation of Paris is perhaps its most joyous event.
Today, the Champs-Élysées is home to many upscale shops and popular establishments (including a prominently located McDonalds). Many other international brands now have a home on the street, much to the chagrin of local officials. Despite this, the Champs-Élysées remains one of the most iconic roads in Europe and is a required stop when visiting the French capital. You’ll quickly see why it’s known as “La plus belle avenue du monde” (“The most beautiful avenue in the world”).
2. Appian Way
Location: Rome and nearby cities, Italy | Length: 565 km+ | Construction: 312 BC
The Appian Way was a famous long distance road used during the period of the Roman Republic. Named after and begun by Roman censor Appius Claudius Caecus, the Appian Way connected Rome to the city of Brindisi off the coast of the Adriatic Sea among other neighbouring regions. The road was initially meant help ease the transport of troops outside the immediate vicinity of Rome, and as such, it was crucial to Rome during the Second Samnite War.
Some of the most famous events to have taken place on the Appian way include; the crucifiction of Spartacus’ slave army in the Third Servile War and the Battle of Anzio during WWII – which led to Allied victory. Many sections of the Appian Way are still accessible and even drivable. It’s easy to see why the poet Statius once said “Appia teritur regina longarum viarum” – translated to “the Appian way is the queen of the long roads”.
3. Abbey Road
Location: London, England | Length: 2.1 km | Construction: Early 19th Century
Abbey Road may not have the historical pedigree of some of the other streets on our list, but it is no less iconic. Thanks to The Beatles, Abbey Road has become a music icon and landmark for fans of the fab four. The album cover for the band’s 11th studio album ‘Abbey Road’ (released in 1969) features the now famous image of the four band members walking single file on a crosswalk.
The Abbey Road Studios is still located on the street, and has played host to many famous bands besides The Beatles. The crosswalk itself has become a popular tourist destination, with many Beatles fans imitating the famous photo – despite the fact that Abbey Road remains a busy thoroughfare. Beatles fans are so enamoured with Abbey Road, that the street sign has been mounted out of the reach of pedestrians due to persistent graffiti. We recommend Abbey Road as a pilgrimage of sorts for any Beatles fans who find themselves in London. As Roger Bowdler, head of designation at English Heritage, said, “they [the studios and the road] remain a Mecca for Beatles fans the world over.”
4. Stelvio Pass
Location: Northern Italy | Length: 21.5 km | Construction: 1820-1825
The Stelvio Pass is the second highest road in the Alps at 2747m above sea level and is by far the best driving road on this list. Stelvio Pass was even once named by the television show Top Gear as the greatest driving road in the world, and it’s easy to see why. The view over the surrounding mountains and valley’s is breathtaking as you climb ever higher.
48 hairpin turns make the Stelvio Pass exhilarating to drive but also means you must be aware of what’s coming up at all times. Still, if you’re up to it, snaking your way along the Stelvio Pass will be one of the most memorable driving experiences you can find anywhere on earth. This is why it’s one of the most iconic roads in Europe. Former Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson summed it up when he said, “The Stelvio Pass… 15 miles of asphalt spaghetti draped on an alp. It was stunning.”
5. La Rambla
Location: Barcelona, Spain | Length: 1.2 km | Construction: 1440 (approx.)
This street in Barcelona has become the centre of life in the Catalonian city over the centuries. From its less than glamorous beginnings as streambed filled with sewage, La Rambla has become a hotspot for tourists and locals alike. After the sewage was diverted in 1440, the street began to grow into the epicenter of Barcelona. Festivals, markets, sports, and many other gatherings are commonplace along La Rambla. The street is largely pedestrian, so shoppers and sightseers don’t have to worry about cars.
La Rambla is perfect for shopping as it runs lazily past shops and stalls selling flowers, souvenirs, and much more. Cafés, bars, and restaurants line the road offering Catalan delicacies and cool drinks. There are also renowned theatres and opera houses for those looking to experience some of Barcelona’s unique culture. Unfortunately, like all tourist hotspots, pickpockets are common, but that shouldn’t stop you from visiting. As Spanish poet Federico García Lorca said, La Rambla was “the only street in the world which I wish would never end.”
6. The Grand Canal
Location: Venice, Italy | Length: 3.8 km | Construction: Since 9th century, indeterminate
This is kind of cheating, and it’s the third one on this list from Italy, but that doesn’t matter because the Grand Canal is amazing. It’s not really a road, but it has served Venice as the main thoroughfare and form of transportation of goods and people throughout the city for centuries. More than 170 buildings from the last 700 years are found along it’s shores and tell a story of what was once one of the most powerful cities in Europe.
Today, the Grand Canal is still a bustle of activity, though mainly geared towards tourists. Gondoliers still offer rides (albeit expensive ones) to people looking to explore the waterways. Vaporetto water taxis are also available to ferry people around the Grand Canal and Lagoon. Historic bridges, including the famous Rialto, crisscross the canals. Together, it all works to create a lasting impression of the city as one of the most romantic in the world. Venice is one of the most unique cities on earth, and this is in no small part due to the Grand Canal. As Truman Capote said about the city itself, “Venice is like eating an entire box of chocolate liqueurs in one go.”
If you’re just looking to let loose slightly closer to home, check out our Top 5 Party Streets in North America. What European roads have made an impression on you?
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