For millennia the road has been mankind’s main medium for transport, and our highways reach everywhere from the sands of the central Sahara to the snow-capped summits of the Himalayas. These are the world’s most remarkable roads – some stunningly beautiful, others eye-openingly intrepid.
1. Transfagarasan, Romania
Controversial opinion: Romania houses probably the best road on the planet. That’s what Jeremy Clarkson thinks anyway, as he crowned this barely pronounceable highway over the Carpathian Mountains his number one drive on Earth during a memorable episode of Top Gear. Ninety kilometres of tight turns round rocky crags, Tranfagarasan packs in a bit of everything: steep hairpin bends, tunnels hundreds of metres long, and even a drive-by view of Poenari Castle, once home to Vlad the Impaler.
2. Eyre Highway, Australia
Traversing vast tracts of the Australian outback, Eyre Highway is one of those roads you could draw on a map with a ruler, and makes this list for being remarkably un-remarkable. A case study in vanishing points, this Roman-style road travels 145 kilometres without a single bend – almost certainly the longest corner-less stretch of highway on Earth. An exciting drive it is not, and the biggest challenge for truckers is staying awake.
3. Guoliang Tunnel, China
A white-knuckle drive if ever there was one, Guoliang Tunnel is hewn from a vertiginous rock face deep in the mountains of Henan. Built in the 1970s with hammers and chisels in an effort to connect an adjacent village to the outside world, the passage remains treacherous and drivers should handle with care. We’re not experts on Chinese road safety regulations, but whatever they are we’re pretty sure Guoliang Tunnel is exempt.
4. James Dalton Highway, Alaska
Often called the world’s loneliest road, the 666 kilometre James Dalton Highway starts just north of Fairbanks, and terminates at the inspiringly-named Deadhorse on the shores of the Arctic Ocean. Used almost solely by truckers travelling to northern oil fields, the mostly gravel track requires extreme caution, and featured in NBC show America’s Toughest Jobs. Drivers have nicknamed the most dangerous stretches, including Oil Spill Hill, Oh S**t Corner, and a series of steep climbs known as the Roller Coaster.
5. Tianmen Mountain Road, China
The polar opposite of the Eyre Highway, the Tianmen Mountain Road in Hunan Province lays a decent claim to being the world’s most winding, with a frankly ridiculous 99 bends punctuating its 11 kilometre. Oddly reminiscent of the Great Wall of China, the road leads up to Tianmen Cave, a giant hole between two rock faces also known as ‘Heaven’s Door’. A popular spot for extreme driving events, former Le Mans 24 Hours winner Ho-Pin Tung set a record in 2018 by reaching the summit in nine minutes 51 seconds.
6. Civic Musical Road, California
Surely among the most unusual roads around, this Californian causeway is a treat for your ears rather than your eyes or wheels. Certain sections of tarmac sport grooves which, when driven over, create rumbles with distinct musical tones. The result is meant to sound out the William Tell Overture, but marginal miscalculations left the theme noticeably out-of-tune.
7. Trollstigen, Norway
It’s impossible to take a bad photo on Trollstigen, a mountain road snaking up the steep-sided Stigrøra hill, peaking at 858 metres above the valley floor. Literally translated as ‘the troll’s path’, the route features 11 individually named hairpin bends. There’s a viewing platform at the top, but the road itself is the attraction, drawing several thousand visitors a day during high season.
8. Magnetic Hill, India
Part road, part optical illusion, this seemingly simple roadway in Ladakh, India, looks like it defies the laws of gravity. Cars left at one end of the road appear to be rolling uphill thanks to the layout of the surrounding scenery, even though they’re actually rolling down. The road has become a major tourist attraction, and there are now markers on the tarmac showing where to position your vehicle for the greatest effect.
9. Atlantic Road, Norway
Island hopping across 8.3 kilometres of the Norwegian Sea, this aquatic causeway is nicknamed ‘The Road in the Ocean’ and crosses bay, moorland, ocean and outcrop. Part of a designated ‘scenic route’ opened in 1989, the road is popular with tourists, and is dotted with brightly coloured cottages and cafes. The bridges – all seven of them – draw particular praise, seamlessly following the meandering curves in the road.
10. Stelvio Pass, Italy
The highest paved pass in the Eastern Alps, clocking in at 2,757 metres above sea level, Stelvio Pass might also be the most hairpin-heavy, with 75 turns packed densely across its north and south sides. The road that Transfagarasan overtook to become Clarkson’s favourite, the pass enjoys an apocalyptic reputation among cyclists, and is often a notoriously nasty stage in the Giro d’Italia.