World Class: Top 8 Cities For Driving
Okay, it’s counter-intuitive. We’re meant to celebrate the open road, the scenic route, the coastal highway. To get us into cities, the world has invented commuter trains, park + ride schemes, bike lanes. But city driving is still necessary – as hire-car users know – and can be enjoyable and even exhilarating if you do it at the right time and in the right frame of mind.
Lancashire born Chris Moss is an expert in Argentina and has visited every South American country at least once. Having spent over a decade in the Argentine capital, he returned to the UK and now writes online for The Guardian, The Telegraph, Wanderlust and Condé Nast Traveller magazines.
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But how? Well, for a start, think like a psychogeographer: cities grew up around pedestrians first, then horses and carriages, and then cars. The roads, bridges, signage and even the bottlenecks are key elements of the urban landscape. Also, think of driving as flaneuring on four wheels: take it slowly, safely, serenely and soak up the views. Finally, films and books have made city streets iconic –through the windscreen, you have a ready-made private film of contemporary life.
Sydney By Sunrise
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Sunrise in Australia’s biggest city and cultural capital is when the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House are at their most glorious. Before the commuter traffic streams in to clog the expressways, this is the time to cross the bridge and explore streets originally laid out by aboriginal residents and then renamed after British towns, colonial officers, industries and flowers. One of the most pleasant aspects of Sydney is the number of yacht-filled wharves and sandy inlets – even a mile or two from the centre and you’ll feel your beach-urges coming on.
Easy rides: Within comfortable driving distance of the city centre are the Featherdale Wildlife Park- a great family destination full of native species – the Symbio Wildlife Park at Doonside and the bushland of the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. The Blue Mountains are just an hour away.
Berlin By Autobahn
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The German capital specializes in sites associated with the great heave of history: the neo-classical Brandenburg Gate, bombastic Reichstag, monumental Karl Marx Allee and, above all, the ultra-capitalist Kurfürstendamm, which had its golden age, jazz age, art age and every other age in the 1920s. You’ll see very few sections of the old Berlin Wall these days, and even fewer Trabant cars, but there is something about the grey roads of this great city that still evokes the old divided days. Note: the city’s environmental policy means only low-emission cars are allowed in the centre.
Easy rides: Bad Saarow is a spa town on the Scharmützelsee lake, a favourite weekend retreat for Berliners. Alternatively, put on some Kraftwerk and take the long road to Munich on Autobahn 9 – the first to be completed, back in 1941.
Buenos Aires By Night
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With a claim to being the home of the world’s widest avenue – 9 de Julio – and longest street – Rivadavia, Buenos Aires (or BA as the many expats who live there call it) can be fun for four wheels. Just ask any taxi-driver! The key is to avoid rush hours getting snarled up in the narrow, one-way streets of downtown. Avenida del Libertador has the width and wallop of a home straight on a racing circuit and a fast spin come nightfall takes in extensive parklands and some stunningly illuminated monuments and statues. The Costanera Norte riverside avenue is lovely too, with views over the River Plate.
Easy rides: Just beyond the fringes of BA are the pampas – the vast, flat humid, grasslands where the cattle are raised and the steaks are braised. Head out to Chascomus for a lakeside barbecue.
Paris By 2CV
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Notorious? Noxious? Not at all. The key to doing the French capital by car is to take it slowly. What could be more iconic than cruising down the Champs-Élysées, swerving past the Arc de Triomphe, bobbing along the edge of the Seine and crossing the Pont Neuf bridge? If you can’t get your hands on an old “deux chevaux”, just let your modern motor stay below 20kph – Paris is full of majestic monuments and grand museums, many of which are on the main roads.
Easy rides: Take the fast lane to Versailles – just 42 minutes away via the A13.
Turin by Mini
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Anyone who has see The Italian Job will have marvelled at the set-pieces of Mini Coopers racing and chasing one another around the city of Turin. Take that as an invitation to pay your own automobilistic homage – just make sure you hire something small and zippy to negotiate those narrow, winding side-streets. In the movie itself, the Minis went down the stairs at the Palazzo Madama, drove through the Galleria San Federico and buzzed around the racetrack on the roof of the Fiat factory. We don’t recommend you do that of course – but we do encourage experiencing the vistas of piazzas and pavement cafés as you ride around a city built on cars.
Easy rides: Turin is the gateway to northern Italy via Savona and the Med and also into the Alps to get to Lyon, France – via the long Fréjus or Mont Blanc tunnels – or Switzerland.
Rio By The Sea
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One of the world’s greatest arrivals by road is the southern entrance in to Rio de Janeiro. One minute you’re in the suburbs, occasionally catching glimpses of the famous steep hills that encircle the former capital. Then, in a few zigzags and an easy left turn, you’re suddenly on the coast road, slowing down to take in the beaches of Leblon, Ipanema, Leme and the sweeping curve of Copacabana. Brazilian drivers are generally impatient but there’s something about the rolling Atlantic and the joggers and walkers and surfers and sunbathing beautiful people that makes everyone take their foot off the gas for a few minutes.
Easy rides: The celebrated Costa Verde – the swathe of green coast south of Rio – straddles the stunning BR101 highway. Take 3-4 days to explore Paraty, Ilhabela and Ilha Grande.
London By The Loops
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Orbitals can be awesome but, when it comes to sprawling, snarling London, which one should you use? The M25 is a non-stoppers motorway, encircling the capital at a distance of around 20 miles. Driving it is like being caught in an ex-urban dream, with London like a big idea on your left – or right – hand side. The South and North Circulars, opened from the 1930s, are a way to see the edges of the city– with parks and places to eat en route. Finally, why not enjoy the calm of the City on Sunday? When the workers are at home it can be an almost eerily atmospheric ghost town, with the banks and brokers’ houses quiet and famous thoroughfares like Threadneedle Street and Poultry almost traffic-free.
Easy rides: The A3 is a user-friendly way out of London, easily reached via Clapham and Wandsworth. Soon you are rolling out past Richmond and Wimbledon into the Surrey Hills and North Downs.
Los Angeles By Soft-Top
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Gridlock is synonymous with LA. When it rose to prominence at the beginning of the 20th century, the angeleno dream of modern living and the wide-open topography allowed the city fathers to wrap the suburbs in a web of freeways and expressways. Rush hour drivers are still paying for their plans. But around dusk, when the toxic air turns the sunset deep red, there can be few dreamier outings than a ride in an open-top saloon round all those LA streets immortalised in books, films and songs: Sunset, Wilshire, Laurel Canyon, Hollywood Boulevards; Mulholland Drive, Melrose Avenue, Rodeo Drive.
Easy rides: For a day-trip, head out to Santa Monica for beach life and sea air; if you have a few days, take a trip on State Route 1 aka the Pacific Highway, north towards San Francisco.