Best Streets in the World

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Travel Features >> Best Streets in the World

Best Streets in the World

September 30, 2011

Some streets have that special punch! They’re not simply thoroughfares that lead from one place to another, but are attractions in themselves. Here’s a list that evinces instant recognition- ones that you must walk through when you're visiting their cities. Often regarded as a ‘sight to see’ and savour, these streets truly are destinations in their own right.

Lombard Street, San Francisco
The Crookedest (this is America so not ‘most crooked’) Street in the World is how Lombard Street is better known. Paradise itself for steering wheel acrobats and a new one for collectors of superlative phenomena, this street has a record eight switchbacks. Designed in 1922 so that San Franciscans could negotiate their way past the steep mound of Russian Hill, this crooked cobbled motorway has since become a tourist delight. Helped by the cause that most people want to get beyond it to well-mapped attractions like the Presidio, Telegraph Hill and the Coit Tower and appreciate bird’s eye views of Alcatraz and the deep blue bay, the street is a straightforward fun thing.

What’s so special about it?
Apart from 8 hairpin turns, plenty. It offers a panoramic view of San Francisco Bay and The Rock. The street is lined with low hedgerows and from spring until fall bright pink and blue hydrangeas are abloom. There are some lovely mansions too in this block, some of which you may recognise from the movies (check out house no. 900 – think Jimmy Stewart’s dwelling in Vertigo).
Bringing a car down is not for everybody, and come summer (the peak of the tourist season) it’s not for anybody. To avoid the huge traffic jams that occur, because of the curves, we suggest that you walk instead. Stairs cut into the side of the hill will lead you straight up or down without diminishing the value of your encounter with that really really wonky street!

Champs Elysees, Paris
Definitely one of the most well known avenues in the world, the Champs Elysees stretches from the imposing Arc de Triomphe all the way down to the sprawling square of Place de la Concorde. This broad avenue is lined with trees and with designer shops and haute couture boutiques as well as brands like Zara and Benetton making it the beat of the swish set as well as the upwardly mobile. Coffee shops spill onto the pavement, bars get filled as evening sets in, as do cinemas and theatres – the Lido is also on this avenue. Nothing beats an afternoon spent sitting on a street side cafe on the Champs Elysees in Paris sipping a cappuccino and watching the world go by.

What’s so special about it?
The Champs Elysees stand for chic, style and elegance. Luxury store Cartier and Louis Vuitton stand next to popular international brands like Gap, H&M and Sephora, so there is something for everyone. Towards the Place de la Concorde the avenue is shaded by tall green trees, gleaming fountains and flower beds and to the south behind the towering trees stand the Grand and the Petit Palais that house many a museum filled with treasures.

Victoria and Albert Waterfront, Cape Town
Blessed with great climate and the stunning Table Mountains, Cape Town is South Africa’s premier tourist destination. Jutting into The Pond, surrounded by blue, the Cape is amongst the prettiest coastal cities in the world. The Victoria and Albert Waterfront, or the simply the Waterfront, is one of its greatest attractions. Recently refurbished into a glitzy promenade, the waterfront has it all. Hosting an estimated 20 million visitors annually, it pampers them with its astounding range of activities, entertainment, gourmet food, fast food junk, pubs, bars, general stores, speciality shops, street musicians, cinemas, discotheques, historical buildings and the harbour.

What’s so special about it?
Lots. Whoever’s in charge of developing Cape Town tourism obviously knows how to keep guests entertained. On the waterfront there are 17 cinemas including an IMAX theatre, 260 speciality shops, countless designer clothing boutiques, restaurants with foods from Italy, England (wonder why?!), France and elsewhere in Africa, the huge Two Oceans Aquarium which you can also view from a helicopter, penny ferries to Robben Island where political prisoners including Nelson Mandela were imprisoned. There’s a Crafts Market and at the Red Shed Workshop you can witness the making of these crafts, there are many historic buildings, and there are many groups of free-spirited buskers to keep the music going through the day. Come evening and the waterfront becomes the place where the Cape’s trim and trendy are headed. Don’t miss it when you’re there.

Chandni Chowk, Delhi
When the Mughal emperor Shahjahan shifted his capital from Agra to Delhi in 1650, he made a magnificent citadel, the Red Fort, to house the court. Lal Qila, as the Red Fort is known, was the administrative hub of Shahjahan’s Delhi, while its commercial centre was Chandni Chowk. Literally `Moonlight Square’ (a name given because of the reflection of the moon in the waters of the canal which ran down the centre), Chandni Chowk was a beautiful stretch of land, tree-lined and busy, the very essence of the exotic East.
Chandni Chowk is today, if anything, busier than ever before- and the very epitome of chaotic, crowded India. Stretching the length between the Red Fort and Lahori Gate (one of the main gates of the Walled City), Chandni Chowk bustles with activity all through the day. From off the main street, narrow lanes- locally called gallis and kuchas- weave their way into the heart of the old city; and tiny squares known as katras, demarcated on the basis of trade, stand alongside the main road. Kuchas and katras, as in the time of the Mughals, are still devoted to a single commodity: Kucha Chowdhury sells cameras and photographic equipment; Ballimaran is the place for spectacles, Dariba Kalan is the street of the jewellers, and Parathewali Gali, besides churning out the most sinful of ghee-laden parathas, has diversified into selling saris too. And that’s not all- flowers, sweets, bridal wear, theatrical costumes and masks, kababs, groceries, spices, paper, virtue- all are sold in Chandni Chowk.

What’s so special about it?
Everything. No part of Delhi can perhaps match Chandni Chowk for history, spice and sheer exotica. More than any other corner of the Old City, this stretch of road throbs with reminders of the past- Gurudwara Sheeshganj, where the Sikh Guru Tegh Bahadur was executed at the orders of Aurangzeb; the Sunehari Masjid, the Town Hall, and Bhagirath Palace- once a palace owned by the famous Begum Samru, now a dilapidated structure devoted to the sale of electrical goods. And history isn’t all of it; there’s poetry here too- in the tiny Gali Qasim Jaan, where the tottering haveli of Mirza Ghalib still stands; there’s food and commerce, religion and trade- and an overwhelming sense of interesting discoveries to be made at every other corner.

Ginza, Tokyo
The sprawling district of Ginza is one of Tokyo’s primary attractions. All the things that make Tokyo the city that it is are crowded here in one half a square kilometre area of brassy boutiques, high art, technological centres, cultural clutter, restaurants, coffee houses, office workers on the move and youth with streaks in their hair and the tiniest mobile phones on window shopping missions.
But one thing that Ginza is and the rest of Tokyo certainly not, is that it is well planned and laid out in neat grids. That happened due to an accident, which paved the way for the occident. A huge fire ravaged this part of town in 1872 and a British architect was handed the responsibility of replacing tinderbox Ginza, a maze of wooden buildings, with something that was a little less likely to go off at the hint of a spark. He made Ginza into a west-west experience; with nary a care for the hot climate and the shortage of space, Ginza came to be a precious oddity, pretty brick houses and wide tree lined boulevards. It was all very pleasant to look at but nobody wanted to inhabit the hot brick contraptions. The government put a real cheap price tag on this piece of real estate and the heat be damned, the lost status as the place of reference for all things chic was eventually restored to Ginza. The origin of the name goes back to the 1600s when Shogun Tokugawa Leyasu minted his first coins – Ginza literally means ‘the place where silver is minted’. The name is still relevant. The district may have lost some of the edge on glamour to newer upstarts but Ginza is still the grand old dame of posh. It’s a snooty area and the fun of going there as a visitor is that you aren’t at all required to make a fit.

What’s so special about it?
You don’t see remains of turn of the century British suburb architecture anymore since most of it was levelled in the 1930s earthquake. But you do see towering skyscrapers and get lots of a-sight-a-second pleasure. The main shopping drag is Chuo-dori. Ginza corner is dominated by the Wako clock tower; the Wako building is now a department store but was originally a small shop where the line of watches called Seiko or precision were first constructed. Ginza is where you find the Sony building, the Kabuki-za theatre and the post-modern Sana-ai building. Check out the Bridgestone Museum of Art if you have ¥ 700 to spare, catch up on news and views at the World Magazine Gallery. Go gin-bura (Ginza strolling) and get a kick from knowing you’re on the most valuable bit of real estate anywhere in the world, ¥ 9 million per square metre.

Oudezijds Achterburgwal, RLD, Amsterdam
Come away a little from the Centraal Station on Amsterdam’s main drag Damrak, head east in pursuit of such ecclesiastical treasures as the Oude Kerk (the Old Church) and find yourself slap bang in the middle of the city’s famed red light district. The RLD, as it’s known to those on familiar terms with it, is probably the one site that every visitor to Amsterdam checks out. By day and by night, the wide windows of its large stately mansions feature women and men in various stages of undress. With sundown, neon lights come on inside these windows bathing the streets outside with a deep pink glow. In fact, it’s from this phenomenon that the generic term ‘red light area’ takes its cue.
The Red Light District, and the main street in it, the Oudezijds Achterburgwal, is a symbol for what makes Amsterdam, Amsterdam. It’s liberal attitude towards soft drugs (coffeeshops are places where you buy a packet of dope) and sex have made many think of the city as more “civilised” than any other in the world!

What’s so special about it?
The best of the RLD is on Oudezijds Achterburgwal: Amsterdam’s Moulin Rouge, Absolute Danny, which is one of the earliest shops to be managed entirely by women, the Casa Rosso and De Bananenbar. Very close to area are the Oude Kerk and the Gothic Nieuwe Kerk, important landmarks in Amsterdam. The place is buzzing night and day with casual sightseers, mellow students, hobos and hippies. No time is closing time in Amsterdam’s Red Light District.

Bourbon Street, New Orleans
Bourbon Street or Rue Bourbon in the French Quarter of New Orleans is the place to head to if it’s an eclectic collection of bars, pubs, jazz clubs, Cajun Creole restaurants and residences that you seek. Posh hotels share the road with strip parlours, and merry makers from around the world congregate at what is New Orleans’ most famous street.
Named after the great Bourbon rulers, the street was for long a dignified residential area at the heart of the new capital of French America. It was part of the original plan when New Orleans was constructed so that the capital could be shifted from Biloxi in Mississippi to someplace nice in Louisiana. Today, New Orleans is synonymous with jazz, blues, soul and the alternative. And the one-stop destination for capturing all these and more is undoubtedly Bourbon Street.

What’s so special about it?
It buzzes with activity 24 hours of the day, everyday. No visitor to New Orleans gives Bourbon Street a miss because from a nail clipper to a deliciously potent Rusty Nail one can get everything here. The special buzz though, is definitely reserved for the annual New Orleans Mardi Gras parade. The parade does not actually pass though the French Quarter but the shops and pubs here gear up for the big event anyway. And since attitudes towards risqué behaviour are the most relaxed in this part of town, some of the greatest carnival colour finds its stage here.

The Magnificent Mile, Chicago
In the windy city, the most rewarding walk you can take would be the one down the Magnificent Mile. Located at North Michigan Avenue, just a couple of blocks off Lake Michigan the Magnificent Mile finds a place in the top ten Greatest Avenues of the world, because of its wonderful setting, historic buildings, tree lined avenues and of course the shopping and the wining and dining options. At last count Michigan Avenue’s 2.6 million square feet of retail space had 460 stores, 2 unique museums, 436 restaurants and 22 million visitors every year to gain its place on top ten list.

What’s so special about it?
Brace yourself to be hit by in your face retail therapy as this is where shopping greats like Gucci, Neiman Marcus, Apple, Lord & Taylor, Brooks Brothers, and Hermes, as well as Bigsby & Kruthers, a renowned local retailer have their outlets. Michigan Avenue is the ultimate shopping experience, tailor-made to your needs. Great restaurants dish up a variety of cuisines here and at the end of the day there really is nothing left to desire in food, fashion, furniture or anything else that money could possibly buy. The best part is the glaring variety offered by it all. You can dine in style at the Signature Room at 95th, the view is excellent by night, especially on days when fireworks go off at the lake piers. Alternatively, for caffeine freaks, Starbucks isn’t hard to find either.
The downside? Store prices may sometimes reach dangerously high levels, and if you’re looking for a good bargain over a good buy, then for you, this Magnificent Mile will just have to transform itself into the window-shopper’s dream come true.

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