World's Strangest Streets
It’s one of those moments that inspire you to snap a photo or regale your friends later. The unfamiliar is part of the allure of traveling, whether sampling a local delicacy, witnessing a cultural tradition, or stumbling upon a decidedly unusual street.
Streets, naturally, have identities. They’re place markers, and some even become emblems of a destination, like New York’s shop-lined Fifth Avenue or the famous curves of San Francisco’s Lombard Street.
But stranger streets are not so uncommon. Some feature record-breaking designs, from widest to narrowest. In the Scottish town of Wick, for instance, Ebenezer Place measures 6 feet, 9 inches—making it shorter than many NBA players.
Others encourage unusual behavior, like fixing your gum to the colorful, sticky walls of an alley in San Luis Obispo, CA, a habit that dates back to the 1950s (germaphobes, be warned). Then there’s the Portuguese island of Madeira, where the popular means of transportation along the Caminho do Comboio Road remains a wicker toboggan “driven” by men in white clothes and straw hats.
Whether you’re hailing a toboggan or putting on your walking shoes, take a trip down the world’s strangest streets.
Angel Place, Sydney
The evocative, unexpected chorus of chirping birds is one indication that you’ve come upon Angel Place, a small laneway in Sydney’s central business district. Another: the 120 empty birdcages overhead. Artist Michael Thomas Hill created the installation in 2009 as a statement to draw attention to how development was pushing out wildlife. Formally known as Forgotten Songs, the installation was so popular that it’s become permanent. Listen carefully. The soundtrack changes throughout the day, reflecting the sounds of the 50 or so bird species that were once present here. At night, you may hear the Australian owlet-nightjar, southern boobook, tawny frogmouth, and white-throated nightjar.
Caminho do Comboio Road, Madeira, Portugal
Ernest Hemingway found the ride along this street to be thrilling. So says his wife Mary Welsh Hemingway, who describes his 1954 visit to the island of Madeira in her memoir, How It Was. Not much has changed on the Caminho do Comboio since. There are no sidewalks, and the most popular, albeit touristy, means of transportation remains a wicker basket toboggan “driven” by humans on foot (you can opt to walk, drive, or take a nearby cable car instead). Following a tradition dating back to the 1850s, two carreiros, dressed in white cotton clothing and straw hats, run as fast as humanly possible from the civil parish of Monte to the sloped capital city of Funchal. The downhill journey takes about 10 minutes and can reach almost 30 mph ($38 per ride).
Ebenezer Place, Wick, Scotland
Ebenezer Place measures 6 feet, 9 inches—making it shorter than some NBA players. Consider that Larry Bird or Magic Johnson could lie down and occupy the entire street, head to toe. Located at the apex of a triangular block, Ebenezer Place was constructed in 1883 by Alexander Sinclair and has been officially credited by the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s shortest street. There is room for one doorway, the entrance to the street’s only occupier, No. 1 Bistro, part of the MacKays Hotel. If you blink on the road into the town of Wick, just before the Pulteney Bridge, you might miss it.
Maeklong Market Railway, Thailand
It’s a market. It’s a railway. It’s a street? Maeklong is indeed all of these. One moment the stalls are bustling with locals picking up everyday groceries from fruits and veggies to frogs and eel. The next, a train horn blows in the distance, and stall keepers close the awnings and umbrellas and pull their displays back, as shoppers retreat from the tracks. A train breezes through the tightly packed market with no more than a foot or so between the car and the stalls. As soon as it passes, the hustle and bustle resumes as if the train never passed.
9 de Julio Avenue, Buenos Aires
At a normal walking speed, it takes pedestrians two to three green lights to cross 9 de Julio Avenue’s 12 lanes of traffic and gardened medians. Construction of the world’s widest street began in the 1930s and took nearly 50 years to complete. It was modeled after the Champs-Élysées, yet twice as wide—said to be a display of patriotism combined with ego to cement the city as the Paris of South America. Many of Buenos Aires’s most notable landmarks can be seen along the way, including the Obelisk, the statue of Don Quixote, and the Teatro Colón.
The Paper Streets, Pittsburgh, PA
The U2 song “Where the Streets Have No Name” supposedly riffs on the concept that socioeconomic status can be determined by a person’s street address. But what if there were actually streets that have no name, or existence? Pittsburgh resident Walter Meyer was researching his genealogy in the early 1980s when he discovered that one of his ancestors was born on a “paper street” on the slopes above the South Side. The term got some attention thanks to Fight Club (the protagonist lives in a house on “Paper Street”). As simple as they are mysterious, these streets exist on maps, but may be just a walkway or stairway, if they can be found at all. How did this happen? Poor city planning and bad record keeping, plus enough property divisions and legal confusion to create vertigo.
The Norderstraße, Flensburg, Germany
There’s something eerie about walking down a street as shoes dangle above you. Yet the experience has become so common in this northern German town (four miles from the Danish border) that there’s a term for it: shoe graffiti, or simply shoefiti. Some consider the start as an art project; there is a theory that says that a boy who becomes an adult has his shoes hanging outside his house; or that it is a sign from drug dealers telling people where to buy or sell drugs. Regardless of the original purpose, the Norderstraße has become an unofficial landmark of Flensburg, inspiring tourists to contribute by leaving their shoes behind.
Baldwin Street, Dunedin, New Zealand
“Woo-hoo! I could do this all day,” a woman exclaims in a YouTube video while zooming down the world’s steepest street (which extends roughly the length of a football field). Good brakes are a must, considering that the steepest grade is 1 in 2.86, an officially recorded grade of 35 percent. If you live in one of the 34 houses on the street, you might also have the world’s strongest calves. One side of Baldwin Street features a staircase with 270 steps. Your reward at the top is a drinking fountain and views of Otago Harbour.
Spreuerhofstraße, Reutlingen, Germany
Even if you’ve resisted the temptation to overdo it on the Bavarian pretzels and bier, you still may not fit comfortably on the world’s narrowest street. Measuring 12.2 inches at its narrowest point and 19.7 inches at its widest, the street was constructed in 1727 as part of reconstruction efforts after a massive citywide fire. You have to wonder what the builders were thinking—sure, people used to be shorter then, but were they that much thinner, too?
Hosier Lane, Melbourne
Among many cities with flourishing, if sometimes controversial, street art scenes, Melbourne is widely recognized for Hosier Lane, a legal space that attracts both local and international artists. From stencils and cartoons to posters and portraits, the only thing that never changes is that it continues to evolve; chances are you’ll see the artists in action. And you can imagine future generations “peeling off” one layer after another to reveal previous struggles, hopes, and even fashion. Melbourne Street Art Tours provides an insider’s perspective into the underground scene, including the chance to visit with local artists like Ha-Ha, Drew Funk, Klara, and Man of Darkness.
Rue Canusa, Canada
Imagine crossing the street and ending up in another country. Such is the case on Rue Canusa in Quebec—or is it Vermont? The international border is marked simply by a yellow line that passes through the town of Derby, VT, and, in some cases, individual houses. If you live on Rue Canusa, it’s possible that your kitchen is in one country and your dining room another. At the Haskell Opera House, the stage is Canadian, but the entrance to the theater is American, as are most of the seats. Given its border location, the town has two mailing addresses. Sources like Canadian Geographic say there are ground sensors and hidden cameras that alert the Border Patrol. Helicopters will be overhead in minutes if you don’t check in with authorities at proper border stops along the route.
Bubblegum Alley, San Luis Obispo, CA
No garbage can in sight? It is perfectly legal, even encouraged, to stick your chewed-up gum along this 15-foot alley instead. Passersby have been doing so since around 1950, leaving behind colorful smudges and strings of bubblegum. The alley is a germaphobe’s worst nightmare—and strange enough to merit a shout-out from “Weird Al” Yankovic in his 1978 ode to SLO, “Take Me Down.” You’ll find it between 733 and 734 Higuera Street in downtown San Luis Obispo.
Estrada do Bom Jesus, Braga, Portugal
“Nothing is stranger than putting your car in neutral and having it roll up a hill,” says Jayme Henriques Simões, of the Portuguese National Tourist Office. On “Magic Street,”visitors watch as cars ascend the street,defying gravity. Many believe there is a magnetic field that pulls cars to the top, while others say it’s the religious power of the site (Bom Jesus do Monte is a sacred church at the top of the hill). In reality—spoiler alert—the effect is caused by a natural optical illusion as two roads come together, making it seem that the upper street is a downslope.
Snake Alley, Burlington, Iowa
San Francisco’s Lombard Street is famous for its curves. But it’s got competition. In fact, Ripley’s Believe It or Not! named Snake Alley (constructed in 1894) the world’s most crooked. Whether you agree is a matter of how you define crooked. Burlington’s one-way street consists of five half-curves and two quarter-curves over a distance of 275 feet, and rises 58.3 feet. While Lombard wins for the number of turns (eight), Snake Alley’s turns are sharper—you’ll do a total of 1,100 degrees of turning by the end, as compared to Lombard’s cumulative 1,000 degrees.
Heidelberg Street, Detroit
“It was like entering into a fantasyland,” said one visitor about this street in Detroit’s East Side. It’s better known as the Heidelberg Project, an open-air installation of everyday, discarded objects that adorn homes (many abandoned), fences, and yards. Artist Tyree Guyton helped start the project in 1986 to make a statement of hope after losing three brothers to neighborhood violence. Not a single serious crime was reported within a two-block radius for more than 26 years, though recent suspected arson cast a shadow over one of the most photographed houses. Heidelberg continues to draw about 275,000 annual visitors and has a larger mission to support local artists and arts education.
La Calle de las Siete Cruces, Quito, Ecuador
The Street of the Seven Crosses takes its name from the concentration of religious buildings, each from a different era in history. The fifth church and cross, for example, were built in 1613 in the Baroque style, with the outer walls carved from volcanic rock, while the interior is carved and covered in gold leaf. Along the route of these siete cruces—approximately half a mile along García Moreno Street—you’ll also find small businesses, spice shops, cafés, and beauty salons interspersed between religious centers. Walking from the northernmost Church of Santa Barbara to the southernmost Carmen Alto monastery and the chapel of San Lázaro takes about 15 minutes without stopping.
Snake Alley, Taipei
Foreign tourists once flocked to Snake Alley to watch the live skinning of reptiles and sample a shot of snake bile and Kaoliang liquor. Changing attitudes mean it’s unlikely you’ll spy such behavior, though it is sometimes done sneakily after someone orders a snake meal or snake wine. You can expect to see vendors openly hawking boa blood, snake stew, turtle testicles, and traditional Chinese herbal remedies. Massage parlors and noodle houses are also open at Snake Alley—also known as the Huaxi Street Night Market, a two-block area in Taipei’s oldest neighborhood—from 4 p.m. to midnight daily.