What makes a road stand out from all others and give you that thrill that your regular routes just can’t compete with? For many it’s a surface set against a backdrop of spectacular scenery while for others there had to be a combination of curves and contours that are almost reminiscent of a Grand Prix circuit. Others would argue that it’s all about raw speed and the faster the road, the better. Added to this, there is a breed of dedicated drivers that have to add in an element of risk that tests their skills to the absolute limit and across the world, there are some fantastic roads that give you everything that a driver could hope for.
Here are some of the world’s best.
1. Grimsell Pass Switzerland
Switzerland as a whole is well known for roads that offer spectacular scenery combined with testing hairpins and sharp ascents or descents, depending on where you approach them from. The Grimsell Pass is a fine example of all of these and it is a top destination for thousands of motorists who love to experience the thrill of one of the greatest driving roads in Europe.
The pass is located near Gletsch and it connects the Haslital Valley in Bernese Oberland to the Goms Valley in the Valais. Adverse weather for most of the year means that it is usually only open between June to October and even then, the elements can cause an unforeseen closure.
As for the road itself, it has everything you would expect including some breath taking views of the Alps on all sides and sharp contours that extend to 2165 metres at the highest point. Tight, unguarded hairpins add that element of excitement and even danger and overall, this is worthy of a visit for the dedicated thrill-seeker.
If you come to the Grimsdell Pass, be prepared to battle for road space with local enthusiasts, many bikers and even some particularly fearless cyclists along the way.
Each driver is different and will have their own requirements when it comes to excitement. If, however you like to add in an element of uncertainty about making it to the other side, then this could be for you.
The North Yungas Road is more commonly known as the Road of Death and while statistics vary, it is generally accepted that there is anything up to 200 fatalities a year on this route due to a combination of sheer, unguarded drops and a narrow width of around 3.2 metres in parts.
Lorries and buses regularly take an eternity to pass each other on this most treacherous of roads which was built in the 1930’s to link La Paz to Coroico. The rules state that the uphill driver has right of way and the downhill vehicle must stick to the left half of the road which is the outer and more deadly section. This goes against regulations across Bolivia where driving takes place on the right but it does have the advantage of making things slightly safer.
You may ask why anyone would want to come here just for the sake of tackling the road itself but if you have the time and concentration to divert your attention elsewhere, the views are incredible. Overall however, it’s all about the adrenaline rush and for many drivers, the feeling of completing the route and literally cheating death is the big draw.
3. Los Caracoles
If the North Yungas route is too extreme to even consider, you may want to have an attempt at Los Caracoles which links Chile to Argentina through the Andreas Mountains.
This particular road features a set of unguarded hairpins and testing switchbacks and the overall incline is extremely steep. Add to that the fact that is affected by snow for a huge part of the year and you have one of the most challenging roads on the planet.
However, unlike North Yungas the accident record here is extremely good and large tourist buses negotiate the route on a regular basis. While it is an undoubted test of patience and driving skill, the likelihood of a sudden plummet followed by instant death is much reduced but the adrenalin buzz that Los Caracoles induces is no less rewarding.
4. The Overseas Highway – Florida Keys
You may not be familiar with this stretch of road but you will have certainly seen it in films and American TV shows over the years. The Overseas Highway is a 127 mile stretch of road that connects the Florida Keys to mainland Miami and it was constructed in the 1930’s using as its basis a stretch of ill-fated railroad that had been destroyed in a hurricane.
While this is probably the most visually stunning road when seen from the air it is not always the most popular with drivers as it is essentially very long and very straight. Due to US speed restrictions you cannot steam along here in the manner that Crockett and Tubbs may have done in Miami Vice and a journey time of around four hours can often be increased due to frequent congestion.
What you do get however is wonderful coastal views and if you’re lucky enough to be driving during sunrise or sunset, the effect is truly beautiful. Some would prefer it if you could just go a little faster but the Overseas Highway is certainly worthy of any list of great driving roads.
5. Trollstigen Norway
When you study photographs of any of the world’s greatest driving roads, the main theme is one of sharp descents through mountainous countryside with a liberal sprinkling of hairpins along the way.
That image is highlighted perfectly by the Trollstigen, or Troll’s Ladder which connects the Norwegian regions of Rauma and Norddal. Opened in 1936, the road has been greatly improved in recent years to guard against rock fall and one again the safety record is much better than you may have imagined.
For the driver, this is a serious test with many hairpins and a gradient of 9% in places and it is a road that offers a serious challenge to your skill and technique. Once you have reached the top, only the most churlish of drivers would ignore the viewing platform that not only gives you that feeling of smug satisfaction when you see what you have just conquered, the views across to the Stigfossen waterfall and beyond are something to truly behold.
6. Hana Highway Maui
Apart from a couple of distinct exceptions, all of the roads listed so far are undoubtedly exciting but they can be relatively short. In some cases, a road can be challenging to the point that once you feel that you’ve mastered it, the stretch is at an end leaving you with regulation tarmac that can be something of an anti-climax.
That certainly isn’t the case here in Maui where the Hana Highway stretches out over 60 miles and connects the tiny town of Hana to the rest of Maui itself. There are over 600 hairpin bends and over 50 single lane bridges to negotiate while the scenery takes you from coastal views to inland waterfalls and dense tropical rainforest.
There are intermittent straights where you can open the throttle a little and while the length of the road may be a disadvantage for some, if you want a longer stretch that tests your endurance as well as your skill, then head for the Hana Highway without delay.
7. Col de Turini France
If you’re a fan of rally driving then you may already be familiar with this particular route which forms part of the Monte Carlo rally each year. The Col de Turini is a 1600 metre high mountain pass in the southern French Alps and like all the great driving roads on this list, it has spectacular scenery at every turn.
The main advantage of this route however is the opportunity that it offers for sheer unbridled speed. Even if you’ve just read about the other roads thus far, you may have a pent up need to open that throttle and achieve the 170km speeds that the Col de Turini allows.
Now imagine that you’ve spent time on each of those roads, negotiating steep climbs, endless hairpins and even crawled on the precipice of 600 foot drops. You can now release all of that frustration here at the Col de Turini where there are some 34 hairpins that get you set for the long stretches where you can stick that foot down and unleash your need for speed.
8. The Great Ocean Road Australia
This is another long stretch of road that chalks up an impressive 151 miles between the Victorian State towns of Torquay and Warrnambool. For Australians, this is an important piece of highway for many reasons and it was constructed between 1919 and 1932 by First World War veterans in remembrance of the many casualties that Australia had suffered during the conflict.
The road connects many towns in the region that were previously isolated in their entirety but what does it offer by way of a challenge for the visiting motorist?
In truth, the Great Ocean Road is largely about the scenery and while there are some truly amazing coastal views, the route takes you through the Otways rain forest and some interesting landmarks. While the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria have declared the road to be the State’s top tourism experience, it is governed by a rather miserly speed limit of 80 kilometres per hour.
OK, so this restriction may not be strictly adhered to in the more remote parts of the highway but it does underline what the Great Ocean Road is all about. If you’re here purely for the scenery then this is surely for you but if you want to get some pure speed out of your system, make sure you have all your relevant driving documents to hand.
9. Guoliang Tunnel Road China
If you want to return to a road that has an element of serious danger then the Guoliang Tunnel should be high on your list. This is a curious maze of a road that is hewn from a mountain in the Taihang Range and it is deserves its reputation for being one of the most dangerous roads in the world.
The death toll began in earnest when this road was being built when several local villagers died during its construction. Eventually, it opened to traffic in 1977 and it is popular with tourists and locals alike for the spectacular mountain scenery that can be found here.
At around a quarter of a mile long, you don’t get too much time to experience all the challenges that the tunnel road has to offer but it is a truly exhilarating experience. With the relatively short but sheer drop adding that element of terrifying danger to your journey, this is a curious and testing road that deserves its place in anyone’s list of great global driving roads.
10. Transfagarasan Road Romania
You may or may not want to take Top Gear’s word for it but they have named this particular stretch of highway as the best driving road in the world. Originally constructed as a military route by the dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in the early 1970’s, it links important cities but the despot could not have envisaged the tourist element that it would bring to the country some thirty years later. There are some interesting national landmarks here including the glaciated Lake Balea and the ruins of Vlad the Impaler’s castle.
This is one of the few routes that seems to combine speed with testing hairpins and some interesting scenery and monuments so in many ways it really does have the best of everything.
11. Millau Viaduct France
The Millau Viaduct is the tallest vehicular bridge in the world and at some 1,125 feet from the ground, it is significantly taller than the Eiffel Tower.
The length of the bridge is just over 8,000 feet and with two lanes on each side, you can get up some good speed, although congestion is an issue.
While the view from the air of the Millau Viaduct is quite spectacular, some drivers have argued that it is much less interesting once you’re on it. If you can see over the high sides however, there are some stunning views that put the scenery of the Thames Estuary, as afforded by the QEII Bridge at Dartford, into the shade. For many this is a real bonus but for others, it’s all about saying that you’ve driven it.
For many thrill seeking motorists, this stretch of dark desert highway is the best driving road anywhere in the world. Little is known about its construction but this is a technical test that will challenge every single aspect of your driving ability.
The road is cut into the Jebel Hafeet Mountain, the highest peak in the United Arab Emirates, and it stretches for over seven miles while climbing an imposing 4,000 feet. There are sixty corners and ample straights in which to increase power, giving you an amazing all round experience.
In truth, there is not a great deal of scenery to pass the time while you’re on your journey but for many that is one of the best features. With no stunning views to distract you and no fatal drops to worry about, you’re free to just drive.
For the majority of motorists that come here, the best feature is the perfect surface which would be the envy of many a formula one track. There are no bumps, kinks and certainly no potholes to be concerned about and overall, this is seen by many as the ultimate driver’s road.
All of the roads listed offer something a little different, whether it’s spectacular scenery, pure speed or even that element of danger that can lead to a real rush of adrenaline. What unites them all however is the feeling of excitement and the ability to push your car and your driving skills to their limits.
Sadly for many drivers, congestion and routine have taken all the fun out of driving so what better way to rediscover that element than by taking your vehicle and experiencing the best that any of these roads can offer? Ultimately it’s all about exhilaration and freedom and if you’re lucky enough to be able to visit any of the routes listed, you can recapture the joy and thrill of driving.