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Streetcars and Great Streets of the World

Sunday, February 7th, 2010

I generally like the “36 Hours in XXX” series of travel articles that runs weekly in the New York Times. Depending on the featured city’s distance from Washington, the article provides me with either some good ideas for my next visit or a tantalizing glimpse of a city I am unlikely to ever get to visit.

This week, the featured city was Istanbul. A I scrolled though the slide show of photographs that accompanies the article, one photograph caught my eye. It is a photograph of Istiklal Avenue, one of Istanbul’s most prominent streets. The Wikipedia article on Istiklal Avenue describes it as:

one of the most famous avenues in Istanbul, Turkey, visited by nearly 3 million people in a single day over the course of weekends. Located in the historic Beyoğlu district, it is an elegant pedestrian street, approximately three kilometers long, which houses exquisite boutiques, music stores, bookstores, art galleries, cinemas, theaters, libraries, cafés, pubs, night clubs with live music, historical patisseries, chocolateries and restaurants.

This famous, historic, vibrant and beautiful street also features, you guessed it, a streetcar. And yes, that streetcar runs with overhead wires. What’s more, as this montage of Istanbul images clearly illustrates, the streetcars that run on that route are considered as symbolic of that historic city as the Topkapi Palace and the Galata Tower. (Istanbul also benefits from a network of modern trams.)

The article and my research on Istiklal Avenue got me thinking about other famous streets that feature streetcars. It is a long list — here are a few.

Bahnhofstrasse, Zurich
The Wikipedia article on this street that connects Zurich’s central train station with Lake Zurich describes it as “one of the world’s most expensive and exclusive shopping avenues.”

Ringstrasse, Vienna
A beautiful street that is a tourist attraction in its own right. One site dubs it “a jewel among the streets of the world.”

Maximilianstrasse, Munich
One of Munich’s four “royal avenues,” Maximilianstrasse is home to museums, the Bavarian state parliament and a long stretch of Line 19 of Munich’s extensive streetcar network, which is just one part of a comprehensive network of subways and suburban trains.

La Canebiere, Marseille
The Champs Elysee of France’s second city hosts part of Marseille’s growing streetcar network.

Avenue Louise, Brussels
One of the nicest streets in Brussels, this Haussmannesque boulevard hosts three of that city’s 17 streetcar lines and is crossed by several others.

Princes Street, Edinburgh
This famous and beautiful historic street in the heart of one of the world’s most beautiful cities will soon feature streetcars;.

These examples all clearly illustrate that not only can streetcars coexist with beautiful, vibrant and historic streets, they are often one the main ingredients that lends those streets such character.

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