For most of us, the commute into work involves a miserable crush in a crowded train carriage, face into an obese man’s armpit, knees thwacking into umbrellas and eyebrows dicing with paper cuts from a complete stranger’s newspaper. But the depressing tube trains and buses that carry Britain’s workers to their offices are not the only way to commute. Elsewhere in the world, there are some rather spectacular commuter routes that almost make it worth moving further away from work. From scenic trains and cross-city trams to view-packed biking routes and iconic city ferries, we’ve picked out some of the best routes for making sure the working day starts with a smile.
The Staten Island ferry
Where? New York City,
There are few better people-watching experiences than a trip on the Staten Island ferry. The tourists tend to be extremely excitable, snapping away at the Manhattan skyline, Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. The commuters heading to or from their homes on sleepy Staten Island tend to be below decks, buried in a book or newspaper. The free ferry leaves every half hour for the bright lights and offices of Manhattan, and the terminals see massive influxes and exoduses throughout the day.
Commuter trains are generally drab, depressing affairs, but Chicago’s El is just sexy. It may be rickety and rattly, but there’s a good reason why these elevated railway tracks have featured in so many films. Coming in from Chicago’s suburbs to the central Loop is a progressively more exciting experience as the flat sprawl gives way to the world’s most spectacular skyline. You end up with the best of both worlds – the skyscrapers towering above you as you look down on the cars and pedestrians on the street.
The Manly ferry
What’s one of Sydney’s most popular attractions for visiting tourists is also a trip to work for those who live in the beachside suburb of Manly but work in the city centre. Taking roughly half an hour, the ferry from Manly to Circular Quay passes through Sydney Harbour National Park and all its visual treats. It takes in recreational yachts, wild bushland and steep sandstone headlands before building to the crescendo of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. There is no sound on earth louder than the groan that goes up when weather conditions see the ferries cancelled and the people of Manly have to take the bus instead.
Bike the Lion’s Gate Bridge
It takes a bit of pedal power (particularly uphill on the way back), but any lycra-fancying commuters have got a spectacular route to work on offer. The Lion’s Gate Bridge spans the Burrard inlet like a less orange version of San Francisco’s Golden Gate, with spectacular city and water views. But it arguably gets even better at the other end, as you cycle round the sea wall of the magnificent Stanley Park and into the downtown area.
The drive to Mutrah or Ruwi
Where? Muscat, Oman
Oman’s capital, Muscat, is actually a tiny suburb of the Greater Muscat area which sprawls for around 50km along the coast. The main business is done in the nearby suburbs of Mutrah and Ruwi, and they’re reached via what feel like slightly futuristic dual carriageways. Providing the traffic isn’t bad and you know exactly which exit to get off at (signposting is terrible), it can prove to be a spectacular drive. The road jags its way through the barren, rubbly mountains that make the Omani interior so compelling.
Cote D’Azur trains
France’s Mediterranean coastline may be the home of moneyed-up stylistas with mahogany tans, but there are also some pretty major working hubs along it. On the Cote D’Azur itself, a lot of people commute into the likes of Nice for work, whilst accommodation prices in Monaco are so steep that many have to shuttle in from neighbouring towns in France. It’s not too much of a hardship – the steep coastlines that the trains run alongside make for quite the show. Then there are the stations, of which Monaco’s is a genuine pleasure to arrive at. It’s dug into the rocks that climb up from the shore, and you emerge to tremendous views of the tiny principality.
The canal walk
Hang around Venice’s Santa Lucia train station between 7.30 and 9am and you’ll see an extraordinary sight as commuters spill out and start walking en masse over the city’s cutesy bridges. The joy of Venice is in walking by the canals rather than taking gondolas along them. Even when thousands of others are en route to their workplace along the same route, the lack of traffic and postcard shots around every corner ensure the stroll has a daily dose of magic.
Lisbon has a number of interesting routes into the main office areas, many of them involving a ride on ultra-steep funiculars that take on the city’s imposing hills. But those on the number 28 tram route are blessed with a stupendous ride across the city. The tram tackles its fair share of hills, but also passes many of the main tourist sites – including Alfama, the atmospheric old part of town, numerous churches and the main cathedral. Later in the day, it tends to be chock-a-block with sightseers rather than commuters.
The box trams
Hong Kong has a number of stellar commuter options. The series of escalators that connect the higher and lower parts of Hong Kong Island are generally a joy to travel along, while the Star ferries that link the islands to the mainland are justifiable icons. Crossing Victoria Harbour on one of these ferries is something thousands undertake every day. But for sheer cuteness, the wooden box trams that rattle across Hong Kong island can’t be beaten. They feel ridiculously old-fashioned, and commuters can gawp out at the mayhem as the western and Chinese influences take their turns in different neighbourhoods.
Over the Oresund
Where? Malmo,to Copenhagen,
Due to rents being cheaper many people who work in the Danish capital, Copenhagen, decide to live in the nearby Swedish city of Malmo. The two are connected via one of the longest bridges in the world. At nearly 8km long, it spans the Oresund, the body of water that connects Denmark to Southern Sweden. It can be traversed by both road and rail, and there’s an epic feel to the journey across the water, taking in fields on wind farms on the way.
Haifa to Tel Aviv train
The train from Haifa to Tel Aviv is often full of commuters working in one city and living in the other, but the 75 minute journey between the two cities is pretty special. The railway tracks, by and large, hug the Mediterranean coast. Where there isn’t development (unfortunately, this is increasingly rare) you’ve got majestic views of the sea, hills and beaches.
Not all London commutes have to be a depressing, sweaty crush on a filthy tube train. It you live near the river, it can all be done in a much more civilised manner, with the ferries that connect the north and south sides of the capital. The Thames Clipper commuter service is the best example, running from North Greenwich Pier to the London Eye via Canary Wharf, London Bridge and Embankment.
All content copyright David Whitley.