This list was adapted from the National Geographic book Journeys of a Lifetime.
From Japan's serene mountain ranges to Cambodia's overgrown jungles, the remnants of these ancient highways will transport you back in time.
The Old North Trail, North America
The Blackfeet Indians traveled along the Old North Trail, which originally stretched nearly 2,000 miles (3,220 kilometers) from Canada to Mexico, running along the “backbone of the world” that later Americans called the Rockies. It took the Blackfeet four years to go from end to end on trips to trade, make sacred journeys, or find a wife. You can visit fragments still visible in Glacier National Park in Montana. (See beautiful photos of all 61 U.S. national parks.)
The Nakasendo Highway, Japan
This narrow, 17th-century highway linking Kyoto and Edo (modern Tokyo) was built along the route of an older trail. Running for 310 miles (500 kilometers) along the shores of Lake Biwa, across mountain ranges and down onto the Kanto Plain around Edo, it was meant for horses and pedestrians—the Japanese did not use carts. Parts of the tranquil route have been preserved and restored, which means that you have to walk them, as most of its original travelers did. (How Mount Fuji became one of Japan's most sacred symbols.)
The Yuen Tsuen Ancient Trail, Hong Kong, China
For centuries, people traveled along this rugged footpath between Yuen Long and Tsuen Wan in what is now Hong Kong’s New Territories. Today, both ends of the trail are embedded in a thoroughly urban sprawl of malls and traffic jams, but the middle remains a delicious haven of peace.
The Khmer Highway, Cambodia/Thailand
This ancient 140-mile (225-kilometer) highway ran between Angkor, Cambodia, and Phimai, Thailand, and was sacred to the Cambodian empire’s “god-kings,” who traveled the highway visiting temples and performing religious ceremonies involving fire, water, and linga (stone phallic sculptures). Most of it is now overgrown with jungle, but you can still visit many of the temples and drive along a sector near Phimai. (Discover the Mekong through colorful illustrations.)
The Old Great North Road, Australia
Famous as a masterpiece of 19th-century engineering, the road is also infamous for the use of forced convict laborers, some of them in leg irons, to build it. It started in Sydney and ended at Newcastle in the Hunter Valley of New South Wales. Some sections follow ancient Aboriginal tracks. (The 6 best stargazing spots in Australia.)
The Persian Royal Road, Turkey to Iran
Darius the Great of Persia developed this road linking the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf, running from Sardis in northwest Turkey across Mesopotamia to Susa in Iran. King Midas, the prophet Daniel, Queen Esther, the historian Herodotus, and the conqueror Alexander the Great are all on the roll call of those who traveled along it. (See Iran's most wild and beautiful places.)
The King’s Highway, Egypt to Syria
This was one of the great trade routes of the Middle East during biblical times, running from Egypt across Sinai to the Gulf of Aqaba, then north into Syria. It passes many pilgrimage sites, including Mount Nebo, Jordan, where Moses is said to have seen the Promised Land. (This temple honors the Egyptian queen who ruled as king.)
The Via Egnatia, Albania to Turkey
The Romans, Greeks, Byzantines, Crusaders, Venetians, Ottomans, and Austrians have all used this astonishing road across the mountains of the Balkan peninsula. Roman proconsul Gnaeus Egnatius built it in the first century B.C. to link the Adriatic with the Aegean Sea and the Bosporus. (This heavenly building served as both church and mosque.)
The Amber Road, Russia to Italy
From ancient times, amber—“the gold of the north”—was traded along this route linking the Baltic with the Adriatic. Today, it makes an intriguing trail to follow from St. Petersburg across eastern and central Europe to Venice.
The Via Augusta, Spain
Follow the road named after the Emperor Augustus, from Cádiz in Andalusia north through the modern-day Coll de Panissars in Catalonia to the Pyrenees. There it joins the Via Domitia, and goes on to Rome, where all roads meet. (Discover Spain's lesser known UNESCO World Heritage sites.)
This story was publishd in 2010 and updated in 2019.