10 beautiful cities to explore by foot
By Josh Lew, Mother Nature Network, 2 April 2018.
By Josh Lew, Mother Nature Network, 2 April 2018.
The pleasure of a simple stroll often increases when you're walking through an unfamiliar place - as long as you're not lost. Walking tours are a popular option for travelers. Online mapping apps have made it easy enough for people to take an unguided sightseeing hike without having to go through the embarrassment of standing on a street corner with a map and a panicked expression.
Not every city is walkable, but some are compact enough and have enough public transit options that tourists won’t miss anything without a car. Others, however, are so spread out that a car is necessary.
These auto cities certainly might have attractions that are worth a road trip, but if you prefer to travel to shops, restaurants and tourist sites on foot, the following destinations are ideal.
1. New York City, New York, USA
Photo: TomasEE/Wikimedia Commons
New York has been called “America’s most walkable city” more than once. Walk Score has repeatedly given the Big Apple its top spot, and a pedestrian organization, Walk Friendly Communities, tagged NYC with a "platinum" rating in 2017. It was the only American city to receive the nod.
Most residents and almost all visitors never get behind the wheel in this city. The subway and bus system (and an occasional late-night taxi ride, if necessary) are sufficient for traveling through all five boroughs. And navigation apps can make public transit less intimidating.
Major tourist sites like Times Square and Broadway have become pedestrian-friendly, and there are plans to further develop the walkability in Manhattan’s most popular neighborhoods so that sidewalks are wider and completely set apart from vehicle traffic. Meanwhile, neighborhoods like Little Italy, the Bowery, Chinatown and NoHo have already been tagged "walkers’ paradises."
2. Mackinac Island, Michigan, USA
Photo: n8huckins/Wikimedia Commons
Big cities can be walkable, but so can rural destinations. Mackinac Island, just off the Michigan mainland in Lake Huron, is a popular tourist destination with just under four square miles of land area. The compact size makes hiking easy, but another trait makes it truly stand out for pedestrians. Not long after the first automobiles arrived on the island, locals decided to ban them. The ban, which has been in place since 1898, doesn't include emergency vehicles, but everyone else has to get around by bike or on foot.
Instead of taxis, visitors can hail horse-drawn carriages. Paths, meanwhile, crisscross the island, but the main attraction is the eight-mile-long M185. This is the only state highway in the country where motor vehicles are banned. Until a recent fender bender involving the island’s emergency vehicles, M185 was also the only highway that had never seen a motor vehicle accident. Most tourists arrive via ferry and stay at one of the island’s numerous inns or bed-and-breakfasts.
3. Barcelona, Spain
Photo: Ronny Siegel/Flickr
Barcelona is a busy city that has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Last year, the Catalonian capital saw 32 million tourists (including day-trippers from elsewhere in Europe). The biggest attractions are the pedestrian areas such as La Rambla, a car-less, tree-lined promenade with shops, cafes, kiosks and street performers. Additional waterfront walkways and plazas, such as the Plaça de Catalunya, mean that travelers can see many of the city’s highlights on foot.
Barcelona wants to make further improvements in an effort to lower pollution levels and expand the city’s walkability beyond its plazas and promenades. A new plan calls for creating "superblocks" with pedestrian and cycle routes. Vehicle traffic would be restricted to main thoroughfares only.
4. Hong Kong, China
Photo: yeowatzup/Wikimedia Commons
Like Barcelona, Hong Kong has crowded sidewalks. The former British colony features some of the most densely-populated boroughs on Earth. Even so, it's simple to get around without ever having to step into a car. The subway and bus systems are superb and even the crosswalks are state-of-the-art. What about the steep hills on Hong Kong Island? The Peak Tram climbs up Victoria Peak, but it's often crowded with tourists. Pedestrians can avoid sweaty uphill climbs and tram queues, however, by taking a half-mile-long outdoor escalator network.
The urban areas of this Chinese territory are certainly walkable, but the natural trails are what make Hong Kong really stand out as a pedestrian paradise. Trails around the peaks on Hong Kong Island are quite accessible, and longer hikes are available in the so-called New Territories and on the outlying islands. These rural areas are easily reachable via ferry from the population centers on Hong Kong Island and Kowloon.
5. Dubrovnik, Croatia
Photo: Franzi takes photos/Flickr
Dubrovnik’s Old Town dates to the 13th century when it was a major center for seagoing trade. Despite its long history, the Dalmatian city has only recently become a popular tourist destination. Renovated and restored after it was besieged during the breakup of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, Dubrovnik has become one of the most popular destinations on the Mediterranean thanks to the scenic Adriatic coastline and the city walls, which encircle the historic core.
The ancient and scenic setting draws tourists from all over the world. Film crews, including from the HBO hit "Game of Thrones," have worked in Dubrovnik (which doubled as "King’s Landing" early in the series). The Old Town is pedestrian-friendly and relatively compact. In fact, vehicles aren’t allowed, so this has developed into a walkable city out of necessity. The surroundings are certainly atmospheric, and all the tourist sites, including restaurants and nightlife venues, are close together.
6. Fes el Bali (Fez), Morocco
Photo: James Byrum/Flickr
Like Dubrovnik’s Old Town, walking in Fes, or Fez, Morocco is sometimes a necessity. Fes el Bali, the Old Town, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. More importantly for walking enthusiasts, it's the largest car-free urban area in the world. The streets are so narrow here that garbage collectors don't use trucks or even carts, but donkeys. Guided tours of the medina (walled old town area) are available. These might seem like a good idea because of the labyrinth-like pathways that wind through the buildings. However, Fes el Bali has an area of only about 1.5 square miles, and it has numerous access points that allow tourists to orient themselves. Solo strolls might be difficult, but they are by no means impossible.
Like many other ped-friendly cities, the sheer density of Fes el Bali is a positive for tourists. About 150,000 people call this Moroccan medina home, so even if you end up lost, you’ll still see markets, cafes, shops, tanneries, ancient buildings and who knows what else. Accommodations are scattered throughout the area. Fes el Bali is one of three districts, so you may want to stay there instead of in the newer parts of the city to avoid having to travel by car.
7. Cinque Terre, Italy
Photo: Luca Casartelli/Wikimedia Commons
Cinque Terre is a collection of five villages on the coastline of Liguria, Italy (also known as the Italian Riviera). The five enclaves - Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso - are designated as a single UNESCO World Heritage Site. Cars have been banned here for a decade, but the towns are connected by train and many people choose to walk along steep-but-passable coastal trails. A hiking permit is required, but it can reportedly be bought along with a rail pass.
Many tourists choose to walk, though trails can sometimes be closed. The hike offers great views of each of the towns, which are known for their brightly colored buildings and precarious locations on the rocky shoreline. Many tourists come to Cinque Terre for a day trip, though you can find guesthouses in the villages.
8. La Cumbrecita, Argentina
Photo: Roberto Ettore/Wikimedia Commons
This Argentine town seems like it was cut out of Bavaria and dropped into Argentina. The buildings, right down to the flower boxes, seem European rather than South American. This appearance makes sense when you learn the history of the village. La Cumbrecita was founded by an engineer from Germany in the 1930s because he was tired of city life. Even today, some of the signs are in German.
This is a destination because of its culture and also because of ecotourism activities like zip lining and trekking. At the same time, people come here because of its peacefulness. La Cumbrecita is Argentina’s only official car-free town. Walking is the most common way to get around, though you'll also encounter horses. The lack of vehicles might seem strange for such a "wide open" country, but it is fitting given the village’s roots, and its current focus on renewable energy, composting and greywater recycling.
9. San Francisco, California, USA
Photo: Nikhil Katkoriya/Flickr
San Francisco has earned high marks for its walkability in recent years. Its BART, Muni and bus services make it possible to travel around the city, and other Bay Area enclaves, without a car. San Fran’s neighborhoods vary, and, of course, you could find yourself having to hike up a steep hill if you don't plan your route carefully. However, the Golden Gate City’s most walkable neighborhoods - including Chinatown, Union Square, Nob Hill, the Mission District and the Tenderloin - are also among its most popular.
Smaller Bay Area cities like Berkeley, Redwood City, San Mateo and San Rafael have notably pedestrian-friendly cores that score higher, overall, than San Francisco.
10. Seoul, South Korea
Photo: ProjectManhattan/Wikimedia Commons
Seoul’s massive subway network means that cars and taxis are unnecessary. Because of the urban hills, taxis and cars are often much slower than the train. Pedestrian infrastructure improvements, such as a new half-mile "Skygarden," a promenade built on an old elevated roadway, mean that Seoul is intent on improving an already walkable city.
The South Korean capital is a city of neighborhoods. Each has its own features and personality, and areas that are either pedestrian-only or at least pedestrian-friendly. Like New York City, Seoul’s subways can be confusing at first glance. Apps can lead you to the right station and show you the right point to exit. Also, all signage and announcements are in both Korean and English.
Top image: La Rambla, Barcelona, Spain. Credit: Marie Thérèse Hébert & Jean Robert Thibault/Flickr.
[Source: Mother Nature Network. Some images added.]