There’s really only one way to properly explore a city without missing out on the essential little details that make up the essence of a city, and that’s on foot. A city tour by bus, ship or helicopter is a great idea for an initial overview and orientation, but then you always continue on foot. Walking through a city invites you to look up and down, to walk around corners to find unexpected little gems, and to peek through self-closing doors and windows. Stumble upon inviting park benches, tiny little shops no guidebook mentions, and perfect little lunch spots that can only be reached on foot.
Europe’s cities lend themselves particularly well to putting on your most comfortable but stylish shoes and heading out, as this list of Best of Travel Award 2022 winners proves. Only one non-European city made the top nine.
Every single city on this list is simply fabulous, fun to explore and perfect for soaking up the history, architecture and atmosphere, with lots of unexpected little treats along the way.
Will your favorite walkable city make the cut?
1. Amsterdam, Netherlands
Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands, takes first place as our readers’ favorite walkable city in the world. It’s also one of the best cities to explore by bike. Amsterdam is one of the best capitals in Europe, full of canals, pretty houses, little cafes, great museums and many quaint corners that you will only find by walking the streets or walking along the canals. Aside from the must-see attractions like the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum and the nearby tulip fields that come to life in spring, there are more quirky things to explore. Would you dare for the breathtaking view of Europe’s highest swing? Maybe it’s better to try the local cheese?
Pro tip: In the gardens of the Rijksmuseum you can see this year’s sculpture exhibition with works by Barbara Hepworth from the 1960s and early 1970s between 3 June and 23 October 2022.
2. Paris, France
Paris invented the so-called flâneur, a person who leisurely strolls through the city and notices the small details. Whichever arrondissement you are in, Paris simply needs to be explored slowly and on foot. You’ll notice the intricate doorways, the architectural details, the street art, and the little corner cafes that beg you to slow down and sit for a while. More importantly, you can easily walk back and forth between all the major attractions and take in even more along the way. A stroll along the banks of the Seine from the Eiffel Tower to Notre Dame, while stopping for a galette at the little Breizh stand along the way, is a wonderful pastime. Along the way, you’ll also see the Musée d’Orsay, Place de la Concorde, the Louvre, and more.
Pro tip: Read to get in the mood Flaneur: The art of roaming the streets of Paris by Federico Castigliano.
3. Florence, Italy
Florence is a wonderful city and the old town is an excellent walkable distance with its cobbled streets, ancient wonders along the way, market stalls and plenty of cafes to sit and enjoy a coffee and people watch. Yes, it’s more expensive to sit out on the terrace, but watching the stylish Italians walk by is pricey and well worth it. Of course you have to tick off those main attractions like Milan Cathedral, Uffizi Gallery, Statue of David and all the other great historical places. However, seeing the Ponte Vecchio, slowly wandering up to the Boboli Gardens and sticking your head through the doors of the many churches along the way is best done on foot.
Pro tip: Don’t forget to rub your nose at Il Porcellino, the boar statue in Piazza del Mercato Nuovo. It’s good luck.
4. Rome, Italy
Like Florence, in fact like most Italian cities, Rome is best discovered on foot, step by step. Like a good book, each page or step reveals something new. Every bend reveals something that tourists arriving by bus will miss. Take your time, enjoy Il Dolce Far Niente, the sweet feeling of doing nothing. There are many things a first-time visitor must see, but you can see most of these amazing sights in one day and spend the rest of your stay just walking and being in Rome. Stroll through the neighborhoods of Trastevere with its cobbled streets full of restaurant terraces; Tridente with its Spanish Steps; and Testaccio with its ancient pyramid, the tomb of Gaius Cestius, built around 15 BC. was built.
Pro tip: Do you hate walking around aimlessly? Try a local-led hike.
While it’s absolutely sprawling, many of London’s best attractions are within walking distance, and it’s a delight to wander the tiny streets of the city center knowing that every corner holds so much history. To get an overview of London’s many great sights, hop on and off a red double-decker bus, but once you know where everything is, walk. Many of the attractions are connected by parks, perfect for taking a break and pausing on a park bench while sharing your sandwich with the squirrels. The best places to stroll around slowly and soak up the atmosphere are around Covent Garden, which is criss-crossed by tiny lanes like Cecil Court – famous for its antique shops – or Brydges Place, reputedly the narrowest lane in London. Walk through Lincoln’s Inn Fields, through the old legal and financial district to St Barts Hospital, founded in 1123, and then to St Paul’s Cathedral.
Pro tip: Visit The Old Bell pub, designed by none other than Sir Christopher Wren.
6. Edinburgh, Scotland
Edinburgh is the perfect size for a walkable city. Here you don’t have to decide which neighborhood to explore on foot, you can walk anywhere. Of course, the best place to start is at the Castle for an overview of the city and its landmarks, and then you can stroll down the steep and colorful Castle Hill along the Royal Mile into the city center – all while the oh-so-Instagram-worthy little one pick up pubs and houses along the way. Shop along Princes Street and stroll around the Royal Circus which is not dissimilar to Bath’s Circus with magnificent buildings standing in formation and another similar circus just a few steps away at Moray Place.
Pro tip: Take a stroll along the charmingly named “Water of Leith” river lined with beautiful residential buildings.
7. Vancouver, Canada (tie)
Welcome to the only non-European city to make the top 9 most walkable international cities – beautiful Vancouver. As a relatively large city, it benefits from the grid system, which means it’s quite difficult to get lost, unlike in the old, medieval centers of European cities, where you never quite know where you’re going. There is much to see in Vancouver including the beautiful old town of Gastown (don’t miss the steam clock), beautiful Granville Island with its excellent market and many waterfront restaurants. On the water you can often see seals, many top-notch museums and of course the Waterfront and Stanley Park.
Pro tip: You’ve come this far, so don’t leave without spending a few days on Vancouver Island. Not necessarily walkable except for lovely beach walks and forest trails, but a natural wonder nonetheless.
7. Zurich, Switzerland (tie)
In seventh place with Vancouver is pretty little Zurich. The beautiful, if rather expensive, city on Lake Zurich is so small and full of tiny streets – and steep but manageable hills – that the only way to get around is on foot. No matter what time of year it is in Zurich, it is the best time of year. Whether it’s snowy and offers lovely walks along the snowy hills, or in the summer when a river cruise and a swim in the clear lake are a must, there’s always a festival. The surroundings are simply stunning with the old and colorful old town by the lake and the snow-capped mountains on the horizon.
Pro tip: While it’s walkable, it’s occasionally nice to take the easy route: use the tiny, bright red Polybahn funicular to ride up the hill for the view, then head down.
9. Venice, Italy
In Venice there are only two ways to get around, on foot or by boat, be it gondola or vaporetto. Cars are not allowed in the old town and on many islands, so it is best to walk. And the best thing about walking in Venice is that you can get lost at almost every corner, find places you never wanted to see and enjoy it even more. Apart from the places worth seeing, there are so many little hidden places like Campo San Giacomo with its amazing clock; or Campo Santa Margherita, where you’re practically alone with the locals and is best visited during afternoon spritz time. Connect the dots by water, islands by vaporetto, but in between walk and just get lost.
Pro tip: If you’re planning to visit in October, bring rain boots, because walking around Venice gets wet but no less fun during Aqua Alta, the annual tidal floods.
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