Hiking is healthy, fun, and the cheapest way to get around on the ground. The question is what makes a city accessible? Pedestrian zones help, but they’re not the only criteria. The list of accessible cities that I have compiled here was almost all selected from my own experience. I also like to walk several kilometers when the way from A to B leads past beautiful and interesting sights, possibly landmarks of the city. The quality of the sidewalk is just as important to me. When I have to constantly look down to avoid potholes and broken cobblestones, it’s no fun. I also don’t want to run the constant risk of being run over by cyclists and having to cross intersections because the traffic lights are out of sync.
Sidewalks should not only be level and well-groomed, but also wide so that pedestrians do not have to squeeze past each other and strollers, strollers, wheelchairs and dogs can easily get around on the extension leash. If the walk leads past or through parks with occasional benches for a short rest, all the better. Nice shop fronts are a bonus. Modern urban planning takes all of this into account, but the entire infrastructure of centuries-old cities (like London) cannot be changed. Fortunately, there are some cities around the world where walking is for fun and as safe as possible. Of course you always have to be careful.
Copenhagen, Denmark’s capital, is a prime example of a pedestrian-friendly city. Since the 1960s, the main shopping street Strøget has developed into a delightful pedestrian zone. It’s a 3,500-foot stretch of actually four streets lined with historic medieval buildings as well as modern shops, department stores, and designer boutiques. Everything interspersed with cafes and restaurants, quaint back streets and street entertainment. Cars are allowed to pass, but only at a very low speed, so there is no risk of being run over while taking a long and leisurely walk. The sidewalk is level so you can enjoy the sights and not have to constantly watch your feet. In addition, the buildings are configured to act as natural wind barriers to protect against the often icy winds in Copenhagen. Another delight is that Strøget is a place where everyone goes for a walk – people of all backgrounds and many nationalities come together and meet here.
For me, there is nothing better than walking through central London on an autumn day, that is, through the area between Shaftesbury Avenue, Piccadilly Circus down to Green Park and Hyde Park. It’s not a pedestrian zone, but the sidewalks are wide and level, tree-lined, and the streets are easy to cross with traffic lights that are synchronized to allow crossing in one go without getting stuck in the middle. There are also underpasses that allow side-to-side passage and easy access to Hyde Park. Iconic department stores like Fortnum and Masons are along the way, as are my favorites, the Burlington Arcade with its liveried doorman, New Bond Street with its designer shops, cafes, restaurants and art galleries, and the Royal Academy of Art. Green Park and Hyde Park both huge “green lungs” with lots of footpaths, ponds and other entertainment options. There is no need to board a bus or the subway for the entire route.
In the 1920s, Berlin was famous for strolling along the two most famous ones Boulevard (Fame promenades), Kurfürstendamm and Unter den Linden (in the former East Berlin). Since the reunification, Unter den Linden has regained its importance and its former glory and extends along landmarks such as the Brandenburg Gate, the State Opera and the legendary Hotel Adlon.
The 3.5 km long Kurfürstendamm is another pleasure for hikers. It is considered the Champs Elysées of Germany, a wide boulevard that leads from the iconic Memorial Church to the Halensee green area, which is formed by the Havel. Art Deco buildings stand along Kurfürstendamm, the side streets are full of trees and countless exclusive shops and boutiques make the walk a shopping experience. In between, cafes and restaurants, street performers entertain passers-by. Cycle paths are clearly separated from the sidewalks and “push the button” traffic lights make crossing safe and easy. Watching people have a coffee or a drink is a favorite pastime for Berliners.
I lived in Brickell / Downtown Miami for several years, exploring on foot many weekends. The compact Mary Brickell Village, full of shops, restaurants, and art galleries, is pedestrian and easy to explore. I used to cross the river over the drawbridge, always a thrill when the bell rings and the bridge begins to rise, onto Flagler Street, past the History Museum to the colorful Bayside Market Place with its exotic trees, plants and parrots. Walking doesn’t really count, but a boat trip around Biscayne Bay is a special treat.
There are other fabulous hiking opportunities on South Beach. The boardwalk stretches for miles, as does the beach itself and, next to it, Collins Avenue and the Art Deco district. You can watch the most extravagant characters walk (or dance) with you. If you are serious about shopping, turn onto the pedestrianized Lincoln Mall and Road, which has a weekend street market that’s great for art and furniture.
A campaign called Zuri z’Fuees, what does Zurich on foot mean. The purpose is to encourage citizens to walk rather than congest the streets and the results are tangible. More and more pedestrian zones were created. Especially in the old town of Niederdorf, Augustinergasse and Bahnhofstrasse, the fashionable shopping street. But that’s not all. Zurich lies on both banks of the Limmat and there are long walks along the river, with murals, trees and, in summer, public swimming pools in the river and sunbathing on the bank.
Divided in half by 5th Avenue and bounded by the Hudson, East and Harlem rivers, Manhattan is a very pedestrian-friendly place. In fact, the goal of the movie’s makers is to walk the entire 21 miles Growing up and other lies Did. Doing this all at once would take hours, but walking around Manhattan bit by bit is a pleasure. The gravel net helps with orientation and the countless sights along the way invite you to make long stops. When you get tired, there is no shortage of public transportation to get you back to your hotel. The block-to-block sidewalks are in reasonable condition and the walkways are wide. My favorite sections are Central Park, which is traversed by a 6 mile long road that is completely car-free and has plenty of hiking trails. Rest areas and park benches under the trees invite you to stop off. I also love window shopping along 5th Avenue and I even made it to Fleet Street. Crime has decreased in Manhattan in recent years, so it is relatively safe to walk the streets taking your normal precautions. Crossing from side to side is easy as there are lots of traffic lights. When you get hungry or thirsty, there is a deli or hot dog vendor on every street corner, and your followers are often eccentric enough to provide entertainment. Often times, trees and flowers are planted along the sidewalks to make it even more enjoyable.
Ten years ago, Florence, the capital of Tuscany, was considered the most polluted city in Italy. The mayor was a forward-thinking politician and has been developing a program since 2011 that made it one of the most pedestrian-friendly travel destinations in the world. This was achieved through the creation of large pedestrian streets that now include Piazza del Duomo, Piazza Pitti, Piazza Della Signoria and Via Tornabuoni. Only taxis and ambulances are allowed. You can leave Florence Central Station (Santa Maria Novella) and explore centuries of art and culture on foot. The streets in the medieval part of Florence are quite narrow and several vicoli (short narrow streets) are only passable on foot. There are wide streets with good sidewalks, but medieval means cobblestone streets. So be careful when walking, especially when it’s wet. Florence is an old, historical city, which means that there is definitely no street grid that doesn’t make it easy to negotiate. The best way not to get lost and see all the fabulous sights is to do a half day walking tour. Also, be sure to wear shoes with non-slip soles. The roads are not only slippery when wet, but also because many are made of granite and marble and have been worn down over the centuries.
Here are a few more reasons travelers love to explore cities: