I have always been a proponent of exploring cities by walking. By taking guided walking tours with locals, you get to see many of the hidden sights, hear about the cities’ secrets, and learn about the non-touristy places to eat at.
When was the last time you walked around a new place without a map, GPS or smart phone? Walking alone can also be therapeutic. Not having a plan or being in a rush to get to your next destination, means that you can take the time to be in the moment. It allows you to observe your surroundings more keenly, and exercises your brain muscles too.
Now, that we are looking to travel safely again, get more exercise, and save money, walking is the most practical way to explore. But where in the world do you start?
According to a recent study published by Luggage Hero, here are the top 10 most walkable cities in the world. These are scored based on 5 different walkability markers – climate, air quality and CO2 emissions, safety, walking trails, nature and parks, as well as hours of sunshine.
Vienna topped the charts as the most pedestrian-friendly capital city, making it the ideal city break location to explore solely on foot. Walking in Vienna meant you could stroll through history without a fuss. At every corner, you can find a cafe where as a matter of factly Mozart wrote a legendary piece of music or Kent got inspired to paint his masterpiece! Take breaks at one of the hundreds of cafes around Vienna where you are likely to find the Viennese simply sitting with coffee and pastries for hours.
Another way to discover the history and culture of Vienna is with my charming friend, Ina Hauer. I met Ina on a trip to Senegal and The Gambia, and her perfect English, world knowledge and witty humor, sparked an instant friendship. No matter what your interests, make sure to check out Lila Tilla’s Tours when you visit Vienna.
The capital of Portugal ranked the second-highest in walking infrastructure. Make sure to bring some good walking shoes to trek the steep cobblestone streets around town. I only spent a day in Lisbon, a stop on my 2-weeks long Royal Caribbean Mediterranean Cruise, but I walked that entire day!
New York City, USA
Tall skyscraper, busy streets, neon lights – those are the first impressions of New York City. But a spontaneous walk around the quieter neighborhoods of SoHo, Lower East Side or Central Park, and you will see why New York City is rated one of the top walking cities in the world.
Why not tour the city with a native New Yorker? My friend and colleague, Bruce Northam is a travel journalist, award-winning author, and a New York City resident, who offers walking tours to the public. You will be delighted by his storytelling skills and will surely get to learn about the city.
You may not think of the biggest city in the world to be ideal for walking, but like New York, Tokyo too has lots of green spaces, as well as quirky neighborhoods. Out of the 28 cities included in the study, Tokyo had the highest number of nature and parks, at 652. Tokyo also scored highly for city safety.
One of my favorite memories of Japan was on a 10-day walking tour across smaller Japan’s towns with Walk Japan. Each day we would start with an authentic Japanese breakfast, walk through villages and mountains, and in the evening, returning to our cozy family-run ryokans for a omakase feast. I learned so much about the Japanese culture and got to see the Japanese countryside, often overlooked by tourists.
Now, I haven’t been to mainland China. But I can only imagine the colorful and bustling streets, dotted with street food vendors to high-end fashion boutiques. In Hong Kong, the street signs and subway stations were all marked in Chinese letters making it hard to navigate. Still, if your objective is to wander aimlessly, this would be an easy place to get lost! Just watch for street peddlers and con artists, and leave big cameras and expensive jewelry at home.
Seoul, South Korea
Seoul is actually a very safe city where I traveled solo, mainly on foot. There are numerous markets, historic sights, Buddhist temples, and palaces that you can see by simply walking through the city. Seoul is quite hilly and gets bitter cold in the winter, so make sure to dress in layers. Of course, every good walk deserves a stop at a Korean bakery!
You can also hire a volunteer guide to take you around Seoul, as well as other cities in Korea. Read more about it below…
My last international trip was to Spain, just before the world shut down due to COVID-19. I love the relaxed energy, Bohemian vibe and strong culture of Madrid. You can see people enjoy good food and wine at artistic buildings and courtyards throughout the day and night.
One of my favorite walks takes you through the heart of the city. Start in Plaza Mayor, to Plaza de la Armenia, Puerto de Toledo, Retiro Park, and end at Mercado San Miguel for wine and tapas. If your heart still desires, stop at Chocolateria San Gines for my favorite churros con chocolate in the world!
Prague, Czech Republic
With historic castles, bridges, gardens, rivers, and museums, Prague is the quintessential European city where one can walk for hours and days without getting bored. The survey revealed Prague as the third safest city for walking, which makes sense given the city never really sleeps. See the most important sights of Prague Old Town, admire the Baroque architecture, and stroll through some of the most romantic bridges in the world.
Hop on FreeWalkingTours.com to find a walking tour near you. I have taken several of their free tours, which offer an inexpensive way to learn about the city, meet locals, as well as other travelers. It also helps the guides (usually college students and stay at home moms) gain side income. Often, groups sizes are from 1-15, though I have often had a private tour. At the end, you simply pay whatever you feel the tour was worth to you.
Though you may think of the best ways to travel in London would be in a black cab or the Tube (underground railway), the survey landed London in the top most walkable cities in the world. There are 277 nature and parks dotted across the city.
I find London to be fascinating during any season, as there is architecture, culture, food and lots of history around each bend. On my last trip to London, I took a few walking tours with London Food Lovers in SOHO, and with Eating Europe in East End where we sampled the best bread and butter pudding, fried fish and chips with homemade peas, and British hard cider at old-fashioned neighborhood pubs.
Movies and books based in Paris have helped further its image as the dreamy city that offers perfect Instagram moments. The new comedy “Emily in Paris” also confirms that even heartbreaks, souvenir store fashions, and dog poop look fancier in Paris!
There are good and great neighborhoods in Paris to walk, and I believe you should explore them all – from the Louvre to the Arc de Triomphe, Latin Quarter and the Luxembourg gardens, and most definitely along the Seine, and the Eiffel tower at night. Grab a baguette, stop at one of the park benches to people watch, practice your French, and keep exploring!