16 of the world's most walkable cities
When visiting a new city, it may be tempting to rent a car or use public transportation to squeeze in as many possible sites in the time that you have, but some of the most memorable trips include exploring on foot. Of course, some cities are more walkable than others – these are some of our favourite to stroll.
Vancouver, British Columbia
Many of Vancouver’s charms can be enjoyed on foot, from its hopping downtown to lush parks, beaches and historic neighbourhoods. Downtown is incredibly walkable, and areas like Gastown, Granville Island and Stanley Park can easily be explored on foot too.
From the Vancouver City Centre station, walk to Vancouver Art Gallery which showcases British Columbia works by renowned Canadians as well as pieces by international artists. Just a few blocks away is the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art which focuses on works by the prolific Indigenous artist. Less than a half-mile away is the Lookout at Harbour Centre where you can take in a 360-degree view of the city. There are plenty of options for shopping too, with Robson Street the most famous, home to more than 100 shops as the epicentre of the downtown shopping district.
You may want to save a half-day or more for Stanley Park, one of the largest parks in North America. Enjoy views of Lions Gate Bridge, Burrard Inlet, the North Shore Mountains and downtown Vancouver as you walk along the seawall, as well as landmarks like the 32-million-year-old Siwash Rock that rises from the water and the “Girl in a Wetsuit,” a modern-day mermaid sculpture. The park is also home to the largest aquarium in Canada, a waterpark, swimming pool and miniature railway.
Gastown, the city’s oldest neighbourhood, is not-to-be-missed with its cobbled streets and famous steam clock - the only one of its kind in the world. It also hosts fabulous restaurants, bars and boutique shops. Walking is really the only way to get around historic Granville Island. Explore the countless shops and art galleries before dining at the Granville Island Public Market which offers a diverse array of cuisine that can be enjoyed outside along the water.
Compact and primarily flat, Kyoto is an ideal city for walking and it boasts more temples and shrines than anywhere else in Japan. The top walks include the Southern Higashiyama District and the Northern Higashiyama District. If you only have time for one, choose the most popular sightseeing district, the Southern Higashiyama District, which is one long strip of highly-ranked sights. Begin at the famous Kiyomizu-dera Temple before descending the atmospheric Ninen-zaka and Sanen-zaka lanes. Stroll down pretty Ishibei-koji Lane which will bring you to Maruyama-koen Park. Here you can explore the Chion-in temple, considered the ‘Vatican of Japanese Buddhism.’
The Northern Higashiyama Area is less crowded than Southern Higashiyama but it’s home to at least as many great sights, including shrines and temples, along with plenty of lush greenery. Here you’ll find the Nanzen-ji Temple, founded in 1291 and expanded in 1597. It’s considered the head temple of Kyoto’s five greatest temples. Two of the top museums in the city, the National Museum of Modern Art and the Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art can be found in Okazaki-koen, a large area with canals and parks. You can also visit the head of shrines, Heian-jinju, with a beautiful adjacent Japanese-style garden. The Philosopher’s Path connects multiple different temples, shrines and scenic spots with tea houses, small shops and restaurants along the way.
As the gateway to Macchu Pichu, the famous lost city of the Incas, Cusco is on just about every Peru itinerary. It’s extremely compact and can easily be explored on foot, with its focal point the Plaza de Armas, a landscaped square in the heart of the city. The main cathedral and the Church of La Compania both open directly onto the plaza.
The Cusco Cathedral, or Cathedral of Santo Domingo, was completed in 1654, nearly a century after construction began. The smaller church, Iglesia del Triunfo, was the first Christian church built in the city. Nearby in the historic Palacio Arzobispal del Cuzco (Archiepiscopal Palace), is the must-see Museum of Religious Art which features an impressive display of religious art, paintings and colonial furniture. Stroll Hatunrumiyoc, a narrow pedestrian street near the plaza to view Inca stone construction, an excellent example of what the Inca were capable of creating, it was part of the Inca Roca Palace. This area is filled with museums and small shops that are worth exploring. The History Museum of Cusco is just a few blocks from the central plaza, situated within the former house of famous local writer Garcilazo de la Vega. It displays a permanent collection of paintings from the Academy of Cusco, archaeological artefacts and wooden sculptures.
Don’t miss the San Blas Art District, with its picturesque streets lined with art galleries, independent shops and bars, along with the San Blas Church which features the Pulpit of San Blas, considered one of South America’s greatest jewels.
New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans is large enough to offer lots of incredible restaurants, bars, museums, entertainment venues and parks, but small enough that you can easily walk to many of its top spots. Tucked between the Central Business District and the Marigny, the French Quarter is the most walkable neighbourhood of all. A vibrant community with lots of Bohemian flair, on any given day you’ll find musicians, artisans and street performers to enjoy as you stroll through its famous sights.
Capture a selfie next to the statue of America’s seventh president, Andrew Jackson, set atop a horse in Jackson’s Square and visit the 1850 House Museum in the Lower Pontalba Building. Here you can take a step back in time to the days of Antebellum New Orleans, experiencing what life was like during the mid-19th century. Gaze up at the St. Louis Cathedral, America’s oldest continually running Catholic cathedral, and visit the Presbytere, which houses part of the Louisiana State Museum. The second floor features a Mardi Gras Museum while the first floor showcases a Hurricane Katrina exhibit. The Cabildo is the building in which in 1803 the Louisiana Purchase was signed – it’s part of the Louisiana State Museum system with a wide-ranging exhibit that covers many aspects of city and state history.
Other highlights that can easily be explored on foot in the French Quarter include the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum, the Williams Research Center, and Royal Street, a pedestrian street during the day that features multiple art galleries. 13-block-long Bourbon Street is one of the world’s most notorious, lined with live music venues, gentleman’s clubs and bars where you can stop in for a hurricane or a hand grenade, one of the signature drinks in the area.
Melbourne, Australia’s ‘cultural capital,’ is often ranked among the world’s most walkable cities. The capital of the state of Victoria, it sits along Port Phillip Bay in the southeast. Discover a mecca for fine food and shopping, with Victorian architecture tucked between glittering skyscrapers while urban parks meet the picturesque coast.
While there’s a lot of ground to cover, you can see many of the city’s highlights in just a few hours of walking, starting at the historic Queen Victoria Market. Get an energy boost by grabbing a coffee to go before checking out the many stalls. From here visit the State Library of Victoria with its collection of art galleries, some two million books and historical exhibits, including the popular exhibit focused on infamous outlaw Ned Kelly. Further east on Lygon Street is the Old Melbourne Gaol (Jail) which was in operation from 1842 until 1929, hanging many criminals during its time, including Kelly. On Queensberry Street you’ll find the Carlton Gardens and Royal Exhibition Building. Head south toward the Parliament where you’ll enjoy a great view of St. Patrick’s Cathedral before reaching the Parliament House. On non-sitting days, you can take a guided tour of the interior. Walk the length of Chinatown with its hanging lanterns and ornately painted gates, Asian shops and restaurants and then head Bourke Street Mall for some great people watching, shopping and street performances. A stroll down Hosier Lane is a must to see some of Melbourne’s best street art – it’s not graffiti, but all impressive, commissioned works.
Old Quebec City, Montreal
Old Quebec City, often referred to as a “bit of Old Europe on American soil,” is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the only walled city on the continent north of Mexico. Founded in the early 17th century, the ramparts, gates and other fortifications serve as a reminder of its role in the colonial wars for the control of the Americas.
Experience the 30-minute sound and light show at Musee du Fort which tells the story of six military sieges that shaped Quebec’s history in the heart of Old Quebec. A short stroll away is the Musée du Pôle culturel du Monastère des Ursulines, a spectacular art and history museum housed inside of what’s considered to be one of the finest examples of conventional architecture in North America. It showcases artefacts focused on the Ursuline order of nuns who’ve taught girls in the city since 1639. Its convent gardens, which were hidden for nearly four centuries, are open to the public in the summer. The Citadel sits atop Cap Diamant, offering a breathtaking view of the city and the St. Lawrence River, while its walls enclose some 300 years of history. You can take a guided tour and watch a changing of the guard ceremony.
Charleston, South Carolina
The quaint avenues of Charleston’s historic district are meant to be explored on foot, with its cobblestone streets and alleyways lined by grand, centuries-old mansions. Start at Waterfront Park on the southern tip of the downtown peninsula which boasts gorgeous views of the harbour and then head to Rainbow Row, a charming row of over a dozen colourful historic homes, the longest cluster of Georgian houses in the country. Continue to East Bay, watching the boats sail across the water, and then you’ll come upon White Point Gardens with its beautiful live oaks and abundance of Civil War relics. The very best vantage point of the Charleston’s most impressive homes can be found by walking along Legare. End with a picnic under one of the moss-draped ancient oak trees in Washington Square, a half square block of lush green space that serves as an oasis in the city.
While it may be the largest city in Canada, Toronto is surprisingly easy to get around on foot. Stroll the narrow streets of Kensington Market to check out the city’s top alternative eats, quirkiest vintage stores and get a jolt of caffeine to fuel your exploits. This area is home to the highest concentration of coffee shops in Toronto with lots of places to stop and enjoy people watching while sipping a beverage too.
The Distillery District is a pedestrian-only neighbourhood located in the downtown east area and features some of the most well-preserved industrial architecture from the 19th-century on the continent, including the 1830s Gooderham and Worts Distillery, once the world’s largest whiskey producer. You’ll feel as if you’re walking through another time with the red-brick facades and cobblestone streets. Art enthusiasts can pop into more than 20 galleries and studios and admire the playful sculptures that line the district’s streets. Indulge in retail therapy with over a dozen high-end shops at The Distillery and then wander the 18 acres of trails in the emerging waterfront park adjacent to West Don Lands.
Take the 15-minute ferry ride across the Inner Harbour to the Toronto Islands and you can explore picturesque parkland, timing your stroll to catch a magnificent sunset view of the Toronto skyline while looking back across the harbour. After dark, head to Toronto’s answer to Times Square, Yonge-Dundas Square with its endless bright lights and frequent events, including free public concerts in the summer.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
The capital of Argentina is a city like no other. It’s not uncommon to encounter an impromptu tango performance right on the streets, while pedestrian areas are lined with a multitude of shops, cafes, wine bars and steakhouses. Much of the city is walkable, and its tourism board offers free guided walking tours every day of the week, though you can easily explore it on your own.
La Boca, with its colourful, artsy vibe, is home to two of the most famous attractions in Buenos Aires, Caminito, the artists’ street by the water and La Bombonera, the football stadium. Tours of the stadium are available but it’s best experienced by attending a game. Watching the battle between the Boca Juniors and their rival River Plate, referred to as the Superclasico, is often included on lists of the ‘100 things to see before you die.’ Caminito is a unique area where you can watch an open-air tango show from one of the many outdoor cafes and admire the works of local artists like Benito Quinquela Martin. Palermo is one of the city’s hippest districts, just 20 minutes outside the city centre, filled with art galleries, museums, shops, markets, trendy cafes, restaurants, bars and nightclubs. This is where you’ll discover some of the finest boutiques, dining and nightlife options.
Puerto Madero offers upscale dining and some magnificent brick buildings along the water with a mix of historical and modern architectural styles. It’s also home to an ecological reserve where you can take a stroll along the boardwalk, tucked between the high-rise buildings and the Rio de la Plata.
Much of the ‘Mile High City,’ as Denver is often referred to for its high elevation rising exactly a mile above sea level, can easily be explored on foot. Downtown is its historic district, where you’ll find some of its best museums, art, theatre, shopping and dining all within just a mile. It’s home to the 16th Street Mall, a mile-long roadway filled with cafes, restaurants and shops, including the city’s famous Tattered Cover bookshop. In the area around Civic Center Park and the Golden Triangle, bounded by Broadway, Colfax Avenue, 11th Avenue and Cherokee Street, you’ll find many points of interest, including Civic Center Park, the Colorado State Capitol Building, the Denver Art Museum, History Colorado Center, the Clyfford Still Museum, Byers-Evans House and the United States Mint at Denver, with multiple art galleries and studios tucked in between.
Art lovers won’t want to miss the Arts District on Santa Fe, one of Colorado’s designated Creative Districts which houses over 60 galleries, the largest concentration in the city. You’ll find plenty of ways to enjoy nature too, with historic Wash Park featuring a 2.5-mile loop that’s one of the top spots for walking and people watching in the city. There are lakes for paddling and beautiful formal flower gardens as well.
Galle, Sri Lanka
The historic city of Galle is best explored on foot. A UNESCO World Heritage Site on the southwest coast of Sri Lanka, it hosts magnificent ancient mosques and churches, impressive Dutch colonial buildings, museums and magnificent mansions. The Fort, a walled enclave surrounded on three sides by the ocean, serves as the core and the best place for a walking tour.
Enter at the clock tower built in 1883, following the inside of the wall toward the main gate and the Sun Bastion which was constructed by the Portuguese in 1620. Here you can take in some of the very best views across the harbour. On Church Street you’ll find one of Sri Lanka’s oldest Protestant churches, constructed in the mid-18th century, as well as the 1701 bell tower which sits at the corner of Queens Street. Just behind it is the Marine Archaeological Museum, a must to explore. Continuing down Queens Street you’ll find the Old Gate with its beautifully carved British coat of Arms before reaching the outer fort walls along the seafront. The Black Bastion is just to the left, built in 1580. Following the fort walls along the ocean on Hospital Street, pass Court Square with its giant banyan trees and the former Dutch Hospital which now houses several shops and cafes. Keep walking and you’ll reach the best beach in the city, Lighthouse Beach, ideal for a refreshing dip.
New York City, New York
New York City is America’s largest by population, but it’s a city that’s made for walking. It’s also very big, so you may want to cover it one neighbourhood at a time. A joy to explore on foot, Manhattan is the top spot when it comes to major sites, but don’t overlook Brooklyn, Staten Island, Queens and the Bronx, as they’re all worth exploring, particularly highlights like Historic Richmond Town, the Brooklyn Heights Promenade and the Queens Museum.
Manhattan is 2.3 miles wide and 13.4 miles long, jam-packed with world-class attractions. You might want to start by walking the just-over-a-mile-long Brooklyn Bridge, which connects Manhattan and Brooklyn. You’ll take in some of the best views of the city skyline, harbour and East River. Central Park is a must, with many attractions of its own. Check out Strawberry Fields with its Imagine Mosaic, a tribute to the late John Lennon and Belvedere Castle – the miniature stone castle that dates to 1869 can be climbed for a grew view over the park and the city. If you want to give your feet a break, rent a boat at the Loeb Boathouse and paddle around the water.
A stroll along Fifth Avenue was made for shopaholics, lined with places like Tiffany & Co. and Saks Fifth Avenue. You can also stop to see the country’s biggest and most famous Catholic cathedral, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, located between E. 50th and E. 51st streets.
Tokyo is a massive city, but it is possible to conquer it on foot by covering one neighbourhood at a time. Asakusa is the top destination for experiencing the remains of old Tokyo. This is where you’ll discover narrow streets strolled by kimono-wearing women, traditional shops, the city’s oldest and most popular temple, a temple market and old-fashioned amusement park.
One of the best ways to begin is to arrive by boat from Hama Rikyu Garden, just like people did years ago. Just a couple of blocks from the boat pier is the colourful Kaminarimon Gate with its 220-pound lantern. Once you’ve passed the gate, you’ll be on the pedestrian lane known as Nakamise Dori, lined with stall after stall where you can buy umbrellas, shoes, bags, toys, sweets, Japanese dolls, fans, t-shirts, masks and more. Farther along you’ll find a small red gate, the Chingodo Shrine which leads to the tranquil Demboin Garden serving as a peaceful oasis in the middle of the hustle and bustle.
A second gate further down opens to a square with a large temple. Sensoji Temple is the city’s oldest, founded in the 7th century, drawing an estimated 20 million people every year. Inside is a counter where you can buy your “fortune.” On the grounds is the Asakusa Jinja Shrine, built in 1649. West of the temple, you’ll see a garden-like area of lesser shrines, flowering bushes and memorials. The kitsch and tourist hubbub around the temple isn’t a product of modern tourism – it’s been a haven for locals and visitors since around 1720, with the only difference between now and then the products that are sold.
Boston may be New England’s largest city, but it’s relatively small while packing a punch when it comes to history. Easily navigable on foot, it boasts an astounding array of historical sites as the birthplace of the American Revolution. Walking the two-and-a-half-mile Freedom Trail is arguably the best way to delve into it. It’s marked by a red stripe and travels through the city’s most historic neighbourhoods, including 16 important sites pertaining to the Revolutionary War along the way. Start at Boston Common, the camping grounds of the Redcoats, stopping at the Granary Burying Grounds which houses the graves of Paul Revere, Sam Adams, John Hancock and the parents of Benjamin Franklin. Paul Revere’s House, the Boston Massacre Site and the Old State Museum can also be visited along the way. The museum includes impressive memorabilia like the vial of tea that was salvaged from the original Tea Party crowd.
Hoi An, Vietnam
Vietnam’s most atmospheric city was the country’s main port from the 15th- to 19th-century. It’s now a World Heritage Site with hundreds of buildings designated historic landmarks. The best way to take in its rich history and culture that includes centuries-old temples and beautiful architecture adorned with colourful lanterns, is to explore it on foot. One of the finest examples of a well-preserved Southeast Asian trading port, you’ll need an entrance ticket to the ancient town which includes five coupons for further exploration of sites like the Japanese bridge, temples and night market.
The Japanese bridge is an iconic symbol of the city, making for an ideal photo-op. Built by the Japanese community in the early 17th-century, it holds a shrine to the Taoist deity of storms and weather. The Central Market of Hoi An on the banks of Thu Bon River is a must for a good glimpse at authentic Vietnamese life while Phuc Kien hall, which dates to the late 1600s, dedicated to the goddess of the sea and protector of sailors, provides a feast for the senses with its vibrant colours and smells. Duc An, which once served as a traditional Chinese medicine shop, includes fabulous pieces of carved wooden furniture and old medicine cabinets. The Museum of Trade Ceramics is housed in a gorgeous traditional Vietnamese-style building with a courtyard that offers multiple photogenic spots, and you can stop to do some shopping and watch the artisans at work, creating sculptures, quilts, intricate work in soapstone, porcelain and metal as well as embroidery on silk, at the Handicraft Workshop.
San Francisco, California
San Francisco is often named among America’s most walkable cities, but there are some neighbourhoods here that are better for exploring on foot than others. One of the world’s most iconic walks can be enjoyed by walking the 1.7-mile sidewalk on the Golden Gate Bridge while taking in views of the city skyline, the glistening expanse of the Pacific, Alcatraz Island and the soaring golden towers. You can also walk the picturesque trails in Golden Gate Park, filled with some of the city’s top attractions like the California Academy of Sciences which includes a natural history museum, aquarium and planetarium, and the beaches along the coast.
Chinatown is often overlooked, but it’s especially walkable and has a lengthy history as the oldest Chinatown in North America and the largest outside of China itself. Check out the Chinese Historical Society of America Museum and the Tin How Temple and be sure to sample one of the more than 100 varieties of dim sum at Yank Sing.
The Embarcadero offers an iconic walk starting from the Ferry Building where weekends bring the Bay Area’s best and biggest farmers’ market. Many of the city’s most famous foods can be found here every day of the week too. Head north along the Embarcadero following the piers toward famous Pier 39 which draws some of the thickest tourist crowds, though worth the visit to see the sea lions. Fisherman’s Wharf offers some great stops like the Musee Mechanique, one of the largest privately-owned collections of coin operated mechanical machines in the world, with more than 300 on display. Continue walking along the waterfront and you’ll reach Ghirardelli Square where you can sample delectable chocolate before coming upon the Wave Organ. Perched at the top of a jetty in the marina, it’s a musical instrument that’s played by the bay.
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