There really is only one way to explore a city properly, without missing the essential little details that make up the essence of a city, and that is on foot. A city tour by bus, boat, or even helicopter is a great idea for an initial overview and to get your bearings, but after that, walking wins every time. Walking a city invites you to look up, look down, turn corners to find unexpected little gems, and peek into closing doors and through windows. Stumble across inviting park benches, tiny little stores never mentioned in any travel guides, and perfect little lunch spots that can only be seen on foot.
Europe’s cities especially lend themselves to donning your most comfortable, but stylish, footwear and stepping out, as this list of 2022 Best of Travel Award winners proves. Only one non-European city made it into 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 plenty of unexpected little treats along the way.
Will your favorite walkable city make the cut?
1. Amsterdam, Netherlands
Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands, comes in at the top spot as our readers’ favorite walkable city in the world. It is also one of the best cities to explore by bicycle. Amsterdam is one of the best capital cities in Europe, full of canals, pretty houses lining them, little cafes, grand museums, and many quaint corners you will only find when walking along the streets or alongside the canals. Apart from the must-see sights such as the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, and the nearby tulip fields coming alive in spring, there are also more quirky things to search out. Would you dare to go on Europe’s highest swing for the stunning view it provides? Maybe trying the local cheese is better?
Pro Tip: In the Rijksmuseum Gardens, between June 3 and October 23, 2022, you can catch this year’s sculpture exhibition featuring Barbara Hepworth’s work from the 1960s and early 1970s.
2. Paris, France
Paris invented the so-called flaneur, a person who strolls leisurely through the city, noticing the little details. Whichever arrondissement you find yourself in, Paris simply needs to be explored slowly and on foot. You’ll notice the intricate doors, the architectural details, the street art, and the little corner cafes asking you to slow down and sit for a while. And, even more importantly, you can walk between all the main sights with ease, taking in more along the way. Walking from the Eiffel Tower to Notre Dame along the banks of the Seine, while stopping off for a galette at the little Breizh stand along the way, is time spent beautifully. You’ll also see the Musée d’Orsay, Place de la Concorde, the Louvre, and much more along the way.
Pro Tip: To get into the mood, read Flâneur: The Art of Wandering the Streets of Paris by Federico Castigliano.
3. Florence, Italy
Florence is a wonderful city, and the old part is eminently walkable with its cobbled streets, ancient wonders along the way, market stalls, and many cafés where you can linger over a coffee and people-watch. Yes, it is more expensive to sit on the terrace, but watching the stylish Italians walk past has its price and is so worth it. Obviously, you’ll need to tick off those main sights like the Duomo di Milano, the Uffizi Gallery, the statue of David, and all the other grand, historic places. However, seeing the Ponte Vecchio, slowly wandering up to the Boboli Gardens and sticking your head through the door of the many churches along the way, is best done on foot.
Pro Tip: Don’t forget to rub the nose of Il Porcellino, the boar statue at Piazza del Mercato Nuovo. It’s good luck.
4. Rome, Italy
Like Florence, in fact like most Italian cities, Rome is best discovered gradually, on foot. Like a good book, every page or step reveals something new. Every turn of a corner reveals something that tourists who come by coach 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 a day, leaving the rest of your stay to just walk and be in Rome. Walk through the neighborhoods of Trastevere with its cobbled streets filled with restaurant terraces; Tridente with its Spanish Steps; and Testaccio with its ancient pyramid, which is the tomb of Gaius Cestius built around 15 BC.
Pro Tip: Hate walking aimlessly? Try a walking tour guided by locals.
5. London, England
While absolutely sprawling, many of London’s best sights are within walking distance, and it is a delight to walk through the tiny lanes in the city center, knowing that every corner holds so much history. To get an overview of London’s many great sights, catch a hop-on, hop-off red double-decker bus, but once you know where everything is, walk. Many of the sights are interconnected by parks, perfect for a respite and a rest on a park bench, sharing your sandwich with the squirrels. The best places to meander slowly, soaking up the atmosphere, are around Covent Garden, which is riddled with tiny lanes such as Cecil Court — famous for its antique bookstores — or Brydges Place, reportedly the narrowest lane in London. Walk through Lincoln’s Inn Fields through the old law and bank quarter to St. Barts Hospital, founded in 1123, then to St. Paul’s Cathedral.
6. Edinburgh, Scotland
Edinburgh is the perfect size for a walking city. Here, you don’t have to make choices of which neighborhood to explore on foot, you can walk everywhere. Obviously, the best place to start is at the castle for an overview of the city and its sights, then you can meander down the steep and colorful Castle Hill along the Royal Mile into the city center — taking in the oh-so-Instagramable little pubs and houses along the way. Shop along Princes Street and walk around the Royal Circus, which is not unlike Bath’s Circus, with gorgeous buildings standing in formation, and another similar set up just steps away at Moray Place.
Pro Tip: Go for a walk along the river charmingly named “Water of Leith,” hemmed by beautiful residential buildings.
7. Vancouver, Canada (Tie)
Welcome to the only non-European city that made the top nine most walkable international cities — gorgeous Vancouver. A relatively large city, it benefits from the grid system, meaning that it is quite difficult to get yourself lost, unlike in the old, medieval centers of European cities, where you never quite know where you’ll end up. There is much to see in Vancouver, including the lovely old quarter of Gastown (don’t miss the steam clock), wonderful Granville Island with its superb market, and the many restaurants by the water. On the water, you can often spot seals, many top-class museums, plus, 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 superb beach walks and forest trails, but a natural wonder all the same.
7. Zürich, Switzerland (Tie)
Tied in seventh place with Vancouver is lovely little Zürich. The gorgeous, if rather pricey, city by Lake Zürich is so small and filled with tiny lanes — and steep but manageable hills — that the only way to really get around is on foot. Whichever season it is in Zürich is the best season. Be it covered in snow, offering gorgeous hikes along the snowy hills, or in summer, when a river boat tour and a swim in the clear lake is a must, there is always a festival going on. The setting is simply stunning with the ancient and colorful old town set against the lake and the snow-capped mountains on the horizon.
Pro Tip: Even though walkable, on occasion, it’s nice to take the easy way: Use the tiny, bright red Polybahn funicular to get up the hill for the views, and then walk down.
9. Venice, Italy
In Venice, there are only two ways to get around, on foot, or by boat, be it gondola or vaporetto. There are no cars allowed in the old city center, nor on many of the islands, so walking is best. And the best thing about walking in Venice is that you will get lost at nearly every turn, finding places you never intended to see and enjoying it even more for that. Apart from the must-see places, there are so many little hidden squares, such as the Campo San Giacomo, with its amazing clock; or Campo Santa Margherita, where you are practically alone with the locals and is best visited at afternoon spritz-drinking time. Connect the dots by waterway, the islands by vaporetto, but in between, walk and just get yourself lost.
Pro Tip: If you intend to visit around October, bring some rain boots, because walking through Venice gets wet but no less fun during Aqua Alta, the annual tidal floods.