walkable cities

Get lost in the world’s most walkable cities

Written by Anna Brech

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There’s an undeniable romance about great city walks.

There you are, on the brink of somewhere fresh and undiscovered, with the streets spreading out before you.

Direction isn’t really important; you can just choose a neighbourhood and then wander around at your own pace.

Perhaps you stop for a coffee in a leafy square along the way, or browse a local bookshop; this is all about getting a feel for a place and discovering it on your own terms.

So, throw Google Maps to the wind and embrace your inner explorer as we mosey around a few of the world’s most walkable cities – from bustling waterfront capitals to creative hillside havens:

Paris

walkable cities

With its elegant tree-lined avenues and evocative skyline, the City of Light never fails to captivate. It’s a wonderful city to walk around.

Walk one: Climb your way up to the hilltop hideaway of Montmartre and make like Amelie as you lose yourself in a warren of cobbled streets and winding stairways. The headline view awaits in front of the Sacre Coeur, where a dreamy canvas of Paris unfolds before you, with the Eiffel Tower lingering to the west of the horizon.

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Walk two: Head to the Jewish Quarter in the Marais, with its chic offering of squares, galleries and boutiques.  Walk south to Île Saint-Louis, where you can grab a café crème by the Sienne, then amble over the bridge to neighbouring Île de la Cité and the Notre Dame. Continue over to the Left Bank and tap your inner intellectual with a visit to the famous Shakespeare And Company bookshop.

Hanoi

walkable cities

Hanoi bridges the best of both worlds, with an ancient, thrumming heart that is rapidly modernising. Watch out for the clamour of a thousand scooters as you stretch your legs here.

Walk one: You can’t go wrong with a mosey around Hoàn Kiem lake, the spiritual hub of Vietnam’s capital. Escape the bleeping chaos of the surrounding streets by the serene waters of so-called “Turtle Lake”, amid courting couples and groups of incredibly flexible old ladies practising Tai Chi.

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Walk two: Indulge your adventurist within by setting forth into the maze of tiny streets that make up Hanoi’s old quarter. This is a city that wakes super-early, so for the best experience (and to beat the crowds) head out at dawn, and see the labyrinth of storefronts and pavement cafés come alive in the morning light.

London

From sprawling parks to historic riverbanks and a mass of eclectic neighbourhoods, it’s no surprise that City Hall is set on making London the world’s most walkable city.

Walk one: Start at London Zoo in Regent’s Park and head east along the buzzing canal path to Camden market (with a pit-stop for noodles). Then walk up past the Roundhouse theatre to Haverstock Hill and beloved Hampstead Heath, ending with lunch at The Spaniard’s Inn.

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Walk two: Grab a front-row seat to London’s compelling cityscape, with a wander along the South Bank. Start at Embankment tube and drink in the spirit of the capital on wonderful Hungerford Bridge. Then, mosey on past the National Theatre, The Globe and Borough Market in the beating heart of London town.

Medellín

walkable cities

Once considered a no-go area at the height of Colombia’s drug wars, Medellín has undergone a miraculous regeneration in the past decade and is now one of the countries’ most innovative hubs. Head out on foot in the “City of Eternal Spring” to appreciate its regrowth first-hand.

Walk one: For a real understanding of Colombia’s past – and how far it has come – head to the hillside neighbourhood of Comuna 13. Once plagued by violence, this thriving district is now home to a close-knit community of families and small business owners. Catch a ride on the iconic orange-roofed escalator that scales the mountain, before meandering your way along steep alleyways high above the city.

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Walk two: Another triumph of Medellín’s infrastructure is its visionary cable car system – hailed as “the great uniting force”. Jump aboard to travel from the city centre to previously out-of-reach suburban neighbourhoods and get a feel for Medellín life beyond the bright lights.

Venice

walkable cities

With zero cars and a tapestry of ancient canals, Venice is surely one of the most delightful cities in the world to go walkabout in – as long as you avoid the bigger tourist hot spots.

Walk one: For a lively neighbourhood that is nevertheless off the beaten track, cut a path alongside the Fondamenta della Misericordia in the Cannaregio district. This lovely canal stretch is packed with restaurants that spill out onto the pavement and offers a welcome glimpse into local life.

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Walk two: Hop on a vaporetto over the Laguna Veneta to the tiny enclave of Murano, just a few miles off the Queen of the Adriatic. The birthplace of Venetian glass,  Murano has its own creative identity and bright, pastel-coloured houses jostle for attention next to 16th Century churches and towers. Wander between seven little islands, all connected by footbridge, to experience a world away from the hubbub of mainland Venice.

Hong Kong

walkable cities

With neighbourhoods that meld into a steep valley incline on Hong Kong Island, any walk here requires a fair amount of effort. But the sensational views are more than worth the schlep.

Walk one: The tram is  fun, but a more interesting way up to Victoria Peak – Hong Kong’s crowning viewpoint – is to walk it (you can find different routes right here). Once you’re at the summit, tackle the much-loved Peak Circle Walk through some of Hong Kong’s most chi-chi areas, along with rousing snapshots of Hong Kong harbour and its magnetic urban landscape.

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Walk two: Head out of town on the Dragon’s Back Trail, an 8.5-kilometre trek through bamboo groves and remote stretches of coastline on the southeast corner of Hong Kong Island. This lovely walk, crowned Asia’s best urban trek by Time magazine, takes you along a spinal ridge that emulates the shape of a dragon.

Rio de Janiero

walkable cities

Rio’s infectious party spirit is best experienced by pounding the pavements – just make sure you stop for a fuelling Caipirinha en-route…

Walk one: Hit Avenida Atlântica to capture the essence of Rio, in all its colourful brilliance. This beach-side avenue is the lifeblood of the city, stretching along the coast past the world-famous Ipanema and Copacabana beaches. Make yourself at home amid the al fresco gym bunnies, teen volleyball crews and hundreds of beach-goers in the skimpiest swimwear known to mankind. Don’t forget to look up now and again, to catch glimpses of the iconic Pão de Açúcar and Christ the Redeemer statue on the skyline.

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Walk two: Take a mosey around the bohemian hillside district of Santa Teresa (above). This distinctly creative neighbourhood is home to pretty whitewash villas interspersed with bright bursts of street art. Narrow lanes are lined by artist studios and one-off boutiques, and historic trams trundle their way up the steeper stretches.

Luang Prabang

walkable cities

Lovely Luang Prabang in Laos is soup for the soul when it comes to walking. Wander the streets to lose yourself in a world of gilded temples and vibrant bursts of bougainvillea.

Walk one: Saunter along the banks of the Mekong to get a flavour of what this mellow UNESCO town is all about. Pass groups of locals playing pétanque together (a nod to Laos’ French colonial past) and steal a pew amid a sea of cushions at one of the terraced riverside cafés. Out on the river, life unfolds to a lazy rhythm, with put-putting longboats and hazy sandbanks here and there.

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Walk two: Got your stamina handy? Climb the 355 steps up Mount Phousi, for 360-degree views of Luang Prabang and the surrounding countryside. From here, you’ll be able to spy out a tapestry of ancient temples, including the ornate Wat Mai palace and the 16th Century Wat Xieng Thong. For extra wow factor, try this walk at sunrise and see monks in saffron robes take part in the sacred giving of the alms ceremony from a non-intrusive standpoint.

Copenhagen

walkable cities

From futuristic minimalism to neoclassical chic, Denmark’s capital brims with design innovation. Walking is a great way to grab your own slice of its effortless Scandi cool.

Walk one: Take your pick of fabulous walks along Copenhagen’s eminently pleasant Harbour Circle, stretching from Nyhavn in the north to Sluseløbet in the south, on both sides of the harbour mouth. Pass rickety houseboats, industrial docklands and cultural collectives such as BLOX and Kulturhuset Islands Brygge to capture the soul of Danish enterprise.

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Walk two: With its bustling fruit markets, pristine gardens and relaxed canal-side jazz, a lunch-time stroll around Copenhagen’s old centre will tell you everything you need to know about why this is one of the happiest nations on earth. Grab a cinnamon snegl or a buttery chokoladebolle from a nearby bakery and make yourself at home in the grounds of a fairy-tale castle. This is Denmark – you can have your pastry and eat it…

Images: Shutterstock


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