Having already posted my distain for “Top Ten” lists that are far too trite I thought I would instead share my favorite European destinations of those I’ve visited that are pedestrian-friendly and easily explored on foot. Before taking the first step however can’t help but chuckle when I read such online lists and see the likes of Paris, London and Rome as while all three are among the world capitals every traveller must experience they are large enough they need to be broken down into smaller neighborhoods to be more easily seen by walkers as their city centers aren’t easily or quickly traversed on foot. There is also no rhyme or reason to this list so won’t number the destinations as this isn’t a contest and all are winners for those who prefer compact city centers to wander at will.
Very few sights in the city center of the capital of the Republic of Ireland are more than a 20 minute casual stroll from each other with most much less which is why Dublin is best seen on foot. While many of the historic sights such as St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Trinity College and Dublin Castle are clustered on the south side of the River Liffey that divides the city the north side deserves a peak and there’s no better way to traverse the river than the iconic Ha’penny Bridge so named as in 1816 it replaced a ferry but the construction cost was recovered as a toll of a half penny was extracted of everyone crossing it for a century.
Such a scenic city deserves to be seen up close and personal, preferably at quiet moments when the cobbled canal-side streets are free of traffic and you are joined by locals out for social calls or light shopping errands. The visitor exiting the sprawling Centraal Station needs only to stroll a few minutes up Damrak to Dam Square and the Royal palace to be at the center of this Dutch capital. In fact it was this dam on the river Amstel that gives the city its name.
A word of warning for pedestrians to always be checking for speeding cyclists, cars, trams and busses as often all are competing for the same space or are crossing each others paths. Having your head on a swivel before taking the next step is always a very good habit to get into while in Amsterdam.
The epicenter of the Renaissance this Tuscan town has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage List site and with good reason for its architectural and artistic significance. Climbing the winding curved staircase of Brunelleschi’s dome of Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore which is more commonly known simply as Il Duomo di Firenze the intrepid visitor is rewarded with a view that seems right out of the 16th century.
The Uffizi Gallery and nearby Ponte Vecchio make good starting points for casual city sightseeing with the main square Piazza della Signoria barely 100 M away. Take in this public space before moving onward to the Duomo and Accademia to stare at Michelangelo’s David but a worthy detour on the way back is to the Bargello National Museum which includes masterpieces by Michelangelo and at EUR 4 is one of the biggest values in Florence. Wander around this former prison and barracks without all the crowds of the Uffizi and marvel at its origins which go back to the 13th century.
More than Amsterdam in miniature Bruges survived for centuries as an important trade center before losing its prominence to nearby Antwerp but its well preserved canals and compact quarters offer a rewarding contrast to its larger Dutch cousin.
Bruges by Wolfgang Staudt is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Bruges also is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage List site as “an outstanding example of a medieval historic settlement, which has maintained its historic fabric as this has evolved over the centuries ” and deserves to be explore on foot in a compact historic district hardly more than a square kilometre in size. If able stay in a local hotel to amble the side streets after the day trip crowds have departed.
On the left bank of the River Rhône this French town played host between 1309 and 1377 to seven popes after the split with Rome and owes much of its magnificent medieval monuments to this political schism. The Palais des Papes, is an austere-looking fortress which dominates the city and is easily seen from the remains of a 12th-century bridge which we sing the French song “Sur le Pont d’Avignon“
Avignon along with Nimes and Arles make an interesting triangle of sights to see at a leisurely pace and having a rail pass helps.
With a flat, walkable city center and a scant few hundred metres between the main train station, Senate Square and harbour Helsinki inhabits a small space with water on every side and lots to experience in between.
Some of Helsinki & Finland’s most important cultural institutions and museums are under one KM stroll from the harbour including the Suomen kansallismuseo or The National Museum of Finland with its kindly carved bear who greets visitors.
As in many European cities the cobblestone streets of Helsinki can become slippery when wet so care is required at times and in place.
Many of the cities featured in this list are also exceptional cycling cities but that is another list for another day.