10 Beautiful Cities to Explore by Foot

People walking through Namdaemun Market in Seoul
Many neighborhoods in Seoul, South Korea, are pedestrian-only, like the Namdaemun Market.

mariusz_prusaczyk / Getty Images

Exploring a new city by car can be an expensive, stressful, and wasteful way to travel. With all the pedestrian-friendly destinations in the world, why not walk? Online mapping apps and always-improving walking infrastructure make it easy enough for tourists to sightsee by foot without hiring a guide. Compact cities like San Francisco, California; Fez, Morocco; and the ever-epochal Big Apple seem to be built for vehicle-free travel, after all.

From Australia to the Balkins, from California to South Korea, here are 10 beautiful cities to explore by foot.

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New York City, New York

Crowd of people crossing the street in New York City
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New York is often called “America’s most walkable city.” Walk Score, a widely used walkability scoring service, has repeatedly ranked it top in walkability, and a pedestrian organization, Walk Friendly Communities, has tagged NYC with a "platinum" rating; it's the only American city to receive such an accolade.

Rarely do residents, much less visitors, get behind a wheel in this city. The subway and bus system (plus occasional late-night taxi rides) are sufficient for traveling through all five boroughs. Major tourist sites like Times Square and Broadway are perfectly pedestrian-friendly, and the city continues to improve its walking infrastructure through sidewalk widening and adding more direct crosswalks. Neighborhoods like Little Italy, the Bowery, Chinatown, and NoHo are already conducive to traveling by foot.

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Mackinac Island, Michigan

People walking and cycling through downtown Mackinac Island

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Mackinac Island, just off the Michigan mainland in Lake Huron, is proof that smaller cities can be walkable, too. This popular tourist destination occupies barely four square miles of land. Its compactness makes hiking easy, but what truly stands out is its century-old car ban. Not long after the first automobiles arrived on the island, locals decided to not allow them. The ban, in place since 1898, doesn't include emergency vehicles, but everyone else has to get around by bike or foot.

Instead of taxis, visitors can hail horse-drawn carriages. Paths, meanwhile, crisscross the island, but the main attraction is the eight-mile-long M185 — the only state highway in the country where motor vehicles are banned. For decades, it was also the only highway that had never seen a motor vehicle accident. Most tourists arrive via ferry and stay at one of the island’s numerous inns or bed-and-breakfasts.

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Barcelona, Spain

People sitting around fountain in Plaça Reial, Barcelona

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Barcelona has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, attracting some 12 million visitors per year. The biggest attractions in this Catalonian capital are the pedestrian areas: La Rambla, a carless, tree-lined promenade with shops, cafes, kiosks, and street performers, and Plaça de Catalunya, directly in the city center.

Barcelona continues to make improvements in an effort to lower pollution levels and expand walkability beyond its plazas and promenades. Since 2016, it has been introducing "superblocks," little automobile-free islands around the city. In 2020, it opened the largest low-emissions zone (about 60 square miles in which traffic is restricted) in southern Europe.

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Hong Kong, China

People crossing Nathan Road, Hong Kong, at night
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Hong Kong is home to 7.5 million people and, therefore, some of the most densely-populated boroughs on Earth. With that many residents, the former British colony makes it easy to get around without a vehicle. Its subway and bus systems are superb and the crosswalks are sufficiently wide, often dotted with railed pedestrian refuge islands. Of course, the city is steep in some places. Instead of climbing or riding the always-crowded Peak Tram, pedestrians can take a half-mile-long outdoor escalator network up Victoria Peak.

Hong Kong's urban areas are certainly walkable, but the natural trails are what make it really stand out as a pedestrian paradise. Trails around the peaks on Hong Kong Island are quite accessible, and longer hikes are available in the New Territories and on the outlying islands. These rural areas can be reached via ferry from the population centers on Hong Kong Island and Kowloon.

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Dubrovnik, Croatia

High angle view of tourist around Onofrio Fountain

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Dubrovnik’s Old Town dates back to the car-free 13th century, when it was a major center for seagoing trade. Since being renovated and restored after it was besieged during the breakup of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, it has become one of the most popular destinations on the Mediterranean. The scenic Adriatic coastline and city walls, which encircle the historic core, are partially to thank.

Old Town is pedestrian-friendly and relatively compact. In fact, vehicles aren’t even allowed, so Dubrovnik has developed into a walkable city out of necessity. Visitors might recognize the area near Pile Gate as the fictional King's Landing in HBO's "Game of Thrones."

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Fes el Bali (Fez), Morocco

People walking through arch in Old Fez

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Walking in Fes el Bali (in Fez), Morocco, is also sometimes a necessity. The Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage site, so motorized vehicles are a no-no. The streets are so narrow, anyway, that garbage collectors must travel by donkeys instead of in trucks or with carts. It's believed to be the largest car-free urban area in the world.

Solo strolls through the labyrinthlike pathways, although daunting, are by no means impossible. Fes el Bali has an area of only about 1.5 square miles, and it has numerous access points that allow tourists to orient themselves. About 150,000 people call this Moroccan medina home, so you’ll never be far from a market, cafe, or shop. Fes el Bali is one of three districts in Fez, so visitors may opt to stay there instead of in the newer parts of the city to avoid having to travel by car.

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Cinque Terre, Italy

Aerial view of the colorful buildings of Cinque Terre

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Cinque Terre is a collection of five villages on the coastline of Liguria, Italy (also known as the Italian Riviera). The five enclaves — Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso — are designated as a single UNESCO World Heritage site. Cars have been banned here for a decade, but the towns are connected by train and steep-but-passable coastal trails. A Cinque Terre Trekking Card is required and can be bought where Cinque Terre Train Cards are sold.

Many tourists choose to walk, though trails can sometimes be closed. The hike offers great views of the brightly colored buildings and rocky shoreline.

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Melbourne, Australia

Tourists take pictures of downtown Melbourne from viewpoint
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Melbourne is a walker's paradise. It may not be as compact as the likes of New York City and San Francisco — occupying an area of 4,000 square miles as opposed to 300 and 50 square miles, respectively — but what can't be reached on foot can be accessed via a free trolley. The key is to pick one area to explore per day, be it the street art and historic buildings in the center, the beach promenade of St. Kilda, or the 100-acre Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria.

Dotted around the city center are hipster neighborhoods like the highly walkable Carlton, home to the city's Little Italy, Fitzroy, and Fitzroy North.

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San Francisco, California

Painted Ladies Victorian houses and San Francisco skyline
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While notoriously hilly, San Francisco is entirely walkable. Walk Score gives the Chinatown and Tenderloin neighborhoods a 100/100, noting their abundance of restaurants, shops, and museums — all within strolling distance. Union Square, North Beach, Polk Gulch, Castro, Nob Hill, Japan Town, and Union Street all received a Walk Score of 99/100.

The Bay Area Rapid Transit system, Muni metro, and bus services make it possible to travel around the city and other Bay Area enclaves without a car. Smaller Bay Area cities like Berkeley, Redwood City, San Mateo, and San Rafael have notably pedestrian-friendly cores that score higher, overall, than San Francisco.

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Seoul, South Korea

People walking between neon-lit buildings at night

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Seoul's walkability is demonstrated by its Seoullo 7017 Skygarden, a half mile-long, plant-covered pedestrian walkway built on a former highway overpass, similar to the New York City High Line. The South Korean capital is a city of neighborhoods, many of which are pedestrian-only or at least pedestrian-friendly. Also like New York City, it has a massive subway network (signposted in both English and Korean) that makes the idea of traveling by car or taxi obsolete. Because of the urban hills, vehicles are often much slower than the train anyway.