Yesterday I left Malta and today I’m in Istanbul for a few days before flying home. What a lovely part of the world! Malta is small and easy to see in four days, I’ll share details soon.
I’ve been fortunate to visit many countries in Europe over the past two decades and there are cities that stand out as favorites because of their walkability. My favorite thing to do when I travel is to explore on foot so if I can see most of the highlights of a city in two or three days, that’s a win for me.
Below are ten cities I’ve visited where you can stroll for hours and see most of the city. These are not the biggies like Paris, Rome, and London. These are the smaller cities that all have a unique charm which includes meandering streets perfect for pedestrian strolls, cafes for people watching, stunning architecture, and an old part of the city with lots of history. What’s interesting is all of them sit on rivers or have canals, so waterways are a big part of the attraction.
If you stay in a vacation rental or hotel in any of these cities you’ll be able to walk around and see all the highlights in two days if you’re quick, three days if you like to take your time and relax. I’ve got a lot of other cities and towns on my list to see, but so far these are ten that I can recommend if you love to walk around like I do.
1. Salzburg, Austria
I’ll start with my favorite walkable city. I’ve visited Salzburg twice, once I lived there for month during a summer study abroad program, and I returned in 2016. It was just as charming as when I lived there back in the 1990s.
Highlights of this most scenic city include Mirabell Gardens which you might recognize them from the film The Sound of Music. Mozart’s Residence is in the heart of the old town, close to the Salzburg Cathedral. Take a hike uphill to the medieval Hohensalzburg Fortress. Some of my favorite beer gardens including Stern Beirgarten in the heart of the old town and the popular Augusteiner Bräu where you can sit for hours under chestnut trees.
Salzburg is a musical city because of its famous resident so if you travel there in the warmer months you’ll find a lot of festivals going on, many of them outdoors. The walk along the Salzach River on a warm evening can’t be beat.
2. Munich, Germany
Only a 90 minute train ride from Salzburg is Munich in the heart of Bavaria. You could visit both in one trip, which I did when I visited this region. I love the walk through the old town past the famous Marianplatz and watch the famous Glockenspiel in action.
I recommend a bike tour through the old town and Englischer Gardens, don’t miss the Eisbach Wave where surfers ride waves on a river! It’s fascinating to watch. The Bavarian cuisine is the very best from the smaller pubs to the famous Hofbrauhaus where an oompa band in lederhosen prompts many a crowd to sing along. Augustiner Keller is the local beer that goes down really easy on a summer’s eve! I love walking around the market stalls at Viktualienmarkt where you find the finest and freshest German bites to enjoy in the open air.
3. Porto, Portugal
My second favorite city in all of Europe that I’ve visited so far is Porto. Nestled in the northern part of the country where the Duoro River meets the Atlantic Ocean is picture perfect Porto where you feel like you’re walking through a painting.
The historic center is dreamy to walk around, there are so many alleyways to duck down, but you’ll hit some hills while you do. Rest down by the river at the end of the day where live music plays and there are endless cafes to choose from to watch the boats go by. There are oh so many wine and port tastings and tours you can do in this region. Walk the famous Luís I Bridge that spans the river or take a train ride to the coast for fresh fish!
4. Bruges, Belgium
Bruges is a dream to walk around, there’s no shortage of charm here with its canals and chocolate and architecture, it’s a dream destination in Belgium. We spent only one day here but you can see it all if you start early and take the last train home (to Brussels where we were staying).
The Market Square historic center is where you’ll end up once you get off the train and take a stroll through the town. It’s a great place to sit in a cafe and people watch, one of the best parts of traveling to Europe. If you’re ambitious you can climb the Belfry, but we spent our time tasting chocolate and beer as we meandered from street to street.
5. Bordeaux, France
I was surprised how much I loved this city when I visited a few years ago. It’s experienced a resurgence which makes it a charming place to land for a few days and explore.
If you’re a wine lover, you can explore the variety of wine estates in St. Emilion and the Medoc wine region. Bordeaux was once a walled city and has a rich history that dates back to the 1500s, so if you visit definitely take a guided walking or bike tour! There are squares with fountains and the left bank along the river is a lovely waterfront stroll and there is also a cool shopping district. The old belfry La Grosse Cloche is one of several monuments in the heart of town that make Bordeaux feel a little like Paris.
6. Prague, Czech
Prague feels a lot smaller comparatively to other countries’ capital cities. There is much to see and do from walking around the old town to tasting the local cuisine and beer. Prague is where I first noticed overtourism creeping into the continent but I still loved everything about this city, especially walking around in the evenings. The city has a magical quality and the best bar I’ve ever been too, more on that adventure in this post.
7. Seville, Spain
My third favorite city in Europe and such a delight to explore! Sunny Seville is a wonderful place to experience the best of Spain, from flamenco to sangria. The old town has amazing cafes and shops, the river walk is divine, and the Plaza de Espana will capture your heart with its architectural beauty.
8. Venice, Italy
I still have yet to share pictures of my trip to Venice in 2021 but it was really enchanting. I went with friends and hit it just at the right time when it wasn’t crowded and the weather was perfect.
I had been to Venice before in August when mosquitos are really bad and didn’t like it at all, but there was something about returning in October when there were no crowds that made the experience a lot better. Venice is so unique, the floating city that’s easy to get lost in but a delight to explore. There’s nothing quite like being sung to in Italian by a gondolier at sunset. I also loved my ferry rides and day trips to Murano and Burano which I highly recommend.
9. Copenhagen, Denmark
Copenhagen was my first stop on a whirlwind trip to Scandinavia and such a delight I’d definitely return. I was surprised how many people get around on bikes in this town so you can walk or bike, either way it’s a lovely place to visit with lovely water views, plenty of history, and great food and beer. Both Tivoli Gardens and Nyhavn are not to miss.
10. Amsterdam, Netherlands
What a picturesque city to walk and bike. Amsterdam is loveliness around every corner. I haven’t returned since I was in my twenties but all I need is a cheap flight and I’ll go again.
The Van Gogh Museum and Anne Frank House are wonderful and don’t miss the world famous Rijksmuseum filled with paintings by Dutch masters. Canal cruises are a relaxing way to see the sights. As much as I’m an advocate for walking, having a bike is really nice in Amsterdam, it’s a great way to get around like the locals do. Vondelpark is an English style garden that’s lovely on a sunny day. And of course there’s the famous Red Light District if that’s your thing.
I’ve just left Valletta in Malta, I’ll share all the details about my experience in that country soon. Other honorable mentions for walkable cities in Europe include: Nice, France; Verona, Italy; the island of Ibiza; the island of Mallorca; Brussels, Belgium; and both Florence and Siena, Italy.
Chime in friends, have you been to these cities? Did you find them to be walker friendly? Any highlights you experienced while in these cities? Any others you’d recommend for avid walkers?