Which are the best walking cities?

by on June 7, 2012 at 3:41 am in Travel, Travels, Uncategorized | Permalink

I will nominate London, Paris, and Buenos Aires as leading contenders.  New York is for me too familiar for me to judge objectively and so I exclude it.

Reasonable safety is a prerequisite, and then we have the following dimensions:

1. Chance of seeing a striking yet non-famous piece of architecture.  All three cities are strong here.

2. The right mix of broad boulevards and narrower streets.  Ditto.

3. The chance of spontaneously encountering good bookstores or excellent dark chocolate:  London wins the former, Paris and Buenos Aires win the latter.

4. Cheap, convenient cabs, and places to sit and drink sparkling water: Buenos Aires is #1 on these.

5. Strangers are willing to talk to you: Tough to call, though NYC would win hands down if it were in the running.

6. Strategic and frequent use of historic plaques: London wins; yesterday I saw “George Canning lived here” and “Clive of India lived here,” among others.

B.A. loses points for imperfect safety and also capital confiscation, though it has by far the warmest weather of the trio.  Overall I am inclined to pick London as first, perhaps because I prefer English to French for bookstores.  Paris offers fewer surprises, even if it has a higher average level of beauty.  Paris is also worse for spontaneous cheap dining in restaurants, though it has far better food stores for urban picnics.  Berlin is perhaps the best city right now for living, but it is too spread out, and with too many broad boulevards, to be the best walking city.  It is an excellent city to take a cab in.

Walking cities on the rise: Istanbul.  I suspect it’s long been splendid, it’s now reaping the gains of being modern.

Underrated walking cities: Moscow, Mexico City, Toronto, parts of northern England, Los Angeles.

Overrated walking cities: Budapest, Krakow, Munich.

Best city to take the subway through: Tokyo.

If I had to pick a fourth in line: Barcelona.

GiT June 7, 2012 at 3:52 am

As long as you can handle the hills, San Francisco has the advantage of being able to go from one end to any other end in less than 3 hours by foot…

Kinch June 7, 2012 at 9:25 am

I’ve always thought of elevation changes as being key to great walking cities. While it is more effort to get around, there is nothing quite like looking down into a crowded market place or cresting a hill to see the city around you. Parts of Seoul rate highly because of this.

Jason June 7, 2012 at 9:59 am

Cannot believe SF isn’t on this list. You have to be in reasonably good shape for some of the best vistas, but overall it meets all these criteria and more. I always try to learn a city by walking it, and SF is one of the very best for this.

elambend June 7, 2012 at 10:21 am

The geography of San Fran makes for the easy creation of pocket neighborhoods. However, the city itself can be surprisingly bland, culturally.

Zephyrus June 7, 2012 at 12:27 pm

I wouldn’t say bland, exactly. Just that the places you’re likely to be in when you visit friends in San Francisco–Castro, Noe Valley, the Mission, Alamo Square, Haight, Nopa, Nob Hill, etc.–are increasingly a monoculture, of a well-educated consultant/tech/nonprofit group who do brunch at overpriced places every Sunday and haven’t been to a church for years (note: I’m of this group).

Make it out to Sunset or the Richmond, and you do end up with a bit more variety, with better and cheaper food. But you lose some of the compactness and thus walkability.

el June 7, 2012 at 10:51 am

I recently visited SF for the first time – some of the neighborhoods are great to walk around, but I found public transportation between neighborhoods to be surprisingly lacking. It also doesn’t rank very high on Tyler’s criteria (1). That said, the flora in SF is lovely and abundant, which always contributes to a nice stroll.

JMC June 7, 2012 at 12:36 pm

I’m really surprised SF didn’t make the list (I may be biased b/c I live here). I mean, yes there are hills but a big portion of the city is relatively flat.

I haven’t been to Buenos Aires, but out of all the cities listed SF wins hands down for Strangers willing to talk to you. A random stranger once fixed my bike on the road, and I didn’t even ask for help!

And just to add bonus points, as I look out my window there is a forest across the street. Yes, there is legit, non-park forest in the middle of San Francisco–nobody else can touch that! In 20 min on the N line I can get from the Fidi to a forest. Bam.

Masked Defender June 7, 2012 at 1:17 pm

Ready ….

Philadelphia.

You have to stick with the core route, Penn’s landing up Walnut to the Western edge of the University of Pennsylvania and swerve say 5 blocks North and South. That’s kind of a mini-Manhattan.

It’s a beautiful city with plaques all over and they’ve kept the USA’s birthplace very well.

Barkley Rosser June 7, 2012 at 4:06 am

Florence is really a fine one that fulfills many of the criteria you pose, Tyler. Hard to beat. Renaissance goody hidden around every other corner, with all the rest of it.

SpotCash June 7, 2012 at 11:07 am

Firenze definitely. It meets all the criteria. Rome also works very well. Both are the equal of London. I cannot comment on Paris or BA since I haven’t been to either.

Clinton June 7, 2012 at 1:08 pm

I was thinking exactly the same thing as I read through the criteria. If I were to make a list I think Florence would top it.

Chris Baker June 7, 2012 at 5:17 am

I loved walking round Boston on my honeymoon last October, seems to tick most of your boxes.

RV June 7, 2012 at 8:23 am

Boston is tough by car but excellent by foot. I think it’s one of the most walkable cities in the USA.

tumm June 7, 2012 at 9:47 am

Agreed. Also, the liberty tour, or whatever it is called, was surprisingly interesting.

Gimlet June 7, 2012 at 5:11 pm

Another vote for Boston, though it loses points during the bitterly cold winter months. It would do well on all your categories (and may even beat London on bookstores (particularly if you include Cambridge). Freedom Trail is the name of that walk, BTW.

Vanya June 7, 2012 at 5:29 am

I can only assume Tyler has never been to Vienna, which meets every criteria, and has lots of little hidden passages, wine bars tucked away in courtyards, and many historical plaques. There’s a reason they filmed “Before Sunrise” there. There are still a lot of quirky bookstores too, although if you don’t speak German. And the weather tends to be better than most European cities, which is important if you want to walk.

London seems like an odd choice for a walking city – it is very spread out, and odds are you won’t find decent food or coffee randomly. Although you will find decent beer. Some neighborhoods in London are good for walking, but the city on the whole?

Tyler Cowen June 7, 2012 at 5:32 am

I have spent about three weeks of life in Vienna, maybe more. I like it, but few surprises beyond the very first visit.

Vanya June 7, 2012 at 4:34 pm

The surprises in Vienna tend to be outside the Ringstrasse – there are plenty of interesting ethnic neighborhoods and markets in the outer districts, as well as random Hapsburg era palaces in unexpected places. If you want to walk, say, more than 7km in one direction and have a nice walk the entire way, Vienna may be in a league of its own. It is also the only major city in Europe, or probably anywhere, where you can walk from downtown to have a drink in a vineyard in the hills without leaving the city. One strike against Vienna, and against any city in the German speaking world, is that everything is closed Sundays. The city tends to be quiet on week-ends.

Michael Heller June 7, 2012 at 2:14 pm

A walk I particularly like in London is from the centre (anywhere, e.g. Trafalgar Square) down the back streets towards Regents Park, across the park, through Primrose Hill, and up to Highgate across Hampstead Heath. As a teenager in the 70s I spent the early hours of many Saturday nights walking across London from east or south to north (for example from Putney to Camden Town) and loved it. Tubes were closed. No money for taxi, foot was the only way. It wuz a bit of a laaf.

Bob June 7, 2012 at 5:36 am

Paris is covered with historic plaques and bookstores… Probably even more than London, their being in French might lead the foreign tourist to ignore them, but they’re there all right.

Dimitris June 7, 2012 at 5:36 am

Re #5 BsAs wins hands down, though NYC and London are not bad. Paris is far behind.

I would add the following sections:

Public transports: Paris and London win on the subways, for providing the proper mix between short distances between stations and extensive coverage.
BsAs wins on the buses: it is the only one who has a private bus system with buses competing in routes. This provides the best coverage and a Hayekian bottom-up approach. the other 3 cities often have large parts of their suburbs not covered by buses, or poorly covered, although the demand is clearly there.
NYC and London win on the congestion pricing. BsAs cannot solve the governance problem there, and Paris has not solved it yet. Zipcar does wonders in NYC, and there is a
Paris and London win on public bikes.

Relationship to water.
You can picnic almost everywhere on the Seine, but there are fewer spots on the Thames or in the Hudson (although also quite pretty – like having a Pizza under the brooklyn bridge, or a drink on the Bankside in London). BsAs hates the rio de la plata so much that people forget it exists.

Nightlife. BsAs and NYC don’t sleep. At 4am, you can eat out, get a bus or subway, or do your groceries. London is not bad, and Paris is a disaster.

Tyler, what about food? I would say it is more diverse in NYC and London. In Paris the same diversity exists, but it is hidden in poorer, migrant quarters. Buenos Aires will eventually get more diverse. You can get good Korean and other east asian food.There is an underrepresentation of south-east and south asian, but hopefully this will improve as more migrants come.

Austin June 7, 2012 at 5:37 am

I was really impressed with Brussels when I visited. The streets were clean, there was little to no congestion, and the people were (in my experience) friendly all along. Plenty of small shops and cafes with bustling eaters out front. The Grand Place itself in Old Town was a great way to spend a couple of afternoons and evenings. Plenty of parks too, especially/mostly around the EU quarter. I don’t seem to remember any cheap street vendors that all sell the same garbage for a euro and run away when a police walks by (I’m looking at you, Paris).

Jennifer June 7, 2012 at 5:38 am

I’d put Amsterdam on this list, even though it is hard to get used to the bike traffic. But Rotterdam has more interesting architecture. I agree that Barcelona deserves a mention. I wouldn’t normally put an Australian city forward for best anything, but Melbourne has great chocolate nearly everywhere, pretty good bookshops, and a fabulous mix of Victorian (similar period to SF, gold rush in both places, but less destroyed by natural disaster) and quirky modern architecture. A great mix of wide streets and laneways. Cabs aren’t cheap though. Nothing in Australia is cheap right now.

David June 7, 2012 at 5:41 am

Glasgow? Edinburgh?

Although you may want to substitute fine ale for chocolate… Certainly make the architectural cut, I’d say

dearieme June 7, 2012 at 5:50 am

Certainly Edinburgh. Plus Oxford, unless you reckon it’s all famous.

Nick June 7, 2012 at 6:53 am

Ditto Edinburgh.

John Thacker June 7, 2012 at 8:15 am

Came here to suggest Edinburgh. Though perhaps it’s not in the top 3 but also “appropriately ranked” in general (I believe it does win awards).

The architecture of the city centre indeed certainly fits.

Mathijs June 7, 2012 at 5:46 am

Tyler, have you ever been to Amsterdam? I think you would love to walk in the old historical centre and surrounding old neighbourhoods. The canals in the centre are very beautiful. Everybody uses bicycles for transportation so there are few cars making walking even more relaxing. Also, the city is safe, the centre is one big architectonic feast, lots of bookstores, interesting musea (the van Gogh muesum) and nice bars to have a drink. Most people are friendly and willing to talk to strangers. The historical centre is expensive for dining, but in the surrounding area’s there are lots of good and cheap restaurants. The downsides are the lack of boulevards and expensive cabs

DanD June 7, 2012 at 5:47 am

I find it surprising that there is no mention of Montreal. With the downtown/Old Port combination, as well as the largest underground complex which links mostly all of the downtown area, easily one of the best in my opinion.

Newt June 7, 2012 at 5:48 am

I’d certainly endorse Mexico City as underrated. It’s certainly better than anywhere in the USA. You might want to add great public museums and cathedrals along with architecture to number 1.

1. Strong here, lots of interesting places
2. Good, but more narrow streets would be better. Still far, far ahead of New York.
3. Great street food, bookstores, and bakeries.
4. Ahead of even BA in cheap cabs and easy public relaxing.
5. Mexicans are well known for being interested in and hospitable to strangers.
6. The cultural institutes and museums have done a good job here, too.

Paris and London topping your list indicate that you’ve put too little weight on mild, clear weather and low humidity.

I’d like to see formal parks and natural spaces in the criteria. If you like walking, you’ll like doing it among pretty green things sometimes and you should be able to hike in the woods reasonably close to the city center, too, with the chance to see wildlife bigger than a pigeon. Some nature instead of sprawl in every direction is a precious thing. San Francisco and Mexico City score very high here (could add Seoul and Kyoto, too).

afinetheorem June 7, 2012 at 5:49 am

Here’s a post dear to my heart: my first task on arriving in a new city is to wander aimlessly. Paris wins, hands down. But otherwise:

A number of smaller European cities fit the bill nicely. Lisbon and Antwerp come to mind immediately, and Stockholm plays the neat trick of letting you include a few hours in the forest along your walk. The worst walking cities in Europe are uniformly those where mopeds are king, particularly where the local drivers park their bikes on the sidewalk. Athens is a notable example of this.

Rio is a very pleasant city to walk in, and it’s quite easy to avoid the rougher sections. As mentioned above, Boston and SF are obvious American choices. Do you find walking in Manhattan pleasant? This should be a pedestrian city, but has for some crazy reason being given over to the 10% of the population who drives.

Certain Eastern Hemisphere cities should also make the cut. Damascus, Tel Aviv and Istanbul are all interesting (though Istanbul isn’t really “walkable” outside a few districts, Istiklal wins as the world’s best pedestrianized street). It’s a pleasant walk from the CBD of Sydney over to Bondi, following the coastline. Tokyo and Kyoto are both fabulous walking cities. If you wander – following alley after alley – I think you’ll find Beijing and Seoul are both of interest. Kathmandu is quite walkable, with lots of unexpected interesting historical architecture. Hong Kong, Bangkok, Manila, Hanoi – all should be better walking cities than they are, I’m afraid.

Gunnar Tveiten June 7, 2012 at 5:54 am

Scores low on chocolate and bookstores, but otherwise good: Tehran.

Rahul June 7, 2012 at 6:22 am

Do restaurants in the US stock sparkling water at all? The few times I tried ordering it the servers look all confused. I drink soda for the fizziness mostly and would rather have Seltzer than Coke.

SouthCarolinian June 7, 2012 at 10:09 am

Yes, and it should be free–it comes off the “gun” at the bar.
Various US regions term it club soda, soda water, sparkling water, and/or seltzer.

L. F. File June 7, 2012 at 6:23 am

I would vote for Tokyo. Something new around every corner. You can walk nearly anywhere in the entire city at anytime without worry of crime but I hope the air is better than in the 80′s when I was there last.

Geneva should also get a mention.

lff

Tyler Craft June 7, 2012 at 6:24 am

I would probably flip Paris and London, but I may have a familiarity bias. Both of which would rank behind Oxford, Mississippi for me, as it meets all of Tyler’s criteria, except that it is in a totally different class of city by size.

Andrew' June 7, 2012 at 6:52 am

Flying cars and walking cities. Now we’re talkin’.

Nickolaus June 7, 2012 at 6:56 am

Lausanne, Switzerland. Beautiful and walkable.

L. F. File June 7, 2012 at 4:22 pm

Yes! And Lucerne.

lff

Philip June 7, 2012 at 7:13 am

I can see why you say Krakow is overrated – not enough surprises after the first visit. I’ve spent a couple of days in Prague and it was one of my favourite cities to walk around, though that was in winter so somewhere to stop for sparkling water wasn’t a priority.

For an underrated city I would say Lecce in the South of Italy but I only visited for a day so couldn’t say if that has more surprises after the initial visit.

Al June 7, 2012 at 7:14 am

Top of my list would be Paris, Brugge, Glasgow and Florence. Paris is a comforatable winner I think.

Hanoi is underrated, presumably mainly due to the intense fear felt every time you try to cross a road and the ubiquitous smell of drying squid. If you can get past that it makes pleasant walking, especially some of the quieter, leafier neighbourhoods.

Worst in my experience are Beijing and Dubai.

Availability of sparkling water is not one of my considerations as I can’t stand the stuff.

Hoosier June 7, 2012 at 7:30 am

Yeah, except for a few particular markets and neighborhoods, Beijing is a horrible city to walk around.

dearieme June 7, 2012 at 8:38 am

Brugge is rather small but it’s certainly lovely.

Hoosier June 7, 2012 at 7:29 am

A few criticisms for your inclusion of Buenos Aires. I never understood why people love this city so much. It was nice, but I just couldn’t find anything that special or different there.

1. Chance of seeing a striking yet non-famous piece of architecture. All three cities are strong here.
What striking architecture in Buenos Aires did you have in mind and in what neighborhoods? I was thoroughly disappointed walking around BA at the lack of standout architecture and monuments. Is the obelisk really that interesting? And the casa rosada hardly looks that different from any other Latin American capital building. San Telmo is quaint, and Palermo is a pretty neighborhood to walk around but they’re nothing special. Don’t see how BA can even come close to matching either London or Paris in this regard. ( houses of parliament, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Notre Dame, etc.)

2. The right mix of broad boulevards and narrower streets.
I suppose this fits.

3. The chance of spontaneously encountering good bookstores or excellent dark chocolate: London wins the former, Paris and Buenos Aires win the latter.
Many good bookstores in BA, but aren’t they all clustered in the city center? I didn’t find too many others in my ramblings but I was only there for a week and might have missed them.

4. Cheap, convenient cabs, and places to sit and drink sparkling water: Buenos Aires is #1 on these.
No opinion regarding the cabs, but there are many beautiful cafes to stop for a hot coffee. BA would rank pretty high under this category.

5. Strangers are willing to talk to you: Tough to call, though NYC would win hands down if it were in the running.
I suppose. I met a few random people at the cafes I stopped at but in general people were much less friendly than in Lima, La Paz or Mexico City. It felt more business like to me than your typical latin american city. (BTW, how could London ever merit be ranked under this criteria?)

6. Strategic and frequent use of historic plaques: London wins; yesterday I saw “George Canning lived here” and “Clive of India lived here,” among others.
I think I remember seeing a few historic plaques near the manzana de la luces, Lezama Park. And the monument to the Monumento a los Caidos had some interesting reading attached. OK, I agree with you here.

Wider pool June 7, 2012 at 7:37 am

In what possible way is Moscow underrated as a walking city?

Igor June 7, 2012 at 8:45 am

Moscow is underrated because tourists don’t know how safe it is and because lack of Latin characters vs Cyrillic makes getting around intimidating for the median tourist (not just in transport but in shops, food labels, etc. I’ve heard at least two stories of people buying yogurt like stuff instead of milk by accident) Also metro stops can be really far apart.

Quigley June 7, 2012 at 10:23 am

Walkable, yes, especially in the old city center, but also the most deadly place I’ve seen for pedestrians. If you dare enter an intersection you are an obstacle to be run over, not yielded to and I’m not exaggerating. I saw an old lady carrying bags get repeatedly nudged by a Lada until she fell over. I also didn’t see anyone brave enough to ride a bicycle. At least that’s the way it was in 1998. They remedy the situation with pedestrian underpasses at major intersections to lessen the chance of carnage.

Ivan June 7, 2012 at 4:20 pm

Igor, no native of Moscow would call it “safe”. Crime is down but still high and drivers are still pretty crazy.

Best walkable parts are side streets in Zamoskvorechie / Kitai-gorod areas, where one can indeed encounter old architecture and where there are few cars.

Julia June 7, 2012 at 7:41 am

Stockholm is so often not even evaluated it seems, but perhaps that helps maintain to its charm; what a fabulous city to walk.

Gj June 7, 2012 at 7:51 am

Paris? Many cities in France are way more walkable than that, Bordeaux probably leading the big ones.

TC’s criteria are a very poor definition of walkability, no.6 about historic plaques being the most blatantly ridiculous. How about having priority over other means of transport for starters? And drop in: security (vs. traffic and crime), general cleanliness, presence of trees, seasonal compatibility with elements, etc

David June 7, 2012 at 7:53 am

I’d only add that I have lived in both cities and while Edinburgh is architecturally grander, it is quite tricky to avoid having hilarious street conversations with Glaswegians. Or, indeed, to avoid being asked by a matronly lady outside the changing room of a well known UK high street supermarket if the dress she was trying on exaggerated the volume of her posterior.

Tracy W June 7, 2012 at 7:54 am

I was surprised by how unenjoyable walking in New York was. The frequent street crossings necessitated by the block layout really annoyed me, obviously all cities have occasional street crossings but the consistency of them in NY I think didn’t help, and the lack of options for jay-walking. (As a Wellingtonian I compulsively jaywalk).

Ivan June 7, 2012 at 4:21 pm

New Yorkers jay-walk all the time, it is indeed impossible to avoid it.

Clay Fenlason June 7, 2012 at 8:13 am

These criteria are all about walking as a tourist. Walkability as a pattern of life while living within them is another matter entirely.

Eric H June 7, 2012 at 8:47 am

I like to apply some of the points from Alexander et al’s A Pattern Language, especially my favorite: Sleeping in Public. I took a nap on a bench across the street from the Prado museum (along with a half dozen other people who seemed to be taking their lunch hour). I can imagine doing this in Berlin, maybe in London or Paris, not so much in Mexico City or NYC.

I am not sure if there were more surprises per mile in Mexico City, or if it was the flu-induced euphoria. I also nominate Amsterdam if for no other reason than having 3 options for pedestrians – cycles, street cars, and canals.

What are the tradeoffs between cabs, buses, and subways that make you prefer the first to the other two?

Turpentine June 7, 2012 at 8:51 am

I haven’t been to Buenos Aires, so can’t rate this one. But I would certainly go for Paris as overall top choice. I think it depends a lot of what criterion is important to you, but for me, the striking overall beauty of the place, as well as a glut of pâtisseries and cafés, make it a winner. Darn, makes me think, I really need to go back there…

Also, I would say Montreal clearly fits in the “underrated category”. It’s smaller and in North America, hence can’t compete against Paris or London in terms of old world beauty, but still, it’s amazingly walkable (and, even more so, bikable). The Plateau, Mile End, Outremont, Quartier Latin and surrounding areas are fantastic neighborhoods to stroll through. Yeah, actually, now that I think about it, I’ve pretty much visited all the main cities in NA and would say Montreal comes first on the continent. NYC second.

Jody June 7, 2012 at 8:53 am

In addition to Barcelona (which I’ve spent several long days walking around), I’ll note that Madrid is also a very nice city to walk around. Not so much for the surprising architecture (Barcelona is way better for that), but for the random public art installations that you encounter as you walk around the city.

And for me, I would treat pubs as more important than coffee shops or bookstores. Related: I once did back-to-back nights of pub crawls in Edinburgh, because I enjoyed the walking / drinking experience so much the first night.

Sauce June 7, 2012 at 9:04 am

You can walk in Los Angeles? Where?

Aaron June 7, 2012 at 9:11 am

Only a nobody walks in LA.

Sauce June 7, 2012 at 9:18 am

Exactly. Tyler calls Los Angeles an underrated walking city. Would like to know what he’s talking about.

Ben June 7, 2012 at 9:50 am

Angelophile who would leave to hear Tyler’s thought on this . . .

Edward Sabatine June 7, 2012 at 11:46 am

Los Angeles has an excellent bus system, though for some reason this is little known. Its perfectly feasible, and enjoyable, to walk around a neighborhood, hop on a bus, go to another neighborhood, and continue walking. For walking, I would suggest the part of the old downtown with all the art deco buildings, also Hollywood and Santa Monica are not bad. Its not a great walking city, but underrated.

Also, Los Angeles has gotten a lot more dense over the years. Perceptions of cities are often out of date.

MD June 7, 2012 at 6:59 pm

My neighborhood is great to walk in. Except to work, I rarely have to leave it to go shopping or to go out to eat, and it’s reasonably safe. When I leave my neighborhood, however, I drive.

mkt June 8, 2012 at 4:28 am

“Los Angeles has an excellent bus system, though for some reason this is little known.”

One can get anywhere in the LA by bus — but it’ll take forever to get there, with the infrequent service and multiple transfers required. The Bus Riders Union has repeatedly sued LA Metro to improve bus service — and the courts have agreed and required Metro to buy more buses. Excellent is not a word that I would use to describe LA’s bus system.

As for LA’s walkability … I suppose that “underrated” could be considered to be an accurate description given its abysmal reputation. It does have some good features … a lot of steep topography and a lot of outdoor staircases. A few walkable neighborhoods. And remarkably the hipsters in the movie “500 Days of Summer” were working and living in downtown LA (well the working and living part was fictional, but the location shooting was in LA).

dan reed! June 10, 2012 at 3:23 pm

The first (and only) time I visited Los Angeles two years ago, I spent a week there and I walked so much that my feet were swollen. The architecture may not compare with Paris, but I found interesting neighborhoods, cheap food and great bookstores. The public transit is also much better than people give it credit for.

Jonah June 7, 2012 at 1:27 pm

Try walking from the beach to downtown, alternating between one of the lesser boulevards and the side streets off of it. It’s like walking through a million micro-universes…

Alen Mattich June 7, 2012 at 9:15 am

Montreal, especially in late September, Rome in May and Zagreb for a long weekend. First two have the advantage of great food while all three have terrific cafe culture to break the stroll up. All rank pretty low on the bookstore front but make up for it with lots of quirks/history/charm

DC walker June 7, 2012 at 9:27 am

Why the omission of Washington DC? Really?

Scoop June 7, 2012 at 9:39 am

Among the cities Tyler discussed, I don’t think BA belongs on the list. It has some good architecture but the vast majority of it, even in the most central bits, is lousy. Plus, there’s way too little that happened there that’s of interest to people who are not from Argentina. London and Paris are both full of moments when you feel the physical reality of “Wow, that’s where Mr. X changed the world.”

Among cities that others discussed, many of them seem too small to be what Tyler is talking about. Bruges is magnificent, but those streets would seem pretty boring after a year of daily walks. Florence and Vienna are borderline. I think Vienna has more to offer than Tyler does. (As for Lausanne, I cannot fathom that choice. It’s the only city in Switzerland that feels grungy and a bit unsafe, rather like Marseilles but without the rakish charm.)

My suggestions: Naples, Venice and Rome. Naples, like BA, probably falls short on important events taking place there. But the architecture is way better than BA in the center and it is amazingly vital and endlessly fascinating. (Yes, it is a bit dangerous, but I still love it, even though I was once jumped there.) Venice is endlessly beautiful and it was the most important city in the western world for centuries. The food is great, and you do keep discovering new things. The only drawbacks are the tourist hoards and its relatively small size. Rome I think makes it on all counts.

English Professor June 7, 2012 at 5:28 pm

I agree with Venice and Rome (don’t know Naples). Venice is the most wonderful place to walk around (and get lost in) that I’ve ever experienced. And Rome is endlessly fascinating. London is too Victorian for my tastes.

Skip Intro June 7, 2012 at 9:40 am

+1 Boston

Also, Athens (Greece) and Dublin are very good walking cities for tourists.

Tom West June 7, 2012 at 9:46 am

For me it is Paris, hands down.

I spent 10 hours between flights walking completely randomly there and it was wonderful. There is still nothing in my life to compare to the experience of being happily lost walking in a light fog and gradually seeing Notre Dame cathedral gradually emerging out of the mists.

I finally understood how a 16th century peasant would feel. God is very very big, and you are very very small.

Eurobubba June 7, 2012 at 9:57 am

Prague may be no. 1 in the world on your first criterion, especially if you’re not shy about ducking into the occasional closed courtyard. Good for 2. as well. Bookstores, not so much if you don’t read Czech. Cabs are plentiful but not especially cheap, and have been a source of many a horror story involving ripoffs and intimidation in the past, although the situation seems to have improved. Sparkling water, check (but you’ll want to drink the beer instead). Dark chocolate, not that I’ve noticed. Talking with strangers might take a little more effort than in some places but is certainly possible and rewarding, especially over a beer. Historic plaques — well, there are plaques commerating victims of the Nazis during the uprising at the end of WWII scattered everywhere, and lately they’ve been putting up signs with a few details about the people streets are named after, but other than that it’s mostly limited to the main tourist monuments. Have I mentioned the beer?

James H June 7, 2012 at 9:58 am

Surprising lack of Italy. Venice obviously offers a unique walking experience, but all of the major cities are excellent for strolling. One of my fondest backpacking experiences was in a public garden in Florence that I found when meandering aimlessly.

dearieme June 7, 2012 at 10:21 am

While Florence is wonderful I hated walking there – felt permanently harassed by the traffic. By contrast, Venice was blissful.

msgkings June 7, 2012 at 12:05 pm

+1 to Venice. Compares to Tyler’s top 3.

Eurobubba June 7, 2012 at 9:59 am

I should add that Prague is a great place to walk for tourists and residents alike, with a far-flung tram network if you need to go a little farther.

JasonL June 7, 2012 at 10:07 am

I would second whoever suggested Vienna is somewhere near the top. At least in the top 10. I would also agree with Tyler that Budapest is a bit overrated in several regards. I see no logic around the inclusion of LA in any such list. I feel like portable awesome street food should count for something though it seems like you don’t get good walking streets at the same time as good street food very often. Objectively, it is kind of hard to argue with Paris.

JWatts June 7, 2012 at 10:35 am

No mentions of New Orleans? I’d nominate it.

Philo June 7, 2012 at 10:36 am

“Parts of Northern England”? What sort of city is that?

mkt June 7, 2012 at 11:29 am

Although it ranks low on several of Tyler’s criteria, Shanghai is the most fascinating city that I’ve walked in. Much of that fascination is due to being unfamiliar with the culture, rather than the inherent walkability of the city, but from a subjective point of view, even after living in Shanghai almost a month I still found that each walk produced more fascinating sights than Paris after a week or NYC after a day.

o. nate June 7, 2012 at 11:41 am

I think the most walkable cities tend to be somewhat smaller than your top 3, with a central area that is closed to car traffic: think Copenhagen, Prague or Dublin.

Edward Sabatine June 7, 2012 at 11:57 am

I live in New York, and I disagree with the inclusion of New York. This is another case where perceptions of the city are about ten years behind the reality. It used to be great, maybe the greatest, walking city, but not so much anymore. It may not even be the best in the US anymore, I agree with the suggestions about San Francisco made by some commentators.

What happened was that the city has been more aggressively than usual been promoted as a destination for tourists, and for ex-suburbanites who want to live here for a while for a (safe) taste of big city life. Among other things, these people tend to walk very slowly. If you try to walk around parts of Manhattan, chances are you will be stuck behind a group of people moving very slowly. If they are fat, they are probably tourists. If they are texting or talking away on cellphones they are probably transplants. Either way walking in Manhattan can get painful. The winter is not as bad and Brooklyn is still good for walking.

Another thing is that the city government has been conducting a strange love affair with the car. Decades ago, sidewalks were narrowed so that streets could accommodate more cars, and in many places are now too narrow to handle the crush of people using them. More recently, police have become notorious for ignoring traffic violations, though every other “quality of life” violation gets super-aggressive attention, which means if you cross the street there is a good chance that you have to deal with a driver turning the corner rapidly at much too high a speed, sometimes even running the light, and often talking on a cell phone. I actually look forward to visiting other cities.

I also disagree with the choice of London. Its the one place I’ve been where the sidewalk congestion can get as bad as in Manhattan, and on top of that the city is ugly. I strongly agree with many commentators’ suggestions about Montreal.

Boris Lvin June 8, 2012 at 4:04 pm

However, you should admit that sidewalk congestion is the best objective and verifiable indicator of walkability.

Adam June 7, 2012 at 12:02 pm

For me, a key criteria for “walking city” is not having to take a cab or other powered transportation, which rules out London entirely. It’s too big and the things you want to see are too spreed out. It does have various lowly neighborhood to walk in, though.

New York belongs on the list, as does Washington, DC, which really is a great city for stumbling upon historic plaques, although heavily weighted toward the civil war. You just have to get away from the mall.

I agree with Istanbul for underrated. Also Dublin, who’s property boom really improved it as a walking city.

Rome, Vienna and Prague in the category of obvious.

But I really think Paris is the all time champ.

Adam June 7, 2012 at 12:07 pm

Lovely, not “lowly.” Sorry.

Suze June 7, 2012 at 12:03 pm

Underrated: Philadelphia. Tyler, you should visit!

Bradley Gardner June 7, 2012 at 12:04 pm

Despite being my least favorite Chinese city, Shanghai is one of the best Asian cities for walking for all the reasons mentioned above (its really the only way to see Shanghai’s historical side). I like Hong Kong as well for its mix of bustling and secluded areas.

SouthCarolinian June 7, 2012 at 4:09 pm

HK’s pollution takes it out of serious contention.
Not fun walking in dangerously unhealthy air!

Boris Lvin June 7, 2012 at 12:43 pm

It’s unbelievable that no one has mentioned St.Petersburg! In my opinion, in terms of walkability it is at par with London, Paris, Barcelona, and Amsterdam, and way ahead of Moscow, Prague, or Stockholm. Of course, the bookstores are all Russian, so they might be of little use unless you know the language.

Non Papa June 7, 2012 at 1:35 pm

Agreed, but this really only applies to those portions of the city that were well-developed in 1918 (i.e. the center, the parts of Vasilievsky Island near the university, and the Petrograd district). I would rate the city especially highly for striking, non-famous architecture, use of historical plaques both referencing the city’s literary history and its involvement in WW2, and, surprisingly to me, the willingness of strangers to talk to you. The metro is also amazing.

Unfortunately, the areas built-up (or rebuilt) during the Soviet period, which constitute the vast majority of the city, are exactly what you would expect — row after row of hideous, cheaply-produced, two-story apartment buildings (khruschevki). Additionally, the eccentricities of Russian urban lifestyle might seem strange to someone who hasn’t spent much time in the 2nd/3rd world. For example, the cabs are generally cheap and convenient but the vast majority are totally unofficial — there is no meter and you are expected to haggle over the price of the trip before you enter the vehicle. I also imagine that the probability of being robbed by the police in St. Petersburg is also higher than in Paris or London (though I hear this is becoming less prevalent).

Boris Lvin June 7, 2012 at 1:57 pm

That’s mostly true, but when you refer to walkability of London and Paris you basically mean the extended downtown rather than relatively new commuter developments, and in terms of sheer size of this extended downtown St.-Petersburg is surely in the global league is not the outright champion.

Cabs (and everything else, for that matter) are no longer cheap, though, and it applies to gypsy-cabs as well, and flagging down a cab might be a problem. On the other hand, official taxicabs are surprisingly efficient if you call them by phone (for that you need somebody Russian-speaking, of course).

As for being robbed by the police, I have never heard of anyone who had really encountered something like this. Petty bribe extortion from migrant workers from former Soviet Central Asia is common, as well as cases when motorists are pressed to bribe a policeman in lieu of official fine, but as a tourist you are very unlikely to fit this description.

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