World's Top Walking Cities

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Pedestrian-friendly walkways, parks, landmarks and
views make these urban centers the best for exploring on foot.

As any traveler worth their Nikes knows, to walk around
a city is to experience its true essence—its soul, if you will. “Your brain
functions quite differently when you walk,” says Scott Bricker, director of
America Walks, a national nonprofit dedicated to promoting the health benefits
of putting one foot in front of the other. “It’s good for your health, both
physical and mental, and good for your fellow man, because you engage with the
community you’re walking among.”

Pretty much any city can be experienced on foot, as the
hordes of multilingual tour groups thronging the European capitals will attest.
But what is it exactly that makes a city perfect for strolling? Is it a certain
sort of pedestrian-friendly urban design? The streetscapes themselves, with
their distinctive architecture and attractions? The climate? The warmth and
vibrancy of the residents? Or is it perhaps something more ephemeral?

Of course, there are obvious peripatetic pleasures that
most good walking cities have in common. A sense of history, gorgeous buildings
and must-see landmarks (or views) all make for an experience better savored on
foot. There’s also a specific kind of commerce that helps make a cityscape
charming to explore by walking—like the ubiquitous sidewalk cafés without which
cities like Paris, Vienna and Venice would be lesser versions of themselves.

Sometimes, though, it’s the less tangible things that
make walking through the world’s urban centers uniquely fascinating. Like the
smells of baking pan quotidien that emanate from countless boulangeries in
early morning Paris, or the way the light glitters and reflects off of Tokyo’s
glass skyscrapers. Or simply the childlike joy many of us feel when set loose
in a strange, labyrinthine streetscape that promises adventure and the chance
to get wonderfully lost. (Buon
giorno,
Venice!)

More and more cities these days seem to be inviting
pedestrian exploration. Metropolises that have traditionally seemed daunting to
walkers are reinventing themselves as strolling cities par excellence—for
example, Cape Town (now luring visitors with new waterfront walking routes) and
Hong Kong (with its leafy urban walking trails). Even Los Angeles and
Atlanta—“two cities renowned for car culture,” as Bricker notes—are
revitalizing their downtown areas to encourage walking.

From the High Line to Harajuku, we’ve found the world’s
best urban environments in which to lose yourself for a few hours (or days),
complete with iconic routes to explore. Grab your boots: These cities are made
for walking.