If spending the year 2015 living in the rainforest of Costa Rica has taught me one thing about myself, it’s that I am a city girl at heart. (Though I can assure you the complete list of lessons I’ve learned in this jungle runs far and wide).
Yes, my daily walks in the mountains under the dense cover of canopy through rushing streams and soft dirt trails have also taught me the power and importance of nature, but still this truth remains — I love cities.
There’s something about being in a city that really lights me up inside. Maybe its the transfer of energy from all the people that mill about or the easy access to culture, museums and historical sights. Or maybe I’m just lazy and prefer to be able to walk to get a slice of pizza or iced coffee instead of having to drive or wait for a bus. Seriously, living around the corner from some of the city’s best restaurants and bars in Madrid ruined me for life as did the fast and efficient tram system in Melbourne. I’ll never be the same. But whatever it is that makes me so drawn to cities, there’s no denying my passion for city living.
This year I’ve managed to escape the jungle and explore a few proper cities including Panama City, Los Angeles, New York, Guatemala City and most recently Havana. These city trips, along with a few of my other great passion – road trips -have filled my soul and helped keep me centered in my now rural and car-free life.
Top 5 Most Walkable Cities
Is there any better way to explore a city than by walking? Not only is it a great work out, walking through a city can also help you get a better feel for the destination. By walking you get the chance to see how real people live, not just hang around tourists, as you make your way from place to place.
You can find the details for a city-walking related giveaway at the bottom of this post, but since the year is coming to an end, I also wanted to take some time to reflect on the places that made me fall in love with city travel. Here’s a look at my picks for the top five most walkable cities
I hate to admit this, but there was a time in my life when I really did not like San Francisco. I grew up in San Jose, one of the major cities in California’s Bay Area, and as a child, I didn’t care very much for the city by the bay. Maybe it’s because my family and I mostly visited during summer months when the city is shrouded in fog, but my childhood impression of San Francisco was of a gloomy, dark place where nothing interesting happens apart from San Francisco Giants baseball games.
It wasn’t until my family moved away from California that my view of this city changed. My interest in the city started small, piqued by one-off experiences like visiting the Walt Disney Family Museum and talking to a former prisoner at a book signing on Alcatraz island, but slowly my feelings about San Francisco snowballed into a great mound of admiration, wonder and love.
With its hilly reputation, San Francisco may not be the first city that comes to mind when you hear the term walkable, but I’ve actually found it is a great city to explore on foot. From Lombard Street it is an easy walk to Ghiradelli Square, and Chinatown and the Financial District are close to the many attractions of Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39. Part of what makes this city so unique is the many trendy or quirky local shops and restaurants, so walking around gives you an even better glimpse into this side of San Francisco. Climbing the hills gives you a good burn and gleans you glimpses of the Golden Gate Bridge. Besides, if you find your legs in need of a break you can cheat on your walk and hop on a cable car for a speedy ride to your next destination!
New York City
Moving to the East Coast during my adolescent years was rough experience for me. My Star Wars t-shirt collection and Birkenstock sandals weren’t up to the fashion standards held by my Maryland classmates and I desperately missed all that was familiar to me in California. But I found one of the best parts of the move was the opportunity to visit new cities on the East Coast. Every other year my family takes a road trip to New Hampshire for Thanksgiving. This means passing through the greatest city of them all – New York City. On these trips I would beg my parents to spend the extra time in traffic and pay the hefty parking garage fee so we could visit the city center, even if just for an hour.
Being in Manhattan always fills me with such inspiration and makes me feel like I can accomplish anything I set my mind to. True, the city that never sleeps is massive, so some attractions are out of reach on foot, but to really soak up all the city has to offer you have to explore by walking. From Times Square to the Empire State Building to Rockefeller Center, history and icons alike reveal themselves on a walk through the city. A stroll down Fifth Avenue, famous for it’s shopping, conveniently leads to Central Park, perhaps the world’s most famous public park which is actually bigger than the country of Monaco. To get a sense of how real New Yorkers live – or at least your favorite characters from shows like Sex and the City, explore residential neighborhoods like Greenwich Village, Chelsea and the Upper East Side. There’s a lot to see, so when in New York, lace up your running shoes and stash the heels you want to wear to that Broadway show in your purse!
After years of dreaming, I finally found an opportunity to move to Europe by teaching English at an Elementary School in Madrid. It’s time for another confession — when I first moved to Madrid I didn’t like it! After visiting such posh cities as London and Paris, I found Madrid to be underwhelming, bland and home to very few interesting sights. But I was so wrong! It was only by walking through the streets of neighborhoods like Malasaña and Cheuca on my way to the metro on my commute every morning that I slowly fell in love with the city. It’s true Madrid doesn’t have any of the flash of Paris or Barcelona, but it’s every bit as charming in its own way. Madrid’s beauty lies in the details — it’s the movements and color of the streets that make this city fabulous.
Although Madrid is the fifth largest city in Europe, the historical center is quite compact, so you can easily spend a day walking to many sights such as the royal palace, el Parque del Buen Retiro, the Prado Museum and Plaza Mayor. Madrid is home to some unexpected sights as well, including Templo de Debod, an ancient Egyptian temple. Be sure to stroll through the streets of Malasaña for funky shops, food options and bars, and reward yourself with a pastry (or three) at La Mallorquina in Plaza del Sol.
Of all the cities I walked through in Europe, I found Lisbon to be the best suited for a complete day of exploring without motor transportation. Here quiet, meandering streets wind up hillsides past bakeries where sweet smells and the soft sounds of guitar spill out the windows, and look out points reveal vistas of the colorful rows of tile-roofed houses that lead to the sparkling sea.
With it’s location right on the sea, the Portuguese capital city played a crucial role in the European discovery of the New World in the 1400’s. Though the city may no longer be a powerhouse in Europe’s economy, Lisbon is still full of history, culture and delightful finds. A relatively compact city, all the main points of interest, including Praça do Comércio, the Lisboa Story Center, Castelo de S. Jorge and Museo do Fado are within walking distance of one another. The hilly Alfama district, the oldest in Lisbon, is home to a myriad of historical attractions, and the narrow streets of the Bairro Alto district provide a picturesque setting for vibrant nightlife under a ceiling of starlight.
Going to Cuba marked visiting my 40th country, a huge personal accomplishment for me! I found Cuba to be an incredibly moving country, a different world that boldly reminded me of all the reasons I love to travel solo. And nowhere did I feel the Cuban spirit more than in the streets of Havana. As a solo female traveler I have never felt more cared for as a tourist out in public than in Havana. The people were so friendly and went out of their way to help me find restaurants, points of interest and even a room in a casa particular to sleep in. The people of Havana were also incredibly open with me, sharing their honest view points about their country, the United States and the world in general and my journal is filled with pages of the feelings and knowledge I learned while walking these streets.
Havana is home to two million residents and la Habana Vieja, or Old Havana, is its touristic core. The city was founded in 1515 by the Spanish, and this portion of the city was the first to be settled due to its strategic harbor on the Gulf of Mexico. Today Habana Vieja is well preserved and colonial buildings give it a European flare, with a latin twist of course in the culture of the people and salsa music that spills into the streets. Top points of interest in Havana include the capitol building, Castillo Morro, a Spanish fort, the Museum of the Revolution as well as the many plazas including Plaza Vieja, Plaza de la Catedral and Plaza de la Revolucion.
To share my love of cities and get into the holiday spirit I’m hosting my first ever giveaway! Something In Her Ramblings is partnering with GPSmyCity to give 20 lucky readers promotional codes for a GPS Self-Guided walk in the city of their choice!
GPSmyCity.com publishes iOS and Android apps featuring self-guided city walks in 470+ cities worldwide. Once installed on your GPS-enabled mobile phone or tablet, our apps turn your mobile device into a personal tour guide. There are more than 5,000 city walks available on this app that will guide you to the most famous attractions, monuments and interesting sights, as well as hidden gems and special interests. Each city walk offers a precise route map guiding you so that you an explore at your own pace and on foot.
How to Enter the GPS My City Giveaway
To enter this giveaway, simply leave a comment below on this blog post answering the following question – What city would be your top choice for a self-guided walking tour and why?
The giveaway is open through midnight on Friday, December 18.
Update: This giveaway has now closed. Congratulations to all the lucky winners!