Some of the world’s most popular cities are facing a manmade crisis: Cars are wreaking havoc, snarling streets, and contributing to increased air pollution. And while cities like London, Paris, and Seoul are doing everything from banning diesels to pedestrianizing streets, there are other places where there simply are no cars.
Car-free cities come in many forms. Some are historic city centers that have banned cars in an effort to fight pollution and increase tourism. Other cities are car-free because of necessity; the narrow streets of Fes-al-Bali, Morocco make driving impossible. Still other places are rural, out-of-the-way villages with small populations and a reliance on boats, donkeys, and bicycles.
And of course there are the canal cities—Venice immediately comes to mind—where water is a way of life. But whether residents travel by gondola or horse-drawn carriage, these towns offer a change of pace from the whirling engines and constant traffic of other big cities.
We’ve rounded up 14 car-free cities that will make you want to book a plane ticket, stat.
As Belgium’s second largest car-free area, the city center of Ghent did away with cars in 1996 in an effort to tackle persistent traffic jams and declining air quality. Encompassing about 86 acres of land, the car-free area opened up new possibilities for cycling infrastructure, public transportation, and made the city much more pleasant for tourists and residents alike.
Listed as an UNESCO World Heritage site and the oldest and best-preserved Swahili settlement in East Africa, Lamu is a car-free island in Kenya. Only pedestrian, bicycle, and donkey traffic is permitted on the narrow streets. The architecture—a blend of Swahili, Arabic, Persian, Indian, and European building styles—of the Old Town Lamu is also stunning.
Fire Island, New York
Located on the outer barrier islands that parallel Long Island, New York, Fire Island is one of the few car-free places in the United States. The island boasts 26 miles of coastline and is a no-traffic paradise; the only way to get around is by foot, bike, or golf cart. It’s also an epicenter of interesting modern architecture, which you can tour, right this way.
Located at the base of the Matterhorn, Zermatt, Switzerland, is an alpine town that is completely closed off to cars. Private vehicles can access Täsch—a small town about 5 kilometers from Zermatt—and then you board trains that run every 20 minutes into the city. Once in Zermatt, the picturesque city is easily navigable by foot, horse-drawn carriage, eTaxi, bike, or eBus.
Hydra Island, Greece
There are no motorized vehicles—except for trash trucks—on Hydra, part of the Saronic Islands in Greece. Residents and visitors arrive from the mainland by hydrofoil or boat, and once on the island it’s easiest to walk or travel by water taxi or donkey. The lack of car traffic means that it’s easy to enjoy Hydra’s picturesque white-walled and red-tiled buildings, to say nothing of the sea views.
Fes el Bali, Morocco
The medieval streets of Fes-al-Bali, Morocco (another UNESCO World Heritage site) is one of the largest contiguous car-free urban areas in the world. Narrow alleyways and streets are completely inaccessible by car, so most people get around by foot, donkey, or cart traffic. The 9,400 winding streets are also full of shops, stalls, mosques, schools, and cart merchants.
La Cumbrecita, Argentina
This tiny alpine-inspired village located in Argentina’s Córdoba Province has no paved roads and instead requires all transportation by foot. It’s considered the first pedestrian town in the country, and it’s Bavarian-style houses are downright Instagrammable.
Probably the most famous car-free city in the world, Venetians travel around their city either by walking or boating. Comprising 118 islands in a lagoon that’s only 50 feet at its deepest, Venice captivates visitors with its 416 bridges, 177 canals, and brightly colored buildings.
Halibut Cove, Alaska
In Halibut Cove, car free really means car free. This community located in Kachemak Bay State Park has no roads and instead people get around on foot, or by skiff, ATV, or seaplane. It’s a perfect basecamp to see Alaska’s glaciers, mountains, and wildlife, and most of the buildings sit on stilts or float on docks.
Giethoorn, The Netherlands
Often called the “Dutch Venice,” Giethoorn is a northeastern town in Holland where boat-filled waterways, paths, and bicycle trails are everywhere. This road-free village is famous for its thatched-roof, 18th-century farmhouses—almost all complemented by gorgeous flowers—and the town’s 170 small wooden bridges. Visitors usually rent a boat and spend an afternoon cruising the canals, then grab an early dinner at a waterside cafe.
The Old Town of Dubrovnik, Croatia
Outside the historic walls of Old Town Dubrovnik you’ll find plenty of cars, but inside this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a pedestrian oasis where motorized vehicles are prohibited. Known as the “Pearl of the Adriatic,” Dubrovnik boasts an eclectic blend of Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque churches, and gorgeous red-tiled roofs that look simply magnificent at sunset.
Island of Sark, Channel Islands
The only motors on this island—set off the coast of France—belong to the tractors, as the people on Sark Island use bikes, horses, and carts to get around. Even the island ambulance is hooked to a tractor. A 50-minute boat trip from Guernsey is the easiest access, and the island is also a designated Dark Sky Community, making it a perfect place for stargazing.
Mackinac Island in Michigan
Covering only 3.8 square miles in Michigan’s Lake Huron, Mackinac Island doesn’t use cars except for a few service vehicles in the winter. Visitors and residents travel by foot, bicycle, and horse-drawn carriage. There’s also little development, with 80 percent of the island preserved as public lands. The above photo shows the popularity of bicycles and carriages.
Civita di Bagnoregio in Italy
This Italian hill town may not be as well known as Siena or Assisi, but it’s stunning topography makes it a magnate for tourists. Set atop a mountain high above a canyon, Civita di Bagnoregio has a single footbridge in and out. Donkeys used to make the trek to drop off supplies, although now the town—with its small number of restaurants—is serviced only by mopeds.