Summer is coming to an end, meaning prime city exploring weather is upon us! And it’s European Mobility Week. To celebrate this week dedicated to affordable ways to stay healthy while discovering all that Europe has to offer, I wanted to walk through why and how to explore 7 must-see European cities on foot.
As someone who averages 8-10k steps a day when not travelling, you could call me a connoisseur. So from great city walks to navigating public transport when needed, here’s what you need to know about exploring these 7 amazing cities.
It’s no surprise that Munich offers a wealth of picturesque streets and excellent public transportation. By escaping much of the intense bombing that damaged so many other German cities in WWII, Munich is lucky to have a largely intact historical center to explore.
Admittedly, however, the Munich public transportation system is quite complicated. There are different zones, types of transport, and many types of tickets to navigate them. While most cities have simple unlimited cards for a few days, Munich’s version also varies depending on where you’re going. So, I recommend checking out this guide and bringing good walking shoes.
Besides U-Bahns and S-Bahns, an affordable option is to discover one of the many outstanding hikes in and just next to the city. These run along rivers, up and down hills, and through historic areas, so you’ve got options for anything you may be in the mood for. Also, check out the English Gardens for more relaxing walking trails as well as an excellent beer garden to relax in once you’re done.
The gardens and historic streets of Vienna just demand to be discovered via an afternoon walk. Much like Munich, Vienna has ample hiking trails in and around the city. These can lead to vineyards and historic areas like the Kahlenberg hill with its excellent views of the city. If you’re looking to discover less touristy areas of the city, be sure to check out some of the local markets for food and interesting shopping.
If you need to use public transportation to get around Vienna, you might be surprised at how it works. Unlike most cities, even the metro in Vienna works on a kind of honor system. Anyone can walk right in without a ticket, but controllers do patrol the cars checking tickets and fines are steep. So, if the temptation is there, please do the right thing and buy a ticket.
Not every city has a hilltop castle in the middle of it and snow-capped mountains surrounding it, but not every city is Ljubljana. Its ample pedestrian spaces dotting the city center and overall compact size make it an ideal city to explore on foot. Then, you can always go out and visit the nearby Tivoli park for some greenery and plenty of space to explore.
If you want a bit of a scavenger hunt to explore the city, try seeing how many dragons you can find. From statues to elements of building facades, there are many to discover (this is especially great if you’re traveling with kids).
Back when I was regularly taking the 11 hour Sofia to Zagreb bus line, people often asked what brought me back to the city. There was no major site, but rather some great friends and a marvelous atmosphere that begs to be explored on foot. From the small but utterly charming old town to the quirky museums (it may be a cliche but I’ll always recommend the Museum of Broken Relationships), I’ve found that each trip to Zagreb showed me something new.
If you’re looking to really explore the city center, look around for the scale model of the solar system spread throughout the city.
One of the things I love about Budapest is that its best sights aren’t as concentrated as they are in cities like Prague. The result is far fewer crowds, but also a lot of walking. That’s where the trams and buses come in handy.
As a former resident of Budapest myself, my favorite spot to reach with a walk is the Gül Baba tomb on a hill in Buda. This tomb of an Ottoman Bektashi dervish is an island of calm in the bustling city and boasts some great views.
Just note that like Vienna, public transportation in Budapest works largely on the honor system. But not buying a ticket can lead to huge fines (in addition to depriving the city of funds to maintain and improve its excellent network). So please buy a ticket. One cool benefit of buying day passes is that the rail network is included, so you can travel far outside what feels like the city limits with your pass.
Just a short bus ride from Vienna, Bratislava is often overlooked but has plenty of charm. It may be a bit quiet (many places are closed by the late afternoon), but the streets are beautiful and the views from Bratislava castle are fantastic. Just don’t make the same mistake I did and compliment the Slovaks on all of the fields of wind turbines visible from the castle (they’re actually over the border in Austria).
It may not be as needed in a smaller city like Bratislava, but public transportation tickets are also extremely affordable. Bike rentals are another great option.
Unlike most cities, getting around Venice is one of the coolest things to do in the city. Whether it’s by gondola or the more affordable walking, experiencing the unique location and layout of the city is certainly part of its charm. But the biggest tip for being able to enjoy doing this is to avoid peak tourism times. Navigating Venice in the high season (essentially the summer) is always going to be difficult.
Plus, the city is experiencing more strain from tourism and these days is asking people to try and visit in off months like October or April. Related to that, try and avoid some of the more touristy parts of the city for a more relaxed and authentic experience without the crowds.
What are you waiting for?
Ready to search for dragons in Ljubljana or find the Gül Baba shrine in Budapest? Fortunately, fast and affordable buses are heading to all of these cities every single day. Whether you’re thinking about a weekend away or the start of a grand European adventure, you can take the first step towards new discoveries and experiences today.