More often than not, getting to grips with what makes a city tick is best done on foot. Whether it’s a museum ramble, exploration of cobblestoned old quarters, or idle paseo-style post-prandial perambulations, a walk is the best way of measuring up how a place exists on a human scale, how its inhabitants go about their daily lives, and of feeling the rhythm of the streets. Here are some of our favourite cities for a stroll. Head to our facebook page to chip in with others...
Kyoto’s perhaps the more obvious candidate, but the capital beats Japan’s preserved beauty queen onto the list for the sheer chutzpah and irrepressible verve displayed at every corner. The trick is not biting off too much – pick a neighbourhood, and prepare to be blown away, whichever part of town you’re in.
By turns brash and hipper than thou, then find relief in a blessed pocket of calm before the maelstrom happily swallows you whole again. In amongst the action, some of the world’s best food (with over ten times the number of eateries Paris can muster) theme park-style shops, next year’s fashions, and Escher-like expressways overhead helping to ramp up the weirdness factor – Tokyo’s the place for culture shock turned up to 11. Plus, how many cities have you wandered around that can boast rice paddies? (Roppongi Hills Rooftop Garden, since you asked.)
A small-fry compared to others on the list, but Iran’s third largest city is the place to head for the ne plus ultra of Persian architecture and the ultimate Middle East bazaar experience. The immense Imam Square is the city’s heart, and the symmetry and subtlety of its composition is a sublime sight to behold. Take your time in the green centre then complete a leisurely circuit, safe in the knowledge that you’re exploring Middle Eastern art at its finest.
After the basking in artistry, time for a hit of commerce. The bazaar leads off the square’s north – a cacophonous beehive of life and activity under a wonderful decorative vaulted ceiling – the world’s longest – and the perfect place to flex your bartering muscles. If you don’t emerge – a full two kilometres later – with an armful of rash and unplanned purchases, you’re just not trying hard enough.
You appreciate the city’s size as you drive from the airport – Buenos Aires sprawls forever, a mammoth spreading out over Argentina’s eastern plains. Worry not – the city’s central area is tailor-made for a ramble. A morning stroll around downtown takes you past presidential palaces and grand churches, impromptu tango sessions and temples of commerce.
Be sure to head to BA’s neighbourhoods. San Telmo on a Sunday is a buzzing, bohemian market full of antiques and street performers, musicians and artists. Palermo, meanwhile, is all cobbled, tree-lined streets, bursting with boutiques and restaurants dishing up the best steaks anywhere. Be sure to soak up Recoleta’sregal, Parisian elegance before checking out La Boca, which mixes up a traditional workers’ vibe with colourful streets and the most passionate soccer fans you’ll find anywhere.
Put the guidebook away and discard your agenda – aimless dawdling is seldom so consistently rewarded as in Fes. There’s a French-built new town that might get town-planning enthusiasts nodding in appreciation, but Fes is really all about the medina, and walking is the perfect way to experience the imperial city’s eddies of happy chaos and calm currents.
The old town’s countless capillaries are home to all manner of diversions: ancient mosques and riads, artisans’ workshops and bustling teahouses, craft stalls and hammams, while thick exotic aromas and the call to prayer hang in the air. At every turn, the senses are excited, the traveller compelled to linger. Revel in a day lost in the labyrinth; just make sure you don’t have anywhere else you need to be in a hurry.
Can’t take a canter through great walking cities and not include an Italian thoroughbred. Florence makes the list for the array of riches it flaunts in such a compact centre, plus its willingness to serve up excellent Tuscan fare, perhaps Italy’s most satisfying regional cuisine. An idle evening stroll, gelato firmly in hand, is an addictive pleasure, and gaze upon the Ponte Vecchio at night, its golden lights twinkling in the River Arno, and you’ll swear you’ve just clapped eyes on the world’s most striking city bridge.
But go beyond the streets. Part of what makes walking here so memorable lies behind closed doors. The remarkable Uffizi Gallery truly deserves its ‘unmissable’ tag, and be sure to also check palazzos that are confetti-ed over the city. Palazzo Pitti, south of the river, for example: a graceful behemoth of exquisite state rooms and a whopping eight museums, from Renaissance masterworks to modern art.
Table Mountain’s magisterial presence is, of course, what marks out Cape Town as a truly extraordinary place to walk and one of the world’s great urban vistas. Keeping the iconic hulk as the backdrop to a day’s exploration of the city’s sparkly, redeveloped waterfront is a great way to spend a day. Here’s where you’ll find the continent’s best eateries, flashiest bars and shops, and most over-the-top yachts. Africa at its most dynamic.
Explore the city’s past as well as its shiny present. Few African cities can rival Cape Town’s relics of history – get your fill of graceful Dutch Colonial mansions and Long Street’s Victorians before wandering around the District Six museum, which chronicles those who were forceably removed from their homes in the 1970s. And when you’ve feasted on urban pleasures, keep your walking shoes on. The Capeholds numerous trails amidst varied scenery – this is a town where a morning’s city walk can easily turn into a post-lunch hike into the wilds.