Europe's most walkable cities for every type of traveller

The best way to really see a city is to explore it slowly. From picturesque forest trails to abandoned planes, here’s what you can find under your own steam.

In Scotland, hikers tackle Arthur’s Seat with Edinburgh Castle in the distance.

Photograph by Getty Images
By Kerry Walker
Published 1 Mar 2023, 15:00 GMT

Jumping into a taxi or hopping on a train is like speed-reading a novel — you get the gist, but miss all the details that make you really fall in love. When on foot, you can do as the locals do: happen upon cosy tapas bars or a pretty riverside cafe; take in vivid street art; or find the nooks and crannies that inspired artists.

Best for food lovers: Tapas and Wine Walk, Seville

This is a city that seduces in many ways, with its honeyed Mudéjar palaces, grand Gothic cathedral and the rat-a-tat-tat of flamenco in the warm Andalusian sunshine. But really, the biggest draw to Seville has got to be the food — the chance to dig into tasty morsels while standing elbow-to-elbow with the locals in a warm, mood-lit bar. And the best way to find the best bites is with a local Sevillian. 

A 3.5-hour guided jaunt with Spain Food Sherpas will whisk you from bountiful produce markets to secret tapas spots, past laid-back taverns and gourmet shops, and add a pinch of history for good measure. You’ll slip through the old town’s brightly painted streets and Moorish warren of alleyways, pausing to drink Manzanilla sherries, taste olive oil and try specialities like carrillada ibérica (braised pork cheeks) and montadito de pringá (toasted bread stuffed with roasted pork). The meeting point is the mushroom-shaped parasol sculpture of Las Setas. From £60.

Left: Top:

Spinach with chickpeas, jamón ibérico, olives, bread and a glass of wine at a tapas bar in Seville, Spain.

Right: Bottom:

Walking through archways in the Plaza de España in Seville, Spain.

photographs by Getty Images

Best for families: Planetenweg, Zurich

Though barely a hill by Swiss standards, the 2,854ft-tall, forest-swathed peak that soars up from Zurich’s doorstep is the envy of every European city. Reachable via a 20-minute tram ride from the city centre, Uetliberg’s spirit-lifting views from the summit take in the rooftops of the old town, the twinkling Limmat River and the piercing blue sheen of Lake Zurich, and reach all the way to the gorgeous, snow-dusted peaks of the Alps. 

To get there, try the four-mile, two-hour-long route on the solar system-themed Planetenweg, or Planet Trail, from Felsenegg. This family-friendly wander dips in and out of spruce forests past models of planets and gives you a proper flavour of being up in the mountains without ever actually leaving the city. It’s just as gorgeous when the autumn mists descend, and in the snow when the trails become impromptu sledding tracks for excited little ones and hiking paths twist and turn dramatically through a full-on winter wonderland.

Best for history buffs: Tempelhofer Feld, Berlin

It’s hard to imagine a more unique hike than the stretch along the runway of Berlin’s defunct Tempelhof Airport at the 953-acre Tempelhofer Feld, now one of the world’s biggest urban parks. Here people from all walks of life converge: from teenagers on inline skates to kite-flying families, they’re here.

But it wasn’t always this way; Tempelhof’s story is one of tears and triumph. Reconstructed by the Nazis into what was then the biggest airport in Europe in the late 1930s, its history can still be seen in the abandoned terminals and Cold War-era planes. In 1948, the airport was the focus of the Berlin Airlift, when supplies were dropped to West Berlin. When the airport closed in 2008, Berliners refused to hand it over to developers.

Starting at the Paradiesstrasse entrance near the U-Bahn, the hike does a complete loop of the old airfield, which has been reclaimed by nature. You’ll run alongside cyclists, skaters and, if the winds are right, thrill-seeking kiteboarders. It’s Berlin in a nutshell.

Tempelhofer Feld, home of the disused Tempelhof Airport, in Berlin.

Tempelhofer Feld, home of the disused Tempelhof Airport, in Berlin.

Photograph by Alamy

Best for arty vistas: Ekebergparken, Oslo

Come at sunrise or sunset, when the sky blazes above shimmering fjords and renders the dark, rocky islands into shadows, and you can see why Oslo’s Ekebergparken inspired Munch to paint The Scream. With dress-circle views of the harbour-wrapped city, the huge hilltop park has since enraptured scores of artists.

The two-mile sculpture trail wriggles through pine, fir and ash forest, where 45 phenomenal works of art await — Rodin and Renoir nudes, Dalí’s surrealist Venus de Milo with Drawers and Damien Hirst’s ghoulish Anatomy of an Angel among them. If you fancy a good scream, seek out The Munch Spot, a giant frame created by Serbian conceptual artist Marina Abramović, which marks where the expressionist felt ‘an infinite scream passing through nature’. The sculpture trail starts at the Ekebergparken Museum, where you can also join guided walking tours.

Best for getting off the beaten track: Vienna Ugly, Vienna

It’s difficult to call Vienna ugly, with its Klimt-filled galleries and imperial palaces, but one original tour does exactly that. Eugene Quinn, a London-born, Vienna-based urban activist and storyteller, leads guided walks for miles across Vienna every day, diving into neighbourhoods that are off the usual tourist trail. Among them is Vienna Ugly, a 2.5-hour wander through Leopoldstadt and Innere Stadt.

There are architectural eyesores that jar and clash, and monuments that recall the darker periods of Vienna’s history. The first stop is Augarten park, on most itineraries for its baroque palace. But Eugene asks you to ignore all this and instead focus on the flak tower, a hulking concrete monstrosity that was once a Nazi gun stronghold.

You’ll see discordant roof extensions and clashing edifices like Leopoldsgasse 39, its lurid purple-pink facade festooned with murals of weeping women, and the asymmetrical Collegium Hungaricum by postmodern architect László Rajk, its front slightly bowed as if squashed in. 

At the end of the tour, you’ll vote on which of the city’s buildings are the ugliest. Alternatively, try one of Eugene’s Smells like Wien Spirit, exploring the scents that tell you you’re in Vienna — from sausage stands to horse manure. It’s the city beyond the Sissi and schnitzel. Tours from £9.

Left: Top:

Frogner Park in Oslo, Norway.

Right: Bottom:

The Austrian capital of Vienna.

photographs by Getty Images

Best for a quick stomp: Arthur's Seat, Edinburgh

At 823ft, this may be a bairn when compared with the rest of Scotland’s mountains, but don’t be fooled. The great, long-extinct volcanic hump of Arthur’s Seat is a properly wild hill-walking adventure that lies right at the capital’s beating heart. 

You can hoof it up to the summit and back in around 90 minutes on a 2.5-mile round trail from Holyrood Park (the old stomping ground of Scottish monarchs), but you’ll want to dally for the sensational 360-degree views, which reach from Edinburgh and its brooding rock star of a castle to the Forth bridges, the conical hill of North Berwick Law and — in the distance — the gorgeous, frost-covered Highlands. 

The green route is the easiest way up and is family-friendly, while you’ll need a bit more puff for the steeper, more dramatic red route, which follows the remains of a lava flow up past Salisbury Crags. Dress warmly — it gets windy at the top.

Best for riverbank wanders: Danube Promenade, Budapest 

Few skylines in Europe are as audaciously grand as Budapest’s, built by Hungarian kings and Hapsburg emperors on a bend of the Danube. You can walk or jog along the mile-long stretch of promenade in Pest to Buda on the opposite side of the river. The route starts from Parliament-framed Kossuth Lajos tér square and runs to Erzsébet híd (Elizabeth Bridge).

Sitting on a limestone plateau, the Royal Palace and the crag-top, colonnaded St Gellért monument are at the top of most travellers’ wish lists here. But on the Pest promenade, you’ll also be drawn to a bronze of a bowing Shakespeare. Most touching of all, though, is Shoes on the Danube Bank by sculptor Gyula Pauer and film director Can Togay: 60 pairs of shoes in cast iron paying homage to the Hungarian Jews who were killed here in 1944, leaving their footwear behind. For route details and a map, download the app.

Skyline views in Budapest, Hungary.

Photograph by Dorottya Bartha

Best for urban colour: Street Art Tours, Lisbon

Hugging seven hills, filled with cobblestone alleyways and crowned by a Moorish castle, Lisbon is utterly captivating. But on top of these cinematic good looks, the Portuguese capital has developed a creative edge and a rebellious streak, earmarking it as one of Europe’s street art hotspots. Lisbon Street Art Tours zoom in on the city through a new lens, with three-hour guided wanders that will lead you deep into the secret graffiti-adorned corners of the city, weaving through alleys and squares and along calçadas (stairways) up to miradouros (viewpoints) with views over the red rooftops. 

Most of the walks kick off at Praça Martim Moniz in Mouraria, then swoop into Lisbon’s sky-high Graça neighbourhood. Rua Natália Correia, in particular, is a feast of giant murals, with the attention-grabbing anti-war Peace Guard by American artist Shepard Fairey (best known for creating the Barack Obama ‘Hope’ poster) depicting a woman holding a gun with a flower in it — a symbolic reference to Portugal’s 1974 Carnation Revolution. 

Also, keep an eye out for Violant’s surrealist tree design, and the vivid jewel-hued birds of OzeArv’s colourful Tropical Fado in RGB Tones. From here, the walk might head on to Alfama, revealing treasures like Bordalo II’s neon wonder Half Young Panda, and British photographer Camilla Watson’s Alma de Alfama, a permanent exhibition of black-and-white portraits of long-time residents mounted on limestone. 

Alternatively, you could swing by Santa Apolónia train station, where Spanish duo PichiAvo have created a huge multi-storey Poseidon gazing wistfully across the Tagus River from the side of an apartment building. If the whole experience leaves you feeling inspired, you can try one of the longer tours, which conclude with a spray workshop to learn stencil techniques, and take away a graffitied tote bag. From £13.

View across the old town at sunset in Lisbon, Portugal.

Photograph by Getty Images

Best for architecture: Ørestad, Copenhagen

Copenhagen is riding high as World Capital of Architecture 2023. And while it’s easy to spot Denmark’s trademark modernist style on many street corners, you’ll get far more out of it via a dedicated guided tour with the Danish Architecture Center, which is based in the harbourside BLOX building, a cubist stack of green glass from Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas. 

Every Saturday afternoon, the 2.5-hour walks throw you in at the architectural deep end, taking you on a short metro ride to Copenhagen’s Ørestad neighbourhood on the island of Amager, where the city slips into a nature reserve. Here, architects have gone off piste, ripping up the rulebook with the great golden wave of the Royal Arena, Upcycle Studios, which is built from waste materials destined for landfill, and the figure-of-eight 8 House, with its sloping living roofs. 

There are also more walks in the pipeline: the Danish Architecture Center is planning a soon-to-launch two-hour ‘Copenhagen: World Capital of Architecture’ walk and a four-mile architecture run, which dashes past the city’s most eye-catching creations. From £18.

The geometric AB apartments in Orestad, Copenhagen, Denmark.

Photograph by Alamy

Best for sun & sea: Promenade des Anglais, Nice

‘Nice’ is too insipid an adjective to describe France’s sultry city on the Med. The belle of the Côte d’Azur is an easy sell: year-round sun, cinematic glamour, sea views and houses in pretty pastels. Matisse made it his home, and Picasso and Renoir were fond, too. 

The city’s lifeblood is the four-mile Promenade des Anglais, taking in the palm-fringed sweep of the Baie des Anges (Bay of Angels), named after the English aristocrats who flocked here in the 19th century. Stroll it, run it, stop for a swim or some boat-fresh seafood. You’ll never forget the rhythmic thumps of the waves, the lavish architecture (check out pink-domed Hôtel Negresco) and the rows of blue-and-white deckchairs for surveying that turquoise sea. 

For something quieter, continue around four miles further along the cove-dotted coastal path to the arguably even prettier Villefranche-sur-Mer.

Published in the 2023 edition of The European Cities Collection by National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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