With World Car-Free Day celebrated in many cities on September 22, we’ve put together a snapshot of some must-see European destinations in support of this global event. There are many reasons why cities have become – or have always been – car-free. Sometimes it’s out of sheer necessity, with centuries-old streets too narrow for cars. Sometimes cities with historic city centres have banned cars as a way of reducing pollution. Other places are crisscrossed by canals or retain a rural way of life. No matter what the reason, we’re loving these car-free zones.
Hydra Island, Greece
You know the traditional Greek village of daydreams? This is Hydra. There is one town, no real roads, no cars and not even any bikes. Donkey is the main mode of transport – apart from your own two feet and water taxis to take you from beach to beach. The beauty of Hydra lies in getting lost amongst its winding lanes, with million-dollar views at every turn. After a lazy afternoon wandering through the hilltop villages, amble back down to the waterfront for a well-earned glass of vino at the taverna.
Giethoorn, The Netherlands
Sometimes referred to as “The Venice of the North”, the Dutch city of Giethoorn is navigated by an extensive network of bicycle trails and canals. The road-free village is famous for its thatched-roof, 18th century farmhouses set amongst beautiful gardens which are connected by 170 small wooden bridges. There are no sounds of car engines or car horns, just the quiet ambience of life by the canals.
Dubrovnik (Old Town), Croatia
If you think the Old Town of Dubrovnik has a familiar feel to it, that’s probably because you also love Game of Thrones. The hit HBO series has claimed Dubrovnik’s Old Town as is very own Kings Landing – quite likely because the limestone streets and baroque architecture are still in good condition thanks to the absence of cars.
While not entirely car-free, you certainly have to wander a fair way to find a car in Vitoria-Gasteiz, a beautiful old city in northern Spain. Pedestrian walkways are lined with trees and when evening approaches, the atmosphere around the central plazas and bar-crammed side streets starts to feel like one enormous, laid-back Mediterranean street party – people laughing, drinking wine at al fresco cafes, couples strolling, seniors playing cards and children playing as enthusiastically as they can before bedtime beckons.
Heybeliada Island, Turkey
Just off the coast of Istanbul in the Sea of Marmara lie the Prince Islands, of which Heybeliada is the second-largest. Officially a neighbourhood of Istanbul, Heybeliada is a car-free haven, with pristine pine forests, fine late 19th century villas, a waterfront promenade and a handful of narrow beaches.
Island of Sark, Channel Islands
Designated as a Dark Sky Community and the first Dark Sky Island in the world, Sark is one of the Channel Islands, closer to the Cherbourg Peninsula of France than Britain. This is where you go if you really want to get away from it all. With no public street lights – not needed, because there are no paved roads or cars – Sark is far enough away from any sources of light pollution to allow naked-eye astronomy. According to folklore, when Galileo described his observation of the Milky Way in 1610, it was so bright in the sky that it cast shadows on the ground. We can’t travel back in time, but we can travel to Sark.
And Olso, Car-Free By 2019
Not quite there yet is Oslo, the capital of Norway. Oslo plans to permanently ban all cars from its city centre by 2019, investing heavily in public transportation and replacing 56 kilometres of roads previously dominated by cars, with bike lanes.