Leave the car behind when on vacation

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Travel in the United States tends to follow this pattern: fly to your location, rent a car, drive around — only getting out  to explore each tourist attraction.

What if, instead of this, you chose to travel as many Europeans do — by train, bus, boat or your own two feet?

My husband and I love to travel and discover new places. A few years ago, we searched for a vacation spot within a day’s travel by train where we wouldn’t need to rent a car to tour the city, but instead we could walk or take public transportation. We went to Montréal, but have since visited other cities that met our criteria.

Many places are pedestrian friendly. The most fun I’ve had on vacation is when I could meander slowly through unusual neighborhoods and poke into restaurants, shops and locals-only spots.

My four favorite walkable cities rank in the top 20 at walkscore.com, a site that promotes, ranks and compiles data on the most walkable neighborhoods. A “walker’s paradise” gets a score of 90-100, a “very walkable” city gets 70-89, and so forth. Transit scores that have at least a good score of 50-69 and above have been included. All the cities listed are on major Amtrak routes, with connections to nearby public transit. Go to amtrak.com for schedules. 

Most of these cities also have free walking tours. Go to freetoursbyfoot.com for a calendar listing of neighborhood-specific, history and food-centric tours. I’ve included websites for bike-share programs.

Enjoy your travels, wherever your feet may lead you.

New York City's Times Square is a great place to visit on foot.

 

New York City
Rank: No. 1; Walk Score: 89; Transit score: 84; Bike-share: citibikenyc.com

If you read any travel article about the best walkable city, New York City ranks No. 1 across the board. With a subway system that operates 24 hours a day and more than 450 stations serving the city and surrounding areas, it’s possible to see most of the city via public transportation. Express shuttle buses to downtown are available from nearby airports.
Check out: Central Park and Times Square are best explored by foot, and St. Patrick’s Cathedral is a short walk away on Fifth Avenue. Culinary explorations abound in Little Italy and Chinatown. 

Boston
Rank: No. 4; Walk Score: 81; Transit score: 74; Bike-share:thehubway.com

Founded in 1630, Boston is one of the oldest cities in the U.S., and travel in this historic city is available via rail, subway, streetcar and passenger boats that service downtown. Boston and Washington tie for the highest number of commuters who bike or walk to work. Commuter services connect Logan International Airport to downtown.
Check out:
The Freedom Trail is a 2.5-mile walking tour of historic sites that brings the American Revolution to life. Trail sites include America’s oldest public park, Boston Common; the Old North Church, made famous by Paul Revere’s midnight ride signaling that the British were coming; and the Bunker Hill Monument and Museum.

The skyline of downtown Philadelphia is seen from the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.Philadelphia
Rank: No. 6; Walk Score: 78; Transit score: 67

Philadelphia is a city rich in American history and tasty cheesesteaks. It also has the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, the sixth-largest public transportation system in the country, which includes rail, rapid transit trains, trolley lines and buses.
Check out: Independence National Historical Park that includes Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. Then head across town to run up the steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art — made famous by the “Rocky” movies — and pose with the Rocky Statue, two of the most popular attractions in Philly.

When downtown in Baltimore, visit the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Baltimore
Rank: No. 17; Walk Score: 69; Transit score: 58; Bike-share:bmorebikeshare.com

Charm City might not be the first place that comes to mind as a walkable tourist spot, but several neighborhoods offer great opportunities to see the city by foot. Hampden’s 36th street — or the Avenue as it is known — is great for shopping and dining; Federal Hill hosts the American Visionary Art Museum and the Maryland Science Center; and Fell’s Point and Little Italy are a short walk from the inner harbor.
Public transportation options include a light rail, the subway, more than 50 bus routes, water taxis and the Charm City Circulator — a free bus service covering four routes.
Check out: A baseball game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, see bottlenose dolphins at the National Aquarium or tour the Walters Art Museum downtown after Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Washington
Rank: No. 10; Walk Score: 77; Transit score: 71; Bike-share: capitalbikeshare.com

Our nation’s capital can be reached via public transportation from all three major airports in the region. It is encouraged to visit the sites by taking the Metrorail subway and then be prepared to walk — a lot — to see the many museums, monuments and memorials.

When walking around the National Mall in Washington, visit the National Museum of the American Indian.
Check out: There are hundreds of free things to do in Washington including visiting The Smithsonian National Zoo, taking in a show at the Kennedy Center or touring the largest Catholic Church in America — the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

 

Miami
Rank: No. 7; Walk Score: 78; Transit score: 59; Bike-share:citibikemiami.com

Miami is known for its Latin American and Caribbean cuisine, beaches and nightlife and PortMiami is known as the Cruise Capital of the World. Public transportation in this global city includes 22 miles of Metrorail — elevated rapid transit lines connecting downtown to nearby suburbs — that also connects to the free Metromover to 20 downtown stations. A free trolley service, water taxis and car-sharing services round out ways to get around.
Check out: Have a Cuban coffee in Little Havana, stroll by the Art Deco buildings of South Beach or take in some culture in the Wynwood Arts District.

Montréal
Rank: No. 14; Walk Score: 70; Transit score: 77; Bike-share: montreal.bixi.com

Montréal is the largest city in Canada’s Québec province, but don’t let that deter you from visiting, as it is one of the easiest cities to traverse due to the Société de transport de Montréal (STM), which includes the subway and city bus system. Tourists can get unlimited passes for 1 or 3 days. This historic city —celebrating 375 years — offers everything from cobblestone streets in the romantic district of Old Montréal to a vibrant downtown with hundreds of shops and restaurants in an impressive underground pedestrian network covering 20 miles.  
Check out: A must-see in Old Montréal is the Notre-Dame Basilica, a masterpiece of Gothic Revival architecture built between 1824 and 1829. The Parc Jean-Drapeau is a green space which spans two islands in the middle of the St. Lawrence River that has 15 miles of trails and cycling paths and sites include the La Ronde amusement park, two museums and a casino. Day trips to Ottawa and Québec City are also only a few hours away by train or tour bus.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017