Done with driving? Here are 14 of the best car-free destinations for your next holiday

Mar 9, 2022

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You’ve probably heard: by 2024, the French will be implementing a car-free zone in the bustling centre of its capital, Paris, covering the 1st to 4th arrondissements.

It’s a move that will please some, and anger others – though the goal seems to be to encourage people to park up and spend more time in the area, as opposed to blocking the roads with pollution-pumping traffic simply to merely pass through it. Cycling, pedestrianism and the use of public transport will be encouraged, too.

This got us thinking: where in the world is currently car-free? Perhaps unsurprisingly, a few destinations already fit the bill. Some have outright bans and a laidback way of life in mind – while others have barred cars only in specific neighbourhoods, or purely for practical reasons: preserving historic or natural sites, cutting down on carbon emissions, or a not-very-motor-vehicle-friendly body of water separating the destination from the mainland.

From the U.K. to Europe and North Africa, the U.S. to South and Central America, there is plenty to add to your travel wishlist.

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Here are some of the best car-free destinations in the world…

In This Post

Hydra, Greece

The city centre and yacht marina of Hydra island, Greece, where cars and motorcycles are banned by law. (Getty Images)

Of the thousands of islands in Greece, only 227 are inhabited. Although each of Greece’s islands are beautiful, Hydra – part of the Saronic archipelago – is often touted as one of the prettiest.

The easiest way to get to Hydra is by taking a one-hour, 30-minute ferry from Athens’ Piraeus port directly to the island. Whether you visit for a day trip, an overnight stay or spend several days soaking up island life, you’ll be doing so mostly on foot – as cars and motorcycles are banned by law.

At least there’ll be no traffic getting in the way of strolling through Hydra Town, where you’ll find the busiest part of the 10-mile long isle. Here, you can enjoy picturesque beaches, charming architecture, admire its Orthodox monasteries, and browse the historical archive at the Museum of Hydra.

Morocco’s medinas

The 16th-century Chouara Tannery in Fes el Bali (Old Fes), Medina. (Getty Images)

Of course, Morocco’s cities have cars. But, oftentimes for practical reasons, you’ll find virtually no cars in the medina. Put simply: ‘medina’ is the name for the ‘old town’ or historic part of a Moroccan, or another North African, city. Often, they’re separated from the newer part by a wall and are maze-like with exceedingly narrow streets.

For this reason, medinas in Marrakesh, Fes, Casablanca, Essaouira, Meknes, Tangier and Chefchaouen – several of them UNESCO World Heritage Sites – are often considered to be car-free. Or close enough, as perhaps there’ll be a motorcycle or two zipping about.

These medinas all have unique points of interest, but you can generally expect to see grand mosques, ancient palaces, hammam bathhouses and plenty of souks (traditional markets), selling everything from leather goods to lanterns, colourful textiles and jewellery. In the medina Fes el Bali, you’ll find the 16th-century Chouara Tannery, the largest of three leather-treating tanneries in the city.

Clovelly, Devon, UK

Fishing houses and steep cobbled streets of Clovelly leading down to Clovelly Bay in North Devon. (Getty Images)

This tiny, clifftop fishing village in North Devon is a rarity. It dates back to the 9th century, was formerly owned by the Queen of England, and today charges visitors to wander around. The money goes towards maintaining its tourist attractions: shops, galleries, gardens, an attractive quay, lifeboat station and two museums, the Kingsley Museum and Fisherman’s Cottage.

Clovelly’s £8.25 entrance fee also includes parking, just outside the village. That’s because no cars are allowed inside – though you’ll spy plenty of boats and, if you’re lucky, one of a dozen or so donkeys roaming about.

While you’ll be exploring without the help of a vehicle, there are plenty of places to sit down, rest your legs and – most importantly – have a bite to eat. The village is well known for its Clovelly lobsters, sold at the Red Lion Harbour restaurant. And you can overlook the sea at the Bay Tree Café, or enjoy a glass of cider at The Snug and Harbour Bar.

Caye Caulker, Belize

The beautiful aquamarine waters and the reef of Caye Caulker, Belize. (Getty Images)

‘Idyllic’ comes to mind when thinking of Caye Caulker: a nature-packed island off the coast of Belize.

It’s not Belize’s largest island (that would be Ambergris Caye), but it is well-known for its mangrove forests, brilliant birdlife, and unbeatable snorkelling opportunities at Caye Caulker Marine Reserve. There you can swim among manatees, sea turtles and an array of colourful fish, or even dive down to the corals of the Belize Barrier Reef, the second-largest in the world.

Though there are roads here, you won’t find any cars on them – as they’re completely banned, allowing residents and visitors to enjoy a peaceful, traffic-free existence. There are, however, plenty of golf carts or buggies to help you get around the island, should you need to rest your legs.

Ghent city centre, Belgium

Gent is is the capital and largest city of the East Flanders province and after Antwerp the largest municipality of Belgium. (Getty Images)

Since around 1997, car usage has been consigned to the past in the historic Centrum of this beautiful Belgian university city.

You’ll only find pedestrians, cyclists, trams and buses passing through. In the surrounding central neighbourhoods, the more recent Circulatieplan has made it so vehicles can only enter each specific area via a city ring road – instead of weaving between each district, causing congestion.

It’s pretty clever, and means its major attractions – the 10th-century Saint Bavo Cathedral, Gravensteen Castle and the gorgeous quayside Graslei – aren’t impacted by beeping cars, exhaust fumes. Much like in Dutch cities, you’ll need to watch out for whizzing bicycles, though.

Rottnest Island, Australia

Quokkas on Rottnest Island near Perth, Australia. (Getty Images)

While there are no cars allowed on Rottnest Island, there are plenty of its native marsupial: the unbelievably cute – and seemingly rather smiley – quokka.

Around 10,000 to 12,000 of these petite wallabies live on Rottnest. Though they’re generally nocturnal, you’ll almost certainly spot them during a visit – as Rottnest is easily the best place to see them. They’re classed as a vulnerable species so it’s best to just admire them from afar as they go about their business – you’re not allowed to feed or touch them.

Quokkas aside, Rottnest is a well-protected natural paradise and home to abundant marine life, coral reefs, swathes of woodland and bird species, including the fairy tern. Little explanation is needed for the car ban, then. Traversing by foot, bike, boat or a hop-on, hop-off bus is the best way to get around, after arriving by ferry from cities Fremantle or Perth.

Geithoorn, the Netherlands

An aerial view of Geithoorn, the so-called ‘Venice of Netherlands’. (Getty Images)

The serene Dutch village of Geithoorn is sometimes nicknamed ‘Venice of the Netherlands’. When you see its wide canals, tall bridges, and (mostly) car-free streets, you’ll understand why.

A one-hour, 30-minute train ride from Amsterdam to Steenwijk, followed by a short bus ride, is how day-trippers often reach this residential area – which now doubles as a popular tourist attraction. Once there, Geithoorn is easily explored by canoe or electric boat.

Beloved by visitors for its old, thatched-roof houses and living museum, it’s also a gateway to Weerribben-Weiden National Park – home of the largest bog in north-west Europe, and plenty of excellent walking trails.

Paquetá Island, Brazil

The small island of Paquetá is located in the Guanabara bay. Only 30 minutes from downtown Rio de Janeiro.  (Image by Photo Patrick Altmann / Getty Images)

Less than an hour or so away from Brazil’s heavily-populated second city Rio de Janeiro, by ferry, is Ilha de Paquetá.

It’s a tranquil island in Guanabara Bay, known in part for its laidback vibe, calm beaches, colourful chapels, and a handful of baobab trees, which are notably some of the only ones in Brazil. One of which is so large, it’s earned the nickname Maria Gorda (or, in English, ‘Fat Maria’).

No cars are allowed on Paquetá, so the only ways to explore what the island has to offer are to either rent a bike, ride a velotaxi or take a ride on a horse-drawn carriage.

Suomenlinna, Finland

Finland, Helsinki, garrison buildings and fortifications at Suomenlinna maritime fortress. (Getty Images)

Suomenlinna isn’t an island, exactly – it’s a UNESCO-listed fortress situated on the sea, spread across six islands, all connected by bridges. No cars are allowed on Suomenlinna, so leave your vehicle in Finland’s cool capital, Helsinki – and take the regular, 20-minute ferry to explore by bike or on foot.

Dating back to the 1700s, Suomenlinna was designed to protect the Kingdom of Sweden (yep, which Finland was once part of) from the Russian Empire. It was useful against several military threats, though today its some 200 buildings are preserved for tourists to visit, with a museum – plus homes for the area’s 800 to 850 residents.

It’s far from the only Scandinavian island that doesn’t allow cars. In southern Norway, the wooden village of Lyngør is so well-preserved that it doesn’t even have any roads, while Denmark’s quiet Tunø island is best for hiking, not driving. In Sweden, the southern part of the archipelago of Gothenburg is typically car-free, too.

Gili Islands, Indonesia

Cyclists at, Gili Meno, Lombok, Indonesia (Image by Getty Images)

With turquoise water, pristine white sand and palm trees swaying across the landscape, the three Indonesian islands that make up the Gili archipelago – Gili Air, Gili Trawangan and Gili Meno – look like a literal postcard.

Cars and motorcycles aren’t around to spoil the view, either – as they’re banned, making rented bikes and horse-drawn carriages (called ‘cidomos’) the most common modes of transport. Travelling between the islands is only possible by boat – as is reaching them from neighbouring islands Lombok and Bali.

Gili Trawangan is the largest of the three, loved for its nightlife (earning it a ‘party island’ rep), as well as its incredible diving experiences. The smallest island Gili Meno and middle child Gili Air are honeymoon hotspots, both the relaxing and adventurous kind – offering plenty of opportunity for snorkelling, scuba diving and kitesurfing as well as sunbathing. The former offers the chance to spot wildlife at the Gili Meno Sea Turtle Sanctuary, and off its coast is an eerie underwater sculpture depicting a circle of couples embracing each other.

Venice, Italy

The beautiful and iconic houses of Venice. (Getty Images)

Classic wooden gondolas are the best way to snake around Venice’s canals. To explore the interlaced city, you’ll need to travel on foot – as the centre doesn’t even have any roads. Trying to navigate its slim side streets, steep bridges and old squares with a car would be nigh on impossible.

Despite the lack of cars, its central piazza, Saint Mark’s Square, can be chaotic with pedestrians – even out of peak season.

Many of Venice’s surrounding islands are car-free, including traveller-friendly Burano. Interestingly, the Lido di Venezia – an ideal place to stay, as it’s just a short boat ride away from the city – and has roads, cars and public transport. If you’re road-tripping through Italy, you can still visit Venice, but you’ll need to park up outside of the city.

Sark, Channel Islands

Isthmus on Sark, Channel Islands, UK. (Getty Images)

50 minutes or so away from Guernsey is the island of Sark, widely dubbed the ‘crown jewel of the Channel Islands’. Surrounded by sandy beaches overlooking clear blue water, and offering a small museum, boating and fishing trips, plus the recently-built Sarkhenge stone circle – it seems a fair assessment.

You’ll also find the oft-photographed La Coupeé, a stunning isthmus connecting the island’s two areas: Big Sark and Little Sark.

Sark is a fief – meaning it’s run by its own, independent government (called the Chief Pleas). They’ve outlawed cars and motorcycles on the island, leaving many of their roads unpaved. Bicycles and horse-drawn carriages are the ideal way to get around Sark, though perhaps not as darkness looms. The island has no streetlights, which allow for an unblemished look at glittering stars as night falls. Sark can therefore call itself the world’s first Dark Sky island, as well as the crown jewel.

Interestingly, another of the Channel Islands, the tiny and crowd-free Herm, also doesn’t allow cars.

Zermatt, Switzerland

At the head of the Mattertal valley lies Zermatt, a pretty tourist village dominated by views of the Matterhorn. (Getty Images)

Swiss ski resort Zermatt, famous for the towering, snow-tipped Matterhorn looming over it, has been car-free “for as long as anyone can remember,” says its official tourism site.

The decision is seemingly an environmental one. Surely an abundance of air pollution could potentially obscure its unreal scenery? Much has also been written about Zermatt’s desire to become a fully self-sustaining resort.

To visit, you’ll need to park up in nearby Täsch and take a shuttle train – before getting on an electricity-powered bus, hopping in an eTaxi, pedalling a you-powered bike or simply walking. Though it does seem there is one car rental option, suitable for visitors with mobility concerns.

Mackinac Island, Michigan, USA

Horse and carriage filled streets lined with beautiful colourful buildings, Mackinac Island, Michigan. (Getty Images)

On Mackinac Island – located on Lake Huron, one of the United States’ five Great Lakes – you’ll find no cars and (almost) no motorised vehicles. They’ve been banned since 1896, apparently because the first cars to roll up there seriously spooked the island’s many horses.

And on Mackinac Island, they really do seem to love horses. A horse-drawn carriage is the classic way to tour the island. Said horse-drawn carriage even appears in the island’s official logo. There’s a Grand Stable Museum to peruse, as well as a number of working horse stables, including Jack’s Livery Stable and Cindy’s Riding Stable.

Along with the equine connection, just stepping through its streets and seeing the architecture will transport you back into the past. Expect to also sample slices of the island’s iconic Murdick’s Fudge – made there since 1887.

Featured image by Getty Images.

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