Most Accessible European Cities
22nd March 2017
This news article is from Handicare UK. Articles that appear on this website are for information purposes only.
Though the main holiday of the year is often planned by now, we all want to try and squeeze in another quick trip to either round off the summer, or break up the months of waiting. A trip to a European city is always a perfect blend of good weather, culture, dining and history. However, some of us often have to compromise when it comes to accessibility.
Many of the cities in Europe are proud of their history, and while winding alleys and cobbled roads are beautiful, they are not very friendly to those who are less mobile. There has typically been a lack of focus on accessibility in the past, however, that is all changing. No longer do you have to loathe leaving your home stair lift and other creature comforts, instead you can enjoy these cities from every angle as they aim for a more inclusive experience.
The city of music and dreams, Vienna has a rich history of influential people as well as being littered with stunning architecture. The city has played host to the likes of Strauss, Brahms and Mozart while also being the home of Sigmund Freud, hence earning its name as ‘the city of music and dreams’. It is been long held as a crucible for culture and modernism which creates a duality within the city, as fashionable coffee shops and traditional Beisln are married with contemporary art, cutting edge architecture and technological innovation.
It is this forward thinking that has led to it being one of the most accessible and inclusive cities in Europe. With modern street cars and buses with lowered floors for easy access, plus many top tourist sites offering alternative entrances, it is the perfect choice for an accessible city break.
Barbara Nevosadova from Travel Sygic understands the difficulties facing less mobile travellers: “We know that travelling with wheelchair can be challenging and we try to make it a bit easier by providing this kind of information.
“In my opinion Vienna is a very accessible city - you can access most of its top sights with a wheelchair. I visited Vienna myself with a stroller and I experienced no issues there - I got very easily everywhere when needed and I did not need to ask for any help, which was very nice. “
The capital of Slovenia is often overlooked but it has lots to offer as a destination for quiet respite. With most of the centre being a car free zone, the European Commission awarded the city ‘The Green Capital of Europe’ title for 2016. The city is a mix of different architectural styles, with the oldest dating back to the Roman period, however after various earthquakes causing damage to some of the older parts of the city, it is defined by elements of the baroque and Vienna Secession styles.
Danijel Osmanagić is a representative from NoLimits Tours, a travel company that specialise in organising holidays for those with limited mobility. Danijel gave us some precious insights into the city and its accessibility:
“Basically all the squares in the old part of the town and in the center are fully accessible for wheelchair users. It is little bit trickier if the guest wants to enjoy the embankments near the river Ljubljanica, as the terrain is little bit less flat than at the squares. The biggest park in the city – Tivoli Park - is also accessible, although not all pathways are completely asphalted.
“All museums and galleries and the Town hall as well are fully accessible for wheelchair users.
If wheelchair users want to visit one of the main tourist attractions in the city – The Ljubljana Castle, that is also possible. They can take a funicular ride up to the castle, although I would wish to stress there they can enjoy the castle garden and the Pentagonal tower, but the other castle experiences (The Watch Tower, History museum, Puppet museum, Terrace…) are unavailable to the wheelchair users, as the stairs are heading towards them. But they can enjoy the restaurant at the Ljubljana Castle, with its fully adapted toilet for wheelchair users.
“When it comes to cafes, wheelchair users can enjoy the gardens in the properties across the city and as far as we know there is only one bar (Dvorni bar) in which the wheelchair users can enter to.
“In the old part of the town, on The Old Square, is restaurant Druga Violina (Second Violin), which is fully accessible for the disabled guest. It is a non-profit restaurant which employs people with special needs from the neighboring Janez Levec Institution.”
Finally, he stresses one really unique element: “For more than 10 years now the Cavalier has been driving across Ljubljana. It is a small van, which is free of charge (you can tip the driver if you wish). One of these Cavaliers is specially adapted for wheelchair users.”
Barcelona is a city with a strong identity, as Gaudi hunkers next to the Gothic architecture, it is impossible to not be swept up into the vibrant atmosphere. The Gothic Quarter is at the heart of the city, and maintains a lived-in atmosphere despite its historical surroundings. Despite all the gorgeous architecture, the busses and subways are all making accessibility a priority. Hollie Morton is a manager at Apartment Barcelona and often deals with queries from guests with limited mobility: “Barcelona is actually one of the most accessible cities in Europe, not just for visitors, but also for people who reside here. Currently the transport authority in the city, TMB, is working to make the Barcelona metro and bus network 100% accessible.”
There are alternative activities if you are concerned about mobility and Barcelona Access has made efforts towards being inclusive. ‘An Easy Walking Tour’ has been popular due to its accessibility:
“If you have reduced mobility (because you are a wheelchair user, or walk with a stick, or get tired when you stand for a long time...) but you don’t want to miss out on the activities the city offers, book the “Easy” Walking Tour through the Gothic Quarter, an accessible itinerary adapted to your needs. What was the former Roman colony like? What transformations have taken place over the centuries? Why do people say that the name Gothic Quarter is a 20th-century “invention”? This guided tour will give you an insight into the present and past of Barcelona’s oldest district.”
Italy is most definitely not the most accessible country in Europe and is making few efforts to change this, however it is stunning and still well worth a visit. Sicily has a wealth of history and some of the most incredible coast lines, though as with most of Italy it is not built with accessibility in mind. To find a more accessible alternative, venture a little further to the town of Ortigia. It is one of the only flat towns on the island and is therefore a better choice than many of the more famous alternatives. Due to it being a small island attached to the mainland of Sicily by roads, it is much more accessible and lacks the gradient that is found in other areas of the island.
While the island is full of things to do it is also part of Syracruse which makes a perfect day trip. It is also a good place to have as a base while you see other areas of the island. The one aspect that does not let Italy down, is its people. The locals are very aware of the shortcomings of the island and are quick to help out.
There are also activities built towards inclusivity. Damiano from Seable talks of the courses available and the holidays they offer: “We are the only one to organise these type of holidays in Sicily. We run scuba diving courses for blind people and wheelchair users (as my father is the instructor). We have personally inspected the accommodation that we use” to ensure it is accessible, too.
The capital city of Sweden is made up of 14 islands and over 50 bridges and is the media, political and cultural centre of the country. The pretty coloured buildings mask a burgeoning fashion and beauty scene that has recently begun to thrive. Stockholm is a strange combination of the historic and modern, The Nordiska Museet is a vision of the renaissance style that was once popular while the subway is described as ‘the world’s longest art gallery’ due to its beautiful murals.
Mira from Our Way Tours believes that Stockholm is a great accessible destination: “In general, I'd say that most museum are accessible, for example Vasa Museum, the Royal Palace and the City Hall (three of the major tourist attractions) are all adjusted for accessibility for everyone. We also have accessible public transportation, the trains and the platforms on the metro are at the same level at nearly all of the 100 stations. All buses have ramps, so that those who use a wheelchair or a walker (frame device) easily can get on and off even at bus stops where there is height difference between the bus floor and the ground. Most of the hotels have an elevator.”
The city’s motto is ‘Berlin is for everyone’ and for years it has been slowly working towards making that motto a reality. With many shopping centres and attractions already far more inclusive than their counterparts in other countries. Despite (or perhaps because) of its chequered past, Berlin has much to offer in the way of culture, with many museums and galleries showcasing the best the city has to offer.
Berlin has recently come in to its own in terms of inclusivity. With a ‘live and let live’ attitude the locals have bred an attitude that allows experimentation and welcomes some of the most cutting edge performances on the arts scene that is mirrored by the inhabitant’s choice of fashion.
Fabian Retzlaff from Visit Berlin believes: “Berlin is always worth a visit, especially since the city is becoming more accessible day by day. Numerous museums, attractions and institutions in Berlin have made the necessary accommodations for visitors with special needs.”