It’s almost the end of the year, which means it’s time for me to update my list of wheelchair accessible cities you need to visit after New Year’s! You’re going to have some Christmas money burning a hole in your pocket, you’ve read up on my tips for overcoming your fear of traveling with your wheelchair, and you’re ready to hit the road (or take to the skies) in 2018. Then check out my list below of some of the world’s most wheelchair-friendly destinations, and let the new year travel planning begin!
1. Ljubljana, Slovenia
Never heard of it? Welcome to the club! Slovenia only became an independent country in 1991, and prior to that it was one of the many republics of the former Yugoslavia. The nation and its gorgeous capital of Ljubljana progressed more rapidly than its neighbors, and progressive social policies have resulted in a country that highly values wheelchair accessibility. Ramps and dropped curbs abound, and wheelchair users can easily visit museums, Tivoli park, the triple bridge and Friday food markets. Recent policy changes have also blocked traffic in many major tourist areas, so pedestrian-only zones are ample. You can also easily visit the stunning alpine areas of Lake Bled and Bohinj, and even take a tram to the top of an accessible ski resort.
2. Warsaw, Poland
I would have never considered visiting Poland had I not come across a random article somewhere talking about how accessible both Warsaw and Krakow are, with the latter only being a two-hour train ride away. Warsaw is a large and spread-out city, but modern, and many hotels can be found with accessible rooms and roll-in showers. Public transportation is a breeze, and for a more formal introduction to the city, you can contact Accessible Poland for tour options. Warsaw is a fascinating blend of modern skyscrapers and reconstructed historical areas – an incredible feat, considering roughly 70 percent of the city was burned to the ground in the 1940s. Parks, museums, and sidewalks all have great access, and help abounds in places that are more challenging.
3. Jerusalem, Israel
This is easily the most intense city I’ve ever visited. Considering I’ve been to New York City, that’s saying something. When you hear the term ‘Old City,’ you may think the four quarters in historic Jerusalem aren’t wheelchair friendly, but that’s not the case. There are mild cobblestones and the ramps are steep, but you can visit historical gems like the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Western (Wailing) Wall, and dozens of endless markets, sidewalk restaurants, and stores. In December, 2012, the Knesset passed a comprehensive law requiring most venues to be handicap-accessible by 2018, from wheelchair access to hearing and sight impaired services. Museums and public buildings are wheelchair friendly, as are public buses. Wheelchair taxis are also available.
4. Frankfurt, Germany
Wait…Frankfurt? Isn’t this just a layover city? Even the Lufthansa flight attendants were surprised when I told them that Frankfurt was my final destination. It’s one of the largest financial hubs of Europe, but not really considered a tourist draw. Which is a shame, because Frankfurt offers the perfect blend of modern glitter and Old World charm. It’s a mecca for museum lovers, as everything from collections of architecture to modern art to comic strips can be found in its museum row along the banks of the Main River. You can take in the historic feel of the Römerberg main square while dining on a traditional frankfurter and sauerkraut, visit the stunning Emperor’s cathedral, or take in breathtaking views from the roof of the MainTower. Frankfurt offers main pedestrian-only areas filled with sidewalk cafes and many stores with flat entry. Frankfurt also conveniently has a very detailed barrier-free guide that outlines wheelchair accessibility for pretty much everything in the city.
5. Sydney, Australia
Sydney was on my 2017 list, and it’s still here for good reason. It’s tough to beat Sydney in the wheelchair accessibility department. All major museums and attractions are easy to get into and around, the streets downtown are well-maintained with mostly gently-sloped curb cuts, and restaurants and stores in and near the city have a flat entry. Sydney’s transportation system is very easy to use, and separate public bathrooms just for wheelchair users are everywhere. You can also quickly hail an accessible taxi using a dedicated service called Zero200. You can even tour the Sydney Opera House and attend a performance with ease – a must-do while Down Under.
6. Orlando, USA
I may be biased because this is my hometown. However, Orlando is also known as the House of the Mouse (i.e. Walt Disney World), and welcomes over 60 million visitors every year. As a result, theme parks and museums are incredibly wheelchair friendly, and there is a huge supply of wheelchair accessible hotel rooms across the city. It helps that the USA has the Americans with Disabilities Act, which provides guidelines and legal requirements for accessibility in public spaces. Parts of Orlando are serviced by the accessible SunRail system, and public LYNX buses are wheelchair friendly. While there are some historic (i.e. older) parts of the Orlando suburbs that are more difficult to navigate, tourist areas like International Drive are extremely accessible, and visitors in wheelchairs can enjoy all the family-friendly fun that Orlando has to offer everyone.
7. Bridgetown, Barbados
A lot of people think that beaches and wheelchairs don’t necessarily go together, which often puts the Caribbean at the bottom of many wheelchair users’ travel lists. But thanks to several accessible transportation options and resorts with wheelchair friendly hotel rooms, the island country of Barbados is an amazing tropical vacation option. Many resorts offer floating beach wheelchairs that allow you to get into the glittering turquoise waters. You can visit Harrison’s Cave with their accessible tram, and even enter the historic St. John’s parish church. Barbados still has a lot of work to do, but they are making strides with their Fully Accessible Barbados program. That means you can roll around Heroes’ Square, visit the George Washington House, and eat the national dish of flying fish at some amazing restaurants.
8. Dublin, Ireland
I used to think that Europe was off-limits to me now that I can’t walk. So I was pleasantly surprised to find Dublin on many lists of the world’s accessible cities. Plenty of hotels have rooms with roll-in showers, tourist sights like the Guinness Brewery and the Trinity Library are accessible, and the vast majority of sidewalks have dropped curbs. The government is currently only issuing new taxi licenses to drivers who have wheelchair accessible vehicles, and public transportation is very easy to use. While many pubs, restaurants, and stores have flat entry, you will still have to negotiate some cobblestones and steps in places. However, the Irish are some of the most friendly people in the world, so help is in ample supply.
9. Vienna, Austria
Vienna easily tops my list of favorite cities in the world. It was so incredibly easy to get anywhere I wanted to go, thanks to the very wheelchair friendly public transportation system, excellent sidewalks with dropped curbs everywhere, and widespread accessibility and the dozens of palaces and museums to see. There are still areas around the city with cobblestones – some rougher than others – but they are quickly traversed. Unlike the neighboring Germans in the Bavaria region, the Viennese are outwardly friendly, and residents and tourists alike are keen to help if you look lost or get stuck. Restaurant servers anticipate your needs as a wheelchair user, so you will feel welcome everywhere you go.
10. Oslo, Norway
Oslo is a wonderful mix of Scandinavian modernity and ancient Viking heritage that is easy to explore by wheelchair, largely due to the city’s relatively compact size. The public transportation system is very accessible, and wheelchair taxis are also available. Major tourist attractions like the Munch museum, Vigeland park, and opera house – including its iconic sloped roof – are wheelchair friendly, as are many ferries that provide local fjord tours in the bay. Hotel rooms with roll-in showers are widely available.
I have visited all of these places myself, so I can tell you from experience that they’re amazing! Do you have any highly wheelchair-friendly cities you’d like to add to this list? I hope my suggestions give you some great ideas for wheelchair accessible travel in 2017! And if you need help making travel arrangements, please visit my accessible travel agency site at Spin the Globe/travel.