Traveling can be a scary prospect for a lot of people, but even more so for wheelchair users – especially new ones. If you’ve recently started using a mobility aid like a walker or crutches, or a wheelchair due to age, a chronic condition, or an accident, you’re already adjusting to a lot. However, there are VERY few reasons that travel should be take away from you. Fortunately, there are several great destinations around the world that are perfect for a short trip to get your feet wet in accessible travel as a new wheelchair user.
Many newbie wheelies are concerned about long plane rides (or plane rides at all). I’ve selected options in three major world regions for this reason. In North America, I’ve tried to pick cities that are hubs for major airlines, or cities that have several direct flights from much of the country. I’ve also tried to pick places where rental cars aren’t required. Europe is a bit easier because, trains. Asia is more challenging because of the distances involved, but there are some newbie wheelchair users out there who haven’t lost their sense of adventure. I have also personally been to all but a few of these destinations as a wheelchair user.
Washington, DC. This is our nation’s capital, so it’s fitting that Washington, DC is also one of our most wheelchair friendly cities. The District (as locals call it) is very compact, and while it can take several days to see everything, it’s easy to stay somewhere central to almost all of it. Hotels with accessible rooms are abundant. Most museums are free, and everything on the National Mall and beyond is accessible. DC’s metro system is second to none in the US (in my opinion) for efficiency, cleanliness, reach, and accessibility. Combined with accessible buses, you can get anywhere in Washington, DC that you need to go. Wheelchair taxis are available for longer trips and can be reserved online. You have three airports to choose from when flying into the Capital Region: Reagan National (DCA), which is right on the yellow and blue metro lines; Baltimore/Washington (BWI), where the B30 Metrobus takes you to Greenbelt Metrorail station on the Green Line; and Dulles (IAD), where the 5A Mterobus takes you to Rosslyn Metrorail station on the Orange, Silver, and Blue Lines with just one stop in between.
Las Vegas, NV. “Sin City” makes no bones about welcoming absolutely everybody (a wheelchair user’s money is as good as anyone else’s, right?), and this is evident in the fantastic wheelchair accessibility along the Las Vegas strip and downtown. To say there are endless accessible hotel room options is an understatement, and wheelchair taxis are extremely easy to get at the airport and hotels. The Strip is long and casinos are huge, so make sure your batteries are charged! However, Vegas has a very accessible monorail that reaches parts of the Strip and can save you time – and battery/arm power. And don’t forget the “Old Strip” and the Fremont Street Experience downtown! This area is also very accessible, and you will see wheelchair and scooter users everywhere. While Southwest Airlines has no hubs per se, many of its cross-country flights stop here, as does Frontier Airlines. It’s also an easy road trip for wheelies living in southern California.
Chicago, IL. Most people think the nickname “The Windy City” was given to Chicago literally, but it’s actually derived from its history of political grandstanding. Chicago is the third largest city in the US, and is a mecca for sports lovers, food lovers, and art lovers. The city is large and busy, but many of the most popular (and accessible) attractions are centrally located downtown, like the Art Institute, Navy Pier, Millennium Park, and the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower). Chicago has many vibrant and interesting neighborhoods, and rollability will vary the farther out you go from downtown. Chicago’s famous “L” elevated train is mostly accessible with designated cars and foldout ramps. Use this CTA accessibility guide to determine which L stations have elevators (and which ones aren’t working). Chicago also has a centralized wheelchair taxi dispatch service called OpenTaxis. Chicago is also a hub for United Airlines, and is centrally located in the eastern half of the US, making it no longer than a 3-hour flight from much of the country.
Vancouver, BC. Vancouver is by far my favorite Canadian city. It’s got a beautiful and vibrant downtown area, stunning alpine scenery with the Canadian Rockies just a stone’s throw away, and tons of great wheelchair accessible stuff to do for couples and families alike. You can enjoy the awesome Vancouver Aquarium (I’m a fan of the beluga whales), roll through the beautiful Stanley Park, and explore all the cool bars, restaurants, and history of the Gastown district. Wheelchair accessible hotel rooms are easy to find, as are wheelchair taxis. Vancouver is also very walkable/rollable if you stay in the downtown area. But you should definitely splurge for a cab to take you to Granville Island for a day at the huge market, galleries, and shops. Vancouver is an embarkation point for Alaska cruises, so it’s an ideal place to explore before or after an accessible cruise. Several US and Canadian airlines fly direct to Vancouver, so it’s an ideal destination for Americans living on the West Coast.
Atlanta, GA. Atlanta is another large state capital with lots going on, but also with great accessibility for visitors. Its downtown is filled with towering skyscrapers and iconic attractions and parks in close proximity. With downtown as your base, you can easily roll to cool sights like CNN headquarters, the World of Coca Cola, the Georgia Aquarium, and Centennial Olympic Park. It’s a particularly great destination for families, especially since the newest Great Wolf Lodge indoor water park is only a 30-minute drive to the west in LaGrange. To get farther out in Atlanta, wheelchair visitors can use the MARTA public transportation system of accessible rail and buses. You can contact Checker Cab to reserve a ride in a wheelchair taxi. Atlanta is a hub airport for Delta Airlines, and one of the busiest airports in the country. It’s also a good road trip destinations for Americans living in the southeastern US.
(You may wonder at this point why I haven’t included Orlando for Walt Disney World. WDW is amazing for wheelchair accessibility! However, Orlando is impossible to explore without a rented wheelchair van, as our public transportation system is not great for wheelchair users. If you visit WDW and stay on property, it is a great destination since the monorail and all WDW buses are fully accessible.)
Barcelona, Spain. Barcelona is widely regarded as one of the most wheelchair accessible cities in Europe. Most of its best attractions are wheelchair friendly, from the imposing Sagrada Familia Basilica to the bustling Las Ramblas pedestrian area. There are tons of museums to visit in Barcelona, including the National Art Museum, the Picasso Museum in the Gothic Quarter, and the Miró Museum. There’s even a fully accessible cable car that will take you up to Montjuïc Castle and provide some stunning views along the way. For a respite outside of the city, Barcelona even has wheelchair accessible beaches with wooden ramps that extend to the waterline, and beach wheelchairs available for use. Rolling around Barcelona is easy, as curb cuts are everywhere and cobblestones aren’t that common – not even in the Gothic Quarter, where they might be expected. There are wheelchair taxis available in Barcelona, almost all metro stations are wheelchair accessible, and all buses are accessible. There are several airlines with direct flights to Barcelona, and the city is also easily reachable by train.
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. Both the metro and tram systems are wheelchair accessible, and will take you to some of the major sights that are farther away, like the Belvedere Palace and Schönbrunn Palace. Austrian Airlines flies direct to several European cities, and Vienna is pretty centrally located to reach by train as well.
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. Dublin is a hub for Aer Lingus, so it’s easy to fly to from many European cities. If you don’t want to fly, five ferry companies operate up to sixteen sailings daily, connecting Dublin with Holyhead, Liverpool, Douglas and Cherbourg.
Tenerife, Spain. This island paradise is the largest of Spain’s Canary Islands off the coast of West Africa. It’s a very popular vacation spot with Brits looking for sunny days, especially during the UK’s colder months, and for some reason it hasn’t been fully discovered by Americans as a go-to spot. Tenerife offers the unique experience of swimming and sunbathing on a beautiful beach while being just a few miles away from snow sparkles on the crest of Mount Teide. What many wheelchair users may not know is how incredibly wheelchair accessible Tenerife is. There are plenty of cultural attractions to visit around the capital of Santa Cruz such as the Auditorio de Tenerife, the Museum of Fine Arts, and Museum of Nature and Man. The city’s wide promenade-style walkways, plazas, open-space gardens and parks, and museums are for the most part accessible. Tenerife’s public transportation system was the first in Spain to be certified as offering Universal Accessibility. Public buses, touristic buses and tram are accessible for wheelchair users. Arona’s barrier-free facilities and services, as well as the calm waters surrounding them, make these beaches ideal to enjoy for anybody with reduced mobility. Several airlines fly into Tenerife, but it’s the most popular with Brits flying direct from Manchester and Gatwick.
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. As a hub for Lufthansa (one of my favorite airlines), it’s a short and easy flight from anywhere in Europe. While there are no accessible taxis at the airport, you can easily hop on the S-bahn train to central Frankfurt, or the Airliner bus that departs every 30 minutes.
Sydney, Australia. It’s hard to pick just one part of Australia that’s perfect for an accessible vacation because there’s so much to see across this amazing island/continent/country. Downtown Sydney is incredibly wheelchair accessible. You can take an accessible tour of the Sydney Opera House and catch amazing views of the Harbour Bridge. You can also take a ferry to gorgeous Manly Beach across the Harbour and roll along the boardwalk that borders the gorgeous beaches there. The sidewalks and the roads are in great shape, and while there are several hilly areas, they are manageable. Most of the places I passed had flat entries, and oddly enough the only inaccessible stores I saw were “convenience” stores that had a step to enter. Sydney also has tons of wheelchair accessible taxis that can be summoned suing a dedicated phone app called Zero200. Public transportation is fantastic, and you can take the metro to cool sights like Sydney’s Olympic Park, where you can take an accessible tour of the Olympic stadium and see the Aquatic Center. You can’t miss a relaxing stroll through the Royal Botanic Gardens, and for an outdoor adventure, you can take an accessible tour to the breathtaking Blue Mountains about a 90-minute drive outside the city. There are dozens of airlines with direct flights into Sydney, with some clearly being much longer than others. Getting to Sydney is a challenge for many people, but once you’re there, it’s an amazing place for new wheelies.
Seoul, South Korea. I’m normally not a huge fan of visiting Asia, largely because many locals tend to have a negative view of people with disabilities. However, my experience in Seoul couldn’t have been farther from that. It’s a very modern city with well-maintained sidewalks and a very efficient metro system spanning a huge metropolitan area on both sides of the river. I visited with the help of Korea Wheelchair Tour, and while you can get around using the metro and buses, it was great to have access through them to a wheelchair van for tours and airport transfers. I was able to visit the historic Gyeongbukgong Palace, a Buddhist monastery, the Seoul Tower, and even visit the DMZ area. My favorite thing to do after dark was spend hours rolling through the famous Myeongdong shopping district. The bright signs and lights, K-Pop blasting from every store, tempting smells of street food carts, and busy crowds are everything you imagine Korea to be in a fantastic way. Navigating in a chair through Seoul’s packed crowds takes some skill, but the Koreans are polite and deferent to a fault. No stares or dirty looks for wheelchair users here; only courtesy, beauty, and amazing experiences. Multiple American, Asian, and regional airlines fly direct into Incheon International Airport, which is about an hour’s drive from downtown Seoul. You can also take the metro Express Train (AREX – nonstop) or All-Stop train (10 stops, allows transfers) from the airport to downtown.
Singapore, Singapore. There’s a reason this tiny city-state is called The Red Dot. While compact in size, Singapore is a financial and ocean shipping powerhouse. It’s also easily the most wheelchair accessible city in Asia. Singapore is extremely modern, clean, and primary tourist areas are kept in great shape for visitors. It’s extremely easy to roll around major sights like the Gardens by the Bay, the Helix Bridge, and Marina Bay Sands, and the efficient metro system will take you where you need to go without the need for ramps to board the trains. There are some older areas that are a bit more challenging, like Chinatown and Little India, but Singaporeans are some of the nicest and most helpful people around. Singapore is one of the few cities I’ve been to outside of the US where I can reasonably expect accessibility rather than just hope for it, and that’s saying something. You can fly direct to Singapore on Singapore Airlines (one of the best airlines in the world), Cathay Pacific, and several others. There are also wheelchair taxis available in Singapore.
Are you ready to book an amazing wheelchair accessible vacation to one of these incredible destinations? Contact me at Spin the Globe/Travel so I can help you start planning!