The New Year is almost here! While some people like to reflect and look back every December, I like to look forward at what the upcoming year holds. Many of you might be planning vacations soon for 2020, so based on my travels in the last twelve months, here are the top ten wheelchair accessible cities I think you need to visit in 2020.
1. Venice, Italy. For years I dreamed about visiting Venice, but I always thought it would be out of reach for wheelchair users, mostly because of all those pesky bridges. After doing some research, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Venice, while still posing several accessibility obstacles, is totally doable for even power wheelchair users! The city provides maps of accessible routes in a dozen different Venice neighborhoods that will let you circumvent the bridges, or will route you across bridges with ramps. I spent one glorious day visiting three of these neighborhoods on my own.
The “roadways” in Venice are all canals, so there are no cars or curbs. Heaven! Most vaporetto (i.e. water bus) routes have at least one space in each boat for a wheelchair user, and portable ramps at each stop allow for even power chair users to roll onto the vaporettos. Most of the major attractions and museums have ramps to enter, as well as free or discounted admission for wheelchair users and their caregivers. Accessible taxis to get you there from the airport are rare and expensive, but an accessible public bus (Route 5) will take you directly from the airport to the Piazzale Roma.
2. Toronto, Canada. I grew up traveling to Canada with my family every few years, so I’ve been to Toronto many times. However, I had never been there as a wheelchair user until recently. I had the opportunity in July 2019 to take my two children to Canada’s largest city, and to say that we had a blast is an understatement! It is so easy to get around Toronto using accessible taxis and public transportation, and there are so many wheelchair accessible and family friendly things to see and do all over the city.
Some places I would highly recommend are the Hockey Hall of Fame, the CN Tower, the Aquarium, and the Royal Ontario Museum. You can also take a wheelchair accessible day trip to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, which my children and I thoroughly enjoyed. If you have the time and it’s the right time of year, try to catch a Blue Jays baseball game at the Rogers Centre!
3. Valletta, Malta. I only spent a day in the small island nation of Malta as part of a Mediterranean cruise, but it didn’t take long for me to fall completely in love! Malta has a fascinating history dating back to the 13th century, with a lot of mysteries and many cultures coming and going. The capital certainly has its hills and its architecture is old, but I was really impressed with the accessibility of so many sights and attractions. The sidewalks are mostly smooth, and while there are steps to get into many of the shops, the shop owners will gladly bring you anything you want to see. There are also plenty of restaurants with outdoor seating.
There are wheelchair taxis available in Malta, so if you visit Valletta, you have to take a trip out to the other side of the island and visit the stunning medieval city of Mdina. It’s an incredible experience to roll through the narrow alleys of buildings that have stood for centuries. If you’re a Game of Thrones fan, many sights in both Valletta and Mdina were used to film scenes for King’s Landing before they moved to Croatia.
4. Boston, USA. Before I visited Boston for the AbilitiesExpo conference in August 2019, all I could remember from my previous visit as a teenager was a LOT of cobblestones. I was very eager to visit so many sites relevant to the American Revolution and American history, but very apprehensive about the accessibility. It turns out I had nothing to worry about! I was able to visit everything from the Massachusetts State House (the state Capitol) to the Old North Church. Getting around was easy with UberWAV, buses, and the metro.
Easily the most exciting part of my visit to Boston was following the entire 2 ½ mile-long Freedom Trail on my own in my power chair. It took several hours and I had to take a few alternative routes, but it was totally worth it to see so many significant historical sites. I was also able to take a wheelchair accessible tour to Concord and Lexington! Make sure you visit the Fan Pier area and the Museum of Fine Arts for some beautiful views of downtown.
5. Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Rolling through this beautiful Dutch city always puts a smile on my face. I love the architecture, the flowers, the food, and the people! You might think that getting around this European city with so many bridges might be difficult, but it’s actually quite easy. Amsterdam is very flat, and the city center where most of the sights are located is pretty compact. You can use an accessible bus to get around, but with a fully charged battery, you probably won’t even need that.
Set aside plenty of time to visit all the amazing museums that Amsterdam has to offer, including the famous Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, Stedelijk, and NEMO Science Center. You can easily roll a little ways to visit the exciting Heineken Experience, explore Amsterdam’s history at the Royal Palace, and view incredible architecture at the Nieuw Kirche cathedral.
6. Valencia, Spain. For a while I had been hearing how beautiful Valencia was, but it was never really convenient to visit until I was invited to speak at a conference on accessible cruising in December 2019. I couldn’t believe how amazing the wheelchair accessibility was! The sidewalks were wide and flat, the museums and many other sights were easy to visit, and there were plenty of restaurants and stores I could roll into. The Ilunion Hotel I stayed at is part of the chain dedicated to employing people with disabilities, and their commitment to accessibility is evident in their rooms and public areas.
There are plenty of wheelchair accessible things to do in Valencia, like the City of Arts and Sciences, the Valencia Market, and the Valencia Cathedral. It’s very easy to get around Valencia as well, as you can choose between accessible taxis, the bus, or the Metro. Make sure you leave plenty of room in your belly for the famous paella!
7. London, United Kingdom. Prior to my most recent visit to London in November 2019, I had only spent one day in the city well before my need for a wheelchair. I’ve always been intimidated by the thought of London because of the size and all the people, and it really is like the New York City of Europe. However, I absolutely loved the energy, all the amazing accessible things to do, and the ease of getting around with so many London cabs that are all wheelchair accessible!
I stayed in the West End, and some of the bigger sites like Buckingham Palace were not open to visitors during my stay. However, I thoroughly enjoyed Westminster Abbey, a tour of the Mews, the Churchill War Rooms, and the amazing view during breakfast from the Sky Garden. In my opinion, no visit to London is complete without stopping at the British Museum and the Tate Gallery. I was even able to catch two West End musicals within a few blocks of my hotel, including the original Phantom of the Opera!
8. Cape Town, South Africa. My visit to Cape Town was a long time in the making. I wanted to go in 2018, but postponed due to the water crisis. It’s also a long and expensive journey, but it was absolutely worth every second and every cent! I stayed at the V&A Waterfront, which is very wheelchair friendly and within close rolling distance to The Museum of Contemporary African Art, the Chavonnes Battery, the Maritime Museum, a bustling food market, and tons of shopping.
There are several easy ways to visit iconic Table Mountain and its fully accessible spinning cable car, Signal Hill, the Boulders Beach penguin colony, and Cape Point. You can either take a private wheelchair accessible guided tour (I used Travel with René), or use the hop-on hop-off bus to visit the major sights. There are some crime problems in Cape Town, but there is plenty of security in the tourist areas, and I felt safe during my entire trip.
9. Seattle, USA. My first visit to Seattle was many years ago and only an overnight trip. I kept telling myself I need to go back, and I’m so glad I did! It’s a myth that rains every day in Seattle, or maybe I just got really lucky. I was able to experience gorgeous views from the top of the Space Needle, relax in the garden at the gorgeous Chihuly Museum of Glass, and rock out at the Museum of Pop Culture. I enjoyed some shopping at the famous Pike Place Market and immersed myself in the adventure of working my way around the steep hills.
You can’t visit Seattle without enjoying some time on the water. I spent a wonderful half-day taking the ferry out to Bainbridge Island, enjoyed an accessible one-hour harbor tour, then linked up with Footloose Sailing for an enjoyable half-day on Lake Washington in an accessible sailboat. There are so many more fun wheelchair accessible things to do, and Seattle is great for families as well.
10. Berlin, Germany. For years I had been hearing about how great the accessibility is in Berlin, and after experiencing it firsthand, I can confirm that the rumors are true. Berlin is one of the largest cities in Europe, and because there are tons of wheelchair accessible things to see and do, make some time for your visit because many of them are spread out. Of course you need to see one of the largest sections of the Berlin wall at the East Side Gallery, as well as the Topography of Terror Museum.
Make sure you visit the Berlin Cathedral, and make a reservation for timed entry to the glass dome atop the Reichstag building. Roll through the Brandenburg Gate and explore the art and history on Museum Island. And make sure you eat a lot of yummy currywurst! It’s extremely challenging to reserve a wheelchair taxi in Berlin, but you don’t need one. There’s an accessible bus that will take you to and from the airport, and the Metro system is one of the most robust in Europe.