Have you ever wondered why certain areas that were once at the pinnacle of historical beauty are now ugly modern-day dumps? A lot of the changes—but not all—have to do with our most common mode of transportation. If major tourist areas allow thousands of vehicles to drive through these areas on a daily basis, they will inevitably have to remove the original stone roads along and plenty of other structures to keep up with the large influx of traffic.
Eventually, powerlines and other modern ‘amenities’ take over the once-historic district of these centuries-old regions/cities. Some of these areas aren’t necessarily ages old, but just have some accessibility issues for visitors. Others are simply car-free out of sheer choice. But the natural integrity of these regions doesn’t have to be compromised when cars aren’t allowed.
Plus, the experience of dropping modern luxuries—which we often think of as necessary in our everyday lives—brings any visitor out of their spoiled shell and actually encourages them to take in the surrounding beauty. How many destinations have forced you to put down your phone? Not many, but if you have to walk around or bike to the next attraction, it’s challenging to stay ingrained in a cell-phone while doing so.
Hearing the words, “No cars allowed,” evokes a bit of anxiety for those that have grown up surrounded with easy transportation for their entire lives. But a little change of pace can preserve the history and environment of these distinct locations, plus it brings the technologically-dependent into an environment with a clearer mind. Automobiles may be the coolest innovation ever, but a change-of-pace is never a bad thing (once in a while).
25 Venice, Italy
As one of the most iconic of all cities that don’t allow cars, this should be one of the very first that comes to mind. For most of us, hearing someone say, “No cars,” evokes a pang of panic as you envision yourself walking miles in the hot sun. But when you consider the fact that cities like Venice, Italy, don’t allow cars, the idea softens a bit. There’s something romantic and adventurous about traveling throughout an area by gondola. This medieval town is vastly based around tourism, so you can rest assured that most of what you’ll need isn’t too far from a nearby gondola. The only traffic you’ll find is at the bus station square.
24 Ghent, Belgium
Ghent is the capital of the East Flanders Provence in Belgium and is also a large tourist destination in the country. All cars are banned from the city, with the exception of taxis and permit-holders who can’t travel at speeds higher than 12 mph. As you can imagine, that’s probably a good way of discouraging driving within Ghent. If you have ever had the opportunity to see this beautiful region, it’s pretty clear that historic preservation is important to Belgium. Centuries-old structures still stand proudly, and it’s been speculated that human presence has existed in the region since the stone age.
23 Zermatt, Switzerland
It’s pretty well-known that Europe is ahead of the US in terms of electric vehicle use. While all cars are forbidden in Zermatt, Switzerland, they do have a soft spot for electric taxis and buses. Otherwise, the only way you can get around this city is either by horse-drawn carriage or on foot. The train comes into town every 20 minutes to carry those who are either entering or exiting the city because it would be unimaginable to take a slow-moving electric vehicle through thick snow to the nearest city that's full of cars that move at normal speeds. Zermatt is a breathtaking city that lies at the bottom of the Matterhorn, and even to the most passionate car enthusiast, leaving out the vehicles can make the experience that much more intimate.
22 Dubrovnik, Croatia
Peacefully located on the Adriatic Sea, there is no place on earth like Dubrovnik. The archaic town has a long history of maritime trade but has evolved into a booming tourist destination in the modern age. We can’t say we’re really surprised, though, as the architecture is simply unparalleled. The city was founded in the 7th century and has been preserved by its powerful, 20-foot-thick walls that span over 1.2 miles around the city. It’s not 100% enforced, but the majority of Dubrovnik is car-free. Most of the roads are so old, we can only imagine that they wouldn’t support modern-day traffic without significant reconstruction, which would mean possible destruction of the beautiful structures that encase them.
21 Mexcaltitán de Uribe, Mexico
Believed to be the former man-made ruling ground of the Aztecs, Mexcaltitán de Uribe is also known as the Island of the Aztecs. While most of the known history is based on legends passed down for generations rather than on archaeological evidence, we do know that this city is an ancient piece of Mexican history. There are absolutely no cars on the island, which may have more to do with circumstance than with strict laws, alone. However, the only access is by boat and that has remained the custom for centuries. Even if you can’t take a ride throughout the Aztec remains, it’s a beautifully preserved island in the center of the Nayarit lagoons.
20 Hydra Island, Greece
Any Pinterest travel-junky is probably aware of the splendor that Greece has to offer. There’s a small population of 3,000 on Hydra Island and not one of these residents are allowed to have motorized vehicles on the island. The only vehicles that have any business on Hydra Island are trash trucks. The crescent-shaped harbor is beautifully encased with striking buildings topped with red-tiled roofs. As much as we love our cars, walking around the island probably wouldn’t seem so bad if you can be surrounded by structures like these. Although it's true that the temptation to ride a motorcycle through the tight streets will always be an urge in the back of every motorhead’s mind.
19 Fes-el-Bali, Morocco
Fes-el-Bali has a special scenario that's led to the area’s automobile circumstances. Since the region is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site, its medieval structures are nearly intact. Hardly anything has changed in the area for centuries, and it is the largest car-free district in the world today. Fes-el-Bali is even encased with walls to preserve the "visual integrity" of the district, as well. The outcome of all of these strict ordinances is absolutely astonishing: the area is highly populated and a big tourist destination, yet it remains indescribably historic. Fes-el-Bali appears to be more of a time warp than a modern-day inhabited district.
18 La Cumbrecita, Argentina
La Cumbrecita is a unique village that was actually built by a German man in the 1930s who yearned for his homeland. The small village doesn’t allow vehicles inside of it and has maintained several Bavarian-style buildings throughout the mountainous landscape. Preventing automobiles from invading the region has kept roads and other structures from ruining the beautiful Argentinian backdrop. La Cumbrecita prides itself on eco-tourism and with no paved roads, all travel is done on foot or on horseback. We’re not going to claim that horses are going to replace a Stingray 'Vette, but it is a humble getaway from modern life.
17 Halibut Cove, Alaska
Alaska is about as enveloped by the wild outdoors as you get in the US, and Halibut Cove has a front-row seat to Mother Nature's display. The micro-village is nestled within Kachemak Bay State Park and can only be accessed by boat. The tiny area is more of a congregation of boardwalks than a stereotypical village. Visitors can travel to Halibut Cove by way of water taxi, from Homer, the nearest city, which sits a mere 6 miles away. Even though the access is pretty limited, the boardwalk island is a popular tourist destination and it has rightfully earned all of its positive reviews.
16 Giethoorn, Netherlands
There are many neat car-free destinations across the world—as you’ve probably noticed—although Giethoorn is one of the most scenic. There are charming farmhouses from the early 1700s that are accessible only by the canals that surround them. Giethoorn’s homes are well-known for their thatched rooves and the beautiful gardens that surround them. Visitors enjoy traveling by boat around the gorgeous village, admiring the scenery and homes. Over 170 small, wooden bridges also connect several pieces of land for those traveling by foot (the only other mode of transportation in Giethoorn). If you’re partial to all things auto, you may want to consider broadening your horizons.
15 Margaret Island, Budapest, Hungary
While not every part of Budapest is free of cars, you won’t find any in the main shopping area, as well as on Margaret Island. The island isn’t much of a residential area but serves as more of a recreational area for tourists and locals. Budapest has a wide range of scenic medieval ruins, some of which are religious temples that date back to the 14th century. All of the rich history has been either preserved or restored, with the exception of a few modern tourist spots. The Hungarian government hasn’t come around to the idea of allowing any form of motorized vehicle into the area, though, and even we can’t really blame them.
14 Óbidos, Portugal
The walled town of Óbidos is a historic gem located in Portugal. The country has successfully preserved centuries of historic buildings, streets, and other structures that date back to Medieval times. Although it’s believed that Óbidos has been inhabited by humans since the late Paleolithic era, today it’s primarily a tourist destination but nonetheless does house a modest amount of residents (close to 3,100). There are absolutely no cars allowed within the aged walls, though residents are permitted to do so, but it’s just not the most convenient option in the world. Not only does the antiquity of Óbidos have a mysterious vibe, but any place that makes driving less attractive is a peculiar place to explore.
13 Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain
While not all of Vitoria-Gasteiz is plagued with that inconvenient ban of motorized vehicles, there are some areas that limit some (if not all) from entering. The majority of the walled parts of the city cannot be accessed by motorized vehicles, including the ‘Ensanche’ streets, which are those that were put down during the 19th century Industrial Revolution when neighborhood expansion occurred. It may be a bit problematic attempting to travel by car around most of the city, but there is plenty of public transportation that can carry tourists at least most of the way to their destinations. There also seems to be a good amount of mopeds lying around Vitoria-Gasteiz (albeit, outside of the walled areas) which may mean that these little vehicles might have more rights than the average motorist.
12 Island Of Sark, United Kingdom
A part of the Channel Islands in the United Kingdom, Sark has some of the strictest rules when it comes to motorized vehicles. The entire island is vehicle-free (with the exception of tractors) and it’s pretty clear from the gorgeous photos that the natural environment has taken priority. Even if the rules seem a bit extreme (even off-road vehicles? Really?), suppressing motorheads from doing what they do best can have a serious payoff. Surprisingly enough, the Island of Sark actually has over 560 inhabitants, in spite of its bicycles-only policy (oh, and let’s not forget the tractors). It’s a must-see destination in the United Kingdom, although a life without automobiles may be a bit iffy for many of us.
11 Little Corn Island, Nicaragua
Little Corn Island is unparalleled with respect to its unspeakable sights in the Caribbean. Even for a car enthusiast, it’s completely understandable why most of the island has remained largely untouched. The entire island is free of motorized vehicles and there are only footpaths to ‘travel’ on. Visitors can reach Little Corn Island by way of boat but that’s about where its accessibility ends. The tiny island is home to a surprising 500 residents and tourism has only just begun to take off. The coral reefs surrounding Little Corn Island are attractive to adventurous travelers, so it may be a place that experiences significant changes as tourism increasingly dominates the economy of the island.
10 Mackinac Island, Michigan
This resort island was once the home of an important fort in the American Revolutionary War. Once it served its purpose, Mackinac Island quickly became a booming tourist town. The US government named it a National Historic Landmark and began working to preserve and restore its historic structures. Today, tourists still flock to the island and it’s the perfect place if you’re interested in reliving several eras, from the Revolutionary War to the Victorian age. The only permitted travel is by either horse-and-buggy or bicycle, so you can really get that old-timey vibe while exploring the area. With such diverse architectural styles and over eighty-percent State Park land, Mackinac Island is one of the most unique islands in the US.
9 Parismina, Costa Rica
As you can probably imagine, Costa Rica is full of small towns and, in some cases, tiny villages isolated in some of the world's most exquisite locations. Parismina is delightfully positioned at the mouth of the Revnatazón River, on the Caribbean coast. So, you can only imagine what the tourist industry would look like if this island was accessible by more than just boat and plane. Of course, that doesn’t deter those that are adventurous at heart, but the lack of transportation can be a bit of a drag for newcomers. The island isn’t car-free, though, as there are a number of automobiles lying around. However, there are no paved roads and the only motorized vehicle that is actually acknowledged (and really allowed) is a single tractor that is used for trash collection.
8 Easdale Island, United Kingdom
With over 500 years of vague history relating to Easdale Island, it’s become a mysterious site. It’s privately owned but has a meager 59 residents. The island does have ferry services, as well as water taxis, to allow tourists to explore the natural beauty of Easdale. Plus, those few families that reside on the island have to have some form of travel to access the rest of the world. Obviously, it’s not exactly possible for cars to access the island—at least, it wouldn’t be very cheap to do so—but that wouldn’t matter, anyway, since they’re also not allowed. The serenity of this secluded haven is probably unspeakable, but it would be challenging to give it up altogether.
7 Beaver River, New York
Beaver River is quite different from most places on this list, in that it’s a small region that isn’t just protected but is also impossible to access by automobile. The only motorized vehicles that are allowed in Beaver River are boats and electric rail cars. Otherwise, tourists and the extremely small population of locals must hike in order to come and go. It’s one of only two places in the entire Eastern US that has permanent residents who have no road access. We can’t hate on Beaver River too much, as the ban on cars may have more to do with the costliness of installing a road and the liability of drivers attempting to access the area on wheels.
6 Tripoli, Lebanon
Tripoli may be the largest city in Northern Lebanon, but that doesn’t mean that cars are a necessity everywhere. Out of pure circumstance, cars can’t be allowed down many alleyways and stairs in the Old City, simply because they’re far too narrow or out completely inaccessible for the average vehicle. However, activists are also adamant about banning cars from the entire city and many locals are passionate about preserving Tripoli’s historic structures and roadways from further modernization. The Old City of Tripoli is full of ancient ruins dating back several hundred centuries which makes it one of the best tourist destinations since it's rich with culture and historic structures.
5 Tremblant, Canada
The Mont-Tremblant Ski Resort is part of the Mont-Tremblant National Park and is a completely car-free area. Taking in the winter appearance of the ski destination, it’s difficult to imagine traveling anywhere around the village without an automobile to get around. The village was built to mimic traditional Quebec architecture and is completely auto-free, although it was meant to be a tourist region from its inception, which may seem confusing given its icy look. We can’t imagine how cold the open-air lifts and gondola must feel at the peak of ski season, but the serene appeal of the area is enough to bring in even the most car-dependent visitors.
4 Phú Quốc, Vietnam
As the largest island in Vietnam and in the Gulf of Thailand, Phú Quốc is a well-known tourist area. The complete serenity of the stunning, blue ocean views on the island has quickly transformed its humble fishing and agriculture economy into a booming travel destination. Although Phú Quoc has a relatively large population of at least 90,000 residents, it is considered to be a car-free island and the majority of residents respect this law. Preventing road development and industrialization has kept the natural habitats on the island largely untouched. It may be the best car-free destination that you could possibly set your eyes on.
3 Fire Island, NY
Fire Island is a truly unique space in the automobile-obsessed United States. It’s funny because you’d never think that a place so isolated would exist near the largest city in the country. The only way to access this island is either by ferry or by a cars-only bridge on the west end of the island, however, there isn’t any accessibility for cars throughout the majority of the island. Everything is reliant on bicycles and foot traffic since most of the streets are five-foot-wide boardwalks. The natural beauty of the island has been largely preserved thanks to the lack of roads and pollution that comes with automobiles. It’s so serene that it’s not out-of-place to run into local wildlife, like deer and fox, while roaming the beaches in the off-season.
2 Lamu, Kenya
The Lamu settlement in Kenya takes things about as far back as you can imagine. The government only allows foot traffic, bicycles, or travel by donkeys. Lamu is one of the original Swahili settlements and the oldest town in Kenya. It’s believed to have been established in 1370, so it’s understandable that the residents would want to maintain their historic heritage, especially since the majority of the population are descendants of the original settlers. A secluded island that is difficult to maintain in today’s economic climate, Lamu gains most of its income from tourists and backpackers who are intrigued by the culture and history of the Lamu Island.
1 Maria Island, Tasmania, Australia
With picturesque rocks and mountains positioned perfectly on the Tasman Sea, it’s easy to see why this became a prevalent tourist area in Australia. Maria Island, Tasmania, is an island of very few permanent residents (less than 20) who happen to be park rangers. The remaining parts of the island are devoted to travelers who want to live in car-free paradise for a little while. All transport is either by foot or by bicycle. Clearly, Australia’s Tasmanian island is dedicated to keeping the natural environment in tip-top condition; the majority of the island is a part of Maria Island National Park. Even if you can’t take your auto into this unique mountainous paradise, it’s one worth visiting.
Sources: Travel + Leisure, Luxury Travel Magazine, and Wikipedia.