Picture this: a beautiful place full of fresh, unpolluted air, free from exhaust fumes, howling brakes, car horns and screaming drivers. No fight for parking spaces, no parking fees, no danger to pedestrians, children and animals from careless drivers.
Pious wish you will say to me? Not at all. In these 11 enchanting places around the world, this idyll is a reality because absolutely no cars are allowed. Everything goes by means of transport, from feet and donkeys to bikes and even a cable car as the only way to reach the outside world, everything except a car. See how well these folks get by without what we see as essential and necessary transportation.
1. Giethoorn, Netherlands
The Dutch are known as people who like to get around by bicycle. A striking image is that of Queen Maxima, cycling to an event with a chic dress, large hat, high heels and her handbag hanging from the handlebars. No Rolls Royce in sight! No wonder she is much loved by her people.
The people of Giethoorn, a typical Dutch village in the northeastern province of Overijssel, add their boats to bicycles as a means of transportation. This is indeed a necessity, as the village – famous for its century-old thatched houses and farms – is built on countless peat islands, crossed by waterways and connected by more than 170 small wooden bridges. These boats are called punters and moved by pushing them with long poles.
No cars are allowed in Giethoorn and the small bridges could not support their weight anyway. Visit ‘t Olde Maat Uus, the Giethoorn Museum located in an original farm building where you can see how people lived here 100 years ago.
2. Chamois, Italy
Chamois is a mountain village located on a plateau at the top of the steep slopes of the Aosta Valley in northwestern Italy. Due to its location 5,954 feet above sea level, it has always been difficult for the small number of Chamois residents to reach the valley below. This was managed by mountain trails, traveled on foot or on the back of a mule. Chamois was and is the only city in Italy that is not accessible by car. The locals weren’t “loners,” however, they just didn’t want pollution and noise from modern transport to disturb their fabulous nature of woods, mountains and abundant wildlife.
In 1955, a referendum was held in which 95% of the population voted against building a road fit for cars to connect them to the town closest to the valley, Buisson. Instead, they opted for a modest cable car which facilitated access to the village without disturbing the environment. In fact, sustainability is a major issue in their village, which is part of several Alpine Pearls that have joined the same initiative.
3. Islas Cíes, Spain
The Cíes Islands are a group of three islands located in Galicia in northern Spain at the mouth of the Ria de Vigo, off Pontevedra. The islands are a nature reserve because of their vegetation, their wild cliffs and their birds. Two of the islands are connected by a wide white beach with easy access to the water, making it ideal for vacations with children.
The protection of nature is strict. The islands are only accessible by ferry and no cars, except commercial vehicles, are allowed. Well-marked hiking trails crisscross the islands and are prohibited from wandering. Garbage is heavily penalized, you must bring your garbage with you.
There is a campground but first you need to get permission in Vigo. You can bring your tent or rent one at the campsite. There are also no actual hotels or restaurants on the islands. Basically, whatever you need for a day or two, you have to bring it and bring it back with you.
4. Zermatt, Switzerland
Zermatt is a very luxurious and popular city in the canton of Valais in the Swiss Alps. Surrounded by the highest peaks of the Swiss Alps – the most famous of the Matterhorn – Zermatt is an ideal holiday destination in summer and winter.
With nearly two million visitors a year, it’s no surprise that Zermatt is strictly prohibited from cars to keep them safe and the environment as healthy as possible. Access by private car is only permitted up to Täsch. From there it’s either the train, the taxi or the limousine service. Zermatt is also accessible by the famous Glacier Express.
If you want a break from hiking in the summer and skiing in the winter, simply explore the picturesque old town of Zermatt as you stroll along the Hinterdorfstrasse and admire a perfect traditional Swiss village.
5. Fire Island, New York
Fire Island is the large central island of the Outer Barrier Islands parallel to the south shore of Long Island, New York. The incorporated villages of Ocean Beach and Saltaire are closed to cars during the summer tourist season. Only pedestrians, bicycles and water taxis are allowed. If you want to get there by car, visit this link.
Saltaire, with its promenade and numerous recreational activities, is ideal for families looking for a little rest.
6. La Cumbrecita, Argentina
La Cumbrecita, a remote alpine village located in the Calamuchita Valley in the Grande Sierra de Cordoba, Argentina, is a surprise. Nestled among spruce and pine trees is a perfect German village with chalets, a cuckoo clock at the entrance, restaurants serving Bavarian-style schnitzels, sauerkraut and beer, and even signboards. signage in German. When the hamlet is covered with snow, the illusion of being in Bavaria is total.
To preserve the fairytale atmosphere, the village is totally a pedestrian zone and no cars are allowed. You must leave your car in the parking lot at the entrance. After all, there were no cars in the days of the Grimm brothers.
7. Hydra, Greece
Hydra is one of the most captivating Saronic Islands in Greece. Just an hour by hydrofoil and 2 hours by ferry from Athens, the island is a perfect day trip if you’ve had enough of the hustle and bustle of Athens. And the huge traffic of the Greek capital as no cars are allowed on Hydra except garbage trucks and ambulances. The means of transport are on foot, mules and donkeys able to sneak in the narrow and cobbled streets, allowing to admire the white and blue houses.
Hydra also includes many pristine pebble beaches, 300 churches and 6 monasteries, enough to keep you busy all day. But, you should take the time to take a boat trip around the island where all its beauty is revealed. It is not for nothing that musician Leonhard Cohen has made the island his home for some time, like many artists, writers and photographers.
8. Sark, United Kingdom
Sark is the smallest island of the Bailiwick of Guernsey, located in the bay of Saint-Malo in the English Channel. It is accessible by daily ferry from St. Peter Port, Guernsey. The island is a natural paradise with cliffs, caves, woods, stone chalets, bees and butterflies.
No cars are allowed, only a few tractors for agricultural use and horse-drawn carriages to get around. In fact, it is one of Sark’s pleasures to take such a trip. Additionally, the island features some of the clearest, unpolluted night skies, making it a popular destination for astronomers.
9. Bald Head Island, North Carolina
Bald Head Island is located on the eastern shore of the Cape Fear River in Brunswick County, North Carolina. Just 20 minutes by ferry from Southport, Bald Head Island is car-free and dog-friendly. It has its own transport system which is the tram which transports you from the ferry to the accommodation you have booked. Just get your ticket before you arrive. Otherwise, there are bikes and golf carts for hire to get around.
The place is famous for fishing, whether from the beach or kayaking around the coves. Watch out for alligators though. You can easily hike the Kent Mitchell Nature Trail or, if you visit during the fall which is a very pleasant season and participate in their popular oyster roasts.
10. Fès El Bali, Morocco
Fes El Bali is the oldest and fortified part of the ancient Moroccan city of Fez. Entered through the gates of the city wall, a labyrinth of 9,400 alleys can only be crossed on foot and sometimes a mule can slip through it.
The 9th-century university is covered in brightly painted ceramics while a mosque dominates a bustling souk where vendors sell perfume, spices, lamps, and beautifully crafted leather goods. It’s easy to get lost in Fes El Bali, so it is advisable to venture out with a local guide, best provided by your hotel in the modern part of Fez. He could, like mine, arrive with a mule for transport!
11. Mackinac Island, Michigan
Mackinac Island is located in Lake Huron between the Upper and Lower Peninsulas of Michigan. It is best known for its limestone Arch Rock formation and Fort Mackinac, a fortified group of military buildings sitting on a coastal cliff. Lovers of Native American art will be delighted to visit the island’s museum and purchase whatever catches their eye.
The island of Mackinac is completely closed to cars, pedestrians and bicycles dominate the roads, although e-bikes are also prohibited.