Imagine this: A gorgeous place full of fresh, unpolluted air, free from exhaust fumes, shrieking brakes, car horns, and shouting drivers. No fighting for parking spaces, no parking fee, no danger to pedestrians, kids, and animals from careless drivers.
Wishful thinking you might say? No, not at all. In these 11 enchanting places around the world, this idyll is a reality because absolutely no cars are allowed. Anything goes by way of transport, from feet and donkeys to bicycles and even a cable car as the only way to reach the outside world, anything except a car. See how happily these people get by without what we have come to believe to be an essential and necessary means of transport.
1. Giethoorn, Netherlands
The Dutch are known as people who love to get around by bicycle. A striking image is that of Queen Maxima, cycling to an event complete with a chic dress, big hat, high heels, and her purse dangling from the handlebars. No Rolls Royce in sight! No wonder she is much loved by her people.
The folks of Giethoorn, a typical Dutch village located in the northeastern province of Overijssel, add their boats to the bicycles as a means of transport. This is indeed a necessity, as the village — famous for centuries-old, thatched-roof cottages and farms — is built on countless peat islands, crossed by waterways, and connected by over 170 small wooden bridges. These boats are called punters and moved by pushing them along with long poles.
No cars are allowed in Giethoorn and the small bridges wouldn’t be able to carry 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 on a plateau atop the steep slopes of the Aosta valley in northwest Italy. Due to its location at 5,954 feet above sea level, it was always difficult for the small number of inhabitants of Chamois to reach the valley below. This was managed by mountain trails, walked on by foot or mule back. Chamois was and is the only town in Italy that is not accessible by car. The inhabitants weren’t “loners,” though — they just didn’t want the pollution and noise of modern transport to disturb their fabulous nature of woods, mountains, and ample wildlife.
In 1955, a referendum was held in which 95 percent of the population voted not to build a car-worthy road to connect them to the nearest town in the valley, Buisson. Instead, they opted for a modest cable car which made access to the village easier without disturbing the environment. In fact, sustainability is a big issue in their village which forms part of several Alpine Pearls that have joined in the same initiative.
3. Islas Cíes, Spain
The Cíes Islands are a group of three islands located in Galicia north of Spain in the mouth of the Ria de Vigo, off the coast of Pontevedra. The islands are a nature reserve because of their vegetation, wild cliffs, and birds. Two of the islands are connected by a wide, white beach with easy access to the water which makes it ideal for a vacation with kids.
The protection of nature is strict. The islands can only be reached by ferry and no cars, except utility vehicles, are allowed. Hiking paths, which are clearly marked, crisscross the islands and are forbidden to stray. Littering is heavily sanctioned, you have to take your rubbish back with you.
There is a camping ground but you need to get permission in Vigo first. You can bring your tent or rent one at the camping ground. There are no hotels or restaurants to speak of on the islands either. Basically, everything you need for a day or 2 you have to bring and take back with you.
4. Zermatt, Switzerland
Zermatt is a very luxurious and popular town in the Canton Valais in the Swiss Alps. Surrounded by the highest peaks of the Swiss Alps — most famously the Matterhorn — Zermatt is an ideal vacation destination in summer and winter.
With nearly two million people visiting per year, it’s no surprise that Zermatt is strictly car-free to keep them safe and the environment as healthy as possible. Access by private car is only allowed as far as Täsch. From there, it’s either train, taxi, or limousine service. Zermatt can also be reached by the famous Glacier Express.
If you want a break from hiking in the summer and skiing in the winter, just explore the quaint old town of Zermatt with a walk along Hinterdorfstrasse and admire a picture-perfect traditional Swiss village.
5. Fire Island, New York
Fire Island is the large center 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 car-free during the summer tourist season. Only pedestrians, bicycles, and water taxis are allowed. If you wish to travel there by car, visit this link.
Saltaire, with its boardwalk promenade and many recreational activities, is ideal for families looking for some R&R.
6. La Cumbrecita, Argentina
La Cumbrecita, a secluded alpine village located in the Calamuchita Valley in the Grand Sierra of Cordoba, Argentina, is a surprise. Nestled among spruce and pine trees is a perfect German village complete with chalets, a cuckoo clock at the entrance, restaurants serving schnitzel, sauerkraut, and Bavarian style beer, and even street signs in German. When the hamlet is covered in snow, the illusion of being in Bavaria is complete.
To preserve the fairy tale atmosphere, the village is totally a pedestrian area and no cars are allowed. You have to leave your car in the parking lot at the entrance. After all, there were no cars at the time of the Brothers Grimm.
7. Hydra, Greece
Hydra is one of the most captivating Saronic islands in Greece. Only an hour away by hydrofoil and 2 hours by ferry from Athens, the island is an ideal day trip if you tire of the hustle and bustle of Athens. And the tremendous traffic of the Greek capital because no cars are allowed on Hydra except garbage trucks and ambulances. The means of transport are by foot, mules, and donkeys that are capable of squeezing through the narrow, cobbled streets, allowing you to admire the white and blue houses.
Hydra also features many pristine pebble beaches and 300 churches and 6 monasteries, enough to keep you busy all day. But, you should take time out for a boat trip around the island where all its beauty unfolds. Not for nothing did musician Leonhard Cohen make the island his home for a while 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 St. Malo in the English Channel. It’s reached by daily ferry from St. Peter Port, Guernsey. The island is a nature paradise with cliffs, caves, woodland, stone cottages, bees, and butterflies.
No cars are allowed, only the odd tractor for agricultural purposes and horse drawn carriages to get around. In fact, it’s one of the pleasures of Sark to go on such a trip. Moreover, the island features some of the clearest and unpolluted night skies which makes it a popular destination for stargazers.
9. Bald Head Island, North Carolina
Bald Head Island is located on the east side of the Cape Fear River in Brunswick County, North Carolina. Only a 20-minute ferry ride away from Southport, Bald Head Island is car-free and dog-friendly. It has its own transport system which is the tram that carries you from the ferry to whichever accommodation you have booked. Just get your ticket before arrival. Otherwise, there are bicycles and golf carts for rent to get around.
The place is famous for fishing, either from the beach or kayaking around the creeks. Mind the alligators though. You can easily walk the Kent Mitchell Nature Trail or, if you visit during fall which is a very pleasant season and take part in their popular oyster roasts.
10. Fes El Bali, Morocco
Fes El Bali is the oldest, walled part of the ancient Moroccan town of Fes. Entered through gates in the city wall, a labyrinth of 9,400 alleyways can only be negotiated on foot and sometimes a mule can squeeze through.
The 9th-century university is covered in vividly painted ceramics whilst a mosque towers over a lively souk where the vendors sell perfume, spices, lamps, and beautifully worked leather goods. It’s easy to get lost in Fes El Bali, so you are well advised to venture in with a local guide, best provided by your hotel in the modern part of Fes. He might, as mine did, turn up with a mule for transport!
11. Mackinac Island, Michigan
Mackinac Island sits in Lake Huron between Michigan’s Upper and Lower peninsulas. It’s best known for its limestone Arch Rock formation and Fort Mackinac, a walled cluster of military buildings sitting on a coastal bluff. Lovers of Native American Art will be delighted to visit the island museum and to buy anything that catches their eye.
Mackinac island is completely car-free, pedestrians and bicycles rule the roads, although electric bikes are also forbidden.