Traveling requires lots of planning and determining the destination is a big one. If you’re trying to plan around a disability or lower mobility – finding a destination that will be fun and not frustrating is definitely one of the top priorities. Guess what, you’re in luck! I’ve narrowed down the list of options and have picked the most accessible cities in Western Europe. Here are my top five in no particular order.
Germany, to nobody’s surprise, has seriously worked on getting their s**t together regarding accessibility for all. Germany has heavily invested in the “barrier free” (their term for accessible) sector. In 1992 Berlin’s senate adopted 10 guidelines for making the city more accessible , and has continually updated their standards by creating legally binding contracts for buildings that include “Design for all”. In 2013 the European Commission awarded Berlin with the 2013 EU city access award.
Berlin’s public transportation system is virtually 100% accessible, has excellent sidewalk maintenance and curb cuts, and is home to some luxuriously flat terrain. The vast majority of hotels and restaurants offer barrier free access and hosts a few UNESCO world heritage sites that are all accessible. In fact, most museums and attractions are not only fully accessible, but are free or heavily discounted for seniors or the disabled.
I personally give Barcelona some bonus points because while it is surrounded by stunning mountains and beaches, the city itself is largely accessible with a flat terrain. After visiting cobblestone dominant cities like Prague, Barcelona is a lovely reprieve- it’s nice to feel like I can ditch the sports bra for a bit!
The public buses are 100% accessible and include a wheelchair ramp on each bus, and most of the metro stations make it easy for people in wheelchairs to hop on and hop off. The thing that really takes Barcelona to the next level is all the other facilities that the city has invested in to be inclusive for everyone. Specifically, there is a city beach that has fully accessible walkways all the way up to the water, a lift to help those that need it, barrier free changing facilities, and a specific lifeguard program that has trained really strong young men and women to support wheelchair users while getting in the water.
Many of the hotels, restaurants, and attractions make maneuvering around them a breeze. Unfortunately parts of the Sagrada Familia are not accessible by wheelchair users, but Gaudi’s work is so big that you should be able to get an eyeful from the amounts that you can explore.
Many cruises depart or arrive from the Barcelona port, which makes it a great place to extend your trip a few extra days and enjoy all the culture, food, and the fun.
London has really emerged as a leader in accessibility and has many resources available for travelers who are looking for inclusive establishments like, Inclusive London. Over the past several years they have worked really hard to develop community resources related to accessibility including:
- A website has a search function for publicly accessible toilets,
- Detailed information for disabled travellers about London’s attractions, transport, hotels, tours and neighbourhoods
- Information about accessible travel all over London
London has continued to spend time, energy, and money establishing an accessible city which means that virtually every restaurant, attraction, and hotel will have some type of option for visitors with disabilities.
To start off with all 8000 buses in London are equipped to be fully accessible and every black cab is designed to be wheelchair accessible. The driver just pops out, and drops down the ramp – genius! I mean, the head room isn’t exactly spacious, but it is so nice to have the option to just hail a taxi.
London is another one of those flat cities, although it is large and spacious so be prepared to get a little bit of exercise. It shouldn’t be too much of a problem to get to all of those- and there are a lot of them – excellent tourist attractions. Almost every museum has a wheelchair accessible entrance and popular churches like Westminster Abby and St. Paul’s even provide a roll-friendly experience, although it might not be the main entrance. Even the London Eye can be done! Disabled tourist can push a button and stop the rotation to let out a wheelchair ramp. Nothing will stop you now!
Back on the Germany train, choo-choo! With the entire nation having such strict guidelines many destinations in Germany are a solid bet for an easy accessibility experience. The best news here being that the tourists headed to Munich for Oktoberfest will find designated wheelchair accessible tables in the tents – beer lovers unite! The second best news is that the BMW Museum is fully accessible.
Bavaria has more to offer than beer and makes it easy for someone of any ability to access. The concentration camp Dachau is just 10 miles outside of the city center and it is definitely worth the emotional trip. You will find that nearly all of the buildings are wheelchair accessible and there are even push buttons to help open doors.
Munich’s train system (the U-Bahn and S-Bahn) has ramps and accessible seating inside for travelers with disabilities and almost every single public bus is stocked with a ramp. In the city you will find that most restaurants and shopping centers are fully equipped to handle limited mobility customers, and there are also a variety of hotels with accessible rooms available. Munich is a beautiful city and it attracts millions of visitors every year. Just remember to book early for the best prices and the best rooms, especially if you are going for Oktoberfest!
Amsterdam is my honorable mention. Most of the city is incredibly flat and has wide sidewalks where designated lanes can be used for both bikes and wheelchairs. It seems that everyone in Amsterdam rides their bike and the city has worked to make that really easy for them, which generally means wheelchair users can piggyback on the good fortune of our two wheeled friends. The local tram has a ramp in the middle that the driver can pull out so wheelchair users can board, and most bus stops have the passengers set up so that the entrance is the same height as the platform. Although, with both of these it’s important to remember to “mind the gap”, as the British say. If you feel up for traveling like a local there are a few bike rental places that have adapted bikes ready for a ride.
Amsterdam has some beautiful and accessible tourist attractions including the Van Gogh Museum, and more importantly the Heineken tour! Unfortunately the Anne Frank house is not even remotely accessible, however, they have developed a virtual reality tour that allows disabled tourists to sit in the gift shop and have the VR experience at their leisure. I personally found it worthwhile and excellent. A trip to Amsterdam wouldn’t be complete without visiting the red light district and what the Dutch call “coffee shops” (marijuana bars). Prepare for a party ride! Not every restaurant or “establishment” is accessible and there are quite a few cobblestones in the area – however, the area is virtually flat and allows for disabled tourist to get just about everywhere.
Although these cities are some of the most accessible major destinations in Western Europe, let’s not pretend that you won’t have any challenges! In fact, expect them! You will find out-of-service elevators, destinations that say they are accessible – but have a 60° ramp, or get a wheel stuck on a train platform. It’s important to remember to go with the flow. There is only so much you can control when traveling. So relax, establish your emergency plan, be prepared, but then sit back and be ready to roll with the punches. If you have questions, or need advice, feel free to contact me and I will do my best to help you figure out what will work best for you.
Travel on friends!