When it comes to wheelchair-friendly travel, not all destinations are created equal. But certain cities around the world have made strides towards becoming accessible in recent years, from sliced cobblestones to create smoother streets to assisted bathing services on public beaches.
Here, we present our pick of the world's top wheelchair-friendy cities to provide inspiration for your next trip.
Barcelona's city beaches provide a free assisted bathing service from June to September every summer
Barcelona is considered one of the most accessible cities in Europe. All of its buses, most of its metro stations and a significant chunk of the city’s streets are wheelchair-accessible – expect adapted pavements, pedestrianised, tree-lined boulevards and the cobblestone-free Ciutat Vella (Catalan for ‘Old City’). The majority of attractions such as the Sagrada Família, Park Güell and Casa Mila have disabled access, with the former offering free entry to wheelchair-users. But the highlight for those with reduced mobility has to be the city beach; stretching for several kilometres, it has a wheelchair-accessible promenade and walkways down to the water, accessible changing facilities and a free assisted bathing service during the summer months. Hotel Casa Camper is the highest-rated accessible hotel in Barcelona, with most rooms being wheelchair-friendly and two being specially adapted.
Explore Seattle's downtown and waterfront districts, including the acccessible Pike Place Market
Seattle may be hilly but it’s also frequently heralded as the most accessible city in North America. Everything – from taxis and buses to airport shuttles and ferries – is wheelchair-friendly, with ramps, elevators and a Link Light Rail system that’s only a few years old thus designed with accessibility in mind. But it’s not just transport that makes the Emerald City so great for travellers with reduced mobility; most of its major sights are fully accessible. Whether you want to zip up to the top of the Space Needle (the city’s iconic observation tower landmark) or take a boat trip around the islands and waterways of Puget Sound (an ocean inlet and Pacific Northwest paradise that’s popular for whale-watching), even the surrounding nature areas are equipped with boardwalks and viewing platforms. Other accessible sights worth exploring include the waterfront Pike Place Market and the 175 foot-tall Seattle Great Wheel. Book yourself a luxurious, accessible suite with roll-in shower at the boutique Hotel Ändra in downtown Seattle.
London is one of the world's most accessible cities, particularly transport-wise
For a city where much of the architecture dates back several hundred years, London is surprisingly accessible. The Tube is the world’s oldest underground railway but a quarter of stations have step-free access and you can plan your accessible route ahead of time using the TfL (Transport for London) website. All buses and black cabs are wheelchair-accessible, meaning you can hail and hop into your own taxi without needing assistance. And with regards to attractions, the vast majority already have wheelchair ramps and access but the government is working on new access laws that require all tourist attractions and hotspots to provide adequate wheelchair access. Stay in a stylish, accessible room in the middle of historic, eclectic Soho at Redchurch Townhouse.
Don't be daunted by the Opera House steps; Sydney is one of the world's most accesible cities
Sydney may at first seem to be more on the inaccessible side, as a sprawling city where attractions include the Sydney Opera House and its intimidating steps, or the crashing surf of Bondi Beach. But it’s actually one of the best places in the world for travellers with reduced mobility; barrier-free trains, buses and ferries with ramps make transport a stress-free experience for wheelchair-users, while Sydney-based foundation, WheelEasy, has a website that reviews attractions specifically for their accessibility. And most attractions in Sydney are – from museums and galleries to sights like the Harbour Bridge (which has recently had elevators installed). Even Bondi offers beach wheelchairs to rent out for the day for those who don’t have their own, and is about to open a new ramp built to improve access at the northern end of the beach. Either spoil yourself with a stay at The Darling, where the luxury accessible suites have extraordinary views of the Harbour. Or check into the Sydney Harbour YHA, an accessible hostel with a rooftop whose Harbour views are equally impressive.
A spiraling internal ramp in the Reichstag means wheelchair-users can enjoy the 360-degree views from the dome
Berlin’s wide, well-paved and flat pavements, plus accessible public transport make the German capital an easy place for wheelchair-users to get around. And almost all of its sights are extremely accessible – from Museum Island, where the city’s cultural institutions are concentrated, to the Reichstag, where wheelchair-users can enjoy the 360-degree view of Berlin from the dome and roof terrace via the spiraling internal ramp (which has resting points for manual wheelchairs). There’s also ample choice when it comes to accessible hotels, with hundreds of modern accommodations kitted out with ramps, elevators and roll-in showers. Stay in a regal, accessible suite at the classic Garden Living Boutique Hotel.
Singapore's Avatar-esque Gardens by the Bay (as well as much of the city) is fully accessible
Singapore is leading the way when it comes to accessible cityscapes. It’s known for being impeccably clean and modern, with streets and pavements well-maintained and dropped curbs and smooth surfaces everywhere. Pretty much all tourist attractions are accessible, including the Singapore Cable Car that takes you across the harbour to the island of Sentosa. And Gardens by the Bay, an Avatar-esque, sustainable oasis in the middle of the city that’s known for its grove of high-tech ‘Supertrees’ (powered by solar panels, these humanmade trees absorb and redistribute heat and collect and filter rainwater). It’s easy to get around Singapore on a wheelchair, too, thanks to its efficient mass rail transit (MRT) system that’s fully accessible, barrier free, comfortable and easy-to-use. Wheelchair-accessible taxis can be flagged down but with such a brilliant citywide public transport system, you most probably won’t need to. Check into Pan Pacific Singapore, the most highly rated accessible hotel in the city.
Visit Vienna's accessible palace, Schloss Schönbrunn
Even though the historic centre of Vienna is a UNESCO World Heritage site – filled with Baroque palaces and classical architecture – it’s remarkably accessible and modern. Most of the compact Old Town’s cobblestones have been removed and sliced in half or replaced to make them smoother, while curb drops are standard. The tram, bus and metro systems are all impressively accessible (95% of U-bahn and S-bahn stations are completely accessible), as are the city’s museums, galleries and other attractions – don’t miss the Gustav Klimt masterpieces at the Belvedere Palace and Museum, or the palaces of Schloss Schönbrunn and Hofburg. Stay in the elegant and accessible Apartments Rooseveltplatz.