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Cyclists next to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco

The USA’s best cities for a car-free break

While we all love a road trip, modern times are calling for more eco-conscious options when it comes to exploring our holiday destinations. Thankfully, North America is full of vibrant cities that are easily accessed and enjoyed by train, tram or good old-fashioned walking. So, swerve the gridlock and gas stations and dig into these five fab hubs that are perfect for touring at your own pace

01/08/2022Updated 27/09/2023

Beachfront path in Lummus Park, South Beach, Miami (Adobe Stock)

Miami, Florida

The sweet smell of Cuban coffee wafting from a café in Little Havana, streets lined with Art Deco gems in a rainbow of pastel hues and palm trees swaying gently in the breeze – nothing compares with riding a bike around Miami. And, luckily, the city has now made cycling safer with a recent slew of protected lanes running from downtown to Venetian Way, as well as a new crop of bikeshare schemes.

Common grumbles in Miami focus on traffic congestion and a lack of parking, but these headaches are avoidable by joining the commuter set on the elevated Metrorail and Metromover train systems, which also serve Miami International Airport. Travel in style without spending a dime by jumping on board the nostalgic trolley system – or splash out on a golf-cart tour.

Only in Miami walking tour: Watch tobacco leaves being hand-rolled into fine cigars and visit the oldest bar in Little Havana with Little Havana Tours.

Discover Miami

The High Line Park cuts through Hudson Yards skyscrapers in New York City (Getty)

New York City, New York

NYC is surely the poster child for car-free living. A sprawling network of affordable public transport, combined with clusters of buzzy neighbourhoods best explored by foot, makes ditching the motor an absolute breeze. Take a walk on the wild side at the High Line, a rails-to-trails pathway weaving its way through 1.45-miles of urban landscape. Next, amble through the hidden gardens of Queens or pound the pavement in the East Village, ducking into independent boutiques along the way.

Take things up a gear with a prepaid MetroCard, accessing the Big Apple’s impressive subway and bus system for a mere $2.90 per swipe. Bargain hunters should hop on board the free Staten Island Ferry to soak up watery views of the Statue of Liberty.

Only in NYC walking tour: Eat your way through the the city’s rich immigrant history with Get Your Guide’s three-hour food tour.

Hit the streets of NYC

A verdant hiking trail in Portland, Oregon (Alamy)

Portland, Oregon

No wheels? No worries. The West Coast’s hipster capital has you covered with highly walkable neighbourhoods, 80 miles of spectacular scenic trails to explore within the city’s beloved Forest Park and a nifty light rail network.

A great entry point for first-timers is the 4T trail – a self-guided urban nature tour involving trail, tram, trolley and train and offering some of the finest views of the city. Cyclists are also warmly embraced in Portland, a city boasting the nation’s highest percentage of bicycle commuters, with bikeshares and dozens of rental shops. And, for the truly daring, there’s even an annual Naked Bike Ride.

Only in Portland walking tour: Sample the city’s sprinkling of gourmet donut shops on the Underground Donut Tour, which seamlessly combines baked goods with a side order of history. The indulgent tour culminates at the world-famous Voodoo Doughnuts, where you’ll jump the snaking queue.

Potter around Portland

The monorail passes the Museum of Pop Culture, designed by Frank Gehry, in Seattle

Seattle, Washington

Everything about Seattle tends to feel effortless, including navigating this Pacific Northwest hub minus a car. Nicknamed the Emerald City due to its leafy landscape and green thinking, Seattle boasts a wealth of sustainable transport choices, including electric buses and scooter share schemes.

An above-ground monorail carries visitors to the recently spruced-up Space Needle in sci-fi style, while, for the same price as a steaming cup of Seattle’s famous coffee, water taxis glide to nearby Vashon Island, offering a fun way to add some salt to your hair and the faint hope of glimpsing a whale.

Only in Seattle walking tour: Explore Seattle’s hidden underbelly with the below-the-streets history tour by Bill Speidel, delving into the walkways entombed after the Great Fire of 1889.

Set off to Seattle

The San Francisco skyline viewed from Alamo Square (Adobe Stock). Opening image: cycling past the Golden Gate Bridge (Getty)

San Francisco, California

Against a backdrop of wild coastal landscape, this quirky seven-by-seven-mile city has long been a dazzling pedestrian utopia. The Golden City’s big hitter attractions are generally situated within an easy stroll, the Muni transport system connects the dots between buses, retro streetcars and the iconic cable cars, plus the Golden Gate Ferry service offers a spectacular route for exploring nearby picturesque towns. And things have just become even easier with the roll-out of the Slow Streets programme, introducing car-free zones across the city. It’s seen bikers, hikers and kids on skateboards joyfully reclaiming Frisco’s storied streets.

Just be sure to strap on your hiking boots, as the colourful walkways lined with Victorian houses can scale eye-wateringly steep hills.

Only in San Francisco walking tour: Deep dive into the city’s pioneering LGBTQ+ civil rights history with Cruisin’ the Castro’s two-hour guided tour.

Explore San Francisco

Did you know you can now contribute to carbon offset projects in flight (whether short haul or long haul) from the comfort of your seat? Simply connect to the Speedbird Café menu app on your mobile and select BA’s carbon calculator