There are many ways to explore an unfamiliar city: individual or group guided tour, open-top bus tour, hired car or bicycle. You can focus on the main tourist sites, or you can dive into the by-ways and alleys. You can try to cover everything, or you can specialize in your own interests. Most experienced travelers recommend walking as the best way to get under the skin of a city.
Walking is Slow
Walking should slow us down. It is the speed at which nature has equipped us to deal with our environment.
When we walk, we can notice things in three dimensions. Almost any other mode of moving forces us to concentrate on what is in front and beside us—when walking we can pay equal attention to the ground beneath us and the buildings above. Looking up is a special treat in a city because often the ground floor level is cosmopolitan while the upper floors retain their unique character.
Walking enables us to stop at a moment’s notice. We might see a cat on a roof in Venice, a stylish drain cover in Seattle, a street performer in Vancouver. Whatever takes our fancy, we can stop and savor the moment. Of course, we might also spot a café or bar that looks just right for us.
Walking is Tiring
A day’s walking provides all the exercise we need. It is one of the healthiest of activities and helps us to feel that we have deserved a reward. Every time we stop for a drink or a snack, we feel we are entitled to it.
Whichever city you are exploring on foot, have a comfortable base to retreat to at the end of the day. It doesn’t have to be in the center. The Marriott hotel near the airport in Montreal, for instance, is a reliably comfortable place to head back to for a good night’s sleep, well away from any crowds. You’ve earned it.
Walking is Safe
It is easy to be anxious about walking on the grounds that it doesn’t feel safe, but danger is rarely a problem if you follow some simple precautions.
Know how the traffic works. When it comes to crossing roads, use the traffic lights and don’t follow the example of locals until you are confident you understand the system.
Avoid getting lost by downloading a map that you can follow without needing a data connection on your phone.
Check out the areas that are not considered safe for strangers and be careful to steer clear, especially at night. Tripadvisor or your hotel staff should help. Try to avoid looking as if you are worth robbing.
Walking is Serendipitous
The best memories people bring back from their vacations are often of the unplanned moments, when something happens that could not happen anywhere else. Travelers generally find that those precious moments are most likely to occur when you are observing the world as you pass through it slowly and on foot.