News Accessible cities: Europe’s top wheelchair-friendly holidays

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Accessible cities: Europe’s top wheelchair-friendly holidays

Cobblestone roads, narrow hillside streets, and buildings that date back to the medieval era – European cities are undoubtedly beautiful, but there are definitely some that are more accessible than others! That said, things are starting to change when it comes to wheelchair-friendly holidays. New accessibility initiatives are in place to make sightseeing easier, and specialist tour agencies are popping up to help travellers with disabilities get as much out of their trip as possible.

With lots of accessible things to see and do, as well as excellent public transport and wheelchair-friendly streets, these are our picks of Europe’s top wheelchair-friendly destinations.

Amsterdam

When it comes to wheelchair-friendly holidays the Dutch capital has certainly set the bar. Not only is it an idyllic setting, with it’s captivating canals and delicious sweet treats, it also scores 4 out of 5 for its wheelchair accessibility. What more could you ask for? 

Most of the attractions are wheelchair-friendly (apart from the Anne Frank House) so it’s perfect for a jam-packed city break. For example you can snap a selfie with the I Amsterdam sign, check out the masterpieces in the Van Gogh Museum, and explore the Red Light District with its famous coffee shops and windows.

One of the best accessible attractions in town is The Heineken Experience. When you buy your ticket, you get a map of the wheelchair-friendly route, but the entire tour is wheelchair-friendly. The old brewery shows you how the city’s famous lager is made, and yes: you do get to taste it, too. You can even personalise your own beer bottle, perfect for a picnic in the Vondelpark later.

Another unmissable thing to do in Amsterdam is take a trip along the canal, and the Blue Boat Company offer accessible boat tours. Six of their fleet have ramps and wheelchair-friendly tables inside. Just give them a ring in advance to let them know you’re coming.

You can even enjoy cycling around the city, thanks to Starbikes Rental. They have a few options for wheelchair users, including the Fun2Go bike which has two seats side-by-side but only one set of pedals and the Firefly – an electric hand bike you can attach to your chair.  Another of their models has a wheelchair carrier on the front, so you can clip in and let your pal pedal – with the help of the electric engine – as you enjoy watching the canals and streets whizz by.

Barcelona

The sun-soaked capital of Catalonia is one of Europe’s best cities for wheelchair-friendly holidays. Getting around the city by public transport is easy, as most Metro stations have lifts to help wheelchairs to and from the platforms. Public buses also have ramps.

The Gothic Quarter – or medieval old town – is blissfully free of cobblestones, so you can enjoy a smooth ride as you explore the winding streets. Most of the city centre is flat, too, so there are no hills to contend with. If you do fancy getting up high for amazing views, you can ride on the Montjuïc Cable Car. This runs from Avinguda Miramar to the Montjuïc Castle. Each cab is adapted for wheelchair users, and the staff have special training to help people.

Lots of Barcelona’s sights are accessible, too. While you can’t go up the tower of Sagrada Familia– the famous cathedral designed by Antoni Gaudi – you can go inside and see the most beautiful parts of the building. If you have an accredited disability you can snap up a free ticket for yourself and one other person. The cathedral even offers special accessible tours for wheelchair users.

If you don’t mind crowds, head to Barcelona’s famous food market – La Boqueria. There are ramps throughout the building, so you can easily wheel around. Although it’s busy, most stallholders are conscious of wheelchair users. Grab a portable snack – like chopped fruit or jamón with cheese and breadsticks – and watch as people barter with the stallholders.

If it’s sun, sea, and sangria you’re after, Barcelona’s wide sandy beaches have disabled ramps that take you from the street to the sand. During high season, Nova Icària and Barceloneta beaches have a swimmer assistance service, providing amphibious wheelchairs, lifting cranes, life jackets, parasols, and a special changing area. Once you’re on the beach you can roll into the water thanks to the wooden paths and enjoy a splash in the Med.

Berlin

Berlin is a fantastic city to explore in a wheelchair – the wide, flat pavements have lots of dropped kerbs and public transport is super accessible. In terms of wheelchair accessibility, it ranks 4 out of 5 in most categories: pavements, attractions, public transport and hotels. While wheelchair-friendly taxis are limited, buses have ramps and most U-bahn (underground) stations have lifts for wheelchair users.

Wheelchair-friendly holidays in Berlin

To make getting around even easier, Visit Berlin has an official app called accessBerlin. It’s well worth a download before your trip, as it has recommendations for hotels, restaurants, and attractions. When you’re in the city you can use it to find the best way to reach your destination, and info on where the nearest accessible toilet is.

Although Berlin is huge, with lots of vibrant neighbourhoods to explore, most of the main attractions can be found in the central (Mitte) area. The Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag, and Tiergarten are all within a few blocks of each other.

Culture vultures will be glad to hear that the UNESCO World Heritage listed Museum Island is also in Mitte. This small island in the Spree River is where you’ll find five of the city’s most important museums: the Altes Museum, Bode Museum, Pergamon Museum, Alte Nationalgalerie, and Neues Museum. They’re all accessible, and you can save money by picking up a day pass which grants entry into all of the museums.

Many of Berlin’s quirkier attractions are also wheelchair accessible. For example the Liquidrom spa, where you can immerse yourself in the warm saltwater pool as gentle lights flicker on the domed roof and underwater music plays. Another sight worth seeing is the Trabi Museum, home to the colourful cars that were common in East Germany during the communist era. You can even hop in one and take a tour around the city.

Vienna

It’s really easy to get around Vienna, which came out second for overall accessibility and public transport in an Alpharooms study. The main transport hubs have ramps and lifts while the trains, trams, and buses have low floors and stop at raised platforms making it easier to get on board in your wheelchair.

If you’d rather get around on your own steam, the flat, well-maintained pavements have lots of dropped kerbs and are a pleasure to travel along – especially in Stephansplatz, the pedestrianised heart of old town Vienna.

While the baroque architects of the Austro-Hungarian Empire didn’t consider wheelchair users while building their palaces, the city’s barrier-free development plan – which has been in place for two decades – has made many of the attractions more accessible. Many attractions, including the Staatsopera (state opera house) and Spanish Riding School have separate entrances for wheelchair users.

One of the best things to do in Vienna is take a tour of Schönbrunn Palace, which was once the summer home of the city’s beloved Empress Sisi. It’s easy to reach the exhibitions using lifts, and as well as the lavish rooms, the palace has beautiful gardens and a small zoo.

Wheelchair-friendly holidays to Vienna

Another thing visitors to the city must do is indulge in Vienna’s café culture. Most of the grandiose coffee houses have ground-level entry, making for easy access. Why not take some time out and enjoy a mélange the local answer to a cappuccino? There are plenty of places to indulge your sweet tooth, but it’s just not a trip to Vienna without a visit to the iconic (and wheelchair-friendly) Café Sacher – where the famous sachtertorte (chocolate cake with apricot jam) was invented.

Dublin

Rated number one in terms of overall accessibility and public transport by an Alpharooms study, and number two for wheelchair-friendly attractions, the Irish capital has a compact city centre which is fairly flat and easy to navigate in a wheelchair. When it comes to wheelchair-friendly holidays, Dublin is a must-visit destination!

There are a few cobbled streets and small hills, but they shouldn’t be too much trouble for most manual wheelchair users. If you do find it tricky, public transport in Dublin is also super accessible with low-floor buses and trams. The DART trains have plenty of space for wheelchairs too, and most of the stations are accessible – although it’s always worth checking using the Irish Rail website.

Most of Dublin’s attractions are accessible. The Guinness Storehouse has lifts between each floor of the exhibit, and the on-site Guinness Academy even has a special lowered tap for wheelchair-users who want to learn how to pour the perfect pint.

Over at Trinity College Dublin, the marvellous library is completely wheelchair friendly. This is home to some ancient tomes including the Book of Kells – a religious text dating back to the 9th Century. If it’s a sunny day we recommend heading over to Merrion Square to spot the statue of Oscar Wilde, buy some paintings by local artists, or just relax and enjoy a moment of peace.

Wheelchair-friendly holidays to Dublin

If you want to enjoy some Irish pub culture, avoid the cobbles of Temple Bar and head to the pedestrianised Grafton Street and Henry Street instead. Most of the bars and restaurants here have ground floor access, so you can head on in and grab a Guinness. You’ll also find plenty of wheelchair-friendly places to grab a bite over on O’Connell Street, near the General Post Office. Some even have live music in the evening – we recommend ringing ahead to reserve a table.

So there you have it. From intriguing history to golden beaches, you really can enjoy the best of European culture with a trip to these accessible cities. So where will your next weekend break be?

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