While stumbling across a hidden gem of a restaurant is a fun experience in the movies, no one wants to spend part of their real vacation lost in unfamiliar territory. The worry over going off-course in a place where they might not speak the language well has kept many people from being able to enjoy all that the world has to offer. Fortunately, there are many European cities that are easy for travelers to explore. Visiting one of these easy-to-navigate cities is a great way to experience the fun and excitement of traveling without having to deal with the stress of getting lost.
Paris is famous for being one of the easiest European cities to navigate. This is, in large part, due to the efficient Métro system. Métro lines are color-coded, and the direction the train is going is indicated by the stops at the end of each line. Métro stations are numerous and easy to find. Most Métro lines run from approximately 5:30 am until 12:40 am. Paris’s arrondissement (district) system helps visitors quickly understand the layout of the city. The arrondissements are numbered, and spiral out from the Seine river that splits the city into two banks: Rive Droite (Right Bank) and Rive Gauche (Left Bank). One can quickly get an idea of where any location in the city is simply by asking for the closest Métro stop, arrondissement, or one of Paris’s many easily recognized landmarks.
Instead of being split by a river (like Paris), Berlin was, of course, split by a wall for nearly thirty years. Although the wall fell in 1989, many of the neighborhoods that took shape when the city was divided into East and West Berlin are still intact. This historical division makes Berlin, a large city, easy to navigate. Each neighborhood has a name and many are centered on a “main” street or thoroughfare. The public transportation system (both the buses and the underground S-Bahn and U-Bahn) are well organized and efficient. Most underground lines run from 4 am until 1 am (some lines run for 24 hours on the weekend). If your map or your map skills fail you, you’ll have no problem finding a friendly local to help me out.
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Known for its modern subway system and convenient buses, Madrid is a public transportation-dependent traveler’s dream. The Metro de Madrid runs from approximately 6:00 am until 1:30 am daily. The city is organized around plazas that serve as a communal gathering space (you’re sure to find bars and restaurants lining them). Madrid’s main tourist sites are easily accessible, especially the city’s largest art museums (Reina Sofia and Prado), which are located within walking distance of one another.
Prague, Czech Republic
The capital of the Czech Republic, Prague, makes it easy for both long-time locals and visitors fresh off cheap flights to get around with one of the world’s best public transportation systems. Prague’s buses, ferries, trams, and subway all operate together, meaning a traveler only needs one type of ticket, no matter how they want to get around the city. Even better? Individual tickets are good for an unlimited number of rides for between 30 minutes and 72 hours, depending on which ticket is purchased. The bus, metro, and tram all operate on the honor system, making it easy for ticket holders to hop on and off as they travel through the city. Online maps with clearly marked transportation stations make it simple for visitors to find the routes that will get them where they want to go.
Zurich may be the largest city in Switzerland, but that doesn’t mean it’s difficult to navigate. Most of the main attractions in Zurich are located within easy walking distance of each other, which makes exploring the city’s historic cobblestone streets on foot or by bicycle the best way to get around. Zurich also boasts an efficient public transportation system of trams, buses, cable cars, trains, and boats. Travelers can purchase Zurich Cards to cover all of their rides for one or three days, and the cards have the added bonus of free or reduced admission to museums throughout the city. Paper, online, and mobile maps are widely available to help travelers stay on the right path.
Situated on the island nation’s eastern coast, Reykjavík is both Iceland’s capital and its largest city. The city’s downtown area is fairly small which means most travelers opt to explore it on foot. Bicycling is becoming more common in Reykjavík, and a map of cycle lanes is available at the city’s main tourist office. Reykjavík’s public bus system, Strætó, is another popular way to get around town. Strætó has a smartphone app, frequently updated online schedules, and printed maps that are available throughout the city. The range of transportation methods and wide availability of maps makes Reykjavík one of the most easily navigated cities in Europe.
Copenhagen is the most populated city in Denmark and also the Scandinavian country’s capital. Because Copenhagen features several downtown streets that are reserved for pedestrian traffic only, many travelers choose to explore by bicycle or on foot. There are a variety of bike-share companies in the city, and many offer their customers perks like weather-resistant navigation systems to help them stay on the right track. Public buses, trains, and a metro system help travelers get where they’re going when the weather makes walking an unappealing prospect. Copenhagen’s small footprint and thoughtfully planned layout make it easy for even the most inexperienced traveler to explore without fear of losing their way.