These are the world’s 10 most walkable cities—and you probably won’t recognize some of them

A small, quiet city in East Africa takes the top spot while four Spanish cities make it to the top 10. Manila is at 419th.

If like me you were born and raised in this behemoth of a metropolis called Metro Manila, the concept of a “walkable” city may seem alien. With our less than stellar public transportation system, punishing heat and humidity, lack of proper sidewalks, and overall poor infrastructure, most of us would opt to take a ride even if our destination is within reasonable walking distance. 

Once we see more of the world, especially developed countries, we realize that there are places where locals choose to walk rather than drive or even take public transportation. 

The study used more than 1,000 surveys and involved 850 million people from a whopping 794 cities across the world. 

Tokyo and other Japanese cities, for instance, come to mind. Many European destinations, too, are very much walkable: Madrid, Florence, even Rome and Paris are places where one could find so much pleasure walking. I lived in Zaragoza, Spain for a while and I could count with my fingers the number of times I took the bus to university.

That city, right smack in the middle of the province of Zaragoza, and Barcelona remain some of my favorite destinations for walking around aimlessly. Singapore would have been a pleasant walking city if not for its oppressive humidity.

European cities such as Innsbruck (25th spot) dominates the list of world’s most walkable cities released by The Economist in May. Photo by Patrick Robert Doyle from Unsplash

Sadly, having walkable cities still seems like a faraway dream for us Filipinos. Some of us though are lucky enough to go and visit places that inspire us to walk more (and allow us to close those pesky exercise rings while sightseeing as a lovely bonus). Last May, the publication The Economist released the list of the world’s most walkable cities. European cities dominating the list wasn’t surprising—but which ones made it into the top ten certainly were. Let’s see which one of our favorites ranked well.

Smaller cities are more active;
richer cities more car-dependent

Conducted by researchers Rafael Prieto-Curiel and Juan Pablo Ospina, the study is one of the largest of its kind. It used more than 1,000 surveys and involved 850 million people from a whopping 794 cities across the world. 

Prieto-Curiel and Ospina only included trips to work as comparable surveys on general journeys are harder to come by, and only surveys conducted before 2019 to avoid the effect of lockdowns, which hit various cities at different times. Hence, walkability, at least in this study, measured “active mobility”—walking or cycling or both—when going around a city. 

An ordinary day in Manhattan, New York. According to the study, cars are still king in the United States and Canada. Photo by Zoshua Colah from Unsplash.

In a nutshell, the 100 least active cities in the study are all found in North America—a result of decades of pro-car policies and subsidies by government. Cars are still king in the US and Canada where four percent of the population walk to work and five percent take public transportation.

In Mozambique, an impressive 91 percent of Quelimane’s population choose to walk (or cycle) to work. 

Asia, however, tells a different story. The study found out that few people drive in Asia, regardless of income levels. The continent is also where some of the most heavily used public transport systems are found. 

Over in Europe, meanwhile, travel patterns are more varied. People tend to drive, walk, or cycle to walk in smaller cities. In big cities, however, public transportation is the most dominant way to go from points A to B.  

Cyclists in Quelimane, the world’s most walkable city. Photo from UN Habitat

Generally, the study found out that smaller cities are more walkable, where people can go around more by foot or on a bike over short distances. Income also matters: rich cities are correlated with more car journeys. In fact, the study revealed that, holding all other factors consistent, doubling a city’s income is associated with 37 percent more car journeys.

A small East African city takes the top spot
but Europe dominates the list

The most active city in the world is Quelimane, a small seaport in Mozambique. Okay, I have to admit that I had to google this—and some of the other cities in the top 10, and it’s actually nice learning more about the lesser known places in this big, wide world. 

Founded by the Portuguese as a trading station in 1544, Quelimane is one of Mozambique’s oldest settlements. Aside from a vibrant fishing industry, the city has one of the world’s largest coconut plantations. An impressive 91 percent of Quelimane’s population choose to walk (or cycle) to work, as per the study. 

Peja in Kosovo is the world’s second most walkable city.
Photo by Albin Shala from Unsplash
Utrecht in the Netherlands claimed the third spot on the list of world’s most walkable cities.

All the other cities in the top ten are found in Europe, four of which are in Spain. Taking the second spot is Peja or Pejë, the fourth most populous city in Kosovo and which used to be under Byzantine and Bulgarian rule. It is known for its lovely mosques, quaint and narrow streets, and old Turkish houses.

Sitting comfortably in the third spot is Utrecht in the Netherlands. Despite the city being the headquarters of the country’s railroads, the locals do walk—and yes, cycle a lot, too. Education is an important economic activity in the city, as it is home to several institutions of higher education, including Utrecht University, the largest university in the Netherlands.

Occupying the fourth spot is Shkoder, the fifth most populous city of the Republic of Albania and is also regarded as the capital of the northern part of the country. The city has a long and rich history, having been continuously inhabited since the Early Bronze Age (c. 2250–2000 BCE) and has roughly 2,200 years of recorded history. 

Freiburg im Breisgau in Germany rounds up the top 10 of the world’s most walkable cities.
Photo by Marco Pregnolato from Unsplash
Four Spanish cities, including Bilbao (photo above) made it to the top 10.
Photo by Jorge Fernandez Salas

Granollers in Catalonia, Spain takes the fifth spot. Located about 30 kms northeast of Barcelona, the city boasts fine medieval houses and the 12th-century Gothic church of San Esteban.

Rounding up the top 10, occupying the sixth to the tenth spots, in order, are: Houten, the Netherlands; Vitoria-Gasteiz, Bilbao, and León in Spain; Freiburg, Switzerland; and Freiburg im Breisgau in Germany. 

Dhaka is the most walkable city in Asia
Manila places 419th

The most walkable city in Asia is surprisingly Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, which takes the 16th spot. With its 20 million inhabitants, it is also one of the most populous cities in the top 20. It is quite remarkable that despite its huge population and land area, 58 percent of its population opt for active mobility when going around. 

Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, is Asia’s most walkable city. Photo by Sazzad Aryan

The only other Asian city which made it to the top 20 is Visakhapatnam in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. According to the study, 55 percent of the city’s 2.3 million inhabitants use active forms of travel.

Other major Asian cities which scored quite well in the study are Beijing (22nd), Shanghai (46th), and Shimla (71st). Surprisingly, Tokyo sits outside the top 100, taking the 144th spot, with Bangalore following close behind at 145th. 

Manila is the second most walkable city (419th) in Southeast Asia, after Singapore (340th place) and before Malaysia (439th)

Over here in our friendly neighborhood of Southeast Asia, Singapore is at 340th, Manila at 419th (making the Philippine capital the second most walkable in ASEAN), and Kuala Lumpur at 439th out of 794 cities surveyed.

To see the full list, you may check the story here.

Associate Editor

The new lifestyle.