Vacation locations with no cars, anywhere in the world?
May 1, 2016 7:53 AM   Subscribe

I took my family to Venice (Italy) recently, and one of the wonderfullest things about the trip was that there were no cars, which meant my kids could run around freely without having to worry about and stop for auto traffic. It made a world of difference to the experience. They were so happy and I was so relaxed. Where else in the world can we go where there are no cars?

I've seen a few lists online, but some of them I know are straight up wrong (I saw one that included the historical center of Rome! - which if you've been to Rome, you know is about as far from the truth as possible.) And none of them seemed to be comprehensive.

Places I've thought of: Disneyland, but that isn't really my speed; Yosemite (of course there are cars on the roads through but not on the hiking trails.) Catalina Island (is there enough of interest there to warrant more than a day trip?.) Beaches, but I hate the sun and if the kids are in the water then it's not like I can take my eyes off them there.

I saw Dubrovnik mentioned on one list... anyone know if that's true? I'm skeptical but would love if it were true.

posted by fingersandtoes to Travel & Transportation (38 answers total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Mackinac Island, Michigan is car-free, except for emergency vehicles. You do have to watch out for horses and carts.
posted by brianogilvie at 7:55 AM on May 1, 2016 [13 favorites]

Monhegan Island, Maine. You take a boat over and there are no cars.

Also a list of "car free zones" on Wikipedia.
posted by ReluctantViking at 7:56 AM on May 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

Fire Island is car-free except for emergency vehicles, too. Despite the reputation there are parts that are very family friendly, although it is a fairly beachy destination.
posted by telegraph at 7:58 AM on May 1, 2016 [4 favorites]

The Dutch island of Schiermonnikoog is nearly car-free (though you can apply for a special exception).
posted by neushoorn at 8:04 AM on May 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I saw Dubrovnik mentioned on one list... anyone know if that's true?

In the old, walled city, yes.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 8:12 AM on May 1, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: We went to Hydra in Greece when I was a kid, and having no cars around was fantastic. There are a few other Greek islands without cars too. The others are mostly for the beaches, looks like, but Hydra has a pretty cool medieval fortress and decent shopping/museums.
posted by gemmy at 8:13 AM on May 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

May I suggest Sark in the (British) Channel Islands?
posted by lungtaworld at 8:26 AM on May 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

You said "in the world". Norfolk Island might be a possibility. There are cars, but the speed limit is 50 km/h (30 mi/h) and cows have right of way.
Downsides: It's a long way away (Pacific Ocean, north of New Zealand); recreational facilities for kids may be limited.
Upsides: Extremely tranquil; local food (based on my memory of it from many years ago) is great.
posted by Logophiliac at 8:31 AM on May 1, 2016

Bald Head Island in North Carolina does not have cars, but people do drive on golf carts. Francois in Newfoundland is not accessible by car, but people drive ATVs.
posted by EarnestDeer at 8:33 AM on May 1, 2016

Best answer: Li Jiang, the old town in China is beautiful. Five streams come together there and make the old town, sizable area, car-less. It was destroyed in an earthquake but has ben painfully rebuilt and is wonderful for exploration on foot. Also the old town of Dali is car less and a pleasant visit not too far from Li Jiang, both in the southwest part of China.
posted by leafwoman at 8:37 AM on May 1, 2016

Best answer: If you like the football, Notre Dame's campus is car-free. There are always a ton of little kids running around the quads playing football. There's a few historic buildings, a gorgeous church, and a pair of museums (art and history), plus a bunch of public art (some quite famous), but mostly people go to enjoy a pretty college campus and/or football. On fall football weekends it's basically a (crowded) carnival with barbecues and rock bands on the quad and marching band shows and all kinds of things; any other day it's visiting a pretty, pastoral campus, and it's a bit easier to do the arty stuff and eat in the dining halls and so on.

You could start there and wend your way up the east coast of Lake Michigan, hitting some of the historic resort towns and art towns on along that way (South Haven, Saugatauk, Holland, Grand Haven), go to the national forest, and wend your way up to the car-free Mackinac Island.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:42 AM on May 1, 2016

A lot of German towns create pedestrian zones in the center of their marketplaces, creating very large car free zones for blocks. It's not the entire city ala Venice, but can be a great place to spend a day with kids. I remember a really nice one in Bayreuth. University towns tend to have larger zones than residential ones.
posted by JoeZydeco at 8:48 AM on May 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: According to the FAQ of the Isle Royale National Park:
Is it possible to bring a car on the ferry to the island?
To preserve its wilderness integrity, vehicles and wheeled devices (except wheelchairs) are not allowed on Isle Royale National Park. The approved modes of transportation include hiking, boating, canoeing, and kayaking.
It's very beautiful, but I'd avoid June-early July, it's mosquito and black fly season.
posted by Marky at 8:54 AM on May 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Mackinac Island in Michigan. Bonus: fudge for the kids.

If you're a nature-type, Michigan is deeply underrated as a vacation destination.
posted by praemunire at 9:08 AM on May 1, 2016 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Zermatt in Switzerland. Beautiful in summer and in winter. Recently seen in The Night Manager. The hotels get around the lack of cars by using silent electric tuktuks and there are plenty of cyclists so it's not exactly one giant playground, but it's far better than a normal town would be.
posted by tinkletown at 9:24 AM on May 1, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: You said anywhere... There are two or three small islands close to Hong Kong and reachable by ferry, Cheung Chau is one, that allow no cars (although there are a few tiny utility vehicles) with lots of footpaths through the countryside. They are busy on the weekend but during the week it's a great way to get away from the otherwise densely packed streets of Kowloon.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 9:35 AM on May 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Catalina does have cars, even though they are few in number. I was angrily honked at (when I crossed the street) by a Hummer of all things!
posted by Monochrome at 9:53 AM on May 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks all so far. It has been super helpful to hear about places that bill themselves as car-free but in fact are full of silent tuktuks (!) or bikes. Dodging bikes on a walking path is one of my very least favorite things. Keep it coming, thank you!
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:54 AM on May 1, 2016

I believe Real de Catorce in Mexico does not allow cars.

I've been to Schiermonnikoog and can attest that I saw only one or two utility vehicles.
posted by adamrice at 10:27 AM on May 1, 2016

Best answer: I remembered this PBS series Islands Without Cars. It should give you lots of information.
posted by MovableBookLady at 10:37 AM on May 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Water Island, Deer Park, Cherry Grove and The Pines on Fire Island have no roads and no cars.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:23 AM on May 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The old town of Rovinj, in Istria, is another one with beautiful views of the Adriatic. It gets touristy in the high season, but of course so does Venice. Also, like most of Croatia, the food's really good.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 11:31 AM on May 1, 2016

Nthing Schiermonnikoog.
posted by humboldt32 at 11:44 AM on May 1, 2016

Best answer: Ilha Grande, Brazil
posted by intensitymultiply at 11:48 AM on May 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Try some of the islands in the Gothenburg archipelago. We went to Styrso and didn't see any cars, though they may be lurking somewhere. Some of the islands only have foot passenger ferries, which may help narrow down which ones are more likely to be car-free.
posted by just_ducky at 12:07 PM on May 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Colonial Williamsburg.

Greenfield Village at the Henry Ford Museum.
posted by kevinbelt at 4:10 PM on May 1, 2016

Best answer: Colonial Williamsburg is not at all car-free.
posted by fedward at 4:18 PM on May 1, 2016

From the Colonial Williamsburg FAQ:
"Automobiles are not permitted in the Revolutionary City, but shuttle-bus service is provided"

But I came here to also recommend Mackinac Island. Or the city-centers of Japan, on Sundays.
posted by Rash at 4:42 PM on May 1, 2016

Algonquin Park, sort of? There are roads, but rent a canoe, paddle in and you're in a different world.
posted by GuyZero at 4:51 PM on May 1, 2016

Best answer: Railay Beach, in Thailand. Only way to get there is by boat from Krabi. There aren't any real roads, and definitely no cars.
posted by smackfu at 5:43 PM on May 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Ko Phi Phi, an island in Thailand.
posted by Leontine at 5:51 PM on May 1, 2016

Flatey, Iceland
posted by matildaben at 6:18 PM on May 1, 2016

Best answer: The tiny fortified Dutch town of Bourtange is car-free. It's about 60 miles from Lauwersoog, the ferry port you'd need to get to Schiermonnikoog, mentioned several times upthread. For a third Dutch destination, Lauwersoog is also about 60 miles from Giethoorn, "the Venice of the North", a very pretty village with canals instead of roads.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 3:03 AM on May 2, 2016

Best answer: Much as I loved Mackinac Island it is full of bikes. The trail that loops around the island is for walkers and bikers. I don't remember having to dodge anyone on my rental bike, but it definitely should be treated with the care you'd use on any mixed-use trail.
posted by MsMolly at 12:55 PM on May 2, 2016

Best answer: Shiraishi Island in the Seto Inland Sea is accessible only by ferry. There is an International Villa one can stay at (at least one non-Japanese guest must be in the group.)
posted by ambrosia at 12:11 PM on May 5, 2016

Best answer: Eilean Shona in Scotland. Cottages for a variety of budgets. On the downside, lots of tiks.
posted by chill at 8:53 AM on May 6, 2016

Best answer: Seconding Ilha Grande, Brazil. I just spend a few days there and I could easily have spent 2 weeks. No cars, no roads even, outside of the main town. Just boats, foot trails and gorgeous, calm, beaches. One of my favorite places I've ever visited.
posted by saul wright at 3:00 PM on May 6, 2016

Gili Islands, Indonesia. A short boat trip from Bali.
posted by DelusionsofGrandeur at 9:55 AM on May 8, 2016

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