Traveling with limited mobility can be a challenge in destinations that don’t have wheelchair accessibility standards like those established by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). But some of the most worthwhile tourist attractions across the globe are completely step-free, and it’s not just parks and museums. Some surprisingly precarious and unique spots should be on your to-do list if you’re traveling in a wheelchair (or with someone who is).
Here are the best wheelchair-accessible tourist attractions, and some tips from a world traveler who’s visited them on two wheels himself.
The London Eye, England
One of the most precarious places in London happens also to be an accessible tourist attraction that’s totally step-free. The London Eye offers the best bird’s-eye view of the London skyline and Thames River from roomy enclosed capsules that can fit more than a dozen people inside, and allow up to two wheelchairs per capsule at a time.
Booking ahead of time online is the only requirement: Just provide your details and pay the usual fee. Visitors in wheelchairs can get a free additional ticket for an accompanying guest not in a wheelchair. Frequent traveler John Sage, who created accessible tour operator Accessible Travel Solutions, says travelers in wheelchairs should “avoid the stairs near the Westminster Bridge and choose the step-free route [to the Eye] along York Road.”
Fort San Cristobal, Puerto Rico
San Juan’s historic seaside fortress Castillo de San Cristobal might be hundreds of years old—but it’s also wheelchair-accessible thanks to the fact that the majority of its access points were built as stone ramps. The lookout point’s waterfront views are a must-see spot in Puerto Rico, and learning the history of the fortress is a crucial part of exploring Old San Juan.
Nearby Castillo San Felipe, also called El Morro, is wheelchair accessible except for the top floor. Sage also tells me that “unlike San Cristobal, accessible vans and cars cannot bring you right to the main entrance,” so you’ll have to be able to wheel yourself a good distance.
Chacchoben Ruins, Mexico
Beaches aren’t the only reliably wheelchair-accessible activity option in Mexico. Mayan ruins like Quintana Roo’s Chacchoben Ruins are mostly flat enough for those traveling in a wheelchair. These ancient step pyramids are especially wheel-friendly thanks to their location near a cruise port that makes them an accessible shore excursion on trips like Royal Caribbean’s.
“Cruising is generally one of the easiest ways to travel for disabled people,” Sage tells me. “Accessibility onboard most modern ships is good with accessible cabins, elevators, and flat common spaces. Several cruise lines, including Royal Caribbean, are adding accessible shore excursions which make experiencing the destinations firsthand possible for their senior and disabled guests.”
Sugarloaf Mountain, Rio de Janiero
Rio de Janiero is often considered an intense adventure getaway thanks to its steep mountains wrapped in jungle and beaches. But one of Rio’s most stunning peaks, Sugarloaf Mountain, is totally wheelchair-accessible thanks to its large, ultra-modern glass cable cars that launch from lower Morro da Urca Mountain. All of Rio is in sight from atop the 1,299-foot waterfront mountain and its cable car line, including Guanabra Bay’s ship and beaches, and the far-off profile of the Christ the Redeemer.
Multnomah Falls, Portland
Another precarious spot that’s wheelchair accessible, Oregon’s Multnomah Falls are perched on the steep walls of the Columbia River Gorge, which is rife with waterfalls and paved walking paths. The picturesque double waterfall is accessible via car from the Historic Columbia River Highway, and has a wheelchair-friendly viewing area situated below the Benson Footbridge, plus its own wheelchair-accessible bathrooms and restaurant.
The 620-foot waterfall is the tallest in the state, and the perfect reward after traversing the valley’s winding highway from nearby Portland. Worthwhile stops with accessible viewpoints of the gorge include Crown Point’s octagonal Vista House, which has 360-degree views from over 700 feet above the river.
Myeongdong Street Market, Seoul
Eat your heart out at this pedestrian-only Asian food market in modern Seoul, a city known to have reliably wheelchair-accessible public transit and well-paved sidewalks. Myeongdong is a shopping neighborhood that closes off street traffic most days, and its food stalls sling everything from fish cakes, dumplings, and Korean BBQ to clouds of cotton candy, towering ice cream cones, and hot pancakes.
Doge’s Palace, Venice
Venice’s scenic bridges aren’t the only thing that lend it to enjoyable wheelchair accessibility: Many of its historic sites are also accessible. “Doge’s Palace is my most favorite accessible tourist attraction in Venice,” Sage tells me. Next door, world-famous Piazza San Marco is also wheelchair-accessible.
“The palace has an accessible entrance and an elevator to get you up to the upper floor where the palace rooms are located,” Sage says. “Most of these rooms have step-free access and some have ramps to make it easier to navigate … unfortunately, the ticket office is not wheelchair-accessible, so you’ll need to have someone with you to go inside and purchase the tickets. Also, the armory and the Bridge of Sighs can only be reached by a flight of stairs.”
The Canadian Rockies, Canada
Hiking isn’t the only way to see the expansive Rocky Mountains and natural wonders like ice-blue Lake Banff. The Rocky Mountaineer’s luxury train experiences are a wheelchair-friendly opportunity to kick back and watch vistas, lakes, and mountain peaks pass you by from a glass-domed train car.
Certain multi-level coaches are wheelchair-accessible from top to bottom, and preboarding/deboarding is available at all stops for travelers who need special assistance. A Rocky Mountaineer vacation consultant can answer all accessibility questions, and the long-distances tickets vary, from experiencing Lake Banff to Vancouver or a coastal journey from Seattle to the Canadian Rockies.
Versailles Palace, France
While Paris’s Eiffel Tower is only partly accessible (the first two of its three levels can accommodate wheelchairs), there are plenty of other wheelchair-accessible tourist attractions in and around the City of Lights, including the most grandiose palace in all of Europe: Versailles.
All three of the palace buildings are wheelchair-accessible, and you can easily spend a whole day exploring the extensive palace gardens. The upper floors of the palace are accessible via elevator, and ramps connect the buildings’ first floors to the grounds. There are also golf carts available for rent at a discounted rate for visitors who are traveling with a disability.
Sagrada Familia, Barcelona
The most breathtaking place in Barcelona is also a wheelchair-accessible tourist attraction. Antoni Gaudi’s still-in-progress Sagrada Familia church is a massive work of art that’s worth the steep admission fee for its towering stained-glass windows and century-old stonework—but entrance is free for visitors with disabilities, and a guest.
Because it’s still under construction, the Sagrada Familia is a slightly challenging attraction for wheelchairs, and the towers aren’t wheelchair-accessible. But the main floor of the basilica is still “an absolute must-experience when in Barcelona,” Sage says. “There is an accessible entrance located on the southwest side of the building on the Nativity Facade, and the church can easily be reached by accessible bus or taxi. [But] the ramps to enter and exit the lower level containing the museum are fairly steep, and the elevator to the towers is not wheelchair-accessible.”
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SmarterTravel Editor Shannon McMahon writes about all things travel. Follow her on Instagram at @shanmcmahon for travel insight and more.
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