The 11 Best Cities for Wheelchair Users: Accessible Travel for Hassle Free Vacations

Visiting different places is something most of us enjoy. When we plan our vacations, we want to get the best possible taste of the place we’re visiting. We want to be able to move around the city efficiently, see the sights and eat at local restaurants. Here’s where things can get tricky – not every city is completely wheelchair friendly. But, here is a list of the best cities for wheelchair users.

People in wheelchairs often encounter accessibility problems while traveling. Many cities around the world are aware of this problem and the situation is gradually improving.

But, not every place is going to give you the same experience if you use a wheelchair. Many countries have laws and regulations regarding accessibility but the implementation is not always on the same level from one city to the next.

The intent of this article is to give you a hint on the best cities for wheelchair users –  both in the US and internationally. These places were chosen because they have a lot to offer to a potential visitor and the accessibility level is very high so anyone can enjoy visiting them.

The cities on this list are in no particular order and any would be a great choice. Of course, the best choice depends on what you’re looking for in a destination.

What Makes a City Wheelchair Friendly?

There are several main things required to be able to call any place truly wheelchair friendly. But, putting it together all comes down to one thing: that a person in a wheelchair can function, move around and enjoy themselves without trouble.

  • Accessible streets and sidewalks. Let’s start off with streets – the sidewalk curbs should be dropped to enable free movement. This also goes for parks and other public spaces.
  • Accessible public transportation. It’s important that the public transportation is wheelchair accessible, without any barriers. Some cities even offer ticket discounts for disabled people which is a nice plus. If you don’t like to use the public transportation or you’re in a hurry, many places have wheelchair accessible taxis.
  • Wheelchair friendly accommodations. The city you’re visiting needs to have a good number of hotels that offer accommodation in ADA compliant rooms – adapted for people in wheelchairs.
  • Special maps. While you’re out exploring, some tourist offices offer city maps with accessibility routes around town.
  • Variety of accessible attractions. Museums, galleries and other places of interest should be accessible for wheelchair users.
  • Availability of disabled restrooms. While cruising around the city, it’s a big plus if there’s a sufficient number of disabled toilets nearby.
  • Easy access to food and drink. Who doesn’t like good food? If you are in this group of people, access to bars and restaurants is very important in order to fully enjoy any travel destination.
  • Climate is important too! Finally, the climate of the place plays a role here too. Although cities can’t really change the weather, there are certain periods during the year that are much better for a visit, so consider that too.

The best cities for wheelchair users offer all of these and, sometimes, even more. Check out this list and book a visit, you will certainly have a great time!

Top 8 Wheelchair Friendly Cities in the US

The US is among the leading countries in the world when it comes to wheelchair accessibility. Many cities around the country have put in great effort to make streets, parks, facilities, accommodation and attractions available to everyone.

But, some cities have are just better than others for wheelchair accessible travel. Here are some of the cities that often stand out and are also interesting to visit for one reason or another.

  1. Seattle, Washington

Downtown Seattle Washington skyline with the space needle in the foreground
The Seattle Washington skyline with the Space Needle

Seattle is one of the most wheelchair friendly cities in the US even though there are parts of the city which are steep and hilly. This is true even though Seattle is also famous for its annual rainfall totals!

The public transportation system though is top notch. You have buses and light rail at your disposal. You can also get a discount on tickets for people with disabilities. The wheelchair accessible taxi fleet is among the biggest in the country. There are a variety of good maps available and an app is available to mark out the most accessible routes when navigating through the city.

So, what is there to do in Seattle?

The Pacific Northwest has one of the most beautiful landscapes in the country. You can take a whale watching cruise on Puget Sound, visit the Space Needle or the Seattle Aquarium. Another idea is to visit the Boeing factory and museum which are located an hour away.

All of these attractions have excellent wheelchair access making Seattle one of the best cities for wheelchair users for sure.

  1. Boston, Massachusetts

The Boston Massachusetts waterfront with sail boats in the harbor
Boston, Massachusetts

Boston is a beautiful and very organized city. It’s an easy city to navigate even by wheelchair.

Even though it has one of the oldest public transport services in the country, it has been adapted for wheelchair users so even the subway system is easily accessible. A wheelchair accessible taxi service is available. Special city maps are available with information on how to best get around in a wheelchair.

Boston is an amazing place to visit because it offers much in terms of history and education. You can roll along the Freedom trail which is 2.5 miles long and passes by 16 landmarks important to the history of theUnited States. Many of these sights are free of charge but a few do charge admission.

Another great place to visit is the famous Fenway Park. Even though it’s very old, it is wheelchair accessible, so you can treat yourself and enjoy a baseball game.

  1. Washington, DC

Washington DC showing the US Capitol in the foreground on a bright sunny day
Washington DC showing the US Capitol

Washington has been one of the most wheelchair accessible cities in the US for a long time. The district has a large disabled community which is very active and visible.

The public transportation is fantastic here so you shouldn’t have any obstacles getting anywhere you need. Wheelchair users have elevators at every metro station around the city.

The sights in the nation’s capital don’t need any special introduction – Capitol Hill, White House, Lincoln Memorial and the National Air and Space Museum among others are all fantastic places to visit. They are all wheelchair friendly so you can be sure to have a great time if you choose to visit.

Check out more accessible locations in Washington DC here.

  1. San Diego, California

The San Diego waterfront and skyline at night with a full moon in the sky
The San Diego waterfront and skyline at night

San Diego and California in general are very popular destinations among wheelchair users.

The city has a mild sunny climate, long sandy beaches, and many festivals and year-round events. San Diego is a great choice for your vacation any time of year.

It is known for being very modern, providing very good access and offering great accommodations tailored to the needs of wheelchair users.

But, this city has a few extras you may not know about.

Of course, when you travel to a destination like this you certainly want to visit the beaches. For this reason, the city provides free beach wheelchairs on nine of its beaches for both children and adults with disabilities. Both manual and power wheelchairs are available. Be sure to book in advance as they go fast!

In addition to this, many sightseeing tours are also wheelchair accessible with boats and trolleys providing easy access and spaces for wheelchairs. If you are a fan, Del Mar Racing Season and the Comic Con are fantastic annual events that offer special services for disabled visitors.

  1. Orlando, Florida

Cinderella's castle at Walt Disney World with a blue sky in the background on a summer day
Cinderella’s castle at Walt Disney World

Another sunny city on this list, Orlando is truly wheelchair friendly. There are two main reasons for this.

First, the area itself is home to a large number of seniors and elderly and the city pays attention to their needs. This is why accessibility in public spaces is excellent as well as access to facilities.

Also, the public transportation is great for wheelchair users – the SunRail system and LYNX buses offer top notch wheelchair transportation.

Of course, there are tons of entertainment venues in the area. These sites attract millions of tourists every year. The city of Orlando works hard to accommodate every visitor properly.

For example, there is a huge number of hotels that offer a great choice of rooms to people with disabilities. Also, all the big amusement parks in the area – Walt Disney World Resort, Universal Orlando Resort and SeaWorld Orlando pride themselves as being incredibly wheelchair friendly. This includes most of the rides and attractions as well.

  1. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

River flowing through downtown Phily with a bridge and tall buildings on either side
River flowing through downtown Phily

Philadelphia is perhaps one of the best cities to visit if you are a history enthusiast.

The whole city is incredibly wheelchair friendly. The public transportation in the city – SEPTA is one of the largest and most accessible systems in the country. It is also consistently ranked as one of the best. You will get where you want to without any trouble in this wheelchair accessible city.

So, where should you go?

Of course, you should visit Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, which are both wheelchair accessible, though some parts of the hall are only accessible by stairs. A nice way to get around and see what Philly has to offer is to use the Philly Phlash, which is a bus service that is completely wheelchair accessible and makes stops at all the important landmarks around the city so you can get on or off.

  1. Portland, Oregon

Downtown Portland Oregon viewed from a mountain top with snow capped mountains in the background
Downtown Portland Oregon

Portland is one of the most environmentally friendly cities in the US. But it also offers lots of opportunities for wheelchair travelers.

All means of public transportation are easily accessible by wheelchair – buses, streetcars and MAX Light Rail. TriMet Lift service is also available for registered users with more than 250 mini buses. This gives you plenty of options to get around this hilly city.

You can visit some of the great attractions Portland offers – museums, parks, the zoo and others which are all wheelchair friendly. A nice thing to do is roll along the Harborwalk Trail which is very beautiful and goes along the water.

Even though some parts of the city are a bit difficult for manual wheelchair users, the local government is investing time and energy in making things better constantly.

  1. Chicago, Illinois

downtown chicago illinois showing the river running between the buildings

Gleaming Buildings of Downtown Chicago

Although accessibility isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of Chicago, the city has really done a lot to make the transit system accessible.

The elevated train system “L” can take you anywhere, but not every station has an elevator so you should check that beforehand. Where the “L” falls short, you can take a bus that is fully accessible.

Visit attractions like the Art Institute of Chicago, Willis Tower SkyDeck and many others that are completely wheelchair friendly.

For people living in Chicago, an added benefit is that Chicago has a strong disabled community. It is home to the annual Disability Pride Parade.

Don’t forget though that this is the “Windy City!” Keep in mind that winter is not the best time to come since the weather is very harsh. Unless you like strong winds and blowing snow!

Most Wheelchair Friendly Cities – International

I wanted to include a few international cities too for people who like to travel overseas.

Besides being some of the most beautiful cities in the world, the ones I chose are among the best cities for wheelchair users. They pay great attention that all their residents and visitors can fully experience everything they offer. Almost everything is accessible not only for wheelchair users but for people with other disabilities too.

  1. Barcelona, Spain

colorful buildings of the barcelona cityscape
Colorful Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona is one of the most popular travel destinations for wheelchair users. It is known for its beauty and centuries old architecture.

Because Barcelona is home to a large number of disabled people, it has adapted to make their life much easier. It’s really easy to roll around town exploring or you can take a bus or metro to transfer yourself. All buses are wheelchair friendly and almost all metro stations have elevators.

There are also a lot of wheelchair friendly accommodations in the city so you can choose one that best suits you.

There is really a lot to see and try in Barcelona. Taste the local food in one of many wheelchair friendly restaurants. Visit fantastic landmarks and Gaudi’s architectural jewels all across the city.

When you’re finished, roll down to the beach – one of the most wheelchair friendly beaches you can find anywhere. It has a wheelchair accessible walkway to the water, a lifting crane and adapted changing facilities. Also, a lifeguard can come to your aid at any moment.

  1. Sydney, Australia

view of the syndey australia city sklyline as seen from the water
The harbor at Sydney, Australia

Sydney is a very modern city, that really takes care of the needs of its handicapped residents and visitors.

The transportation system is very easy to use and there is also a large number of accessible taxis available. When it comes to moving around, the streets are well maintained with gently-sloped curbs. Stores, bars and restaurants are usually also very accessible.

When rolling around town, you will come across numerous public bathrooms especially for wheelchair users. The sights around town are wheelchair friendly, for example you can go see an opera at the famous Sydney Opera House without a problem.

Another thing we love about Sydney is that you can borrow a beach wheelchair on Bondi beach free of charge, so you can have a G’Day Mate (sorry!) in the sun and sand.

  1. Singapore

the singapore skyline at night as viewed from the river
Downtown Singapore at night

Singapore is probably one of the most disability friendly cities in the world.

They implement a universal barrier-free standard. This means the city is fantastic for people with other disabilities too, not just wheelchair users. The public transportation service is excellent with the train system (MRT) leading the way. Also, almost half of public buses and taxis are wheelchair friendly.

The city is very futuristic and has many amazing sites you should visit. Of course, these sites are all wheelchair accessible and you won’t have any inconvenience. So be sure to visit attractions like Gardens by the Bay, Sentosa Island, and Singapore Night Safari.

Do you have a city or travel destination that you recommend for wheelchair users? Tell us about it in the comments below!

Sources and Additional Resources:

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Assistive Technology Professional, Custom Wheelchair Specialist, Medical Equipment Guru, Dad and Grandfather | Scott Grant is dad to four awesome daughters and grandfather to three pretty terrific grandkids. When not working as a custom wheelchair specialist at a regional home medical equipment company, he enjoys early morning runs and occasional kayak trips. He is also a self-admitted nerd who loves anything from the 1980's.

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