The thrill of walking down a wide city street totally unencumbered of cars can be a liberating experience. No need to glance over your shoulder to check for approaching vehicles. (Just don’t forget to watch out for pesky pickpockets!)
Here are four of my favorite streets in the world that embrace foot traffic:
#4 Calle Florida – Buenos Aires, Argentina
Calle Florida is a shopping street that is plenty bustling during the day. But strolling along it at night can also be worthwhile.
The Galerías Pacífico shopping mall, pictured below, is one of the street’s most iconic buildings and is beautifully illuminated at night. The Beaux Arts building was originally built in 1889 to serve as the local base for the Paris department store Le Bon Marche.
According to the city, some sections of the street became pedestrian in 1913. By 1971, the street was pedestrian only. Maps dating back as early as 1582 appear to chart the path of the street.
In addition to shopping, street performers such as tango dancers can also be spotted along the street.
#3 Bourbon Street – New Orleans, Louisiana
This may be a bit of a controversial selection, due to the Bourbon Street’s notoriety for drunkenness and debauchery. But it also is one of the world’s most distinctive pedestrian boulevards in the evening.
According to the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau, Bourbon Street was first named Rue Bourbon by a French engineer who drew the city streets in 1721. It was named for the French royal family.
If you are walking down the street in the early evening, you might be lucky enough to run across a brass band leading a “second line” wedding march like the one below. New Orleans has staked its spot as a popular destination wedding spot (although it is probably still more popular as a destination for bachelorette and bachelor parties).
At night, Bourbon Street is complete sensory overload. Strippers hanging out of doorways, musicians and street performers entertaining the crowds, people throwing beads from balconies (even when it’s not Mardi Gras), and people stumbling along drunk while gripping to-go cups of their alcoholic beverage of choice. Everybody should see the spectacle at least once!
#2 La Rambla (or “Las Ramblas”) – Barcelona, Spain
La Rambla (more commonly known as Las Ramblas) is a busy tree-lined boulevard packed with tourists, street performers, and souvenir vendors. According to Barcelona’s visitors bureau, the street was first laid out in 1766. Its name comes from a stream that once ran along the site. It was once a popular promenade route for Barcelona’s high society.
Indeed, the Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca once stated that it was “the only street in the world which I wish would never end.” La Rambla is also collectively referred to as Las Ramblas (plural) because it is actually made up of five shorter streets.
One of the most colorful sights along La Rambla is the La Boqueria Market. It is truly a feast for the senses, and a great opportunity to snap some photos. Take in everything being sold including fresh fish, birds, fruits and vegetables, breads, meats, and more.
#1 Istiklal Caddesi – Istanbul, Turkey
Istiklal (Independence) Street in the Beyoglu neighborhood of Istanbul is without a doubt my favorite pedestrian street in the world. So much energy and so many people walking around, day and night.
Street musicians, food cart vendors, families and couples mill about. During one visit, we happened upon a random street performance by a group of Iranian folk musicians. Another night, we came across a crowd of men dancing in a circle (apparently spontaneously).
You can sample simit (sesame seed bread rings), beef kebabs, or baklava pastries. Stumble down side streets, and you can appreciate some live music at meyhanes (bars) lining side streets as you drink raki, a licorice-flavored liquor. Souvenir shops also can be found along the street.
Architecturally distinctive sites along the street include the Cicek Pasaji or “Flower passage” building, once home to flower vendors and now packed with restaurants and bars. St. Anthony of Padua Church is also a peaceful presence among the hustle and bustle of the busy street.
A trolley also runs up and down the street. As a heads up – Istiklal also frequently serves as a venue for political protests and marches.
You can begin your walk at Taksim Square, pictured below, which is at the mouth of Istiklal Street.
Curiously, the decorations at night resemble Christmas decorations –illuminated snowflakes hang over the street.
While you don’t have to watch out for cars, you do need to make sure to stay out of the way of the iconic trolley that runs up and down the street!
Istiklal is so full of energy, we visited several nights during our visit. You can walk downhill, and cap your visit off by seeing the nearby Galata Tower illuminated at night — a fitting finale!