Spain and Its Walkability

Upon arriving to Spain when I studied abroad in 2010, there was one thing that immediately struck me and made me realize that I was going to love actually living in Granada and Spain. The city was so walkable!

In the United States, everything is so far away from everything else. One needs a car for most daily activities, unless you are lucky enough to live in the heart of a major U.S. city. Unfortunately, I am not, and if there’s one thing that I absolutely despise, it’s driving. I cannot stand it. To me, it’s boring and a waste of both time and money. As much as I can, I try to bike, walk, run, or use public transportation.

Old men in Puerta Real - Granada, Spain

Old men in Puerta Real – Granada, Spain

Cities and communities were built around people in Granada, Spain, and even Europe in general. Density was vital to maintaining a community, opposed to sprawling suburbs ending in cul de sacs and driveways. Communities were built on the foundation of people, not cars. Would you rather live in a place built on people or cars? Personally, I can’t see why anyone would prefer one built on the premise of cars over people. In Granada, just about anywhere you lived in the city there was a supermarket, bank, restaurant, bar, school, and pharmacy within a 10 minute walk. There were multiple complete individual communities within a greater, larger city. To me, this is the ideal living situation. I could waltz out of my flat and do all my daily activities in a reasonable amount of time on foot.

These daily activities were much more enjoyable this way, and not only were they more enjoyable but I believe that because of the cities layout and built environment it was better for a multitude of reasons:

Puerta del Sol - Madrid, Spain

Puerta del Sol – Madrid, Spain

Elderly and children

Navigating a walkable city is much easier for the elderly and children than having to cross multiple streets that are primarily designed for cars. There are plenty of roads with three lanes in each direction in the U.S. that I have trouble crossing, and I couldn’t imagine attempting to cross if I were elderly or a child. Having a walkable city, allows the young and old to have other options to get around since many in both age groups do not drive. It gives them freedom. I believe that it’s a common misconception that cars give us freedom. It’s true they give us the opportunity to get away to locations of our choosing at our pleasure, but if they are broken or not functioning properly, we can feel stranded and stuck, especially if a city is not walkable.

Better for the environment

In my mind, this is just common sense. Walking, biking, and public transportation are obviously better for the environment than everyone driving their own car. I don’t think further elaboration on this one is necessary. However, just remember that when you are in a traffic jam next time riding bumper to bumper, you are not stuck in traffic, you ARE the traffic.

Granada, Spain

Granada, Spain

Improved physical and overall health

More exercise equals better health. Less driving and more walking would seem to equal better health. Therefore, cities that are designed to make it easier for people to walk encourage better health for their inhabitants. Whether it’s true or just a myth that Europeans are healthier than Americans, the thought could have been started because it’s so much easier to walk everywhere and be active in Europe because you don’t have to drive as often. Physical health is improved because of the simple act of walking, and overall health is improved, in my mind, because of simply being outside in the elements and being around others opposed to being in an air conditioned car with your radio on.

Overall better community atmosphere

When everyone is outside walking around interacting with each other, it’s easier to get to know your neighbors and community. There’s a distinct sense of community that’s almost tangible. The isolated single-occupancy driving that is encouraged by the design of cities in America can seemingly negatively affect a place’s sense of community because each driver drives home from work alone, ends up in their garage, and remains at home all night. Yes, people do go out in America, but in Spain, people of all ages would go out more often and socialize far more, which I attribute to the walkability of their cities. With everyone out and about in Spain, people were always interacting within the community, and therefore, creating a vibrant atmosphere that resonated throughout the city. 

Toledo, Spain

Toledo, Spain

A city designed for people is more comfortable for just that, people. Everything was designed to be people size versus large, wide highways that are impossible to cross. Instead, Spain offered plazas with restaurants buzzing with people and opportunity for a lot of social interaction. There are pedestrian-only streets, so people can walk safely and comfortably. It’s safer, easier to get around, and more enjoyable. I always thought driving was great until I experienced living in a place where a car was no longer a necessity. Walking was easy and safe. Plus, everyone else was walking and interacting, so I wasn’t the odd man out walking on a four lane street with limited stop lights, no crosswalks, and traffic whizzing by at 15 miles per hour over the posted speed limit. After experiencing the many benefits that living in a walkable community had to offer, I would never want to live in a non-walkable, drive-first community again. In deciding to teach abroad this next year, it’s part of the reason as to why I chose to go back to Spain. I couldn’t be more ready to give up my car in America and move forward with living a car-free lifestyle in Spain.

Do you prefer cities where it’s easier to walk or drive? Would you give up a car if you could, or have you given up living with a car? Do you like the way European cities are designed versus American cities?

23 responses to “Spain and Its Walkability

    • Congrats on getting your license and car! Having was is good, but I like that in cities throughout Spain you can easily get around by walking. The car gives you the ability to get away for the weekend or to further out smaller towns for work. Within the cities though, I like that walking, biking, and public transport can get you to almost everywhere you want to go.

  1. I feel EXACTLY the same way. I just got back from buying groceries at the local Mercadona and big-box Carrefour—both of which are only a 10-minute walk from my apartment. And, like you said, there’s a pharmacy, Chino alimentación, and churrería within two minutes, too!

    I think you’re spot-on when it comes to urban planning philosophies; both Spain and the United States experienced massive growth after WWII, but in the U.S. urban expansion followed a much different pattern, due to a combination of the highway system, zoning laws, the sheer size of the country, and availability of land. Even in the new “Franco” parts of major Spanish cities, despite having roads wide enough for cars to drive and park on, they still follow the same community/walkability characteristics as the older parts of town.

    Perhaps a lot of American un-walkability is due to class; in the postwar era you had “white flight” from city centers into sprawling suburbs, and even today you’ll still see people resisting the implementation of public transport because it would bring “those” type of people into town. Any Spanish town of 50,000+ has a least a meager bus system, but that would be unheard of in America.

    • Exactly! Thank you Trevor. A lot of it in America has to do with white flight and, in hindsight, poor planning and zoning laws and regulations. Being able to walk just about everywhere I needed to go in Spain was great. Even if you had a car in Spain, the walkable cities still gave you an opportunity to walk. I think once people experience a truly walkable city they realize just how great it is. It’s when people never experience it that they think living with a car and driving everywhere is necessary.

      • A big part of my studies in sociology is focused urban issues and policies, and I wholeheartedly agree with you on this point. White flight, public housing laws and poor planning all work against us in forming cohesive and accessible communities between different classes and races. We’re all so separated, and I hate that.

        I found myself so much happier when I was able to walk everywhere in Spain. I was definitely healthier (walked 30 minutes to class everyday/30 mins home, 45 minutes to el camborio etc), and I think the time in the sunshine makes a huge difference in attitude. I personally hate jumping on the subway here in NYC, and will walk whenever I can, but that’s really only realistic in Manhattan; all the other boroughs are too dangerous for a stroll if you don’t know the neighborhood. Now I just sit on my butt all day in class or at the office, and have to go to the gym for an hour to try to counteract all that sitting…but in Spain I spent the majority of the day moving! No wonder the physique of Americans differs so greatly from the svelte Spaniards. can’twaitcan’twaitcaaaaan’twaaaait to get back!!

        Oh, and your pictures of Granada make me so happy 🙂

      • I’m glad you miss the walkability of Spain too! I’ve only been in NYC once and I walked everywhere instead of using the subway. I’m glad you like my pictures of Granada! Some were taken during gloomy weather though…and yes, even the 45 minutes to el camborio didn’t seem like that long of a walk at all!

  2. Love love love!! One of the things I most miss about Spain is being within walking distance of the shops, friends, and cafes. And also using the metro system, I’m pretty sure cities like New York City are the few places we have similar here in the USA as far as walkability and public transportation efficiency are concerned.

    • It’s good to hear that you miss this too!! I agree that NYC is probably one of the only places in the US that can compete with Spanish cities in terms of walkability and having efficient public transportation. Small downtown areas of most major US cities have this, but as soon as you get further away from the dense, core downtown the walkability quickly dissipates.

      • Yea definitely, my family’s home in Minnesota was in a rural area 40 min from Minneapolis. It was quite the effort to see friends or even get to a grocer I tell ya lol

      • I know exactly what you mean. A simple act such as buying groceries requires a car. If things were more dense and mixed housing, commercial, and office space, we could have smaller grocery stores closer by and just walk to it on a more regular basis like Spaniards do.

  3. I was speaking with some Americans about this as well! especially how smaller towns in the US are usually very spread out, making owning a car pretty much mandatory. I’ve loved not having to drive here in Spain, but there are locals here in this small town who judge distances as “too far to walk” – (they’re not!!) and some of the locals drive distances of 1km that could easily be walked..this can be frustrating. but it’s all relative I guess…!

    • They’re probably just used to everything being so close together that if it’s a little spread out, it seems unwalkable. Whereas, we would see that same distance as completely walkable since we’re used to the sprawled suburbs of America where owning a car is truly necessary.

  4. I so miss not having to drive everywhere! I live in rural New England and to get anywhere you have to drive. Half my friends in Spain don’t even have a driver’s license because there’s no need in the city when you can just catch the bus or the train. Definitely looking forward to teaching abroad in Spain and getting back into some public transportation and walking!

    • I’m definitely looking forward to not needing a car as well. I actually love walking everywhere because I can get a better feel for an area instead of just driving through it. That goes for both if I’m traveling somewhere or just in my own town.

      • It’s so true! You never really KNOW a city if you just keep driving through it. I love wandering through a city and getting to know, it’s so much more personal.

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  6. Wow! I loved all the pictures and Spain is definitely a country to visit on my top-ten places! I also don’t like to drive much. I like to be driven. Bikes scare me, but luckily I like to walk! So I am sure I am going to love it there! =)

    My travel blog:

    • It sounds like you will like Spain a lot! I did, and that’s why I’m planning on going back. Most people walk or take public transit. Biking isn’t too popular, except in Sevilla where they have a BikeShare. That’s from my experience though of the places I’ve visited. Spain definitely was not built with a car-first mentality.

  7. I love the fact I walk everywhere. I’ve gotten so used to it that when I go back to the US, I almost always go by foot to places within walking distance. However, my family home is not in a city,it is in a beach town, so I’ve gotten looks like I am a drug dealer or hobo or something, as our streets were made for cars. Also, all this walking has it’s perks, as I have lost two sizes in Spain from all the exercise!

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