5 Favorite River Walks in 5 Fabulous Cities

by Gray Cargill on February 6, 2013

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Humankind has been drawn to rivers for as long as we’ve drawn breath. Songs and poems have been written about rivers, and many world mythologies have at least one important story about a river. In mythology, crossing a river marks an important part of a journey. The River Styx in Greek mythology was the border between the living world and the Underworld (Hades). In Hebrew mythology, the waters of the Jordan river parted to allow Joshua and the Israelites to cross. To Buddhists, rivers are used as metaphors for life itself, as it is constantly changing. Just naming some of the largest rivers in the world conjures up images of romance and adventure travel:The Amazon, the Nile, the Yangtze, the Mississippi, the Danube, the Rhine.

Many of the greatest cities in the world were built up around rivers for obvious reasons: They were sources of clean water and the primary means of transportation and shipping goods from one place to another. Some are still used for shipping, though nobody in their right mind would drink from them. So when you want to put your finger on the pulse of a city, look to its river.

Walking along a river is one of my favorite ways to explore and get to know a new city. I’ve met interesting people along rivers. I usually see things that surprise me. I’ve had hours of quiet contemplation. A great river walk gives me time to indulge in photography and commune with nature–such as it is in the heart of a city. And of course, walking is a great way to stay physically fit.

If you love a good walk as much as I do, here are 5 recommended river walks from my travels:

The Seine

The Seine – Paris, France

People who daydream about visiting Paris often picture themselves going for a stroll along the Seine. It is one of the quintessential Paris experiences. A stretch of the Seine has even been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. You can take a narrated boat cruise of the Seine, but it’s still nice to walk it as well. You get a completely different perspective by walking.

So many major sites lie along the river—the Louvre, the Tuileries Garden, the Musee D’Orsay. You can see the Eiffel Tower and Place de la Concorde from the Seine. The area around the Notre Dame, Île de la Cité, and Latin Quarter is a lovely walk; be sure to stop and browse the kiosks selling books and art prints. Another walk I enjoyed was from the Eiffel Tower and Trocadero down to the Pont Alexandre III (bridge). I saw a lot of boats along this route.

Boats on the Seine

I had someone try the Ring Scam on me while walking along the Seine (luckily, I’d read about it before my trip, so I just kept on walking). But one of my fondest memories was my encounter with a young Eastern European couple who wanted me to take their picture in front of Pont Alexandre III. I took their photo for them, and then they took mine for me. We had to communicate with one another using gestures, because I didn’t speak their language and they didn’t speak any that I knew. It was one of those neat travel moments that stays with you.

Ponte Vecchio

The Arno – Florence, Italy

Whether or not you’ve heard of the Arno River in Florence, you should definitely go for a walk along it. You won’t want to miss The Ponte Vecchio, a famous and picturesque bridge lined with little shops selling jewelry and other souvenirs that spans the Arno River (seen in the photo above). It is also a UNESCO World Heritage site and a heavily visited attraction in Florence.

Arno River

With just five and a half hours in Florence, I thought I would just go see the bridge and then move on to some other tourist attraction on my list. But I found myself reluctant to leave. As I walked along its edges, I saw sunbathers down below next to the river, I saw rowers in their sculls, and I kept gazing across the river at the brightly colored buildings and the lush, green landscape beyond. I strolled along the river enjoying the view for as long as I could until I had to head back to the meeting point for my bus back to my cruise ship. With more time in Florence, I could happily go for many more strolls along this river.

The Tiber River, Rome

The Tiber – Rome, Italy

The Tiber in Rome has a prominent role in Roman mythology as the location where Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were found as infants by the she-wolf who raised them. I had very little time to enjoy the river, but I made the most of what I had, walking along the stretch where the Castel Sant’Angelo, Ponte Sant’Angelo, the ancient bridge leading to the Castel, and the Vatican are all located. I highly recommend a stroll along this section of the river.

Ponte Sant'Angelo

I made my way from Metro Spagna to the river, where I was treated to the sight of boats and rowers gliding and some stunning vistas of Rome. The Ponte Sant’Angelo was thick with tourists that day, and the usual street vendors trying to sell art prints and other trinkets to visitors. Rows of stone angels flanked either side of the bridge, watching over travelers as they crossed back and forth.

The Riverwalk, San Antonio

The Riverwalk (“Paseo del Rio”) – San Antonio, Texas

The San Antonio River is at the heart of San Antonio and has become a key focal point for tourists, thanks to architect Robert H. H. Hugman, who dreamed up the concept of the Riverwalk in 1929. The main area of the Riverwalk is a 2-mile downtown loop which winds its way among the Convention Center, Rivercenter Mall, La Villita arts neighborhood, and numerous hotels, restaurants and bars. The city is in the process of expanding the Riverwalk to 13 miles. The northern stretch of the Riverwalk is known as the Museum Reach, while the southern end is known as the Mission Reach. You can walk, bike and jog along the Riverwalk.

The Riverwalk, San Antonio

As I noted last week in my musings on San Antonio, it’s easy to get turned around on the Downtown Riverwalk, especially at night, and not all areas are well lit at night. But during the day, it’s a beautiful and shaded walk, well-landscaped, with cute stone arch pedestrian bridges criss-crossing the river and colorful river taxis humming by on a regular basis. To me, the Riverwalk seemed to be a sort of “second San Antonio” that exists beneath the street level San Antonio.

Steamboat Natchez

The Mississippi – New Orleans, Louisiana

The Mississippi River extends from Minnesota all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. It would be quite a challenge to walk the entire length, don’t you think? More than I want to try, anyway.

Instead, I walked along the edges of the Mississippi in New Orleans during my trip there in 2008. The Mississippi retains much of its shipping character, but the city has made attempts at taking advantage of the location to draw tourists as well, with the Rivercenter Mall and Aquarium of the Americas at the foot of Canal Street and a promenade along the waterfront with some public art. Make your way from Canal Street through Woldenburg Park, past the lighthouse at the foot of Toulouse Street, to the area around Jackson Square and then reward yourself with a beignet at Cafe du Monde.

Seagulls

While this walk is very different from the others mentioned above, it’s no less enjoyable or interesting. This is the “Mighty Mississippi,” after all, and the Mississippi has its own romantic allure for lovers of American history. Face the Steamboat Natchez, then close your eyes for a moment, and you can almost imagine Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn on an adventure just up river.

What’s your favorite river walk from your travels?

 

Erik March 3, 2013 at 8:53 pm

I love walking along the Amstel in Amsterdam, but I’ve done all of these and they are pretty spectacular. I’ll be doing the Arno and the Seine coming up in a month and a half. (44 days, 14 hours and 7 minutes until I leave, but who’s counting 🙂 )

Gray March 4, 2013 at 6:06 am

You’ll love it, Erik. I’ve got to get to Amsterdam one of these days.

Alouise February 9, 2013 at 5:14 pm

I love river walks, but I haven’t really been to many cities that have them. The one in New Orleans is really nice, and if you take the ferry across to Algiers and walk along the river there you get a nice view of the New Orleans skyline.

Gray February 9, 2013 at 5:50 pm

I guess I’ve been lucky to land in cities with rivers running through them, Alouise. Haven’t been to Algiers. Must try that next time I’m in New Orleans!

Tracy Antonioli February 7, 2013 at 11:07 pm

Yet again we are travel (and travel blogger) kindred spirits. I have a post scheduled all about pedestrian streets. And the first one I ever encountered was in…wait for it…Burlington!

And yes, I second the river walk in Bath. Amazing.

Gray February 8, 2013 at 6:09 am

Yay, Burlington! Well, now Bath is looking more and more appealing all the time, you guys….

Christian February 6, 2013 at 11:21 pm

I had the pleasure of walking the Riverwalk in San Antonio a few weeks ago…absolutely beautiful!

Gray February 7, 2013 at 7:13 am

You must have been there just before I was, Christian.

Christian February 7, 2013 at 10:07 pm

I think I was a few days ahead of you…and it definitely was not in the 70’s! More like low 50’s.

Gray February 7, 2013 at 10:44 pm

Really? Wow, I was lucky.

Jeff @ GoTravelzing February 6, 2013 at 6:38 pm

Great list. I have done all of those but I do not really remember the one in Rome. I agree with Deise about Bath. I would also recommend the Rhine river in Germany.

Gray Cargill February 6, 2013 at 7:09 pm

I’ve sailed down the Rhine on a boat but haven’t walked it, Jeff. I admit, the Rhine appeals to me very much. Which town along the way do you recommend most for a picturesque walk?

Jeff @ GoTravelzing February 6, 2013 at 7:51 pm

I mostly sailed on it too. I did stay in St. Goar for a night which was a small town with a deserted castle.

Gray February 6, 2013 at 8:14 pm

Cool! That was what I remember most about the Rhine–all the castles.

Jason February 6, 2013 at 11:46 am

Great pictures. I’ve done so many river walks – Minneapolis, London, Dublin, Berlin, Cairo, and so forth – that I can’t choose just one. You’re right; we’re attracted to it and they make for great stories.

Gray February 6, 2013 at 5:29 pm

I tried to make it to the river in Minneapolis, but it was in the 90s and I started to get heat exhaustion, so I missed out on it. Was really looking forward to seeing the falls!

Deise de Oliveira February 6, 2013 at 11:28 am

Great post! I’d also say Bath in England.

Gray February 6, 2013 at 5:31 pm

Ooh, Bath. Good to know. Thanks, Deise.

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