10 Cities to Vacation Without a Car

If you’re planning a vacation to the capital this summer, you’ll want to make sure you choose a destination that doesn’t require a car.

Reason? In addition to all the other ways COVID has changed travel, it’s also put a higher price on car rentals. Since renting a car wasn’t cheap at first, the estimated price increase of 30-50% in some US cities can’t be taken lightly.

Even in pre-pandemic times, renting a car always added to the cost of vacation significantly.

Fortunately, some of the best summer destinations are incredibly walkable, and there is only a short Uber or taxi ride from the airport – which also makes them very affordable.

Take a bus, taxi or shared trip from the airport to your accommodation, then start exploring on foot, on two wheels or by public transport. Do some research beforehand as well, as COVID may have changed the hours and days of the operation.

10 major American cities

We’ve compiled a list of ten destination cities, along with details on how much you should plan to spend per day in each of them. The daily travel amounts mentioned for each city are taken from the travel website Set a budget for your trip.

Seattle | New York | San Francisco | Boston | Washington DC | Burlington, Vermont | Portland, Oregon | Minneapolis | Philadelphia | Key West, Florida

Keep in mind that in- and out-of-season prices in these destinations may vary, and you should also plan to shop around to get the best rates for accommodations — which means checking prices for not only local hotels and motels, but also hostels, VRBOs and Airbnb rentals.

Are you ready for some inspiration to fuel your next vacation? Here are 10 destinations worth considering – no car rental required.

1. Seattle

A West Coast favorite, Seattle is easy to walk and full of things to keep you occupied. Begin your trip with a kayaking trip on Elliott Bay, then head to Pike Place to sample a variety of local delicacies from food stalls and stroll through the handicraft stores. Be sure to have fun with the fish at Pike Place Fish Market.

If sightseeing is on your to-do list, be sure to stop by the Seattle Space Needle and Seattle Aquarium. The public transportation system is extensive and includes buses, light rail, monorail, streetcars, and bike-sharing.

For a nature-themed getaway just outside of downtown, check out Discovery Park, a 534-acre park filled with hiking and biking trails. Plan to spend $156 per day, with $94 on housing.

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2. New York City

This is an obvious choice for any traveler looking for a great getaway in the capital. The Big Apple is best seen on foot and with public transportation there are plenty including the popular subway system and the extensive bus system.

Window shop along Fifth Avenue (Louis Vuitton, Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci) for the full New York experience or spend a few days exploring Brooklyn’s ultra-chic art scene and Queens’ diverse dining scene.

Are you in the mood for a short trip on the coast? Head to Coney Island for a carnival-style beach fix.

You can expect to spend approximately $239 per person per day, with $137 of that budgeting on accommodations. Expedia has a long list of hotels that will easily keep you under budget.

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3. San Francisco

Another expensive but worthwhile destination to visit this summer is the city next to the bay. Some would argue that the only way to see San Francisco is to walk it – just make sure you pack the right shoes (see: Big Hills) and a jacket for cloudy days. Summer can be bleak.

Filled with street art from world-renowned muralists, alley cafés, and sprawling green parks, it’s a city that is as hard to beat as it is to walk.

There is also an extensive bus system, including both conventional and electric vehicles. The famous cable car is more than just a novelty. The three lines can take you to many of the city’s popular spots, including Fisherman’s Wharf and Union Square.

Spend time near the Pier, Pier 39, or the Ferry Building, with sweeping views of San Francisco Bay. The Ferry Building contains a weekly farmers market but is also the place where ferries transport people across the bay. Beautiful trip.

Consider a bike ride across the Golden Gate Bridge. The daily cost in San Francisco is about $172 per person, of which you’ll need roughly $103 for a hotel or Airbnb.

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Three people take a selfie with each other in Boston.
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4. Boston

If the East Coast is calling your name this summer, respond with a getaway to Boston. Spend a day walking the historic Freedom Trail, enjoying a game at Fenway, and enjoying shopping by strolling down Newbury Street.

Be sure to save your appetite for an impromptu food tour of Faneuil Hall, and make time to explore the beautiful grounds of Boston Garden.

Boston has a robust public transportation system including subways and buses. Take the T, as the subway is called, across town and into the suburbs. You can also rent bikes for the day.

Book a longer flight? Take the train to Cambridge for more of the city to explore the city and Harvard on foot. Plan to spend about $202 per day on your trip, with $132 of that set aside for accommodation. Save even more by booking an Airbnb in Cambridge or Revere.

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5. Washington, DC

A trip to the nation’s capital can be a great way to spend your next vacation, especially if you’re a fan of museums.

You can spend whole days touring the Smithsonian Museum, the National Gallery of Art, or even the International Spy Museum. Build your own city walking tour and check out sites like the National Mall, the Lincoln Memorial, and even the United States Botanic Gardens.

There are so many ways to get to locations that you won’t miss a car or worry more about parking in the capital. It’s a walkable city for sure, but there are bike-sharing and scooter-sharing programs along with extensive bus and metro systems.

Hit the water with a kayak or paddleboard rental on the Georgetown waterfront, or check out the many wineries, distilleries, and yes – axe-throwing spots in the Ivy City neighborhood. Expect to spend about $155 per person (per day), with $91 set aside in Airbnb’s budget.

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6. Burlington, Vermont

Burlington may not be the number one vacation destination you’ve been dreaming of this summer, but it’s definitely worth considering. Located on the eastern shore of Lake Champlain, Burlington is a great summertime spot for all kinds of water activities including fishing, sailing or even taking a historical boat tour.

There is a bus system and a free shuttle from the University of Vermont to the lake.

With extensive bike paths throughout the city, you can easily spend the day biking or walking its streets filled with food carts, high-end shopping outlets, and plenty of live music. Plan to budget at least $134 per day to stay at Burlington VRBO.

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The Portland or Oregon sign appears on the horizon at dusk.
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7. Portland, Oregon

This West Coast capital is a great summer travel destination – and not just because of the endless beaches that can be found in Powell’s world-famous books. Filled with amazing dining experiences (don’t miss the food cart rides on Fifth Avenue), breweries and even the entire jungle in town (see: Forest Park), you’re unlikely to get bored in Portland.

Get around the city using buses, light rail, streetcars and bicycles. There are also plenty of hiking trails and trails around the city.

If you’re the “stop tattooing roses” type, be sure to do it at the International Rose Test Garden. And whatever you do – don’t leave without trying at least one of the many eclectic donut bakeries in town. You should expect to spend roughly $136 a day in Portland, with at least $76 of that on Airbnb.

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8. Minneapolis

Another great city to visit that doesn’t require a car? Minneapolis.

Not only is this city highly walkable, but the extensive bike paths also make it a cyclist’s dream. Bike across the picturesque Stone Arch Bridge, or go chase some waterfalls and spend a day biking or hiking in Minnehaha Falls.

For a city-related fix, be sure to take some time to explore the famous Minneapolis Institute of Art, and stock up on all your souvenirs at the world-famous Mall of America.

To truly get the best feel of the city, and satisfy all your dining cravings, be sure to book one of these highly rated culinary tours. Budget a minimum of $164 a day for a stay in Minneapolis, with nearly $100 a room at one of these downtown hotels.

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Someone passing through Philadelphia.
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9. Philadelphia

Each city has its own unique history, but few boast quite as much as Philadelphia. From Independence Hall, to the Liberty Bell, and the architecturally impressive (and dare we say scary?) Eastern State Prison – Philly is a history buff’s dream.

If you love museums, don’t leave town without a trip to the Museum of the American Revolution and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

For a different kind of artistic experience, be sure to stop by the Magical Philadelphia Gardens which includes an outdoor labyrinth of folk art and mosaics. Last but not least, be sure to make some time in Northeast Philly and Fishtown for some epic food. Buses, trains and coaches can take you anywhere you want to go.

You should plan to spend about $151 a day, with $95 of that going toward a hotel or Airbnb.

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10. Key West, Florida

Florida brings heat during the summer, but perhaps one of the best places to stay cool is in Key West, the famous island city that is part of the Florida Keys archipelago.

Key West can be reached with a flight to the local airport, which has direct flights to Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Charlotte, North Carolina, and a few others. If you’re interested in a water adventure, fly to Fort Myers (a larger airport with more service) and take the high-speed Key West Express ferry. It will take about 3.5 hours but you can relax with a cocktail in hand.

Once you reach Key West, trams as well as bike and scooter rentals will get you where you want to go. Duval Street and its environs are very walkable.

Besides lounging on Higgs or Smathers Beach (which you should definitely do) and popping into the shops and bars on Duval Street and Mallory Square, there are still quite a few activities to splurge on in this tropical paradise.

Visit the famous Hemingway House and Museum or take a tour of the Truman Little White House. This oasis also boasts of many beautiful parks, lush gardens and of course plenty of water sports. For this trip, you’ll want to plan on spending approximately $170 per day, with at least $106 of that amount for a hotel or Airbnb.

You can go Carless

Traveling without a rental car will certainly save you some money (and the headaches associated with parking) when it comes to visiting an urban destination — but it’s just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to traveling smarter.

Make sure you book your flight as soon as possible to secure the best rates, and also check out our other guides on earning credit card points and saving money while traveling.

Contributor Larissa Runkle specializes in finance, real estate and lifestyle topics. She is a regular contributor to The Penny Hoarder.

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