Across Europe there are stand-out destinations that go out of their way to be barrier-free. In this article by the talented Amy Young, we look at magnificent, accessible resorts and cities, right up to entire islands dedicated to being inclusive.
No matter whether you require wheelchair access or braille-ready attractions, inclusive tours, accessible beach facilities or tactile experiences, there’s a holiday spot on the list for you.
Tenerife, Canary Islands
The largest of the Canary Islands, offering a mix of Spanish and African influences, Tenerife is one of the most accessible places to holiday in the world. Tenerife’s island government established SINPROMI (Society for the Promotion of Disabled People on the Island) in 1993, which has been working tirelessly ever since to create a completely barrier-free society.
Naturally, both of Tenerife’s airports come with the essential lifts, ramps and designated car park spaces, as well as plenty of spacious customised taxis to get you to your resort. Once in town, Tenerife’s public tram systems offer Universal Accessibility from buying your ticket to getting from A to B, with details like continuous bus and tram floors, electric ramps and hydraulic wheelchair lifts.
You can continue to explore with ease at Tenerife Arts Centre and Natural History Museum, as both are fully accessible. Even Spain’s highest mountain, Mount Teide, has the wheelchair accessible paths of Roque de Caramujo and Alta de Guamazo.
On top of this, there are 14 beaches in Tenerife offering accessible facilities. The Arona municipality that takes in Los Cristianos and Playa De Las Americas does the most to accommodate those with physical disabilities, particularly at Las Vistas and Los Cristianos beaches. In fact, Los Cristianos has Europe’s longest barrier-free beach promenade at seven kilometres, as well as access ramps, pathways on the sand, accessible toilets, showers and changing rooms and even amphibian wheelchair services.
The capital of Andalusia, Malaga is the gateway to the Costa Del Sol, but with its own beaches and tourist attractions, which excel in accessibility, it’s worth hanging around. The city’s bus service has electric ramps and wheelchair spaces, or you can find reserved parking spaces on the main streets.
In the historic centre, where the majority of shops, restaurants and bars are situated, an impressive 80% of all businesses are accessible. Plus, the two main theatres – Teatro Cervantes and Teatro Echegaray – are both accessible and offer sign interpreters and magnetic loops for the hard of hearing during larger performances. Check out the full list of 600 accessible Malaga attractions here.
As part of the Malaga Accessible programme, those with reduced hearing, sight or mobility can benefit from adapted tours across 10 city tourist routes. Taking in the major cultural attractions and museums, as well as green spaces, is made effortless with sign language interpreters, braille guides and adapted routes in place. Find out more about the different guided tours of Malaga on the Malaga Tourism website.
And for downtime by the sea, both of Malaga’s main beaches – Playa de la Misericordia and Playa del Dedo – have convenient parking for wheelchair users and access ramps and paths on the sand, as well as accessible showers and changing rooms. During high season, between July and September, the Enjoy the Beach programme means you can also use life jackets, swimming aids, amphibian wheelchairs and hoists from noon to 7pm.
As the largest island in the Mediterranean, and with Europe’s largest active volcano, Sicily also goes big on providing accessible holidays. It has earmarked a number of beaches as No Barriers Beaches, including San Vito Lo Capo in the Trapani area.
Here, the white sand is topped with runways and staff are on hand to help you use the aquatic wheelchairs with rubber wheels. And in association with Disabled Divers International, you can join a three-day sea diving course, as well as taking part in guided tours of local archaeological sites.
Over in Catania, you’ll find one of the best tactile museums in the world. Polo Tattile Multimediale has features for the blind and visually impaired including tactile cultural works, a bar in the dark, showroom and the only sensory garden in Europe made specifically for the blind.
Although Sicily is mountainous, a number of accessible tours are available that make use of wheelchair-adapted vans. You can visit the Etna Regional Park and its looming volcano, the medieval town of Erice or the Valley of the Temples.
Ljubljana and wider Slovenia
The geography of Slovenia’s capital straight away makes it a good choice for wheelchair users, as it’s mainly flat with lots of pedestrianised areas. This includes the iconic Triple Bridge, which is supremely accessible and gives access to boats for those in wheelchairs.
Ljubljana’s castle rises above the city but getting there is easy due to a wheelchair-accessible train and funicular, that’s free for disabled users and their companion. In the castle’s courtyard is a tactile scale model with braille descriptions, so the visually impaired can make sense of their surroundings.
The city is connected by a network of electric buses, which, as well as being accessible, also have audio and video stop announcements, plus there are braille bus stop signs. If you’re visually impaired, you’ll also appreciate the tactile paving and signs across a network of city centre paths.
To see more of this beautiful country, and get active, seable.co.uk runs a range of skiing holidays for visually impaired people, which also include a selection of other activities. From zip lining and snow shoeing to relaxing in a spa and trying your hand at snow sculpture, all activities are tailored to you.
If Amy’s roundup of great places for accessible holidays has piqued your interest, please don’t hesitate to offer any further suggestions for barrier-free travel in the comments below!