Car-free islands around the world for your next vacation

By Stef Zisovska
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Car-free islands around the world for your next vacation

Stef Zisovska
 
Car-free islands
Car-free islands
 
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Do you dream of spending your summer vacation in the fresh air, away from the traffic and pollution of the city? Or maybe someplace where the pace of life is a just little slower?

Imagine an island where no cars are allowed. A clean, pure environment where you can enjoy being surrounded by nature, take a carefree bicycle ride, explore a unique lighthouse or fishing village, and savour the freshest seafood. Whether you like to snorkel, hike, or party until late on the beach, there is a traffic-free haven for every taste.

Starting out in the USA and then casting our gaze around the world, we have picked out a small selection of beautifully enticing car-free island destinations that might be the inspiration for your next trip!

Tangier Island, Virginia

Tangier, Virginia seen from the County Dock. Author: Seriousresearcher13 – CC BY-SA 4.0
Tangier, Virginia seen from the County Dock. Author: Seriousresearcher13 – CC BY-SA 4.0

Arriving at our first destination is like stepping into living history. The residents even have their own rather colorful dialect. Tangier Island has been a fishing community since the first permanent settlers arrived in 1686 from Cornwall, England, and the Tangier watermen still harvest crabs, oysters and fish just as they have been doing for centuries.

The three-mile-long island with it’s quaint houses and narrow streets is accessible only by boat or airplane, so it makes sense that the island’s main activities today are still connected with water. Tourist activities include taking a self-guided kayak tour through the marshland waterways, and of course tasting arguably the best soft-shell crab you will ever find. Top your list of things to do, however, has to be finding out the fascinating story of this tiny island at the Tangier Island History Museum and Visitor Center.

But we recommend that you don’t put off your visit for too long. A recent article in The New Yorker is a stark reminder of the fate facing many island nations around the world. Tangier is sinking. The island is 60 percent smaller than it’s recorded size in 1850, and is expected to be swallowed up by the sea within a few decades thanks to “a combination of storm-driven erosion and sea-level rise.” Fort Albion, built in 1812, is today completely submerged.

Fire Island, New York

Fire Island Lighthouse is located at the southern terminus of Robert Moses Causeway.
Fire Island Lighthouse is located at the southern terminus of Robert Moses Causeway.

Fire Island is the largest of the four barrier islands that protect the south shore of Long Island, New York. It’s western tip can be reached by driving just one and a half hours from New York City, but you have to ditch the car on arrival at the Robert Moses parking lot.

Alternatively you can catch a ferry from Long Island at Bay Shore, Sayville, or Davis Park. The place is full of unique villages, beaches, and tourist attractions.

Fire Island is not the most crowded car-free island in the world, so it’s a perfect place for these who are looking for some remoteness and privacy. Kismet Beach is known for the best parties, while Ocean Beach is the day trippers favorite.

The 17 car-free communities on this narrow, 31-mile-long piece of land are dotted between the Robert Moses State Park at the western end, Smith Point County Park on the eastern tip, and the Fire Island National Seashore which protects a large chunk of the coastline and includes 8 miles of wilderness preserve. Fire Island is a favourite escape for beach-goers, outdoor enthusiasts, and water sport lovers.

Mackinac Island, Michigan

Make your next vacation truly car free. Author: Gsgeorge – CC BY-SA 3.0
Make your next vacation truly car free. Author: Gsgeorge – CC BY-SA 3.0

Mackinac Island in Lake Huron is one of the cleanest islands in the world and 80 percent of it comprises the Mackinac Island State Park. The local authorities take preservation very seriously so it’s not only the incredible natural heritage that’s protected but also the historical one. In fact, history buffs will be in their element here. For starters, the Officers’ Stone Quarters at Fort Mackinac is the oldest building in Michigan.

The island boasts 70 miles of paved and off-road biking trails, including the 8-miles-long car-free state highway. If you prefer another beast to do all the hard work, how about a taking a relaxing carriage ride with Mackinac Island Carriage Tours, the oldest continuously-operating taxi service in the country.

One stop on the carriage tour — or you can hike or bike there — is Arch Rock, a natural rock bridge that spans the Straits of Mackinac. It’s worth the climb up more than 200 steps to see one of the best views across Lake Huron.

Monhegan Island, Maine

Artist Sears Gallagher (left) painting on Fish Beach, Monhegan Island, Maine, 1940s.
Artist Sears Gallagher (left) painting on Fish Beach, Monhegan Island, Maine, 1940s.

Monhegan Island is located off the shore of Maine and it’s a favorite summer getaway of the artist community. Monhegan has rocky shores that surround the 12 miles of woodland trails, where you can hike and enjoy the spectacular nature.

Make sure you visit the 1824 lighthouse and Monhegan Historical and Cultural Museum. For a perfect ending to an adventurous day, try some of the fresh lobster dishes sitting at a table right on Fish Beach, at the Fish House Fish Market.

Rottnest Island, Australia

The Basin, Rottnest Island, Western Australia. The Bathurst Lighthouse can be seen in the background. Author: Nachoman-au – CC BY-SA 3.0
The Basin, Rottnest Island, Western Australia. The Bathurst Lighthouse can be seen in the background. Author: Nachoman-au – CC BY-SA 3.0

Rottnest Island is a sunny paradise near Perth, perfect for everybody who likes sunbathing, surfing, snorkeling, and swimming in warm ocean waters. Scuba divers love exploring around the island because that’s where the real beauty is.

Over 100 different fish species and plenty of shipwrecks are waiting at the bottom to be visited by the curious gaggles of the divers. Rottnest Island is quite popular among students, so if you’re planning on visiting this car-free island, you better book in advance.

Herm Island, United Kingdom

Shell Beach, northeastern coast of Herm, UK. Author: Christian Pinatel de Salvator – CC-BY 3.0
Shell Beach, northeastern coast of Herm, UK. Author: Christian Pinatel de Salvator – CC-BY 3.0

Herm is the smallest (0.77 sq. miles) of the Channel Islands, and one of the most beautiful car-free islands in the world. This is a private island and former monastery that has only has 62 year-round residents.

There are no cars, no TV, no phone and it has only one hotel. It’s considered as an old-fashioned place where you can really have a good rest and enjoy the peace and tranquility. Shell Beach is a place where you can enjoy a nice sunny afternoon watching the puffins and seals. Bicycles are banned and the only way to move around is on foot.

Lamu Island, Kenya

Lamu town, Lamu Island. Author: Erik (HASH) Hersman – CC-BY 2.0
Lamu town, Lamu Island. Author: Erik (HASH) Hersman – CC-BY 2.0

By foot is also the only way to move around on Lamu Island, in the Kenyan Lamu Archipelago. If you want to do some island hopping try sailing on a dhow, a traditional sailboat common to the area.

The Old Town of Lamu has existed since the 12th century and it’s one of the best preserved Swahili settlements in East Africa.

Depending on what you’re looking for, you can either walk the streets and check the local restaurants, shops, and markets, or stroll down the 7.5 miles of sandy beach and enjoy your solitude. While in the town, don’t miss the Lamu Museum and learn more about the history of the region.

Car-free islands are the most romantic and peaceful vacation spots where you can recharge your batteries and soothe your nerves. Choose your favorite one and good luck!

 
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