Whether you’re doing it for ideological or practical reasons, neither renting a car nor driving to your holiday destination can make booking an escape feel like a tricky puzzle in which all elements of transport must be relied upon to match up.

There are many destinations that are heavenly to explore without a car – but you’d need one to get there in the first place. Or perhaps you can just about get there, but you’d have to align your flights with a train and the train with a bus – or, at least, hope there might be a taxi available to take you on the last leg of the journey. The car-free traveller, then, often ends up throwing their hands up and opting for a city break – yet again.

Do not despair: there are places, both in the UK and overseas, that are perfect for the motor-dodging holiday-maker. These are some of our top picks. And remember, car-free is carefree.


Cornwall is one of those places that can feel out of reach for anyone travelling without a car – and particularly those with children in tow. Whichever way you slice it, the journey is long, but at least if you’re driving, there are at least points at which you can stop and take a break. What if, though, you opted for the Night Riviera Sleeper train from Paddington direct to Penzance? It has the feel of an irresistibly grand adventure and then – if you’ve managed a wink or two after all the high jinks – travellers awake magically at the very end of the line in time for the first day of their hols. And it’s not just any old end of the line either: the sight that greets you upon arrival is of the enchanting and spectacular St Michael’s Mount. Once installed at your lodgings, there’s no need for a car. You can bathe at the resplendent open-air geothermal Jubilee Pool. You can walk the South West Coast Path to the pretty harbour village of Mousehole, and you can take a boat trip to Mount’s Bay, upon which you might even spot a dolphin. Car-free heaven.

STAY: Give Artist’s Residence a go for a bohemian luxe stay. Book it.


Most of us have become so inured to the soundtrack of the car – its rumbles, its roars and horns and its low-level hum – that it’s hard to imagine life without it. On Hydra, the rocky island in the Aegean that is 90 minutes from Athens by boat, freedom from that soundtrack is a reality. Having banned the use of cars in the 1950s to preserve the character of the island, the mode of transport is, simply, foot or donkey. This is a place to hike from monastery to monastery – that is, when you’re not swimming in its beautiful waters, eating at its many tavernas, or channelling the artsy vibe that has pervaded since Leonard Cohen called the island home. A dream of a place.

STAY: Hotel Miranda, a beautifully renovated old sea captain’s mansion. Book it.

Sark & Herm

Jersey and Guernsey might qualify as the better-known Channel Islands, but neighbours Sark and Herm are both well worth considering – partly because they are ravishingly beautiful and partly because they are completely car-free. Sark is just 3.5 miles long and 1.5 miles wide and, as well as being liberated from the tyranny of the motor, it is also streetlight-free, making it a star-gazer’s paradise. Herm, meanwhile, is little short of a paradise (you could be forgiven for mistaking pictures of its white sands and turquoise waters for somewhere far more tropical). Reach both islands via boat from Guernsey (to which you can sail from Poole or Portsmouth, both reachable by train).

STAY: The White House on Herm has a pool, a lawn and everything you might want in a seaside hotel. Book it. On Sark, Stocks Hotel is the place to be, thanks to its lovely pool and warm welcome. Book it.

Gili Islands

If you want to really get away from it – a long, long way away – you could do no better than making straight for the Gili Islands, a trio of coral islands lapped at by turquoise seas and fringed by white sand beaches. Situated just off the coast of Lombok, you fly to Bali, zip across in a boat – and then, breathe out: you’re in paradise. And a car-free paradise, at that. Simply get about by foot, bike or horse-drawn carriage. When you’re not comatose with contented bliss, that is.

STAY: Gili Asahan is a family-run eco lodge which offers a range of beautiful accommodation, from beach huts to cottages. Book it.

Île de Ré

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You can choose to drive on Île de Ré, which lies across a three-kilometre bridge from La Rochelle, but that would be to miss the point. With 100km of cycle routes across its 19-mile length, it is perfectly set up for families to get about safely on bikes without the worry of traffic. The bridge from mainland was only built in 1988; before then, the island was accessible only by boat and was the preserve of Parisians seeking peace and quiet in the summer months. Now, their secret is well and truly out of the bag – and while that may to be their detriment, it is very much to our gain. The harbour town of Saint-Martin-de-Ré is pretty and bustling, with lovely restaurants housed within 18th-century buildings thronged about the port, while there are a plethora of beaches to explore, plus military fortifications, pine woodlands and seafood shacks aplenty. Think France’s answer to The Hamptons.

STAY: The four-star La Baronnie Hotel & Spa is every bit as elegant as you might expect from a villa that Louis XVI once bought for Marie Antionette. Book it.

By Nancy Alsop
March 2023