Can You Travel Europe In a Wheelchair?
The short answer is YES! YES, YOU CAN! The involved answer is still yes, with some assistance, perseverance and a plan. All of Europe is older than the concept of accessibility for all, but a lot of advances have been made to accommodate those willing to travel. You will encounter a lot of difficult things, but what you gain from visiting these gems far outweighs the struggles.
Although I am fortunate to not have a child dependent upon a wheelchair, our middle son shattered his right foot our first night in Rome. He broke it so severely that he was non-weight bearing on it for 6 weeks. 6 weeks translated to 6 European countries with a wheelchair that I purchased second hand from a pharmaceutical vendor. In some instances, this accident changed my travel plans completely, but on the other hand, it forced me to see the larger world through the eyes of someone with a disability.
The Can Do and Cannot Do of Wheelchairs In Europe
The good news about traveling in Europe is that your transportation options are incredibly accessible. Riding on trains with wheelchairs is a wonderful experience for reasons that I will share momentarily. Across Europe, you will struggle to roll over curbs and cobblestones, but roll you shall. Visiting monuments, because of their age, will be the largest struggle. Many European treasures have made their first floors and entrances wheelchair accessible, but making tiny towers and upper levels accessible is difficult and few and far between in European monuments.
The GREAT news is that almost all museums and the grounds surrounding the most famous monuments are all wheelchair accessible! Some of them you can even go up to the top in now! The countries that I found to be the most accessible in our European travels were:
The least accessible, by far, were:
I know this is not what you wanted to read, because who doesn’t want to go to Italy and Greece? I’m here to tell you that you should and you can! These two countries are just not as easy to navigate in a wheelchair because of the narrowness of sidewalks, roads, entrances. The lack of elevators throughout is an obvious challenge. Also, both of these countries have less funding to make accessibility improvements. The museums and archaeology sites, however, are very accessible!
European Resources For Tourists
I was offered assistance, for free, in every single train station throughout Europe. Each country has its own accessibility program within their railway systems. You can book the handicap seat online, which allows for a lot more room to fit the wheelchair in. If you locate the accessibility office within the major city railway hubs then they can schedule assistance at all of your stops to help get you and the wheelchair off the train AND will hold the next train to load you on! A HUGE HELP!
If for some reason you cannot book the handicap seat online then they can help you change your general seat to the handicap seat at this office as well. Truly a wonderful resource. These offices are usually very busy places so give yourself ample amounts of time to fully utilize everything they have to offer!
A website that was particularly helpful when our plans abruptly changed was http://www.sagetraveling.com. This wonderful sight is a little difficult to navigate, but will help you learn about the accessibility of specific sites, monuments, cities, restaurants, and other local resources and tours that cater to the accessibility audience! Before you even start planning your trip to Europe you need to spend some time exploring the resources that Sage Traveling has to offer.
Making Travel a Priority
Travel is not only for the physically sound tourist. There are resources out there and help everywhere to achieve your travel goals. Make a list of places you want to see. Prioritize that list and begin researching how to make it happen. You can do it! From sightseeing alone with a child in a wheelchair like I did to hiring an accessibility savvy tour guide. Anything is possible if you take a chance on the capabilities of yourself and hidden helpers throughout the world. Get out there.