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When it comes to exploring the ins and outs of a particular city, having a car can be overrated. After booking tickets for a trip, most people automatically think about finding a rental car. But ever since the pandemic hit, rental cars have been either hard to get a hold of or very expensive. 

Could there be another way where you don’t have to worry about parking, parking tickets, and constantly inputting destinations into Google maps, or being worried about driving back to the hotel if you had a couple of drinks? You bet.

We’re featuring six stellar U.S. cities where not only do you not need a rental car — especially if you’re under 25 and could do without the additional fees — but where cabs, streetcars, subways, and buses can be your best friend and get you where you plan to be. 

New Orleans, Louisiana

The city of New Orleans is lauded for a host of time-tested treasures. For one thing, the St. Louis Cathedral is the oldest cathedral in all of North America. There are a myriad of 18th-century buildings, and of course, the iconic Mardi Gras festival which started way back in 1699. The cultural festival starts at the beginning of March and lasts for two weeks. It’s undoubtedly a must-have experience for its elaborate costumes, lavish floats, and live music.

The famous and historical French Quarter district happens to be located in the heart of the city and is hailed for its nightlife including its jazzy jazz clubs, Cajun restaurants and bistros, and boisterous bar scene. If you ask us, it’s the most convenient place to stay due to its central location. The closest airport to the city is New Orleans International Airport (MSY), which is about 11 miles out. If you’re keen for the quieter side of New Orleans, you can easily head to the French Market which is stocked with gourmet food and local crafts. The city is also budding with street performers in front of the stunning St. Louis Cathedral.

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Aside from the French Quarter general area, the best areas to stay in without a rental car are within the spaces of Canal Street, Burgundy Street, Esplanade Ave, and Decatur Street. This area is centrally located and considered safe, but of course always keep aware of your surroundings. 

Getting out and about in New Orleans is made easiest on foot and by public transportation. The city’s districts are very compact by nature, so they’re perfect for leisurely walking tourists. A great way to go is getting on one of the city’s famous streetcars, and if you’re really aiming to get active, another option is biking. 

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If you have a penchant for the darker side of life, the city’s cemeteries are critical for your adventure list. Intriguingly, many of the tombs in these “cities of the dead” are known to be above ground so that they are protected from the rising water levels. The tombs are decorated with heavily ornate embellishments which were inspired by both French and Spanish architecture. If you’re feeling both brave and more than a little curious, there are even ghost tours in town that make stops to these cemeteries. 

Portland, Oregon

The scenic city of Portland, Oregon is known for its expanses of green space, including a plethora of parks, far-reaching forests, and myriad of mountain tops. Downtown Portland is the easiest neighborhood to parade around without a rental. The heart of the city has 32 bus lines, four MAX rail lines, and a host of streetcars. The nearest major airport is Portland International Airport (PDX) which is 12 miles from the center of the city. 

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If you’re wondering why Portland is portrayed as The City of Roses, roam through the Portland International Rose Test Garden — the country’s longest-running rose test garden — and you’ll see why. Visitors from all around the world come to see the space’s 10,000 roses. If you’re besotted by the natural beauty, Forest Park has 70 miles of trails for hikers, runners, and equestrians. 

The City of Roses doesn’t mess around when it comes to food fare: we’re talking fine dining, blocks of street food, countless coffee shops, beautiful breweries, and heaps of distilleries. In fact, the city hosts hundreds of food carts — most of them grouped in pods — that have been hailed by the likes of Bon Appétit and CNN. 

The Portland ramen scene has been all the rage in recent years. Find your perfect bowl at restaurants that specialize in ramen such as Afuri Ramen, Kinboshi Ramen, and Boke Bowl. The city is also the best place to be thirsty: Portland is recognized as the craft beer capital and is home to more than 70 breweries. 

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Boston, Massachusetts

There’s much more to Boston than its famed baked beans or the Cheers bar made popular by the 1980s sitcom of the same name. The city has a vibrant arts, music, history, and theater scene that can make for the most memorable of holidays. There’s the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, The Boston Symphony Orchestra, and the Huntington Theater Company — and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. 

Downtown Boston is the best place to be for easy access, just walking distance to the four surrounding neighborhoods. The closest airport is Boston Airport (BOS), just over two miles away. The heart of the city is home to a huge variety of restaurants and accommodations. In fact the best place to get around Boston is on foot. The second best is the very efficient “T” subway system which has subways, trains, and trolleys along five separate transportation lines. 

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The Boston Public Garden is a beautiful way to spend the day. Take in the scenic garden that has more than 80 species of plants from locations around the city. You’ll also see many imported exotic trees and plants as well as the famous Swan Boats that were created over a century ago. 

The Museum of Fine Arts serves as an educational window to the ancient world. Lose yourself in the museum’s collections of Impressionist paintings, ancient Egyptian valuables, as well as works from Greece, the Middle East, and Asia. You’ll also be in awe of Americana at its finest where you can see paintings, furniture, folk art, glassware and other decorative arts from many eras including Art Deco.

Take a tour of Fenway Park which is of course home to the famous baseball team, the Boston Red Sox. Fenway Park also has bragging rights to being the oldest ballpark in Major League Baseball history and is able to host 40,000 spectators. Soccer and hockey games can also be seen in the flesh. 

Santa Barbara, California 

Dubbed “The American Riviera,” Santa Barbara encapsulates every seaside vision: breathtaking beaches, luxury resorts, popular wineries, and shopping experiences waiting to happen. Downtown Santa Barbara is easily accessible via waterfront shuttle, pedicab, biking, or walking. We recommend staying along State Street so that you’ll be within walking distance of all of these. 

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There is also the Santa Barbara Amtrak station which happens to be situated in the middle of the Funk Zone — a district lined with of cafes, galleries, and boutique wine-tasting rooms. Be sure to check out the harbor and stroll over to Leadbetter Beach if relaxing in the sunshine is your idea of a swell time. 

If you’re looking to get inspired by the city, hike on up to Inspiration Point where you’ll be floored by the coastline and view of the Channel Islands in the distance. Keep it natural by heading to the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History and indulge in a kid-sized cavern, or enjoy a path around the campus’ Mission Revival buildings which sprawl along a wooded creek. 

Speaking of history, the Santa Barbara County Courthouse is a Spanish-Moorish structure that is considered one of the most stunning government buildings in the entire country. The top of the Seth Thomas Tower Clock has cascading views of the city. You’ll also love the exquisitely painted Mural Room on the second floor!

New York City, New York

New York City — easily one of the most famous cities in the world — is touted for Times Square, Broadway performances,the glamorous “paint the town red” kind of nightlife, and its decadent dining scene. 

The Upper West Side of Manhattan is the best place to be without the need for a rental car. Broadway, Columbus, and Amsterdam Avenues are all within walking distance. You can also easily commute to the heart of the city anywhere, including both SoHo and Brooklyn! The easiest and most efficient way to get around NYC is by subway, but buses and taxis are in abundance in all areas of the metropolis. 

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Take some pleasure in Rockefeller Plaza where you can snap pictures of stunning sculptures or go from store to store and restaurant to restaurant. If you visit NBC Studios, you might catch a taping of the Today Show. You can also spend time people-watching from the Top of the Rock Observation Deck, then get decked out for an evening performance at where else but Radio City Music Hall.

No doubt Broadway is one of the best New York experiences, but Shakespeare in the Park shouldn’t be downplayed. The free-of-charge series is put on by the Public Theater during the summer months in an open-air venue in the famous Central Park. Imagine an evening under the stars while you take in a theatrical performance. 

Don’t be fooled, nature in New York is a thing. Take in the New York Botanical Garden. The 250-acre national historical landmark located in the Bronx has millions of visitors from around the world each year. Your interest will also be piqued by the picturesque High Line, an elevated linear park and rail trail that was created on a former New York Central Railroad. 

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Chicago, Illinois

Situated on the banks of Lake Michigan, Chicago comes after just New York City and Los Angeles as the third largest city in the United States. People around the country — and indeed the world — come to Chicago for a range of reasons. The city boasts amazing architecture like the Sears Tower, hip music scene (jazz clubs), fabulous food including deep dish pizza, and famous neighborhoods. 

The best areas in the city to stay without a rental vehicle include River North, Gold Coast, and Mag Mile. The Loop is also an option, although it is a little farther to most bars and restaurants. Midway Airport is a mere eight miles from this area. The best way to get around Chicago without a rental is the L-Train: it’s budget-friendly and easy to use. Of course, buses and taxis are also reliable options, as is the Metra Rail if you want to get to the city’s suburbs. 

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The Magnificent Mile on Michigan Avenue might be good at boasting retailers from Neiman Marcus to Macy’s to Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom, but architecture aficionados will also appreciate the city’s collection of illustrious buildings. The Chicago Water Tower — hailed as the longest-standing structure on Michigan Avenue — also withstood the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. There’s also the other famous tower on the famous stretch: the Tribune Tower has housed The Chicago Tribune daily newspaper since it was built a century ago during the years from 1923-1925.

Navy Pier is also one of the city’s main attractions, where you can take the Chicago River Architecture Cruise at a very affordable price. Additionally, you do the Hop-on, Hop-off Open Top Bus Tour to also get a real feel for the city, or see the city from the sky at the 360 Chicago Observation Deck.

We wouldn’t advise leaving the city without at least a few hours at Millennium Park. Nestled in the Loop north of the Art Institute of Chicago, the 24.5-acre park is an art-lovers paradise that includes cutting-edge architecture and it also happens to be a well-known backdrop for concerts and festivals. 

Take a Vehicle-Free Vacation With VacationRenter

Now that you’ve narrowed down some options for your next getaway, the next step is finding a place to rest your head. Plan your vehicle-free getaway to any of these six sensational cities and book a stay on VacationRenter!