Break out your walking shoes—urban hikes are all the rage. Initially popularized by Dan Koeppel in a wildly well-received Backpacker article, urban hiking is now practiced by all kinds of people all over the world.
Let’s get one thing clear: When we say “urban hike,” we’re not just referring to a stroll toward the nearest brunch place. Urban hikes tend to follow a trail and cover a lot of terrain. Sometimes they stay within the city’s downtown limits; other times they’ll stray from the city into green space and back again. Wherever they go, they tend to offer amazing sites and scenery without straying too far from the creature comforts of civilization. Here are some of the best places to get in on the action.
Hoerikwaggo Trail interprets the “urban” in “urban hike” a little bit loosely—for the most part, it runs along the outside of the city, not through it. But you’ll have plenty of great views of the city as you traverse all or part of the 47-mile trail, which is set inside a national park. Make it up Table Mountain, and you’ll be rewarded in the form of a cable car that deposits you right in the city’s center.
2. Chicago, IL
You have two awesome urban hiking options in Chicago, and you can’t go wrong with either one of them. Hit up Lincoln Park for a seven-mile beach-front hike that offers up-close views of a nature preserve and a working farm. You can even take a break from hiking and rent a boat for a while if you’re so inclined. If you really want to feel the burn, then tackle the 18.2-mile Lakefront hike, which runs north to south from Rogers Park to Calumet Park.
You could spend weeks traversing the gorgeous Thames Path Walkway, which extends along the river for 182 miles. If you walk the whole thing, you’ll start in the Cotswolds countryside before passing through central London and then on toward the coast. If you’d prefer to stay within the city, tackle the 7.5-mile stretch from Greenwich to London Bridge. Along the way, you’ll take in iconic sites such as Big Ben, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the Tower of London.
Prague’s popular walking tour squeezes in more historical sites than possibly all the other entries on this list combined. The so-called Royal Route follows the coronation route of Bohemian Kings, traversing its way from the Powder Tower in Old Town to the Old Town Square, across the Charles Bridge, and through the Lesser Quarter before ending at the hilltop Prague Castle. It’s an attraction-packed tour of the city that you won’t want to miss.
Rio de Janeiro is home to something pretty spectacular: the largest urban forest in the world. Covering seven percent of the entire city, the forest is packed full of hiking trails. This isn’t a flat city park—the forest even includes mountains. Summit Tijuca Peak for the bragging rights (it’s the highest mountain in the park), or climb up Corcovado to view the much-photographed Christ the Redeemer statue.
Skip the streetcar and tackle San Francisco’s hills on your own two feet. Each of the city’s urban hikes offer stunning views. Take your pick of the litter: Hike the trails in Golden Gate Park, march across the Golden Gate Bridge, hit the stairs on Telegraph Hill, tackle the 10.5-mile California Coast Trail, or stroll between the marina and the Golden Gate Bridge if you’d prefer to avoid some of those inclines.
You’ll need more than a day to traverse Sydney’s Great Coastal Walk—in fact, you’ll need seven of them. It’s well worth the time (and energy) investment: The week-long trek passes along the entire length of Sydney’s coastline, from Barrenjoey in the north to Cronulla in the south. If the length intimidates you, feel free to hike whatever portion of the trail feels manageable. No matter how much you see, you’re bound to catch a glimpse of sandstone cliffs, native bushland, and gorgeous beaches.
For diverse architecture and ecological features, head to Vancouver. Stick to city views by taking the peninsula trail, or enjoy views of water, mountains, and the city’s skyline while hiking the 13.6-mile waterfront Seawall walk, which runs along the edge of popular Stanley Park. Tackle the trail in any direction; no matter where you start (or finish), you’ll have yourself a ball.
Inspired? How could you not be? Then it’s time to dust off your sneakers, book your flight, and prepare to see some amazing sites—all from the vantage point located right above your own two feet.