Stretch your legs over hours or days, without leaving some of the world’s biggest cities. This article is adapted from Lonely Planet's 1000 Ultimate Adventures.
Tijuca Forest, Rio de Janeiro
Welcome to the jungle. Brazil’s first national park, the world’s largest urban forest, smack bang in the heart of Rio de Janeiro. Reclaimed and replanted as Atlantic rainforest in the latter half of the 19th century, the forest is a green smear of waterfalls, tall trees and rugged peaks. Winding through it all is a series of hiking trails. The sharply pointed Tijuca Peak (1022m/3353ft) is the highest mountain in the park, with a trail leading to a final ascent on stone steps aided by an iron chain. Or for something truly Rio, hike to the summit of Corcovado – inside the park – and its iconic Christ the Redeemer statue.
A number of Rio tour companies offer guided hikes to Tjiuca Peak and Corcovado. The national park website is www.parquedatijuca.com.br.
Great Coastal Walk, Sydney
Few would disagree that Australia’s largest city has one of the world’s most spectacular urban coastlines. And it’s possible to walk the entire thing – all 94km of it – if you have a week to spare. The walk begins at Barrenjoey, at the tip of Sydney’s northern beaches, and plods a sandy course to Manly before heading inland to the Harbour Bridge and southern shores of Sydney Harbour. The walk ends in the southern suburb of Cronulla, though if 94km isn’t enough, you can always ferry across to Bundeena and continue another 26km on the popular cliff-top Coast Track through Royal National Park.
There are good accommodation options along the coast, or easy transport links into the city each day. For more details, see www.walkingcoastalsydney.com.au.
Thames Path, London
The Thames Path stretches for 294km along the length of England’s most famous river, but you needn’t leave London to hike some of its finest sections. Begin in Kingston-on-Thames, and it’s two solid days of walking to Tower Bridge or the path’s end at the Thames Barrier in Greenwich. The walk is like a London highlights reel, passing Kew Gardens, Battersea Park and power station, Westminster and Big Ben, the London Eye, Shakespeare’s Globe and so on.
Expect surprising contrasts: the leafy emptiness of the riverbank through Richmond and Kew against the chaos of South Bank, where the entire world seems to come to meet.
Learn more about the path at www.nationaltrail.co.uk/thamespath. There are easy transport connections from central London to many points along the trail.
Hoerikwaggo Trail, Cape Town
Beginning at southerly Cape Point, on the Cape of Good Hope, this 75km (47-mile) trail crosses Table Mountain, finishing at the aerial cableway above Cape Town’s city centre. It’s an intimate look at the mountain that defines Cape Town, while offering views of the city. The trail, which was constructed by 162 unemployed workers from the Cape Peninsula townships, is designed to take five days, with four tented camps positioned along its length. The camps contain kitchens and bathrooms, but you’ll need to carry all your food. The trail isn’t signposted, so be certain to get hold of decent maps or hire a guide.
Details of the trail, including contact points for booking accommodation and guides, can be accessed through the South African National Parks website (www.sanparks.org).
Berlin Wall Trail, Berlin
Best known to cyclists, this trail follows the course of the Berlin Wall that once separated West Berlin from East Berlin and East Germany. Seventeen years after it was famously breached and pulled down in 1989, it became the Berlin Wall Trail, a 160km (99-mile) hiking and cycling path. The trail is well signposted and has interpretive boards detailing the 28-year story of the wall and Germany’s division, including memorials to those who tried to escape over the wall. It’s a slice of modern history that’ll also keep you fit. The trail is divided into 14 sections, each between 7km and 21km (4 and 13 miles) in length and easily reached on public transport.
For a full overview, see www.berlin.de/mauer/mauerweg/index/index.en.php.
If you want to see the best of Vancouver, you need barely stray off the 22km seawall. Beginning at the convention centre, it rounds Stanley Park, which was originally a military reserve but is now one of the best positioned urban parks anywhere in the world. Out of the park, the trail continues around False Creek, passing the glass bubble of Science World and über-trendy Granville Island, before ending at Kitsilano Beach – if you time it right you might be here for a perfect sunset. If you need to shorten things, consider the 9km section around Stanley Park – the sunsets are just as good from the logs on Third Beach.
The City of Vancouver website has a seawall map at www.vancouver.ca/parks-recreation-culture/seawall.aspx.
South Mountain Park, Phoenix
It’s hardly surprising that the USA’s largest municipal park (and some say the world’s largest city park), covering almost 66 sq km (41 sq miles), should have plenty of good walking. Don’t arrive expecting the typical city park of footpaths and neatly manicured deciduous trees; this is the Sonoran Desert, so expect cactus and creosote bush instead. The park has more than 80km (50 miles) of trails open to hikers, horseback riders and mountain bikers. The most spectacular trail rises up the mountain to Dobbins Lookout. Here, more than 300m above Phoenix, you’ll be treated to the finest possible view of the city.
South Mountain Park is 10km (6 miles) from downtown Phoenix. Maps and information can be found at http://phoenix.gov/parks; follow the ‘Trails & Desert Preserves’ link.
Coast to Coast Walk, Auckland
There are coast-to-coast walks in various places in the world, but perhaps only in Auckland can you walk coast to coast and never leave the city. New Zealand’s largest city sprawls across an isthmus – the narrowest part of the country – and the Coast to Coast Walk spans just 16km (10 miles) from one bit of salt water to another: the Pacific Ocean to the Tasman Sea. The walk begins in Viaduct Harbour, by the city centre, and passes through the city, suburban streets and parklands, and by five ancient volcanoes, before ending in the suburb of Onehunga, on Manukau Harbour.
Walk information and maps are available on the Auckland Council website (www.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz); follow the ‘Parks & Facilities’ link.
Arthur's Seat, Edinburgh
Arthur’s Seat is hard to overlook. The rough lump of volcanic rock – Edinburgh’s highest point – looms above the city like a counterpoint to the crag supporting Edinburgh Castle. Taking time to explore Holyrood Park, the former royal park around Arthur’s Seat, you’ll walk 8km, which can stretch into hours, as there’s lots to see. From the lookout, there are views over the Scottish capital and along the Salisbury Crags, a line of cliffs across an adjoining spur.
Begin the walk in the Holyrood car park on Queen’s Dr, behind the Scottish Parliament building.
Hong Kong Trail, Hong Kong
The Hong Kong Trail is one of four long-distance hikes in the city – not bad for one of the most densely populated places on earth. The path snakes around Hong Kong Island, covering 50km from Victoria Peak and its cracking views of Victoria Harbour to Tai Long Wan, a beautiful surf beach on the east coast. Effectively you’ll be walking from the island’s highest point to its lowest. The trail is divided into eight sections, some of which can be combined to turn the trail into a three- or four-day hike.
Take the Peak Tram to reach the starting point on Victoria Peak; the return from Tai Long Wan is by bus and MTR metro.