Car-free getaways from some of the world's greatest cities
Travelling like a local in a foreign place means going off the beaten path in and out of town. On your next big city trip, put a day or so aside for an adventure within an adventure, forget the hassles of driving, and discover what lies beyond the metro maps.
1. Athens to Hydra
Santorini’s stark blue and white tableau is beautiful but it’s also a schlep to get to from Athens. After paying homage to Athena at the Acropolis, join the locals aboard the 90-minute hydrofoil ($33/one way) that departs daily from the port of Piraeus. You’ll dock in Hydra, a car-free land of affordable luxury, where donkeys are chauffeurs, art galleries are rampant, and seaside cafés are the keys to finishing a good book. Soon, with a bathing suit on, you’ll take water taxis and start hopscotching the six islands of the Saronic Gulf in southern Greece, driven by whispers of secluded beaches in Poros and Spetses. Back on your balcony at Hydra Hotel, tucked up into the hills with views of the harbor, you’ll sip a cappuccino and revel in that rare moment when you accept that just because life moves quickly doesn’t mean you have to.
2. Rio de Janeiro to Angra dos Reis
You don’t have to wander far to find paradise in Rio de Janeiro. And though it won’t be easy to pull your toes from the sands of Ipanema, Leblon and Copacabana, locals know what awaits just 2.5 hours southwest along the Costa Verde. A straight bus ride (R$31) down from Rio, Angra dos Reis is home to 365 islands, 2000 beaches, and more than enough hidden lagoons to get away from tourists, Brazilians, and your own shadow. Consult with a hotel near Ilha Grande like Angra Fashion Resort (angrafashion.com.br) about the best boats to rent for island hopping. Cruising across the blue-green 'Bay of Kings', you’ll spot mansions, schools of tropical fish, the Chapel of Our Lord of Bonfim, built in 1746, and palm tree-shrouded restaurants you’ll think are someone’s home — and you’ll be partially right. Seek out Quiosque do Lele e Cleusinha in Praia de Ubatubinha, grab a seat at an outdoor table, order a caipirinha and moqueca, and stay a while.
3. New York City to Cold Spring
By lunchtime, on the banks of the Hudson River in Little Stony Point Park, there’ll be more than a few reasons for the smile on your face. For one thing, it took about an hour on Metro North ($10.75/one way) to get here. An itsy-bitsy beach, sitting on a log, looking out at Storm King Mountain and Breakneck Ridge. The homemade mozzarella croissant sandwich from newcomer The Pantry is a delicious reward for walking off Main Street to hike Bull Hill, a 5.8-mile climb to the summit of Mt. Taurus. Unlike some of its neighbouring towns, Cold Spring isn’t trying to constantly reinvent itself for the insatiable New York set that’s always searching for the next Brooklyn or Hamptons. Full of antique shops, family-run restaurants and historic inns, it’s a dependably charming day trip or overnight getaway. Cold Spring may be lacking in cultural attractions and a hip nightlife, but this is one of those places where less is more. You can savour the sweaty steps up the mountain, the moules-frites at Le Bouchon, and the stroll-worthy village, and still have time to let yourself do absolutely nothing but sit on a log watching the clouds fill the V in the vista.
4. Montréal to The Laurentians
Québec City and Ottawa are a few hours from Montréal, but if you’re looking for more sky than skyline, take a Galland bus from Montréal’s Central Bus Station to comparably close Val-David ($21) in the heart of the Laurentian Mountains. Bixi commuters enjoy pedalling along the car-free P'tit train du Nord trail that runs 124 miles through the region. Rent bikes ($10/day) from the Roc & Ride shop and cosy up in a Swiss-style chalet (from $165) at Village Suisse (villagesuisse.ca), a short distance from the trailhead. The hotel, which offers locally baked bread and a box of firewood with your room, can make arrangements for guests to kayak, horseback ride, rock climb, and find the best nearby beaches and hikes. In between outdoor adventures, make time for the largest ceramics exhibition in North America known as 1001 Pots, 'The House of Sculptures' by the artist Robert Lachance, and a bite at Bistro Mouton Noir (bistromoutonnoir.com).
5. Barcelona to Sitges
Gaudí’s masterpieces aren’t going anywhere, but you are. Take one of the frequently running Cercanias Renfer trains out of the Passeig de Gràcia station and towards the coastal resort town of Sitges. The scenic 45-minute ride (€3.80/one way) is your best ticket to some beautiful beaches near Barcelona. After disembarking, you’ll meander down through narrow cobblestoned streets, passing tiny bars and old buildings painted every possible pale colour, to get to the waterfront where you’ll have a splash in the Mediterranean and a siesta on clothing-optional San Sebastian beach. While there is much to do in this little gay-friendly inlet — from drinking at the Casa Bacardi Museum to dancing at the original Pacha nightclub — you may find a slow-paced day trip is in order after all that walking from Parc Güell to La Rambla. Before paella at La Cucanya (lacucanyaportsitges.es), see the historic Sant Bartomeu and Santa Tecla church, perched on the Baluard headland above the turquoise sea. As the sun goes down, tiptoe out along a nearby rocky jetty and sit on the wall to watch the local fishermen and their sons get the last catch of the day.
6. Paris to Nîmes
Skip the Côte Fleurie and stand atop a 2000-year-old coliseum built by Romans instead. After a scenic three-hour ride from Gare de Lyon on the high-speed TGV (from $112/one way), you’ll arrive in the 'Rome of France'. Drop your bags at Hotel Imperator, where Hemingway and Picasso slept, and spend a weekend admiring the past at monuments like the Maison Carrée, the world’s only completely preserved ancient temple and something Thomas Jefferson described as 'one of the most beautiful, if not the most beautiful and precious morsel of architecture left us by antiquity'. Grab a drink at the adjacent modern Carré d'Art’s rooftop restaurant — offering views of the Tour Magne, a Roman hilltop tower built around 15 BC — before ascending the 1st-century Arènes de Nîmes, overlooking the orange-tiled city. You’ll return to Paris with a whole new appreciation for old.