Can’t decide between a city break and a hiking holiday? Now you don’t have to. Lace up your walking boots, leave the city behind and savour those bird’s eye views with five of the best urban day hikes.
1. Los Angeles to the Griffith Observatory – fly from £234
The details: This city trail is a 3.2km round trip, which should take you roughly 1 hour.
Starting point: Like most places in LA, you’ll need to drive to the start of this hike, so set the sat nav for Griffith Park, which is around seven miles from downtown LA. The West Observatory trail starts just behind Trails Cafe.
The hike: Early on, you’ll reach a junction with two roads – take the left route for better views at the start of the trail. Keep an eye out for the Hollywood Sign on your left, as well as the iconic Wisdom Tree on Burbank Peak (a separate three-mile route will take you to the lone pine tree). The trail meets up with two others at a small plateau; stop here for a breather and to reapply your suncream. You’ll hike the whole route in the full glare of the LA sun, so be sensible: wear a hat if you have one and bring plenty of water with you. When you reach the white-walled, black-domed Griffith Observatory, you’ve made it to the end of the trail.
The end: Snap an obligatory photo with the Hollywood Sign in the distance. Afterwards, catch a show at the Samuel Oschin Planetarium in the observatory (you can only book tickets for these on the day). Or stick around for one of nine Tesla Coil demonstrations and watch lightning crackle inside. If you still have some energy left, sign up for one of the regular Sunset Walk & Talk events (free entry). You’ll have the chance to witness a spectacular sunset as you hike further north into the Berlin Forest.
For retro American motel vibes, rest weary post-hike legs at The Tangerine from £155 a night. Bedrooms are clean and comfy, and the whole place is decked out with flashes of tangy orange. It’s only three miles from Griffith Park, which makes it the ideal base for day hikers, and it’s close to Universal Studios too.
2. Hong Kong to the Dragon’s Back Trail – fly from £337
The details: The Dragon’s Back Trail is around 8.5km long and takes around 4 hours.
Starting point: This picturesque hike starts at the base of Shek O Peak on Hong Kong Island. Take the metro to Shau Kei Wan Station, then walk to the bus terminus. From here you can catch the number 9 bus to Shek O. When you get off at To Tei Wan, the start of the trail is right opposite the bus stop.
The hike: This trail is one of the most popular hiking routes in the city, thanks to the panoramic sea views and relatively easy ability level. The first section is the hardest and steepest though, with 250 steps to face right away – but don’t worry, it gets easier. The path then flattens out, undulating a little when you get to the scenic ridge of the ‘dragon’s back’. Bear in mind, there’s nowhere to stop or refuel on the way, so bring enough food and water to keep you going.
The end: The popular trail ends at the beach, where you can kick back and relax after a long hike. Simply follow the signs for Big Wave Bay Beach, then take a dip to cool off in the ocean.
From £38 a night, the Mini Hotel Causeway Bay is mini in name, size and price. Its location near Causeway Bay on Hong Kong Island means it’s just a short drive from the start of the hike, and it’s an easy walk to the MTR too. While some of the rooms are teeny, you’ll find everything you need: en suites, flat-screens and, of course, that all-important WiFi, so you can upload the sweeping views snapped at the top of Dragon’s Back.
3. Cape Town to Lion’s Head – fly from £411
The details: This mountainous city hike is 5.5km long, so it’s around a 2-3 hour round trip.
Starting point: Thanks to Cape Town’s mountainous backdrop, this hike begins right in the centre of the city. Start at the Lion’s Head parking lot on Signal Hill Road and take the signposted ‘recommended route’ Spiral Trail. Avoid the route ‘via the chains’, which comes with a ‘use at your own risk’ message. It’s only suitable for the adventurous souls who have come prepared for rock climbing on a sheer cliff face.
The hike: Most visitors planning a day hike might head for Cape Town’s iconic Table Mountain, but that’s not where you’ll find the best views. A hike to lesser-known Lion’s Head (so named because it looks like a lion’s head… if you squint), gives you impressive views of the sea, city and Table Mountain. The clearly marked route winds its way up the hill. Although there’s a little bit of rock scrambling near the summit, you’ll be rewarded with incredible views the whole way up. Stop off at Watchman’s Cave, a secluded picnic spot and a great place to watch the sunrise if you set off early enough.
The end: At the top, the panoramic views are unbeatable. You can take photos of Table Mountain, the entire city, and Camps Bay. Then put the camera away and just soak it all in.
Accommodation prices are a little higher in the affluent areas by the beach, but Place on the Bay gives you great value for money. From £69 a night, you get a two-bedroom apartment, with a kitchenette, and a location that’s close to the sea and Lion’s Head. If you don’t fancy self-catering, there are plenty of restaurants on the coast, like Paranga, serving fresh, affordable seafood with a beachside view.
4. Barcelona to Mount Tibidabo – fly from £27
The details: This hike spans 2km, taking between 45 minutes to 1 hour to complete.
Starting point: Start in the Sarrià district in the north-west of the city. Mooch through the Avenida de Vallvidrera, then onto Carrer de Santpedor. Or, if you want to save your feet for the hilly bits, catch the train straight to Avinguda Tibidabo.
The hike: If you like your views with a colourful backdrop, set your alarm and aim to hike for the sunrise. (Go for sunset, and you’ll end up walking back down the mountain in the dark.) The route is well signposted through woodland and along the steep but well-maintained tracks, so you shouldn’t get lost.
The end: Tibidabo means ‘I will give to you’ and what you’ll get up here are awesome panoramic views. At the top, you’ll also find the Temple Expiatori del Sagrat Cor, which translates as Church of the Sacred Heart. This small Catholic church is no Sagrada Familia, but it’s worth a picture nonetheless. If you have time, stop off for even more thrills at one of Europe’s oldest amusement parks – Parc del Tibidabo. After all that action, save your legs and catch the funicular back down the hill.
Stay at the affordable Ciutat de Barcelona, where you’ll find simple, modern rooms from £122 a night. If you’re not sold on its convenient, central location next to the Picasso museum and Parc de la Ciutadella, then perhaps the rooftop pool with city views will swing it – and these views require no hiking. Add breakfast for an extra £16, or simply wander next door to La Boqueria off La Rambla and grab a pre-hike fruit smoothie and a pastry to go.
5. Sydney: Bondi to Coogee – fly from £420
The details: This coastal city trail is 6km long, which should take around 2 hours (but allow longer for stop-offs).
Starting point: Start at Bondi Beach. If you’re not staying near the coast, there are plenty of local buses that service the beaches.
The hike: The cliff-top coastal walk is suited to most walkers, with a paved walkway and the occasional set of steep stairs. The whole route offers stunning ocean views over the east coast of Sydney. There are plenty of places to stop along the way that make this walk a real day adventure. Swim in Gordon’s Bay, a long, shallow bay with a swimming pool set in the water, or admire the sandstone cliffs of the Cunningham Reserve. You could even snorkel at Clovelly and dive the underwater nature trail.
The end: Crack out the picnic on the white sands of Coogee Beach, or swim in the calm ocean baths. If you’d rather end the day lounging on Bondi Beach, catch the bus out to Coogee and do the walk in the opposite direction.
Beachside Baxley Bondi is simple and chic, but also affordable from £81 a night for a double room. Bondi Junction Train Station and the main shopping district are nearby, and the boutique is just a short walk from its namesake beach – very convenient for a coastal walk.
Got your walking shoes packed? It’s time to start looking for flights for your next city-hiking break…
All flight and prices mentioned in this article are estimates of the cheapest prices based on Skyscanner’s flight search tools. These are subject to change and were correct at time of writing on 9 July 2019.