The urban hike, an adventurer’s best tool for exploring a city. While traditional hikes follow the terrain of woods, hills, mountains, and deserts, the urban hike is singular in that it involves trekking through the concrete jungle. When traveling, the urban hike is my go-to way to explore. Hours can (and have been) spent walking the streets of New York City, getting lost in the canals of Venice, and wandering through the temples of Chang Mai with no particular destination in mind. But urban hikes don’t have to be only for exploring the new, they can also help you get to know your own city. The point of the urban hike is to wander and discover the things you otherwise wouldn’t have noticed.
While the point of urban hiking is to set off without a destination, I promise you will always end up stumbling upon a hidden gem that must be explored. Below are five of my favorite finds from urban hikes on travels past.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Rio has, hands down, the most ridiculous skyline I’ve ever seen. The city sprawls itself through the rolling mountains and stops only because of the ocean. Exploring Rio could take weeks–months even–but on our first day urban hiking through the city we stumbled upon the Travessa Do Comercio. We had been exploring on foot for about an hour and were wondering why the downtown area was so empty when we walked by hundreds of people in this alleyway. Of course we had to stop and have a beer and enjoy samba music, because that’s what you do when you make a great travel discovery.
Singapore is so incredibly unique because of its cultural blend. The island nation is a melting pot of Indonesian, Malayian, Chinese, Indian, British colonial, and western influences. It has sleek architecture and glass buildings of modern times and tiny huts and shacks right next door. Chinatown is the most evident of this culture salad–not only are there Buddhist temples galore, but walking through you will also stumble upon Hindu remnants, such as the Sri Mariamman Temple below. After a long walk through a crowded Chinese market, we rounded the corner to see this amazing temple towering above the other buildings. At the next turn we were smack dab in the middle of a Buddhist ceremony, and of course I was enthralled with the fruit and vegetables offerings (it’s always about the food).
Prior to traveling there, I didn’t think much about Chile. It was not a destination high on my list, but it also wasn’t off the travel table–it was more that I hadn’t really thought about what Chile had to offer. After spending nearly a month there I would say it was one of my top five destinations. Santiago, Chile’s capital city, is an urban hiker’s dream. From mazes of stone buildings, alleyways filled with street food, and the biggest open market I’ve ever seen, Santiago is ripe for exploring on foot. Bring a camera and an empty stomach and you’ll be a happy hiker.
Rawai Beach, Phuket, Thailand
Disclaimer: I did not stumble upon Rawaii beach on foot, but rather by motor scooter. But after a day spent zipping around Phuket island, we stopped after seeing the hawker stalls set up along Rawai Beach. Rawai is one of the lesser known beaches, overshadowed by Paton, Karon, and Kata. However, if you want to get a glimpse of what real Thailand island life is about, make sure to explore Rawai. We were among the only tourists on the day of our visit and we wandered from stall to stall, taking in the small figurines and fresh sea catches for sale. We may or may not have come home with five Buddha statues, but that’s neither here not there.
Kowloon, Hong Kong, China
Funny story about Hong Kong: I’ve only spent 4 hours of my life there and these are some of the only pictures I have to show for it. We had a 7 hour layover that stopped in Hong Kong on our way to Singapore and we couldn’t resist the urge to hop on the fast train (24 minutes!) into the city. We took a ferry from Hong Kong island to Kowloon and ate at a small dive bar that served only fried fish and beer. Our short hike through the city was all we needed to know that we are definitely coming back and staying awhile.
Are you a urban hiker?
What plates and places have you discovered while exploring a new (or old) city?
Leave your favorite travel tips below so others can find your hidden gems!