The City Girl’s Guide to Urban Hiking


Soot, screeching sirens and forbidding skyscrapers; is this your definition of the big city? Think again. The urban landscape might seem like the epicenter of everything that’s wrong with the world, but in fact cities are where some of the most interesting components of the green movement are currently taking place.

With everything from urban farms and electric cars, large cities are surprisingly livable, and now there’s another trend on the rise: urban hiking. Living the city life has long been equated with staying indoors and neglecting to feed our human need for spending time in nature, but the onslaught of urban hiking tours is showing us that it is in fact possible to get outside, be active and explore new places in the process.

What is Urban Hiking?

Forget the days of mindlessly jumping in a taxi to go from point A to point B. Urban hiking is all about planning, executing and enjoying the journey, another great example of slow travel. According to the Urban Dictionary, urban hiking is “the exploration of diverse urban environments on foot.” Conservation and travel groups alike promote urban hiking, as it not only gets people outdoors and active, but also allows them to explore the ins and outs of urban landscapes.

Choose a Theme

The key to a great urban hike is planning. Pick a theme to your hike so you can choose specific points of interest to visit. This allows you to explore a certain aspect of the city you’re in and makes it easier to plan an itinerary. Here are some possible themes to consider:

  1. Local food – Find three restaurants or cafes that all focus on serving local food and plan for an appetizer at each.
  2. Markets – Markets abound in big cities – Paris and San Francisco in particular come to mind – and offer everything from local foods to crafts. Pick out a few you want to explore and track your route.
  3. Parks – For a more natural experience, explore the green spaces that your urban environment has to offer. Choose a few within a walkable distance and pack a picnic item for each.
  4. Architecture – Explore the designs and spaces that make the city that you’re in unique. Cities like Los Angeles have already started offering architecture-inspired guided urban hikes.
  5. Art galleries - If you want a chicer urban hike, give it an art theme. Many cities offer an Art Walk on a certain night of the month. This is a great chance to plan a quick and easy urban hike itinerary. Plot out some of your favorite galleries that you want to check out and end the evening with a glass of wine at a local bistro.

Planning your route

Easy tools like Google’s pedometer will help you track how far you will be walking. Plan realistically; if you’re going with a group of friends, you’ll go at a slower pace than you expect. Assume you’ll cover about one or two miles per hour. A great day trip could be 5 or 6 miles with several stopping points incorporated, keeping you active but also ensuring that the day is enjoyable.

Be sure to bring

Just because you’re in the city doesn’t mean you can throw traditional hiking rules of thumb out the window. Carry a bottle of water and some healthy organic nuts or dried fruit to snack on.

If you’re planning on making stop off at a cafe, bring your reusable thermos or mug. And just in case you come across a to-die-for item in an unknown corner boutique, make sure you’ve got a reusable bag on hand.


If you’re looking for urban hiking suggestions, tourism websites are a great place to start, and many have suggested routes if you don’t want to plan your own. Guidebooks that have walking tour routes are also a great resource.

But remember, the best part about urban hikes are that you can tailor them to explore all the things that you’re interested in, so don’t be afraid to break out of the box!

Do you have a favorite urban hike? Tell us about it!

Image: brartist

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11 thoughts on “The City Girl’s Guide to Urban Hiking

  1. Pingback: 5 Great Urban Hiking Tips | EcoSalon | Conscious Culture and Fashion

  2. It looks like a lot more fun then hiking around the block

  3. I love the tip for a thermos to take your drink with you.
    keep them coming please

  4. I love looking for old buildings. I am a rural explorer, photographing abandoned farm houses in Ontario. Also, will go to any town or city and look for old buildings and parts of old workmanship in architecture.

  5. Oh, and I should mention that I know Katja, and when she visited me in my home city I led her for an epic, wearying hike which she reminds me of whenever she wants to haul me over the metaphorical coals.

    And now look – she’s *promoting* epic hikes.

    Anna, I think you’ve just scored me a point. Bless yer. ;)

  6. Love this, Anna. And very timely. The default response with hiking seems to be the need to “get away from it all” – with “It” not just being our everyday lives, but also all traces of civilization. We’re subtly being told to get away from people, period. Bit misanthropic, that.

    But cities are fascinating. They have their own ecology, weather, terrain and “feel” – and they’re places where most of the Humanities “ologies” (eg. archaeology) are densest. What’s not to revel in? Cities are adventures.

    Of course, you can take that philosophy a bit too far.

  7. YES! When I went to Rome at the end of last year I spent 4 days doing exactly this. My feet were killing me by the end of it, but I saw so much and felt like I got to know the city that bit better because I could stop and appreciate little things along the way.

    One of my favourite hikes in London is along the river. I can happily do this most weekends; just pottering about, taking photographs, people-watching, stopping for coffee when I feel like it … Bliss. And even though I’ve lived in London for over 10 years, I can still find new things when walking around it, which I absolutely love. Last summer, for instance, I discovered a sculpture of a pair of boxing hares, in between The Mall and Trafalgar Square. Fabulous.

  8. I have a group of stay at home mom’s that i like to “hike” with. We plan a day a week and usually hit a few local farmers markets for organic produce. Its fun, healthy, and keeps me in touch with my neighbors

  9. Pingback: The City Girl’s Guide to Urban Hiking « je vais où?

  10. Totally! All about urban hiking. Last weekend I hiked from the Presidio to Ocean Beach and back through the city to Pac Heights. About 10 miles, but didn’t even notice the distance. It was so fun! My feet were sore but it was worth it.

  11. Love this article! I am ALL ABOUT some urban hiking, this is my kind of travel mode. I went to Italy for my honeymoon three years ago (gah, it’s been that long?!) and we did so much walking I needed a serious pedicure by the time we got home. But I’m a big hiking enthusiast anyway. Just love seeing the world on foot!


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