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

Anna Brones

Anna Brones is a food + travel writer with a love for coffee and bikes. She is the author of The Culinary Cyclist and Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break. Catch her weekly column, Foodie Underground.