With Christmas excesses firmly behind us and our thoughts turned to a happy and healthy New Year, we’ve rounded up some of the best destinations for rejuvenating yourself—body, mind, and soul. Known for their wellness activities and balanced lifestyle (there’s plenty of fun to be had in each of them too!), the following cities often surprise visitors with their wonderful opportunities for cycling, hiking, and other outdoors pursuits that will soon have your cheeks glowing and your energy levels soaring.
Walking, cycling, and running are the best ways to discover many of the sights of the (largely flat) German capital. Top spots are the riverside path along the Spree, the trails through the Große Tiergarten former hunting ground, Grunewald Forest, Marzahn with its globally inspired gardens, Viktoriapark with its waterfall and neighbouring vineyards, and Lake Müggelsee, where locals swim and canoe. The Call a Bike app-based bike-share service has pick-up points all over the city, or there’s an array of guided bike tours. Stock up on healthy treats at the many organic markets, bakeries, and grocery stores.
Rising over the Catalan capital, the Parc Natural de la Serra Collserola—the world’s largest metropolitan park (NYC’s Central Park would fit into it 22 times)—is favored by locals for its cycling and walking. Other fantastic green spaces include the UNESCO-listed Park Güell, dotted by Gaudí monuments, and the Parc de la Ciutadella with its gilded fountain and boating lake. But let’s not forget the euphoria of walking, running, or pedaling along the beachfront, or swimming in the Mediterranean or in the Piscina Municipal de Montjuïc, an Olympic diving pool built for the 1992 Olympics, with jaw-dropping city views.
New York City
The facts speak for themselves: 96% of NYC’s population live within a 10-minute stroll of a park; most people walk, run, cycle, or use public transport to get around; and there’s a high proportion of farmers markets and outdoor pools. The Central Park loop is a classic choice for walkers, runners, or cyclists, but there’s vast scope, including the Hudson River Greenway, Brooklyn’s Prospect Park with its forest and lake, and the waterfront Brooklyn Bridge Park, with to-die-for Manhattan skyline views. Refuel at one of the many outlets on NYC’s burgeoning juice bar and “clean eating” scene.
Designated the first European Green Capital by the EU Commission in 2010, Sweden’s squeaky-clean capital—occupying 14 islands linked by bridges—is threaded with cycle paths and is so compact that you can get around the major attractions by bike or on foot. Stockholm’s parks and nature reserves include the world’s very first national urban park, the Kungliga Nationalstadsparken, opened in 1995 and meandering through the city for a full six miles. Adjoining surrounding forests, it embraces everything from secluded beaches, streams, and meadows to sports amenities—hiking, swimming, kayaking, and sailing are just some of your options.
Offering a delicious dose of fresh air and culture, the traffic-free Appian Way, a strategically important antique route lined by catacombs and other archaeological remains, is Rome’s best bet for exploring on two wheels (the visitor center has bike hire). If it’s good running routes you’re looking for, head for the landscaped gardens of the Villa Borghese or the wooded Villa Ada park. Or for cooling off, try the Olympic-sized Piscina del Rose, a 15-minute Metro ride from the center—or there are wonderful beaches and lakes just 45 minutes from the city.
With 5.2 bicycles for every car, the Danish capital is one of the most active of cities. The compact center lends itself to exploration by bike or on foot; 200 miles of cycle lanes range from harbourfront paths to Frederiksberg Have park around a 17th-century palace. Some of the low-cost Bycyklen sharing bikes have in-built GPSs. According to the time of year, there are also vast skating rinks or summer beaches and harbour bathing pools. And Copenhagen is known for its healthy eating—many restaurants use wild fish and meat and ingredients foraged from the local countryside.
Almost everyone cycles in the Dutch capital, and correspondingly there are great facilities, including bike lanes beside the canals and all over the city, making sightseeing a breeze. Classic Dutch bikes, adult-and-child tandems, and bakfiets (family bikes with front trailers) can be hired all over the city. For leisurely rides, runs, and walks, the central Vondelpark is crisscrossed by paths and trails. And canals aside, Amsterdam is a surprising destination for alfresco swimming—in the IJ bay/lake with its man-made beaches, in the Amstel river, and in Sloterplas and other suburban lakes.
The Baana or “Fast Lane”, a revolutionary pedestrian/cycle corridor on a converted railway track, takes you from the Finnish capital’s central train station to Länsisatama (West Harbor), with landscaped gardens en route and table tennis, basketball, and petanque facilities at the southern end. Inexpensive rental bikes are ideal for seeing all of Helsinski’s sights as well as for exploring the Baltic shoreline with its island views and summer stand-up paddleboarding. Bathing beaches such as Hietaniemi, Munkkiniemi, and Pihlajasaari are popular spots in the warmer months; in winter, locals flock to cozy saunas and swimming halls such as Itäkeskus and Yrjönkatu.