5 spectacular natural wonders you can easily access from major cities
Spending time outside and appreciating nature is good for the soul. Research has shown that connecting with nature can seriously boost your mental health and wellbeing. In some countries, like the UK, doctors are even prescribing time spent in nature to help with anxiety and depression.
If you live or are studying in a city, you could head to your local park to listen to the birdsong or chill on the grass with friends. But, if you’re also looking to scratch that travel itch, you can experience some of the world’s most beautiful wild places from some of the most exciting global cities. Here are five of our top urban travel destinations that just so happen to be super close to some incredible natural wonders.
1. Table Mountain: Cape Town
Standing 1,086 meters above bustling Cape Town, flat-topped Table Mountain is famous for looking as though its pointed top has been sliced clean off. Offering fantastic hiking routes and astounding panoramic views across the city and the coast, Table Mountain is the most visited national park in South Africa. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is also important for biodiversity as it is home to many animals and over eight thousand different species of plant – many of which can be found nowhere else in the world.
Take me there: Table Mountain is easy to access from Cape Town, which is nestled right at its base. There are several hiking routes to reach the top; the steep but direct Platteklip Gorge route (2km) takes up to two hours. Alternatively, a cable car from the city can whizz you up in just eight minutes.
2. Niagara Falls: Toronto
Straddling the Canada-USA border, the truly epic Niagara Falls are on many travelers’ bucket lists. Toronto is around 70 kilometers north and is well-positioned for a day trip. Niagara Falls is actually made up of three huge waterfalls, over which more than 700,000 gallons of water cascade every second. Visiting from the Canadian side, walkways and viewing areas overlook Horseshoe Falls – the largest (and arguably most impressive) of the three.
Take me there: The 130-kilometer drive from central Toronto takes around an hour and a half. There are several shuttle services, tours, and public bus options available to take you there and back.
3. Muir Woods: San Francisco
California is home to some of the world’s most iconic ancient redwood forests, and the coastal redwood forest at Muir Woods National Monument is a favorite with San Francisco locals and visitors alike. Sometimes described as nature’s cathedral, these seriously impressive trees are up to 250 feet tall and between 400 and 800 years old. Here you can explore a range of hiking trails, from short 30-minute loops to day-long adventures. One thing is for sure; as you stand at the base of a tree that’s older than your 11x great grandparents and look up, these incredible forests are guaranteed to make you feel small.
Take me there: Muir Woods is just 27 kilometers from San Francisco by road. It’s a 40-minute drive (which crosses the iconic Golden Gate Bridge!) or there is a range of tours and buses that will take you there from the city.
4. Hanauma Bay: Honolulu
When every island has been shaped by at least one rugged volcano, and when every coastline appears to be an endless chain of inviting sandy coves, it is not hard to find yourself in beautiful natural surroundings in Hawaii. Even if you’re based in the capital city, Honolulu, snorkelers’ paradise is just a short drive away. Once a volcanic crater, Hanauma Bay is a crescent-shaped shallow bay, boasting crystal-clear waters and a large protected coral reef system. The reef is easy to access from the beach and is home to over 300 different species of fish.
Take me there: From Honolulu, it’s around 25 minutes by car or 40 minutes by public bus. Visitor numbers are limited to protect marine life, so booking your trip a day or two in advance is advised.
5. Blue Mountains National Park: Sydney
Sydney might be loved for its beaches, but just a few short hours to the west of the city, the dramatic Blue Mountains offer a totally different Australian nature experience. Here, towering hunks of golden sandstone rock dominate the World Heritage-listed landscape. Oils released into the air from eucalyptus trees interact with sunlight to give the mountains a bluish haze. Craggy cliffs overlook ancient vegetation, while lush valleys offer shady hiking routes, hidden waterfalls, and wild swimming spots. If you need to unplug from urban life in the city, look no further than the Blue Mountains.
Take me there: Katoomba in the national park is two hours by train from Sydney, or an hour and a half drive. There are many different regions, villages, hiking routes, and attractions within the Blue Mountains, so do your research before you go.