Concrete jungle: five ways to adventure in the city

The wilderness might beckon, but some of the most exciting adventures can be had within the busy cityscapes we call home. Here are five of the best to get your adrenalin pumping in the urban world.

By James Litston
Published 17 Sept 2019, 07:00 BST
Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb
BridgeClimb over Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Photograph by Getty Images


Those keen to combine urban explorations with a little elevation can find a range of activities and tours that offer breathtaking views and set your pulse racing.

One such place is London’s Up at The O2, where visitors can join a guided climb to the top of dome and admire views of Canary Wharf, the Olympic Park, the winding Thames and historic Greenwich below. Once you’ve got your breath back, of course. 

Sydney Harbour Bridge, meanwhile, might just be the most iconic urban climb. BridgeClimb has been running tours of the famous landmark for thrill-seekers since 1998. Climbs run from dawn ’til dusk, but be prepared — it’s windy at the top (and high, at 440ft above sea level). If you can keep your eyes open, however, you’ll be rewarded with 360-degree views of Sydney’s skyline and its beautiful coastal setting.

In between London and Sydney, there are plenty of other mountable monuments around the world, too — such as the 600 steps to Tokyo Tower’s observation deck for views of Mount Fuji. However, if 600 seems a little steep, stay marginally closer to the ground and scale Palma de Mallorca’s gothic cathedral for the best views in the city (after around 200 steps).

Three top cities for climbing

1. Stockholm
The Rooftop Tour Stockholm follows a sky-high track across the Swedish Parliament in historic Gamla Stan. Participants are fully rigged in harnesses and helmets and remain securely connected to a network of cables throughout the experience. From SEK695 (£57.30).

2. Copenhagen
The climbing wall at CopenHill is a little more in keeping with the ethos of buildering. Opened just this summer, this is the tallest climbing wall in northern Europe, meaning it’s perfect for getting rooftop-high without breaking the law. From DKK150 (£17.90) per hour. 

3. Toronto
If you’ve got a head for heights, try the EdgeWalk at Toronto’s CN Tower, the western hemisphere’s tallest free-standing structure. Attached to an overhead safety rail with a harness, you’ll make a 360-degree tour of the very top at 1,168ft. From CA$195 (£115).


Urban orienteering maintains many of the aspects of the classic sport, but plays them out in towns and cities. 

Buildings become signposts in this fast-paced quest as participants set off with highly detailed maps to make their way from one checkpoint to another, ticking off each one as they go. It’s endurance, sharp map-reading skills and fast decision-making that make it an adventure that tests the brain as much as it does the body. 

There’s an element of discovery to the sport, too. In their mission to reach all the checkpoints, participants explore hidden corners, landmarks and shortcuts they might never have seen otherwise. It’s also a very inclusive way to discover a city, with clubs running events throughout the year for all ages and abilities.


Running tours are becoming an increasingly popular way to discover a destination.
Photograph by Getty Images


It's exactly that: stripping off and diving in to urban lakes and rivers. It’s popular too — Sport England saw a rise of 80% people taking part in open-water swimming between 2017 and 2018.  

Some of the best such swimming in London is on Hampstead Heath, which has three ponds that are open for members of the public all year round. Be prepared — the water is often pretty chilly.

On the continent, Zurich might have perfected the art of urban swimming. Buzzing Seebad Enge is a summer hotspot on the shores of Lake Zurich, while nearby Strandbad Mythenquai has a beachy shore and leafy lawns. And you’ll be in some of Europe’s cleanest metropolitan waters, too. 

Berlin also does fine aquatics al fresco, especially in summer, when its outdoor pools are perfect for beating the city heat. The pick is the Badeschiff, which floats atop the River Spree in the city centre, but the pool deck can get very crowded on a sunny day, so dedicated swimmers might instead opt for one of the city’s freshwater lakes: Wannsee, Krumme Lanke and Schlachtensee are all local favourites.


Taking in sights on the go has become popular all over the world, but running tours are a big hit across the pond. City Running Tours operates in some of North America’s big-hitters from Toronto and Philadelphia to Honolulu and New York. In Washington DC, tick off sights like the White House and National Mall as well as lesser-known gems. Learn about the 1968 DC Riots, or pound the pavement in historic Georgetown, DC’s most historic district. 

Similarly, Chicago Running Tours offers several group itineraries combining cardio with the Windy City’s leading landmarks. The routes (mostly around three miles long) are themed, giving joggers a choice of waterfront or inner-city scenes. Choose from Chicago River & Navy Pier or West Side Wanderer routes, or discover the city’s more macabre past on Chicago Tragic Events.

Don’t be worried if you can’t keep up. There are plenty of designated stops on each route, and most tours operate with more than one guide so groups can split up according to pace. Still not sure? Consider a private tour and set your own pace instead.


Parkour is the art of moving rapidly and fluidly by running, jumping, clearing and climbing over physical obstacles. Generally, parkour is usually a noncompetitive sport, meaning that for urban adventurers after a more individual pursuit, it’s an ideal opportunity for building self-confidence and discipline.

Jump Parkour has venues in Coventry and Leicester where you can have a go while guided by experienced coaches, while Parkour UK has a full list of affiliated venues nationwide.

Published in the Adventure guide, distributed with the October 2019 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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