Escape the City: 12 natural getaways near major cities

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Most major cities are defined by things like concrete, neon and subways.  Aside from crowded urban parks, nature usually doesn’t enter into the picture.  Of course, cities don’t stretch on forever.  And most major urban centers have natural areas nearby – sometimes within city limits.  The places below feel like they belong far away from city life, yet they are surprisingly near some of the world’s greatest cities.

Madrid’s Magical Mountains

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(images via Andres Rueda and madaboutmadrid)

Flying into Madrid, one can see mountain after mountain after mountain.  City dwellers head to higher elevations to play and to cool off during the summer and enjoy the snow during the winter. All this within an hour or two of the city limits.

Tokyo’s Colorful Forest Haven

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(images via ajari)

Mount Takao is only 45 minutes from central Tokyo by train.  But it might as well be 45 hours.  Yes, travelers who make the trek on the weekend will experience Tokyo’s trademark crowds, but there are plenty of trails to get away from them and the mountain is virtually deserted during the week.  Visit then and you’ll forget that the world’s largest city is only 45 minutes away.

Hong Kong’s Rural Side

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(images via Marc van der Chij)

People often overlook the fact that Hong Kong is much larger than Hong Kong Island and Kowloon.  There are numerous smaller islands that are more sparsely inhabited and covered with the kind of rugged, nautral coastal landscape that the South China Sea is noted for.  Lamma Island is one such getaway, only a short ferry ride from Central.

Cape Town’s Tabletop

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(images via sa-ventures)

Cape Town’s natural characteristics are visible from any point in the city.  Table Mountain rises up from sea level, hulking over the city and giving it one of the world’s most unique urban skylines.  Climbing the mountain is doable, especially if you use the aid of the  tram that scales the side.

Chicago: Plenty of Prairie

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((images via Chicago Wilderness Mag and shaughnessy.us)

Chicago used to be nothing but prairie (and swamp).  The city is now one of the world’s largest and most famous, but there is still plenty of nature that has not been eaten up by urban sprawl.  Indian Boundary Prairie, just south of the city, is an example of what the entire area used to look like.

Warsaw’s Fairy Tale Forest

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(images via objectivised)

Warsaw’s Kampinos Forest is an oasis of nature just outside of the city limits.  The landscape is filled with images that one imagines when thinking of Northeastern Europe.  Despite the rural feel of the place, Warsaw is surprisingly close by.  Locals consider this one of the best features of their city.

Jakarta’s Unknown Escape

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(images via Karya Sendiri, Garuda mag, and dawala)

Jakarta is one of the most populated, sprawling, polluted cities in the world.  Though there are parks, most are no more than slivers of green that have become part of the urban landscape instead of offering a break from it.  Maura Angke Nature Preserve offers a chance to feel like you are visiting a remote part of Java, rather than a park within Jakarta’s city limits.

Dublin’s Green Urban Center

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(images via ratestogo and esker riada)

Europe’s largest enclosed park is Phoenix Park in Dublin.  The president of Ireland has his home inside the park.  There are some notable species of wildlife, including deer, that run wild through the park.  The landscape is reminiscent of the rural greenery that the island nation is famous for.

Rio: Climbing God’s Fingers

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(images via marcusrg)

Rio is a coastal city.  Head into the inland mountains and you will pass through the city’s notorious slums.  Head further and you will find towns like Teresopolis.  The Serra dos Orgaos Ntional Park lies within the city limits.  Dedo de Deus (God’s Finger) is a popular and picturesque mountain peak visible from the city.

Miami: The Keys to Escaping the Urban Grind

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(images via OldPine and USParks)

One of the country’s oldest and most sprawling city’s is Miami.  Built in southern Florida, it has a big city feel and plenty of big city problems.  But Biscayne National Park is also nearby, offering visitors a chance to get lost on the northern-most of the Florida Keys or to experience some of the best dive sites in the Caribbean.

Phoenix: Desert All Around

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(images via John-Morgan)

Phoenix is surrounded by the desert.  The rugged Sonoran has plenty of trademark desert features like impossibly vertical rock formations and lonely cacti.  Though Phoenix is a sprawling city and one of the largest in the US, there are plenty of desert getaways nearby.

Shanghai’s Refuge for Birds (and People)

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(images via planetsave and China Crossroads)

Shanghai is quickly growing and is the cultural and commercial center of modern China.  Despite the Middle Kingdom’s somewhat notorious environmental record, Powtaiwan Wetland Park, less than an hour from Shanghai, is a haven for wildlife.  What is especially impressive is that it was built on the site of a former industrial waste dump.

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