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If your ideal city break involves outdoor action as well as urban fun and amenities, then you’ve come to the right place. Alf Alderson chooses ten of the world’s best active cities.


Voss, Norway

Anyone who doubts that Voss has what it takes when it comes to ‘adrenaline’ need look no further than these two words – ‘Extremsportveko’ and ‘Vinterveko’.

‘Extremsportveko’ is an extreme sports festival which takes place in the town every summer, and ‘Vinterveko’ is simply the winter version of this.

You can’t have this kind of malarkey taking place unless the venue is up to scratch, and with mountains and fjords offering skiing, climbing, paragliding, BASE jumping, mountain biking, hiking, kayaking and rafting plus a funky little town in the middle of it all the Voss region has plenty of credibility in the adrenaline stakes. Add in local UNESCO World Heritage Sites such as Sognefjord, the world’s longest and deepest fjord and everything about the place is pretty extreme.

Getting There
Fly to Bergen from Gatwick with Norwegian ( from £53 return then drive (1.5 hrs) or take the excellent train service (


Vancouver, British Columbia

The Pacific coast of Canada is truly blessed: For starters, the famous resort of Whistler is only a few hours up the road, not to mention a couple of smaller ski hills on the doorstep,then there’s the famous North Shore mountain bike scene, world class surfing on nearby Vancouver Island, and the opportunity to cycle, skate and windsurf virtually in the city centre. Add to all that a cool, eclectic downtown and some of the finest coastal and mountain scenery in the world at your feet, and who wouldn’t want to live in Vancouver?

Last time I was there I’d just returned from a heliski trip to the north, slept in an igloo for the night in the nearby Coast Mountains, drove back into the city for breakfast and then went surfing on Vancouver Island – there can’t be many places in the world where you could do all that in a weekend.

Getting There
Return flights from London with Air Canada from £650


San Sebastian, Spain

Wedged between the Atlantic Ocean and the Pyrenees, San Sebastian is one of those rare places where you can ski in the morning and surf in the afternoon (or vice versa); or you could enjoy a bit of sea kayaking or stand-up paddle boarding followed by a spot of opera – after all, the Kursaal Opera House sits right above the main beach. It also hosts a jazz festival, international film festival and classical music festival as well as opera and ballet.

Then there’s the fantastic array of tapas bars and jazz clubs, the famous San Sebastian Classic cycle race every summer, or superb cycling for ordinary mortals on the local roads; and if all that isn’t enough for you, just head to nearby Pamplona and take on the bulls.

Getting There
Flights to nearby Bilbao with Vueling from €159 return


Innsbruck, Austria

For reasons unknown to us Innsbruck frequently gets overlooked as a first rate outdoor destination, yet the former Winter Olympics host city is literally surrounded by small ski areas; for instance Kuhtai, where our sister magazine Snow runs its annual ski tests, is just 25km away.

This picturesque and lively alpine crossroads isn’t just a winter destination either – the surrounding mountains offer fantastic hiking, biking, rafting and other mountain sports and you can even ski and board locally in summer on the Stubai Glacier.

Getting There
Return flights from London from £180 with EasyJet


Sydney, Australia

The first time I visited Sydney I had to be pulled away kicking and screaming; it wasn’t just the world-class (albeit busy) surf beaches such as Bondi, Coogee, Manly, Palm Beach, Cronulla, the list goes on – as the fact that you can tuck into a barrel in the afternoon and then tuck into dishes from all corners of the world in the evening in one of Sydney’s scores of fabulous ethnic restaurants.

Add to this superb nightlife, iconic sights like the Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge (walk across the top of it if driving over it is too dull) and a buzz and climate that’s second to none. With close on 200km of bike trails, one of the best ways to explore Sydney is on two wheels – if you get too hot, then just stop at a beach where you can enjoy a dip in the Pacific Ocean en-route.

Getting There
Return flights from London from £760 with Etihad


Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town is the most popular tourist destination in Africa with good reason – the spectacular setting where the Atlantic and the Indian oceans meet with the huge anvil of Table Mountain looming above is enough to attract anyone. But this is also an extremely attractive city noted for its Cape Dutch style architectural heritage and excellent beachside bars and restaurants, especially along the Atlantic coast.

Take a hike up Table Mountain for the views – come down the quick way by paraglider, perhaps – or paddle out into the waves for world-class surf (although note that there can be as much as 10C temperature difference between the cold Atlantic and much warmer Indian Ocean).

Alternatively just sit back and enjoy the fantastic marine life on a whale watching trip, or the African penguins at Boulders Beach.

Getting There
Return flights from London from £608 with South African Airways


Santiago, Chile

Situated almost equidistant between the Pacific Ocean and the Andes, Santiago makes a great base for exploring Chile’s amazing mountains and coast. The increasingly modern and sophisticated metropolis is within an easy drive of the ski resorts of Valle Nevado, La Parva and El Colorado, which make for a very different experience to the Alps. The coast also has some of the best surf on the planet, and it’s rarely very crowded.

Take time out to explore the 460-year-old city too – there’s an extensive network of bike trails on which you can get around and a wide range of attractions. These include the downtown core of 19th century neoclassical architecture and winding side-streets to several attractive parks (take a hike up Cerro Cristobal for great views of Santiago) or, on the outskirts of the city, numerous vineyards.

Getting There
Return flights from London from £589 with Air France


Marrakesh, Morocco

There’s fantastic mountain biking and hiking in the nearby Atlas Mountains and great surfing and kite surfing on the equally accessible Atlantic coast, but there’s so much to do in this culturally and historically fascinating city you’ll need to plan your schedule well to fit everything in.

Marrakesh is an easy hop from the UK but it’s an entirely different world – visit the Hammam Dar el-Bacha (the city’s biggest) if you need to relax; check out the street theatre in Djemaa el-Fna, Marrakesh’s main square, or take a walking tour of the medina, and round it all off with a visit to one of the city’s superb restaurants – cow’s hoof, sheep’s head or snail soup, anyone?

Getting There
Return flights from London from £80 with Ryan Air


Queenstown, New Zealand

Well, it had to be in there somewhere – but New Zealand’s self-styled adventure capital doesn’t rest on its laurels when it comes to providing an excess of adrenaline-fuelled activities. The home of bungee jumping also offers excellent skiing, snowboarding, jet boating, whitewater rafting, mountain biking, hiking, skateboarding, paragliding, sky diving and fly fishing, all of which are actively promoted by various companies keen to show you an exciting time.

If you have any energy left after that lot you can visit the local vineyards (supposedly the most southerly in the world) or maybe take in one of the town’s various festivals, which include a Bike Festival, a Jazz Festival and a Winter Festival.

Getting There
Return flights from London from £1,334 with Singapore/Virgin


Ushuaia, Argentina

Once you reach Ushuaia you’ve driven as far south as you can on tarmac. There is a dirt road that goes a little further south, and this makes a good mountain bike ride. But surrounded as it is by mountains and sea inlets, the world’s most southerly town has a great range of outdoor options including some decent skiing at the local ski hill of Cerro Castor, wild hiking and backpacking in the mountains and forests of the Tierra del Fuego National Park (you’ll need to be self-sufficient) and excellent kayaking on the Beagle Channel, where the wildlife includes orcas, penguins, sea lions and otters.

Admittedly there’s not a huge amount going on culturally or in the evenings, but hey, you are literally at the end of the world so you can’t expect too much…

Getting There
Return flights from London via Buenos Aires cost from £1,127 with Lufthansa/Aerolineas Argentina