Europe's top 10 cities for outdoors activities: part 1

Sunday 6 April 2014 06.49 PM

If you could choose to live in any of continental Europe’s major cities, which one would you go for? There are quite a few things for the outdoors enthusiast to consider.

If you could choose to live in any of continental Europe’s major cities, which one would you go for? There are quite a few things for the outdoors enthusiast to consider:

• Proximity to mountains and lakes, forests etc
• Quality of infrastructure: roads, cycle lanes and public transport
• Facilities: things like the quantity of swimming pools, sports centres, beaches and climbing centres
• The outdoors/sporting culture of the place: the number, and renown, of sporting events
• Weather and air quality (the latter being a hot topic for southern parts of the UK: this recent-ish study (2011) ranks a selection of European cities)

I've compiled a list of the ten cities I think are the best for outdoors types: five this week and five next week. The list is in no particular order. It's my own opinion, and not the result of exhaustive research!

GENEVA
It's difficult to think of a better location: there’s the eponymous lake for swimming and watersports, plus the full range of mountain sports from skiing and snowboarding to trail running, climbing and good old hiking in the Alps - themselves simplicity itself to reach from the city. The legendary Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc sets out from nearby Chamonix, and there’s the fabulous Cyclotour du Léman in May. You can also kayak and raft on local whitewater rivers. It’s so wealthy that the facilities had better be good! For year-round outdoors appeal, it’s hard to beat.
More info here.

BARCELONA
It always seems to be at or near the top of favourite / most liveable city lists, and for good reason: it’s a spectacularly beautiful and enjoyable place to be, with everything going for it from lively culture to great food. It’s not that expensive, either.

From an outdoors perspective it benefits from excellent infrastructure and facilities, a pretty fine location with sandy Mediterranean beaches about 20 minutes walk from Las Ramblas, and hiking and biking trails nearby. The Pyrenees are slightly too far for a day trip, but it’s nice to know they’re there anyway, for a 2-or-more day jaunt. Notable events include the city marathon in March.
Find out more.

VIENNA
The Alps might be too far away for a casual day out, but there’s so lots of other stuff to detain you in and around the Austrian capital. The Wiener Walder (Vienna Woods) are splendid for hiking, with beautiful trails, great views and appealing wine taverns (heurige) for some apres-hike.

There’s the Danube, which runs right through the city and is the focus of an extremely well developed series of cycling trails, and all kinds of watery pursuits from swimming to canoeing and rafting. In fact Vienna is a great place if you like swimming: the city has some lovely old spas where you can take a dip in opulent surroundings, and lots of outdoor pools too. Now in its 31st year, the Vienna Marathon (next week, incidentally) has established itself as one of Europe’s best, and the Women’s Run (May 25th this year) is the largest event of its type on the continent.
More details here.

LISBON
The city itself is wonderful, but hardly one of Europe’s best for cyclists (very hilly, lots of narrow cobbled streets, lots of traffic) - and urban facilities for other sports are so-so. However it is redeemed by having the wonderful Sintra / Lisbon coast region on its doorstep – an area of big forested hills with mountain biking trails and walking / running routes galore, edged by a sweeping Atlantic coastline with top-rate rock climbing and surfing. Sintra itself is 40 minutes away from the city by train.

There are some big events, too: the Lisbon Marathon takes place in October, the Lisbon International Triathlon in late April, while the Cascais-Lisbon 20K road race (April 15th) is the oldest in the country and always attracts a big crowd. Finally the downtown mountain bike race in September is one of the best of its type.
Find out more.

OSLO
With the Oslomarka forested hills all around the city, and plentiful snow in the winter, outdoorsy Oslovians are spoiled for choice. There’s plenty to do in the warmer months, with great hiking, trail running, cycling and swimming facilities, there’s a thrilling zip-wire at Holmekollen, and the Oslo Marathon takes place each September. The city really comes into its own in winter, though, with great skiing right on its doorstep: Nordic ski trails can be accessed in as little as 15 minutes from downtown; Oslo Winter Park is about 20 minutes. Lillehammer is the best place for proper downhill skiing, but it’s around two-and-a-half hours away. There’s a brilliant toboggan run at Frognerseteren.
See more details here.

Five more next week.

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