It’s usually easiest to select a destination based on choosing relaxation or exploration. You might stick to the Caribbean for the availability of sunny beaches or, on the other hand, cultural centers like Florence and Milan in Italy. But those with an interest in nature and city living don’t always have to choose one or the other.
In fact, around the world, some of the largest and most exciting cities are just a stone’s throw from an unexpected natural wonder. Regardless of which continent you dream of jet-setting to, there’s a big city that has a stunning hidden wonder to offer. Let’s take a closer look at five examples from around the world.
Las Vegas, USA
With the nickname ‘The City of Lights’ and a reputation for hosting rowdy groups like those featured in films like The Hangover, few locations are less associated with nature than Las Vegas. After all, the desert mecca is a strange location to house massive casino-resorts and some of the world’s top musical residencies.
Typically, those heading to Vegas are thinking about how to plan a vacation in terms of budget, from sticking to the buffet to avoiding lodging on the Strip. One great way to diversify the trip is also to get out of town. Nearby Vegas is one of the world’s greatest natural wonders: the Grand Canyon.
The red rock formation, which took millions of years to form from erosion, runs over 270 miles and extends up to ten miles wide in certain areas. It’s accessible from Las Vegas via airplane, car, and helicopter. Tours can be self-guided, but other experiences like donkey and horseback riding and whitewater rafting are also available in certain regions of the Grand Canyon.
At the intersection of East and Southeast Asian cultures, Taiwan is one of the unique destinations in the world. Its capital city, Taipei, has a population of 2.5 million people, but the hilly city feels much more populous due to how dense it is. Despite the city’s many parks and greenery, it’s condensed districts will leave many craving a trip back to nature.
Luckily for travelers to the island nation, there are multiple destinations accessible through public transportation nearby. One of the most unique is Taroko Gorge National Park in Hualien. Just like the Grand Canyon, Taroko’s gorges were formed after thousands of years of erosion from the still-running Liwu River.
The national park also includes multiple shrines, which are built right into the dark rocks to form beautiful caves. The forested area is incredibly steep, which makes these little hideaways perfect for enjoying the view and resting. Visitors can choose to walk, drive, or cycle through most areas.
Mexico City, Mexico
The capital city of Mexico isn’t just the most populous city in North America—it’s the sixth-largest metropolitan area in the world, with a total population of 21,800,000. Spanning over 573 square miles, the urban spread is a jaw-dropper for many flying into the city. Unsurprisingly, not many think of nature when they think of Mexico City.
However, those who rent a car during their stay will have access to some of the country’s top national parks. One of the top options is Iztaccíhuatl-Popocatépetl National Park. Protected since 1935 and spanning over 98,395 square acres, the park offers an unspoiled experience of the Sierra Nevada mountain range.
The park shelters a unique ecosystem due to its two active volcanoes, which are snowcapped year-round, Iztaccíhuatl and Popocatépetl. According to Aztec legend, from which the volcanoes derive their names, Popocatépetl was a warrior sent to battle and Iztaccíhuatl the lover who waited for him to return home.
With a population of just under 700,000, Norway’s capital city of Oslo isn’t quite the booming urban center that some might imagine. However, the city regularly welcomes millions of tourists—back in 2019, that number almost reached six million. Most come to visit the city’s unique museums and nightlife, as well as learn more about Nordic culture.
However, the country is also home to stunning fjords and, depending on the season, the aurora borealis. Geirangerfjord, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, can be reached by ferry from the capital. The area also includes exhilarating adventures, including a ‘skywalk’ platform almost 5,000 feet above sea level.
However, visitors who wanted an unobstructed view of the fjords will need to plan their trip during summer. On the other hand, those who want to see the Northern Lights will need to stick to the winter months. For those undeterred by the cold weather, the area also sees fewer tourists during this time.
When people imagine a trip to Australia’s eastern coast to cities like Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane, one of the first things they imagine is the Great Barrier Reef. Some might conversely imagine the dry red rocks of formations like Uluru in the middle of the country. However, the country’s eastern coast is actually home to a series of sheltered rainforests.
That’s right—despite its reputation as a dust bowl, Australia is home to some of the world’s rainforests. Not many people know that Australia is home to the oldest continental ‘crust’ on Earth, which means the land is around 4.4 billion years old. This means its rainforests are ancient; Daintree, on the northern coast, is 180 million years old and the world’s oldest living rainforest.
Daintree, unfortunately, isn’t close to an urban center. However, visitors to Brisbane, the capital of Queensland with a population of 2.2 million, will have dozens of options for visiting nearby rainforests. Visitors can rent a car to direct their own adventure or stick to a day trip. The most popular rainforests to visit include the Tamborine National Park, Mt. Barney National Park, and Main Range National Park.