It comes as no surprise that my favourite way to see a city is to get up at the crack of dawn and give it the runaround. There’s simply nothing quite like waking up alongside a city; whether it’s skirting around delivery vans dropping off fresh baked goods for the start of day, or darting businessmen and women hustling to get to work on time, taking an early-morning run while traveling is by far my favourite way to discover a city. You never know what you’ll see before the sun creeps up! Rising early to hit the pavement has led me to discover a Canadian cemetery in the North of Wales, and accidentally join a 5km while spending an anniversary weekend in Pittsburgh and been yelled at by a fellow hostel guest in Geneva who must have dreamed her alarm went off and blamed it on the early risers, or, I suppose I should say runners.
While I’ve had my fair share of fabulous runs to kick-start my travels around the world, here are my top 5! If you’re ever in the area, don’t miss out on the chance to take in the fresh air, the beautiful landscape and hit the ground running:
1. Stanley Park, Vancouver, B.C
Starting at Canada Place and ending at English Bay, the approximately 12 kilometer run through Stanley Park is the most amazing and memorable runs I have done to date (the fact that I ran it alongside one of my best friends was totally just the icing on the cake). Next to cyclists, joggers and walkers galore, you’ll weave in-between greenery set directly net to a never-ending coast-line in one of the most beautiful parks in the world. Check out more about Stanley Park and other things to see an do in Vancouver in my blog series on Beautiful British Columbia.
2. Englischer Garten, Munich
Number one on my top ten things to see and do in Munich, the Englischer Garten is one of the world’s largest urban parks and a place of refuge for all. Whether you’re a nature-lover, a commuter, an athlete or owner of arctic walking poles (of which there are hundreds lining the pathways of Munich), the English Garden is the perfect place to enjoy a jog… and then a beer!
No, seriously, the garden is home to my favourite beer-garden in the city, the Chinesischen Turm. Bring some cash (and maybe a friend) and reward your efforts with a delicious radler. Keep an eye open for surfers on the Eisbach and naked sunbathers lounging around the garden. As a tourist, you don’t want to miss it!
3. Florence, Italy
Looking back, I can’t believe I’ve had the good fortune to visit Florence on 3 separate occasions! While the visits were all with different members of my friends and family, they had one things in common: a morning run along the River Arno which cuts through the old part of the city and under the Ponte Vecchio. The bridge has, as a result, become one of my favourite to cross throughout my travels.
Skipping over paintings, prints and leather goods from the region, I always feel like a resident of Dante’s Florence, part of the woodwork and fabric that made this city one of the renaissance powerhouses it once was.
4. Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, London
I’m not sure that when it comes to blending lush green beauty with urban elegance, natural history and cultural splendor that any park really competes with Hyde Park in central London. I first ran through the park when staying at the Thistle Hotel, Kensingston Gardens with my dad for a long weekend in the UK. At the time I was in my late-teens and absolutely enthralled by everything British; the park was no exception. Running past the Orangery Tea Room in Kensington Gardens and next to the Serpentine as one park leads seamlessly to the other, it’s hard not to keep one eye open for celebrities while spotting iconic British architecture and monuments like the London Eye peeking over the top of trees lining the way.
*** side note *** While Hyde Park is the most famous of the parks and a great run for tourists staying in the area, those sticking around for the long-haul should take a bus to Richmond Park (the largest of the royal parks) where you can enjoy a run in with the wild deer introduced in the 17th century by Charles I.
5. Mvumi, Tanzania
“Mzuuuuungu! Mzuuuuungu!” Meaning “white person”, Mzungu was the name shouted along the paths of Mvumi and neighbouring villages every morning as I ran with my fellow overseas volunteer through the brush of rural Tanzania. While the area used to be home to larger game like giraffe, elephant and gazelle, nowadays you’re likely to find the odd hyena roaming around alongside smaller creatures like snakes, scorpions etc.
During my 8 week stay in Tanzania, I learned more about the culture and the people by running through the villages every morning than I did during the entirety of my visit. Often, my running-mate and I would pick up joggers en route (who, running barefoot, put us Nike or Adidas wearing weaklings to shame) with whom we would compare a day in the life in Canada to that in Tanzania. Not only did our Swahili drastically improve before the sun came up, but we got to experience unique relationships with those around us. Oh, and when you’re covered in sweat from head to toe, those cold bucket showers became a lot more bearable.
Needless to say, running through the Tanzania outback or the busy streets of Florence might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but that’s exactly why it’s worth bringing your running shoes wherever YOU choose to go. Running on your travels is one of the best ways to keep fit, plus it’s a great way to justify that French buttery chocolate croissant or Italian pizza dripping with cheese (drool). While it may (to my husband’s chagrin) mean a bump from carry-on to check-in, bringing a pair of sneakers with you is never a bad idea and is totally worth the extra pound, or two!