Urban escapes: The 10 best city islands

SENTOSA ISLAND, SINGAPORE

Singapore's favourite family-friendly getaway is joined to the city by cable car, allowing you to escape to a tropical island with little effort. You can stay in resorts boasting spas and golf courses, or just spend the day at the beach, zip-line adventure park or along rainforest walking tracks. The top drawcard is theme park Universal Studios Singapore, but there's also a water park, butterfly park and Madame Tussauds. See sentosa.com.sg

ILE AUX CYGNES, PARIS

This long, skinny Seine River island is scarcely visited by the tourist hordes that crowd Paris, yet sits bang-slap in the middle of the city, with views of the Eiffel Tower. The artificial island was created in 1825 and is popular among exercising Parisians. Its leafy trees are especially splendid in autumn. Its western end features a startling quarter-sized replica of the Statue of Liberty. See parisinfo.com

LANTAU ISLAND, HONG KONG

Although some of the serenity of this large island has been eroded by the airport and Hong Kong Disneyland, it still has abundant forest, mangroves and good hiking trails with views over the South China Sea. A shady walk between Ngong Ping hill and Tai O fishing village takes you to a 34-metre-high giant Buddha and ornate Po Lin Monastery. Silvermine Bay and Pui O village have great beaches. See discoverhongkong.com

COCKATOO ISLAND, SYDNEY

This island, overlooked even by many Sydneysiders, sits where the Parramatta River meets the harbour and was once the site of the city's most important naval docks. Warehouses and abandoned cranes are a reminder of its maritime history. You can also explore the World Heritage-listed remains of a convict prison. Camp overnight for a waterside location and harbour views even the city's five-star hotels can't provide. See cockatooisland.gov.au

YAS ISLAND, ABU DHABI

This ever-developing entertainment district could keep you occupied for a couple of days. It has one of the Middle East's best golf courses, a huge shopping mall, first-class yachting marina and Grand Prix motor-racing course. You can also cool off in the gigantic water park, which features 43 rides, or test your stomach at Ferrari World, which has the world's fastest rollercoaster and highest rollercoaster loop. See yasisland.ae

ROBBEN ISLAND, CAPE TOWN

While this island does have a penguin colony and fantastic views of Cape Town set against Table Mountain, visitors come here to delve into the history of apartheid. Nelson Mandela was the most famous prisoner in this notorious government jail; former prisoners act as tour guides. You'll see the tiny cell where Mandela lived, a museum and a church dating to the island's days as a leper colony. See robben-island.org.za

TORONTO ISLANDS, TORONTO

Harbourfront is the place to catch a 10-minute ferry to the eight Toronto Islands on Lake Ontario, most interconnected by small bridges. Shady trees, beaches, cottages and parklands are a particularly good, breeze-cooled urban escape during summer heat. Centre Island has great picnicking zones and a kids' amusement park. Even in winter, the islands beckon with cross-country skiing and snowshoeing within sight of Toronto's skyscrapers. See seetorontonow.com

LIBERTY AND ELLIS ISLANDS, NEW YORK

The tourist-popular Statue of Liberty isn't exactly an escape from urban crowds but, away from the statue itself, you can picnic on the surprisingly tranquil lawns of Liberty Island as you gaze across the harbour at the Manhattan skyline. Nearby Ellis Island, former processing point for 12 million immigrants, is well worth visiting for its history and the charting of compelling immigrant stories. See libertyellisfoundation.org

ELEPHANTA ISLAND, MUMBAI

You only need take a 30-minute boat ride from the Gateway of India across Mumbai Harbour to find not just a forested, monkey-haunted island but four World Heritage rock temples carved between 450 and 750, and considered among the finest classic Brahman-style temples in India. The largest is decorated with superb sculpted scenes from the life of Shiva, and all have extraordinary rock-carved sculptures of Hindu deities. See maharashtratourism.gov.in

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SUOMENLINNA, HELSINKI

A 15-minute ferry ride from downtown Helsinki brings you to this series of six fortified islands, linked by footbridges, that create one of the world's largest historic maritime fortresses. Eighteenth-century naval technology and life is showcased, but you can also stroll kilometres of paths along ramparts and through flower-studded meadows. Admire harbour views, passing cruise ships and the Helsinki skyline with its prominent white cathedral dome. See suomenlinna.fi

Brian Johnston travelled as a guest of numerous tourism offices.

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