Lonely Planet's most amazing side trips from the world's best cities

The world's great cities could fill a lifetime with new experiences. But the city can also be just the starting point. Easily accessible by train, bus or car, there is a world beyond to explore: prehistoric sites of standing stones, stately cathedral towns, forests, vineyards, rollicking arts festivals, rural pubs and gorgeous cliff walks.

There are incredible – and often easy – day trips and overnighters to be done. All you need to do is find the time. In this extract from Lonely Planet's Three Hours From … (Lonely Planet, $29.99) we encourage you to widen your net.

DUBAI

From the tallest mountain in the UAE to the dusty desert floor, from the crystal-clear sea to archaeological discoveries, you'll find huge contrasts to the glitz of Dubai just outside the city.

ONE HOUR FROM

Sharjah Art Scene

Check out Middle Eastern contemporary art at the Sharjah Art Museum, and the cluster of modern white-cube galleries in the Heart of Sharjah heritage area. Thirty minutes by car; up to one hour by bus; sharjahart.org

Wasit Wetland Centre, Sharja

This bird haven 35 kilometres north of Dubai on a reclaimed dumping ground is home to flamingoes, herons, ducks and less familiar species such as the endangered northern bald ibis; 40 minutes by car; epaashj.ae/learning-centres/wwc/

TWO HOURS FROM

Musandam Peninsula

Oman's Musandam has fjord-like inlets hugged by sheer cliffs. Explore it on a wooden dhow (traditional boat). They sail from Khasab; book a tour package, including transport from Dubai; 2.5 hours by car; msaoman.com

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Al Dhafra Festival

Every December, in Madinat Zayed, 260 kilometres southwest of Dubai, this 11-day celebration of Emirati heritage, includes camel races, falcon and horse competitions and lots more; 2.5 hours by car; turathuna.ae

THREE HOURS FROM

Liwa Oasis

Undulating, shimmering dunes and lush date palm groves – expect this and more on an overnight trip (consider camping) to the ancestral land of the Dubai and Abu Dhabi rulers, 340 kilometres south of Dubai; 3.5 hours by car; VisitAbuDhabi.ae

Moreeb Dune

Tel Moreeb, at nearly 300 metres, is one of the world's tallest sand dunes. It's a quiet spot, except during February's Liwa International Festival when supercharged SUVs race each other up this near-vertical wall of sand; 3.5 hours by car; visitabudhabi.ae

SINGAPORE

Central Singapore is packed with skyscrapers, but on the island outskirts, it's a different city. Cultural, natural and gastronomic delights abound, and in nearby Malaysia and Indonesia there's more.

ONE HOUR FROM

Pulau Bintan

On this Indonesian island, explore a floating Chinese village, a Buddhist temple swallowed by a banyan tree or go kitesurfing. One hour by ferry. See Indonesia.travel

TWO HOURS FROM

Johor Bahru

Just over the causeway in Malaysia, spend the day wandering the heritage district, trying local foods and visiting temples and museums; 1.5 hours by bus, longer on weekends; johor.gov.my

Pasir Gudang World Kite Festival

At this annual festival in Pasir Gudang, flyers from all over the world converge to battle in fierce kite contests. Bystanders can fly their own kites and visit the kite museum. Two hours by car; kitefestpasirgudang.com

THREE HOURS FROM

Melaka

Many heritage sites reflect a rich Portuguese, Dutch and British colonial history, and Malay, Chinese and Indian cultural mix, The Baba and Nyonya Heritage Museum is not to be missed. Three hours by bus; melaka.gov.my

Pulau Tioman

Trek through jungles teeming with wildlife to find hidden waterfalls or relax on deserted white beaches fringed by laid-back villages. Go island-hopping, and snorkel or dive reefs and wrecks. Three hours hours by car to Mersing jetty then 1.5 hours by ferry.

TOKYO

Even Japan's incredible capital, Tokyo eventually gives way to forests, mountains and sea. Outside the city, the link to the past is palpable.

ONE HOUR FROM

Kamakura

Kamakura's 12-13th centuries turn as the capital of Japan coincides with the introduction of Zen Buddhism. The city has dozens of Zen temples. Some host public zazen (seated meditation) sessions. One hour by train; city.kamakura.kanagawa.jp/visitkamakura/en/

Oku-Tama

The Oku-Tama is Tokyo's natural playground. Start your five-hour hike in the mountains at Musashi Mitake-jinja (accessed via cable car) through cedar groves to Otake-san – you might get a view of Mt Fuji; 1.5 hours by train; okutama.gr.jp

TWO HOURS FROM

Amazake-chaya

Amazake is a non-alcoholic drink made from fermented rice. At thatched-roof teahouse Amazake-chaya the experts have been making it exactly the same way for nearly four centuries. The shop is on the Old Tokaido Highway. 2.5 hours by train and bus; amasake-chaya.jp

Mt Fuji

Summiting the country's tallest peak is the ultimate Japan bucket-list activity. It's a crowded, minimum five-hour trek to the top, but one that traces the footsteps of pilgrims from centuries past. July–September. 2.5 hours by bus; fujisan-climb.jp

THREE HOURS FROM

Shira-hama Beach

The name means "white-sand beach" and this pretty little stretch of coast is only lightly developed; outside school holiday season and you might have the beach to yourself. Three hours by train and bus.

Echigo-Tsumari Art Field

The Echigo region is all rice paddies and wooden farmhouses. It's also home to an ambitious art project that includes site-specific installations from the likes of James Turrell. Three hours by car; echigo-tsumari.jp/eng

LONDON

Explore medieval villages, feast on fine food and contemporary arts, or wander through villages of rose-clad cottages, all within easy reach of England's bustling capital city.

ONE HOUR FROM

Rye

A pocket of medieval magic, Rye boomed as one of the Cinque Ports, five coastal towns with a royal charter to provide ships to the Crown. It now sits inland several miles from the sea – apart from that, little has changed. Just over an hour by train; visitbritain.com

White Cliffs, Seven Sisters

A slowly disappearing wonder, the undulating white cliffs known as the Seven Sisters, can be explored on a 20-kilometre stretch from Seaford to Eastbourne. Enjoy shingle beaches, rock pooling and birdwatching; 1.5 hours by train; visitbritain.com

TWO HOURS FROM

Moors Valley, New Forest

Moors Valley Country Park offers oodles of family-friendly outdoor adventure, yet all you pay for is parking. Along with two adventure playgrounds, there are cycle trails and a forest play trail. Two hours by car; moors-valley.co.uk

Avebury

At Avebury, the stone circle is so large it encompasses a village. The site is far bigger, older and quieter then Stonehenge and has more of a sense of mystery to it, too. Two hours by car; nationaltrust.org.uk/avebury

THREE HOURS FROM

Ludlow

A medieval market town clustered around a Norman castle, Ludlow's wonky, half-timbered Tudor houses are the backdrop to a foodie enclave. The Ludlow Food Festival is on in September. Three hours by train; foodfestival.co.uk

BARCELONA

In the enchanting areas around Barcelona you'll find more of what you get in the city: world-class art, beautiful beaches, and gourmet food and wine to linger over.

ONE HOUR FROM

Gala Dali Castle

Salvador Dali bought this medieval property in 1968 as a retreat for his wife, Gala. After Gala's death in 1982, she was buried on-site, and Dali moved in for a period. Today, it's a museum. 1.5 hours by car; salvador-dali.org

Besalu

Surrounded by mountains, Besalu is a well-preserved medieval town with an historic Jewish neighbourhood. Stroll around then sip sangria on old stone terraces. Do a day trip or overnight. 1.5 hours by bus or car; spain.info

TWO HOURS FROM

Aiguablava

Considered one of the finest beaches in Catalonia, Aiguablava is a great place to sail, swim, or feast on freshly caught seafood. A touch over 1.5 hours by car; spain.info

Catalonian Pyrenees

In winter the ski slopes of Catalonian Pyrenees are relatively relaxed. La Molina, is a good option for families and beginners; La Masella has more advanced options. Two hours by car; lamolina.cat; masella.com

THREE HOURS FROM

Caldes de Boi

Amid 37 different natural springs, take a spa treatment, soak in the healing baths or hole up at one of the grand hotels. In winter, ski or snowboard at Boi Taull; 3.5 hours by car; caldesdeboi.com

Vall de Boi

This Unesco World Heritage Site consists of eight Romanesque churches and a chapel, spread out across a valley. All were built during the 11th and 12th centuries. Three hours, 20 minutes by car; centreromanic.com

LOS ANGELES

Outside LA, relaxed towns, arty events and unexpected food scenes exemplify the best of California's creative and mellow culture.

ONE HOUR FROM

Huntington Beach

Visit the beach, have a requisite lobster taco, then head to the Rec Room Comedy Club. Headliner friends of the comedian owner often try out new material here. Fifty minutes by car; recroomhb.com

Santa Barbara

History meets art in this Spanish-style beachfront city that has a mission, art museums and famous painters, world-class restaurants and a thriving university. 1.5 hours by car; santabarbara.com

TWO HOURS FROM

Catalina Island

Explore on foot or with a tour, by bike, kayak or golf cart – there's a 20-year waiting list to own a car on the island. Spot Catalina's famous bison, relics of a western shot on here in 1924. 40 minutes by car to the ferry port, then one hour by ferry; catalinachamber.com

Palm Springs

The Palm Springs desert communities cater to retirees, shoppers, spa-lovers, and a thriving gay scene. There's also oasis hiking nearby. Get a 6000-metre head start on Mount San Jacinto from the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. Two hours by car; pstramway.com

THREE HOURS FROM

Tijuana, Mexico

Tijuana has recently morphed from a drinking haven to a sophisticated arts and culture scene, filled with boutique hotels, bistros and shops. Two hours, 40 minutes by car; visitmexico.com

Alabama Hills

Star Trek, Iron Man, Django Unchained, Gladiator, almost every single western ever – when Hollywood goes looking for a desolate, otherworldly landscape, they scout Alabama Hills, just west of Lone Pine. Three hours by car; blm.gov

NEW YORK CITY

New Yorkers know their city is the centre of the universe, but the savviest also know that it is the gateway to a constellation of escapes.

ONE HOUR FROM

Thomas Edison National Historic Park, West Orange, New Jersey

Visit the labs where Edison and his researchers perfected the light bulb by methodically testing 6000 substances and 3000 designs, beginning in the 1870s. One hour by train and bus; nps.gov

Rockaway Beach, Queens, New York

It's a quick subway (or scenic ferry ride) from Manhattan to the break at the white-sand beach off 90th St in the Rockaways. No board? Watch the action from a beachside cafe. One hour by ferry or one hour, 20 minutes by subway.

TWO HOURS FROM

Pizza, New Haven, Connecticut

New Haven is home to a unique and celebrated style of pizza. Some famed purveyors date back decades, such as Frank Pepe (since 1925), and Sally's Apizza (1938). One hour 40 minutes by train; pepespizzeria.com sallysapizza.com

Poughkeepsie, New York

Near Poughkeepsie train station is a former railroad bridge crossing the Hudson, now the world's longest pedestrian bridge, at 2 kilometres and providing breathtaking views. Two hours by train; walkway.org

THREE HOURS FROM

Olana, Hudson, New York

Olana is one of the finest of the Hudson Valley mansions – its owner, acclaimed landscape painter Frederic Church, designed every detail. The interior is hung with many of Church's paintings. Three hours by train; olana.org

WELLINGTON

From New Zealand's compact capital, head north for culinary festivals and vineyards, or south by ferry to one of the country's Great Walks.

ONE HOUR FROM

Kapiti Island

This has been a protected wildlife reserve since 1987. Birdlife is a key attraction – it's home to several species now extinct on the mainland. One hour by car; kapitiisland.com

Southward Car Museum

Regarded as one of the world's best displays of antique and unusual cars, see 400 or so wonderful, historic and often surprising vehicles such as a a Cadillac cabriolet that belonged to 1930s movie star, Marlene Dietrich. One hour by car; southwardcarmuseum.co.nz

Cycle the Vines

Make the journey across the rugged Rimutaka Ranges and combine virtue and vice on a self-guided cycling tour around the vineyards of the Martinborough region. Local tourist information centres can provide maps. One hour, 10 minutes by car; wairarapanz.com

Toast Martinborough

Wellingtonians love to eat and drink, and in mid-November their focus moves from the capital's offerings to this one-day festival held across the nearby Martinborough wine region. One hour ten minutes by car; toastmartinborough.co.nz

TWO HOURS FROM

Cape Palliser

Cape Palliser offers coastal vistas framed by cliffs and black-sand beaches, quiet fishing villages, a seal colony and the Cape Palliser Lighthouse. Lunch at the rustic Lake Ferry Hotel. Two hours by car; wairarapanz.com

THREE HOURS FROM

Queen Charlotte Track

Navigate the stunning Marlborough Sounds by ferry, and then embark on the Queen Charlotte Track, starting near the South Island port of Picton. Mountain biking and kayaking are options along the 70-kilometre route.

Three hours, 40 minutes by ferry; qctrack.co.nz

RIO DE JANEIRO

Close to the Brazilian capital are dazzling-beaches, historic hikes and the site where Amerigo Vespucci 'discovered' South America.

ONE HOUR FROM

Museu de Arte Contemporanea de Niteroi

The Oscar Niemeyer-designed building that houses the collection is a destination in itself but the modern Brazilian art within is equally as impressive. Forty minutes by car; culturaniteroi.com.br

Petropolis

The 'Imperial City', north of Rio includes the stately Sao Pedro de Alcantara cathedral and a museum housed in the one-time palace of a 19th-century emperor. 1.5 hours by car; visitbrasil.com

TWO HOURS FROM

Casa Stefan Zweig

In the 1920s, the Viennese novelist, playwright and journalist Stefan Zweig was one of the most famous writers in the world. He fled to Brazil during WW2. This is a museum dedicated to his legacy. One hour, 40 minutes by car; casastefanzweig.org

Serra dos Orgaos National Park

Featuring massive rocks that jut dramatically into the sky, this is a dream destination for avid rock-climbers and hikers, with waterfalls, well-marked trails and infrastructure for campers. One hour, 40 minutes by car; parnaso.tur.br

THREE HOURS FROM

Ilha Grande

The island is famous for its white sandy beaches – and the absence of both roads and cars. Getting there can be tricky – or you could book a transfer service that covers the entire journey. It's worth the effort. 2.5 hours by bus then one-hour-plus by boat; visitbrasil.com

Paraty distilleries

Paraty is set in the middle of one of Brazil's traditional cachaca-producing regions. Take a distillery tour or indulge at one of Paraty's lively bars, where the tables spill out onto the cobblestoned streets. Four hours by car; paraty.com.br

BUENOS AIRES

From Buenos Aires, explore the rural pampas, the festivals and thriving arts scenes of nearby cities, and then hop on a ferry to Uruguay.

ONE HOUR FROM

Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay

Due to its picturesque cobbled streets and a laid-back vibe, Colonia feels a world away from the bright lights of Buenos Aires glittering across the water. See eight small museums on a single ticket. One hour by boat; turismo.gub.uy

La Plata

neoclassical facade and stained-glass windows of the Museo de La Plata are also worth a look, but head to Casa Curutchet, a house designed by Le Corbusier and his only completed work in Latin America. One hour by car; capbacs.com

TWO HOURS FROM

Laguna de Chascomus

A paved path loops 30 kilometres around the picturesque lake, making for a beautiful bike ride. Other possible pursuits include kitesurfing and windsurfing. The sunsets are spectacular. One hour, 40 minutes by car; argentina.travel

Tomas Jofre

This sleepy rural idyll has become known as a gastronomic hotspot, and on Saturdays and Sundays dozens of restaurants and traditional food stores buzz with diners. Come here on a sunny day and eat your lunch in the open air, beneath the trees. One hour, 50 minutes by car; argentina.travel

THREE HOURS FROM

Carnaval de Gualeguaychu

Colourfully costumed dancers, elaborate floats and resonating drumbeats transform the otherwise quiet town of Gualeguaychu into Argentina's biggest carnival, held every Saturday in January and February. Two hours, 40 minutes by car; argentina.travel

Narbona Wine Lodge, Carmelo, Uruguay

This boutique winery and dairy farm near Carmelo is heaven for wine-lovers and foodies alike. You can cycle the vineyards before enjoying a wine and cheese tasting and more. Stay overnight in the adjoining hotel. Three hours by boat; narbona.com.uy

FIVE ASIAN HISTORIC SITES WITHIN EASY REACH

OLD GOA, INDIA

The grand basilicas that line the sleepy streets of Old Goa are a testament to the ambition of the colonial Portuguese. One hour from Panaji by bus.

WIANG KUM KAM, THAILAND

On the southern limits of Chiang Mai, the ruins of the original city spill out along quiet country lanes. One hour by bicycle.

RIDI VIHARA, SRI LANKA

An easy bus ride from Kandy, peaceful Ridi Vihara was where the silver that paid for the construction of Anuradhapura was mined. Tucked beneath a granite outcrop are cave shrines, shimmering Buddhas, a mini-dagoba (stupa) and South Indian-style temple. Two hours from Kandy by bus; srilanka.travel

KOH KER, CAMBODIA

For a taste of the wonder that greeted the first outsiders to lay eyes on Angkor, travel north to Koh Ker, far from the maddening crowds. Two hours from Siem Reap by car; tourismcambodia.com

IMPERIAL TOMBS, VIETNAM

Within an hour of the city centre, the elabo­rate mausoleums of a string of Vietnamese emperors still drip with imperial grandeur. One hour from Hue by motorcycle; vietnam.travel

FIVE EASY AUSTRALIAN EXCURSIONS

HEIDE MUSEUM OF MODERN ART, BULLEEN, VICTORIA

The former home of artistic couple John and Sunday Reed is now an important art institution, but also home to a beautiful garden and sculpture park hosting market days and events for kids. 42 minutes by car from Melbourne's CBD; heide.com.au

ELIZABETH FARM, ROSE HILL, NSW

Built for wool industry pioneers John and Elizabeth Macarthur in 1793, one of the oldest homes in Australia is a living museum with gardens, activities and a popular tea room. 34 minutes by car from Sydney's CBD; sydneylivingmuseums.com.au

GUILDFORD, WESTERN AUSTRALIA

This National Trust classified town established in the Swan Valley wine region in the early 1800s has colonial buildings, convict history, antique stores, and character-full pubs; 25 minutes by car from Brisbane's CBD; swanvalley.com.au

ST HELENA ISLAND, QUEENSLAND

Five kilometres from the city on the mouth of the river, St Helena was a high security colonial prison. Now, performers re-enact and tell stories of the past with day and night experiences. Ferry across on a catamaran; 30 minutes by boat from Brisbane's CBD; sthelenaisland.com.au

NATIONAL MOTOR MUSEUM, BIRDWOOD, SOUTH AUSTRALIA

This centre for the collection, research, preservation, education and display of Australian road transport history, has a large collection of vehicles and ephemera across the ages. An hour by car from Adelaide's CBD; motor.history.sa.gov.au

JULIETTA JAMESON

Reproduced with permission from Lonely Planet's Three Hours From… 2019, lonelyplanet.com

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