Staying Fit While Traveling - Europe

Having spent most of the last four years traveling, I learned that maintaining a fitness regiment while on the road requires commitment and planning. I am a runner, which also happens to be a great way to exercise while traveling, because you don't need any equipment, other than running shoes. Running also allows you the chance to move about a city the way locals would. Rather than just hitting the tourist destinations, you get to see what everyday life is like in the place you're visiting. I explored some pretty amazing parks, coastlines, and palaces on my runs in Europe. If you are planning a trip to any of the following cities, I hope this helps you maintain your routine and enjoy some sights that are not typically part of the tourist circuit.

We started our trip in London where our schedule was pretty packed. I was able to get to Hyde Park once on an unusually sunny Sunday. If you are staying in or near central London, Hyde Park is easily accessible via public transport, or you can run to the park. Even if you are not into running, Hyde Park is worth a visit. Grab some friends and a picnic or take a paddle boat out on the Serpentine. Regents Park is another great place for a run and you get to experience the lovely English Gardens. London weather might not always be conducive for outdoor activities, so when it is you better take full advantage! 

 English Gardens at Regents Park in London

English Gardens at Regents Park in London

Madrid has one of my favorite parks for running - El Retiro. I jogged the mile from our hostel near Plaza del Sol to the park and found myself right at home among many runners in a green leafy oasis. There is a worn path along the perimeter of the park where most of the runners were. I did 2 loops and estimated it was about 3 miles. There are plenty of grassy areas for stretching or cross-training exercises. There is even a lake in the park where you can rent row boats for an upper body workout.

It's no surprise that Barcelona is great for outdoor activities in September. From La Rambla head towards Barceloneta beach and then follow the boardwalk to the North as far as your legs will carry you. The further you go from La Rambla, the less crowded it gets and the more runners you will likely encounter.  I suggest going in the early morning or early evening to avoid some of the beach crowds and the heat. There is also an outdoor workout along the boardwalk area with basic equipment where you can do pull ups, dips, sit ups, etc.

Paris is a sprawling city with lots of beautiful architecture, art, and some elegant historical parks. Our hostel was only 1/2 mile from the beautiful 19th-century Parc des Buttes-Chaumont. This is a great place to explore on a run, go for a walk, or take a picnic. There is a lake with a waterfall and impressive stone bridges, and even a hilltop temple modeled after the ancient Roman Temple of Sybil. You'll get a great hill workout here too. If you are staying in or near the 10th arrondisment, you should definitely visit this park. 

While Paris has incredible cuisine, Florence is my personal favorite European city for food - gelato, pizza, meatballs, cannoli - everything tastes amazing in Florence! The secret is out because, Florence seems to be more and more crowded each time I visit. It would be difficult to run in or around the city center due to the crowds unless you wake up super early. I discovered a park just west of the city center - Le Cascine, perfect for escaping the throngs of tourists. From the historic center head towards the river and without crossing, follow it west for about 1.2 miles. As you approach the park the sidewalk ends and you need to cross a pedestrian bridge to your right to get to the park. There were mostly locals jogging, biking, and roller blading so it feels a world away from the crowds around the Duomo. There are several options to make a loop of the park on paved or dirt paths. One loop is about 3 miles. There are plenty of open grassy spaces in this park as well.

Vienna wins the award for most unique and palatial running space. You can run in the Schönbrunn Palace Gardens. You do not need a ticket to enter the palace to enter the gardens (which I found more impressive than the palace interior). Enter the gardens from the front gate of the Palace, continuing around to the right side and behind the palace, or you can enter the gardens directly from from the Eastern entrance. Part of The Sound of Music was filmed here, so I suggest downloading the soundtrack to make your run a bit more whimsical. There are ornate shrubs and flowers, Roman statues and marble fountains. There is a hill directly opposite the palace from which you can get a nice view of the city. If you get to the top of the hill, rather than returning back down the middle path, I suggest veering towards the Western entrance and finding some of the forest trails to meander your way back down the hill. Be sure to check the Park hours which change seasonally before heading out for your run.

 Schönbrunn Palace Gardens Vienna, Austria

Schönbrunn Palace Gardens Vienna, Austria

There was a marathon in Budapest during our visit in mid October. I ran in Széchenyi-sziget Park where the race was finishing. While the park was rather small for a long run, my jog from our hostel in the Jewish Quarter to the park was quite nice. It probably helped that some of the traffic and smog was diminished due to car traffic being limited for the marathon. After your run you shouldn't miss soaking in the thermal baths located in the park or at Gellért Baths across the river in Buda.

Berlin is one of the easiest cities in Europe for running, walking, or biking. Our hostel was located in Mitte which is dotted with quaint parks, but nothing large enough for a long distance run. I ended up running along the sidewalks through Mitte towards the Spree, where I joined a paved pedestrian path that follows the river towards the Central Train Station. I followed this path until just before the train station (opposite side of the Spree), when I climbed the stairs near the Bundestag and headed towards Tiergarten Park. Tiergarten is an expansive shady park right in the middle of central Berlin. From Mitte to roughly the middle of Tiergarten and back was about 6 miles.

Brussels was another favorite running destination for me, especially on the weekend when the city is less crowded and many shops are closed. I ran down Koningsstraat to Brussels Park, passed through the park and continued down Wetstraat towards Cinquantenaire Park. Cinquantenaire is a large park with a path around the 1.4 mile perimeter. I never tried this route on a weekday, but I suspect, given the proximity to EU Headquarters, there may be a prohibitive amount of pedestrian traffic during the week. Definitely worth a visit during the weekend. 

 Cinquantenaire Park, Brussels

Cinquantenaire Park, Brussels

Amsterdam is another pedestrian friendly city, as long as you respect the bike lanes! The Dutch enjoy being outside, no matter the weather, and they are also one of the more fitness oriented cultures in Europe. During my first visit to Amsterdam I stayed right by Vondelpark which was a great place for running close to the Rijksmusem and Van Gogh Museums. The loop around the park is about 2 miles. Last fall we stayed at the new Generator Hostel which backs up to Oosterpark which is smaller but easily accessible for a shorter run or cross-training workout. 

 Vondelpark in early November

Vondelpark in early November

I use the app Strava to map my runs and find other common running routes in new places I visit. Its free and works everywhere, as long as you have a good international data plan. 

Weekend in Switzerland

A day in Paris' 10th arrondissement