Want to find a fresh slant on a favourite destination? Put a bit of a buzz into your city break? Sarah Barrell has some adventurous suggestions...

1. Hill hiking in Hong Kong

Within striding distance of its urban north shore, Hong Kong Island has a variety of treks on offer, from gentle hill walks to more strenuous climbs. An easy hike from the upper Peak Tram station leaves the panorama-photographing tourists behind for the wooded hillsides above Pokfulam Reservoir. A wilder stretch is the trail through the Tai Tam Reservoir along the Dragon's Back in Shek O Country Park. Walk the peaks of this ridge running the length of the D'Aguilar Peninsula in the island's south-east corner for spectacular views of Clear Water Bay and the South China Sea, plus plenty of al-fresco beach restaurants to recover in at the foot of the mountain. Further afield, take a 20-minute boat ride to Lantau Island and you can trek to a monastery. The neighbouring island of Poi Toi offers more rugged scenery. So does the MacLehose Trail in New Territories. Plan for a weekday to avoid the increasing number of trek-happy locals.

Why go? To get a taste of rural China within reach of its most Western metropolis.

Further information: www.discoverhongkong.com/eng/touring/hkwalks

2. Ice swimming in Helsinki

On the island of Lauttasaari, a 20-minute bus ride from downtown Helsinki, lies the headquarters of the Finnish Sauna Society - a pretty, clapboard cabin in the tiny settlement of Vaskiniemi, on the island's south shore.

This private cultural association was founded in 1937 to celebrate the national sweat bath, and it offers visitors the chance to experience a real wood savusaunas (smoke sauna) with a dive into the icy Baltic afterwards. A suicidal or life-affirming experience? It's one of those things you won't know until you've tried, but there is a lovely open fire next to which you can recuperate afterwards. And when your vision returns to normal, there are some pretty splendid views through the woods across a postcard-perfect wintry sea inlet, dotted with snowy islands.

Why go? To breath some new life into your Scandinavian city break.

Further information: Check out the Finnish Sauna Society (00 358 96 860 5622; sauna.fi). Pre-booking is essential.

3. White-water raft in Montreal

Ride the rapids in the heart of downtown Montreal. A number of local operators will offer white-water fanatics a fix, with both rafting and jet-boat tours of the Lachine canal's pretty fearsome rapids. Jet boats, thanks to their clever "bottomless" design, mean that you can experience serious rapids without doing more than sitting there - and ducking when several tons of water ploughs into the boat from above your head. More serious paddlers can take to the water in traditional white-water inflatable rafts. No experience is necessary but a change of clothes is a must.

Why go? To experience world-class rapids in a world-class city.

Further information: Les Descentes sur le Saint-Laurent (001 514 767 2230; www.raftingmontreal.com), or Saute Mouchons (001 514 284 9607; www.jetboatingmon treal.com) both offer rapids tours.

4. Riding in Rio's back country

Leave the surf behind for the mountains of Rio de Janeiro's White Rock State Park, a 12,500-hectare protected area within easy reach of the city. Take one of the new daily horseback tours into this wild mountain range just 50 minutes from Copacabana. Open to most levels of ability, a six-hour ride takes you through the last remaining natural South Atlantic rainforest. Following long dirt tracks, you ride up into the mountains past a waterfall to a clear spring pool where you pause for a typical Brazilian picnic lunch and a swim before heading back to the ranch town of Vargem Grande.

Why go? To discover just how much more there is to Brazil than beaches.

Further information: Tours cost from $85 (£50), including transfers and lunch, with Rio Campestre (00 55 21 3417 0785).

5. Snow sports in Las Vegas

Dubai doesn't have the monopoly on ski resorts in improbable desert settings. Just 47 miles from the Vegas strip you can go snowboarding and skiing - and unlike Dubai this is a real mountain resort. The sales pitch for this 2,594m high destination in the Nevada Desert is "real snow, real close". Open from November to April, the resort has 11 runs, the highest of which is at the pretty dizzying altitude of 2,838m, and caters for everyone from beginners to advanced (most geared to intermediate boarders and skiers), plus a half-pipe and terrain park for boarders. There is also a lodge and restaurants for those who have had enough neon and want to spend the night away from the Vegas casinos.

Why go? To give yourself a break from the slot machines.

Further information: Ski Las Vegas (001 702 385 2754; www.skilasvegas.com).

6. Discover deepest Montenegro

Montenegro may have the world's fastest developing tourist industry, but eschew the booming coast and hip resorts like Sveti Stefan for a tour of the interior and you'll likely be in glorious solitude. Within easy day-tripping reach of the coast is Tara Canyon, second only to the Grand Canyon in depth. Located in the Durmitor National Park, the Tara Canyon is the most dramatic example of where ice has carved out mountains and valleys, with 18 lakes dotted along the Durmitor Range alone. East of the old capital of Cetinje, climbing down from the mountains is Skadar, the largest lake in the Balkans, part of a 44,000-hectare nature reserve dotted with tiny islands that cross the border into Albania.

Why go? To discover the hidden treats that lie beyond the coastal resorts.

Further information: Holiday Options (0870 420 8372, www.holidayoptions.co.uk) offers tailor-made tours of Montenegro, including excursions into the interior.

7. Canal biking in New York

Bike, hike or rent an old canal boat to navigate New York State's canal system. Travel across the state using the multi-purpose trails that line New York's scenic 500-mile canal system. More than 120 miles of these historic waterside trails will be developed in coming years and there are already several sections to choose from. The Hudson-Mohawk and Glen Falls trails, in the Capital-Saratoga region - which lies three hours' north of Manhattan by road or rail - follows the last stretch of New York's original 1820s canal system. Travelling further east, the Old Erie Canal State Park and Erie Canal Heritage Trail offer another 100 miles of canal-side trails and interconnected waterways. If you want to make a weekend of it you can always hire your own boat: canal boats sleep six to eight people and can be piloted after a few hours of instruction.

Why go? To explore some big country within easy day-tripping reach of the Big Apple.

Further information: The waterway system traditionally operates from May to September. Contact New York State Tourism (001 518 474 4116; www.iloveny.com)

8. See Tibet - in the South of France

The "Train des Pignes" (pinecone train) makes twice-daily trips along narrow-gauge rails from the south-eastern French city of Nice into the wild Hautes Provence region, calling at several mountain towns on its way. The final destination, a couple of hours away, is Digne-le-Bain, a place that the 19th-century French explorer and writer Alexandra David-Neel made her home because it brought to mind her beloved Tibet. This tiny rural town has its own monastery, and has even been graced with a visit from the Dalai Lama. It is replete with David-Neel's travel notebooks, charmingly antiquated luggage and various treasures she collected during her travels in the East - David-Neel was the first European woman to explore the forbidden (to foreigners) Tibetan city of Lhasa. The town is also home to the Réserve Géologique des Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, a huge protected area packed with fossils and with its own geological museum.

Why go? To replace the hum of the Riviera with the ohm of prayer wheels in motion.

Further information: Chemins de Fer de Provence (00 33 49 70 38 080; www.trainprovence.com).

9. Trek to a Turkish ghost town

Inland from the tourist-thronged resorts of Marmaris and Dalaman in southern Turkey, hike in the Taurus Mountains along the acclaimed Lycian Way, taking a detour through Kaya, one of Turkey's "ghost towns". After the 1923 Greco-Turkish war, ethnic-Greek residents of Turkey were " repatriated", leaving behind them the detritus of several generations of Turkish life. In recent years, pioneering Europeans have set up home in the old stone cottages of this abandoned village, which can be rented as holiday accommodation. This is a great base from which to walk the 2,000 metre-high mountain paths which form part of the Lycian Way, a 509km footpath affording spectacular views of the Turquoise Coast.

Why go? To see backcountry Turkey without straying too far from the tourist-friendly coast.

Further information: lycianway.com. Turkish Tourist Office (0207-839 7778; gototurkey.co.uk). Cottage rental in Kaya village through Tapestry Holidays (020-8235 7800; tapestryholidays.com).

10. Surf school in Lisbon

Some of the best waves Europe has to offer are within striking distance of the Portuguese capital, Lisbon. Ribeira d'Ilhas, about 40 minutes west of the city, is a small beach town with huge sea cliffs and big waves that attract a very cool surf crowd from the capital. This traditional fishing village has great seafood restaurants, surf shops and cafes and a high quota of serious professional surfers. An international surf championship is held here every September and intermediate surfers upwards can get into the water - though this is not a place for beginners to dip their toes. Closer to the city, towards Cascais and Guincho, the coast offers perfect conditions for beginners. The most popular area with surfers is south of Caparica town, towards Guincho, where a lagoon swept with stiff sea breezes is on hand if the coast gets too wild.

Why go? To ride some of the best waves in Europe.

Further information: There are a number of surf schools dotted along the coast, one of which is Aerial (00 351 917 890 036; aerial-pt.com). It offers hire of windsurf and surf equipment and lessons at various locations along the coast.

11. The best bike ride - it's a jungle out there

Hilly St Lucia offers near-perfect mountain-biking terrain. From jungle paths descending to deserted beaches, to uphill climbs through rainforest, St Lucia is wild, empty and begging to be cycled. You can peddle from the Caribbean to the Atlantic coasts along former sugar-cane transport trails. And all this within limping distance of a hotel. Bike

St Lucia (001 758 457 1400; bikestlucia.com) charges $89 (£48) a day, including lunch and use of snorkels; Island Bike Hikes (001 758 458 0908; cyclestlucia.com) from $58.

12. The best scooter trip - the real Roman holiday

See the Eternal City from the back of a vintage Vespa or Lambretta: these chauffeur-driven tours take in the sights of Rome by day or night, leaving you free to gawp in pillion position like Audrey Hepburn in the film Roman Holiday. Tours last four hours with stops for photos and posing at cafes, and include a circuit of the city that takes in the principal locations from the 1953 movie. Tours cost from €186 (£100) per person for four hours, chauffeured by an English-speaking guide. Contact: happyrent.com.