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When you're planning a city vacation, it's easy to fall back on perennial favorites like New York or Los Angeles. They offer activities galore, a wealth of shopping and culture, and high-end dining, but bigger isn't always better. Traffic and crowds make exercising outdoors a challenge, and the budget-busting prices mean this might be your only vacation for a while. The next time you need an urban fix, consider heading to a smaller but still action-packed locale where you can be active and find top restaurants and museums. To downsize your vacation price tag, but not your expectations, check out these five up-and-coming spots.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: A True River City

Sitting at the confluence of the Ohio, Allegheny, and Monongahela Rivers, the 'Burgh boasts more bridges than Venice, Italy. To see a dozen-plus of them, rent a canoe or kayak at Kayak Pittsburgh (412-255-0564), under the Sixth Street Bridge, then paddle by such landmarks as Heinz Field, home of the Pittsburgh Steelers, or the impressive Smithfield Street Bridge. If your oar-handling skills are rusty, stay on land and work up a sweat by hiking or biking along the Great Allegheny Passage, a 150-mile crushed-limestone path that starts in Pittsburgh and meanders all the way to Cumberland, Maryland. (There are a few side trails but no loops, so plan accordingly.) If you're up for a drive, head an hour east on the Pennsylvania Turnpike to the Laurel Highlands. The three-county region, home to Pennsylvania's highest mountain (3,213-foot Mt. Davis), offers hiking, kayaking, biking, rock climbing, horseback riding, and even white-water rafting.

See the City
Pop-art lovers won't want to miss the Andy Warhol Museum (warhol.org), filled with more than 8,000 pieces of the contemporary artist's work. A 10-minute walk or five minute cab ride northeast takes you to the Strip District, a 10-block shopping area where you can find everything from seafood (Wholey's Market has the freshest around) to Oriental rugs.

Where to Stay
The Morning Glory Inn (from $135; gloryinn.com), a Victorian townhouse situated in Pittsburgh's South Side neighborhood, features a lush courtyard and complimentary bikes, which you can borrow to tour local sites.

 

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