Some cities are simply suited for cyclists. Here are my favourite places to explore on two wheels
1. Copenhagen, Denmark
The winner of European Green City for 2014, Copenhagen is laid out brilliantly to facilitate cyclists. Its goal is to have 50% of people cycling to their place of work or education by 2015 (35% did so in 2010), helping the city reach an ambitious goal of being CO2 neutral by 2025.
For visitors there are cheap bicycle rental ports across the city for a casual ride but there are also schemes for serious cyclists. GoBike, for example, strategically places docking stations at metro stations for commuters and visitors alike. These bikes can be reserved via smartphone for forward-planners and also include a touch screen electrical pad for log-in and GPS navigation.
2. Budapest, Hungary
Campaigns promoting cycling will soon be followed by improved paths and facilities in the Hungarian capital. Guided tours are becoming a popular way to see the city. A three hour tour with a local guide, visiting historical points of interest on both sides of the Danube River, costs €24.
An annual mass bike-ride on Earth Day (22 April) is run by a group called Critical Mass, founded originally in San Francisco in 1992 to promote cycling. Hungary’s branch runs the most successful events each year with its goals being, “to raise awareness on the benefits of bicycling and other alternative means of transportation, to assert cyclists’ right to the road, and to celebrate cycling in general.”
Last year an impressive 80,000 people joined in the bike ride around Budapest alone.
3. Amsterdam, Netherlands
Probably the most famous cycling city in the world. There are about 880,000 bicycles in a city of 800,000 people and 32% of all trips in Amsterdam are made on bikes while only 22% are taken in cars. City officials are even planning on creating more bike-parking facilities and cycling services to try and stop overcrowding and bicycle traffic jams.
The country’s typically flat terrain means that cycling for pleasure is rarely an uphill struggle. There are dozens of cycle tours available from historical sightseeing to countryside ‘windmill and tulips’ tranquil tour. The Dutch seem to be leading the way as cities such as Utrecht and Eindhoven are also known for their cycling facilities.
4. Ghent, Belgium
Many Flemish cities are taking their cue from across the Dutch border and becoming increasingly cycle friendly. In Ghent, there are cycle paths running through and around all of the city; perhaps more importantly cyclists always have right of way. Burn off those freshly baked waffles and luxurious Belgian chocolates with a riverside ride.
Cities with tramways often boast great cycling infrastructures too, and Ghent proves this rule, making the city centre much more peaceful with the absence of cars. Visitors can rent a bike from €6.50 per half-day. Bike rental by month is also available, for those staying longer, from around €30.
It’s not only a cheap but also easy to get around this cosy, compact city.
5. Bordeaux, France
This picturesque, snug city is becoming increasingly popular with cyclists. The growing profile of their bike scheme, VCub, is drawing in tourists as well as providing citizens with a green alternative to their daily commute.
The city has a network of 1,545 bikes across 139 docking stations that are available all-day every-day. Bikes are available to rent from only €5 for a week so it’s fast becoming the cheapest and greenest method of transport in the south-western French city. As with most cycling cities, Bordeaux offers various bike tours but the city is so pretty sometimes it’s nice to discover it on your own, parking up the bike when somewhere catches your eye.
6. Malmö, Sweden
As Sweden’s third-largest city passes on its Eurovision hosting duties to Denmark, in return Malmö receives some pedal-power inspiration from the Danes. Committing €47 million to boosting bicycle use over the next seven years, they have launched campaigns against overusing cars (“No Ridiculous Car Trips”) as well as promoting helmet use. They’ve even gone as cyclist-friendly as to name their cycle paths for ease of GPS planning. Great for seaside cycle trips as well as city breaks.
7. Dublin, Ireland
Setting an example for its nearby British neighbours, this city is pushing against urbanisation by developing a large-scale bicycle infrastructure. Soak up some of that famous Irish culture and indulge in a history or museum tour of the city. If you fancy it, the coast is only 20 minutes away so get on your bicicleta for a sea breeze.
Lock up your bike for the night, find a pub or gig and – maybe after a Guinness or two – get involved in a merry jig. They also have pedicabs (think European rickshaws) if you don’t fancy doing your own peddling. Plenty of 30km/hour zones and cycle paths in the city combine ‘to make Dublin the safest EU capital’.
8. Prague, Czech Republic
Although Eastern Europe usually sits in the shadow of its Western counterpart when it comes to a good cycling reputation, Prague has been working to make itself a cycling city since 2003. Cycling paths are currently improving as they aim to have a comprehensive network of over 1,000km of cycling infrastructure.
Prague is a very pretty, very serene city by day full of historical sites. What better way to get from the Old Town Square to the King Charles Bridge than by a lazy bike ride through the cobbled streets?
9. Oxford, England
Oxford is a compact, historical town in south England which provides picturesque bike rides a-plenty. The aim of the local council is to increase the proportion of journeys made by bicycle to 20% by 2021. As well as the designated cycle paths in the city centre and along the River Thames, there are also cycle routes in the surrounding countryside for cycling day trips.
One of the most popular in the county is the Phoenix Trail which traverses through The Chilterns, some of Britain’s most beautiful countryside, and has spots to settle down every 500m or so. Alternatively, tick off every college (from fairytale Wadham College to Christchurch College, which featured in the Harry Potter films) and enjoy the city from your saddle.
Bicycles can be rented across the city centre for around £25-45 per week, or £10 per day, and many places also offer cycle tour packages.