Cycling in cities as a commuter is one thing – but what about when you want to take a cycling holiday?
This guide to the most bike friendly cities on the planet will help you choose where to explore next, by road and by cycle path. It doesn’t have to only be about city biking, either, as we’ve also looked at the chosen cities in context of what you can find in the area around each.
Do you want to explore a new place by bike? City break options to choose from are spread across the world, from Spain and Scandinavia to Australia and the US. You can reach one of the best cities for biking via a short hop from the UK, or enjoy some city cycling as part of a bucket-list trip to the other side of the globe.
Here are five of the best biking cities for taking a cycling holiday.
5 of the most bike friendly cities in the world
Best for city cycling infrastructure
Copenhagen seems to make it into all the “best cycling city” indices which look at a whole range of data, including safety levels, the weather, cycling events and the infrastructure. The fact that the Tour de France Grand Départ 2022 took place in the Danish capital is also a mark of respect for this city’s fine cycling pedigree.
So why is this one of the best cities for cyclists you’ll find anywhere? Well firstly it’s one of the safest locations – for both you and your bike. Good quality roads, low levels of accidents and theft and plenty of places to hire bikes makes this one of the most bike friendly cities in the world.
Almost 50% of Copenhageners reach school, college or work by bike, so a cycling culture is firmly ingrained in this city’s psyche. The 13-kilometre Harbour Circle route is ideal for getting up close to all aspects of city life, from touristy Nyhavn to swimming areas, houseboats, spacious parks and peaceful backwaters.
Other cyclist-friendly features of Copenhagen include plenty of bike hire places, public spaces that include a children’s cycling-themed playground (in Fælledparken) and bridges that were built with bikes in mind. It’s also a great choice if a destination’s eco-friendly credentials are important to you.
Given recent events, following the Tour de France Grand Départ route is appealing – and will also take you past many of the city’s iconic sights. Including Amalienborg Palace, the Marble Church, the Black Diamond library building, Maersk Tower and Tivoli Gardens. You can also sample cycling over Queen Louise’s Bridge for yourself. The latter isn’t only a popular hangout; according to Visit Copenhagen it’s also the busiest street for cycling on the entire planet.
You can explore beyond the city too. Such as when following the Six Forgotten Giants bike route into the suburbs. And if art or wildlife are as much of a thing to you as cycling is, then you’ll love the Nordhavn art route that ends at the Nordhavstippen nature reserve.
Biking in the city is a no-brainer here, though it’s best sampled outside rush hour if you don’t want to share the city streets with a flurry of adult and child cyclists.
When we visited, we noticed how distinctly well-behaved and quiet cyclists were. Do as the locals do and you’ll fit right in.
Best for a pro cycling pedigree
Though Girona isn’t officially a city, it’s certainly a big enough place to be included on this list. When thinking of bike cities across the world it’s always one of the first to spring to mind. Or is that just us?
Girona doesn’t top any charts of cycling infrastructure, but ask why Girona can be the best city for cyclists and you’ll get a roll call of big names in cycling. Christian Meier and Rory Sutherland have cafes here, David Millar has made it his home and a long list of professionals are based in the area.
Add to that charming medieval architecture, glorious landscaped gardens and Roman remains, and you’ll find that Girona is somewhere you can combine history, cycling and Catalonian culture.
So cycling in the city is one option. Then you have the countryside surrounding Girona. That’s home to some of the finest cycling hotels you’ll find anywhere, and is often used for training camps too. Head in any direction and you’ll encounter well-kept roads, considerate drivers and pretty scenery.
Choosing between the best places to cycle beyond the city may be a challenge, however. There’s the coastal Costa Brava routes, epic climbs like Mare de Deu del Mont or circular options such as the Els Angels loop.
The Sant Pere de Rodes Monastery route near Roses town on the Costa Brava is another great bet. Or venture even further from Coll de Banyuls via the L’Alt Emporda region to the Spanish/French border.
If you’re more keen on staying within one of the most bicycle friendly cities on earth, hang around Pont de Pedra during the mornings for your best chance of spotting a pro cyclist. Park de la Devesa in town is also great for families to explore.
Best for city break + biking
Another of the best cities for bicycles can be found not too far from Girona. Though Barcelona is one of the most popular city break destinations in Europe, the region is somewhat overlooked when it comes to cycling holidays. Though it really shouldn’t be!
The weather, foodie scene and culture are all fabulous in this region. You can also cycle past rolling vineyards before sampling the fruits of the local winemakers’ labour during the evening.
The city authorities have been busy in recent years and things like 230km of dedicated cycling lanes see the city moving up the official cycling city indices. In our opinion however, the centre of Barcelona still can’t really be described as a road bike city, but venture just beyond and you’ll be spoiled for choice.
Ride 100 kilometres north from Barcelona and you’ll reach the foothills of the Pyrenees, or head east to Maresme county for decent cycling during all seasons. To the west of Barcelona is the province of Lleida, known for its natural beauty, and to the south you have the olive trees, vineyards and beaches of Costa Daurada.
Will it be coastal plains, El Montseny UNESCO Biosphere or the peaks of Montserrat National Park? If the mountains are what whets your appetite, then the challenging El Turó del Home route is unmissable.
Stay in Calella or Santa Susanna to ride among the gentle, coastal hills of Maresme county, or head west to El Penedès to sample superb wine and experience local gastronomy. El Berguedà county in the north, meanwhile, is good for a dozen or so challenging mountain climbs.
Best for varied landscapes
Of all the most bike friendly cities in the US, San Francisco is among both the best and the most beautiful. While you can cycle within this city by the bay, the real stars of the show are yours to discover when heading outside the city limits to explore places like Tiburon, Sausalito and Marin County.
San Francisco is perhaps not among the most bikeable cities if you’re not a lover of steep ascents, though some flatter and more family-friendly routes do exist. E-bikes are also popular in San Fran!
What’s worth venturing beyond the city for, though, is the sheer variety of landscapes you can encounter. There’s redwood forests, state parks, rural farmland, lakes and marshes as well as the harbour towns, lagoons and breathtaking beaches you might expect.
Though you can expect a few 14% inclines during a ride, plenty of cafes en route make the prospect far more palatable. Marin County is where many San Franciscan cyclists love to go for a spin, and from here you can also access Sonoma County via the local SMART train service.
Amongst the most-recommended routes in the San Francisco area are the Marin Headlands, Stinson Beach, Ocean Beach and San Fran to the Ferries rides. The Tiburon Loop forms part of the latter, and is ideal for those seeking a laid-back route. For more climbing, head for Stinson Beach.
Locals and visitors can park for free at various spots in Marin. Behind Mike’s Bikes in Sausalito is one of these, and this local cycling business also organises weekly summer rides.
Our San Francisco guide shares cycling routes and all you need to know about cycling in the city, Marin County and beyond.
(All photos in this section are credit: Sarah Llewellyn)
Best for coffee, coastline and climbing
Though Melbourne is one of the cycling cities that may be more famous for coffee culture than cycling, Melbourne is not a city to overlook. Coastal routes, climbs among the Dandenong ranges, access to the Surf Coast and regular group rides are among this destination’s biggest draws.
What makes it one of the best cycling cities in the world? Melbourne has plenty of minor roads so you can avoid the freeways, and the roads and cycle paths are generally well maintained. Beyond the Yarra Boulevard suburban route – where you may encounter a flying fox colony – you can venture towards Altona beach to uncover heritage, wildlife and the beautiful Victorian coastline.
Local hotspots include Yarra Boulevard, Beach Road, the Albert Park Grand Prix circuit and the Mount Pleasant Loop. As well as city sights, here you can see local wildlife – including Australia’s iconic kangaroos – plus untouched bushland, tranquil creeks and the peaks of the Dandenongs.
Opt for a Melbourne cycling holiday and you could also follow the iconic State Route 33 – otherwise known as Beach Road. If you have a head for heights and the lungs for a climb, take on four by tackling The Crucifix, or take the Mount Pleasant Loop from Federation Square to spot kangaroos.
If you don’t mind driving 100 kilometres or so from the city and can handle a tough challenge, super steep Mount Baw Baw awaits. With what’s said to be Australia’s steepest sealed road, this isn’t one for the faint-hearted!
(All photos in this section are credit: Chris Grabyn)
Wound any – or all – of these cities make it into your list?
Or do you know a better place for bikes in the city that you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments!
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