Today’s blog comes by way of a guest writer Carlo, the community manager of Cycle Cities , the main website that promotes bicycle tourism in Europe. Carlo offers some great insight into creating your own cycling adventure in Europe.
Cycling gives me the opportunity to cover large areas in a short time, but still offers the intimacy of walking tours. In Paris, London, Rome and many other cities it is quite easy and inexpensive to rent a bicycle or book a tour and hang around to see off the beaten track and the main attractions.
In the last 10 years there has been an increasing number of cyclists in the European capitals as a way to avoid traffic or busy and expensive public transport. From bankers to students, cycling is gaining new supporters every week. New bicycle associations, meet-ups and even office conversations add to the publicity.
The best cycling countries are Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark and Germany. In Amsterdam nearly 40% of all commutes are done by bicycle while Copenhagen boasts a rate of 32%.
Amsterdam is the most bike-friendly city in Europe, a contemporary place renowned for the flowers, Van Gogh and its freedom. It’s like a Venice-to-cycle, along huge parks and small houses with piers and narrow boats. Everywhere you go drivers are very respectful, giving cyclists priority. Train stations have from 50 to 5,000 racks (arriving by train you can see them outside the Amsterdam Central Station) for parking.
You can get a Dutch bicycle from one of the many rental spots. You could do a two hour route including The Royal Palace, The Dam, Anne Frank’s house, Dutch Renaissance style Churches and the Rijksmuseum (stop if you can to see the famous painting by Rembrandt called “The Nightwatch”). Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, you could take a tour that lasts the whole day. Some main tourist areas aren’t so great so focus on the old center, Joordan and the parks.
Moving south to Spain, Barcelona offers great vibes with wonderful weather and the unique atmosphere of a harbor on the Mediterranean sea. Cyclists and skaters come up and down the long beach path where you’ll find nice bars and clubs, a new shining hotel, and many kiosks. If you’re prepared for a steep 15 minute ride, go to Parc Guell, an immense park of vilas with fantastically shaped roofs and unusual pinnacles. From the main terrace you get a great view of the city.
Another really picturesque place is the borough of Barceloneta with interesting restaurants and bars (stop for Paella, a mix of rice, saffron, vegetables and fish, and try the Sangria). The borough of Raval also has narrow streets and amazing graffiti.
Back to London, it’s a big metropolis but easy to cycle. From Piccadilly Circus in the West End to the City, it takes 30 minutes cycling at a leisurely pace. Please remember to cycle on the left hand side and feel relaxed with the traffic as car drivers are used to city couriers (in general the people that will pass you most often). Off the beaten track, suggested places are Hackney, in particular Broadway Market with its nice art shops, pubs and cafeteria. Nearby the Regents Canal is surrounded by relics of the industrial revolution and new development estates. Moreover I suggest Southbank with buskers and the huge London Eye, Westminster with all the royal family and government buildings, Hyde Park (especially Kensington Gardens) and Smithfield Market.
Whenever bicycle tours are not available, or you want to get deeper into one city, you can create your own journey. Rental shops provide maps and locks included in the price of the rental. I have had the opportunity to talk with Rob, the Scottish owner of The London Bicycle Tour Company, about visiting Europe by bike and sharing his passion with the needs of the travelers. Now many events and services are available and internet is full of resources for planning great holidays!
Some practical advice for bicycle services in Europe:
Cycle Cities > partnership of tour operators – bike hire in Europe
Critical Mass > Directory of Critical Mass groups with usually monthly meetup