16 of the world’s best cities for cycling (plus one island)
1. Washington, DC, United States
Washington, DC is recognized as a Bicycle Friendly Community by the League of American Bicyclists. The city and surrounding regions of Arlington, Alexandria, Rockville, and Bethesda, all boast an impressive network of off-street trails, on-street bike lanes, and separated cycle tracks. Even Pennsylvania Avenue has a bike lane.
“Using DC’s Capital bikeshare program was the perfect way to get around the city and see all the sites,” Katie, a fellow New York Bike Commuter told me, “I really enjoyed my time there.”
2. Ljubljana, Slovenia
Slovenia is a small country, about the size of New Jersey, and its compact capital city, Ljubljana, is leading a revolutionary transportation charge. A few years ago, while wandering the streets along the Ljublanica River, I talked with some of the locals about biking in the city. I learned that, back in the 1960s, architect Edvard Ravnikar wrote a couple articles about the benefits of biking infrastructure. These articles spurred a team of planners and engineers to head to Copenhagen to study the existing cycle tracks. Afterwards, they returned to start work on Ljubljana’s own Copenhagen-style cycling paths.
The city continues to build on this legacy and recently completed a new bike path through Tivoli City Park. All the locals I talked with told me riding a bike in Ljubljana was the absolute best way to get around.
“You’ve seen the billboard by the Dragon Bridge, right?” local resident, Katarina, asked me. “The one that says, ‘You are not stuck in traffic. You are traffic.’ That’s the motto many of us live by.”
3. Barcelona, Spain
Anyone who knows me knows that I am irrevocably in love with Barcelona. The city’s bike share program, Bicing, has more than 120,000 local subscribers and the streets are very well marked with their easy to follow bike lanes. Although visitors to the city cannot use the Bicing system, there are many other opportunities for rentals, notably Biciclot for city-type bikes and Terra Diversions for high-end road bikes.
Right outside Barcelona’s doorstep are the mountains. During one of my stays in the city, I met up with a local road cycling group on a summer evening in August. I was the only woman in a group of twelve men, only two of whom were Spanish. The guys led me north and east out of the city on what easily became one of my most favorite rides ever. In 75 kilometers, we did four climbs: La Vallensana, La Conreria, Ronda de Dalt, and Carretera de l’Arrabassada. The sun was going down as we started the last climb and I was tired. I lost sight of the guys about a third of the way up and worried briefly about not having any lights on my bike and how I would get home if they didn’t wait. “There’s always Google,” I thought to myself and pushed on.
As I neared the top, I was met with a beautiful sunset and the silhouettes of 12 guys waiting patiently for me. I drank some water and waved them to start.
“Its all downhill from here!” somebody yelled as we spilled over the crest to the other side.
And indeed, it was. A glorious fast descent all the way back to the center of town, laughing and yelling the entire way. Perfection.
4. New York City, United States
I know New York is not generally seen as a ‘best’ city to bike in, but it’s my home and I bike here most every day. While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend taking off into traffic if you’re not used to cycling in a busy metropolis, NYC does have some places that are quite safe and serene to do so. One is Central Park, which is mostly car-free. The other is the West Side Bike Path, which runs pretty much the entire length of the island along the Hudson.
We also have the Second and First Avenue obstacle courses, I mean bike paths, and if you’re not in an especially big hurry, cycling across the Brooklyn Bridge at least once is a must.
If you’re looking for a more intense ride, head out of the city over the George Washington Bridge (there’s a bike lane) to River Road in the Palisades Park. Take a left onto the sidewalk after the bridge and continue downhill past the security building. At the bottom of the hill, take a right onto River Road. If the gate is down, simply go around it. River Road is usually car free and offers a nice short-ish two-kilometer climb and some good rollers.
5. Copenhagen, Denmark
With bike lanes on virtually every street, Copenhagen is made for cycling. A third of Copenhageners commute to work via two wheels. There is an incredibly diverse mixture of people on bikes in the city from businessmen to nuns to students to women in flowing dresses and high heels. I once asked a Danish man I met in a bar why so many of his countrymen chose cycling as a way to exercise.
“Exercise,” he scoffed, “Most Danes don’t consider cycling exercise. It’s an efficient way to get around.”
6. Minneapolis, United States
As of 2015, Minneapolis had 129 miles of on street bikeways and 97 miles of off-street bikeways. The city was awarded the Gold Level Bicycle Friendly Community Award from the League of American Bicyclists.
The Grand Rounds National Scenic Byway is a 50-mile cycling loop around the city that’s part of the Minneapolis park system and maintained by the Parks and Recreation Board — which also maintains the city’s 197 parks. The city also created some biking infrastructure and added more cycling trails that connect back to the Grand Rounds. And the Grand Rounds isn’t the only place to cycle in Minneapolis, the city actually has a very extensive trail network, many of which is converted railway. With everything together, the city’s created aT safe and efficient freeway network just for bikes.
7. Kortrijk, Belgium
Last spring, I traveled to Belgium to watch the Spring Classic Bike Races, The Tour of Flanders and Paris Roubaix. While there, I had the pleasure of cycling around Kortrijk. Most of Kortrijk is pretty flat, though there are cobbles. But cobbles are one of the reasons to ride in Belgium, and they’re unavoidable.
Kortrijk, in Eastern Flanders, is on one of Belgium’s waterways, most of which you can cycle alongside on a car-free path. Kortrijk is part of the Gent ring on the Leie/Lys River. The route between Kortrijk and Deinze is 26 lovely kilometers of countryside.
8. Tromso, Norway
Tromso offers many opportunities for short, long, and MTB (mountain) bike tours. Tromso Outdoors leads a guided tour through downtown Tromso, over the Tromsoysund Bridge to the cable car that takes you up to Storsteinen. From there, you ride up the mountain, down the valley, and finally back into town. This tour is good for people with at least some experience mountain biking as the trails do require a bit of technical skill to navigate.
Biking is also a common method of commuting in Tromso, even during the dark winter months. People ride fat tire or mountain bikes equipped with lights.
9. Helsinki, Finland
Helsinki has an excellent bike lane network that includes separate bike lanes on all its main routes, along the coastline, and in the recreational parks.
One of the best places to cycle in the city is along the ‘Baana’ from Kiasma to Ruocholahti. Baana is a cycling and pedestrian path built along a stretch of unused railway line. Baana forms part of a 1,200-kilometer network of paths through Helsinki that makes it easy to access all parts of the city on two wheels.
10. Seville, Spain
Cycling has increased dramatically in Seville over recent years. Much of that has to do with the addition of a very ambitious network of completely segregated cycling lanes – meaning lanes separated by a physical border such as a curb or fence. Segregation involves removing space from another group, usually motorists, and it’s often hard to get the plans through all the proper channels. But the project succeeded in Seville and the average number of bikes used daily in the city rose from 6,000 to 70,000 in a year.
11. Nice, France
Last June, I biked the length of France from Saint Malo to Nice. France is a cyclists’ paradise with well kept smooth paved roads and courteous motorists that wait patiently to pass on narrow winding mountain roads. I loved all the cities we cycled through but Nice was perhaps my favorite.
Starting on the green path that runs the length of the city’s coastline, you can pedal for hours in either direction and visit idyllic beach resorts like Menton and Saint Raphael. Nice also has a bikeshare program, Velobleu, that you can easily register for as a visitor at any one of the kiosks. On my last night in Nice, I had dinner with the cycling gang about 10 to 12 kilometers from our hotel. After dinner, we all rented Velobleus and went racing down the boardwalk along the sea back to the hotel, a truly fitting end to an epic trip.
12. Cozumel, Mexico
The cycling community in Cozumel is very serious and super friendly.
“Biking there was a breath of fresh air,” my friend Steven and fellow NYC cyclist told me. “Everywhere my wife and I went on two wheels we were greeted with kindness. If you were on a bike, you were instantly a part of the family.”
You can ride along a completely car-free road along the coast. The only thing you need to watch out for are the crazy intense winds that come blowing in from the ocean.
13. Amsterdam, The Netherlands
You can’t really write an article about the best cities in the world for cycling without including at least one city in the Netherlands. With more than 800,000 bikes, Amsterdam has more bikes than people. A common Amsterdam street scene includes a vast array of cyclists; people heading to work, people carrying groceries and supplies and often a seemingly impossible load of children. There are 10,000 bike parking spots around Amsterdam Central Station and more than 200,000 bike racks in the city.
Recently, I trekked through the Borneo jungle with a couple Brits and a Dutchman. One day during lunch, I rambled on to Steef, the Dutchman, about cycling and commuting by bike and what a perfect mode of transport the bicycle was.
Steef stared back at me. “You don’t need to convince me about the benefits of cycling,” he said, “I am Dutch, you know.”
14. Glasgow, United Kingdom
Glasgow is home to the breathtaking Red Tunnel that leads from Finnieston to Hydro. The tunnel is car-free and offers an exhilarating ascent and descent. Glasgow has more than 300 kilometers of cycle ways as well as a flat traffic-free route that runs from the city, through the quintessential Scottish countryside to the canal side town of Kirkintilloch.
All of Glasgow’s must see sites, including the Gallery of Modern Art, the Riverside Museum, the Tall Ship and the Lighthouse, are easily accessible by bike and within five minutes of a Nextbike station. (Nextbike is the city’s bike-share program.)
15. Berlin, Germany
Berlin has a great network of bike trails and it’s expanding. Riders can take their bikes on to public transit and the S-bahn even has special seats for cyclists. The streets are also exceptionally wide, most of the flats have bike parking, and drivers generally seem to expect cyclists.
“Biking there I was really impressed to notice how carefully the drivers checked for cyclists before making a turn. It was quite refreshing and unexpected,” said Christine, a recent US expat who now lives in Germany.
16. Ohrid, Macedonia
Ohrid is by no means a well-known cycling destination. I include it here simply because it was there that I experienced one of my most memorable rides.
Just outside of Ohrid, is Mount Galicica that rises up from the banks of Lake Ohrid. It’s a long, hard climb with grades often in the double digits. One day a few years ago in November, I decided to rent a road bike to ride out of the city and up the mountain. The bike rental shop turned out to be a garage at the end of a residential driveway. And the young man who rented me the bike turned out to be Jovan, a national youth cycling champion of Macedonia.
“Are you sure you can make it to the top and back before it gets dark?” he asked. “You know the sun goes down by 4:30 and it’s not too safe to cycle around here in the dark.”
“I think so,” I said. Because I did think so. Jovan sized me up.
“Fine,” he said, “I’m going with you.”
The ride was spectacular, the views worth it, and just as hard as Jovan said it would be. We rolled back into town at precisely 16:32, laughing and chasing the setting sun.
17. Mallorca, Spain
Yes, Mallorca is an island, not a city but it is indeed a cyclist’s paradise. The pros train there every year, and with good reason. The island’s roads are often more populated by bikes than cars. You can stay at a hotel dedicated to cyclists and each day ride out a to a different and challenging iconic climb. One of the best rides on the island is out to the lighthouse and up Cap Formentor. At the top, you’ll be met by some overly friendly mountain goats that balance on the stone railings and beg for snacks.