Best Cities to See from a Bicycle Seat

Here are our top cities for seeing the sites on two wheels and a handlebar.
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A popular city scene in Amsterdam, Netherlands
A popular city scene in Amsterdam, Netherlands  (iStockphoto/Thinkstock)

There are many different ways for travelers to explore a city, but for my money, viewing the sights from atop a bicycle seat trumps them all. It’s more leisurely than taking a cab or bus and allows you the flexibility to speed up, slow down, and gain access to places that are otherwise difficult to reach, like a café or shop tucked away down a narrow alley. At the same time, biking makes it easy to follow your own interests. As it’s significantly faster than walking, riding a bike allows you the luxury to first explore and then rule out attractions and neighborhoods that just don’t do it for you so you can proceed to those that do float your boat.

I’ve biked in many different cities throughout the world, and here are my conditions for a city that is truly bike-friendly:

• Clearly marked trails, paths, and/or bike lanes that are not just afterthoughts but part of a well-designed and planned network for cyclists. Better yet, tourism and bike-shop reps who go out of their way to help visitors explore their city by bike.
• Lots of sights and attractions that are easily accessible to cyclists and don’t require crossing miles of industrial or residential zones to get there.
• Low pollution, a minimum of hills, and beautiful surroundings.

Here is our list of the best cities in the world for cyclists, whether serious or casual. It was difficult to narrow down, but we managed a rather eclectic group, truly international while also providing a few surprises.

Amsterdam, Netherlands
Like many bicycling travelers, New York-based travel writer Zora O’Neill puts Amsterdam near the top of the list; one study shows that 40% of commutes in the city are by bike. Indeed, throughout all of the Netherlands there are more bicycles (around 20 million) than people (just under 17 million). Understandably, pedestrians can have a hard time of it in this city. “It can be intimidating at first for people who aren’t used to biking in so much traffic on such narrow streets,” says O’Neill, the author of several Amsterdam guidebooks. She likes to steer visitors away from the congestion of the city center to some not-so-touristy places. Her picks: the Eastern Docklands, where the modern architecture radically differs from the city’s typically traditional look. If you want more of a challenge, she suggests the Bijlmer, a rehabbed housing project that’s getting a lot of interesting new buildings. Rent a bike at Bike City, near the Anne Frank House, or MacBike, with four locations in the central city. They also provide guided tours, maps, and loads of free advice.

Bogota, Columbia
When Bicycling Magazine announced its list of the world’s most bike-friendly cities for 2010, many cycling aficionados scratched their heads at the Colombian capitol’s inclusion. But it’s not a mystery, given the popularity of Ciclovia, a citywide bicycle extravaganza in which all 75 miles of the city’s streets are closed to cars and trucks every Sunday and holiday, and two million—you read that right—cyclists take over. Musical performances, food, exercise classes, and just plain socializing turn the entire city into a big bicycle party each and every week. In fact, it’s been so successful that government officials in Miami are working to duplicate Ciclovia on these shores. If you also want to explore on your own, the ciclo-rutas offer more than 75 miles of networked bike paths all over the city. Get started with a rental from Bogota Bike Tours.

Cape Town, South Africa
Compared with other cities where bicycles have long been a part of the landscape, Cape Town, South Africa, has gotten off to a great start in making the city bike-friendly to visitors. It recently launched the MyCiti bike project with a network of clearly marked bike lanes to make it easy for cyclists to explore the entire city. One recommended route is along Chapman’s Peak Drive, which provides stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean. Another equally captivating ride runs from Westlake up to the Silvermine Nature Reserve. Ride Your City is a great resource for cyclists, with maps, locations of bike shops, and available tours. Rent a bike for an hour, a day, or longer at AWOL Tours and Bike & Saddle.

Published: 30 Jul 2012 | Last Updated: 31 Jul 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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