A city break by bike is the perfect weekend away, combining culture, travel, good food and a little bit of pedalling.
With no timetables or pressure, exploring a city by bike is easy and relaxed. You can take your time and stop whenever something catches your eye. You can cover a lot of ground, but still see things in detail. We pick the best bike-friendly UK cities to discover from the saddle.
Bristol is the UK’s first ‘Cycling City’, so tops our list of places to visit. It has dedicated cycle routes alongside all its major routes and in the city center, as well as beautiful green parkland and gentle riverside trails to ride through. Bristol can be hilly as well, so be prepared for some climbing, particularly if you head out of town towards the countryside. Cycling across the Clifton Suspension Bridge is a must-do, as is exploring the parkland of Ashton Court.
Bristol boasts the original cycle café, Mud Dock, situated on the harbor side and well worth a visit. Roll for the Soul is a community enterprise and a great place to head to for bike chat, to find out more about the local cycling scene and also for music and arts.
Everyone seems to cycle in Cambridge, a fact exaggerated by the number of students on bikes and the sheer volume of cycles locked up around the town. While Cambridge has great cycling infrastructure, it has really made the list for its atmosphere – the refined quads of ancient Universities, the gentle punting on the river Cam and the cobbled streets and quiet riverside fields give it a completely different feel to most other cities. It’s a beautiful place to visit and being on a bike makes you feel more of a local and less of a visitor.
Manchester has a burgeoning network of cycle paths spiraling out from the city centre, alongside old canals and out into the Peak District. Manchester is a vibrant city with arts and music abound; there are lots of great places to eat and drink and the city has distinct contrasting districts such the old warehouses of the Northern Quarter and the newest developments at Salford Quay. Manchester also has some great cycling cafes – check out the Rapha Clubhouse at St Ann’s Passage, or Pop-Up Bikes underneath the iconic railway arches in Angel Meadows. The whole vibe here is very much about community before profits. It’s a space for cyclists to interact and share great coffee sourced directly from the producer and roasted locally.
Edinburgh is a grand city to visit, with the stunning Castle and Royal Mile as popular highlights for many visitors. It also has some interesting cycle routes that you can follow from, or to, the city centre. From off-street paths, former railway lines and sea view esplanades, there’s plenty of variety. At the foot of the Royal Mile, Holyrood Park offers spectacular cityscape views and a well surfaced road for cyclists. To the south, the Innocent Railway (originally a horse-drawn tramway constructed in 1831 to transport agricultural produce and coal from the Lothian mines to St Leonards) is part of the UK-wide, National Cycle Network’s Route 1 (NCN1).
While in Edinburgh, call in at Ronde Bicycle Outfitters, a 5-minute cycle from the city centre. It’s a café, a bike shop and a cycling club in one. The food is excellent, with coffee from local artisan roasters and cakes, breads, soups and pasties all locally sourced. Join them on a Saturday morning for their ride – everyone is welcome.
Cycling in London is slowly and gradually improving for those wanting to visit the sights as well as those commuting to work. There are fantastic leisure paths taking you away from the hustle and bustle on quiet riverside tracks and surprisingly peaceful residential roads. Nearly all of the great parks are used by cyclists, but Regent’s Park is especially popular, with many riders using it for their regular training sessions.
The banks of London’s River Thames offer long stretches of traffic-free cycling. Most of London’s Thames-side cycle route is on the Thames Path National Trail and is one of the 19 designated national long-distance trails in the UK. It runs from the source of the Thames in the Cotswolds to the Thames Barrier at Greenwich.
Giro Cycle Café in Esher is popular with riders heading out from the capital through Regent’s and Richmond Park toward the Surrey Hills – it’s a very boutique shop with great meals and coffee and a welcoming club ride.
Have we missed any hidden cycling cities? Let us know your best city cycling experience.
This coffee brake was provided by Cycle-SOS, The Cyclists' National Helpline.