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The ten best European cities to discover by bike

Tamara Hinson
12 June 2016

Want to know what’s wheely cool? Discovering a new city by bicycle. To mark National Bike Week (11-19 June) travel writer Tamara Hinson recommends Europe’s best cities to see on two wheels

1. Linz, Austria
With over 200 kilometres of bike paths, the riverside city of Linz is a great destination for cyclists of all abilities. The Danube Cycle Path – one of Europe’s longest cycle routes – passes through the centre, and it’s this section that’s ideal for cyclists looking for shorter excursions. Highlights include the breathtaking views of the stunning Lentos Art Museum and the Brucknerhaus concert hall. After a hard day’s cycling, cyclists should treat themselves to a slice of Linzer torte, a traditional cake which dates back to 1653.
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2. Malaga, Spain
Malaga has morphed into a cyclists’ paradise in recent years, with a bike sharing scheme, a well laid out network of bike paths which covers 60 kilometres and regular organised cycling events. “One of my favourite routes is the one which connects Malaga city centre to Rincon de la Victora on the east side,” says Vladimir Jescht, founder and owner of Bike2malaga. “It’s easily doable on city, trekking or mountain bikes and there are fantastic views along the east cost of Malaga. Most of the route is made up of bicycle lanes and cyclists are always well protected from car traffic.”
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3. Athens, Greece
Popular Athens cycling spots include the Technical University’s park in Zografou and the Intermunicipal cycle track in the northern suburbs. Free Friday is ideal for cyclists who fancy some company – at 9pm, hundreds of cyclists gather in the city centre before setting off on a number of routes, cycling until early morning. “My favourite ride is temple to temple, from Athens’ Temple at the Acropolis to her rival temple, the Temple of Poseidon, at Sounion,” reveals Colleen McGuire at Cycle Greece. “The ride takes about three hours one way and is mostly flat.”
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4. Barcelona, Spain
Barcelona has 200 kilometres of bike paths, along with a popular bike share scheme known as Bicing. “It’s a wonderful city for cyclists, with mostly flat terrain, great weather, a slow traffic pace and drivers who respect cyclists,” says Samuel Blomquist at Green Bikes Barcelona. “The Parc de la Ciutadella and the beachfront are two of the most cycle-friendly areas, especially for families with young kids.” Another popular route is the 11-kilometre loop which leads up to Montjuïc Castle – it’s hard slog but cyclists will be rewarded with spectacular views over the city.
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5. Amsterdam, Holland
Hardly Amsterdam cyclists wear helmets, but locals claim this is because there’s simply no need – the majority of drivers are cyclists themselves and driving instructors even teach new motorists to use their right hand to open their door, forcing them to look over their shoulder. The city was the world’s first to launch a bike share scheme, and there are over 4,000 kilometres of bike paths.
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6. Rome, Italy
Rome might not see like an obvious cyclists’ paradise but growing numbers of Romans are saddling up. For the first time in decades, more bikes than cars were sold in 2011. Cyclists point out that the narrow streets make it hard for cars to speed, while the popularity of scooters means that drivers are used to looking out for vehicles of the two-wheeled variety. The mayor is a keen cyclist (even if he was recently spotted falling off his bike) and he’s recently promised more parking spaces for bikes and improved bicycle lanes.
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7. Milan, Italy
Milan is another unlikely cycling destination attracting a growing number of two-wheelers. The city’s bike lanes were recently improved and extended prior to the 2015 Expo, although a guided tour is still the best way for beginners to explore the city. Cyclists who fancy some company should head to the centre of town on Thursday night. ‘Every Thursday night at 10pm, the Critical Mass movement organises a spontaneous bike tour around Milan starting from Piazza Duomo,’ says Andrea Mangiagalli from Milano Bike Renting. ‘There’s hardly any traffic – just hundreds of bikes and lots of music.’
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8. Copenhagen, Denmark
Copenhagen was recently voted the best city for cyclists by US sustainability experts Treehugger, with special mention given to its compact size and fantastic network of cycle lanes – over 350 kilometres of cycle paths connect the city centre to Copenhagen’s parks, forests and nearby beaches. Cyclists who run out of steam can take their bikes on the city's S-trains free of charge.
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9. Gothenburg, Sweden
Gothenburg’s cycle-friendly features include a 50-station bike sharing scheme, 800 kilometres of bike paths and special “cycle streets” where cyclists are encouraged to cycle in the middle of the road and car drivers come second. It’s also a great starting point for a particularly spectacular long distance route – a newly created trail which connects Gothenburg with Helsingborg, 370 kilometres along the coast.
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10. Valencia, Spain
With its predominantly flat landscape, compact size and mild climate, Valencia is a fantastic city for cycling. The city has 120 kilometres of bike paths, many of which are ciclocalles – bicycle-priority streets with lanes in the middle of the road and a 30km/h speed limit for general traffic. The riverbed of the Turia river is now an eight-kilometre urban park and bike path which also connects some of the city’s most popular museums.
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