Many European towns have infrastructure that makes cycling fun and safe. And it’s only getting better. In 2023, the European Parliament passed a resolution to double the number of kilometres cycled in Europe by 2030. So, here are three cycling locations with routes worth checking out. But firstly, what should you take?
Essential gear for European cycling adventures
Before you cycle in Europe, prep what to wear. This list isn’t exhaustive but do pack base layers, breathable and wicking long and short-sleeved cycle tops, bib shorts, socks, cycling shoes, hat or cap, helmet, sunglasses, and cycling gloves. And remember casual clothing for when you’re not riding!
And take a reliable bike – something that can be transported whether travelling by plane, train or ferry. Maybe an electric folding bike to make your cycling less tiring. For security, you’ll need a bike lock. And as you’ll be cycling on unfamiliar roads and terrain an efficient navigational tool will be helpful. General packing includes a phone and charger and a first aid kit. And to maintain energy levels, a water bottle and energy food. Insect repellent and sun cream are given.
Exploring the French countryside – Annecy, France
Now you’re good to go, why not visit the town of Annecy in France, situated less than an hour’s drive from the Swiss capital Geneva? The mostly flat routes on Lake Annecy offer novice cyclists leisurely riding through breathtaking scenery. The clear, clean lake, one of France’s largest, is fed by mountain springs. Take the easy Voie Verte route, a 42km loop around the lake. You can break your journey at one of the lakeside beaches en route, such as Doussard Beach.
More experienced cyclists can tackle Col de la Forclaz, a route used in the Tour de France. You’ll circle the lake and tack on an 8.5km ascent of 840m. The views over the lake are worth it. For a bigger challenge, the 121km Annecy to the Col des Aravis circuit has an elevation of 2,756m. Too much? Drive to Flumet and make your ascent on bike from there. You’ll be rewarded by views of Mount Blanc in the distance.
Coastal beauty – San Sebastián, Spain
The Basque city of San Sebastián sits in a horseshoe bay framed by two mountains – to the west is Monte Igueldo and to the east lies Monte Urgull. Along the seafront runs Lake Concha beach. This culinary city has over 70km of cycling trails and is one of the most bike-friendly in Spain. Cycling between the mountains takes you through the port, taking in Zurriola Bridge, the Sagües area, and the promenade along La Concha.
The city is also a great base for cycling the Bay of Biscay. A challenging four-day ride is from Bilbao (around 60 miles from San Sebastián) to Bordeaux in France. You’ll encounter flat rides, interspersed with more demanding hills – all set against gorgeous Bay of Biscay coastal backdrops.
Cycling haven – Amsterdam, Netherlands
If any European city is synonymous with cycling, it’s Amsterdam. It wasn’t always this way. In the 20th century, cars gradually replaced bikes on Netherland’s streets. But in 1971, over 400 Dutch children died in traffic accidents. Cyclists fought back. Demonstrations and other forms of activism reclaimed the streets for the bike. Urban cycle paths were built in Amsterdam, making it the ’bike capital of the world’, although Copenhagen may argue.
Either way, Amsterdam has around 320 miles of dedicated cycling routes. But urban cycling even in bike-loving Amsterdam has issues. So, always follow cycle traffic lights, watch when crossing tram tracks (do so at an angle) and look out for cars, trams, pedestrians, and other cyclists.
Amsterdam has a high proportion of tourists riding bikes who aren’t as savvy as Dutch natives. But stick to the designated cycle lanes, stay aware, keep out of canals and you’ll be fine.
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