Bicycling Through Bike-Friendly Destinations
While most travelers know that Copenhagen and Amsterdam are ideal for exploring by bicycle, the rise of bike-sharing and bike tours in other cities is making discovering other destinations by bicycle easier than ever.
Wouldn’t you rather experience a city cruising down a boardwalk than riding in a taxi? Imagine what you might see while pedaling around a town from site to site, instead of riding underground on the subway.
With immersion in the culture and seeing a few sights in one ride as our goal, the members and editors of travel website www.VirtualTourist.com compiled this list of the "Top Ten Spots to Explore by Bicycle."
1. Montréal, Québec, Canada: While Montréal’s most famous paths may lie underground, it’s most intriguing routes in the upcoming warmer months lie amongst its 2,400 miles of bike trails and paths. The first North American city to adopt a bicycle-sharing program, Montréal has a few popular rides, including along the Lachine Canal, the quays of the Old Port, and Rue McGill.
In addition to paths within the city, Montréal lies in the center of the Route Verte, a series of bikeways throughout Quebec modeled after Denmark’s national cycle routes and the Danube and Rhine bikeways. The route, which starts further west at Fort-Coulogne, also connects Montréal with Québec City to the north.
2. Paris, France: Though the first bike-sharing program in France originated in Lyon, it is Paris which gets most of the credit for spurring the bike-sharing craze around Europe. Paris’ bike-sharing program, called Vélib’, is now as synonymous with a Parisian experience as the Louvre and steak frites.
Over the past few years, Vélib’ has grown to over 20,000 bikes with sharing stations every 300 meters. The initial benefits were aimed on commuters and residents, but it’s become a popular tourist activity as well. Easy routes to explore include the quais and ponts along the Seine River, particularly Quai Branly and Quai d’Orsay, which provide ample landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower and multiple museums.
Another neighborhood with much to see by bicycle is Le Marais, with the Place des Vosges, Maison de Victor Hugo, and Musée Carnavalet all nearby. For those interested in discovering a spot slightly outside of Paris, the grounds at Versailles are perfect for exploring by bicycle.
3. Portland, Oregon: Two parks line the Willamette River, Waterfront Park to the West and Eastbank Esplanade to the East, giving visitors the opportunity to take in both the city view and the river’s scenery while cycling. A two block detour from Waterfront Park at the Burnside Bridge will take travelers to the Portland Saturday Market (which is open on all weekend), a city tradition since 1974.
For a great example of Oregon’s infamous conservation efforts, travelers can head slightly further south to the Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge. Located on the east side of the Willamette River, the refuge is a floodplain wetland and well-known for its bird population.
4. Seville, Spain: While it has always contained the world’s largest gothic cathedral, Seville, the jewel of Andalucia, had little to no bicycle culture to speak of until the new millennium. In the last few years, the city has gained both 120km (75 miles) of bicycle routes throughout the city, as well as started a bicycle-sharing program.
These updates make it much easier to travel from the Plaza de Espana to the Cathedral in one day. Visitors should not forget to explore the Santa Cruz neighborhood, which lies along the Alcazar, though with its narrow streets, it may be better seen on foot.
5. Hell’s Gate National Park in Kenya: Located about 58 miles (93 kilometers) northwest of Nairobi, Hell’s Gate National Park is small by African standards, but still includes a variety of animal species rarely seen anywhere else in the world, including lions, leopards, and cheetahs.
In addition to being able to explore the park by bicycle, guests are also allowed to camp in the park, and it’s one of only two Kenyan national parks where this is allowed. Though there is much to explore in this savannah, it is often used as a stop-over when en route to the Masai Mara Reserve or nearby Lake Naivasha National Park.
6. Prague, Czech Republic: Though the hilly topography of the Czech Republic’s capital might scare off some participants, multiple VirtualTourist members suggested exploring Prague by bicycle. Many tours originate in the Old Town, giving riders the opportunity to cruise along the Vltava River and see both the Charles Bridge and Frank Gehry’s Dancing House.
The opposite side of the river, the Malá Strana, has more legitimately marked bicycle paths, particularly near Prague Castle and Letna Park. For the more ambitious rider, one can cycle the Prague Vienna Greenways from Prague to Austria, with the opportunity of detouring and seeing the UNESCO site of Cesky Krumlov. If both of these plans sound too difficult, another Virtual Tourist member had a great experience with renting an electric bike, since the motor helped make the hills of Prague much less intimidating.
7. Vietnam and Thailand: An increasingly popular area to explore by bicycle is Southeast Asia. Virtual Tourist members have recommended Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand as all great destinations to discover by bike. In Vietnam, Visitors can take Route 1 from the capital city of Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), traveling along the coast and exploring smaller, scenic villages along the way.
Another suggested ideal spot is Bangkok and its UNESCO neighbor, Ayutthaya. Members suggest taking a train from Bangkok to Ayutthaya, the former Thai capital, and then renting a bike upon arrival so riders can explore at their own pace. In addition to the ancient temples and ruins, the Summer Palace is also located here, as well as some notable local markets.
8. Austin, Texas: Austin is famous for its music scene and breakfast tacos, though not so well-known for its bike scene. Since one of cycling’s greatest celebrities, seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong, calls Austin home, it’s understandable that more people are exploring the area by bike.
One scenic route to try includes the paths along Lady Bird Lake in downtown Austin, after which sightseers can ride up to the Barton Creek Greenbelt. For a little more of the flavor that makes Austin famous, start your ride in the SoCo (South of Congress) neighborhood, biking up Congress Avenue and over the Congress Street Bridge (with its bats), towards 6th Street, where many of the country’s most legendary music venues line the avenue.
9. Bruges, Belgium: Though the most obvious mode of exploring Bruges may be a canal tour, the city is also easily traveled by bike. By starting at the belfry in the Market or City Hall on the Burg, visitors can easily bike to other sights, such as the Basilica of Holy Blood and the Church of Our Lady, which features Michelangelo’s Mother and Child sculpture.
For a longer ride, the Vlaanderen Fietsroute (Flemish Cycle Route) makes it possible to cycle from Bruges to other Belgian cities, including Gent, Antwerp, or Brussels.
10. Kyoto, Japan: Japan may be well-known for its high speed trains, but many residents and visitors of its cultural capital, Kyoto, prefer to travel within the city by bicycle. Exploring by bicycle in Kyoto allows tourists to circumvent the congested traffic, but also sneak onto back streets they wouldn’t normally find when driving from site to site.
Also, the city is quite spread out and much of the public transportation doesn’t stop very close to all attractions, so it may actually be quicker to rent a bicycle. Many hotels rent bicycles to guests, but they are also readily available near Kyoto Station.
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