Explore Northern Europe’s most bikeable cities

06/09/2020

We’re being encouraged to get on our bikes to stay fit and healthy. Luckily, cycling’s also one of the most fun ways to see the great cities of Northern Europe – and we’ve four of the best to explore on two wheels.

Over the past months, many of us have rediscovered the joys of cycling. Beyond the feelgood factor of peddling from A to B, cycling gives a more personal perspective of the people and places around us. Nowhere is this more true than when you visit a new destination – and in the flatlands of Northern Europe, you can explore some of the world’s most exciting cities by bike. So, hop on and get to the heart of a destination with a little bit of peddle power…

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Amsterdam is one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in the world with up to 400km of bicycle paths. Most Amsterdammers have spent their lives on two wheels so why not join them to get a local view of the city’s cultural marvels and local charms? 

Cycling around the city’s 165 canals and 1,281 bridges is an atmospheric way to get a close-up view of Amsterdam’s iconic 17th-century canal houses and colourful house boats. Explore Amsterdam’s famous Jordaan district and cycle through trendy Nine Streets shopping area, taking in Anne Frank House along the way. Ready for a pit stop? Park up and refuel at street market, Albert Cuypmarkt, or tuck into a sticky stroopwaffel and coffee at any number of welcoming cafés.

‘People should experience Amsterdam by bike,’ says Liza Lissakouskaya who works at Amsterbike. ‘It’s very easy to go everywhere by bike, it’s good exercise and you’re taking in the fresh air. Amsterdam is a super sociable city: there are a lot of bars and many restaurants and cafés to eat out at. It’s a really nice city.’

The city’s pretty parks and green spaces are perfect for stop-offs, among them Vondelpark, Oosterpark and Museumplein on either side of the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh museum. And if you really want to go green, head for the enchanting Amsterdamse Bos (forest) on the edge of the city, taking the route back along the Amstel river. 

Bruges, Belgium

Medieval jewel Bruges boasts all you need for a perfect day out on a bike: safe cycle routes taking in the compact historic centre, picture-perfect canalscapes, cultural attractions to stop off at and refreshments galore – from moules frites with a refreshing craft beer to cream-topped waffles with a decadent hot chocolate. 

‘Our restaurant Carpe Diem is one of the most popular place in Bruges for fresh Belgium waffles,’ says Kim Van Doo who works at Carpe Diem. ‘We still make them the original way and make them fresh here in the kitchen. People from all over the world return here because they say they’ve never eaten a waffle that good in their life.’

Within the centre, landmarks include the bustling Markt Square, Sint-Salvatorskathedraal, the Church of Our Lady of Bruges, the Beguninage convent and a host of interesting museums. 

Equally delightful is a tour around the verdant Brugse Vesten city ramparts. The secluded, leafy cycling and walking trail along the banks of the Vesten encircles the city’s historic quarters, taking in parks, the Lake of Love, Coupure marina, pretty bridges, windmills and four medieval city gates.

Hamburg, Germany

Hamburg is a city of two halves: one refined and historic; the other hip and counter-cultural. Both sit happily side by side to form the city’s central districts. Add in a world-class river, many parks and green spaces, and you’ve one of the world’s most exciting cities to explore by bike. 

All the major cultural sights are accessible in the vast network of cycle lanes. Peddle down to the modernist riversides district of HafenCity, with its stunning Elbephilharmonie, then explore the historic warehouse district Speicherstad. In the elegant centre, potter around City Hall, museums and churches. 

For a less polished vibe, head to Schanzeviertel and Karoviertel to find designer and vintage boutiques, craft breweries, graffitied skate parks and cool cafés serving home bakes and artisan coffee. En route, take in the famous FC St. Pauli stadium and the Planten un Blomen botanical gardens. 

Hamburg boasts charming waterside trails, too. Bike around the cooling banks of Alster Lake in the heart of the city, or hit a trail along the magnificent Elbe river to marvel at epic shipyards, riverside beaches, parks and the pretty suburb of Blankenese.

Rotterdam, The Netherlands

With its striking buildings, progressive thinking and open-hearted citizens, the lively port city of Rotterdam is firmly on the map as a hotspot of cool. And there’s no better way to appreciate its dynamic culture and attitude than on a bike. 

Having been razed to the ground in World War 2 bombing raids, the city’s modern architecture is a key draw and many of the cycle routes take in the highlights on both sides of the Nieuwe Maas river. Pedal your way to Piet Blom’s iconic yellow Cube Houses, the Centraal station and horseshoe-shaped foodie haven and housing project Markthal. Across the river, marvel at the shining blocks of ‘vertical city’ De Rotterdam and the sweeping Erasmus bridge (known locally as the Swan). Historic architectural treasures are much loved and include Grote of Sint Laurenskerk cathedral, Art Nouveau Witte Huis (stop for coffee in its famous ground-floor café) and luxurious Hotel New York, with its fabulous roof-terrace views. And don’t miss the charms of the old harbour area, Delfshaven. Rotterdam’s historic docklands and canals date back to 1389 and survived bombing raids intact. Today, the cobbled streets and warehouses are home to artisan gin distilleries, coffee roasteries, craft beer breweries, pretty cafés and eats aplenty. Park up and enjoy a well-deserved break.