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Why bike on vacation: Bike-friendly cities and dream cycle trips to try next

Times are tough for travelers. But with the world preparing to reopen in 2021, we're here to keep you dreaming and planning for your next adventure - whether that's a staycation or flying off to parts unknown. Until then, we've got the latest COVID-19 travel advice and updates to keep you up to date and ready to go.

Riding a bike is one of the first great leisure activities you learn as a kid and the one skill you never forget. If you’re planning a vacation and are looking for ways to get to see more of the places you visit in a short time, a bike will be your best travel accessory, too. Not only that—cycling is a great way to travel sustainably during your next trip. This is why we’ve handpicked some top bike-friendly cities you can ride through in the US, as well as ideas for your next cycle travel plans at home or overseas. Read on to find out why bikes are one of the best travel companions and how to make the most of one on your next trip.

Not all of the destinations we recommend are accessible at the time of publishing this article due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Be sure to thoroughly research your destination’s restrictions and requirements, whether domestic or abroad, before booking travel. Follow all guidelines to stay safe on your trip.

Why bikes are a great way to get around

Renting a bike on your next trip away will help you get around quicker in busy places. It’s also a more eco-friendly mode of transport. Big cities throughout the world are turning to more car-free city centers, and you’ll be able to navigate crowded areas without adding to pollution and traffic. Especially in the post-pandemic world, mayors of big capitals like Paris are looking at ways to encourage visitors and residents to cycle more often and ditch motorized transport.

Not only is a bike a sustainable mode of transportation, it’s also growing in popularity around the world. Such is the appeal of cycling for sightseeing that travel agents worldwide are proposing bike tours and cycle travel options. But that’s not all: you don’t have to be extremely in shape to take advantage of riding a bike around the world’s best destinations. Thanks to e-bikes (electric bikes), you can now hop on two wheels and go farther and to more remote places. And you don’t need to learn any new skills or get a special license!

Biking is healthy, environmentally-friendly and accessible. Top tourist destinations like the ones we’ve picked here offer lots of options for renting a bike or an e-bike. Also, big cities around the world are adding bike lanes and cycle paths to their tourist offering. You can even tackle famous mountain climbs or reach out-of-town beaches on your e-bike now. Finally, we won’t cover them here, but for the most adventurous travelers, cross-country bike tours and mountain biking tours complete the great array of sightseeing options you can get on a bike.

Bikes with green and red baskets

Bike-friendly cities to explore in the US

In the United States, cities across the country have been investing in a better bike infrastructure. From creating dedicated biking lanes to adding trails and paths designed to get you out pedaling, these bike-friendly cities will have you enjoying the fresh air and feeling great when you go for a ride.

Seattle, WA

Civil engineering in Seattle has long been recognized for the attention paid to constructing protected bike lanes throughout the city. You can hop on the Second Avenue bike lane and complete a Seattle bike tour, covering the city from the Space Needle to Pioneer Square.

Rent a bike from friendly downtown company Pedal Anywhere and head to the Westlake Cycle Track, chosen as the best bike facility in North America by People For Bikes. For a more social experience, you can join a group ride with Pedal Anywhere if you’re in town for longer. Or book one of the city tours with Seattle Cycling Tours. You’ll find out more about Seattle’s history, too.

Minneapolis, MN

Minneapolis welcomes bike riders with miles of off-road pathways that allow you to crisscross the city without ever jumping in a car. There’s even an annual event showcasing the city’s love of biking. Visit in June and you can take on two fully supported routes of 16 or 32 miles starting and ending at Boom Island as part of the annual Minneapolis Bike Tour.

If you’re looking for a leisurely ride, rent an e-bike and explore the more scenic routes. One of our favorites is the Chain of Lakes ride in the park of the same name. You have 10 miles of secure biking along the shorelines of Brownie Lake, Cedar Lake, Lake of the Isles, Bde Maka Ska and Lake Harriet. Enjoy the views from all sides.

Albuquerque, NM

It might not be the first place you think of when you consider cycle travel, but Albuquerque is an exceptionally bike-friendly city. There are more than 400 miles of bike trails and paths and lots of rental shops for bicycles and e-bikes. Just a few minutes away from the city, you can also venture into high-desert mountain biking territory.

But the jewel in the crown of local city cycling is the Paseo del Bosque Trail. You can complete a full Albuquerque bike tour on it. On the way, enjoy public art displays, wildlife in Rio Grande Valley State Park and some excellent coffee stops. The trail is 16 miles long and entirely paved, making for a great easy ride.

Albuquerque bike trails in one of the top bike-friendly cities in the US
Heading off from Albuquerque / © City of Albuquerque, NM

Read more: 10 best city walks in the US from sidewalks to the trails

Portland, OR

So encouraged is bike culture in Portland that the city has been awarded a platinum rating by the League of American Bicyclists. They are excellent at sustaining safe biking and allowing tourists and residents to enjoy life on two wheels. You can join the rows of cyclists by using the Biketown bike rental membership system, a great hop on, hop off system for getting around town.

You don’t even have to hire a bike guide when you’re in Portland. The city has some easy loops to follow on your e-bike using low-traffic streets and off-street paths and bike lanes, made to enjoy the best of PDX. Start with the 10-mile flat, paved Classic Waterfront Loop Ride and take it from there.

Madison, WI

One final stop in the US is the incredible Lake Monona Loop in Madison. The scenic bike path allows you to tick off the top sights in the city and combines nature and urban environments perfectly. And that’s not all: Madison has more than 240 miles of bike paths.

The best way to rent an e-bike in Madison is through the urban bike sharing program B-cycle. It has stations throughout the city.

Cyclists traveling on the Lake Monona Loop in Madison, WI--one of the top bike-friendly cities.
Cycling along the Lake Monona Loop / © City of Madison, WI

Cycle travel for your bucket list: Bike-friendly destinations around the world

Beyond city tours, you can explore some amazing off-the-beaten-path destinations on two wheels, at home and abroad. Below are some great bike-friendly locations to add to your vacation plans:

Puglia, Italy

The south of Italy is a less popular part of the country to visit. This makes it a great bike-friendly vacation destination for beginners. Whether you take your bike along the coastal roads away from the hustle and bustle of touristy cities, or you do a town-to-town circuit, there are fascinating locations and easy rides for vacationers.

Local company Apulia Bike Tours organizes multiple Puglia bike tours, from self-guided to fully accompanied. The Tour of Salento starts in the Florence of the South, Lecce, with its more than 50 churches and cathedrals. You can take your time enjoying a five-day bike ride thanks to the option of electric or regular road bike rentals. This is the essential overview of the region, complete with helpful suggestions of where to eat and shop in each town.

Colchagua Valley, Chile

South America has given the professional cycling world some of its top-tier cyclists. It’s also home to some fantastic bike-friendly vacation stops for regular cycling enthusiasts. If you want to combine wine tasting and cycling, the best place to do so is in Colchagua Valley, one of the most famous destinations in Chile.

You can visit multiple vineyards while taking in some unique scenery. Opt for an organized bike and wine tour to make the most of your stay. This three-day circuit run by local experts through tour company Wine Paths takes you on some easy cycle paths through rolling hills. It also features wine tastings and downtime at wine lodges and quiet hotels. Some driving is included to keep the bike distances manageable, so you don’t need to be a pro at pedaling.

Champagne, France

French biking holidays are becoming increasingly popular thanks to the hundreds of miles of flat canal-side pathways available and the voies vertes (greenways) put in place by local authorities keen to boost eco-conscious tourism. The wine-growing regions of Burgundy and Champagne are taking full advantage of the trend.

In Champagne, discover dozens of way-marked bike circuits starting from the towns of Argonne, Châlons, Sézanne, Epernay and Reims. One of the best bike rides from Epernay, the capital of the region, takes you through the UNESCO champagne grape-growing hills. You’ll stop by the abbey of Hautvillers, where the famous monk Dom Pérignon hailed from, before passing through picturesque villages to sip champagne in the local producers’ tasting rooms. We recommend getting an electric bike for the 22-mile route. Bike Energy is the perfect shop for rentals in Champagne, starting from Reims or Epernay.

Bike-friendly cities in Champagne, France, including vineyards and windmills
Vineyards of Champagne, France

Palisade, CO

Wine tasting and cycling certainly seem to go together! The 25-mile Fruit and Wine Byway in Palisade, is a perfect beginners’ bike destination. You’ll travel through vineyards and peach orchards along the Colorado River, through idyllic scenery.

This bike route from Palisade is divided into three sections so you can manage the distances you cover every day. At the same time, local tour companies offer farm tours, family-friendly historical visits and even an alpaca tour. Learn all about sustainable living and farming on a bike rented from local favorite, Rapid Creek Cycles.

Read more: How to plan the ultimate road trip across the USA

Traveler’s Rest, SC

Whether you’re a bike travel novice or a cycling enthusiast, this small town near the Blue Ridge Mountains is an ideal vacation stop. There are short, flat trails with scenic views, lots of boutique hotels to stay in and, of course, vineyards!

One of the best places to take your bike is the Prisma Health System Swamp Rabbit Trail. It runs for 22 miles and connects the town with nearby Greenville. It’s ideally peppered with trail-side restaurants, too.

People biking in a row on bike path in the middle of green space
Biking in Traveler’s Rest, CO / © Brad Smith, Traveler’s Rest

Worldwide best bike-friendly cities

When you plan your next city break, remember that more and more places are opening up to bikes. Making your next visit on two wheels will keep down pollution and it will keep you active on vacation—a win-win! Below are some of our favorite bike-friendly destinations overseas.

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Amsterdam is closely associated with cycling. In fact, you’re likely to see bikes in the background of almost any scenic canal-side photo from the city. The Dutch are cycling enthusiasts, with an infrastructure designed to support cycling to work and school as well as for leisure. As of 2017, close to 70% of the city’s travel was done by bike.

If you want an easy route for sightseeing, start on Weesperzijde in the city center and follow the Amstel River south on the Oudekerk aan de Amstel bike path. This will take you up to the historic village of Oudekerk aan de Amstel, passing picturesque windmills along the way.

Copenhagen, Denmark

One of the top eco-friendly capital cities in the world, Copenhagen lives up to the stereotype of the Danish culture of biking. There are so many bike lanes and routes that you can spend your whole trip on two wheels. In fact, the city bike network—the Bycyklen—is unique in the world. By creating a free account, you can access a bike 24 hours a day, complete with travel tips and navigation screens.

For a cultural tour by bike, check out the architectural BIG bike tour, covering 13 miles and ticking off the top buildings in Copenhagen.

View of Copenhagen, Denmark, among the top bike-friendly cities.

Munich, Germany

Among bike-friendly cities in Europe, Munich packs a punch. Cycling is the most efficient way to get around central Munich and extremely safe. You’ll be greeted by more than 700 miles of marked routes and great ways to take in the top sights on two wheels. The easiest and most scenic way is to travel through the city on the banks of the Isar River.

Munich operates an app for bike rental options. Sign up with Call a Bike and you will be able to find the nearest available bikes to rent near you. There are even built-in locks, which allow you to stop and pop into a store or museum while you’re riding along!

Read more: Learn how to make greener choices for your next trip

Bogotá, Colombia

If you need any more proof of how bike-friendly Bogotá is, plan to do a bike tour of the city on a Sunday. All cars are banned from the city until 2pm! This tradition started in the 1970s and now supports the popularity of cycling on bike paths and cycle routes as well as on the empty streets.

One of the most popular places to hire a bike in Bogotá is Virrey Park. The city-run Pedelea Por Bogotá scheme has a number of bikes available there and throughout Bogotá. Pre-register with the scheme and you can get free access. Bogotá Bike Tours also offers rentals and some great tours in the city and out of town on mountain bikes.

Montreal, Canada

French-Canadian Montreal is one of the top bike-friendly cities in North America. It boasts 435 miles of bike trails and beautiful parks, such as the Parc du Mont-Royal, to ride them in. Some good bike tours in Montreal include the four-hour guided visit offered by Ça Roule Montreal, taking you through the most popular neighborhoods, such as the Old-Port and the Latin Quarter.

You can also hire a bike or an electric bike from Ça Roule. Alternatively, sign up to use the BIXI app, which gives you a short-term pass that includes unlimited trips shorter than 30 minutes.

Street view of Montreal, Canada

Tips for safe bike rental and cycling

Renting a bicycle and making your way around these bike-friendly cities is easy enough. But, you will have to keep in mind a few safety tips to always make the most of your experience. To have the best rides, follow this advice:

  • When you rent a bike, check that the tires are pumped full. Also check that the light and brakes are in working condition.
  • Familiarize yourself with how the bike lock works and where you can leave the bike around town.
  • Save the rental company’s phone number in case you need to contact them.
  • If you’re renting an electric bike, learn how to charge it and what the battery range is expected to be.
  • Know your route before you leave the bike rental shop. Have it on your phone and, as much as possible, use hands-free technology for guidance.
  • Always stop if you want to double check where you’re going. Do so in a safe place, out of traffic.
  • Check your destination’s bike traffic rules and rights of way, as well as bike-specific traffic signs.

A final thought

Whether you’re feeling ready to book flexible travel with Skyscanner already or you just want to drive to nearby destinations, we hope that these bike-friendly cities have given you inspiration for your next trip. It might be the start of cycling more regularly for you, or the opportunity to plan a different type of vacation than what you normally do. In any case, we’ll be here for when you want to plan your next trip.

Just remember that, for the time being, when you plan a vacation, you should still check local government guidelines to find out the latest COVID-19 guidance and restrictions for domestic travel and abroad.

Where can I go now?

Keep an eye on travel restrictions as you plan your next trip. You can visit Skyscanner’s interactive travel restrictions map any time to see the latest updates. Check the conditions of entry for each country if you plan to go abroad.

COVID-19 international travel map graphic

Frequently asked questions about bike-friendly cities and sustainable travel

What is the greenest way to travel in a city?

There is no doubt that the transportation sector is among the major producers of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States and worldwide. In the US alone, road vehicles account for 82% of all emissions, with the least polluting being rail transport. Consequently, any means of transportation that is human-powered is greener and more sustainable, from walking to bicycling.

Are buses eco-friendly?

Of course, taking public transport is more environmentally friendly than individual transportation, as several people are taken to their destination through the use of just one engine. However, buses continue to emit greenhouse gases and are therefore not as green as cycling.

What are the characteristics of bike-friendly cities?

A bike-friendly city has measures in place to protect and encourage cyclists to use their bikes to get around. This isn’t just for tourist trips: they will have protected lanes in the busiest parts of town, bike-specific traffic signals and even car-free days or times of day in designated areas.

The city’s culture is also important when it comes to biking: how much they encourage cyclists and how popular cycling has been historically often influences how bike-friendly a city is today.

Do you have to be really fit to do a bike tour on vacation?

No, there are many ways in which you can enjoy your bike on vacation without being a dedicated athlete. Electric bikes have become very popular and are available for rental in most destinations, giving you added support for getting around. Moreover, many popular cycle tours within big cities are relatively easy to ride, paved and not very long.

Are electric bikes much more expensive to rent than regular bikes?

It used to be the case, but e-bikes have become so overwhelmingly popular recently that rental prices have dropped considerably. Additionally, some cities actually have e-bikes for rent within their city network of bike sharing, making it more the norm than ever to jump on a power-assisted bike.

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