International bicycle tourism is gaining momentum, and with good reason. Experienced travelers know that cycling is about much more than just saving money on transportation – it’s a more intimate way to experience the places you visit.
In that vein, this list doesn’t consist of bike friendly mega-cities like Copenhagen, Strasbourg, and Minneapolis. Instead, it focuses on some of the more unique, often overlooked, and undeniably interesting bike friendly destinations around the world.
1. Boulder, Colorado
Visit if you like: Sunny weather, mountain biking, brewery tours, and bike friendly culture.
The city of Boulder is surrounded by diverse and interesting terrain for cyclists to explore. It sits at the convergence of the Rocky Mountains and the Great Plains, and the famous Flatirons are easily seen from almost anywhere in town. It also happens to receive over 300 days of sunshine every year, so the gorgeous scenery can be enjoyed year-round.
Its interesting terrain, sunny weather, and scenery make Boulder a mountain biking paradise – and it has worked hard to take that reputation to the next level. For a city of its size, Boulder invests an impressive amount in cycling infrastructure and programs.
Boulder’s integrated network of bicycle lanes and cycle-tracks stretches over 300 miles (480 km). When cyclists want to stop, there are plenty of secure parking options; there is free bike locker storage at transit stations and local businesses are required by city ordinance to provide adequate bike parking on premises. Travelers who are unable to bring their own bikes can take advantage of the local bike share system.
Boulder has more to offer than just safe cycling and nice scenery – there is a lot to do, and it’s all accessible by bike. First off, Boulder has arguably the best free bike park in North America. Valemont offers 42-acres of cycling terrain for all styles and ability levels. Ascend the Chautauqua trail for a closer look at the Flatirons, or cycle between the many local breweries and distilleries for a free tasting tour. Boulder also hosts the No. 1 farmers market in the country (rated by USA Today) every Saturday morning, April through November.
When you are ready to take a break, the Pearl Street mall offers an assortment of excellent cafes, bakeries, and restaurants. Most businesses in Boulder are locally owned and operated, so every stop is a chance to experience some unique local character.
2. Banff, Canada
Visit if you like: The great outdoors, wildlife sightings, and crisp air.
This is a trip of extremes: Summer or Winter, rugged or luxury, beginner or professional level cycling – Banff offers it all.
The town site is completely surrounded by Banff National Park, 2,564 square miles (6,641 km2) of pristine Rocky Mountain wilderness. Visitors can enjoy alpine forests, glaciers, ice fields, mountain peaks, crystal clear lakes, and obnoxious bighorn sheep blocking the road.
With only eight thousand permanent residents, Banff is a much smaller and more intimate experience than Boulder. Riding in town is common, and the calm traffic makes it easy to get around safely. Bike parking is available, but not as prevalent as some other cities on this list.
Banff is a popular tourist destination by Canadian standards. Things can get busy in peak season, but the remote location keeps things from getting too crowded for comfort. There are plenty of opportunities to experience the vast wilderness in solitude, especially for more experienced cyclists who aren’t afraid of a little elevation gain.
The trail is where biking in Banff really shines. Trail networks start right in town, so you are never obligated to ride anything but your bicycle.
There are trails for all ability levels. From flat and paved, to barely a step above goat track, there is something for everybody.
Likewise, Banff can be as luxurious or rugged as you like. Camp sites and luxury spa hotels are equally accessible.
When to visit? That depends on what you want to experience.
Road and trail cycling are best in the summer months, but winter has its own allure. Winter visitors can rent a fat bike to ride over a silent white wonderland. When you feel like warming up, visit the Banff Hot Springs for a satisfying soak with an unforgettable view.
3. Eindhoven, Netherlands
Visit if you like: Technology, art, architecture and design, and night life.
Eindhoven is the biggest and best known city on this list. It was recently recognized as the fifth most bicycle friendly city in the world by the Copenhagen Index. Despite its prestigious index ranking, Eindhoven isn’t a capital or mega-city, and it has a much smaller population (223,2200) than other cities in the top ten.
Visitors to Eindhoven can experience the famous Dutch bike culture without having to deal with the enormity or crowds of Copenhagen. That doesn’t mean that Eindhoven is just a smaller copy; it has its own distinctive character and points of interest.
Eindhoven industrialized late and grew quickly, resulting in an unusual prevalence of modern architecture. Much of that architecture was designed with bicycles in mind; Eindhoven was the first city in the world to install a floating bicycle roundabout. Instead of forcing cyclists to share the road in a busy interchange, the “hovenring” elevates cyclists above motorized traffic. That type of innovation and dedication to cycling is seen all over the city.
Eindhoven offers excellent bike infrastructure. Free guarded bike parking garages, bike rental, and protected bike paths are all widely available.
Eindhoven has a definitively modern character, but it isn’t entirely devoid of the old world; you can still experience a traditional village at the Historic Open Air Museum. In fact, museums abound in in Eindhoven. The Van Abbemuseum Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art features artists like Picasso, Chagall, Kandinsky, El Lissitzky, Theo van Doesburg, and Appel. If you have any interest in art, it’s a must-see.
Some of the best experiences Eindhoven has to offer are at night. Visit during the Light Tour (September) or the Glow celebration of light in art (November) for a truly unforgettable ride through illuminated streets.
If you can’t hit those dates, you can still cycle down the twinkling Van Gogh-Roosegaarde cycle path. The twinkle is provided by thousands of colored stones embedded in the path, with a pattern inspired by Van Gogh’s famous painting “Starry Night”.
If you get bored of the city, break out into the quiet Dutch heathlands for a change of pace. Geldrop castle is an easy day-ride away.
Perhaps the best thing about Eindhoven is that the majority of locals bike. When you cycle, you get to experience the city from the same perspective as its residents.
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5. Onomichi and the Shimanami Cycle Way, Japan
Visit if you like: Beautiful island scenery, hot springs, and traditional Japanese food.
Onomichi is a small coastal city in Hiroshima prefecture, Japan. It is a lovely city with parks, museums, shopping, dedicated bicycle hotels, and traditional temples – however, it wouldn’t come close to rating on this list if it weren’t for the Shimanami Cycle Way.
The cycle way is one of the world’s most incredible bike routes. Starting right in Onomichi, the Shimanami Kaido connects six islands in the Seto inland Sea. The route covers some of the longest suspension bridges in the world, and the beautiful island scenery alone is worth the trip.
At 70 kilometers, the route can technically be completed in a single day, but most visitors prefer to take their time over two or three days to fully experience the islands. The basic route is clearly marked and easy for beginners. More experienced or ambitious cyclists can take the longer intermediate or advanced routes. You’ll want to leave plenty of time for stops at museums, landmarks, and – of course – restaurants.
Thankfully, the list of interesting bike friendly destinations is too long to capture in a single article! This list is just the tip of the iceberg.
Check out our article on bike security to keep your ride safe, no matter where your travels take you.
- Backroads. “Emerald Rivers, Alpine Lakes & Icy Peaks in Banff National Park.”
- Downtown Boulder. “About Downtown Boulder.”
- SHIMAP. “Shimanami Kaido Tourist Information.”
- Town of Banff. “Cycling.”
- Visiting Boulder. “Biking and Cycling in Boulder.”
- Wired. “The 20 Most Bike Friendly Cities on the Planet.”
- Wikitravel. “Eindhoven.”
- Eindhoven Glow: hrset, CC BY 2.0, via Flickr
- Shimanami Kaido Bicycle Way: redlegsfan21, CC BY 2.0, via Flickr