Wind in your hair, landscapes whipping by, cruising through peaceful forests: embracing the outdoors on two wheels is one of the healthiest and most enjoyable ways to get around. Here’s our round-up of great cycling routes which offer something for everyone, from multi-day adventures to relaxing day trips.
This dedicated capital-to-capital route whisks you from the Brandenburg Gate to the Little Mermaid through bucolic scenery, including Germany’s Muritz National Park (home to more than 130 lakes), a stretch aboard a ferry across the Baltic Sea between Rostock, Germany, and Gedser, Denmark, and along gorgeous sea-hugging paths following the Danish coast.
Buenos Aires Ecological Reserve, Buenos Aires, Argentina (km: variable; park: 360 hectares)
It may not be a specific named route per se, but this eco-reserve on the edge of Buenos Aires is a cyclist’s paradise. The reserve boasts a network of paths and boardwalks across marshes and wetlands, with ample birdwatching and views of the river, the Rio de la Plata. And in summer, the stretch along the water is also a few degrees cooler that the steamy city. But all year round, this expanse of green is a tranquil escape from the bustle a mere 10-20 ride from the fashionable San Telmo and Puerto Madero neighbourhoods.
Hungary’s most famous cycle path goes all the way around Lake Balaton, Europe’s largest freshwater lake. Pedal past vineyards stretching from the water up the hills, Mediterranean-style lakeside towns, a bounty of restaurants serving fresh local fish and plenty of opportunities for dips in the milky green lake.
Cape Cod Rail Trail, Massachusetts, USA (35km)
One of New England’s most popular cycle trails runs along the path of abandoned railroad tracks on Cape Cod, Massachusetts’ thin hook of a peninsula. Stretching between the Dennis and Wellfleet townships, the trail meanders through quaint seaside villages with low-key food shacks serving clam chowder, lobster rolls (a lobster sandwich/New England fave) and freshly shucked oysters. It connects to several shorter bike paths, but we’re partial to the turn-off for Nauset trail: it drops you right on Coast Guard Beach, part of the Cape Cod National Seashore and set beneath rising dunes.
Berliner Mauerweg/Berlin Wall Cycle Route, Germany
This route traces the former path of the Berlin Wall, which was dismantled piece by piece in the early 1990s. Cycling the entire circle – about 160km – would take a few days, but most people explore a portion past some of Berlin’s most famous sights, such as the Reichstag, home to Germany’s parliament and topped by a Norman Foster-designed glass dome, the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin’s neoclassical landmark, and the Berlin Wall Memorial Site, where you can examine reconstructed remnants of the wall learn about its history.
Lands End to John o’Groats, UK (1480 km)
Each year, thousands of people hit the road and cycle the entire length of the UK from top to bottom between John o’Groats, Scotland, and Land’s End in Cornwall,England. There are three routes to choose – the standard route hits major roads, the fastest sticks to busy thoroughfares, and the most scenic follows small roads. But they all pass dramatic landscapes including the Scottish Highlands, the Lake District and the wild Cornish Coast.
Extending from Puerto Montt in central Chile to northern Patagonia via a series of ferries, this long and rugged span juts through Queulat and Cerro Castillo national parks and wows with spectacular blue-white glaciers, majestic fjords and chiseled mountains between sleepy villages.
Munda Biddi Trail, Australia (about 330km)
Mundi Biddi means ‘path through the forest’ in local Aboriginal language, and this trail in Western Australia winds its way through long stretches of countryside packed with eucalyptus trees, pretty river valleys and offers ample opportunities to see local wildlife like wallabies, possums and kangaroos.
Tai Wai to Tai Mei Tuk, Hong Kong, China (20km)
This city cycling path starts in Tai Wai village, a mere subway ride away from the centre of town, and takes you past temples, green spaces and along the waterfront to end in Tai Mei Tuk, another village sitting between Tolo Harbour and a rugged ridge of mountains.
Unsurprisingly, there’s a growing network of cycling superhighways linking Dutch cities, but our favourite takes you from Utrecht to Amsterdam. The route features urban and village sections, goes over the Breukelen Bridge (Brooklyn, New York, is named after the village of Breukelen), skirts the Amsterdam Rhine canal filled with massive barges and the tranquil Gein river.
Offering some of the world’s most iconic sights, best museums and superb cuisines, Europe is always an attractive and exciting destination, though overpriced hotels, extortionate entry fees and eye-wateringly priced restaurants in many parts of the continent can make travel here feel less than a bargain at times. Below we give you our tips for the best value destinations in the continent that has it all – whether it’s a city break with style or an extreme sports adventure, these are the places to go in Europe to get the best travel experiences for your money in 2013.
It’s perhaps worth noting that old fallacy that the Chinese word for ‘crisis’ is the same as that for ‘opportunity.’ While Greece’s economic miseries may continue, there’s never been a better time to island hop, with perceived instability deterring many regular visitors. As a result Greece’s normally packed beaches will be far quieter than usual this summer, more welcoming than ever and island economies are likely to be far cheaper especially if you travel outside of peak season. Some of our favourite spots include Hydra, Kefallonia, Ikaria and Santorini.
In the charming and dramatically hilly Portuguese capital of Lisbon your money goes a long way: delicious coffee or a pastel de nata (traditional custard tart) in the sun tend to cost less than a euro, and you can eat well and ride around town on the rickety but romantic network of old trams for similarly bargain prices. Free museums such as the contemporary collection of the Museu Colecção Berardo are further deal sweeteners – and there are always the beaches to the south of the city to enjoy on a day trip if you tire of the city’s plentiful urban pursuits.
It may never become a true budget destination, but Iceland is cheaper that it has been in a decade following several economically tumultuous years and a currency devaluation that suddenly made its once outrageous prices far more reasonable. This makes now a superb time to discover this stunning North Atlantic island where volcanoes, geysers, glaciers and hot springs create one of the planet’s most exciting landscapes. For those on a very tight budget, wild camping is allowed across Iceland and is a great hotel alternative for those that don’t mind roughing it.
Getting Mediterranean beaches to yourself can be a mission anywhere in Europe, let alone getting them at a decent price. Even Albania’s Ioanian coastline, long a backpacker magnet, has become pricey and crowded in parts, as new roads and hotels have been constructed along what is certainly some of Southern Europe’s most beautiful coastline. But there are still bargains to be had: Vuno and Drymades are still development-free and boast access to superb slices of idyllic beach. Elsewhere Albania offers superb mountain walking, ancient mountain towns and a plucky, fun and cheap capital city, Tirana.
Surprisingly, Berlin, the capital of Europe’s largest economy is also one of its cheapest cities. And what a city: where else can you see Cold War and WWII relics in the flesh, enjoy a selection of some of Europe’s best contemporary art and shopping before dining on traditional German food with a modern twist and then spending a pittance as you bar hop between some of the coolest and most fun bars and clubs on the planet? What’s more, mid-range accommodation is at rock bottom prices here, just a fraction of what you’ll pay in cities of similar stature such as London, Paris or Rome.
Where? Few people can place the treeless Danish-ruled Faroe Islands approximately halfway between Scotland and Iceland, and that’s a shame as the 18 extraordinary-looking volcanic creations that soar out of the Atlantic offer some of Europe’s best-value hiking and bird watching. With the Danish government generously subsidising the helicopters and boats that function like buses between the islands, you can zip about very affordably and enjoy world-class walking without seeing so much as another soul. Accommodation is in surprisingly comfortable hostels and increasingly popular homestays arranged by the tourist board.
It’s easy to spend a fortune in the Netherlands‘ stylish capital, but the city has plenty of gratis goodies up for grabs. Check out our pick of the freebies on offer.
More canals flow in Amsterdam than in Venice, and get this: the 400-year-old waterways are a UNESCO World Heritage site. So roaming around them is like being in a free, living museum, albeit with a beery cafe every few metres.
2. Civic Guard GalleryAs a free teaser to its collection, the Amsterdam Museum (Kalverstraat 92;www.amsterdammuseum.nl) hangs a gape-worthy slew of Golden Age portraits – peers of Rembrandt’s Night Watch – in the arcade by the entrance.
3. Albert CuypmarktTo get a feel for the ‘real’ Amsterdam, trawl its largest street market (Albert Cuypstraat; www.albertcuypmarkt.nl). Moroccan, Surinamese, Indonesian and Dutch residents haggle over shimmering fabrics, cheeses, bike locks, socks and herring sandwiches.
4. Sandeman’s New Amsterdam ToursYoung guides working on a tip-only basis show you the Red Light District, Anne Frank House and other top sights on a three-hour, whiz-bang walkabout (www.newamsterdamtours.com). Departure is at 11:15am and 1:15 pm from theNationaal Monument at Dam Square.
Breathe deep on a stroll through the Bloemenmarkt (Singel, between Muntplein & Koningsplein), where crimson tulips, yellow daffodils and purple lilies jumble against a dramatic canal backdrop. You’ll have to pay for a bouquet, but it’s free to smell the roses.
6. BegijnhofTo explore this secret courtyard (main entrance off Gedempte Begijnensloot;www.begijnhofamsterdam.nl), find the humble wood door in Amsterdam’s busy centre, push it open, and voilà – an oasis of 14th-century houses and gardens appears, along with two clandestine, relic-filled churches.
7. Stadsarchief (City Archives)You never know what treasures you’ll discover in these archives (Vijzelstraat 32;www.stadsarchief.amsterdam.nl): a 1942 police report on Anne Frank’s bike theft, photos from John and Yoko’s 1969 bed-in at the Hilton, or a 1625 city map. Displays rotate regularly.
8. Concertgebouw on WednesdaysSharpen your elbows, because the older women in furs are ruthless trying to get into this famed classical hall’s free lunchtime shows (often rehearsals for musicians playing later that evening). Concerts take place from 12:30pm to 1pm on Wednesdays, from mid-September through to June (Concertgebouwplein 2-6;www.concertgebouw.nl).
9. Muziektheater on TuesdaysPerformers from the opera and Dutch Philharmonic also stage free lunchtime gigs at their mod venue. The high Cs fly from 12:30pm to 1pm on Tuesdays, from September through May (Waterlooplein 22; www.hetmuziektheater.nl).
Here’s one more freebie for the musically minded: the Bimhuis (Piet Heinkade 3;www.bimhuis.nl) – the core of Amsterdam’s influential jazz scene – hosts a rollicking jam session every Tuesday at 10pm from September to June. Join the band, or just listen in.
11. NDSM-werfHop on the free ferry behind Centraal Station and set sail for NDSM-werf (www.ndsm.nl), a derelict shipyard turned avant-garde arts community. Check out the recycled-junk sculptures, graffiti artists roaming the streets and giant wooden tiki head watching over it all.
12. Nieuwe Kerk (New Church)The historic stage for royal coronations, this soaring building from 1408 is now used for large-scale art exhibitions. They charge admission, but you’re welcome to slip through the gift shop and head upstairs for a free peek and display on the church’s history (Dam Square; www.nieuwekerk.nl).
13. Gassan Diamond Factory TourDon’t know your princess from marquise, river from top cape? Get the bling lowdown on Gassan’s one-hour tour, and watch gem cutters and polishers in action (Nieuwe Uilenburgerstraat 173-175; www.gassan.com).
14. Hollandsche Manege (Riding School)Softly sunlit and smelling of horses, this riding school (Vondelstraat 140;www.dehollandschemanege.nl) impresses even non-equestrians with its gorgeous neoclassical architecture and elegant cafe from which to view the regal trotting.
15. Amsterdam Architecture FoundationARCAM (Prins Hendrikkade 600; www.arcam.nl), per its Dutch acronym, features exhibits on uber-cool urban design. Staff also point you to free resources, such as digital guides to architecture along tram routes.
16. Cannabis CollegeThis non-profit centre educates about Amsterdam’s favourite herb. Chat with staff about coffee shop etiquette, browse bong displays, view hemp-made products or try out a vaporiser (Oudezijds Achterburgwal 124; www.cannabiscollege.com).
While the art-house movies and main-floor exhibitions cost money, the interactive Dutch film displays in the basement cost zilch. To reach the gleaming facility, take the free ‘Buiksloterweg’ ferry from behind Centraal Station (IJpromenade 1;www.eyefilm.nl).
18. Centrale Bibliotheek (Main Library)Sure, you can grab an international newspaper and settle into a cushy sofa for the afternoon. But don’t get so comfy that you miss the top-floor cafeteria whose deck unfurls an awesome city vista (Oosterdokskade 143; www.oba.nl).
19. North/South Metro Line ViewpointDescend the stairs in the middle of Rokin street and behold the new subway system being excavated. Colossal digging machines roar in the abyss, and the whole place rumbles when a tram passes overhead (across from Rokin 96;www.noordzuidlijn.amsterdam.nl).
20. Multatuli MuseumRenowned novelist Eduard Douwes Dekker (pen name Multatuli) wrote about corrupt colonialists in the Dutch East Indies. This small but fascinating museum-home(Korsjespoortsteeg 20; www.multatuli-museum.nl) chronicles his works and shows artifacts from his time in Indonesia.