Top 10…Euro cities to cycle

Want to see a new city and get fit at the same time? Then try doing it by bike...

Producing a fraction of the carbon generated by tour buses and hire cars, the greenest way to see a city is definitely by bicycle. And giving the planet a helping hand isn’t the only reason to swap four wheels for two either. Cycling burns around 600 calories per hour and also helps to tone up leg and stomach muscles so it’s not entirely surprising that cycling is one of the fastest-growing sports in the world.

Even Prince William and Kate Middleton are getting in on the act and have reportedly decided to make cycling part of their honeymoon. But making a city truly bicycle-friendly takes effort and some are doing it better than others. Here’s our round-up of the cities in which travelling by bike is a pleasure as well as a greener way to get around.

Why it’s great: Despite having only 750,000 residents, Amsterdam is home to 600,000 bikes and an impressive 40 per cent of all journeys around the city are made on them. Thanks in part to the narrow streets in the medieval city centre, cycling is by far the most efficient way to get around and there are 400 kilometres of bike paths, many of which run close to key attractions such as Anne Frank’s house, the Van Gogh Museum, Oude Kirk and the Albert Cuyp Market. Bike rental stations are everywhere, with plenty close to the Central Station, the Leidseplein and the Dam, and it costs around €8 per day to hire a bike. If you fancy taking a scheduled tour instead, try Orange Bike’s Historical City Tour which runs twice a day and costs €19.50. The three-hour tour takes in the canal area, the famous red-light district and the recently restored Vondelpark before ending up at a local pub for a cold beer; the Bavaria brand is highly recommended.
Need to know: Amsterdam has several green options, including the Seven Bridges Hotel, a 300 year old town house which has taken the concept of upcycling to new heights. There's also the Conscious Hotel Vondelpark located close to the Rijksmuseum. Most of the furnishings are made from recycled or natural materials, and breakfast is totally organic. For supper, head to Restaurant De Kas, which, in addition to being completely organic and Fairtrade, serves a fixed menu (including three small starters, a main course and a dessert) based on produce harvested the same day.
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Why it’s great: Cycling in London used to be pretty dreadful thanks to an unfortunate combination of rain and aggressive drivers but since the first two Barclays Cycle Superhighways launched last summer, things have become a little easier. While there’s not much that can be done about the rain, the new superhighways, the miles of cycle paths running alongside the Thames and the advent of ‘Boris’ bikes, have turned cycling into a good bet for sightseeing. Bike hire is relatively cheap, costing nothing for the first 30 minutes rising to a maximum fee of £50 for 24 hours. If you fancy a guided tour, The London Bicycle Tour Company offers a great short tour of central London for £16.95, which takes in the changing of the guards outside Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, the London Eye and Trafalgar Square. If even a short tour sounds like too much, then check out Eco Chariot’s rickshaw tours, which at the risk of looking very silly indeed, will let you put your feet up on a pedal-powered tour of the West End.
Need to know: The Savoy has just undergone a £220 million eco-refit, including the installation of the latest carbon-busting green technologies and a dedicated recycling programme, while the Cavendish was the first hotel to win a Green Tourism gold rating. So green is the Cavendish, everything from lifts to bathrooms have been designed with minimising the environmental impact in mind. For lunch stops, check out London’s many markets, such as Borough where you can find locally produced food or one of the thousands of pubs. The best for an eco-friendly lunch is The Duke of Cambridge in Islington: everything on the menu is local, seasonal and organic.
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Why it’s great: While Amsterdam gets the headlines, the Danish capital has been quietly turning itself into one of the best biking cities in the world; a fact revealed when the International Cycling Union gave it the first ‘Bike City’ award last year. With over 30,000 people taking to two wheels every day, free city bikes and dedicated bike lanes on all major roads, getting around Copenhagen by bike is child’s play. As in London, there’s ample opportunity for less active types to make a spectacle of themselves parading around in a pedal-powered rickshaw, and there’s also a handy bike rental scheme, should you wish to hang on to your bike a little longer. Hire starts at DKK60 (around £7) for six hours. For a guided ride, try Bike Copenhagen with Mike, which apart from creating a plethora of punning opportunities, lets you see the sights in the company of Mike – an entertaining and ultra-knowledgeable Copenhagener.
Need to know: Copenhagen is full of hotels that tick the environmentally friendly box but the Scandic Hotel Webers, close to the main train station and the Tivoli gardens, is particularly impressive. Not only is all the food and drink organic, the hotel’s furnishings are made from environmentally sound textiles and a programme aimed at making the building 100 per cent carbon neutral by 2025 is in place. The city also has plenty of organic places to eat, including Soupanatural in Nørrebro, Bio Mio in the meatpacking district and the excellent Restaurant Julian at the National Museum.
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Why it’s great: Surprisingly, given Spain’s reputation for endangering the lives and limbs of cyclists thanks to its motorists’ penchant for going everywhere at top speed, Barcelona has 50,000 regular cyclists and that figure is increasing daily. Perhaps it shouldn’t be quite so surprising, at least when you think of Las Ramblas and its pretty mediaeval streets which are much easier to navigate on two wheels. The comfortable climate is another plus and the city has over 100 kilometres of cycle routes, including the main one at Diagonal. Start at Maria Cristina metro station to avoid the busiest section and head towards Enric Granados Street for a look at some of the Catalan capital’s modernist architecture. Barcelona by Bike offers some unusual tours including an evening option, and our favourite, the Tapas Bike Tour, €37, which takes in some of Barcelona’s best tapas bars.
Need to know: An idiosyncratic outpost of the Camper shoe empire, Casa Camper is a 25-room boutique hotel decked out in the red, green and white Camper colours in the arty Raval area, close to the city centre. Green initiatives include making full use of the sunny Spanish weather with solar panels, the use of eco-friendly lighting and the composting of waste food. There are plenty of places to eat green in Barcelona, where the focus is very much on local produce. One of the nicest is the Federal Café on Parliament Street, which serves up a light, locally sourced menu in a funky setting.
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Why it’s great: While the many hazards of the Place de la Concorde aren’t the greatest advertisement for cycling in Paris, once you’re a safe distance from the city’s infamously crazy drivers – on the pavement in other words – then cycling in Paris can be a real pleasure. Benefiting from the much-copied Vélib scheme, introduced by Mayor Bertrand Delanoe, Paris by bike is now easier and cheaper than ever. Pay €1 for a day pass and you can take an unlimited number of 30 minute journeys, although you will have to pay more should your two-wheel trip turn out to be longer than expected. While the streets around the Champs-Élysées and its vehicular terrors are best avoided, biking up to the Sacré-Cœur for glorious views and a little Amélie-inspired people-watching is a brilliant way to spend an afternoon. Also worth a look are Fat Tyre Bike Tours who do some excellent guided tours, including one that takes in the historic palace of Versailles.
Need to know: The Hotel Gavarni  was the first independent hotel to be awarded the EU ecolabel and ensures everything from the cleaning detergents to the food is as organic and eco-friendly as possible. Another good option is the Hotel de la Porte Doree, which has an excellent recycling scheme and uses 100 per cent eco-friendly cleaning products. While Paris isn’t the most vegetarian-friendly place on earth, it does have a couple of good options including Le Potager du Marais which does hearty organic fare, or the charming Le Grenier du Notre Dame, famous for its excellent macrobiotic menu.
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Why it’s great: With its picturesque setting on the shores of the cerulean Trondheimsfjord, Norway’s fourth largest city has built a reputation for bicycling brilliance thanks to innovations such as the Trampe bicycle lift which takes the effort out of pedalling uphill. You’ll need to rent a key card to use it but at NOK70 (around £7), it doesn’t break the bank. The card also allows you to use one of the city’s 125 rental bikes, which are dotted around 12 central locations. Use your bike to take in the pretty 17th century Bakklandet district, which features a mixture of old fashioned timber-framed houses, shops and cafes, and the stunning Nidaros Cathedral in the city centre.
Need to know: Part of the Scandic hotel chain, the Scandic Solsiden in Trondheim benefits from the chain’s commitment to becoming 100 per cent carbon neutral by 2025, has extensive recycling programmes and employs staff trained in green issues. Trondheim is famous for its sustainably fished local salmon but if fish isn’t your thing, check out Jadab a restaurant on Brattørgata, which serves up a local menu of delicious organic food.
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Why it’s great: Thanks to the combined efforts of Allied air raids and the Communist predilection for destroying picturesque old buildings and replacing them with big, brash new ones, Berlin’s streets are wonderfully wide, which makes it easy to get around by bike. The German capital is also built on very flat land, meaning you can cycle the 30km from Neukölln in the south-western part of the city, to Wannsee, a placid lakeside borough, without breaking a sweat. Insider Tour’s Berlin by Bike, €24, is the pick of the guided tours, and takes in all the main sights, including the Brandenburg Gate, Hitler’s Bunker and the Berlin Wall, before ending up at a local beer garden.
Need to know: The Circus Hotel is committed to an ethical approach in all aspects of the business and only uses local food suppliers who subscribe to the hotel’s stringent green standards. Another option is the Radisson Blu Hotel, Berlin, which has won awards for green hospitality and was recognised by the TÜV Rheinland Group for its outstanding environmental management. For eating out, try La Mano Verde on Scharnhorststrasse, which serves an organic, 25 per cent raw, vegan menu. Quirkier but no less yummy is Sun Day Burgers at the Mauer Park flea market which serves substantial tofu burgers from an old-school wagon.
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Why it’s great: Featuring street lanes geared to cyclists and dedicated left hand turns to make crossing the road safer, Basel tops the list of cities to cycle in Switzerland. Bikes can also be hired cheaply from Rent-a-Bike in the Centralbahnplatz underneath the Basel SBB railway station. Generally safe, the main hazard is the trams, which have right-of-way over just about everything, and the tramlines, which have a knack for trapping front wheels. One of the nicest routes to try is along the Pfalz, a terrace, which runs behind the cathedral and has spectacular views over the Rhine. If you’re feeling energetic, smoby Basel Bike Tours runs 10 to 15 kilometre trips around Basel and the surrounding area.
Need to know: There’s not a huge amount of choice for the green traveller but the Basel Hilton is pretty good and has excellent water conservation and recycling policies. It also has a special facility for drivers of electric cars who can fill up at the hotel’s solar-powered filling station. Try Gleich, an upscale vegetarian on Steinenvorstadstrasse for healthy, locally sourced vegetarian food.
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Why it’s great: If the frantic tooting and hazardous driving of Roman motorists doesn’t put you off, the Italian capital can prove surprisingly easy for cyclists. Cycling is by far the best bet for seeing the sights close to the Tiber, where a picturesque route runs from the Ponte Sublicio to the Ponte della Magliana. Located at Rome’s two main stations, Roma Termini and Roma Tiburtina, Eco Move Rent lets you hire bikes for an ultra reasonable €10 per day. If you want to try a guided tour, Top Bike Rental does three different tours, including a spin around the city centre and a route that takes you out along the famous Appian Way.
Need to know: The EcoHotel Roma does an organic breakfast and is water and energy efficient, while the Hotel Napoleon Roma has an environmental management programme to reduce the hotel’s carbon footprint and an excellent recycling scheme. While pasta, pizza and other Italian foodie delights are everywhere, if you fancy something a little healthier, check out Bibliothe on Via Celsa. A vegetarian restaurant specialising in Ayurvedic food, whole grain organic pasta and dhosas, Bibliothe uses 99 per cent organic ingredients.
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Why it’s great: With its charming twisty lanes and dedicated bike routes, Lyon is a cyclists’ paradise and it knows it. Whether you’re looking for traditional pedal-powered bikes or high tech electric cycles, there are plenty of places to find them. If you’ve got the family in tow or don’t fancy moving around under your own steam, check out the TaxiByke ‘Cyclotour’ which starts at €20 per person and involves a slightly bizarre-looking electric tricycle.  Bike and See also has a great two hour Saone Views tour which takes you along the banks of the Saone river between Fourvière and the Croix-Rousse hills, providing you with spectacular views of the city.
Need to know: As in Basel, there are no dedicated eco-hotels but there are some reasonably green options including the Radisson Blu, Lyon, which was awarded a Green Key for responsible tourism and uses local suppliers that are committed to ethical standards of food production and agriculture. While there are plenty of restaurants focusing on locally sourced food, for great vegetarian and organic food, Soline on the Rue Paul Bert, is well worth investigating.
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