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5 friendliest cycling cities for an up-close travel experience

Posted: Jun 29 2016

Bicycling through town--especially a relaxed and culturally vibrant place with tons to see and do--is a perfect way to pass a casual summer vacation on your terms. You can stop along the way and take part of anything that interests you: pop into a museum or gallery, stop for a snack and a glass of wine, or people-watch and write postcards at a local park.

Here we've curated five bike-friendly cities you might not have thought of as a destination, but take on a new twist when you consider how you could connect--with the town, your partner or family, or your own sense of freedom and curiosity--by experiencing it on a bicycle.

Cycling in Amsterdam is a way of life. Amsterdam has a wide net of traffic-calmed streets and world-class facilities for cyclists. All around are bike paths, racks and bicycle parking stations which can be used for a nominal fee. In fact, driving a car is discouraged: parking fees are expensive, and many streets are closed to cars or are one-way.

 There really is no better way to experience Amsterdam than by bike. Each neighborhood of Amsterdam has its own unique character and charm, and its own variety of shops, restaurants, cafes, museums and attractions. There's Oud-West, an energetic and progressive area where you can pop into trendy design stores, hip cafe bars and some of the best restaurants in the city. Meander over to NDSM Wharf, a former shipyard located on the banks of the River IJ. The NDSM Wharf has blossomed into an enormous cultural hotspot in recent years with a vibrant artist community and an ever-expanding variety of bars and restaurants. The Wharf is host to festivals, performances, exhibitions, dance parties and a wide range of other events in cool, post-industrial surroundings. Pedal through spacious Oosterpark, lined with 19th century buildings and boasting one of the most ethnically diverse selection of food you can imagine. And fashionistas take note: Waterloopleinmarkt is the city's flea market. (Better rent a bike with a big basket.)

 

Charm, charm, et plus de charme! Greater Bordeaux, boasting more than 400 miles of bicycle paths, is one of the most cyclable cities in the world. Its beautiful living environment, commitment to eco-friendly transport and pristine countryside puts Bordeaux at the top of every French ranking of liveable cities. 

 Bordeaux has a plethora of inexpensive bike rental options and docking stations all over, making it easy to hop on a bicycle and meander through vineyards or along the Garonne’s curving riverfront, to the stunning Place de la Bourse. Stop to splash through the ‘Mirroir d’Eau’, Europe’s most extravagant puddle. Or hire a private tour guide--they are often full of history, stories and humorous tidbits on the local areas.

 

The soulful city of Seville, Spain--known for it's jaw-dropping historical architecture, mouth-watering food and colorful festivals--has transformed into one of the most cycling-friendly cities in the world over the past few years. Many of the city's 75 miles of segregated bike lanes bike lanes are protected by a curb and a fence. If 75 miles isn't enough, there even more routes radiating out from the loop around the old town. The overall sense of cycling is not as a pursuit or sport but, in the Dutch style, a deeply everyday activity--little more than a more efficient means of walking.

 Now boasting over 50 bike shops from which to rent or buy, one shop in the old town, Santa Cleta, even runs courses for unemployed locals to become trained cycle mechanics. It also has a municipal bike hire program called SEVici, with 2,500 bikes and 250 docking stations--perfect for short- to mid-term stays. Of course you must stop in to one of the city's fantastic ceviche spots while riding your SEVici-rented bike. (Sorry, had to.)

 

Portland, a city known for its cool forests and unexpected family-friendly attractions, has more than 300 miles of bike lanes, paths and low-traffic streets designated as "bike boulevards". 

 Almost any time of year you plan a stay in Portland, you can count on being able to cycle right through the heart of fun. Portland is host to fabulously quirky and entertaining events, many of which are even bike-centric. There are of course the autumn beer festivals--and with its many taverns and award-winning breweries, bikes and beer are a natural Portland pairing on whatever schedule. Or go in June for Pedalpalooza or the World Naked Bike Ride--a protest against oil dependency. (And pants.)

 Apparently Portland is famous not only for beer but for donuts. You can map a tour of the best donut haunts, and the beauty of it is you're working off the calories as you find the next hip sweetery.

 

Austin's urban trail network, including the Southern Walnut Creek Trail, the Boardwalk and the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge, have put it on the map as one of America's friendliest bike cities. As if the weird capital didn't have enough to offer for a long weekend mini-adventure--BBQ, bands and craft beer--you can really experience it all on a local level by biking right into it. 

 Austin B-cycle is now one of the most successful bike share systems in the country. Grab a bicycle and trek down the six mile-long Lance Armstrong Bikeway that stretches through downtown to the historic Rainey Street District. Stop at Butler Park, then take a scenic ride along the lake to the prehistoric swimming hole, Barton Springs, for a dip in crystal clear spring water--right in the heart of Austin. 

 You can find one of over 250 live music venues to wander into and enjoy some local tunes; Austin Bike Tours and Rentals will even take you on a local trek that ends with watching the nightly flight of a millions-strong colony of the largest urban bat population in the United States.

 Bats not your bag? Get creative and venture out past city limits to ride for miles and miles through beautiful ranchland, and on your return stop into one of the city's top craft beer destinations for a cold refresher.

 

Biking is a way to be more fully engaged, more likely to encounter friendly experiences with the locals and is an exhilarating change of pace from days in an office. Whether you're on a once-in-a-lifetime European holiday, or a long weekend getaway, kickstart your senses and social interactions by experiencing it on a bicycle.

 Tell us: What has been one of your favorite bicycle mini-adventures? If you can bike around your own town, what do you carry in your basket?

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