With new promises that cyclists will be given priority over drivers, now is a great time to get to know the capital’s many beautiful bike rides
Many things look different now that the UK is slowly emerging from the lockdown – and one of the more permanent changes may be how many bikes we see out and about.
The Transport Secretary Grant Shapps recently told MPs that bike use in England doubled during the week and trebled at weekends at the height of the coronavirus lockdown.
Keen to capitalise on this sudden urge of cycling enthusiasm, he has promised that cyclists will be given priority over drivers in the coming weeks and months.
Local authorities will be “reprioritising how they think about road space,” with Transport for London planning a “bike Tube” network running above Underground lines. In short, there has never been a better time to start cycling. To celebrate, here are ten of London’s most beautiful bikes routes.
1. The Thames Path
Ambitious cyclists should look to take on the Thames Path (), an enormous route that covers 184 miles. This National Trail is primarily aimed at walkers, and starts outside London – near the source of the River Thames in Kemble, Gloucestershire – but makes for good cycling too. It ends at the Thames Barrier at Charlton, and despite there being lots of “pedestrian-only” sections with cyclists required to get off and walk, there’s plenty of London-based routes to choose from. Two highlights are Weybridge to Hampton Court (5.8 miles) routes and Hampton Court to Putney (National Cycle Route 4), which both offer beautiful views of the Thames.
2. Greenwich to Gravesend
One of the best parts of the Thames Path for cyclists runs between Greenwich and Gravesend. Some of the more narrow parts require walking (particularly around the Cutty Sark), but this 25-mile route offers a look at some of the capital’s industrial heritage. Start a little off the Thames Path on National Cycle Route 1 to also see the O2 and the Thames Barrier on your trip. From there you’ll continue to the Darent Valley Path near Erith, and all the way along to the town of Gravesend in Kent.
3. The River Lea
Though London is dominated by the Thames, the River Lea/Lee is a lovely alternative to cycle along. Originating in the Bedfordshire part of the Chiltern Hills, the river snakes its way through Hertfordshire and then Greater London, forming Bow Creek before it meets the River Thames. The best London-based cycle route along it starts in the Tottenham Marshes, where you can head south along a towpath. Once you’ve reached Hackney Wick station, there are two options to take. Either follow the Hertford Union Canal straight to Victoria Park (an ideal spot for a picnic lunch), or take the towpath running parallel to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, to end up at London’s Olympic Stadium.
4. Hyde Park Loop
Nervous cyclists should take advantage of Hyde Park’s traffic-free lanes: its internal loop is only 7km and despite the park’s enduring popularity is a relatively people-free ride to take. Boris bikes can be found by the entrance closest to Marble Arch, if you don’t have your own ride yet. The peaceful loop takes you through the Italian gardens, past Kensington Palace, the Royal Albert Hall and the Albert Memorial. Those wanting to extend their route can go further into the park’s 142 hectares, cycling alongside the Serpentine to see the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain.
5. Parkland Walk
This two-and-a-half mile pedestrian and cycle route is a lush little patch of green within the city. The route follows the railway line that used to run between Finsbury Park and Alexandra Palace, but those wanting to continue on can exit the trail and head onwards to Highgate Cemetery, another leafy London spot and the final resting spot of a number of famous figures, including William Friese-Greene, the inventor of cinematography, and Karl Marx. Keep your eye out for the visual treat of the Spriggan, a sculpture of a mythical spirit fairy hidden under the disused railway arches that only adds to this route’s charm.
6. The Wandle Trail
The 14-mile Wandle Trail is exceedingly family-friendly. The wide gravel path is clearly signposted and a great place to have a first cycling lesson. The route gets its name from the River Wandle, which it follows from Wandsworth down to Croydon in a flat, pretty trail that goes through south-west London’s riot of parks. The Croyden end of the trail is a bit more traffic-heavy, so less confident cyclists may want to tap out before then. The route is also good for those interested in London’s industrial history: in its 19th-century heyday, the Wandle was known as the ‘hardest working river in London’, with over 90 mills along its banks.
7. The Tamsin Trail
Richmond Park is a good way to see an iconic London sight without masses of crowds: the park is the city’s biggest and as such, never feels overcrowded. Its seven-and-a-half-mile Tamsin Trail route loops around the perimeter of the park and is a circuit that can be enjoyed no matter your skill level. Join the path at any of the park’s entrance gates, and pedal away among the royal deer-filled grounds. Key sights include Pembroke Lodge, a Grade II-listed Georgian mansion; Isabella Plantation, a woodland garden that’s always full of seasonal flowers; and Ham House, a 17th-century house with yet more gardens.
8. Epping Forest/Lee Valley
Road cycling is convenient but can be noisy, smelly and frankly, a bit scare-inducing, so it’s always nice to take a break. Lee Valley (), which runs across London, Essex and Hertfordshire, is one such opportunity. Find it by heading north from Hackney Wick and up the River Lea – you’ll quickly find yourself in London’s largest public open space, which merges with Epping Forest. There’s over 40 miles of surfaced and unsurfaced bridleways within the forested area making it a dream for those who like to get well and truly lost in nature. Go on a search for Queen Elizabeth I’s Hunting Lodge, originally built by Henry VIII, or take the Artway Route to see a wealth of cute sculptures, musical instruments and even a Viking signpost.
9. Westminster Bridge to Box Hill
This cycling route was part of the 2012 Olympic road cycling route, so isn’t one for beginners. Those who do take it on will be rewarded, however, as the 20-mile ride takes you through some of London’s most idyllic outskirts, including Richmond Park and the Wimbledon commons. Those with thighs of steel can also take on the Box Hill climb after completing their cycle.
10. East-West Cycle Superhighway
London’s East-West Cycle Superhighway runs from Lancaster Gate to Tower Hill and is ideal for anyone looking to take in a big chunk of the city’s main attractions. A tour de force of London’s tourist sights, the superhighway was originally designed to make getting across London easier for cyclists (and, funnily enough, horses), but also makes it a breeze to see St James’s, Hyde, and Regent’s Park, as well as landmarks like Big Ben, Buckingham Palace and Tower Bridge.