Was it George Orwell who famously wrote that two wheels are better than four? Come to think of it, didn’t an alarmingly anthropomorphic swine say it? Was that a fever dream? It doesn’t matter, but what does matter is Europe is trying its little heart out to make cities more accessible for those intrepid warriors (and hipsters) looking to get around by bike. What are the best cities for cycling in Europe? How many of them are in the north?
French insurance company Luko (the number one home insurtech in Europe, whatever that means) crunched the numbers and did the dirty work to answer those questions. The security boffins analysed cycling conditions in 90 cities worldwide, places selected for willingness to invest and embrace new initiatives.
The study focused on weather, crime and safety, infrastructure, events, bike-sharing and overall usage, coming to a final score using a hilarious-looking formula that we will pretend to understand. While Luko states that it isn’t a list of the best places for cycling, we will ignore that because conviction is half the battle. Ladies, gentlemen, and workers of Manor Farm, these are the best cycling cities in Europe.
#1 Utrecht, Netherlands
The best city for cycling in Europe? Step forward and collect your prize, Utrecht. The Dutch Delight is small but perfectly formed, combining a long and storied history with a young and creative populace. If that sounds like a recipe for bicycle broth, you aren’t wrong. According to the study, 51% of Utrechters use a bike daily, and the city scores well in every single category, with next to no bike crime cuddling up nicely with extensive infrastructure and a healthy cycling culture. Utrecht doesn’t just top this list; it flat-out smashes the competition, with its overall score of 77.84 being more than 10 points higher than second place. Home to the first cycle path in the Netherlands (1885), Utrecht is what cycling dreams are made of, provided bicycles get enough REM sleep.
#2 Münster, Germany
No monsters are hiding on the cycle paths of Münster, a predictable joke that we are contractually obliged to make. Germany’s bicycle capital has embraced the bi-wheel revolution, with more people cycling daily than driving cars. How could they not? Münster has a quality network of bike paths and fantastic infrastructure, with all the city’s districts linked, while shops and rentals are seemingly everywhere. Münster is the largest German city that doesn’t have a U-Bahn, but who needs such gimmicky modernity when you have the magic of two wheels, a frame, handlebars, a seat, and presumably some sort of novelty bell? Münster also hosts heaps of cycling events, which help the community grow with every passing year.
#3 Antwerp, Belgium
While Luko’s list covers several variables, Antwerp’s high rank shows that excellence in certain areas can sometimes make up for failings in others. Well, that or it lays bare the limitations of the study, but who are we to judge? Less than 30% of Antwerp’s residents cycle regularly. Still, those that do are treated to a quality bike-sharing system and clear bike paths. Being a small city certainly helps, and the infrastructure is continually improving. Sure, there could be more bike paths, but occasional car-free days might compensate for that.
#4 Copenhagen, Denmark
Copenhagen must be seething. If the Danish capital isn’t the world’s greatest cycling city, who has the temerity to claim that crown? Utrecht, as we’ve already seen, but rest assured, Copenhagen will return for its title, no matter what it takes. Looking at the data, it isn’t entirely clear why Copenhagen isn’t higher. Sure, it doesn’t do too well on sharing and rentals, but that is because everyone already owns a bike. A victim of its own success? Maybe. Copenhagen is a wonderful place for cycling, with a majority of the population making its way around town on two wheels. Simply put, if you are writing a list of the best cycling cities and Copenhagen is missing, your list is worthless.
#5 Amsterdam, Netherlands
Come to think of it, everything written for Copenhagen, repeat for Amsterdam. The Dutch capital is one of the most delightful cycling experiences on the planet. Close your eyes and think of Amsterdam; do you not see handsome people riding by canals and winsome architecture? That isn’t what you think of when you close your eyes and think of Amsterdam? You do you, buddy. Amsterdam has an extensive network of bike paths, plenty of options for rentals and a deeply-embedded cycling culture.
#6 Malmö, Sweden
Cycling in Malmö is safe, enjoyable and convenient. The city is compact and flat as the proverbial pancake, so there is no excuse. The bike lanes are separate from the city’s motorised traffic, and plenty of rental options are dotted throughout the town. Malmö’s cycling culture is constantly growing, with occasional events and many repair shops throughout the city. What more is there to say? Whether you are a resident of Malmö or visiting this charmer for the first time, get yourself on the saddle and explore the city at its most marvellous.
#7 Bern, Switzerland
While Bern’s origins are found in its hilly surroundings, the centre of the modern city is reasonably flat. We are lazier than you might expect from an experienced troupe of travellers, and cycling uphill sounds like a punishment. Throw in an excellent bike-sharing system and no shortage of separate bike paths throughout the city, and the Swiss capital deserves its lofty position in this ranking. The percentage of people cycling in the city remains low, but those who commit to the saddle are in for a treat. Crime is super low too, which is always good. It is difficult to go for a cycle if your bike has been stolen. Not impossible, but difficult.
#8 Bremen, Germany
If you have ever wanted to explore a federal state in Germany by bike, Bremen is the place for you. The city centre circuit is a charming way to get to know the town before continuing onto the surroundings, as the Weser Cycle Way links everything beautifully. The Bremerhaven circuit takes intrepid cyclists past lighthouses, docks and the intangible magic of history, with safety and convenience at the head of the table. Bremen lets itself down a bit with its relative lack of bike-sharing, but the excellence of the paths makes up for that. The Neustadt district is the flag-bearer, a bikes-first area with a 30km/h speed limit and priority for cyclists.
#9 Hannover, Germany
Germany’s cycling brilliance continues with Hannover, a stunning city in Lower Saxony best known for its public gardens and greenery. Industry, too, but let’s focus on the parks. Exploring those gardens by bike has never been easier, with ever-improving infrastructure and a growing number of cycling tours opening the place up for curious visitors. There are plenty of long-distance cycle paths in Lower Saxony, perfect for energetic folks looking to explore the wider region. Hannover also has several no-car days throughout the year and rental options covering short sprints to the entire day.
#10 Strasbourg, France
With more than 600km of bike paths and a strong cycling culture, Strasbourg earns its corn as the bike capital of France. There are over 6,500 self-service bicycles available throughout the city at an affordable rate, and the city is frequently establishing initiatives to encourage more people to hit the saddle. Every June, there is an inter-company competition designed to showcase the business commitment to cycling, and that influence spreads to everyday life. Cycling in Strasbourg is catered to all abilities and desires, from flat central routes to hilly challenges and beyond.
#11 Bordeaux, France
Bordeaux is the gateway to Le Vélodyssée, the 1300km cycle route that hugs the Atlantic, so you better believe it is a pretty good city for cycling. The city has excellent sharing and rental choices, no-car days, and excellent safety conditions. Also, cycling past vineyards? Yes, please.
#12 Hamburg, Germany
Hamburg is an open city (both in outlook and design) that is as flat as it is fascinating, making it an excellent place for cycling. The so-called Gateway to the World also has a great network of convenient bike paths.
#13 Leipzig, Germany
Recent years have seen Leipzig make a concerted effort to improve conditions for cyclists, with new bike paths and rental options established throughout East Germany’s largest city.
#14 Bristol, United Kingdom
If a list concerns innovation and forward-thinking, Bristol isn’t too far away. Despite all those hills, Bristol is as cycle-friendly as the UK gets.
#15 Nuremberg, Germany
Exploring Nuremberg’s castles and extravagant architecture by bike is a delightful experience, with bike paths all over the city.
#16 Innsbruck, Austria
Austria has a long way to go before it can compete in such rankings, but the Jewel of the Austrian Alps remains a shining example of what is possible. Innsbruck has 520km of bike paths that showcase the magnificence of the city, one pedal at a time.
#17 Berlin, Germany
Berlin is a massive city that can be a little overwhelming, but it remains delightfully accessible by bike. There are many rental options in every district, and the presence of cyclists doesn’t seem to shock drivers into idiotic behaviour. One of our favourite Berlin memories involves a day of cycling (2014, how you are missed), so maybe we are a little biased with this one.
#18 Cologne, Germany
Wow, the Luko list really did spam Germany at one point. Add Cologne to the ever-growing mound of German cities with excellent conditions for cyclists, although the real two-wheel highlight here is the most beautiful section of the Rhine bike trail, connecting the town with Mainz some 190km away.
#19 Dresden, Germany
Dresden is a fascinating study in 20th-century city planning, although the circumstances under which that happened make the use of the word ‘fascinating’ a little crass. The Elbe Cycle Path snakes through the city, and Dresden’s many parks are great spots for a little two-wheel action.
#20 Frankfurt, Germany
Frankfurt is a state-of-the-art city in many different ways, but does its cycling infrastructure match up to its business acumen and addiction to skyscrapers? Sort of! The city scores well with safety and bike paths, the latter shining brightest with the river-hugging Main route.
#21 Dusseldorf, Germany
Dusseldorf is one of Germany’s most underrated cities, and you’ll see plenty of bikes on its fashion-conscious streets. The city’s cycling website leaves no stone unturned, although the presence of stones on the streets might hinder cyclists in the zone. Get the RADschlag app for all your biking information, but don’t you dare use that smartphone while cycling.
#22 Bonn, Germany
Did you know that when choosing the capital of West Germany, the cycling conditions in Bonn were at the centre of the city’s advertising pitch? Neither did we, because we just made that up, but the former West German capital scores well in most categories in the Luko survey. Some of the flat stretches on the banks of the Rhine are delightful.
#23 Nice, France
Please don’t do it. Please, please, don’t do it. Cycling on the Cote d’Azur sounds like something out of a dream, but dreams come true in Nice. The city has everything from secret routes to famous journeys. Cycling here is really nice. Wait, what…