Cycling and free time make for a great pairing, especially if you like to be outside and in touch with nature once in a while, instead of choking down fumes on the city streets. Time Out has come up with 10 cycling routes within the city limits and outside to help you get to know Barcelona from a different point of view, whether you're a seasoned cyclist or it's your first time out since the stabilisers came off.
Circular route up to the Montjuïc castle (1.5h, 11km, intermediate)
The Olympic mountain is a good place to admire the city from on high while getting your legs in shape. From Plaça d'Espanya, the gentlest incline is along Av. de l'Estadi, but you can also take C/Lleida or Passeig de Santa Madrona, where there are some truly incredible curves. From the stadium, go up to the castle via Passeig Olímpic and the streets Doctor Font and Quer, followed by Can Valero, which lead to Passeig Migdia. From here, turn right, and, a bit farther along, on the left of Passeig Migdia, there's a car park that opens to a path created just for bicycles. It's 1km long and takes you to just under the castle walls. There's a spectacular view of the Port of Barcelona, and next to the car park is a bar with a terrace that serves sandwiches and lunch. The descent is via the Carretera de Montjuïc until you get to Passeig de Miramar (go easy on the brakes, it's quite a hill) and the Plaça de Colom (where the statue of Columbus is). You can get back to Plaça d'Espanya via the cycle lane on Av. Paral • lel. A muscle-saving option is to take the funicular up to Montjuïc (M: Paral • lel; L2,L3).
See Barcelona by bicycle: Olympic Montjuïc on a bigger map
Barcelona's other balcony (2h, 20km, intermediate, mountain bike)
Although it's officially been renamed Passeig de les Aigües, those who ride the roads up here still call it Carretera de les Aigües. The name ('aigües' being Catalan for 'water') comes from an old water distribution pipe. Whatever you call it, the route is wide and fairly flat and runs from the Penitents neighbourhood to Esplugues de Llobregat. It's especially popular with cyclists and runners. The most direct way to get there on your bike is along Av. Tibidabo, which takes you to C/Manuel Arnús Manuel, but the inclines are tough. The most scenic and flattest way to go is towards Llobregat, which takes you to the antennas of Sant Just Desvern and back along the same road. You can also go up the Carretera d'Horta to Cerdanyola del Vallès, known as the Forat del Vent ('wind tunnel'), where a lot of cyclists go. Up above it all you'll see a path that crosses over the road and goes toward Passeig de les Aigües. You can also go up l'Arrabassada or the Carretera de Vallvidrera, but there can be a lot of cars along these roads. The least tiring route is to take the Tibidabo or Vallvidrera funiculars up to the heights.
See Barcelona by bicycle: Carretera de les Aigües on a bigger map
The river reclaimed (1h, 10km, very easy)
The riverbed of the Besòs River has been reclaimed for public recreational use after a lengthy rehabilitation process that began in 1995 due to the degradation that the area had seen in previous decades. Today there is a 5km paved bike path running next to a strip of grass that follows the course of the river. From this point the road continues upstream, to Granollers, but it's no longer paved and you'll need a mountain bike and a tyre-repair kit for possible punctures. The best way to get there is from near the Fòrum, via the bike lane that runs along C/Taulat.
Towards the Maresme beaches (2h, 32km, easy)
This route is perfect for a cycling escape to the beaches where, unlike the city beaches, there is more sand than fag ends, and you don't end up sharing your towel with a family of six and their mobile phones. Starting with the bike path that runs from the Fòrum area towards Sant Adrià de Besòs and Badalona, you can hook up with the seafront bike lanes that run towards Montgat, El Masnou and Premià de Mar. To give you an idea, it's 16km between the Fòrum and Premià de Mar, and 12km to Ocata. If a return journey seems a bit much, you can go or come back on the train, but keep an eye on the time if you do, as some of the trains can get packed during rush hours, which can be a problem for your bike.
Gaudi, La Rambla and paella (as long as you make it, 9km, easy)
If you have visitors and your guests don't want to leave without having seen the great landmarks and icons of Barcelona, rent a bike and take a light spin to do the urban tour. Begin in the centre (Plaça Catalunya, for example), cross the Gòtic passing in front of the Cathedral and head to the Born, where you can stop and gaze at the Santa Maria del Mar church. From here you can go to the Ciutadella Park, from where you can head up Passeig de Lluís Companys and then Passeig de Sant Joan, pedalling under the Arc de Triomf. When you get to Gran Via (full name: Gran Via de les Corts Catalans), turn right to get to C/Marina, which takes you up to the Sagrada Família. There you can get in the cycle lane on C/Provença and take it to Passeig de Gràcia, where you can stop at La Pedrera (Casa Milà), La Casa Batlló and other emblematic buildings of Barcelona modernism. The route continues down La Rambla, where you can call it a day or carry on with the next itinerary.
See Barcelona by bicycle: Tourist route on a bigger map
From Plaça Colom to the Fòrum (1h, 7km, very easy)
Get into the Moll de la Fusta bike lane and head towards Barceloneta. Carry on towards the Vila Olímpica until you get to the Fòrum, where you can either go back the same way or take the bike lanes of lower Av. Diagonal toward Glòries. Then take Meridiana until you get to Marina and that will take you back to the Barceloneta beach. The return journey is about 14km.
See Barcelona by bicycle: The seafront on a bigger map
The other side of Tibidabo (2h, 24km, intermediate-advanced, mountain bike)
This route starts out from Plaça Karl Marx (M: Canyelles, L3) and takes you up Camí Antic de Sant Llàtzer (a paved road) Next you turn right and, about 100m ahead, you take the dirt road that goes up to Can Masdeu (a farmhouse squat) and passes by the city's old leper hospital. The path then crosses the Carretera del Cementiri de Collserola and carry on upwards along a path to the left. Take that until you get to junction that lies under an electricity pylon. This is the 3.3km mark of the route. From here, take the path down to the right, until you get back to the Carretera del Cementiri. Then, head towards to the path that goes to Can Catà and Cerdanyola del Vallès. You can go back the same way or you can take the train in Cerdanyola. The Serra de Collserola map from publisher Alpina can be very useful for variants on this route.
From Cugat del Vallès to Sant Medir (1h, 14km, intermediate, mountain bike)
Start at the Sant Cugat del Vallès FGC (Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat de Catalunya) station. The route first takes you to the monastery of Sant Cugat. From you travel along the bike lanes on Passeig Francesc Macià, the Rambla del Celler and C/Josep Puig i Cadafalch, where you take Av. de les Corts Catalans to the right, to Plaça Rotary Internacional, the source of the Camí de la Torre Negre path. Heading up this road, before reaching restaurant Can Borrell (T. 93 692 97 23), you'll see the Pi d'en Xandri, a monumental tree. From here, on a clear day, you can also see Montserrat. The route continues along behind Can Borrell, on the road up to Sant Medir, where there's a fountain. If you still have some strength in those legs, you can go 2km more toward the kilometers to the Reserva Natural de la Font Groga. Once there, it's all downhill to Barcelona.
Imitating the Tour de France (2h, 23km, advanced, mountain bike)
If you like road cycling, Collserola has plenty of them (like the Forat del Vent, the Arrabassada, Vallvidrera, Molins de Rei, etc.) that are perfect for designing your own mountainous "leg breaker" route, with lots of ups and downs. One of the many possible routes is up to Tibidabo via the Arrabassada (M: Penitents, L3). It's 6.9km to the Tibidabo fairground. From here you can go to Vallvidrera and make the descent all the way to Molins de Rei (another 16km) via a less-travelled part of the mountain. Another option is to go down to Sant Cugat del Vallès, where you have to connect to Cerdanyola del Vallès via the old motorway and head up the Forat del Vent (Carretera de Horta, which traverses the mountain). The return journey is about 32km and ends at the Horta Velodrome.
Among the oaks and chestnuts (2h, 18km, intermediate, mountain bike)
The Parc Montnegre and the Corredor, in the coastal mountain range, is one of the great paradises of mountain biking near Barcelona. The Corredor, with a fairly gentle slope, is easily accessible from Llinars del Vallès and Vallgorguina. The Montnegre is sharper and more extensive. To get there, there are various paths and forest tracks from Sant Celoni, Tordera and Calella. One of the many possible routes starts in Sant Celoni, which you can get to by train. From there you pedal along the Vilardell path that goes up to Sant Martí de Montnegre, where there is a chapel and a restaurant (T. 93 744 01 41). In front of the chapel there is a kind of balcony that looks out over the Castanyers forest and the Fuirosos riverbed, making for an exceptional viewpoint from where you can see all of the Montseny. If you have a bit of energy left, you can head up to Hortsavinyà, which is about 7km away, via a dirt road that follows the white and red paint marks of the GR-92 motorway.