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6 brilliant bike rides from London

Plan one of these beautiful cycle rides from London, featuring well-ridden tracks, scenic river paths and a few nasty hill climbs

Written by
Phoebe Trimingham
&
Charlie Allenby
Contributor
Kate Lloyd
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Got the urge to feel the crisp autumn breeze in your hair? Perhaps you’re desperate for a bit of fresh countryside after a long, hot summer in the city, or you’ve realised post-pandemic that you’d rather your workouts came with a side of outdoor adventure rather than the smell of other people’s sweat on gym studio mats? Whatever your reason for wanting to get out on your bike right now, you’ve come to the right place. 

It's surprisingly easy to get out of the capital on two wheels, and find yourself in pretty forests or close to the coast. London is surrounded by rural areas – from the chalk cliffs of Sussex to the rolling hills of Buckinghamshire and the woodland of Essex to the coastline of Kent – and many of them make brilliant places for a bike ride. From waterside paths to cross-country treks, check out these brilliant bike rides from London and get peddling. Need to get your bike in gear before you set off? Visit one of the many bike shops still in London. And if you would rather keep your cycling adventures within Zones 1-6 then check out our round up of the best bike rides in London – there are loafs of good ones there. (And we have even rounded up a list of London cycling caffs to stop at if you get peckish on your travels.) 

Discover the best walks near London and the best daytrips to go on too. 

The best bike rides from London

The Wandle Trail
© Garry Knight/Flickr

1. The Wandle Trail

Total distance: 20km

Difficulty: Easy – a wide, sign-posted gravel path is good for cyclists of all abilities.

Popular with families in high-vis jackets and giddy couples on ‘activity’ dates, this easy-to-navigate route follows the River Wandle from Wandsworth down to Croydon. It’s a flat, meandering, pretty trail that takes in south-west London’s bounty of parks and green spaces. Pick up National Cycle Route 20 from Wandsworth Town Station and enjoy a mostly traffic-free ride with plenty of nature spots along the way – until you get to Croydon, that is.

Highlights: Hunting down the blue plaques and local history facts of the cute ‘Wandle Art Trail’.

The Olympic Park to Epping Forest

2. The Olympic Park to Epping Forest

Total distance: 25km (via the Lee Valley towpath)

Difficulty: Medium – expect to get muddy, lost and whacked by a few low-lying branches.

Had enough of road cycling? Jump on the towpath heading north from Hackney Wick up the River Lea past canal locks, reservoirs and hippies in houseboats. Cross briefly onto the A110 and then plunge straight into London’s largest public open space, with more than 40 miles of surfaced and unsurfaced bridleways to get lost in the forest on. Bounding along leaf-covered cycle trails will seem a world away from London’s traffic build-ups – an increasingly more frequent site as lockdown starts to loosen.

Highlights: Hunting down Queen Elizabeth I’s fancy Hunting Lodge, built by her father, Henry VIII.

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Regent’s Park to St Albans

3. Regent’s Park to St Albans

Total distance: 38km (via Highgate)

Difficulty: Hard – there are some big kickers as you leave London, which means it’s not the easiest way to start a long-distance route.

The main route to St Albans goes up some steep climbs on the way out of north London – we’re looking at you, Highgate Hill. But once you’re gliding down into open countryside from Barnet, all that thigh-burn is totally worth it. The route then follows quiet country roads and posh sports cars until it joins up with a unique part of National Cycle Route 6: a disused railway track underneath a beautiful canopy of trees leads all the way up to St Albans cathedral. 

Highlights: Zipping through a tree tunnel along an old railway track on the way into St Albans.

Westminster Bridge to Box Hill
© Dmitry Dzhus/Flickr

4. Westminster Bridge to Box Hill

Total distance: 42km (via Hampton Court Palace)

Difficulty: Hard – ‘Zig Zag Road’ was part of the 2012 Olympic road-cycling route. Just saying.

Venture out of London, past Hampton Court Palace and onwards into the greenery of Surrey. Head for the horizon and don’t be daunted. Box Hill’s ‘Zig Zag Road’ may have been likened to peddling up the Alps, but it’s actually incredibly doable. It climbs 120m, over a steady 1.6 miles, on smooth tarmac road with amazing views. The Olympians may have lapped it nine times, but who’s got time for that on a Sunday? Please note, the road will be closed if it becomes too busy to maintain those two-metre rules. 

Highlights: the views when you get there – you’ll have earned them.

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Greenwich to Gravesend
© Shutterstock

5. Greenwich to Gravesend

Total distance: 43km (via the Thames Path)

Difficulty: Medium – the majority of the route is along the Thames Path, but there’s road action too.

Although some of the more narrow parts of the Thames Path remain closed around Greenwich and the Cutty Sark, join National Cycle Route 1 a little further along and tick off some riverside landmarks along the way: the O2 and the Thames Barrier are en route. Abandoned industrial sites and a few active chemical treatment plants keep things interesting until Erith, where the route heads down the Darent Valley Path (via Dartford) all the way along to Gravesend. It’s not the prettiest of rides, but it’s usually quiet and the Thames’ urban landscape is weirdly peaceful.  

Highlights: Spotting Antony Gormley’s ‘Quantum Cloud’ sculpture from the banks of the Thames.

Potters Bar and beyond

6. Potters Bar and beyond

Total distance: 75km

Difficulty: Hard – getting to and from Potters Bar can be a hairy (and hilly) experience, but the Hertfordshire lanes are worth the effort.

We have a confession. Your starting point is Swain’s Lane (sorry, not sorry). But what better way to get the blood flowing than a short, sharp incline? Now you’ve warmed up nicely, it’s a case of following the High Road out of Highgate until you turn right towards Potters Bar in Chipping Barnet. From here, the quiet lanes of Hertfordshire are your oyster, and you can gulp in some fresh air as you spin your way through the idyllic dwellings of Newgate Street, Epping Green and Hoddesdon. Take a left on the latter’s high street and follow Lord Street all the way to the hub of Hertford. It’s at this point that you’d normally have two choices – call it a day and jump on the train or get some more miles in the legs. Now you can only do the latter: complete the loop to Potters Bar (keeping an eye out for the brilliantly named Cucumber Lane), and follow your nose back to the start.

Highlights: tackling some of the tougher climbs that the north of London has to offer.

What are all the rules around day trips now?

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