Europe,  London,  United Kingdom

Discover London by bike

Bike riding London

Discovering London by bike is another great way to get to know the city. It’s easy for tourists and locals alike to rent a bike and start exploring!

London bike rental – ”Boris bikes”

I know what you’re thinking: ‘’Oh dear, a Dutch and her precious bike.’’ Yes okay, I admit, I love bikes. I’m Dutch, and there are more bicycles in this country than people (no really, this is true).  London on the other hand is not yet victimized by a major bicycle invasion. That doesn’t mean however that it is impossible to discover London by bike. On the contrary, London’s Mayor, Boris Johnson, himself even introduced the Barclays Cycle Hire Plan, also known as Boris Bikes (isn’t it cute?). And there are several companies where you can rent bikes and those that offer guided bicycle tours.

Barclays Bicycle Hire Boris bikes
Barclays Bicycle Hire. Image by: Duncan (Flickr)

Update: as from now on, Barclays isn’t the main sponsor of the Boris Bikes anymore, but Santander. What color do you think looks better on the bikes? Blue or red? See for yourself:

boris bikes
The ‘new’ Boris Bikes. Courtesy of Eileen:

The dangers of entering the bustling streets of London by bike aside, the city actually offers a lot of opportunities for cycle enthusiasts like you and me. For example, special bicycle lanes are designed in some of the most crowded parts of town, or you can decide to take a little detour and explore the green outskirts the city has on offer.

Exploring London’s Royal Parks

A personal favorite of mine is exploring the Royal Parks by bike. Last month, I rented a Boris Bike at Marble Arch, right in front of Hyde Park. The weather was great, an almost cloudless sky, and no wind: a cyclist’s dream. We fed the ducks and (the slightly intimidating) gooses in the Serpentine, glanced in awe at the palace inhabited by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and manoeuvered through vibrant Kensington High Street.

Natural History Museum bike ride
The Natural History Museum in South Kensington

I didn’t realize how cold and tired I had become when I parked my Boris Bike at one of the cycle docks at Holland Park, but when I alighted at one of the comfy couches of the Holland Park Café, I was glad I could fuel myself up with a nice cuppa. An afternoon well spent.

Lea River bike ride

Another cycle route I’m dying to share with you is one me and my dad took back when I lived in E17. Yes, I lived in the Borough of Walthamstow. It really isn’t that bad as people say. Anyway, while I lived there, I noticed that there ran some sort of canal about 100m from where I lived. I quickly learned that this was the Lea River, a beautiful spot for cycling. Passing gorgeous parks, nature reserves, pubs, and the famous London canal boats, the route my dad and I did there (from Blackhorse Road to Greenwich) proved to be a true gem. We experienced a quietness you normally wouldn’t associate with Big Bad London.

On the way, we passed the Olympic Park, which was still under construction at the time. I couldn’t believe that in a few months’ time, the eyes of the entire world would be aimed at this specific place in Stratford, East London. We witnessed the hundreds of construction workers doing their very best to get everything picture-perfect on time.

Olympic Park
Olympic Park

Taking the foot tunnel to Greenwich

We jumped back on our bikes and continued our ride towards Greenwich. However, we got lost. We got off the tow path at some point, because we knew we had to head towards Poplar, and then Canary Wharf to Island Gardens in order for us to reach our final destination. Even though we had no idea exactly what streets to take, we passed some interesting sights along the way and ended up right in the middle of the impressive skyscrapers of Canary Wharf. Of course we stopped for a few minutes to take pictures and take in the breathtaking sight. Did we finally make it to the other side of the Thames (via the Greenwich foot tunnel) and to the famous Greenwich Naval College? Check out the pictures for yourself!

london by bike
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Frequently asked questions about cycling and bike rental in London

Is London bike-friendly?

London is becoming more and more bike-friendly. The local government is investing massively in creating dedicated cycle lanes and even 450km of ‘Cycle Superhighways’ connecting different parts of the city. For all London cycleways, please visit the tfl website.

How much is a Boris Bike per hour?

To rent a Santander Bicycle (Boris Bike), you pay £2 to access it for 24 hours; the first 30 minutes of each journey are free. For longer journeys, it costs an extra £2 for each additional 30 minutes.

Is it mandatory to wear a helmet when cycling in London?

Wearing a helmet is not mandatory when cycling in London, but it is highly recommended for safety reasons.

More resources

  • Visit the Visit London website for more information about cycling tours in London.
  • Do you rather take a walk instead of hopping on a bike? Then don’t forget to check out the ‘Walk the Walk‘ series.
  • Find out more about the London Cycle Hire Scheme, and how you as a tourist can make use of it.
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14 Thoughts on Discover London by bike
    Stephen Jones - A Thousand Miles
    8 Jun 2015

    It’s so wonderful to see bicycle hire schemes pop up all over the place. I only hope it serves to get more people into cycling, whether for work or pleasure! I can’t wait to explore London by bicycle.

    Btw, I prefer the blue over the red. 🙂

    Maaike -
    20 Oct 2016

    Stephen, I am so sorry, I completely missed your comment. But I agree, I preferred the blue one over the red ones! 🙂

    20 Oct 2016

    Definitely a Barclays girl all the way :-). It’s nice that Santander has joined in. Hopefully more will join the scheme, it is sorely needed in London.

      Maaike -
      20 Oct 2016

      I agree! And London is far from offering a bicyle safe environment

    Anita Zych
    20 Oct 2016

    I havent been to London yet but visitng it by bike in definately best idea! If it doesn’t rain of course 🙂

      Maaike -
      20 Oct 2016

      And that is rare 😉

    21 Oct 2016

    Cycling tour is a great idea there, much better than HOHO buses. I haven’t been there yet but will certainly prefer cycling when I am there.

    Ali @ What Ali Sees
    21 Oct 2016

    Awesome! I lived in London for 3 years, but never discovered it by bicycle. I am saving this for my next trip from Australia! Thanks 🙂

    Erika Bisbocci
    22 Oct 2016

    I can definitely attest to the fact that London isn’t exactly as bike-equipped as Amsterdam. I rented the city bikes and actually was a bit scared going through the streets as there were usually no bike lanes. But cycling through the parks was lovely 🙂

    22 Oct 2016

    How fun!! I love exploring cities by bike! Such a great way to see the city!

    Editor-in-Style Good
    22 Oct 2016

    London is my second home and I think many more Londoners should cycle to lessent the amount of pollution there! It is a much better way to go! I lived down there and the Tube is so congested as well as the roads! Cycling would definitely improve commutes!

    Practical Wanderlust
    25 Oct 2016

    I’m visiting London soon (AND Amsterdam!) and biking is definitely on my must-do list! Great post!

      Maaike -
      29 Oct 2016

      That’s great to hear! I’m sure you will notice the difference of cycling in both cities!

    24 Hours in London
    13 Nov 2021

    […] Palace and the West End? While those areas are best to visit on foot, try to hop on a ‘Boris Bike‘ to explore the Royal […]

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