The thriving international city of London: here, as with life in general, your experience is largely determined by your perspective. Certainly one way to get a different look at this grand old city is on a bicycle. Cycling in London can transport you to places you wouldn’t see in a car, or on foot, in a relatively short amount of time. Additionally, London is super flat!
There’s also great cycle paths around the city and the traffic is not as bad as you might think. I lived in London for nearly two years and it wasn’t until I started peddling my way around the city that I began to find it immensely interesting. So, if you’re having any reservations about London, or you’re open to new ways of exploring, hop on a bike. Go for it! You won’t regret it.
I recommend grabbing a book (small paperback size) on the history of London to help pique your cycling interest. A friend lent me such a book, which led me to memorable sights such as Londinium – the great Roman ruins.
If you’re not sure where to begin, here’s one of my favourite cycle routes in London. Note: this covers near 20 kilometres, so if you’re not feeling up to it, just pick a section.
The West End
To get a feel for London’s eclectic crowd, start by riding to Hyde Park in London’s West End. Take a seat on the grass and witness Speakers’ Corner and/or just take in the general atmosphere. When you’re ready, head further east to Oxford Street and into the Soho district.
Tip: Don’t ride down Oxford Street at Sunset, or COB – it’s just too busy.
In Soho, pick a few alleys to ride down and take in London’s funky/naughty shops and architecture. Perhaps stop for a coffee before continuing further east towards Charing Cross Road. Head south down this London artery into arguably the heart of the action, Piccadilly Circus, where the old Monopoly board might ring a few bells. It’s busy traffic, but completely doable if you just take a few sensible precautions (stay alert and wear a helmet!).
Head further east into Covent Garden to the charming Victoria Embankment Gardens by the Thames. Stop here, lay back and watch the world go by, thinking about what life might have been like at this very spot hundreds of years past. Then get ready for the next leg of the journey – my favourite part of London – where lies St Paul’s Cathedral and Blackfriars.
Still on the Monopoly route, ride along Fleet Street and the Strand towards Ludgate Hill – the highest point in London – to St Paul’s Cathedral. It’s a busy spot, being near the heart of the action, but there’s also plenty of interesting alleyways and fascinating history you’d probably miss if you were on other modes of transport.
St Paul’s Cathedral was the site for Margaret Thatcher and Winston Churchill’s funeral and Charles and Diana’s wedding. The Great Fire of London, which engulfed London in the ostensibly ominous year of 1666, gutted nearly all of St Paul’s. Shortly after, the cathedral was rebuilt from London’s coal tax to create one of the finest architectural domes in the world.
From this splendid spot, head back west towards Ludgate Circus, riding over London’s largest subterranean river, the River Fleet. Parts of the river lie up to 40 feet below the road. Continue towards New Bridge Street past sights such as Watergate lane, which was once an old river entrance to Bridewell Palace. Roll onwards into London Blackfriars, previously home to London’s Dominican Friars and where important parliamentary meetings were held hundreds of years past.
From here you could continue east to one of England’s most haunted castles, the Tower of London. The tower is also very near Cooper’s Row, which is a superb spot to see part of the London Wall – a captivating slab of moss-strewn rubble forged in Roman times (roughly 200 AD) – which stands in stark contrast to the surrounding modern glass buildings.
You could also roll back towards the west onto Victoria Embankment and peddle along the Thames, all the way to parliament. While taking roughly 30 minutes by public transport, this stretch can be peddled in a mere 10. Arrive near Victoria Station, take in Big Ben, parliament and those austere chaps with the tall, funny-looking, furry hats.
A few of my friends didn’t take to London, becoming depressed and/or overwhelmed by the vast, grey, busyness of it all. If you’re feeling this way, cycling in London can most certainly help. In fact, after peddling a few blocks around the city, you’ll never look at London the same way again.