03 Mar Discover the Most Bike-Friendly Cities in Europe
Biking is HUGELY popular in Europe.
More than a hobby, more than a cheap mode of transportation, biking is life for some people on the continent.
At that rate, there are a ton of bike-friendly cities in Europe, so many that making a list of all of them feels a bit ambitious. It would be easier to talk about which European cities are NOT good for biking.
But there are a handful of places that stand out from the rest. In these cities, bikers are seemingly everywhere and at all times of the day.
Those who have traveled to Europe before will not be surprised to hear that Northern Europe – in particular, The Netherlands and Scandinavia – are heavily represented here. But we’ve made sure to include a few noteworthy cities from the fringes that are trying their best to be the next big European city to bike in.
In total, we will cover 18 cities spread across 12 different countries. Which one will impress you the most? Let’s find out now.
Copenhagen – The Reigning Champion
Since 2015, Copenhagen has been ranked by the (hopefully unbiased) Copenhagenize Index* as not only the best city in Europe to bike but the entire world. That’s 6 years and counting.
What makes Copenhagen such a great European bike city?
According to Visit Copenhagen, it’s just Danish design, plain and simple.
Above all else, Danish design equates to simplicity and utilitarianism. City planning is straightforward and organized – bike lanes are spacious, clearly marked, and specialized based upon the type of commuter.
With over 300 miles of total bike lane as well (Los Angeles has only 150 to add context) and nearly 4 in 5 residents owning a bike, the city is saturated in bike culture, to say the least.
The Danes’ law-abiding nature and easy temperament might also play into things. In 2016, 76% of locals said they felt safe riding their bikes in the city.
*The Copenhagenize Index is one of the leading sources on ranking bike-friendliness around the world.
Noteworthy neighbor: Malmo
Just across the Oresund channel from Copenhagen, lies Sweden’s own bicycle champion: the industrial city of Malmo. And despite its industrial origins, Malmo is actually one of the greenest cities in all of Europe as well. We all know biking and environmentalism go hand-in-hand.
Malmo has launched many biking programs in line with its environmentally conscious attitude. Expanding its already impressive 330 miles of bike lanes, an enormous bike rental network, and initiatives aimed at those who commute on bikes are just a few examples.
So watch out Copenhagen – Malmo’s coming for you from across the bridge.
Amsterdam – Still Repping The Netherlands
When people think of biking in Europe, 9 times out of 10 they probably think of Amsterdam first. Unsurprisingly, it’s usually at the very top (or near) the list of most friendly bike cities in Europe.
The secret? Smart urban renovation over the last few decades has created an urban space where motorized vehicles and pedestrians are able to move in harmony. According to Waze, Dutch drivers were actually the happiest in the world in 2016, despite the hordes of bikers.
In short, Amsterdam has found a way that allows bikes and cars to co-exist together and thrive.
So what could be holding Amsterdam back? Whilst some think it’s still better than Copenhagen, others have observed that too many bikes in the city might be counter-intuitive.
Noteworthy neighbor: Utrecht
If we’re being honest, just about every city in The Netherlands could qualify as a bike-friendly European city. But Utrecht is arguably the closest contender to the current Dutch champion.
Located only an hour away from Amsterdam and often considered a miniature version of the capital, Utrecht can still hold its own. It boasts many superlatives, such as one of the longest bike paths in Europe and an enormous garage able to house 12,500 bikes.
Utrecht is smaller than Amsterdam but still suffers from the same over-abundance of bikes, which is a recurrent problem in The Netherlands. Once the country, with Amsterdam at the vanguard, alleviates this issue, biking in Utrecht will only get better.
Oslo – The King in the Nord
The Nords are usually at the forefront when it comes to urban planning and green city living. Denmark’s Copenhagen and Sweden’s Malmo have been the two most prominent bike-friendly cities in Northern Europe in recent years. But they’re not alone these days.
Oslo, the capital of Norway, was given the coveted title of “Rising Star” by Copenhagenize Index in 2019. Once a lame duck, Oslo is taking an aggressive approach in regard to urban traffic. Car parks are being ripped out in bulk, new infrastructure is being laid, and ambitions are being fanned, despite the politics.
Parallel to biking build-up, Oslo started to move towards a completely car-free city in 2015 and is practically there by now.
Future’s looking bright for Oslo. Let’s see if it can live up to its lofty biking goals.
Noteworthy neighbor: Helsinki
Helsinki has similar goals to Oslo – they also want to become the most bike-friendly city in Europe and the world at that rate.
Equally ambitious and probably with a head-start, Helsinki is undeniably good to bikers. It features a staggering 850 miles of bike infrastructure and plans to add another 100 miles of what they call “bike highways”. All to make biking and living in the city easier.
Helsinki did lose its way a bit in the early 2010s but has since bounced back as one of the best cities in Europe to have a bicycle. So keep an eye on this one.
Strasbourg – The French Connection
Strasbourg is and will continue to be the most bikeable city in France for the foreseeable future.
Conveniently located in the geographically languid Alsace Valley, Strasbourg has all the qualities that a bike-friendly city should have: an active population, a forward-thinking government, and a healthy amount of motivation.
Modal share among residents is only 15%, which is a bit low compared to other leading European bike cities. Interestingly, cargo bikes are ubiquitous in Strasbourg and are used by everyone from families to white-collar workers.
Despite being the best in France, the local government is serious about building upon what Strasbourg already has. Their goal is to urge more people to bike, raise the modal share, and slowly push cars out of the idyllic city center.
Noteworthy neighbor: Bordeaux
Coming up hot on the heels of Strasbourg is the city of Bordeaux, the capital of the famous French wine-growing region.
Bordeaux’s current position among bike-friendly European cities is partly due to its fervor. Its aggressive stance towards closing major arteries to motorized traffic – ex. the closing of the Pont de Pierre bridge – and serious investment in new biking infrastructure have partly fueled its sudden rise.
Critics have pointed out though that, in order to remain a contender, Bordeaux needs not only to maintain steam but also work more on keeping the bike network consistent.
Antwerp – A Diamond in the Rough
Belgium is in love with biking, maybe more so than any other country on this list. In the flat northern region of Flanders, which includes the city of Antwerp, it’s a borderline obsession.
Biking is deeply ingrained in Antwerp’s culture and, as such, is widely practiced. Antwerp does a particularly good job at involving tourists – both bike-sharing and route planning apps are widely available, making it one of the best European cities to visit for bike holidays.
Even if the modal share is pretty good (33%), the local government is still not satisfied. Antwerp is very serious about expanding its biking infrastructure and has plans already in motion. They’re ambitious in Antwerp and how can they not be when their Dutch neighbors get so much more attention and accolades?
Noteworthy neighbor: Eindhoven
Less than 60 miles away and across the Dutch border lies the neat, tidy city of Eindhoven. It is everything that you’d expect from The Netherlands: no-nonsense, efficient, and of course, made for bikers.
There’s nothing new to say about Eindhoven that hasn’t already been said about Amsterdam or Utrecht. Bike lanes are everywhere, facilities are top-quality, people are happy when they ride, etc, etc.
It can be argued that The Netherlands has partly influenced Belgium’s bicycling culture. Whilst we can’t confirm nor deny this, it’s still worth noting. We’d recommend visiting both countries and the proximally close cities of Antwerp and Eindhoven to compare the two yourself. Both are within a half-day’s ride of the other.
Berlin – German Tenacity
Berlin has a fierce bicyclist population. With an 18% modal share and nearly 700 bikes per 1000 residents, people like to ride their bikes in this town, whether to work, the nearest vegan bistro, or a late-night disco.
But what’s holding Berlin back is often the city itself. Insistence on developing roads for vehicular traffic and placing bikers second makes for a hobbled bike network. In addition, lofty initiatives, like the much-needed Volksentscheid Fahrrad (the bicycle referendum), can feel more full of hot air than promises.
Without a doubt, Berlin is a bike-friendly city. The huge surge in cargo bikes is a testament to bicycles becoming more common and relied upon in daily life.
Is it the MOST bike-friendly city in Europe? Not quite yet. To do this it needs to refocus on things that matter the most: infrastructure.
Noteworthy neighbor: Bremen
Sleepy Bremen is not often in the spotlight, at least compared to places like Berlin, Munich, and Hamburg.
But it trumps them all in one key area: at 25%, it has the highest modal share of any major German city. That means more people here rely upon their bikes than anywhere else in the country.
Admittedly, Bremen is a smaller city and can suffer from small issues, like a lack of space and bike lanes being too narrow. But that hasn’t stopped the local government from doing more. They’re putting even more bicycle routes and even revamping entire neighborhoods as ‘bicycle districts’.
These guys are taking the concept of “German innovation” and riding with it.
Vienna – The Beast in the East
Vienna – one of the most liveable places in the world – is finally catching up to the rest of Europe in the bicycle arena.
Once a non-entity, Vienna made a name for itself for launching the first-ever cargo bike-share network in the world and plans to continue the trend with further investment in infrastructure. Thanks to its orderly and calm urban planning, Vienna could easily become a top contender with some serious effort.
As is usually the case though, things happen slowly in Vienna. There’s a lot of talk about being bike-friendly but less action in reality. People want to improve infrastructure in the city but can’t seem to get around to doing it. Until then, people will continue to bike on the road with cars.
Once Vienna can nail the basics, the sky’s the limit.
Noteworthy neighbor: Ljubljana
The only “true” European city to make it on this list is the small, unassuming city of Ljubljana, the capital of equally unassuming Slovenia.
Ljubljana is a very eco-conscious city – after all, it was voted “Greenest in Europe” in 2016 – and the bicycle plays a very important role in this. The city got a head start when it started building its bike infrastructure in the 70s, but has since stymied a bit. Modal share in the city still remains less than 15%.
Ljubljana does have some infrastructure gaps and, ultimately, it’s a small town competing with big European players. But all things considered, Ljubljana is still doing very well for itself and its biking residents.
Milan – Bringing Italy into the Future
Historically, Italy has lagged behind the rest of the continent when it comes to bike-friendliness. And who’s surprised either? Have you ever tried to bike side-by-side with the crazy drivers in Rome or Naples?
That is not to say people – both civilian and governmental – are not trying to change things. Initiatives, like huge tax credits for electric bike owners and the half a billion euro investment in bike tourism, are promising signs.
No Italian city is more serious about being the next best place to bike in Europe than Milan. With eyes on reaching 20% modal share for bikes and installing over 450 miles of bike path in the near future, the business capital of Italy means business. It’s all a part of Milan’s new eco-conscious post-pandemic attitude.
Granted, Milan still has a ways to go before it can compete with other major European cities. Its goals are set for a reasonable date of 2035. Until then though, Milan will just have to settle for being the most bike-friendly city in Italy.
Noteworthy neighbor: Bologna
Many Italians exclaim that Bologna is the perfect place to own a bike. A liberal population, flat terrain, and a city center devoid of vehicular traffic all make it seem like a potential biker’s paradise.
And did we mention the amazing incentives, like free beer and gelato, that the local agencies are offering to encourage more people to bike?
Despite appearances, Bologna still remains absent from any sort of “most friendly-bike cities in Europe” (this list notwithstanding). Chalk it up to a cultural affinity to cars, under-developed infrastructure, or just a lack of safety, but Bologna isn’t there yet in actuality.
We included Bologna here because we believe it has serious potential, but more so because it’s so close to actually having it. Bologna just needs a little more TLC from the local government and reform from residents in order to become its best self.
Barcelona – The Sunnyside of the Continent
Like Italy, the Iberian peninsula isn’t known for a strong biking culture, for one reason or another.
Bucking the trend though is everyone’s favorite holiday getaway: Barcelona.
Faced with a surge of motorized vehicles and crippling congestion, the Catalan government saw biking as a way out. In an effort to curb traffic – which is the worst in Spain – Barcelona expanded its bike network whilst simultaneously “calming” its roadways (mostly via urban speed limits).
The result is a completely different city. A few decades ago, there were hardly any bikes in Barcelona; now it hosts once the world’s most efficient bike-share networks.
As the city makes the network more accessible to residents, by using “super blocks”, Barcelona stands to become one of the most bike-friendly cities in all Europe.
Noteworthy neighbor: Seville
Seville was – and still is – a big success story in the European cycling world. Seemingly overnight, it went from a town with almost zero regular bikers to have a modal share of almost 6%. Whilst that number might seem modest, it’s a testament to how much progress can be made through sheer will.
Granted, Seville has lost a lot of steam, and it doesn’t have the infrastructure or bike culture behind it that cities like Amsterdam or Copenhagen do. But if it has serious intentions and backing from the local government, it can continue to be an inspiration.
Its effect has already been noticed for that matter – Andalusia wants to use Seville as a model for effective bike networking on a larger scale across the entire region.
There you have them: the 18 most bike-friendly cities in all of Europe. These are the cream of the crop, the smoothest rides on the continent, and the best place to go if you’re a cycle-fiend.
Traveling with a bike is a TON of fun. Do so in any of the cities mentioned above and you’re sure to have an amazing experience.
Do you a favorite European city to bike in? Let us know in the comment section what it is and why you like it so much!