Cycling tourism is growing. Apart from hiking trails, cycling trips abroad are also gaining popularity post-lockdown. From leisure trails in the countryside to adventurous rides across mountain ranges, more and more people are making their holidays a little more sustainable and different by sightseeing on two wheels.
The best part of a cycling vacation? You can pretty much go anywhere you’d like on a bike. Cycling beats structured tours by bringing visitors to explore hidden gems at their own leisure – all at an affordable cost. Plus, visitors can hop on and off their bikes as and when they want. There are really no fixed rules for how a cycling holiday should be.
Sounds tempting? We hand-picked five of the best places in the world for you to sightsee on a bicycle.
1. Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Amsterdam is the cycling capital of the world. Cycling is such an integral part of life that the number of bicycles in the city is believed to outnumber the number of residents.
Fun fact: Amsterdam often rivals Copenhagen to be the world’s friendliest city for bikes.
In Amsterdam, it’s just as easy to find a bike rental service, bike rack or bike parking station as it is to find a cafe or convenience store. Of all places, the city centre is probably the best place to start your cycling journey because of the many things to explore there.
For convenience, start cycling from Central Station. Heading south, you’ll see the Royal Palace, one of the three palaces in the Netherlands, to learn more about the Dutch Golden Age in the 17th century.
Not far from the Royal Palace is Anne Frank House, the biographical museum of a Jewish girl notable for documenting her life under Nazi rule during World War II.
Bypassing these historic landmarks, you will find yourself in the Jordaan district. If one happens to be here on a Saturday, there’s the famous Lindengracht market with stalls selling cheese, flowers and fresh fish.
You can also pop into one of the cosy cafes along the canal, like Winkel43, for a tasty apple pie before hitting the road again.
Continuing south on your bicycle tour, you will enter De 9 Straatjes (Nine Streets), a picturesque shopping district dotted with high-end and luxury boutiques.
De 9 Straatjes is also home to the National Museum of the Netherlands (Rijksmuseum) and Van Gogh Museum, where visitors can spend an entire afternoon learning more about the Dutch masters.
What makes Amsterdam unique is how the city is flawlessly set up for anyone to get around via bikes. There are more than 500km of cycling lanes within Amsterdam – many are found alongside scenic canals, historic buildings, local markets, and popular restaurants in some of the largest cities.
Recommended routes for beginner cyclists: Along the Amstel River. There are many iconic landmarks, markets and scenic streets that bewilder tourists who are visiting for the first time. You may also wish to cycle around the Amsterdam Botanical Garden or Oosterpark to enjoy some of the city’s greenery and peace.
Recommended routes for advanced cyclists: Explore the outskirts of Amsterdam. You can head North, to Zaandam to catch sight of the famous Dutch windmills. Or consider a cycling day trip to Edam, Volendam, and Marken (together, these three villages are known as the Waterland). There, you’ll be greeted with rows of traditional Dutch houses along the river and get to taste the Edam cheese.
Short-term bike rental fees range from an hour to a day, or even 48h. Additionally, rental prices go from €5 (estimated S$7.14) per hour to €10 (estimated S$14.29) per day for a foot brake bike, or €7 (estimated S$10) per hour to €15 (estimated S$21.43) per day for a handbrake bike.
There is a great selection of good quality bikes at each rental company. Some public bike rental services like MacBike require visitors to pay a €50 (estimated S$71.45) deposit, which is refundable upon the return of your bike. If you’re unsure, check in with the staff about your rental options and the choice of bikes before making a decision.
Things to note: Amsterdam Central Station is the main railway and metro station of the city. It’s easily reachable by public transport. It’s best to visit Amsterdam during the Tulip season in Spring (between April and May) and late summer (September), as the weather is not too hot or cold for cycling.
2. Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan
Surrounded by mountains, Sun Moon Lake in Central Taiwan used to be two bodies of water.
In the 1930s, when Taiwan was still a Japanese colony, a dam was built on one of the lakes to generate hydroelectric power. Gradually, the amount of water grew, forming Taiwan’s largest alpine lake: the Sun Moon Lake.
Today, visitors can explore Taiwan’s Sun Moon Lake and the nearby regions by car, boat, or cable car. But cycling is believed to be the best and most popular mode of transport among locals and tourists due to the breathtaking sceneries.
From the massive greenery and misty mountains to the stunning landscape, Sun Moon Lake's cycling trails are known to be one of the most scenic places in not just Taiwan, but also Asia. This is probably why cyclists from around the world can’t wait to get on their bikes here — even though some terrains are relatively uneven and can be a bit challenging.
It’s recommended to cycle clockwise around Sun Moon Lake so that you will always find yourself on a bike path without having to share the route with pedestrians or cars.
Most cyclists will choose to begin their cycling journey at Xiangshan visitor centre, a futuristic-looking complex with large glass windows that offers a vast glimpse of the lake.
Outside the centre, there’s a shallow water area favoured by visitors for selfies near the mystical lake. Not too far away from here, Shuishe Dam, west of Shuishe Village, is another iconic spot for photo-taking.
In addition to the scenery, Sun Moon Lake is also a great place to understand Taiwan’s culture.
There are two Chinese temples along the cycling path, where visitors can stop and pop in to learn more about the local religions. Longfeng Temple, about 2km from the Xiangshan visitor centre, is famous for love and marriage blessings.
Wenwu Temple, which is right before the mountainous region of the ride, is known for its Stairway to Heaven. The 366 steps of the stairs represent all the days of a (leap) year. Visitors can buy a wind chime, write their names on it, make a wish, and place it next to the stone step carved with their date of birth.
In summary, there is no lack of highlights around Sun Moon Lake. Even though the bike path is clearly marked with signboards, do pay close attention to other cyclists. Parts of the cycling path can get relatively crowded, so stay alert.
Recommended route for beginner cyclists: For the less experienced riders, they may choose the 12km Bike Trail Fun Ride, which is a fraction of a loop around the lake.
Recommended route for advanced cyclists: The entire 29km Round-the-Lake Challenge Route is a must-try for those who are more comfortable cycling outdoors.
How to get to Sun Moon Lake: The TRA (Taiwan Rail Administration) Train ride from Taipei to Taichung is about 1.5-3.5h long, and it costs between NT$241-375 (estimated S$10.63-16.54) depending on the type of train and class of seat you opt for.
Many train services run between the two cities every day, so you can pretty much catch one at any time. More information about the latest train time and ticket price can be found on the TRA website.
Once at the station, you will have to take Nantou Bus 6670 to Sun Moon Lake. The travelling time is 1.5-2h, and it costs NT$197 (estimated S$8.69) for a one-way trip and NT$360 (estimated S$15.88) for both ways. The bus service runs between 7:20am to 7:45pm daily, and buses arrive once every 20-30min. Visitors are advised to alight at Shuishe Visitor Centre.
Information on public bike rentals: If you do not wish to bring your bicycles up and down public transport, the easiest way is to rent one at the visitor centres near Sun Moon Lake. There is the Giant Sun Moon Lake Bike Rental Shop in the basement of Shuishe Visitor Centre, as well as the Merida Bike Rental Service near the Xiangshan Visitor Centre.
Rental prices start at NT$200 (estimated S$8.82) per 2h for all bike models. There’s a credit card deposit of NT$18,000 to 150,000 (estimated S$794 to S$6600) for certain bike models, which is refundable upon return.
Things to note: It’s recommended to avoid visiting Sun Moon Lake during August and September when the region is prone to typhoons and heavy rain. Get to Taichung via a train at Taoyuan International Airport.
3. South Island, New Zealand
South Island is synonymous with some of the most spectacular mountains, lakes, and glaciers in New Zealand. Lake Tekapo, Lake Pukaki, Lake Wanaka and Lake Wakatipu are just a few of the most stunning lakes that the South Island is famous for.
The Southern Alps, which run through the entire island, are home to several national parks and nature reserves. These are untouched places of natural beauty that offer some of South Island's most diverse scenic views.
Cycling is a great way to explore the pristine landscape of South Island. There're limitless ways to pedal through the breathtaking terrains here. From the adrenaline-rushing trails on mountain bikes to a leisurely ride past the vineyards, there is a bike trail for beginners and professionals alike.
For those who wish to get a good glimpse at some of New Zealand’s most fascinating water landscapes, they may choose to go on the Alps 2 Ocean (A2O) Trail.
You will find yourself immersed in majestic views of South Island's surreal blue lakes and canals surrounded by tussocks and majestic mountains near Lake Tekapo. You can even head to Loch Cameron for a swim if the weather allows.
The A2O Trail also comes with exciting limestone formations like Elephant Rocks for one to admire the mysterious forces of nature. Then there is the Benmore Dam, which is the largest earth dam in New Zealand and holds 1.5 times more water than Wellington Harbour for those who are interested in hydraulic architecture.
The highlight of this cycling trail? Descending 780m from the Southern Alps to the Pacific Ocean, which gives visitors an undisrupted view of the sea.
If you prefer something closer to the countryside, head to the vineyards. The unique oceanic climate of New Zealand allows its vines to ripen slowly, giving its wine a distinctive zing.
Even if you are not a wine lover, the tranquil and lush wine region is a charming place to spend an afternoon. Marlborough is an excellent region in the South Island to begin wine-cycling tours.
The region produces 75 per cent of the wine in New Zealand, including the world-renowned Sauvignon Blanc. Marlborough is also a district known for the Marlborough Sounds, a network of fertile valleys that offer fresh seafood and breathtaking scenery.
The West Coast Wilderness Trail is also a popular cycling route favoured by tourists who wish to explore the rich flora and fauna in South Island. As the name suggests, this is a “wild” (and probably “wow”) trip in which visitors will get up close with some of the untamed natural sanctuaries in New Zealand.
This includes the Glow Worm Dell, a cave filled with magical bugs that give off neon blue lights. There’s also the secluded Dorothy Falls, though it requires visitors to leave their bikes and hike deep into the Lake Kaniere Scenic Reserve.
How to start each cycling tour:
A2O Trail: It’s recommended to start this trail at the base of Mount Cook. At the moment, there is no direct connection between Christchurch to Mount Cook Village, so tourists will have to take a bus to Tekapo before transiting to Mount Cook. Four buses operated by InterCity bus company depart for Tekapo from Christchurch every week. The journey takes about 3h 35min and costs between NZ$30-50 (estimated S$25.97-43.28). The Cook Connection operates the bus journey from Tekapo to Mount Cook Village. The 2.5h-long bus ride costs between NZ$35-40 (estimated S$30.29-34.62).
- Marlborough: There is no fixed route for this bicycle tour. It’s best to enquire about a handful of wineries you’d like to visit before you embark on your trip.
- West Coast Wilderness: Greymouth is the best place to start. There is a direct train from Christchurch to Greymouth. It’s operated by Kiwi Rail, which costs about NZ$219 (estimated S$189.55) during summer and NZ$179 (estimated S$154.93) during winter. The journey takes about 6h, but it’s believed to be South Island's most scenic route.
Recommended routes for beginner cyclists: The A20 Trail is divided into nine sections. Many of them are on open, cross-country tracks that are friendly to those with limited cycling experience. Likewise, the quiet countryside roads in Marlborough are also suitable for non-thrill seekers. The West Coast Wilderness is listed Grade 2, meaning it’s suitable for beginner cyclists.
Recommended route for advanced cyclists: The 7km section near the Elephant Rocks on A20 Trail can be challenging for some because of its uneven terrain and riding on and off the railway tracks thereafter. On the West Coast Wilderness Trail, some may find the 36km section between Kumara and Cowboy Paradise, as well as the 36km section between Cowboy Paradise and Hokitika, a little more demanding than others, as cyclists ascend and descend the hilly areas.
Information on public bike rentals:
Mount Cook Village: Bike rental services are usually provided at hotels. Price starts from NZ$30 (estimated S$25.98) for 2h, including helmets.
Marlborough: It’s advisable to sign up on a bike-wine tour here instead of going off on your own. Bike Hire Marlborough offers rental services that start from NZ$40 (estimated S$34.63) for 3h.
Greymouth: There are many bike rental services at Greymouth. Some offer full-day and multiple-day rentals for visitors heading to the West Coast Wilderness trail. Prices range from NZ$55 (estimated S$47.62) for a single day to NZ$50 (estimated S$43.29) per day for more than two days.
Things to note: In New Zealand, cycling trails are listed between Grade 1 and 5; with Grade 1 being the easiest and Grade 5 as the most advanced. Unless you are heading to specific locations, some of South Island's cycling trails are long and impossible to complete within a day. You may find yourself bypassing small and out-of-the-way places with limited amenities. So it’s recommended to plan ahead to ensure minimal disruptions during the trip.
4. Mount Fuji, Japan
Mount Fuji often comes into people’s minds when they think about Japan. The active volcano rests in the Southwest of Tokyo. Not only is this the tallest mountain in the country, but it’s also a sacred site representing Japanese heritage and culture.
Like climbing up Mount Fuji, cycling up and around the mountain can also be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. However, there is no road leading to the peak at the moment. Mount Fuji is 3776m above sea level, but many of its roads stop at the 2000-2300m mark – they were originally built to send supplies to hikers in the upper parts of the mountain.
That means cyclists who wish to get to the top will have to stop well short before the summit and hike the final leg of the journey.
There are several ways to cycle up Mount Fuji. The Fuji Subaru Line that starts from Lake Kawaguchiko is probably the least elevated way. Lake Kawaguchiko is one of the five lakes found at the base of Mount Fuji.
The town near Lake Kawaguchiko is a resort town that’s easily accessible from Tokyo. From here, you can quickly cycle up to the Fuji Subaru 5th Station at 2305m above sea level.
Along the way, you will be greeted with an incredible misty view of the nearby forest, coupled with occasional snow. It’s common to see visitors capturing the different views and angles of the legendary mountain as they ascend.
Fuji Subaru 5th Station, or the 5th station of Mount Fuji, is a giant base camp and the most popular starting point to get to the top of the mountain. There are many restaurants, shops, and a visitor centre to prepare tourists before the strenuous cycle to the top.
In addition to heading up the mountain, cycling around Mount Fuji is an alternative way to catch the spectacular scenery. Again, visitors may use Lake Kawaguchiko as the starting point of this tour. It’s recommended to cycle clockwise so that it’s generally downhill when riders are passing through the busiest east and south sides of the mountain.
Recommended routes for beginner cyclists: First-timer or those with less experience cycling uphill and in the forest may wish to visit one of the five lakes of Mount Fuji. All of them offer unique but equally breathtaking views of the mountain, water, and nearby greenery.
Recommended routes for advanced cyclists: Cycling up Mount Fuji to the Fuji Subaru 5th Station is already a huge challenge. As mentioned, experienced riders will find themselves going up to 2305m above sea level and a good majority of the pathways are in the forest area with occasional snow.
How to get to Lake Kawaguchiko: Visitors will have to take the JR Chuo Line from Shinjuku station in Tokyo to Otsuki Station. From there, they will have to transfer to the Fujikyu Line to Kawaguchiko station. The whole journey takes about 2.5h, and a JR pass is not usable between Otsuki to Kawaguchiko stations because Kawaguchiko is not a JR station. A one-way trip from Otsuki to Kawaguchiko costs ¥1400 (estimated S$13.84).
Information on public bike rentals: There is no shortage of bike rental services in Kawaguchiko. Prices range from ¥1000 (estimated S$9.88) for 3h to ¥3000 (estimated S$29.65) for 48h.
Things to note: Mount Fuji is not accessible all year round, so it can get pretty crowded during hiking seasons between July and September each year. If you wish to avoid other tourists, it’s best to start your bike ride early in the morning or on a weekday so you can properly take in the beautiful nature.
5. Girona, Spain
A cycling holiday in Girona, Spain is like no other – primarily because the city was made famous by Lance Armstrong, the world-renowned competitive cyclist who once called it home in the 1990s. Avid fans of the hit television series, Game of Thrones, will also recognise this stunning city as some of the scenes were filmed at top spots like Girona Cathedral and Citadel Grand Library.
Girona is a vibrant and beautiful mediaeval town in Spain. While it may not be as bike-friendly as Amsterdam, it’s nonetheless one of the best destinations for a cycling tour in Europe.
Here, you will likely find yourself jerking and jolting down the cobblestone streets, narrow alleys, and winding staircases leading to historic squares or hidden cafes and restaurants.
There are many excellent cycling routes in Girona and it can be pretty challenging to settle on one. Nonetheless, many veteran cyclists laud the Costa Brava route for the most obvious reasons: gorgeous scenery and little traffic.
The Costa Brava route was named after the Mediterranean’s wild and rugged coastline. Over here, cyclists will find themselves riding on paths that rest alongside the turquoise sea, red rock cliff, and endless greenery.
The cycling trail begins in Girona to Llagostera, which is straightforward and quiet, but cyclists will be exposed to the hot sun as it’s an open highway. Cyclists will then find themselves in Tossa de Mer, an ancient town by the Mediterranean coast of Spain with plenty of monuments, churches and rustic villas to explore.
On the way back to Girona, you will be greeted by a panoramic view of the sea and mountains near Sant Grau. This is a tranquil and peaceful little route that brings visitors to Sant Grau monastery, a Neo-Romanesque style building with grey walls that stand 360m above sea level.
There is a small restaurant bar in the courtyard for some snacks or drinks. And of course, for enjoying the beautiful nature surrounding you. This 95km route may be relatively short, but it’s quiet and not too hilly, so it’s accessible for less-experienced riders.
Recommended routes for beginner cyclists: Some may find parts of the Costa Brava route around Llagostera a little more demanding because it’s relatively more hilly, otherwise, this is a great cycling route for anyone who wishes to explore out of Girona. If you want to remain in the city, the city centre of Girona is where you can explore on a casual ride.
Recommended routes for advanced cyclists: For experienced riders who wish to challenge their stamina, try the Rocacorba route. Rocacorba is a secret sanctuary 20km north of Girona. Part of the route requires cyclists to climb uphill for 12km and since 2000, many professional cyclists around the world have been using this route as a test climb. Though tedious, cyclists will be greeted with a great view of Girona and its neighbouring villages once they arrive at the summit.
Information on public bike rentals: There are many bike rental services in Girona. Some of the more popular ones, like Bike Rent Girona, offer a range of quality leisure and competitive bicycles. Prices start from €40 (estimated S$57.02).
Things to note: Girona is the modern cycling Mecca, so there are plenty of cycling tours and routes to choose from. Do your research and assess your physical ability before embarking on a trail. You will have to transit from Barcelona to get to Girona. From there, it’s a 40min ride on Renfe's high-speed AVANT/AVE trains. There are typically four train services per day, with prices starting at €7 (estimated S$10) if you book your tickets in advance.
Cycling in Singapore is fun, with trails at East Coast Park, Pasir Ris Park, Coney Island and more. However, cycling in another country brings the thrill to a different level. It’s not just eco-friendly and affordable; it’s also rewarding and ensures riders are taking their time to understand and truly connect with the place.
Active travel is on the rise, people! Next time, think about packing your fitness outfits and gear for a holiday that’ll make you work for the vacation calories you gain.
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