Say goodbye to tired double-decker bus tours, taxis and subways. From Asia to Argentina, Montreal to Munich, more than 300 cities worldwide now operate bike-sharing systems, small and large. So instead of just keeping them in mind when planning your next urban adventure, why not plan a holiday around them? Here’s a look at 5 top-rated cities best seen by pedal-power:
LONDON: Weaving past traffic and pedestrians along the Thames, with views of St Paul’s Cathedral and the glimmering, Dubai-esque Shard Tower beckoning ahead, I’m amazed at the ground you can cover by bicycle in this vast city. While it was prohibitively inconvenient to see the city by bike in the past, the city’s vast network of bike-docking stations (named Barclay’s Cycle Hire, after its corporate sponsor, or also known as Boris-bike, after the mayor who brought it to us) has made pedal-power the transport of choice in this still often traffic-choked city.
With nearly 600 stations across the centre of the city (making it one the world’s most comprehensive systems), there’s never been a better time to stay overground (not to mention staying fit!) for your entire stay in London. An absolute bargain at only 1£ for 24 hours of access (plus moderate usage fees – the first half hour is free, all payable by credit card at any station), it’s truly open to any budget.
London eco-travel tip: Stay at a hotel rated by the Green Tourism Business Scheme, which lists hotels that have achieved a gold, silver or bronze for their commitment to sustainable practices.
ASIA: In Hangzhou, China, where renowned director Zhang Yimou dazzles night-time audiences with unforgettable performances of Impressions of West Lake, performed over water, the city now also shines for it’s cheap and tourist-friendly, 2400 station-strong bike sharing network (the world’s largest), making the city’s vast offering of ancient temples and pagodas, botanical gardens, traditional rice fields, and bamboo forests more easily accessible than ever.
Hangzhou eco-travel tip: Tea is ubiquitous in this region, but when buying be sure to ask for the organic variety, grown without pesticides or fertilizers and often soil-association or fair-trade certified.
MONTREAL: In the bilingual Canadian city of Montreal, Quebec, the history steeped streets of the former new-France rub shoulders with post-modern skyscrapers. A major culinary, fashion and arts hub, pedal power has taken to the streets thanks to Bixi, North America’s second largest bike-sharing network (after New York City’s, which was modelled after Montreal’s) with 400+ bike docking stations and 5000+ bicycles, open year round except for the snowy winter months.
A bit more expensive than most systems, 24 hours will cost you $7.00CDN (or $24.00 for 72 hours) plus usage fees, but just think of what you get for the experience. Perfect for going between the many parks, food markets and architectural attractions of this multicultural city.
Where to stay in Montreal: Boutique B&B Casa Bianca offers stunning rooms in a recognized architectural landmark. Breakfasts are organic and made from locally grown and produced food, while bedrooms feature organic mattresses and linens, and 100% natural bathroom toiletries. More modern and further out of town but with lofty green aspirations, the ALT Hotel Quartier DIX30 boasts geothermal heating and cooling in every room and a host of other green initiatives.
EUROPE: In Europe, a tour of French cities is now possible without even fathoming a taxi, bus or metro ride with Paris, Lyon, Toulouse, Bordeaux and Nice and several others all having between 1200 (Paris) and 150 bike-docking stations. Elsewhere in continental Europe, Brussels, Milan, and Copenhagen all have large and growing networks with more than 400 docking stations between them, while German cities and the Netherlands, already so accustomed to biking everywhere, have been slower off the mark.
BARCELONA: This sun-blessed tourist mecca reels in visitors to see its Gaudi temples, numerous showcase art galleries, and its sandy shoreline, to name but a few of the attractions. It’s also home to Bicing, the world’s first bike-share network located in a major city. With over 400 docking stations scattered across the city, and a handy website that let’s you know where the nearest available bike and/or dock is, getting between the beaches, the Ramblas and the Sagrada Familia couldn’t be easier or more enjoyable.
Unfortunately, Bicing is not presently open to tourists not in possession of a Spanish residency card. There are several other bike-rental services available however, including Barcelona-Rent-a-Bike, whose two stations and attractive hourly rates make it an excellent alternative. For other bike-rental companies in Barcelona, click here.
Barcelona eco-travel tip: Recycling bins are ubiquitous in the city, especially in more residential areas off the main drags. Giant and ugly but doing their job, look out for them and keep up your recycling duties while on holiday!
MEXICO CITY: This bustling and often overwhelming Latin American metropolis offers an enviable arts scene combined with colonial and post-modern architectural delights and a number of innovative green initiatives including a series of vertical gardens! Notorious until recently for its smog-choked skyline, you can now see Mexico City at your own pace with the EcoBici network. With more than 1,000 bikes and 85 stations in and around the popular Roma, Condesa, San Rafael, Cuauhtémoc and Paseo de la Reforma districts, you’ll unfortunately have to shell out a 300 peso ($23 US) annual fee, meaning it’s a good option for extended stays.
Where to stay in Mexico City: El Patio 77. This quaint and comfortable 8-room and suite eco-B&B is doing its part for this water-deprived city: a rain-water collection facility in the basement filters water for toilets and the garden while solar panels heat the water for baths and showers.
Mexico City eco-travel tip: The city’s dumps have reached their limit (see this link) so when in town, reduce, reuse and recycle, throwing away as little as possible.