So, you're on the hunt for the best cycling destinations in Europe? Well…you've come to the right place. This guide runs through just seven of the most bike-friendly spots on the continent. It ranges from the dagger-like summits of the Italian Dolomites to the oleander-scented shores of the Croatian islands, the zigzagging roads of the Amalfi Coast to the hill towns of Catalonia, all in an effort to pick out the places that true two-wheeled adventurers should have on the radar in 2023. Let's begin…Table of contents
Girona has been the undisputed kingpin of European cycling for some decades now. Over the years, it's figured as the stomping ground for countless riders of Olympic and Tour de France pedigree – Mark Cavendish, Geraint Thomas, even Lance Armstrong. But it's also an amateur paradise, with trails big and small, hardcore and relatively easy.
The key thing to know is that Girona sits in the heart of the Catalonia region. It's got the rising Pyrenees to the north and the sun-splashed Spanish coast to the east and south. That's the backdrop for some of Europe's most iconic trails, from the notoriously thigh-busting climb up Mare de Déu del Mont to the salt-washed track to the Costa Brava out of Llagostera.
We should also say something of Girona itself. The town is a gorgeous piece of work, with more than 2,000 years of history and the Roman ruins to show for it. Straddling a bend in the Onyar River, it rises in handsome shows of Moorish and medieval architecture, which culminate at a jaw-dropping Catalan Gothic cathedral. Very nice indeed.
Prepare to be stunned by the Dolomites. This vast swathe of the eastern Italian Alps was once entirely underwater, which goes a long way to explaining the unique shape of its hoodoo-style peaks and twisted mountaintops. That was 175 million years back, though. Today, they rise to the glacier of Marmolada some 3,343 meters up, and splinter into iconic summits like the Langkofel and the Tre Cime di Lavaredo.
Swirling around the jagged highlands are lush mountain pastures dotted with cattle, runs of pine and fir forest, and a hodgepodge of medieval South Tyrolean villages. They're all linked by hair pinning roads that are just about perfect for the budding two-wheeler.
Sadly, the Dolomites are no secret to cyclists. They now host two of the most prominent events in Italy: The Sellaronda Bike Day and the Maratona dles Dolomites race. Together they bring in nearly 30,000 riders, so it's better to come when they aren't on if you want the tracks to yourself.
Croatia is very firmly on the rise as a top cycle destination. It's now crossed by a number of long-distance velo routes that promise to whisk you all the way from the Slovenian border in the north to the glistening bays on the Montenegrin border in the south. Between those are oodles of mountain passes and islands that offer a whole medley of different sorts of adventures for a whole range of levels, two-wheel cruiser to seasoned pro.
Among it all is the island of Hvar. Just over 40 miles long from end to end, it's a dash of limestone that pokes out from the southern end of the Makarska Riviera. Most people know it for Hvar Town – a bumping party mecca come the summer months. But peel yourself away from the yachts and champagne bars and there's so much to see by bike…
Cue a whole backcountry of lavender-fringed roadways that weave and wind around low-rise peaks dressed in Aleppo pines. Our Cycle Croatia route will take you to the island's historic capital, Stari Grad, where you can see centuries-old farm plots still laid out as they were in the 1500s. Another links to Milna harbor, but first stops at deserted coves where you can cool off with a dip in the Adriatic.
Amalfi Coast, Italy
The second of the best cycling destinations in Europe to hail in from the home of pizza and pasta comes in the form of the eye-wateringly gorgeous Amalfi Coast. Stretching for 34 miles along the shores of sunny Campania in the south of the country, this land of twisting roads and precipitous limestone cliffs is like something lifted from a James Bond film.
Yes, that likely means that you'll be sharing the asphalt with purring Alfa Romeos and Ferraris, but it's worth it. The iconic Strada Amalfitana – the main road that links the whole region – is a montage of cobalt-blue Mediterranean waters, pastel-painted villages, and soaring coast mountains.
When it's time to rest, pull up in gorgeous Positano to laze on sunbeds on the pebbly shoreline and guzzle limoncello into the balmy evening. Or, hop on a boat to the R&R haven of Capri. That island just off the Amalfi Coast was once the playground of the emperor Tiberius. Today, it's got Michelin eateries and boutique B&Bs.
Ask any pro out there for their list of the top cycling hotspots on the continent and the isle of Majorca is likely to have a mention. The main reason? That backbone of rocky summits: The great Serra de Tramuntana range, which cuts from northeast to southwest along the northern side of the whole island, which also happens to be the largest in the Balearic chain.
Pump the pedals on the routes that weave into the peaks and you might just spot some familiar faces – major Olympic-level cycle teams now use the region as a training base in the winter. They tend to hit the harder paths, like the Tramuntana Coastal Road, a 110km section that lofts a whopping 2,500 meters to the tops of Puig Major (Majorca's highest) along its courses.
But it's not all for the Eddie Merckx's out there. The central part of the island is largely flat and covered in olive groves and orange orchards. Down there, you can whizz between traditional Balearic villages and market towns. Palma – the UNESCO capital – also has a charming promenade that's primed for chilled family cycles by the sea.
The Algarve, Portugal
The Algarve is certainly among the best cycling destinations in Europe for families and casual bikes. Largely flat compared to many of the other places on this list, it's a corner of Portugal that's primarily known for its fantastic weather. Mhmm…there's something ridiculous like 300 days of sunshine per year in this corner of Europe!
There are a few long-distance trails to get stuck into if you like. The Rota Vicentina connects up the wild western shore of the Algarve through pine forests, heaths, and remote river valleys, sometimes dropping down to blustery beaches that are pounded by waves. The Via Algarviana is its counterpart in the south, taking you through rustic olive groves and farmlands just back from the popular resorts.
More casual rides are open to fly-in holidaymakers in towns like Lagos, Tavira, and Albufeira. There are usually long, bending promenades for easy-going cruises near the beaches in those places, backed up by forest cycles as you edge further from the hotels.
Wales might not have the weather but it does have the terrain. Yep, those looking to steer away from the tried-and-tested cycle hubs of Europe to somewhere a touch different will find this western nation of the UK perfectly primed for both road and off-road adventures, provided they don't mind a little rain in the process!
For the roadsters, there are epic loops that take in the mountains. In the south, that means the barren tops of the Brecon Beacons, where pitstops can be made at roaring waterfalls and quaint Welsh farming villages. In the north, it means Snowdonia National Park, a region beset by the tops of sleeping-giant peaks like Yr Wyddfa and Tryfan.
Wales also nails it when it comes to coastal cycling. Head to Pembrokeshire and you can cruise between surf beaches like Marloes Sands and Newgale. Go Anglesey way and there are ancient druid stones standing on tall cliffs above the Irish Sea as the backdrop to the trails.
This guide outlines just seven of the very best cycling destinations in Europe. There's some fantastic variety, from the rain-soaked peaks of South Wales to the balmy beaches of Portugal's Algarve to the spiked summits of the Dolomites.