On your bike! The best cycle routes within an hour of London

·5-min read
 (ES composite)
(ES composite)

Tired of looping Richmond Park? You do have other options, and they are not that far away. Try freewheeling along a chalk stream through a nature reserve or pedaling through chocolate box villages on your way to the sea.

In fact, many of the country’s most idyllic days out on two wheels are within a stone’s throw of the city - hop on your bike at home and you can be sailing down the country lanes of Surrey, Essex, Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire within 30 minutes. The upside of riding from your door? You can get the train home in under an hour - once you’ve had a dip in the sea and refueled with a hearty pub lunch.

From off-road trails past royal palaces to days out that take in climbs from the London 2012 Olympic road race, this is your route planner.

The Wandle Trail

Distance: 20km

Minutes back to London: 0 (it’s right here in the capital)

USP: Riverside riding, pretty waterways and off-road gravel paths without leaving London.

Refuel: Strawberry and cream ice-cream from The Stableyard Cafe at Morden Hall Park.

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OK, this one technically doesn’t leave London, but you’d never know. The meandering signposted trail is almost entirely traffic-free all the way from the Thames at Wandsworth to East Croydon Station, via King George’s Park, Carshalton Ponds and Beddington Farmlands Nature Reserve. Almost the entire route follows the River Wandle, the highlight being Morden Hall Park, a beautiful National Trust estate with pretty chalk streams, cute cafes and a city farm. On a hot day, stop for a dip in the stream for a halfway cool-down.


Olympic Park to Epping Forest

Distance: 20km

Minutes back to London: 40

USP: Towpaths and tree tunnels. Epping Forest is London’s largest public open space and offers 6,000 acres of of wildlife and ancient woodland.

Refuel: Sunday roast at the King’s Oak Hotel in Epping Forest. Justin Bieber was once spotted tucking into salmon and mash at the Essex gastropub.

 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

A ride of two halves. Start by heading north along the River Lea - think locks, reservoirs and canal boats - then plunge yourself into Epping Forest for 40 miles of leafy off-road trails. Prepare for mud if there’s been recent rain, and remember to make a return journey in autumn when the forest is a gorgeous rainbow of orange, red and golden leaves. Jump on the Central Line at Epping tube station and you’ll be back at Liverpool Street in under 40 minutes - or cycle home if you fancy double the Strava points.


Buckingham Palace to Box Hill

Distance: 36km

Minutes back to London: 50

USP: Olympic fever. The cyclists raced this route at London 2012 so you’ll earn immediate bragging rights - Box Hill’s famous Zig Zag Road has been compared to the Alps (don’t worry, the Olympians climbed it nine times - you only have to do it once).

Refuel: The National Trust café at the top of Box Hill serves homemade cakes and cream teas. Jude’s ice cream is on the menu until the end of October.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Ignore the clichés. Any self-respecting cyclist has to tick Box Hill off their bucket list. The steep climb up the Surrey Hills was a highlight of the London 2012 Olympics road race and has become a rite of passage for the capital’s keen riders. Ride out west past Hampton Court Palace and into the green suburbia of Surrey. Box Hill’s 120-metre climb might be a killer at the end but it is steady, on smooth tarmac roads - totally worth it for the panoramas at the top.


Regent’s Park to St Albans

Distance: 38km

Minutes back to London: 20

USP: Canopies and cathedrals. The ride finishes with a leafy off-road trail all the way into the centre of town.

Refuel: Thai Rack in St Albans is a popular post-ride dinner spot. Order the signature banana-fritter to finish.


One for cyclists who love a challenge (hills). This north London ride throws you in at the deep end with some big climbs (Highgate Hill), but from Barnet you’ll reap the rewards, with a glorious glide down into the Hertfordshire countryside past fields of sheep and clanging church bells. From there, expect sleepy country roads, pretty tree tunnels and a disused railway track all the way through to the spires of St Albans cathedral.


Clapham Common to Brighton

Distance: 88km

Minutes back to London: 60

USP: Fish and Chips at the finish line. If you’ve got space, pack your swimmers and cool off with a dip in the sea off Brighton beach.

Refuel: If you can’t wait until Brighton, stop for a Bedlam-ale battered cod and chips at The Bull, an award-winning pub in Ditchling, 50 minutes before the end.


Pack for a big day out, this ride is a long one. To follow the official London to Brighton cycle route, start at Clapham Common, where the iconic charity race takes place every September. The real challenge of this ride is taking on the South Downs at Ditchling Beacon, a mile long climb with views of the sea from the top, but a lot of the route is flat, winding through cute Sussex villages and country lanes before finishing at Brighton’s famous seafront.


Camden to Cambridge

Distance: 106km

Minutes back to London: 50

USP: Three counties in one ride. The London-to-Cambridge ride takes in Essex, Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire.

Refuel: Cinnamon and Nutella buns at cycling cafe Bicicletta Coffee con Velo in Saffron Walden.


Don’t be deterred by the distance. This ride might be high on the mile count, but less so on the hills - the beauty of Cambridgeshire is it’s notoriously flat. Even single speed bikers can make it to Cambridge. Meander along the flat towpath beside the River Lee, follow Essex’s winding country lanes and finish at Jesus Green in Cambridge for a post-ride punt. Recommended pitstops include cycling cafe Bicicletta Coffee con Velo in Saffron Walden and Jamie Oliver’s parents’ pub, The Cricketers in Clavering.


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