The Ultimate Cycle Route to See the London’s Most Iconic Landmarks
London is home to some of the most iconic and recognisable monuments in the world. If you are lucky enough to find yourself in London on a sunny day (or at least a day that is not raining) and in an adventurous mood, then there is no better time to hop on a London Bike (Santander Bike) and experience some of London’s must-see attractions in one single morning.
In this article, we are going to guide you through an easy to follow route through the heart of London. You will bypass over twenty famous landmarks. You will need to allow between 1 to 3 hours to finish the route – however, it is dependent on how long you take at each stop and how fast you cycle (It took us a little over two hours to complete while taking photographs).
If riding isn’t for you, there are a couple of alternatives depending on your budget. The most budget friendly option is to take a ride on a famous red double-decker bus – the most scenic routes are 1, 9 or 11. Lastly, if you want a stress free option, we recommend buying a ticket to ride the Big Red London Bus, which is always a great way to explore the best parts of London at a leisurely pace.
There are some great tips in our guide, so even if you don’t plan on riding it is worth a read. We’ve even created a simple PDF version you can download (see bottom of the article) so you can print and take the directions with you as a reference.
First off – How and where to hire a London Bike?
Hiring a bike in London is easy and cost-effective thanks to the London Bike Hire Scheme (also known as Santander Bikes or as the locals call them: Boris Bikes). There are over 750 docking stations located throughout the central boroughs of London and 11,500 bikes available for hire.
Hiring a bike is simple, here is what you need to know:
- It costs £2 to hire a bike for a 24-hour period (but there is a small catch);
- The first 30 minutes of each journey is free – which means you need to find a docking station with-in 30 minutes of unlocking your bike, or you will be charged an additional £2 per half an hour. (docking stations are everywhere – you can find your nearest one via the TFL website – click here and keep this page handy);
- You can hire/unlock your London bike via the Santander Cycle App, alternatively, there is a touch screen terminal at each docking station that will dispense a ticket with a code that you can use to unlock your London Bike. (TIP: Even though it takes 5 minutes to set-up the app, it is by far the most efficient method and will save you time);
- If you’re using the touch screen terminal, make sure to use the same credit/debit card every time so that you are not double charged; and
- Lastly, the system is completely cashless, so put those pound coins away.
What About Safety Equipment?
It is not mandatory to wear a helmet while cycling in London (checked May 2020), however, as a couple of avid riders we recommend you buy yourself one. The London Bike’s come ready with front and rear lights and are regularly serviced. There are plenty of bike stores in London, so you should not have to much trouble getting your hands on one
What is the best time to start, and where?
The optimum time to go biking through the heart of London is Sunday between 8 AM and 11 AM. The later you leave, the more people and traffic you will have to face. If you are planning to explore the city on a business day (i.e Monday to Friday), then wait until peak hour cools down (around 10AM would be a good time to start your ride).
We recommend starting from Marble Arch. There is a docking station about a minute or two to walk from the Tube station on Old Quebec Street (directions can be found in the downloadable guide at the bottom of this article). Get your code from the terminal or from the app, unlock your bike and get ready to cycle down one of London’s most famous streets – Oxford Street.
First Destination: Cycle East along Oxford Street until Oxford Circus and then Turn South down Regent Street
Now that you are on your bike, head to Oxford Street and cycle your way east along one of the busiest shopping streets in London. You will be spoilt by the spectacular array of architecture and famous landmarks (i.e Selfridges) on your way to Oxford Circus Station. Once at the station, make a right turn and pedal down our favourite streets in all of London – Regent’s street.
Take your time and enjoy the breath-taking building facades as you make your way down to Piccadilly Circus.
Detour Option – Carnaby Street is a notorious pop culture hot-spot that was the epicentre of London fashion in the 1960’s. Today the street still has a buzz about it and is packed with fabulous restaurants and retail outlets – it is worth checking out. To get to Caranby Steet, take a left while on Regents Street at Great Marlborough Street.
Piccadilly Circus – London’s Equivalent to Time Square
Piccadilly Circus is a must-see attraction in the west end of the city. The circus is famous for its large LED advertising screen which spans over a huge 780 square meters. Take a quick snap and then cycle down Coventry Street to the end of the road for your next stop. Leicester Square.
Cycle to Leicester Square to take selfies with the stars (even if they are just statues)
Leicester Square is well renowned for holding red carpet European movie premieres. The square is also home to the TKTS stand that offers heavily discounted last-minute tickets for west end show.
The best thing about Leicester square is the statues of the famous cartoon, film and real-life characters which are hidden through-out the area. Look out for statues of Bugs Bunny, Mary Poppins, Paddington Bear, Mr Bean, Wonder Woman and my personal favourite Batman – who overlooks the square from the rooftop of the ODEON Cinema.
Detour Option – If you are keen to explore another facet of London’s culture, China town is only a short stroll north of the Square. The China town enterance can be found on Wardour street (north of the M&M World), when you see the impressive Chinatown Gate in front of you.
Take your London Bike to Trafalgar Square
Once you have finished wandering around Leicester square, make your way on your bike to Charing Cross Road and follow it south to Trafalgar Square (it is only a couple of hundred meters away). When you arrive, walk to the top of the stairs near the National Portrait Museum and you will have an amazing view of the lion statues, Nelson’s column, and striking water fountains.
Ride down the Mall and Wave to the Queen at Buckingham Palace
Now it is time to rub shoulders with Royalty. From Trafalgar Square, you’ll see the Admiralty Arch, ride your London Bike through the arch and along ‘The Mall’ towards Buckingham Palace. Along the way you will notice the tranquil gardens of St James Park on your left and Green Park to your right. Once you arrive at the Victoria Monument, hop off your bike and take a photo of one of the famous Queen’s Guards.
If you want to know if the Queen is in residence, take note of what flag is flying above Buckingham Palace. If the Union Jack flag is raised then it means that the Queen is not in residence, however, if the Royal Standard flag is flying then the Queen is in, probably enjoying high tea.
Westminster Abby, Big Ben, and the London Eye
When you are ready to move on from Buckingham Palace, make your way to the other side of St James Park and follow Birdcage Walk (the park should be on your left as you ride) – which will lead you all the way to Big Ben (Elizabeth Tower), houses of Parliament and Westminster Abby.
Pro Tip – to get an Instagram worthy photograph of Big Ben, there is a great vantage point cross over Westminster Bridge. Once you have passed over the bridge, dismount from your bike and walk down the stairs. There will be a dark and rather spooky underpass that will lead you West of the bridge. Here you will find an uninterrupted view of Big Ben and Westminster Bridge (see our shot below).
Once you have taken a perfect shot of Big Ben, make your way back over the bridge and turn down Embankment (along the Thames). You will discover some spectacular vantage points of the London Eye along this route.
Ride along the Victoria Embankment to Saint Pauls Cathedral and the Millennium Bridge
The next destination is Saint Pauls Cathedral and the Millennium Bridge – which is a fair distance along the Victorian Embankment (about 10 to 15 minutes). In my opinion this is one of the most enjoyable legs of the ride – on one side of the river you will see stunning views of the London Eye and South London, while on the other you will pass the majestic Victorian Embankment Gardens and Somerset House.
As you continue along Victoria Embankment the bike lane will eventually take you onto a slip lane which joins Queen Victoria Street. Keep following this road for about 300 meters until you arrive at Peter’s Hill. You cannot miss Peter’s hill – if you look directly uphill you will see Saint Paul Cathedral, while looking downhill you will see the Millennium Bridge which extends over the Thames.
Pro Tip – If you have got time to spare 15 minutes, there is a vantage point from the top of the Tate Modern Museum that showcases a breath-taking view the London’s skyscrapers and St. Pauls – and it is absolutely free! Walk across the Millennium Bridge and enter the Tate Modern Museum (which is an amazing building in itself – the vast turbine hall is a must-see) and take the Lift from Level 0 to the top level of the Blavatnik Building where you can access a viewing terrace with uninterrupted, 360-degree views.
Next Stop Tower of London and a spectacular vantage point to view the Shard.
You are now getting to the business end of the ride – continue travelling East via Thames Street or alternatively via Cannot Street (continuing onto Eastcheap which turns into Great Tower Street) until you get to the Tower of London.
Take a short detour down to the bank of the Thames – lookout for a bar called Coppa Club – there is a photo opportunity to get a snap with the Shard. There are more detailed instructions in our detailed guide that you can download the bottom of this article.
Cross the Famous Tower Bridge and make your way to Borough Market.
We have left the best attraction to last – time to cross one of the world’s most famous bridges. Standing at 65 meters in height, Tower Bridge (which is commonly mistaken for London bridge – it isn’t though) has been an iconic part of London’s skyline ever since it was constructed in 1894.
Take a right and ride southward on Tower Bridge Approach Road and cross the enjoy the views as you cross the bridge. If you look up, you will also be able to see the glass floor of the walkway 42 meters above, which for a fee you can walk across. Once you have made your way to the other side of the Thames, continue all the way until you arrive at Druid Street and take a right. This would be a good opportunity to take a detour to Potters Field Park where you can get a fabulous shot of Tower Bridge.
Now it is on to the final stop and to reward yourself with some of London’s best market food – you deserve it! Make your way back to Druid Street and follow it all the way west to Borough Market or take Tooley Street and follow it until you come across Southwark Cathedral. Make your way towards the Cathedral and you will see the start of the markets.
From here it is up to you, you can keep riding if you’re feeling energetic (Why not take a ride to Holland park and to see the wild peacocks frolic in Kyoto Gardens) or make your way back home via Borough Market Station.
Congratulations, you just knocked out a massive 8.5 mile ride through some of London’s most renowned streets and passed over 20 famous landmarks – you’re basically a Londoner now!
Let us know how your ride went – we would love to hear about your experience.
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