Top Ten Stops on Two Wheels: London by Bike
By James Curtis
If you’ve been taking much notice lately, the riding of bicycles has been experiencing what might be termed a “FREAKIN’ BOOM TIME” in many cities. Everybody has their theory on why this is, for example the need to donate a vital organ to get enough money to buy a spot on the waiting list to get in to the petrol station. Whatever the reason, the bicycle boom has led to many of these cities throwing thick wads of frog skin (slang for money) at bike infrastructure projects.
London is no exception, in fact Mayor Boris Johnson has been labeled (by me) as the bicycling fraternity’s “sugar daddy”. The great thing about all this is that tourists see the benefits as well. Riding a bike is a healthy, cheap and unique way to experience a city. So I thought I’d jump on my steed and ride around a few of my favourite places to go in one of my favourite cities.
Luckily Boris realizes that as tourists you probably don’t have access to your own bike (he’s a smart guy), so like many other cities he’s implemented a “city bike” scheme at very reasonable hire rates. It is statistically impossible to walk more than three feet in London without seeing one of these stands, so you won’t have any trouble finding them.
I chose a route that would take me in to London along the mighty River Thames, starting at the Fuller’s Brewery in Chiswick, West London. If you have time, book a tour to get an inside look at some of London’s finest traditional ales being brewed. If not, a wander around the brewery shop or a drink at the attached pub is a quicker alternative. Given that you’ll be riding along the Thames, try not to drink and ride irresponsibly. Falling in to a river on a bike is even less fun than it sounds, especially if it’s low tide.
Pubs by Hammersmith Bridge
Despite what you may think, I’m not encouraging irresponsible behavior. Probably stick to one drink if you must have a beverage but if it’s a sunny day, just sitting at one of these riverside pubs by the Hammersmith Bridge is a beautiful way to pass some time and watch life along the river meander by. Good value food is on offer at most places so why rush?
Craven Cottage (Fulham Football Club)
You can also get tours here but the main reason you should stop by is to see one of the most irrelevant tribute statues ever. For some reason Mohamed Al Fayed (owner of Harrods and Fulham Football Club) thought a life-size statue of Michael Jackson eternally serenading the passing canoeists on the Thames would raise no eyebrows. Unfortunately for him eyebrows were in fact raised, leading him to tell any FFC supporters who questioned the statue to “go to hell”. Don’t get me wrong, he was a brilliant talent, but I’m not sure about this. You can make up your own mind.
From Fulham it’s a pleasant ride along the river past Putney, Chelsea Harbour and the “historic” Battersea Power Station. Around here you can also experience some of that new infrastructure I was talking about, a new “Cycle Superhighway”. These newly-paved blue ribbons of velvety smoothness invite you to crank up the pace and give “the finger” to motorists stuck in slow moving traffic. Good fun but I’d advise against it, ‘cause if you do you might miss the next stop. Just so you know what to look for, here’s a picture of a “Cycle Superhighway” in all its blueness.
I’m not a museum junky, but London has some of the best-value (ie. free) places to see things hung on walls. The Tate Britain has an extensive free collection to peruse at your leisure, regular free activities and talks as well as paid exhibitions, if that’s your thing.
Westminster Abbey and Big Ben
Continuing along the river you will approach what is now officially known as “The place where half the world watched Pippa Middleton’s arse upstage a royal wedding.” Unofficially, it’s still Westminster Abbey. Yes, it is oh-so-touristy, but it is damn impressive. Plus coming from the west you get to approach it from a direction that many tourists don’t experience. Rather than viewing it amid a concrete jungle, from the west it is bordered by green parkland which makes for nicer photos.
Food/Coffee stop: Notes, Trafalgar Square
Trying to run down as few pedestrians as possible (the road is probably a good idea here), head a few blocks along the river to Embankment. A left turn and a short ride will take you to Trafalgar Square. A tourist stop on its own, Trafalgar Square is more importantly home to Notes, an independent coffee shop, wine cellar and music/film store. Great coffee can be hard to find in tourist hot spots, but Notes hits the mark whatever style you prefer. The home-made croissant stuffed with an omelet was a gamble, but it paid off.
Herman ze German
If you’re still hungry, or perhaps you don’t fancy avant garde omelet-stuffed croissants, a quick stop at Herman ze German is a must. I find it pays to know where the best sausages are to be had in any city. Oh, and no that’s not a euphemism. A tasty and relatively cheap currywurst or other type of sausage will soon have you recharged and ready to get back on the bike. I also have it on good authority that Herman’s is the perfect place to satisfy the late-night cravings after a night out in central London.
If you’re game, you can make your way north-west through the city towards Hyde Park. Unless you’re an experienced city rider though, I’d suggest an easier way is to ride back along the river (you can even take the other side if you want to pass the London Eye) to Chelsea Bridge. From here it’s a short ride through Sloane Square and Chelsea, where being on a bicycle you’ll probably be mistaken for a poor person and have change thrown at you. If enormous disparity of wealth doesn’t infuriate you, it is a fascinating place to see how much money there is in this city.
Hyde Park/Speakers’ Corner
North of Sloane Square you’ll find Hyde Park, a lovely open space that hosts festivals, casual sports and people that speak their mind on various issues. These people range in varying degrees of sanity, but it is usually worth stopping by to hear what’s being said. Or you could borrow someone’s soapbox and have your say as well. You’ll find most of this going on at the north-east corner of the park.
South Kensington Museums (various)
You probably won’t be up for much riding any more, but luckily it’s not too far to South Kensington, which is home to a great concentration of museums for every taste. Here you will find the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum. All these museums also have free exhibits that will take a bit longer to see properly, so if you can I’d set aside an entire day to really see this area.
That’s it for my top 10 stops in London by bike. I hope to see many more tourists exploring cities by bicycle in the future. In my opinion it is one of the best ways to see a new place, second only to the Aquaduck tour (maybe).
Thanks for reading and safe travels.
ABOUT THE BLOGGER:
A teacher by profession, James is an Australian with an acute aversion to real life and the author of Boiled Blog Syndrome. He currently lives in London, from where he travels to other places and writes about it in an attempt to both inform and entertain on his “travel” blog. You can find it at http://boiledblog.wordpress.com/ or find him on Twitter.