Weekender: London sightseer

Ride level Beginner cyclist
Distance 13 mi / 21 km
Type of bicycle Any
Traffic free
Circular route

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Three people on Santander hire bikes are riding past the gates of Buckingham Palace in London. There are people walking around in the background.
The route takes in such iconic London sights as Buckingham Palace
Next time you’re in London, hop on your bike – or a hire bike – and pedal past palaces, coal yards and a castle. Tom Bogdanowicz is your guide

Start/finish: Tower of London to Kensington Palace. 
Maps: OS Explorer 173. 
Ride length: 23km (13 miles). 
Climbing: Mostly flat, slight incline to Camden. 
Bike type: Any. 
Ride level: Beginner (with care at junctions).

If you only have time for one ride in London, this is the one. Not only will you see all the iconic tourist attractions, you’ll also visit the capital’s must-see old-meets-new leisure destination at King’s Cross, plus several fascinating places even Londoners don’t know about.

And, for most of the route, you can relax in Dutch-grade cycle lanes that local cyclists fought for, and which make the ride suitable for all (with some care at junctions).

Tower of London, St Paul’s, Big Ben, Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace – yes, they are all on this ride. And the list doesn’t end there: London Eye, Westminster Abbey, Kensington Palace and Hyde Park are all included in the sumptuous package.

Plus there’s a trip (optional) to fashionable Camden where Coal Drops Yard features a multitude of eateries, independent shops and award-winning modern architecture.

Cleverly designed routing enables you to take in: the little-known but remarkable Caledonian Tower; Amy Winehouse’s home; the hidden courtyard of Lincoln’s Inn; and the High Court.

Although the ride is largely on wide cycle lanes, you should avoid commuter times when even these lanes get congested with bikes.

The Tower of London, a large walled castle with a moat
The route starts from the Tower of London

1. Tower of London

Our start point needs no introduction: kings, queens, crown jewels, executions and so on. There are bike stands by the shop if you want to visit. If you don’t have a bike there are Santander hire bikes in Tower Gardens.

Cross the road from the tower to join the cycle lane, which passes a fragment of London’s Roman wall.

2. Blackfriars Bridge

Blackfriars Bridge is the tricky bit. You exit a tunnel and pass under the bridge. To follow the Camden loop (to 3 and 4), turn sharp right onto a cycle lane back towards the bridge.

Approaching the bridge, turn left up New Bridge Street. Catch a glimpse of St Paul’s at Fleet Street, then follow signs for Cycleway 6 up Greville St and Saffron Hill.

3. King’s Cross

King’s Cross and St Pancras stations are masterpieces of, respectively, neo-Classical and neo-Gothic Victorian architecture. Behind them is London’s new leisure, eating and shopping zone, dominated by Coal Drops Yard.

A cycle lane takes you north to the Victorian Caledonian Tower (book for great views, Saturdays only) and then Amy Winehouse’s home at 30 Camden Square.

A courtyard with tables and chairs with people sat at them and people standing in groups. It's surrounded with old brick buildings that were once storehouses and have been converted into retail and restaurant spaces
Coal Drops Yard, once storage buildings for coal, has been converted into retail and restaurant spaces

4. Lincoln’s Inn Fields

Walk via a narrow passage to Lincoln’s Inn Fields, home to Sir John Soane’s Museum (free entry) and the collegelike 16th-17th century inn of court.

Pass the neo- Gothic High Court and walk across the pavement at Bell’s Yard to reach (weekdays only) Middle Temple, another inn of court. On weekends turn left on Fleet Street and right on New Bridge Street.

5. Parliament Square

Beyond the giant London Eye you see Big Ben. Westminster Hall, on your left, is medieval, as is Westminster Abbey. The rest of Parliament replaced the original palace after a fire.

Take care crossing to St James’s Park (nice café in the park) and reach Buckingham Palace. The dull front façade is a late addition to John Nash’s original design.

6. Constitution Arch

Also known as Wellington Arch (the chariot replaced a statue of the duke), this has a view of the King’s garden from the top but the roundabout showcases the dominance of 1950s’ car-led design.

The cycle route through the arch connects to Hyde Park, where the Serpentine path (café) leads to Kensington Palace, once home to Princess Diana, and our final stop (more cafés). If you prefer, you can return along the river for more great views.

People are cycling across a road on the south bank of the Thames. Pedestrians are waiting to cross the road. The London Eye is in the background
Check out views of the London Eye