The Bike-Friendly City in Europe You Haven’t Heard About
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Poland’s capital is a secret city-cycling haven.
By Kathryn Schroeder
Listicles on the most bike-friendly cities in Europe mostly get things right, consistently naming Copenhagen, Denmark; Berlin; Amsterdam; and Ljubljana, Slovenia, at the top of the list. But, there’s a city that’s being shamefully ignored: Warsaw. Part of the fifth-largest bike-sharing system in Europe and with 310 miles of cycling routes, Poland’s metropolis couldn’t be an easier place to pedal the day away.
Grab an eco-friendly bicycle to admire picturesque Old Town and the Royal Route, taking a trip back in time on Krakowski Przedmieście, where the sidewalks showcase glass-covered placards with reproductions of Canaletto’s paintings. On Nowy Świat, try to find the elusive entrance to bar mecca Pawilony. In Mokotów and Praga, view Instagram-worthy street art, and check out the award-winning Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Muranów. And take advantage of bike-friendly green spaces to get a dose of tree-cleansed air — nearly a fourth of Warsaw is covered by forests and parks.
Most bike lanes aren’t in traffic, and bicyclists and pedestrians are given the right of way.
The best thing: You don’t need to own a bike. There are 300-plus stations equipped with 5,000 bicycles provided by Nextbike Polska-operated Veturilo, Warsaw’s public bike-sharing system. As part of the city’s public transport, rentals are subsidized — the first 20 minutes are free. And the fees for longer rentals are invested into the development of furthering bicycle infrastructure, says Tomasz Wojtkiewicz, CEO of Nextbike Polska.
More than 550,000 of 1.8 million Warsawians are registered with Veturilo, Wojtkiewicz notes. And cycling is on the rise, he adds, with bike traffic increasing by 40 percent in the last two years. Additional bike paths are consistently being constructed, even in neighboring suburbs in order to connect them with Warsaw. And the city itself is looking to become more eco-friendly by creating additional green spaces in the center, leaving less parking for cars.
What’s it like to ride in Warsaw? With clearly marked paths and designated crossing lanes, there’s never any confusion about where your bike should be cruising nor anxiety over cars — most bike lanes aren’t in traffic, and bicyclists and pedestrians are given the right of way.
If you’re feeling a bit sluggish after a plate of pierogies and can’t muster the strength to pedal, fret not. Veturilo is one of the first European urban bike systems to offer electric bikes, which give riders extra help. A further bonus: Hills aren’t common in Warsaw, making it excellent for those of us who don’t have calves of steel. With the Veturilo app, you can even track how many calories you’ve burned while patting yourself on the back for helping to curb CO2 emissions.
But if you have the energy? The new 18-mile Vistula Bike Trail lets you drop off your bike at one end and kayak back on the river. Then join locals in a BYOB on the riverside steps to watch the sunset. When night falls, set off to see the neon lights that have been illuminating the city for decades.
If you want to ride in Warsaw during the winter months (and with the freezing temps, you’d have to be mad), you won’t be able to use the bike-sharing system — from December to February, the bikes take a holiday. The frosty season is perfect, though, for vodka, of which Poland has plenty.
- Kathryn Schroeder, OZY Author Contact Kathryn Schroeder