Five one-day bike trips from London

Summer cycling tours are an ideal way to discover southern England’s beautiful nature, cultured cities and quaint villages.

The British capital is experiencing a cycling revolution. The number of city dwellers who have taken to two wheels has increased 110% since 2000, including London’s mayor Boris Johnson, who apparently pedals to work every day. But the UK’s outstanding cycling network spreads beyond London, making this an ideal way to see England’s beautiful nature, cultured cities and quaint villages.

Starting in the capital, these five day trips – ranging between 20 and 60 miles each way (and always with the option to return by train) – are a perfect introduction to the different sides of the south.

London to Merstham: 20 miles
On the hunt for the quintessential England of yesteryear? Fanny’s Farm Shop, located in the outskirts of Merstham just 20 miles south of London, is the place to go. Started by Fanny Maiklem in 1979, the family-run business serves a proper English clotted cream tea and has become a treasure in the local community due to its quality food and friendly service.

Your journey starts in London’s busy Vauxhall neighbourhood on the South Lambeth Road, but the scenery soon transforms into quiet Surrey landscapes passing through old-fashioned villages, including the farming community of Chaldon and quaint Hooley. With bike lanes virtually all the way, this easy, two-hour ride is a great introduction to long-distance cycling for beginners or families with children. Fanny’s shop is located two miles outside Merstham on Markedge Lane; cross Markedge bridge to get across the busy M25 motorway.

On arrival, treat yourself to freshly baked scones with cream and thick fruit jam in the 10-seat wooden tree house, one of two quirky tea rooms converted from chicken sheds. Once you have eaten your fill, head to nearby Merstham station for trains back to Victoria Station, with a journey time of 40 minutes. There’s no extra charge for bicycles on UK trains.

London to Box Hill: 26 miles
After 2012’s Olympic success with eight gold medals in cycling, biking seems to be the Brits’ new national sport. And almost one year on, the London 2012 road race route can still be retraced.

A mere 26 miles south of the capital, the Box Hill National Trust Park in Surrey is perfect for family outings, with wide open spaces and sheltered woods for kids to explore and play. The cycle from London leads west down Grosvenor Road along the Thames towards Richmond and is easily manageable thanks to well-maintained roads and a mainly flat route.

Stop to refuel at Kingston upon Thames, a charming Surrey market town 10 miles from London, with a daily fruit and vegetable market that dates back to 1170. It sells perfect picnic treats, including homemade bread and pastries, warm soups and fresh salads.

Once you arrive at Box Hill you are in for a workout. The official Olympic Zig Zag Route, a winding climb that averages a 5% gradient over its 1.6 miles, is the fastest way to get to the top. For less-hardy riders, there are hiking and biking trails that lead around the steep climb. However you make it to the summit, revel in the panoramic views across the verdant Surrey countryside.

From Box Hill, the closest train station is four miles away in Dorking, with hour-long trains back to London Waterloo and Victoria.

London to Windsor: 30 miles
Windsor Castle, encircled by the historic city of the same name, is an easy-to-tackle 30-mile cycle from the capital. The three-hour route starts at Paddington Station and heads west along Westway, passing just north of Heathrow airport and into the quieter, less crowded county of Berkshire. With no hills and even some separate bike lanes, the route becomes increasingly verdant, passing through the small towns of Drayton and Langley.

Although Windsor is charming, the medieval castle is the main draw. The world’s largest inhabited castle with approximately 1,000 rooms, it is an official residence of the Royal Family and is used by the Queen as her weekend getaway from Buckingham Palace. Spend the day exploring the open-to-the public sections, such as the extravagant and glamorous State Apartments and the Drawings Gallery, with its ever-changing art exhibitions. St George’s Chapel, where 10 monarchs are buried, offers lunchtime organ recitals, and the Grand Reception Room – restored after a 1992 fire – is lavishly decorated with three chandeliers and a gold ceiling. If you have children in tow, make a beeline to Queen Mary’s Dollhouse, built in 1924 and filled with detailed miniature decor.

To get back to London, trains between Windsor and Waterloo or Paddington run all day and take less than half an hour.

London to Brighton: 58 miles
Coastal Brighton is one of the capital’s closest seaside resorts, with a vibrant city centre, wide, rocky beaches and a Victorian pier-turned-fairground. Just 58 miles south of London – and doable in six hours on a bike – the hip city has become one of London’s favourite weekend escapes.

Start your trip at the Lambeth North tube station and head south down Kennington Road. The mostly flat route skirts the large towns of Croydon and Crawley, but mainly meanders through picturesque Surrey villages. A highlight is the rural scenery between the Purley and Redhill, a typical English setting with medieval churches, cosy pubs and sparkling streams.

Once in Brighton, head to the beach promenade to find numerous seafood restaurants. Brighton Pier has many food kiosks as well as the Palm Court Restaurant where you can buy traditional fish and chips; if the weather is good, get your food to take away and eat it on the beach.

Trains back to London’s Victoria station run all day, with a journey time of 30 to 40 minutes.

London to Cambridge: 60 miles
To explore the landscapes north of the capital, head to the English section of the Tour de France route. The official route has three stages, the first two in Yorkshire, covering 242 miles, with the third making its way from Cambridge University south to The Mall in London. It is this final leg that can easily be done in reverse in a day, pedalling the 60 miles from London to Cambridge in just five and a half hours.

Starting north of the River Thames at London Bridge, the route makes its way through Shoreditch towards the suburb of Ilford and the city limits. While most of the trip meanders through flat English countryside, the end section towards Cambridgeshire is somewhat hilly and requires strength and endurance.

Cambridge is best known for being home to England’s second oldest university, established in 1209. An excellent way to see and learn more about it is to opt for a punting trip down the River Cam. These flat-bottomed boats, resembling Venetian gondolas, are propelled with a long pole and drift down the river alongside many of the university’s grand buildings such as Christ’s College. If you need some help guiding your vessel, local guides can be found by the river and are often university students with a lively knowledge of the area’s history.

After an afternoon in the quintessential English city, regular trains to London’s Kings Cross Station leave from the city centre and take around an hour.