Cycle between nature and urban life in London – Capital Ring

Chang Tai Jyun (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Cycle between nature and urban life in London – Capital Ring

Bike Touring Collection by Amy

From leafy suburban streets to sprawling parklands, towering skyscrapers to thriving wetlands, and bustling cityscapes to calm lakes – London is a place where urban life and nature combine.

This Collection guides you around the Capital Ring, an 86-mile (139-km) circular ride around the outskirts of London. Despite being a busy metropole, England’s capital has a surprising amount of green spaces and nature reserves spread out across the city, many of which you explore on this adventure.

I’ve split the ride into three stages between 25 and 31 miles (40 - 50 km) in length. The gradients are mostly flat, allowing you ample time and energy to explore the sights along the way. You could also use the routes as inspiration for new day rides in London. There’s so much to see and do that you can take as much or as little time as you like.

Cycling through diverse boroughs in every compass point of the city reveals many wonderful sights. You visit impressive castles and palaces, picturesque riversides, tranquil historic villages, and the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Each borough has a unique history and charm, from regal townhouses in Richmond to graffiti-covered warehouses in Stratford.

Whether you are a local Londoner or just visiting the city, you’ll discover a fresh perspective of London and its nature. Countless parks and commons tempt you to take a break and picnic on the grass and you even have the chance to go wild swimming. Despite its proximity to urban life, wildlife thrives in the nature reserves, wetlands, marshlands, woodlands, and reservoirs. In Richmond Park, the largest of London’s Royal Parks, you can even spot deer.

Any bike is suitable for this adventure, but bear in mind that some paths can be muddy after rain. This route makes use of some of London’s best traffic-free cycleways and paths, and quiet streets. However, you still cycle distances along busy roads. You should be confident cycling in heavy traffic and always take care, even on the cycle lanes.

The Capital Ring was created in 2005 as a walking route through London’s green spaces and parks ( However, riding the route on two wheels is great fun too. The route is signposted, but it’s a good idea to download the Tours onto your phone or GPS device to help keep you on-track as it can be difficult to follow. London’s roads are constantly evolving, so be ready to stay flexible and ride at a slow pace – spontaneous detours may be necessary.

If you want to stick to the original walking route, there are some unavoidable short sections where you have to hop off your bike and push (you'll notice some sections marked as 'forbidden to cyclists' on the route planner). These are usually short passages, walkways, or sections through parks, but always comply with the traffic signs as you ride. I’ve also re-routed the original route in a few places so that you can stay on your saddle.

As is to be expected in London, accommodation and eateries are found in abundance. On every street corner, you’ll find another delicious cuisine or snack to try. Each stage ends close to an overground train station so you can easily travel home or to alternative parts of the city at the end.

You begin and end your Tour from King George V station in North Woolwich. As the station lies on the DLR overground line, you can take your bike with you during off-peak hours and on weekends.

On The Map

Tours & Highlights

    27.8 mi
    7.6 mph
    1,325 ft
    1,225 ft
    Expert bike ride. Good fitness required. Some portions of the Tour may require you to push your bike.

    It is no secret that London is a diverse city, but you may be surprised by the amount of green spaces and nature on this first stage. Today, you ride southwards from the banks of the Thames in North Woolwich and cross London from east to west. After 27.8 miles (44.8 km) and 1,312 feet (400 metres) in elevation, you finish in Wandsworth.

    I’ve started the ride from King James V DLR station as you can take your bike on DLR trains during off-peak times (not between 7.30am - 9.30am or 4pm - 7pm) and all day on weekends.

    Off the train, hop on your bike and pedal to the banks of the magnificent Thames – your first glimpse of this iconic river, the longest river in England. To cross the water, you can either push your bike across the Woolwich Foot Tunnel or take a ferry.

    From the southbank, you ride through some of London’s green spaces such as Maryon Wilson Park, Charlton Park, Woolwich Common, and Oxleas Woods. Here, you reach the highest point of the Tour, but at 426 feet (130 metres), you barely notice it.

    Next, Eltham, a district in Greenwich, lies en route. The diverse history of Eltham is visible in the pretty Art Deco and Tudor architecture, such as Eltham Palace and Gardens. You soon see why the district was a favourite of Henry VIII.

    From Eltham, you continue exploring the backstreets of suburban London, heading south-west. Leafy streets and urban roads are interrupted by sections along wooded paths and through surprisingly-wild parks, such as Beckenham Place Park, where you can even take a dip in a wild swimming lake.

    With village-like districts, each with their own charm, and open parklands, South London is a place where rural and urban worlds collide. Riding through Penge, Crystal Palace, and Upper Norwood, you constantly have to remind yourself to keep your eyes on the road to not be distracted by the diversity of city life. There are a few small climbs here, too.

    The final leg takes you through Norwood Grove, Streatham Common, Tooting Bec Common, and Wandsworth Common, where you conclude Stage 1. Wandsworth has plenty of accommodation and places to eat and drink. Otherwise, you can ride to Clapham Junction and catch a train from there with your bike.

    24.7 mi
    7.4 mph
    900 ft
    850 ft
    Expert bike ride. Good fitness required. Some portions of the Tour may require you to push your bike.

    Wild deer roam freely across sprawling parklands as they have done for centuries; trains pass over an impressive viaduct in the Brent Valley designed by Isambard Kingdom; daily life unfolds in historic villages where Charles I once fled in the lead up to the English Civil War. Stage 2 reveals many magical lesser-known historical sights and nature spots in London.

    Today, you ride 24.6 miles (39.7 km) from Wandsworth Common to Preston, covering the westerly section of the route from South to North London.

    Your journey begins along residential streets through Wimbledon, before crossing Wimbledon Park. Before long, you are surrounded by thriving nature as you follow traffic-free paths through Wimbledon Common and the glorious Richmond Park. Dating to the 17th century, the park is the largest of London’s Royal Parks and a gem for nature conservation. Look out for the deer!

    You descend from the park to join a riverside path along the Thames in Richmond. This is a great place to stop for lunch on a pub terrace overlooking the calm waters.

    Next, you arrive in Brentwood, a town on the London commuter belt. The town’s name comes from ‘Burnt Wood’ after a clearing was burned in a thick forest, which once lay here, to make way for the town. Here, you enjoy a gentle stretch along the Grand Union Canal and the River Brent for 5 miles (8 km). It’s easy to forget that you are in one of the world’s biggest cities as you enjoy the water scenery and river wildlife.

    Leave the river and ride through Horsenden Hill, a historic settlement with views as far as Windsor Castle. Continue northwards through the quaint streets of Harrow on the Hill, a historic village with a peaceful atmosphere, before turning eastwards to end the Tour at Preston Road station in Preston. There’s ample accommodation and places to refuel after your ride in the area. Alternatively, you can take an overground train with your bike from South Kenton station, a short ride away.

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  • Intermediate
    31.9 mi
    8.8 mph
    850 ft
    975 ft
    Intermediate bike ride. Good fitness required. Mostly paved surfaces. Suitable for all skill levels.

    Your last ride takes you through calm and green nature spots once again as you pedal 31.6 miles (51 km) across the north of London, completing your loop of the capital. From Olympic bike parks to the Hackney Marshes – you’re in for a varied ride.

    From Preston, you ride through the rolling fields and quaint woodland of Fryent Country Park and continue to Brent Reservoir. With an array of wetland birds and plants, you will be surprised once more by the richness of nature in the city.

    Next, pedal through Brent Cross where you join a path beside Brent Brook, passing East Finchley and skirting around Highgate Wood. Parkland Walk, a wonderful gravel track through the trees, takes you into Finsbury Park and on to Woodberry Wetlands, a nature reserve which is a haven for wildlife in Hackney.

    Cross through Crissold Park, which was founded in the 19th century by philanthropist and merchant Johnathan Hoare, and ride past Stoke Newington station. A short stretch through the streets of West Hackney brings you to Walthamstow Wetlands, an important urban nature reserve in the Lee Valley which attracts migrating, wintering and breeding birds.

    Walthamstow Wetlands merges with Hackney Marshes where you ride along the secluded riverside and arrive in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, built in Stratford for the 2012 summer olympics. The area has undergone a lot of development in recent years but still retains its alternative vibe. Vegan cafes, galleries, and street art are around almost every corner.

    You follow the traffic-free Greenway through vibrant cityscapes before cycling through Beckton District Park. The last stretch takes you along roads back to the banks of the River Thames where you started your journey at King George V train station.

    To return home, you can take your bike on the DLR train during off-peak times (not between 7.30am - 9.30am/4pm - 7pm) on weekdays and anytime on weekends.


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Collection Stats

  • Tours
  • Distance
    84.4 mi
  • Duration
    10:35 h
  • Elevation
    3,050 ft

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Cycle between nature and urban life in London – Capital Ring