In this article we share our pick of the best cycling climbs in Europe.
For many of us cyclists, there’s something deeply alluring about cycling in the mountains. It’s difficult to pinpoint precisely why the mountain cycle climbs tend to call so loudly, but there are lots of possible draws.
Whatever the particular reason (or reasons) we love mountains, and riding a particular cycling climb can often be incentive enough to travel somewhere new and base a trip from that area.
When picking this list of the best climbs, we've tried to reflect the fact that we all climb for different reasons. So this isn't a list of Europe's toughest climbs, we've also selected climbs on the basis of things like their beauty, history and cycling history.
We hope our selection provides you with inspiration and desire to get out there and explore!
Written by John Vicars
Note: The figure in brackets after the climb name refers to the altitude above sea level of the climb's summit.
If you're reading this on mobile, only part of the righthand column displays. You'll need to swipe left to see the figures in the righthand column.
1. Koppenberg, Belgium (77m)
Melden, Flanders, Belgium
an iconic cycling climb that's short but vicious
The Koppenberg is probably the most famous short climb in the world. It packs a vicious punch over its 600 metres of brutal cobblestones.
Often a pivotal point in the annual Ronde van Vlaanderen, the ascent has, over the years, forced innumerable professional riders to get off their bike and walk.
It starts off relatively gently until reaching a wooded area after around 100 metres. Things then start to get really tough as riders fight the laws of gravity.
The pitch gets steeper and steeper and its 20% pinch point, particularly on wet cobbles, will test the power and bike handling skills of everyone who dare attempt the ‘bump of Melden’.
This is one of the toughest cycling climbs in Europe.
2. Box Hill, England (224m)
Dorking, Surrey, England
Retracing the 2012 Olympic road race. Nice cafe and stunning views.
If Box Hill was situated in the Alps, it would probably be described in most event roadbooks as no more than an ‘unclassified’ climb.
However, it remains hugely popular due its prominence in the 2012 London Olympics road race and the annual Prudential Ride London Sportive.
It is by no means the hardest cycling climb in the UK, but its proximity to London, its famous zig zag bends and the fact that it is has become a true legacy of the Olympics games make it a bucket list climb for most cyclists.
Another draw of this Surrey Hills cycling climb is the fact that at the top you’ll find a nice café and fabulous views of the North Downs.
3. The Tumble, Wales (482m)
Govilon, Monmouthshire, Wales
one of the best climbs in the UK - watch out for the second half of this well-known climb!
One of the most popular and talked about climbs in Wales, the Tumble has been previously used in the Tour of Britain and has often been a highlight of the annual Velothon Wales.
Starting in the village of Govilon near the Blaenavon World Heritage Site and the Usk valley, the Tumble is certainly one of the most challenging cycling climbs in Wales.
The road twists and turns and as you pass through the switchback known locally as ‘Fiddler’s Elbow’, the gradient increases sharply with the pitch touching 16% in places.
It’s then a straight-line slog to the summit and you need to keep going until about a kilometre from the top, where the gradient starts to ease, and you can catch your breath.
4. Buttertubs Pass, England (526m)
Swaledale, Yorkshire, England
4.4 kilometres (southern ascent)
epitomising the riding the Dales has to offer while riding part of the route of the 2014 Tour de France
The Buttertubs Pass is a testing climb from either direction. It also holds the distinction of being featured in the first stage of the 2014 Tour de France (albeit renamed as the Col de Buttertubs)!
The southern ascent of this famous cycling climb rises gently from the village of Hawes, but as soon as you enter open moorland the gradient ramps up to around 20%. After passing through the first cattle grid it starts to settle.
It is very exposed at the top of the pass, with spectacular moorland views, though you probably won’t be stopping to admire them for long, particularly if you find yourself riding it on a windy day. Also watch out for the sheep – you often find yourself having to negotiate the hundreds of sheep that roam across the road.
When you think you have made it to the top there is a short downhill followed by another kick up before actually reaching the summit.
We think that Buttertubs is one of the best cycling climbs in the UK.
5. Bealach Na Ba, Scotland (626m)
A must if you like cycling steep climbs and impressive scenery (assuming the weather allows you to see it!)
Described by some as the greatest climb in Great Britain and given an 11/10 difficulty score in Simon Warren’s 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs list, Bealach Na Ba would be a far more popular climb were it not so remote.
Starting in the village of Tornapress in the Scottish Highlands this 9-kilometre monster is about the closest thing you will find to an Alpine mountain pass in the UK.
It’s stacked with some fearsome 20% gradient hairpins that will make the quads burns. In better news, it rewards you with stunning views including those over the nearby Isle of Skye.
Without a doubt one of the hardest cycling climbs in the UK.
Our NC500 ride guide includes information about this climb
Our guide to cycling in Scotland may also be useful
6. Sa Calobra, Mallorca (682m)
Where to stay:
Most famous of the Mallorca cycling climbs
The jewel in Mallorca’s cycling crown, Sa Calobra is one of the main reason’s cyclists flock to the island in their thousands each year.
Riding along a slither of silver tarmac ribbon amongst sheer limestone cliff and weaving through a craggy lunar landscape you soon realise that this climb is a combined feat of engineering and also a work of art.
The gradient increases the higher you progress and its piece de resistance is the famous 270-degree hairpin under an arched bridge.
You can ride down to the beach from the top but remember it’s a 600-metre climb back to the top!
Quite simply one of the very best cycling climbs in Mallorca
Sa Calobra t shirt + illustration
7. Col de Braus, France (1,002m)
L'Escarene, Nice, France
Hairpin bends and spotting a pro!
Often overshadowed in the Nice area by the better-known ascents of the Col de la Madone and Col de Turini, the Col de Braus is considered by many to be a far better climb.
Referred to locally as the hidden gem of the Cote d’Azur, it is one of the most famous ‘hairpinned’ roads in the world.
There is a point near to the top of the climb where you can pause and look back down below at the beautifully engineered stacked hairpins.
At the summit there is a monument to René Vietto one of the greatest French riders never to win the Tour de France. There’s also the turn off to the D54 which eventually takes you to the Col de Turini.
The Col de Braus is one of the best cycling climbs in France that is never too busy – a truly epic cycling climb.
8. Santuari del Far, Spain (1,122m)
Sant Esteve d'en Bas, Olot, Spain
Amazing views from the clifftop summit
Set in the Garrotxa National Park north west of Girona near the town of Olot lies the Santuari del Far. Unless you are local to the area you will probably never find it (never mind heard of it) but this is a gem of a cycling climb.
Most visitors to the region are understandably directed towards the more famous Girona cycling climbs such as Rocacorba and Els Angles but a lot of the professionals prefer climbs such as El Far for the serenity and excellent road surface, not to mention the scenery.
To access the Santuari itself you first have to negotiate the Col de Condreu and then continue to climb for another 5 kilometres until you reach what can only be described as one of the best vistas in all of Spain.
You can see the town of Girona in the distance, the Pyrenees and even the telecommunications mast at the top of Rocacorba. There is also a nice restaurant at the top.
9. Alto de Velefique, Spain (1,820m)
Tabernas, Almeria, Spain
a hidden gem of a climb with fantastic hairpins
The locals call the Alto de Velefique the Alpe d’Huez of Almeria due in the main to the twenty beautifully engineered hairpin bends that litter the second half of the climb.
In many respects it is better than the famous Alpe d’Huez as the road surface is better, there is little or no traffic on the road and the sun seems to constantly shine.
The views as you get higher into the hairpins are simply spectacular and the descent on super smooth roads alongside the Tabernas Desert, of spaghetti western fame, is a sheer joy.
The Velefique always ranks near to the top of any greatest cycling climbs list and it’s not a surprise.
10. Mont Ventoux, France (1,909m)
Bedoin, Provence, France
One of the most iconic cycling climbs in the world
There’s not much to say about Mont Ventoux that has not been written before, but suffice to say it would be impossible to compile a greatest cycling climbs list without it featuring!
It has three different routes to the summit and a rare moonscape appearance at the top. The weather on the Géant de Provence, as it’s called locally, can sometimes be benign but beware when the mistral wind blows, it can be totally brutal.
It is a climb that is not only challenging but rich in cycling history. It’s often featured in the Tour de France and at a kilometre from the top there is a shrine to the British rider Tom Simpson who died competing on its slopes.
Ventoux is a proper Hors Categorie climb, it is one of the best-known, most popular ascents in the world.
More informationVentoux climb guide (from Sault)
Mont Ventoux t shirt + illustration
11. Col de Tourmalet, France (2,115m)
Luz Saint Sauveur, Pyrenees, Spain
One of the very best Pyrenees cycling climbs
Described by the former Belgian grand tour winner Eddie Merckx as ‘the most legendary Col in the Pyrenees’, it is no surprise that this mountain pass has appeared in the Tour de France more than 80 times.
With two ascents available (from either Luc Saint Sauveur or Sainte Marie de Campan), the legend of the pass is as much to do with the spectacular scenery and its race history as the degree of difficulty.
That said, it’s a challenging climb and regarded as one of the very best cycling climbs in France.
It was first included in the Tour de France in 1910 after the Tour founder Henri Desgrange ‘found’ the pass and since then it has been the setting for innumerable contests between the greatest riders in the world.
In 2010 to mark the mountains centenary in the Tour de France, the organisers sent the riders up both sides of the pass on successive days!
Tourmalet t shirt + illustration
Conquered the Tourmalet? Get your tshirt from our shop and how about having a personalised illustration created for you too?
12. Passo Giau, Italy (2,236m)
Selva di Cadore, Dolomites, Italy
A classic Dolomites cycling climb: stunning scenery and a true test
Arguably the most difficult cycling climb in the Italian Dolomites (and perhaps even one of the hardest cycling climbs in Italy!), the Passo Giau has a fearsome reputation and is often referred to as the ‘Beauty and the Beast’.
It is one of the most picturesque and stunningly beautiful climbs anywhere in the world.
It is also a very challenging and relentless climb. It climbs to an altitude of 2,236 metres and is over 10 kilometres in length with an average of a pretty constant 9%. There are no less than 29 hairpin (tornante in Italian) bends!
Passo Giau is also the focal point for the famous Maratona dles Dolomites gran fondo.
It links the valleys of Ampezzo and Livinallongo and was the last mountain pass to be built in the area in 1986.
The views at the top of this epic cycling climb are sensational and the apple strudel served in the summit café is considered to be the finest in Italy.
13. Mount Teide, Spain (2,325m)
Los Cristianos, Tenerife, Spain
Altitude training in the sunshine
Tenerife is one of the world's best road cycling destinations, especially during winter in the northern hemisphere. It's the largest of the Canary Islands and, just off the African coast, offers a reliably warm climate year-around and fantastic climbing on smooth roads.
Tenerife is a climber’s paradise and Tenerife’s cycling climbs are well-known. The piece de resistance for cyclist is Mount Teide, now one of the most famous cycling climbs in Europe.
You can see this extinct volcano from all over the island and it has now become the go to destination for pre-season altitude training camps.
Many World Tour professional teams, notably Team Ineos, have made the island their second home over recent years leading to an upsurge in cyclo tourists.
Its popularity is not really surprising when you consider that there aren't many places you can train on 40+km climbs that take you from sea level to 2,300m during European winter.
There are five main routes to the top of the mountain to choose from, all very long and energy-sapping cycling climbs. Be prepared for long days in the saddle.
14. Mount Olympus, Cyprus (2,424m)
A long climb in a country that's keen to embrace cyclists
In terms of a road cycling destinations Cyprus is a fairly new entrant to the cycling-travel market, but its growing in popularity due to its sun, beaches and Mediterranean coastline.
Within the Troodos Mountains, Cyprus can also boast Mount Olympus, the highest point on the island and now a focal point for cyclo tourists.
While it is an incredibly long ride with some serious elevation gain, the average gradient is not too severe, so if you don’t like cycling steep climbs then this may be the one for you.
It’s also worth noting that the temperatures in the Troodos are much cooler than the heat around the coastline enabling you to find a little respite.
Progress through high forests and rugged rocks faces as you navigate to the summit where you will find an information centre and coffee shops.
15. Passo dello Stelvio, Italy (2,757m)
Stunning alpine scenery; a truly iconic cycling climb
There are world famous climbs, difficult climbs, climbs set in beautiful settings, climbs with Grand Tour history and climbs tastefully engineered with row upon row of switchbacks.
Putting it quite simply the Stelvio has all this - and from multiple sides!
But note - this is not an easy Alpine climb!
Whether you ride the Stelvio from Bormio in the south west or Prato dello Stelvio in the north east you will find the mountain a challenge. With over 48 kilometres of twisting tarmac, there are 68 hairpin bends. The views back down the valley when ascending from Prato are a photographer’s dream.
There is also a third way to the summit via the Umbrail Pass which actually takes you into Switzerland.
At the summit of the Stelvio Pass, there is a thriving little village with accommodation, shops, bars and cafés – the descent is truly worth the pain of the climb.
Stelvio T shirt + illustration
16. Col de l’Iseran, France (2,764m)
Bourg St Maurice
Testing yourself on one of the very best French Alps cycling climbs
The Iseran holds the distinction of being the highest mountain pass in Europe, and from Bourg St Maurice it is a very long climb.
Many cyclists prefer to start the climb 17 kilometres away from the summit, in the ski resort of Val d’Isere. The average gradient for this section is around 5.5% and the road to the top is much quieter than the preceding kilometres.
If you like Alpine cycling climbs and want to experience climbing at altitude, then the Iseran will not disappoint. As you approach the summit you will see the snow-capped Grand-Sassiere standing at almost 4,000 metres above sea level.
On the other side of the pass, the 33-kilometre-long route to the top from the southern side starts in Lanslebourg. The climb starts very gently but after passing Bonneval sur Arc the gradient increase to around 7% for the last 13 kilometres.
This is a monster of a climb from either direction. Some ride the mountain due to marvel at its beauty looking back down the valleys and admiring the Alpine scenery. For others, riding the Iseran is about knowing you’ve conquered the King of the Alps.
Are these the best cycling climbs in Europe?!
We hope you enjoyed our pick of Europe’s must-ride cycling climbs!
We must say, it was a struggle limiting ourselves to just these!
We’d love to know your thoughts – what have we missed? What are your favourites? Let us know in the comments below!
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We’ve got lots more information on most of the climbs and regions mentioned above – you can access all of that from our destination home page (from where you can also browse by region and the time of year you want to visit).
And don't forget to check out our shop for tshirts of some of Europe's top climbs plus Michael Blann's beautiful Mountains: Cycling Climbs book.
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About John Vicars
John divides his time between England and Spain and, together with his wife, clocks in around 10,000 miles each year searching out Europe's finest roads. John loves to share his experiences (good and bad) from the saddle and has a particular loathing for double digit gradients, sub-zero temperatures and red traffic lights!