When planning a ride in London, it is generally thought that you’ll have to head outside of the M25 and to the hills of Surrey, Kent or the Chilterns to tackle any climbs of note. But look a little closer and there are some short, steep ascents waiting to be tackled in the capital.
Generally speaking, London is pretty flat and as a result a lot of the climbs we’ve selected are clustered into little geographical pockets, plus they're on the short side. This isn’t a bad thing though, making it possible to tick off a number of hills in one hit – perfect for a hill-focused training session, or if you like your rides with a side of lactic acid.
As well as the more obvious inclusions (Swain's Lane and Richmond Park’s Broomfield Hill), our look at the ten best cycling climbs in London features some hills that are off the beaten track (well, residential streets). One’s thing for sure though – each will get the legs spinning and that small chainring used. Yes, your bike has one of those too.
Urban Hill Climb
Average gradient: 8.2 per cent
Steepest gradient: 26.7 per cent
Arguably the most famous climb in the capital, Swain's Lane is situated in a leafy patch of Highgate in north London.
The street is home to the annual Urban Hill Climb competition – London’s only closed-road hill race – and with a gurn-inducing average gradient of 8.2 per cent, it’s easy to see why.
The climb starts just after a mini roundabout, so traffic and timing are crucial if you’re aiming to take some momentum into the attempt. The initial section lulls riders into a false sense of security before the road makes a sharp incline at the halfway point.
A kink in the road hides a maximum gradient of more than 20 per cent, while the summit is still another 0.2 miles of pain away. Head to The Flask for a well-earned beer on reaching the top, or fly down the nearby Highgate West Hill and start the suffering all over again. Swain's Lane is a popular spot for London riders embarking on a hill rep session.
Average gradient: 9.6 per cent
Steepest gradient: 14.2 per cent
While some of the climbs on this list are likely to feature on a weekend ride if you’ve spun your way from central London and taken in some climbs on your way to the suburbs and beyond, Canonbie Road in Honor Oak Park, south London, really is one for those in the know.
On the face of it, the residential street may seem unsuspecting, but with it home to two thigh-stinging ascents, it can certainly hold its own with some of London’s more well-known cycling climbs.
The route from Forest Hill Road is the longer, if less severe of the two, but is arguably the more enjoyable - if a steep climb can ever be described as such.
An elevation change of 42 meters is what’s on offer on the 400m ascent, where the gradient peaks at around 14 per cent as the road lurches to the left. After the turn the summit comes into view, with great views of the capital behind you. If you're continuing on, you then have an 18 per cent descent down the other side. Be careful to stop before the T-junction at the end.
Average gradient: 9.1 per cent
Steepest gradient: 14.8 per cent
Broomfield Hill, Richmond Park
If you’re based in London, chances are you’ve made the pilgrimage to Richmond Park. The 6.7-mile loop is one of the most famous circuits in the capital (rivaled only by Regent’s Park), and is a year-round training ground for cyclists of all abilities.
Unlike the pan-flat Regent’s Park, the loop to the south of the river is home to a couple of lumps, and you will encounter the first to feature in our list if you take on the clockwise circuit.
Broomfield Hill begins at the mini roundabout by the Robin Hood Gate entrance to the park, and the meandering run-up to the hill itself is fairly flat. The gradient soon starts to creep up though, and before long you’re hitting peaks approaching 15 per cent.
The climb is over in a flash, but it's a still a stern test for the legs if you're in a hurry.
Average gradient: 6.6 per cent
Steepest gradient: 12.2 per cent
Dark Hill, Richmond Park
After completing Broomfield Hill on a clockwise circuit of Richmond Park you’ll soon find yourself flying down Dark Hill as a reward for your efforts. But reverse your loop and you’ll be confronted with Richmond’s longer, if slightly easier, climb.
Starting at the mini roundabout near Kingston Gate , there’s no time to get any speed up before the climbing begins in earnest.
The ascent isn’t as likely to send you into the red as Broomfield Hill, but a sneaky false flat at its midpoint could throw you if you don’t leave something in the tank. Use the brief break to then attack the final steep incline.
On reaching the top, spin your way to the start of the Broomfield Hill descent and enjoy the sight of people in the pain cave as you whizz past them on the other side of the road.
Average gradient: 4.7 per cent
Steepest gradient: 19.7 per cent
Long climbs are few and far between in London, with most falling into the short and sharp category that aren’t long enough to settle into a rhythm.
They do exist though. Shooter’s Hill in south east London is a well known option, but the nearby Plum Lane is quieter alternative that is potentially even better. At just shy of a mile long, it’s not exactly comparable with an Alpine ascent or even the likes of Box and Leith Hill, but it is the longest in our round-up.
By looking at the statistics, it also appears to be the most gentle of the climbs chosen. But hidden beneath that 4.7 per cent gradient is one of the steepest sections of road in the capital, where peaks reach close to 20 per cent.
Once you’ve got most of the elevation out of the way, a false flat draws out the climb for another kilometer or so before you reach its conclusion as the road merges into Shrewsbury Lane.
Average gradient: 7.5 per cent
Steepest gradient: 10.2 per cent
Another couple of climbs in south east London can be found in the Greenwich area. The location is famous for its observatory, and some of the local hills will ensure you have a mean time.
The first to try is Maze Hill, which is located to the east of Greenwich Park. Turning off of the A206, there is a short section of flat before the climb starts in earnest. From there, it’s a clear run to the top, with no bends or kinks hiding the hill’s summit.
Speed bumps add some added spice to the climb, but at 300m it’s shouldn’t be too much of a challenge. The mini roundabout at the top makes it an ideal spot for a training climb, with it easy to turnaround and head back down to the start.
Average gradient: 6.3 per cent
Steepest gradient: 10.1 per cent
If your legs still want more action after tackling Maze Hill, then they’re in luck. To the west of Greenwich Park is the equally as steep Croom’s Hill - a narrow, testing ascent that takes you from the centre of Greenwich up to Blackheath Common.
After taking a turn off of the A206 onto Stockwell Street, the road turns into Croom’s Hill as soon as the elevation begins to creep up. A false flat is shattered after 200 meters, and the climb gets progressively harder with each pedal stroke.
As the summit appears, so does the steepest section - ten per cent - before the road flattens out and you can get your breath back.
Average gradient: 6.4 per cent
Steepest gradient: 15.4 per cent
Alexandra Palace (from station to car park)
Heading back north of the river, another biggie to tackle is the climb up to Alexandra Palace. There are two different hills to tackle, but the one up the Palace’s South Terrace is the tougher, if shorter, of the two.
Starting on Bedford Road by Alexandra Palace train station, there is a slight dip on the approach to the climb to help get your speed up. That is the only gentle part of the ascent though, and it’s heart-in-mouth stuff from here on in.
The gradient hovers between seven-to-ten per cent all the way to the car park at the summit (the average gradient skewed by that downhill section). Like Swain's Lane, timing is crucial, with a bus stop halfway up likely to derail any KOM or QOM attempts.
Even if you’re not out to break any records, the panoramic view across the capital make the climb worth the effort and will take your breath away all over again.
Average gradient: 5.8 per cent
Steepest gradient: 11.9 per cent
If we’re including Alexandra Palace in the list, it’s only fair that we include its south London equivalent as well. But it’s actually one of the roads on the outskirts of Crystal Palace Park that’s getting the ‘toughest climbs’ treatment.
The area surrounding Crystal Palace has a number of short climbs you can link together in one hill-heavy ride, but Fountain Drive is our pick of the bunch thanks to the toll booth at the bottom that keeps traffic light.
The climb starts a hundred metres earlier at the mini roundabout but kicks off properly as you pass by the toll booth (via the cycle lane). The road then rises in a series of three steps, each getting progressively steeper.
Brief sections of false flat give you the chance to spin out the legs, but save something in the tank for the steepest kicker at the top.
Otherwise, look out for Sydenham Hill and College Road, on either side of Fountain Drive, and Anerley Hill, Crystal Palace Park Road and Westwood Hill on the south-north approach past the park.
Average gradient: 6.6 per cent
Steepest gradient: 42.9 per cent
For our final climb in London we’re heading back north of the river and to the mansion-lined lanes of Hampstead.
According to Strava, Frognal Lane has a peak of 42.9 per cent - we can assure you that's a GPS error, but having taken on the climb, we can attest that it's certainly steep.
The ascent can be broken down into four sections - steep start, gut-wrenching ramp, false flat, cruel kicker - that will get your yoyo-ing up and down your bike’s cassette. The segment officially finishes when the road merges into Frognal Rise, but the climb can be extended by turning onto the Lower Terrace if your legs aren’t quite burning enough.