After the events of the recent pandemic, many of us are relishing our newfound freedom by exploring The Great Outdoors. One of the best ways to discover the beauty and diversity of the UK is by bike – and the health benefits that cycling provides is just an extra bonus.
So whether you’re a seasoned cyclist or you’re looking for an exciting new way to explore the country, here are nine of the most beautiful cycle routes in the UK.
1. Assynt Achiltibuie Circuit, Scottish Highlands
If you’re looking for a cycling challenge that will allow you to explore some of the most isolated and dramatically beautiful landscape in the UK, the Assynt Achiltibuie Circuit in the Scottish Highlands may be for you. Many of the roads in the Scottish Highlands are wonderfully deserted, so if you’re hoping to get away from the hustle and bustle of daily life and experience a true sense of peace, this challenging loop is unparalleled.
At around 76 miles, it is possible to do this route in a day if you’re an experienced cyclist, otherwise you might want to break it up over a couple of days. The route begins in the village of Achiltibuie, and as you cycle you can admire beautiful views of imposing mountains (Sula Bheinn, Cùl Mòr, and Stac Pollaidh), landmarks like Loch Assynt and, and historic spots like the ruined Ardvreck Castle.
Good places to stop off – either for a break or to spend the night – are Lochinver, Drumbeg, and Newton. You can check out Lochinver accommodation here – and if you do stop, be sure to pop into their famous pie shop! You can browse Drumbeg accommodation here, and Newton accommodation here. If you’d like to base yourself in Achiltibuie, check out Airbnb and Booking.com.
2. The Lakeland Loop, Lake District, England
If you’re an experienced cyclist who’s looking for a challenge, then the Lakeland Loop cycle route is an absolute must – and has been voted Britain’s best bike ride. Taking you through some of the country’s most spectacular landscapes, this route showcases the very best of the Lake District: think dales and valleys, rugged mountains, and gleaming, tranquil lakes.
At 40 miles, it isn’t the distance that makes this route so challenging, but rather the climbs: gradients of 30% will test even the most hardened cyclists! However, if you’re not sure you have the legs for the biggest climbs but don’t want to miss out on the views, there’s no harm in walking your bike up the toughest terrain! Depending on your fitness, bike, and the weather, the loop usually takes between four and 10 hours to complete – though you might want to think about doing it over a couple of days, and getting some more sightseeing in while you’re in the lakes.
You can check out the Strava cycle route here for more information on the Lakeland Loop. Because much of the route hugs the shoreline of Coniston Water, this is considered the best place to stay, so if you’d like to check out accommodation in the area, head over to Airbnb or Booking.com. Coniston is only a short drive (or ride) away from Ambleside, one of the most popular towns in the Lake District, so whether you’re looking to do some hiking or take it easy visiting shops, pubs and tearooms, you can do all that and more here.
3. The Camel Trail, Cornwall, England
Running the length of an abandoned railway line, Cornwall’s Camel Trail is one of the loveliest and most famous cycle routes in the UK – and for good reason. At 18 miles, it’s the perfect duration for a leisurely cycle under the sun, and the traffic-free route will take you through the idyllic woodland of Camel Valley and the wild moors of Bodmin, taking in many of the South-West’s best heritage sites along the way. Head over to The Camel Trail Bike Hire site to find out more about the route and hiring bikes.
Most cyclists set off from Padstow, a popular seaside resort that’s famous for its many excellent restaurants, so foodies will certainly be happy here – and it’s a great place to fuel up before and after your ride. If you fancy a shorter ride, you can call it a day when you hit Wadebridge, but keep going to Bodmin if you’re up for more of a challenge. You can find accommodation for Bodmin on Booking.com, and if you’re looking for a place to stay in Padstow, you can have a browse here.
4. Elan Valley, Powys, Wales
If you’d like to enjoy sensational views of the Welsh countryside – as well as the opportunity to do some mountain biking – head to the beautiful Elan Valley in Powys, Wales, where you’ll follow a trail along the old Birmingham Corporation Railway line. The Elan Valley Trail starts in the pretty town of Rhayader, where there’s everything you need to fuel up for the ride, including cafes, shops, pubs, a bike shop, and toilets.
The trail then takes you west through the Elan Valley, over Rhayader Tunnel Nature Reserve (which is home to many species of bat), and through picturesque woodland. This route will take you off the beaten track, but because it’s only 17 miles, it’s still a very manageable distance for one day. The route is generally pretty flat, but there are a few strenuous climbs up to the Garreg Ddu Reservoir and the Craig Goch Dam. The views from the top are absolutely worth it, though.
Once you’ve completed the Elan Valley trail, you can also get a bit of mountain biking action in, if you like. There are seven mountain biking routes to choose from, from the 9km Ant Hills route to the 60km Elan Epic. To browse accommodation in Rhayader, head over to Airbnb or Booking.com.
5. Richmond Park, London, England
If you live in London and don’t have the time or opportunity to head out to the countryside, that doesn’t mean you have to miss out on cycling beautiful trails. Richmond Park is a cycling oasis in the middle of the country’s sprawling capital, and if you’re looking to find a spot of solace in the city, you’d be hard pushed to find anywhere more tranquil and beautiful.
The route might only be seven miles, but Richmond Park spans 2,500 acres, so there’s much to explore here: keep an eye out for the park’s famous deer, as well as for flocks of colourful parakeets (whose presence in London are the subject of countless urban myths!). The route begins and ends at Roehampton Gate: if you cycle clockwise, you’ll have a challenging climb up Broomfield Hill, and if you cycle in an anti-clockwise direction, you’ll face a longer yet gentler climb up Dark Hill.
Whether you’re looking to improve your cycling or just fancy a leisurely pedal, Richmond Park is the perfect spot, as looping the park several times can act as an exhilarating training session. If it’s a nice day, you could even pack a picnic and find a spot where you can admire distant views of St Paul’s Cathedral before finishing your cycle.
If you live outside London and want to explore Richmond Park, why not combine a trip to the park with a mini-break to the capital? London is a global hub of culture, history, and cuisine. So whether you want to visit museums, try delicious snacks at outdoor food markets, or enjoy a drink in a pretty beer garden, there’s something for everyone here. Head over to Visit London to find out what’s open and when, and to check out accommodation, you can have a browse at Booking.com or Airbnb.
6. Causeway Coast Cycle Route, Northern Ireland
If you’re hoping to discover the wild beauty of Northern Ireland’s North Coast, then why not cycle the Giant’s Causeway to Benone cycle route? Though it’s only 23 miles, this route takes you past some of the most spectacular scenery in all of Ireland, including the world-famous Giant’s Causeway, a unique geological formation that was created by a volcanic eruption 60 million years ago.
Aside from geological wonders, the route also takes you past plenty of pristine beaches, including Portballintrae Beach and Whiterocks Beach, which are great places to stop for a wander if you fancy hopping off your saddle for a while. There are plenty of opportunities for refreshments and breaks along the way too, as the route takes you past the popular resort towns of Portrush, Portstewart, and Castlerock, where there are pubs, cafes, and restaurants.
While the route itself isn’t too challenging, there are a couple of short climbs and two longer climbs – one between Castlerock and Coleraine, and another between Portrush and Bushmills. To browse accommodation near Giant’s Causeway, head over to Booking.com or Airbnb. If you’d prefer to stay at the other end, around Benone, there are some particularly good options on Airbnb.
7. Bristol and Bath Railway Path, Somerset, England
If you’re looking to enjoy a beautiful rural bike ride with a dose of city culture at either end, then you can’t beat the Bristol and Bath Railway Path. Because both ends of the cycle route end at train stations (Bristol Temple Meads and Bath Spa) it’s incredibly convenient to get to – and if you don’t fancy cycling back to where you started, you can simply hop on a train with your bike.
At 16 miles, this is a relatively easy distance – though if you’d like to up your mileage, you can turn the route into a circular one by returning along the Kennet and Avon Canal towpath. The wide, smooth pass makes the railway path a very accessible choice, and there are lovely views to enjoy along the way. Trees line much of the route, making it feel as though you’re cycling through a green tunnel, though when they part there are beautiful views of the Somerset countryside.
If you fancy a snack along the way, you can stop off at the Warmley Waiting Room, an old waiting room that’s been turned into a cafe on the old platform, and serves tea, sandwiches, and cakes. If you have the appetite for something more substantial, you have the culture and cuisine of both Bristol and Bath just a short ride away. To look for accommodation in Bath, head over to Booking.com, and to browse in Bristol, click here.
8. Applecross via Bealach na Bà, Scottish Highlands
For a serious change of pace – and a dramatic change of scenery – why not challenge yourself to cycle the Applecross Loop in the Scottish Highlands? This 45-mile circuit is tough, and at times unforgiving – but because much of the route follows the North Coast 500, you’re guaranteed views so spectacular you’ll have to keep reminding yourself you haven’t left the UK. If you want to cycle along craggy highland passes and along deserted coastal roads, and fly past windswept beaches and crumbling castles, this is the route for you.
But of course, enjoying such dramatic and diverse scenery doesn’t come for free, and there are seriously tough climbs along this route. For this reason, this route is only recommended for more experienced cyclists. You might be following one of the world’s best roads, but there are also climbs of 20% gradient and plenty of hairpin bends. If you have the legs and fitness for it, though, this is considered one of the best cycle routes in the world, and climbing the notorious Bealach na Bà, a winding single-track road through the mountains, won’t be something you forget in a hurry.
If you’re a seasoned cyclist who’s used to tackling tough terrain, this route can be completed in four to five hours, but otherwise you might want to go at a more leisurely pace. To find out more about what it’s like to cycle the Bealach na Bà, have a read of this article by Cyclist.co.uk, and to find out more about the route itself, head over to Strava. To find accommodation near the village of Applecross, head over to Airbnb or Booking.com.
9. The Settle Circular, Yorkshire, England
Ever since the Tour de France whizzed through Yorkshire for three days back in 2014, this region has become increasingly popular with amateur and experienced cyclists alike – and for good reason. With its dramatic heather moorland, dense forests, and rolling green fields, this part of Yorkshire is spectacularly beautiful, and this 40 mile loop takes you past some of the county’s most gorgeous landscapes and charming villages.
Beginning in the village Settle, you’ll pass through many of the region’s most popular villages like Arncliffe, Kilnsey, and Grassington – so if you’re looking to enjoy plenty of stops along the way, you’ll be spoilt for choice. There are some short, steep climbs and fast descents along the route, so any breaks will be well deserved, and the views of Pen-y-Ghent and Pendle Hill are superb.
After the events surrounding the recent pandemic many of us are spending as much time out of the house exploring the Great Outdoors as possible. So why not get out and discover all the beauty, diversity, and charm that the UK has to offer by bike?
Cycling isn’t only good for our health, it can also provide an exhilarating sense of freedom and adventure – something most of us have been missing over the past year. Plus, aside from the views and the exercise, heading out on a cycling adventure also gives us the opportunity to enjoy some of the smaller things, like a cold pint in a pub garden, idly browsing in village gift shops, or treating ourselves to an ice cream on the beach.
If you’d like to find out more about getting into cycling, you may want to have a read of our article, A beginner’s guide to cycling.
Are you planning on doing much cycling this year? Or are you tempted by any of our suggested routes? We’d love to hear about your cycling plans! Join the discussion on the Rest Less community forum, or leave us a comment below.