The British countryside is filled with miles of old railway lines, canal towpaths and quiet country tracks – all perfect of family friendly cycling.
Spring and summer are ideal for cycling as a family, when the days are lengthening for long, slow adventures and the weather is kind enough so as not to discourage a herd of furiously pedalling kids. But bike rides can also be great in autumn and winter – just don’t forget to pack your waterproofs.
We take a look as some of the best family friendly bike rides in the UK, each flat, largely off-road and with plenty of entertainment for kids along the way
What is a family friendly cycling route?
For extra encouragement, a flat, easy towpath or old railway track make the perfect cycle lanes. Take it slow, give pedestrians right of way and be prepared to get off your bike if needed. Using your bell to let walkers know you’re approaching from behind is always helpful.
Best family friendly bike rides in the UK
Tissington Trail, Derbyshire
Flying along the first miles of the level Tissington Trail, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were cycling on the roof of the world, the White Peak plateau rippling out to a distant horizon. It’s easy to see why this heart-soaring landscape of upland, wood and dale was chosen as Britain’s first national park
Take a nostalgic ride through the high hills and lush valleys of the Derbyshire Dales.
Cycle the Solar System, North Yorkshire
The Cycle the Solar System trail from York to Selby takes you through a scale model of the solar system, at a ratio of 575,872,239 to one. Taking this unimaginable scale into account, it means cyclists typically move along the trail at 10 times the speed of light.
Cuckoo Trail, Sussex
Had you attended the Heathfield Fair in days of yore, you’d have witnessed the old Sussex tradition of releasing a single cuckoo. Today, that custom is recalled in the name of a fetching cycle path, 11 miles of which lie along the former ‘Cuckoo Line’ railway between Heathfield and Polegate
The Cuckoo Trail is best explored in mid-spring and summer, when its broad, bushy verges billow with wildflowers and its overhanging woodland canopies resound with birdsong.
The Kelpies, Stirlingshire
The largest equine sculptures in the world set the stage for a meandering canal-side cycle – listen closely and you can almost hear the hoofs that once trod these historic banks.
The Kelpies are part of The Helix ecopark, and stand next to an adventure playground and a trail network that’s ideal for family cycling. Paved cyclepaths offer easy riding on this flat cycling circuit from The Kelpies visitor centre and café. These lead through Abbotshaugh Community Woodland, a young, native mixed woodland that is idyllic on a sunny spring day. The way follows the River Carron and the Forth and Clyde Canal, which spills into the river at The Kelpies close to the Firth of Forth.
Llandrillo-yn-Rhos to Pensarn, Conwy
Britain’s smallest church – St Trillo’s – while not unlike a Galician chapel on the road to Santiago, is found on the seafront at Llandrillo-yn-Rhos. Inside is a holy well, said to have refreshed Christians for some 1,500 years. An appropriate place, perhaps, to begin a cycling route from Llandrillo-yn-Rhos to Pensarn that offers plenty of exercise to a curious mind, even though the cycling is easy.
Reculver to Margate, Kent
Named after the voyage of the reconstructed Viking longship – the Hugin – that sailed from Denmark to Thanet in 1949, the 31.5-mile Viking Coastal Trail opened in 2001.
For easy cycling, the nine-mile stretch of the trail between Reculver and Margate is perfect; it’s the flattest section and almost completely traffic-free. You won’t go hungry either, with cafés, kiosks and pubs (plus public toilets) en route.
Llangynidr to Pencelli, Monmouthshire
This there-and-back route along the Mon and Brec Canal starts and ends in Llangynidr, where the mountain-fresh Usk tumbles beneath an 18th-century stone bridge. In this pretty canal-side village you’ll find narrowboats for hire, public toilets and a welcoming real ale pub, The Red Lion.
Great Cumbrae, Ayrshire
As family bike rides go, Great Cumbrae (also known as the Isle of Cumbrae) takes some beating. A very quiet and flat 10-mile road hugs the island’s coastline, giving both children and adults a frisson of achievement as they complete the circuit.
Exe Estuary Trail, Devon
Depart the cathedral city of Exeter and follow one of the oldest surviving canals in Britain, taking in Devon’s premier wetland. Flat, mostly off-road and with the option of returning by train, the Exe Estuary Trail route makes the perfect family cycle ride.
Crinan Canal, Argyll and Bute
The most glorious cycling routes are often found beside waterways – gentle rivers, placid lakes, remote reservoirs and, of course, along countryside canals.
One of the finest cycles in Britain follows the Crinan Canal, once an important shipping shortcut on the west coast of Scotland.
Elan Valley Trail, Powys
Discover tranquillity amid the drama of Elan Valley by bike, a landscape of shimmering reservoirs, gushing rivers and wooded slopes that ring with birdsong.
Camel Trail, Cornwall
Cycle alongside the River Camel, a route once traced by whistling Victorian steam trains. Race across the box girder bridge over Little Petherick Creek, where the Atlantic Coast Express once thundered by, bringing holidaymakers from London Waterloo to the Cornish coast. The verges are lined with foxgloves, red valerian and early purple orchids as you enjoy sweeping views across the rolling countryside to Tregunna Hill.
Scarborough to Whitby, North Yorkshire
From an old smugglers’ village to cave-dwelling hobgoblins and ‘the town that never was’, the Scarborough to Whitby stretch of coast offers a fascinating blend of history and legend, best explored by bike.
Epping Forest, Essex
Once visited by kings and queens, Epping Forest’s woodlands, grasslands, heaths, rivers, bogs and ponds form one of London’s finest and largest open spaces.
Middlewood Way and Macclesfield Canal, Cheshire
The Cheshire Plain ends abruptly in a jumble of ridges and knolls that rise steeply into the Peak District. Threading along this divide are two contemporary transport arteries that today offer some idyllic, easy cycling in glorious wildflower-rich countryside – a mosaic of woodlands, cloughs and pastureland rich with industrial heritage. Macclesfield Canal bike route and map.
Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire
Set out on a family bike ride and cycle through crisp autumn leaves and over muddy trails in search of one of Britain’s most elusive mammals, the wild boar. Forest of Dean bike route and map.