Ancient, often mist-wreathed and mysterious, Scotland has a pull for those seeking solace. From dark, craggy, mountain ridges to exquisite, empty, beaches this is a country as diverse as its myriad islands, dramatic Highlands and rolling Lowlands. Through it all runs a deep and vibrant culture and a richly welcoming, though guarded, people.

For a relatively small country – it's about the size of South Carolina in the USA – with a population of 5.5 million concentrated in the 'central belt' it feels remarkably large. That sense is due to the fact that away from this urbanised area there are vast tracts of quiet land, especially in the remote Highlands and islands.

This, coupled with the stunning scenery, makes Scotland a cycling mecca. It has the highest road climb in the UK, some of the most highly regarded mountain bike routes and centres in the world, and miles and miles of idyllic roads to ride.

Scotland cycling

Scotland long-distance cycle route map

Visitors to this proud nation will experience a visual overload and be struck by the living sense of history; it's not uncommon to finish a day's riding with a meal in a 16th-century former coaching inn or by marvelling at the architecture of Scotland's numerous castles, tower houses and grand keeps. And, of course, there is that wonderful sing-song accent of the locals – soft as a breeze on the western islands, hard and nasal in Glasgow and lightened with a sense of realism in the Highlands.

Many attractions and visitor centres are seasonal, opening from Easter to September. Broadly speaking, that is the best time for cycling holidays in Scotland. Favoured months are May and September as the weather can be at its most crisp and stable then. In more recent years heavy rains drop in July and August and tourist traffic levels are high, especially in the Highlands.

Best places for Scotland cycling holidays

Cycling the Islands, Highlands and Scottish Borders

Choosing where to base yourself for a cycling holiday in Scotland isn't easy -- there are plenty of options and many excellent cycling routes. Here are three of the best places for a cycling holiday in Scotland.

Cycling the Outer Hebrides

Time passes slowly on the Outer Hebrides. It's the place to relax and to enjoy cycling by crystal clear waters and some of the world’s finest beaches: pedal by Luskentyre or Scarista beach on Harris as spray spins off a turquoise and emerald sea and you’ll agree. Throughout the Outer Isles there are miles upon miles of such coastal scenery.

Also known as The Western Isles, The Outer Hebrides comprise a 200 kilometre-long chain of islands, linked by causeways and ferries, from Barra in the south to Lewis at the northern end. A tour of the archipelago reveals their individual charms and character.

Always have provisions and liquids onboard – in northern and western Scotland shops are few and far between.

Barra offers a good introduction to the islands. A 42km circuit of the island on the rolling single-track roads – prevalent throughout the islands and Highlands – is highly recommended.

Scotland Hebrides Shetland pony south Uist outer Hebrides

Shetland pony, Uist, Outer Hebrides

Like Barra, all the islands have magnificent, pristine, golden, or silver, beaches, and yet the western coast of Harris is unbeatable. Allow time to soak up the island life. Park your bike by Horgabost next to the beach called Tráigh an Iar, the Western Beach. Take a picnic on a warm summer’s day and you’ll want to stay forever. Here, where few venture, one can see the dramatic monolith of MacLeod´s standing stone.

Harris also offers more of a challenge with its mountainous interior. The highest hill is the Clisham (at 799m) which in common with the Harris hills is formed from Lewisian gneiss and, at almost 3000 million years old, is among the oldest rock in the world. Intensely deformed by heat and pressure some parts appear like a lunar landscape.

Man´s ancient hand is in evidence at the eerie Callanish standing stones on Lewis – a must-see, especially at dawn or dusk when you will have the site to yourself. Stornoway, the capital of Lewis, makes for a vibrant, culturally interesting, finish to any island trip.

Cycling on single-track roads

Passing places allow traffic both ways on single-track roads. Don't feel overly rushed to pull into these if a driver is behind you or oncoming; by law cyclists have the right to use the road and indeed all of it if they feel the need to do so owing to potholes, a heavy load, strong wind, etc. Be confident, not aggressive, but be safe if a driver is determined to pass you outside the diamond-marked passing places.

Cycling the Scottish Highlands

This age-old part of Scotland is more varied than you may expect. The Northern Highlands, for example, has many eye-catching mountains such as Suilven, Canisp and Quinag and a formidable sense of wildness. But it is also home to gentler areas like the Flow Country of Caithness, in the far northeast, where Europe’s largest blanket bog supports hundreds of species. Getting around is easy, with roads radiating from Inverness and a train line that runs through the Flow Country to John O’Groats.

There is a grandeur here that is unrivalled. It is a place to fully engage physically with the landscape – whether on a long, hard, road ride or a mountain bike experience through the glens. There is great beauty too and one can experience that on secluded peaceful cycles, especially enjoyable on a summer's day.

Intrigue, bloodshed and power struggles fill the pages of the history of the clans. But one man – Robert the Bruce united the Highlands and the Lowlands in a fierce battle for liberty, taking up arms against both Edward I and Edward II of England.

Scotland Highlands mountain biking

Mountain biking in the Scottish Highlands

Inverness, the capital of the Highlands, is a place to absorb the vitality of the Highlanders. It can be visited after crossing the country on a route through the Great Glen.

The Highlands also has two globally recognised geoparks – areas of outstanding geology and landscape. The North West Highlands Geopark and the Lochaber Geopark are both excellent.

The Lochaber area as a whole includes some of Scotland's finest mountain scenery. Its most famous view is that of Buchaille Etive Mór from the road before it drops into Glencoe. This scene of Highland grandeur is, however, tinged with sorrow as it was also the setting for the infamous Massacre of Glencoe, another tragic event in Scotland's clan story.

The UCI Mountain Bike World Cup is regularly held under Ben Nevis, at Nevis Range, where there are excellent trails with something for all ages and tastes.

Avoiding the Scottish biting midge

The infuriating midge bites from June to late September. Always carry repellent and clothing that will cover your limbs. It's advisable to keep these items accessible along with a head midge net and peaked hat. Thankfully once you are on the move on the bike they won't bother you. Stay away from bodies of freshwater on warm sultry days. On bad days, head to the coast where the breeze will help keep the insects at bay.

Cycling the Scottish Borders

Southern Scotland has an allure that can prove irresistible. Perhaps it’s the array of gentler rides, the laid back locals, or the rolling hills. Come and visit and you’ll soon see why it’s a firm favourite for a cycling holiday in Scotland.

The Borders, in the south-east, is famous for its four great 12th century abbeys: Melrose, Dryburgh, Kelso and Jedburgh. An aura remains in these ruined buildings. The signed 4 Abbeys route visits them on an 88km/ 55mile circuit. These cloisters are especially atmospheric at quieter times of the day when it’s easy to imagine how the monks were drawn to these beautiful locations.

In character, the Borders and indeed southern Scotland as a whole is quite different to the north and the islands. The country is bisected by the 390 million-year-old Highland Boundary Fault, which extends in a diagonal line from Arran in the west to Stonehaven on the east coast.

Melrose Abbey ruins Scottish Borders

Melrose Abbey ruins, Scottish Borders

Its creation joined two distinct landmasses. To the south, the rocks are younger and softer; these give rise to an undulating, lusher landscape. These differences have helped shape Scotland and continue to influence agriculture, culture, and even climate.

Fabulous road cycling awaits in the Borders. And, stretched across southern Scotland are the 7 Stanes – mountain bike trail centres that offer high-quality off-road riding for both adrenaline seekers and novices.

Interact with the locals at the Hawick Reivers Festival, held in March, where you can gain an insight into the people who shaped the Borders. There one can learn about life in the mid-sixteenth century when the Borderlands were in constant feuding with loyalties to kin rather than king and country and when “Reiving”, or cattle-rustling, was a means of survival.

Independent, loyal, hard-working and prepared to fight for what they believed in the men and women of the 1500s shaped the character of the modern-day Borderers.

It’s always a big party whether you're a Scot, of Scottish descent, or simply love Scotland!

Scotland's top long-distance cycle routes

Multi-day and single day cycling routes in Scotland

From road trips to mountain biking, single-day trips to epic week-long adventures -- here are six of the best long-distance cycling routes in Scotland.

North Coast 500 (west section) Lochinver to Rhiconich

Route summary

Distance: 73km/ 46miles
Riding time (no breaks):
7 hours
Difficulty:
Hard
Suitable for:
experienced cyclists

This is a hard road route; its ascent profile looks like a saw. Your legs will feel like they have been attacked with one too. But it's worth it for the fitter rider. The jumbled west coast scenery once you join the minor Assynt Coastal Road outside the rough-and-ready harbour village of Lochinver is sublime. The road doesn't so much as follow the coast as buck and rear across a succession of valleys. Its ever-changing character, sea views, and mountain vista of the Quiraing are magnificent.

Scotland Lochinver he view from the cliff tops at Stoer Head

View from cliff tops near Lochinver

Rejoin the main road after Loch Unapool to cross the Kylesku Bridge and pump those legs on to Scourie with heartwarming sea views from Badcall. North of Scourie lies Handa Island where tradition maintained that the oldest widow was given the title "Queen of Handa". However, once the potato famine hit in 1848 the islanders left for Canada never to return.

Now the road runs north east to the destination of Rhiconich with its good food-serving hotel. The way is studded with lochans – small lochs (never “lakes” in Scotland apart from a couple of rare exceptions).

The exposed nature of the route means you need to be prepared for full assaults from the elements. Avoid July and August if possible as traffic can be a nuisance on the main roads thanks to the popularity of the North Coast 500 as a driving route.

North Coast 500 (north section) Rhiconich to Thurso

Route summary

Distance: 138km/ 87miles
Riding time (no breaks):
12 hours/ 2 days
Difficulty:
Hard
Suitable for:
experienced cyclists

Rhiconich makes a good start point for this road route to arrive at the end of Scotland's mainland – the formidable north coast. The road leads inexorably north east with a hard climb before a long run down a wide and lonesome strath (valley) to reach the stunning Kyle of Durness (the word kyle is from the Gaelic caol meaning narrow, here referring to the sea inlet) with expansive beach views. A recommended 18km detour on a rough track leads to Cape Wrath after a ferry crossing.

Scotland Durness Smoo Cave

Smoo Cave at Durness, Scotland

By Durness, if you have time, stop and see the Smoo Caves, one of mainland Britain’s most spectacular coastal caves. Continuing east there are excellent sea views from the singletrack road by Sangobeg. One could opt to spend the night in Tongue reached by a causeway after a solid 70km/ 43mile up-and-down ride with one big climb.

Day two is slightly easier though it may not seem it, especially if you have started in Lochinver. Although the road runs parallel to the coast it's often at a distance and you will not have continuous sea views. But there are great views once you climb to Bettyhill home to the Strathnaver Museum with its excellent documentation of the area´s tumultuous past. Close by stands the elaborately engraved Pictish Farr Stone believed to date from between 800 and 850 AD.

Finish in Thurso. From here it's a must to see John o´Groats and Dunnet Head – the most northerly point of the Scottish mainland.

Cape Wrath Fellowship

Grind your way up to the often bleak Cape Wrath – the most north-westerly point in mainland Scotland. Take a photo of you and your bike as evidence and send it to Cycling UK, Britain's oldest and largest cycling organisation, to be sent a certificate and added to the roll of honour of the Cape Wrath Fellowship, which has been in existence since 1949.

Hebridean Way Cycle Route

Route summary

Distance: 297km/ 185miles
Riding time:
6 days
Difficulty:
Moderate/Hard
Suitable for:
regular/experienced cyclists

Gear up for an epic road route on so many levels: from the satisfying feeling of progression as you make your way across the spine-like chain of Outer Hebridean islands to the physical experience of being in such a unique part of the world.

The journey begins from the southern island of Barra (served by ferry). Visit the causeway-linked Vatersay then ride north to take the ferry to the tiny island of Eriskay.

Scotland Hebrides Vatersay White beach

Vatersay beach, Scotland

Another causeway leads across the sea to South Uist. Choose a quiet time to cycle and you can enjoy the progression through the moorland which characterises this part of the Uists.

Further on, pass Our Lady of the Isles statue, a reminder of the island’s predominantly Catholic population, in common with that of Barra and Benbecula. In contrast, North Uist, and Harris and Lewis in particular, are largely of the Free Presbyterian persuasion. Be aware that all services (except mass!) are limited on the Sabbath (Sunday).

A series of causeways lead to North Uist. At Clachan na Luib, there’s a choice of routes. The more scenic alternative is to follow the coast road but the wind will be a deciding factor.

Similarly, on Harris, the route follows the ‘Gold Coast’, a name which aptly describes its stunning stretch of coastline. This road should not be missed. But if there’s a westerly gale it may be wise to follow the road east via Rodel.

Ride through the hilly Lochs area of Lewis, past the famous Callanish Stones up to the Butt of Lewis where many a saddle-sore cyclist celebrates.

Am Politician pub, Eriskay

Well situated for sunset viewing, Am Politician is named after the ill-fated ship which sank nearby, to be immortalised in the book and film ‘Whisky Galore’. A plaque in the pub proclaims ‘Never in the history of human drinking was so much drunk so freely, by so few’.

Great Glen Way (Sustrans National Route 78)

Route summary

Distance: 106km/ 66miles
Riding time:
2 days
Difficulty:
Hard
Suitable for:
regular riders (initial 17km/10mile section ideal for families)

Within minutes of leaving the somewhat drab town of Fort William an adventure unfolds.

The Caledonian Canal towpath is followed by Neptune's Staircase, a flight of eight canal locks, from where you can get a fantastic view of Ben Nevis. You can also get a sense of the size of the mighty glen that cuts diagonally to Inverness.

Scotland Neptunes Staircase Fort William Caledonian Canal with Ships and Watergate

Neptune's Staircase, Caledonian Canal path

Work started on the Thomas Telford designed canal in 1803, linking the lochs of the Great Glen to provide a coast to coast crossing. Its use as a shipping shortcut was soon superseded by the advent of steamboats.

A mountain bike or hybrid is recommended as the towpaths have rough, stony, surfaces. Families will enjoy the traffic-free initial section to Gairlochy. After this, there are some road sections though most of the first half of the route,

to Fort Augustus, is level and on towpaths or tracks, though the stonier ones make for hard work. Note: take extra care on fast road crossings at Banavie by Fort William (A830), and the A82 at South Laggan and Aberchalder.

Fort Augustus is a very attractive spot to spend the night. From there this Sustrans National Route 78 (marked with blue signs) climbs somewhat monstrously above the southern bank of Loch Ness. It's worth the effort though as soon the minor road leads through pleasant moorland. The setting is generally quiet but be alert to fast-moving cars.

A grand descent leads down to follow the powerful River Ness on cycle paths into Inverness where the castle marks the journey's end.

Tweed Cycle Way

Route summary

Distance: 153km/ 95miles
Riding time:
2-3 days
Difficulty:
Moderate
Suitable for:
regular riders

Meandering through the heart of the Borders, the Tweed Cycle Way offers miles and miles of truly excellent cycling.

The well-signed route runs from Biggar, in South Lanarkshire, to finish at Berwick-upon-Tweed, on the east coast of England and just south across the Scottish border.

Overall the grading for this route is moderate, though there are dozens of long undulating sections and quite a few steep climbs.

The Tweed Cycle Way (marked with a green triangle on yellow) leads through some of the finest scenery of the Borders on roads generally light in traffic. It passes through the attractive towns of Peebles, Melrose, Kelso and Coldstream, all rich in history.

Scotland borders Peebles and Glentress forest in Autumn fading to winter

Peebles and Glentress forest in autumn, Scotland

Technically, you don´t start following the Tweed for the first few miles but rather the Biggar Water main tributary; the Tweed rises to the south by Moffat with the confluence by Broughton.

As the Borders area is much more populated than the Highlands or Islands there is a huge choice in overnight stops. The route will take 2-3 days to complete unless you stop a lot or go very slowly. Peebles is a good option: a royal burgh since 1367 it was where the Scottish kings came to stay after hunting in nearby Ettrick Forest. Melrose is a beautiful place to stay too with good restaurants and a historic Abbey to visit.

Further on the Union Suspension Bridge is crossed from the English side of the Tweed before a straightforward run into historic Berwick, which has a train station for connections away.

Ullapool to Ardgay

Route summary

Distance: 114km/ 71miles (return)
Riding time:
14 hours/ 2 days (return)
Difficulty:
Moderate MTB route
Suitable for:
regular riders with remote off-road experience (initial section ideal for daytrippers)

There is an unmistakable draw to crossing Scotland by mountain bike on remote tracks. There are several options. Riding from the west coast harbour town of Ullapool to Ardgay is the shortest coast to coast route and one that is included by discerning tour operators, often as part of a multi-day package.

The standard advice to follow the prevailing south-westerly wind in Scotland can't be adhered to for this linear two-day route. Once you cross from the west coast to the east, at the Dornoch Firth, it's likely you will need to retrace your tracks unless you catch a train in Ardgay or have made other arrangements.

The route first runs by the charming alder-lined Ullapool River through superb, wild, landscape – part of the conservation-conscious Rhidorroch Estate. In the summer months, the land is packed with colour from the white-topped cotton grasses, butterwort and sweet-smelling bog myrtle. Golden eagles nest in the glen while sea eagles and ospreys are occasional visitors.

Ride past Loch Achall where you may see herds of red deer by the Eas a´Chraosain waterfall. Soon after, the ride – easy up to now and ideal for daytrippers – gets rough.

A savagely steep, tricky and rocky climb leads to moorland then a descent to remote Loch an Daimh. Beyond, you need to ford a river and head to The Schoolhouse at Duag Bridge before descending Strath Cuilennach. Join a road which leads to picturesque Coick Church and the final leg to Ardgay on the Dornoch Firth, north of Inverness.

Return after a night’s rest to lively Ullapool.

Family-friendly bike holidays in Scotland

Long-distance cycling routes for all ages

Scotland is a great place to bring your kids on a cycling trip. The National Cycle Network has miles of traffic-free paths and there are even more miles of country roads where vehicles are rare. Exploring castles then making sand versions on deserted beaches, vintage train rides, ferry trips to islands and the chance to spot a Highland cow are a few of the things that kids will love about Scotland.

Here are five of Scotland's best multi-day family-friendly cycling routes.

Edinburgh cycle city break

Route summary

Distance: 28 miles
Riding time:
3 days (3-4 hours in total)
Difficulty:
Easy
Suitable for:
inexperienced cyclists

Edinburgh has an excellent network of traffic-free cycle paths and quiet routes. The Spokes Edinburgh map is invaluable for planning your journeys. If you use the great value Edinburgh Cycle hire scheme you can avoid cycling the busy city centre by collecting bikes at the convenient hire stations.

Scotland Edinburgh

View over Edinburgh, Scotland

On day one, join the Edinburgh North cycle path at Haymarket station to reach the beach at Silverknowes. It is 4.5 miles on a flat path that used to be a railway. The final mile is on a quiet road, part of which is a steep hill, so it means a climb on the way back. Head another mile along the promenade, park the bikes and walk across the causeway to explore Crammond Island. It is a great spot for a picnic and there are beaches and old military buildings to explore. Make sure to check the tide times. A few more pedal strokes will take you to the gorgeous village of Crammond and the Crammond Falls cafe in its idyllic setting next to the River Almond.

On day two take things a bit easier with a 2.5-mile cycle to spend the day at Edinburgh Zoo for the famous penguin parade and the giant pandas. From Haymarket station follow signs for Roseburn. It’s all flat and mainly on dedicated bike paths. You will pass Murrayfield Stadium and ride alongside the Water of Leith, before turning down a quiet residential street that joins a disused railway path. This leads to the abandoned platforms of Pinkhill station, just 100 metres from the Zoo.

On day three head for Newhailes House- it has a brilliant adventure playground and adults will recognise it from the Outlander series. Start this 6-mile cycle in the Meadows, the green heart of the city. Follow the signs in the direction of Musselburgh. This route is flat and mostly on a disused railway line. It has some of Edinburgh’s secret attractions that few visitors know about. One is the 500 metre-long Innocent Railway tunnel that you will soon be cycling through.

When you reach the crossing point at Duddingston Road West you can keep going to reach Newhailes or turn left to visit the tranquil Dr Neil’s Garden with its lochside location. Turn right to reach Craigmillar Castle, Edinburgh’s ‘other castle’ and arguably more fun for kids for the staircases and passageways that are ripe for exploring. Take care as the road to these diversions can be busy.

Return to the cycle path and when you cross the bridge over the railway at Brunstane Station look carefully for the sign for Brunstane Burn Path- this will take you into the grounds of Newhailes House. There are guided tours of the mansion and the adventure playground, centred around a fairytale structure, has lots of climbing, crawling and sliding, One more mile of cycling will take you to Musselburgh beach and head to the High Street for S. Luca ice cream shop which does an Irn Bru (the famous Scottish fizzy drink) sorbet and many other marvellous flavours.

The Deeside Way - Aberdeen to Banchory

Route summary

Distance: 38 miles, includes return trip
Riding time:
2 days ( 4-5 hours in total)
Difficulty:
Moderate
Suitable for:
regular and experienced cyclists

The Deeside Way follows the route of the Deeside Railway once famously used by the British royal family to travel to Balmoral Castle. The line closed in 1966 and now there is a flat traffic-free path all the way to Banchory.

Day One begins in Aberdeen’s Duthie Park where the cycle path starts. Before setting off marvel at the giant cacti and banana trees in the Winter Gardens, hire a pedalo for a cruise around the pond and investigate the playgrounds.

Scotland deeside Way Braemar Aberdeenshire

Deeside Way, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

Once you leave the city behind the route is lined with trees, wildflowers and views of fields. You might just be lucky to spot a dormouse scampering across the path or a buzzard resting on a tree branch. Have fun discovering the old station buildings and platforms along the path- they each have information panels so that you can read about their history. After 3.5 miles there is a delightful secret garden a short diversion from Cults Station - Allan Park. It is a good spot for a picnic.

Next, it's castle time. After about seven miles, divert from the cycle route for 1.5 miles to reach Drum Castle. There is a woodland walk with a hidden playground. Climb the steps of the castle’s tower for the rooftop views and head to the kitchens for freshly baked scones. It’s eight more miles to Banchory where you can spend the night.

On day two return to Aberdeen, but make a stop at Milton of Crathes, three miles from Banchory. Here, you can ride the vintage Deeside Railway. The front seats look onto the driver’s cab and give a view of the track. Enjoy a snack in the buffet carriages and then cycle five minutes to Crathes Castle. Tour the interior and learn about the Green Lady Ghost. There are nature trails where you might spot red squirrels, otters and roe deer. Then there is Go Ape, a tree-top adventure with zip lines, rope ladders and Tarzan swings.

On to Balmoral

The Deeside Way continues for another 24 miles to Ballater. From there it is 8.5 miles to Balmoral Castle, the Scottish home of the British royal family, where you can visit the ballroom and the gardens. However, there is currently a gap in the cycle path which means cycling on a busy road for five miles - not recommended for families.

Glen Lonan and the Island of Colonsay

Route summary

Distance: 35-45 miles
Riding time:
2 days (4-6 hours in total)
Difficulty:
Moderate
Suitable for:
Regular and experienced cyclists

Scotland’s islands offer glorious cycling with roads that are generally much quieter than mainland roads. It’s also a lot of fun to travel on a Calmac (Caledonian MacBrayne) ferry and explore an island.

Scotland Oban High Angle View of Town ED ONLY

View of Oban town, Scotland

Day one begins on the mainland at Taynuilt. If you are using the train, it is two stops before Oban. The 12-mile cycle through Glen Lonan to Oban is on a blissfully quiet single-track road. It twists and turns, rises and falls, giving plenty of variety to the ride. The views of the pointy mountains are particularly magnificent.​ Best of all is that Highland cattle can often be seen straying onto this road

Most of the ferry departures to Colonsay are later in the day, so there’s time for sweet treats at Oban Chocolate Company. Work off the cake on the 5-mile ride to Dunstaffnage Castle which passes the superb beach at Ganavan Sands. The thirteenth-century castle was besieged by Robert the Bruce and the spiral staircases, towers and walkways are made for adventures.

The 2.5-hour boat trip over to Colonsay offers up fantastic views and dinner onboard -- the Calmac macaroni cheese is legendary. Check-in to your accommodation - the island has a hotel, backpackers lodge and several self-catering cottages.

On day two the island is yours to explore by bike. It’s only 10 miles long and there is next to no traffic on the roads. Make sure to visit Kiloran beach - it’s one of Scotland’s most beautiful and cows sometimes wander onto the sands. Browse the island’s bookshop, visit the museum and look out for the standing stone as you pedal around. Seals, golden eagles and otters can be seen on Colonsay and look out for the beautiful wildflowers on road verges. At low tide, you can walk over to the adjacent island of Oronsay where there is a 14th-century priory.

Strath Bora

Route summary

Distance: 41-52 miles
Riding time:
2 days (6-8 hours in total)
Difficulty:
Hard
Suitable for:
experienced cyclists

Sutherland is a region in Scotland’s far north where the landscapes are epic and options for quiet cycling routes are numerous.

Base yourself at Rogart train station. Here, old train carriages have been converted into sleeping accommodation with a self-catering kitchen. They retain their original seats and even their emergency pull cords. From here, there are days worth of single-track roads to explore by bike.

Scotland Dunrobin Castle ED ONLY

Dunrobin Castle, Scotland

On day one pack a picnic and cycle 10 miles to Loch Brora. Rushing rivers, waterfalls and trickling streams are the soundtrack of this ride. The road crosses many bridges and there is great variety to the landscape - moorland, forest and green fields with dry-stone walls. This is a vast space with few people and beautiful scenery. The loch is three miles long, so take your time exploring before lunch. It has no hotels, cafes or facilities, but that makes it perfect for quality family time. Another five miles will bring you to the village of Brora - pick up an ice cream from Capaldi's and take a walk along the beach.

On day two, take the Golspie Burn Road for 11 miles to Dunrobin Castle. This is the ultimate fairytale castle with pink stone and pointy turrets. There’s plenty to see inside, including a library with 10,000 books and outside you can watch peregrine falcons soar inches from your head at one of the falconry displays. The road has a magnificent, long descent that looks down on a valley. You will have to cycle up this on the way back, but there is a (very pretty) train station at the castle so you could chug back to Rogart. Note that services are infrequent and you have to book bike spaces.

Union Canal and Falkirk

Route summary

Distance: 48 to 78 miles
Riding time:
2-3 days (6-10 hours in total)
Difficulty:
Moderate/hard
Suitable for:
Regular and experienced cyclists

The canal path that runs from Edinburgh city centre all the way to Glasgow is the ultimate traffic-free family cycle route in central Scotland. Head to Falkirk for the legendary Kelpies and boat trips on the Falkirk Wheel.

Scotland Falkirk kelpies ED ONLY

Falkirk Kelpies, Scotland

Start on your first day by cycling 30 miles to Falkirk. The path starts at Edinburgh’s Fountainbridge where there are lots of pretty canal houseboats moored. Time your departure to avoid rush hour, as this is a popular path for commuters. As you leave the city behind, the route becomes leafy and rural. Look out for wildflowers, swans and herons. After eight miles, you reach Ratho where the Bridge Inn is a great spot for a canal-side refreshment. You could also visit the International Climbing Arena, the largest indoor climbing centre in Europe.

Three miles later, you'll cross the Almond Aqueduct which has incredible views down the River Almond valley. The next 10 miles will take you to Linlithgow where you can take a boat trip from the Canal Centre and visit Linlithgow Palace, the birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots.

It’s 11 miles to Falkirk where you cross the impressive 250 metre-long Avon Aqueduct. Bridge 49 Cafe Bar and Bistro is just two minutes from here and has an outdoor terrace overlooking the canal. Coming into town, you will travel through the spooky Falkirk Tunnel. Spend the night in Falkirk, perhaps enjoying an evening bike ride to see the Kelpies, the largest horse sculptures in the world.

On day two, cycle the 18-mile HArTT (Helix Around Town Tour). It’s mainly on bike paths with one short road section. It takes you through Callendar Park with its forestry trails and grand house, which looks like a French chateau and has a working Georgian kitchen. There’s also a tea room, but football fans will prefer a stop at Falkirk Stadium where the cafe overlooks the pitch. To get inside a Kelpie, join one of the guided tours and then jump into the Adventure Zone playground and Splash Play. The engineering marvel of the Falkirk Wheel is the world’s only rotating boat lift. You can take a boat trip on it and then get wet with all sorts of activities like bumper boats, push boats, water zorbing, stand up paddleboarding and a splash zone playpark.

Return to Edinburgh on the train or spend another night in Falkirk and cycle back along the canal, making a short diversion to Muiravonside Country Park, near Linlithgow. It has a farm, sculpture trail and play park.

Self-guided vs guided cycling holidays

Independent cycling vs escorted small group tours

Scotland has many excellent, long-established and expert tour operators specialising in cycling and other outdoor adventure activities. Their passion shines through in their love of providing cycling holidays in Scotland as more often than not they have spent a lifetime riding the roads, hill climbs, lochside routes, trails, tracks and old paths of their captivating country.

You will find there are tour operators – generally small, often family-run businesses – spread throughout the country. When deciding which company to go out with for a cycling holiday in Scotland, it's a good idea to decide on one that is based in the area in which you plan to cycle. This will help maximise your experience as the individuals running your trip will be immersed in the local community, ensuring you get the best possible treatment on the road and on your overnight stops.

Similarly, once you have decided (at least broadly) on the area for your holiday, make sure you check whether the operator is a good fit for your intended riding style. For example, all tour operators offer an element of mountain biking tours but there are specialist companies who will not only show you the very best Scotland has to offer for an off-road experience but even help improve your mountain bike skills along the way with top tips.

Scotland Isle of Skye Sunset evening Elgol

Sunset on the Isle of Skye, Scotland

Many operators will tailor their trip to favour cafés, pubs, restaurants and accommodation providers that are part of the tourist office´s VisitScotland Cyclists Welcome scheme. This recognises those establishments which go the extra mile to help make your trip go smoothly, from providing drying facilities to flexible dinner times.

The final decision before signing up to a trip is, of course, whether to opt for a self-guided or guided cycling holiday in Scotland. This is not always as straightforward as one may think so perhaps take a little time to chew over the options especially if you are new to this type of holiday.

Self-guided cycling holidays

Cyclists, being independent-minded souls, tend to like to do things for themselves. Which is great – the rewards are self won and the feeling of self-esteem is incomparable. So it is no great surprise that many coming for a cycling holiday in Scotland opt to go with a self-guided tour. The logistics are taken care of, your luggage arrives as you do and yet you can decide on a whim whether to stop for a picnic at some truly picturesque places, beside an ancient castle or on the banks of a famous loch. Or whether to spend half an hour trying to get that perfect photo of a changing seascape.

The downside is that you are responsible for the mistakes, the wrong turns, the running out of daylight because you got a puncture and the running out of energy because you underestimated the final leg of the journey. Naturally, the likelihood of these calamities occurring can be reduced if you plan meticulously.

Guided cycling holidays

Having a guide will mean you don´t have to plan meticulously for every eventuality. When you are on holiday this can be a nice feeling.

Ultimately, having a guide means that you are in the best possible hands. He or she will know the route in question inside out, they will know who is serving the best fish chowder at lunchtime and they will know what to do if problems arise. In addition to knowing the locals, a good guide will double as an ambassador for the country filling you in on everything from natural history to the state of current affairs.

But you will not be able to cruise to a halt when your body says rest; to have a sunny snooze on a whim, or to indulge in a second breakfast if the rest of the group – and the guide – are not on your wavelength. Another drawback of signing up to a guided group is that the speed of the cycling will always be dictated by the slowest member. If that's you then it's not such an issue, but if you are the one straining to top that hill and diving down the other side it can be very frustrating, particularly on a multi-day outing.

However, on remote routes having a guide can be invaluable – not only for taking the worry out of route finding but for a general feeling of security. This is never misguided and can translate into real practical help if your bike develops a sudden mechanical problem miles from help.

To sum up: if you are unsure whether to go self-guided or fully-guided assess the potential difficulties of the trip you have in mind while taking into account your personal situation.

Best cycling holidays in Scotland

Fergal MacErlean

Dublin-born Fergal fell in love with Scotland as a student, settling there to become a journalist and cycle guidebook writer. In addition to his guides covering Scotland, he has written for the BBC, New Scientist, BBC Countryfile Magazine and many travel publications. Andalusia is a second home.

Best cycling holidays in Scotland

Colin Baird

Edinburgh-born Colin is a cycling blogger. He became hooked on cycling in Scotland after his first-ever biking holiday to the Orkney Islands. He's been all over the country discovering routes and seeking out the best places to visit by bike. He blogs about his adventures on the Cycling Scot website.

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