Best Cycling Holidays In Scotland

Family Biking Holidays In Scotland

Family Biking Holidays In Scotland
By Colin Baird

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.

Scotland Edinburgh

View over Edinburgh, Scotland

Edinburgh cycle city break

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.

Edinburgh cycle city break

Distance: 28 miles

Riding time: Three days (three to four hours in the saddle)

Difficulty: Easy

Suitable for: Families & inexperienced cyclists

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.

Scotland deeside Way Braemar Aberdeenshire

Deeside Way, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

The Deeside Way - Aberdeen to Banchory

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.

The Deeside Way

Distance: 38 miles, includes return trip

Riding time: Two days (four to five hours in the saddle)

Difficulty: Moderate

Suitable for: Older kids and experienced cyclists

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.

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.

Scotland Oban High Angle View of Town ED ONLY

View of Oban town, Scotland

Glen Lonan and the Island of Colonsay

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.

Glen Lonan and the Island of Colonsay

Distance: 35-45 miles

Riding time: Two days (four to six hours in the saddle)

Difficulty: Moderate

Suitable for: Older kids and experienced cyclists

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, 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.

Scotland Dunrobin Castle ED ONLY

Dunrobin Castle, Scotland

Strath Brora, Sutherland

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.

Strath Brora

Distance: 41-52 miles

Riding time: Two days (six to eight hours in the saddle)

Difficulty: Hard

Suitable for: Older kids and experienced cyclists

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.

Scotland Falkirk kelpies ED ONLY

Falkirk Kelpies, Scotland

Union Canal and Falkirk

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.

Union Canal and Falkirk

Distance: 48 to 78 miles

Riding time: Two to three days (six to ten hours in the saddle)

Difficulty: Moderate/hard

Suitable for: Older kids and experienced cyclists

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.

Family Biking 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.

Family Biking 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.

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