Best UK cycling destinations: Six of my favourite places to ride


January is a hateful month for those of us in the northern hemisphere. It’s cold, dark, wet, you haven’t got the indulgences of the festive period to look forward to anymore, and spring can feel a long way off. I can see why so many of us look to book a cycling holiday at this time of year; get something in the calendar, something to look forward to.

Where do you go then? For those of us in the UK, you may think Mallorca, eastern Spain, Tuscany, or the Alps. Always somewhere warm, somewhere south, somewhere far away. Amazing riding is to be had in all of these places for sure, but with it comes the stress of international travel, exacerbated further if you’re taking a bike with you, as well as a much larger carbon footprint.

If you’re looking to get away on the bike but don’t fancy going abroad then there are plenty of world-class riding destinations to be had all across the UK. The below is not an exhaustive list, but rather the ones I’ve been lucky enough to either live in or have ridden in extensively over the years. Unfortunately, that excludes Northern Ireland, so apologies in advance for that, but where possible I’ve included my own photos. If you’re reading this from outside the UK then these should be on your hitlist, and you should also check out our list of the best bike travel cases and our top tips for travelling with a bike. 

a man in blue sunglasses takes a selfie on the cornish coast

It’s a bit bumpy in many ways, but the north Cornwall coast has some incredible riding to offer (Image credit: Future)


Cornwall is where I grew up, and I believe it is the best place to ride a bike in England, if not the UK as a whole. There’s a saying down here that Cornish miles are worth 1.5x everywhere else, not because it’s blessed with giant, majestic hills, but more a result of how the elevation is delivered. Save for a few flat, family friendly sections of cycle path there isn’t a moment of flat, and on the coastal roads especially you are presented with repeated short, very steep climbs in and out of beautiful little villages.

I’ve done 120km days in the Alps, up the Col d’Iseran, and I can do a coastal route in Cornwall of equivalent length with more elevation gain. If you can stomach the climbing, though, you will be treated to some of the most beautiful views. Rugged coastline, scruffy vegetation, a sea breeze to clear your lungs, and a big pasty for lunch (Ann’s Pasties down the Lizard is the place to go). The roads aren’t the most well-maintained though, so fit some wider rubber and you’ll have a lot more fun. 

a man in blue sunglasses takes a selfie on the cornish coast

Though we are a coastal nation, Cornish coastal riding takes the prize in my opinion (Image credit: Future)

The gravel riding is perhaps less inviting if you’re not used to it. There are certainly long, sustained rideable off road routes (see the West Kernow Way for starters), but they can be rocky and technical, especially on the coast path.

One tip would be to try and come outside of the peak holiday season; the county’s road network is famously ill-equipped to deal with the volume of tourists that descend to the seaside towns every summer, and nothing ruins a coastal descent like having to slam on the brakes because two people in SUVs can’t get past each other on a single lane road.

A woman in a yellow jumper rides through a forest beside ponies

If you want to take it slow off road then the New Forest is the place to go (Image credit: Will Jones)

The New Forest

The New Forest is truly a paradise for chill gravel riding. The UK’s youngest, and smallest national park is criss-crossed by myriad undulating gravel tracks. None of them are overly rocky or technical, with most being wide and well graded. There aren’t any savage climbs to brag about, though the high points do command beautiful views, but to me the New Forest isn’t a place to go hunting KOMs.

The picture postcard hamlets, the free-roaming ponies and other wildlife, and the terrain itself all make for what is best described as ‘chill vibes’. Take it slow, have an actual holiday, go for a big pub lunch and then cycle somewhere else bucolic. The road sections are also very chilled, provided you aren’t on one of the main arterial routes, but it’s not really somewhere I’d say was a prime road destination. 

Get yourself some big tyres, buy a fashionable bar bag, a coffee and a bun from The Woods Cyclery in Lyndhurst, and enjoy being in over 200 square miles of forest. As Billy Joel says: 

“Slow down you crazy child. Take the phone off the hook and disappear for a while. It’s alright, you can afford to lose a day or two”

The scenic route through the Yorkshire Dales

Sure, you can trace the Tour de France in France, but you can do the same in Yorkshire too (Image credit: Swpix)

The Yorkshire Dales

If relaxed gravel pootling isn’t for you then how about riding in the only place in the UK to have had its own dedicated UCI stage race; the Tour de Yorkshire? One of my favourite cycling memories is sitting in the sun halfway up the Cow and Calf climb (or the Col du Ilkley Moor as I believe ASO insisted on calling it), yelling at Greg van Avermaet and his compatriots.

I lived in Leeds for the best part of a decade, and there are enough fantastic roads and climbs to warrant a separate article. My personal hit list for the best climbs would be Langbar, the Cow and Calf, the Chevin (both the main road and the old road are excellent), Norwood, and Greenhow. The riding is a world away from the relentless short up and down of Cornwall, but the climbs aren’t so protracted as they are in the highlands of Scotland, and there are plenty of river valleys to ride down for some respite. 

Hard road riding, but rewarding nonetheless, with excellent views and excellent pubs too. Try and tee up a café stop at Bolton Abbey on a sunny day and you’ll be met with an entire peloton’s worth of bikes leant up outside, and, if you decide to stay in Leeds, have pint for me at the Kirkstall Bridge Inn. 

If you’re really looking for a challenging day out though, just south of the Yorkshire Dales is Halifax, home to the closest thing you’ll get to the Tour of Flanders outside of Belgium. Cobbled climbs, steep and greasy, through towns full of industrial heritage. Start up Shibden Wall and see how you go; they only get harder.

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The Lake District has sensational riding, wherever you end up (Image credit: Will Jones)

The Lake District

A mecca for hikers, nature lovers, fans of Beatrix Potter, and for those undertaking the Fred Whitton, cyclists too. Whether this stalwart of the UK sportive calendar is still the hardest out there (answers on a postcard) the full route is certainly extremely challenging. Long, drawn out, and steep, the famous climbs up Honnister et al are real leg-sappers, and the propensity for the National park to be wet and windy adds to the challenge if you get your timing wrong. 

The central and south Lakes are the most famous areas, around Ambleside, Windermere, and Kendal. You can’t really go wrong here, though the roads will be busier in high season, and the gravel riding that’s also exceptional will be more full of hikers and walkers. 

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The climbs are long and drawn out, probably the most of anywhere in England (Image credit: Will Jones)

The further north you go the more likely you are to have the place to yourself, on or off road. The Skiddaw massif north of Keswick has some stunning roads, and the gravel riding up past Whitewater Dash and down into Mosedale is probably my favourite stretch of off-road riding in the nation. It’s hard going mind, be prepared to hike-a-bike at times. In all honesty, it’s best served by a mountain bike so bring your largest tyres, but I have seen it done on a cyclocross bike.

If you’re into food, too, Cumbria also has more Michelin stars than any other county outside London, though I recommend changing out of your Lycra before arriving for dinner! Fine dining aside, much like the Yorkshire dales you’re never too far from a decent pub to get a good meal in, and if you’re a fan of a wild swim there are more options than you can shake a stick at for refreshing detours.

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The North Coast 500 is a tremendous route, and while it’s wild and remote, it’s well serviced along its length (Image credit: Will Jones)

Northwest Scotland

I am conscious that as ever in a UK best list there are far more English options than there are from the other nations. I am writing this from experience, rather than regurgitating what is said in travel guides, and as such, it is slightly limiting in scope, but more genuine I feel in terms of recommendations.

Northwest Scotland, by which I mean the west coast and Islands beginning with Skye and heading northwards, offer the most spectacular landscape you could ever hope for on two wheels. I can’t speak for the gravel, but the road sections are remote, imposing, and absolutely blissful. Amenities are few and far between, but they do exist, and what you sacrifice in regular pockets of civilisation you more than get back in extended periods of beautiful solitude.

The easiest way to see the best of the very north of the nation is to have a tilt at the North Coast 500. The route is easy to navigate, well serviced even for bicycle travel with shops and accommodation, and thanks to Scotland’s far better right-to-roam access, camping along the route is significantly easier if you want to bikepack it. The only other real traffic is other bicycles, camper vans, and supercars – not unlike Josh’s experience in the Swiss Alps – which is a slightly odd experience if nothing else.

Likewise, the riding on Skye is also stunning, and while not part of the NC500 route it’s worth a visit in itself. It is the busiest of the islands though. A word of warning for all of this is beware to face the midges, and come prepared.

bike up a hill with a panoramic view

Once you get up and on top of the Beacons they offer unparalleled views over south Wales (Image credit: Future)

The Brecon Beacons

My Dad was from the coalfields of South Wales, and living in Bristol for three years the lumpy bottom end of Wales was the go-to destination for a really big day out. The Brecon Beacons are also home to a claim on the title of the UK’s toughest sportive (the Dragon Ride, in this case), so there’s plenty of inspiration there for riding. 

The east-west range of hills offers up a duality of character on either flank. To the south, you have the industrial heartland of Wales, the countless mining towns that sadly had their purpose taken from them. To the north you have a more rural landscape, rolling fields and villages not founded on the extraction of black gold. If you want to see both I recommend heading over the climb from Llangynidr to Ebbw Vale. To the north, the Crickhowell to Brecon route, not on the main road is lovely too. 

As per Halifax to the Yorkshire Dales, a little further east is the Wye Valley. This is a truly delightful cruise if you start it at Monmouth. Heading south you wind your way along the border, regularly flitting from England to Wales and back again. It’s the best kind of gentle riding, but the road isn’t that small so don’t expect traffic free. Great for an all-out effort too if you’ve got any legs left.


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