Uncertainty about the coronavirus adds risk to any foreign travel in 2021. So what better time to think about a local cycling holiday for your family? Here we review for you 5 destinations for the best family cycle holidays in England. We’ve chosen something for all ages and abilities and we’ve ridden them all.
Suffolk: New cyclists / kids
If you are new to cycling or you have your very precious cargo aboard, Suffolk, England is a great place to cycle. Blessed with quiet lanes and numerous off-road paths there is plenty of choice and entertainment for the family. There are picturesque villages, castles and the incredible Sutton Hoo for Instagrammers or history buffs; playgrounds beaches & amusements for little ones; forests, rivers and a world class nature reserve at Minsmere for the curious.
Suffolk is considered flat by those that haven’t cycled there. Gently rolling is a better description of the back lanes and byways. If you aren’t very fit, or you have a heavy trailer or loaded child seat you’ll definitely feel a hill on most rides. One of Suffolk’s best characteristics from a cyclist’s point of view is that there isn’t much traffic on the back roads and the overwhelming majority of drivers are considerate & patient. If you aren’t used to the feel of your bike you can start on the Rendlesham forest trails, Alton Water and Sandlings byways. Then when you’re ready for tarmac there are quiet rides near Framlingham or Woodbridge or Bungay & you’ll get many confidence-boosting miles under your wheels. If you venture to Orford be sure to cross on the ferry to Orford Ness – worthy of a Doctor Who set for its other-worldly wilderness.
New Forest & Isle of Wight – occasional cyclists / tweens and teens
The New Forest provides miles of off-road tracks to explore. This allows longer off-road rides with more variety than in Suffolk so is good for 10-yr-olds and above. However, it is a popular holiday destination and in the Southampton commuter belt, so the roads can be unpleasantly busy at peak times. Definitely worth planning around this and looking out for circular rides rather than ones that have a return leg on any of the busier roads.
Away from the roads there is plenty to see and do: ponies, gardens, forts, a world famous motor museum and plenty of tea-rooms and numerous friendly villages. A full day adventure which Jon and Immy did when she was 12 is to cycle to Lymington, catch the ferry to the Isle of Wight and visit a beach or two. As you would expect, there is lots of forest between the dispersed towns. The terrain is again rolling and within the ability of most cyclists; if you are familiar with your saddle you will enjoy the longer routes.
Gloucestershire: Regular cyclists / teens
Gloucestershire contains a huge variety of cycling opportunities. The terrain varies from the rolling expanse of the Severn Vale to very hilly. Both the Cotswolds and the Forest of Dean offer some good family off-road trails. The budding mountain biker will also find challenges. For road riders there are some gruelling climbs up the Cotswold scarp slope as well as plenty of up and down to build the ascent of a ride. Gravel riders can explore the Forest of Dean or the many byways and routes over the county. Unfortunately the Cotswold Way is for walkers only.
Off the bike, Gloucestershire is a great destination for a family holiday. In Gloucester, the cathedral was used as a location for Harry Potter, the docks as a set for the Onedin Line and the city has a proud Roman heritage. Chedworth manor is another Roman legacy while Winchcombe and the nearby Belas Knap long barrow hail from Saxon and neolithic times. Cheltenham’s Regency heart offers wide boulevards with plenty of shopping.
For the regular cyclist there are plenty of good rides, and much of interest to visit. Some country roads can be busy, but there are quiet roads criss-crossing the county so most traffic can be avoided. Unless you are there for the horses, avoid Cheltenham and major approaches when the races are on – it can be very busy.
South Downs Way: Keen cyclists / teens
The South Downs Way is one of the oldest off-road long distance cycling routes in southern England. From Winchester to Eastbourne it crosses Hampshire and Sussex following the chalk ridge of the South Downs. It is very scenic. There aren’t a lot of amenities on the route itself, but there are towns and villages in the valleys. That said, there are ancient hill forts and other places of interest along the way.
What sticks out are the views from the ridge accessed via a series of 250m climbs from the valley bottoms. These are lung-busting raw hill tracks on the way up with exhilarating descents. As such, this is a route for the dedicated cyclist or cycling family. The overall level of challenge depends on how quickly you complete the route. Three or four days is commonly cited in tourist literature. Jon did it in two tough days and knows someone who did the double in just over 24 hours – proper hardcore! The faster you go the better navigation you need. The waymarking along the route has improved but I recommend satnav.
As a long distance linear route you need to plan the return (train into waterloo and out again is possible). Or you can do the double. The terrain is hilly but it is generally hard-packed stony paths. These chalk paths can be slippery when wet so some off-road skills will be needed in those conditions. On dry summer days it’s not technical.
Lowestoft to Lands End: Keen cyclists / teens
For a two week holiday for the moderately fit, the cross-country route from Lowestoft to Lands End is a beauty. This 600 mile route is 50% off-road. It combines the challenge of the South Downs Way with a huge variety of interesting places along the route. We think it is probably one of the best family cycle holidays in England! This page gives you an overview of the route. Planning information and links to the route descriptions are here.
What bike do I need for a cycling holiday?
Almost certainly the one you’ve got is fine. All these destinations have routes that are perfect for the average family collection of hybrid bikes. Mountain bikes or gravel bikes will allow you to explore off-road more (or more quickly) while a road bike will be better suited to longer rides on tarmac.
These are some of the best family cycle holidays in England. Whatever your experience or confidence on a bike, England has plenty to offer. If none of these take your fancy or if you want to stay local, the main things to think about with a family are:
- traffic & terrain
- food and entertainment
- accommodation with secure parking for your bike and – ideally – drying facilities
We’ve also camped and cycled and it’s a great option with energetic kids, but does add to the challenge if the weather is wet. Whatever you choose this summer, stay safe!
We’ve ridden in all the places recommended here with kids (except South Downs Way)