How to find family-friendly cycle routes

Matt Rudd
25/05/2017

It’s a familiar challenge: choosing family activities that both kids and parents can enjoy together, that don’t cost the earth! Cycling is a great option for keeping all the family entertained. It’s fun, free, great exercise, and a fantastic way to experience the sights and sounds of the great outdoors.

There are lots of accessible routes worth checking out in our collection, but here's a selection of the kind of places where you’ll find easy going family-friendly cycle routes. Click the links to see each route in more detail, and download the info and a handy GPX navigation file for each route.


Parks

There are some fantastic green spaces in towns and cities across the UK. Many of our routes feature sections away from traffic through public parks, that often have path circuits long enough for a decent ride. Why not pack a picnic and do a few loops before lunch? 

Example: London – Horseguards and the Royal Parks

“This is a great way to enjoy central London on a bike, away from traffic”

Hannah, Tower Hamlets

Disused railways

It’s easy to imagine the energy and noise of the steam trains that once passed along these routes. The railways were engineered to be as flat as possible, so you’re practically guaranteed a gentle ride on an even surface. Quite often these routes feature preserved reminders of the railway, as well as art installation celebrating an area’s industrial history and surrounding nature. It’s worth keeping your eyes peeled for these points of interest, as they’re good places to take a break.

Example: Manchester – Discover the Fallowfield Loop Line

“To have a traffic-free route from Clayton to Chorlton is fantastic! Perfect for beginners and those wanting to escape the roads”

Jim, Whalley Range


Canals and rivers

Before the introduction of railways, canals were the modern transport network of their day. And like steam engines, water doesn’t travel well up hill, so there are few lumps and bumps along towpaths. There are miles upon miles of canal and river routes to enjoy by bike.

Example: Leicester – The Canal and Railway Ride

“There are plenty of stopping-off points along the route, notably the King’s Lock Tearooms for a well-earned cuppa and cake!”

Emily, Birstall


National Trust places

The National Trust looks after over 500 historic houses, castles, ancient monuments gardens and parks and nature reserves. Many of these managed sites are cycle-friendly. So why not attach your bikes to the car, head out to a National Trust place near you. and use the car park as a starting point? There are quite often special half-term activities across the different sites too, so it’s worth checking what’s on in advance.

Example: Newcastle – Two Valleys to Gibside

“The National Trust has invested in a major project to offer Gibside’s visitors purpose-built, all-weather parking facilities and an improved arrival experience for cyclists.”

National Trust


And if that wasn’t enough – here are some ideas for how to add even more interest to your next family ride:

Let the littlest lead

Setting the right pace can be tricky when riding with young children. It’s wise to have an adult at the front and the back of your group, and go as slow as the slowest rider. Allowing the littlest legs do some pace-setting can really give young riders a motivating thrill of leadership, even if you have to shout the odd direction from time to time!

Add a challenge element

Pit long legs against short legs – find a straight section of path and race to the last tree or telegraph pole (just be careful to respect other trail users, of course!)

Promise a treat at the end of the ride – less of a bribe, more of an incentive! It’s always easier to complete a route that has a piece of cake or an ice cream at the end of it!

I spy/collecting

A game of family road trip classic ‘I spy’ doesn’t have to be confined to the car. Why not play while rolling along on your ride? It’s a good way of encouraging everyone to stay together and get into the habit of communicating while cycling.

You could even decide to collect items along the route – seek out fallen pine cones, pretty leaves, or interesting-shaped stones each time you stop.

Reminisce about your ride

It’s a good idea to invest in a cycling computer, or use a smartphone app like OS Maps to track your route progress.

It doesn’t have to be a race, but being able to show the kids exactly where you’ve been on your ride is a great opportunity to teach them a few basic navigational skills, and look over some interesting data behind the day.

So there you have it – cycling is ideal for enjoying time together over the weekend or holidays. Burn off all that pent-up energy. Enjoy the fresh air. Relax with a picnic between pedaling – munch those sandwiches in a green space, bathed in early summer sun (fingers crossed!) – not trapped in a traffic jam like last year!

Check out our full collection of cycle routes to find a family ride near you.