7 Of The Best Long Distance Cycle Routes UK For 2023

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Home to stunning mountains, swathes of beautiful coastline, and even temperate rainforests, the UK offers excellent potential for bikepacking adventures.

The long-distance cycle routes UK has to offer vary significantly in difficulty and scenery, meaning there’s a route out there for whatever you’re looking for from your adventure.

There are island-hopping coastal routes for the sea junkies, mountainous routes for the grimpeurs, and even networks of ancient off-road trails for the gravel grinders.

But what are the best UK long-distance bike rides?

In this article, we’ll give you a rundown of some of the most beautiful long-distance cycle routes UK has to offer. We’ll be covering:

  • The Hebridean Way
  • The Pennine Cycleway
  • The North Coast 500
  • King Alfred’s Way
  • Land’s End To John O’Groats
  • Sarn Helen
  • Rebellion Way

Let’s get started!

Best Long Distance Cycle Routes UK: Title Image

The Hebridean Way

Blue water and sandy beaches on the Hebridean Way.
  • Start/End Points: Bagh A’Deas, Vatersay – Butt of Lewis, Lewis
  • Distance: 194 miles / 312 km
  • Elevation Gain: 2723 m
  • Time Required: 4-16 days
  • Recommended Bike Type: Road, touring, or gravel bike

The Hebridean Way is a stunning coastal long-distance cycle route that traverses every navigable island in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland.

Starting in the Southernmost Isle of Vatersay, you’ll use ferries and causeways to hop between a total of 10 different islands until you reach the Northernmost Isle of Lewis.

Passing through, arguably, the most beautiful coastline in the UK, your ride will be accompanied by stunning vistas over the azure waters and white-sand beaches.

The pristine beaches are certainly the highlight, but you’ll also see a range of scenery over the 300 km ride, including the dramatic hills of Harris, the almost romantically bleak and barren plains of Uist, and the gently rolling hills and sea lochs of Lewis.

The route is very popular for wildlife watchers, too, since the Outer Hebrides are home to a range of exciting animals, such as sea eagles, orcas, dolphins, whales, otters, and seals.

It’s worth noting that although this route is fairly flat (relative to many others in the UK), and not particularly long, limited transportation options necessitate additional riding on mainland Scotland before and after you reach the islands.

The time required for this ride is a large range since many choose to take their time to allow for a bit of time out of the saddle to spot wildlife, relax on the beaches, and even take on a couple of hikes.

The Pennine Cycleway

A castle overlooks a sandy beach on the Pennine Cycleway.
  • Start/End Points: Derby, Derbyshire – Berwick-Upon-Tweed, Northumberland
  • Distance: 353 miles / 568 km
  • Elevation Gain: 7230 m
  • Time Required: 7-14 days
  • Recommended Bike Type: Road, touring, or gravel bike

The Pennine Cycleway is one of the most challenging long-distance cycle routes in England, traversing the Pennine mountain range from South to North.

Starting in the city of Derby, you’ll pass through some of the most beautiful National Parks in England before reaching the border town of Berwick in Northumberland.

The Peak District, Yorkshire Dales, Lake District, North Pennines, and Northumberland Coast National Parks can all be included on the route, meaning you’ll see a wide range of stunning scenery as you battle your way up the sharp climbs of England’s only mountains.

The original Pennine Cycleway route simply follows NCN 68 the whole way.

However, many choose to add some additional detours to include particularly beautiful places such as the Lake District and Northumberland Coast or to pass through a certain town or take on a particular climb.

The reason the route is considered to be so difficult isn’t necessarily the elevation gain per mile (which is pretty gruesome anyway!) but rather the steepness and relentlessness of the climbs.

The topography of the Pennines means that many of the climbs are extraordinarily steep, with multiple topping out over 30%. Make sure you don’t overpack! Lugging a 30 kg set-up up the Struggle would not be a particularly enjoyable ordeal.

The North Coast 500

Winding road on Scotland's North Coast 500.
  • Start/End Points: Inverness, County of Inverness
  • Distance: 516 miles / 836 km
  • Elevation Gain: 10577 m
  • Time Required: 7-16 days
  • Recommended Bike Type: Road, touring, or gravel bike

One of the most legendary long-distance UK cycle routes, the North Coast 500 – often abbreviated to NC500 – is an extremely challenging coastal loop covering over 500 miles around Scotland’s rugged coastline.

One for the bucket list, the NC500 passes through some of the most beautiful scenery in the UK, along the famously-stunning Scottish coast.

The loop starts and ends in the cultural capital of the Highlands, Inverness. It can be ridden either clockwise or anti-clockwise, but most choose clockwise because you can take on the toughest climbs early in the ride.

The time required for this ride varies significantly depending on what your constraints, fitness, and the reason you’re doing it. If you’re going to take in the views and the stunning Scottish scenery, then it’s worth taking your time a bit so you have a bit of flexibility.

For those looking to simply challenge themselves, and complete the ride as quickly as possible, then it is possible in a week or so.

(Or, if you’re really into pain, then even less! The current world record for the route is held by Mark Beaumont, who completed the route in just 28 hours and 35 minutes!)

King Alfred’s Way

The Ridgeway, part of King Alfred's Way in Wessex.
  • Start/End Points: Winchester, Hampshire
  • Distance: 220 miles / 354 km
  • Elevation Gain: 4640 m
  • Time Required: 4-8 days
  • Recommended Bike Type: Gravel or hardtail mountain bike

King Alfred’s way is a circular, off-road route around the rolling hills and green woodland of England’s south.

The route was named for Alfred the Great, the king of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex, and the first person to attempt to unite the kingdoms of England during the Viking invasion.

Connecting many of England’s most important historical sites along ancient paths, it represents a unique opportunity to explore not only the beautiful scenery of the south of England but also the historical and cultural sites the region is famous for from two wheels.

The route is made up of a number of different famous ancient paths, including the South Downs Way, the Ridgeway, and the North Downs way.

Starting and ending at the King Alfred statue in the old capital of Wessex, Winchester, the entire loop is off-road, though not so extreme as to be considered an MTB-only adventure.

The terrain is actually ideal for gravel bikes, allowing you to cover a significant distance per day.

There are a few campsites and many options for hostels, hotels, and guesthouses along the way. However, if you’re looking to go as quickly as possible, it’s a good idea to stick to accommodation in order to avoid a heavy pack.

Land’s End To John O’Groats

Signpost for John 0'Groats in Scotland.
  • Start/End Points: Land’s End, Cornwall – John O’Groat’s, Caithness
  • Distance: 839 miles / 1351 km
  • Elevation Gain: 16434 m
  • Time Required: 10-20 days
  • Recommended Bike Type: Road, touring, or gravel bike

By far the most extreme of the UK cycle routes, Land’s End to John O’Groats – often shortened to LEJoG – goes from the westernmost point on the island of Great Britain; Land’s End, Cornwall, to the northernmost; John O’Groats, Scotland.

The idea of traversing the entire island of Great Britain, using only the power of your legs, is often what attracts riders to this 1350+ km route. However, it is an extremely (perhaps, the most) challenging route in the UK and is not for the faint-hearted.

You might expect that given the daunting distance of the ride, the route might make some attempt to avoid the mountainous regions of the UK. But, you’d be mistaken, since the route mercilessly passes straight through the Pennines and the Scottish Highlands.

This, of course, results in an equally terrifying total elevation gain of over 16000 m (fancy cycling up Everest? How about twice?) so it’s very important to keep your weight down on the LEJoG ride.

The route is almost exclusively on roads, so you’ll be fine on any type of bike you have. However, in order to cover distance easily, you might want to go for a road bike or a lightweight touring bike.

Sarn Helen

Aerial view of mountainous Snowdonia.
  • Start/End Points: Conwy, Conwy County – Worm’s Head, Gower
  • Distance: 248 miles / 399 km
  • Elevation Gain: 8833 m
  • Time Required: 4-8 days
  • Recommended Bike Type: Gravel or hardtail mountain bike

Sarn Helen is a beautiful, off-road, coast-to-coast route in Wales, passing through a wide range of different biomes, including rugged coastlines, rocky, barren mountains, lush green valleys, and even some of the UK’s only temperate rainforest.

Starting in Conwy on the north coast of Wales, almost immediately after leaving the coast, you’ll be hit with a challenging (but beautiful) section through Snowdonia national park.

Home to the highest mountain in Wales, and ancient temperate rainforest (the rarest land-based ecosystem in the world!), the challenging climbs are rewarded by fantastic riding on remote singletrack.

After Snowdonia, the climbing is by no means out of the way. Although slightly less extreme, the rolling hills of the Welsh valleys and the Brecon Beacons can be just as difficult as the mountain passes of Snowdonia.

All of this climbing adds up to 8833 m of elevation gain, just 16 m short of Everest – you might even be tempted to just cycle down 16 m on your first climb and back up to complete the “Everesting” challenge!

All of the pain of the climbs will melt away as you reach the finish; the huge and stunning swathes of sand that frame the beautiful Gower Peninsula of South Wales.

Rebellion Way

Sunset over the Norfolk countryside.
  • Start/End Points: Norwich, Norfolk
  • Distance: 232 miles / 373 km
  • Elevation Gain: 2420 m
  • Time Required: 4-6 days
  • Recommended Bike Type: Gravel, hardtail, or full-suspension mountain bike

One of the newer long-distance off-road routes in the UK, Rebellion Way is a circular route through England’s flattest county; Norfolk.

What it lacks in agonizing climbs, however, it more than makes up for in beauty as you’ll work your way through quaint villages, charming woodland, and relaxing countryside paths.

The route is the most recent of Cycling UK‘s long-distance bikepacking routes. Although the distance of nearly 400 km is certainly not to be scoffed at, the terrain and topography of the route make it an excellent choice for all abilities.

Although the name feels a bit of an oxymoron for a route traversing a region characterized by relaxed, quaint villages and well-maintained, off-road woodland and pasture paths, Rebellion Way is named for the chaotic history of the region from the Iron Age to the Viking invasion.

Terms of Use

This cycling route guide, including any maps, GPS, or other navigational information, is provided for informational purposes only. By using this guide and cycling this route, you accept all responsibility and risk associated with your participation.

Before cycling, you should assess your own fitness level and ability to handle the physical demands of the route. It is your responsibility to review current local weather conditions and road closures, as well as any public or private land use restrictions and rules, and comply with them during your ride, and to ensure you carry proper safety and navigational equipment. Always follow "Leave No Trace" principles to ensure you leave your surroundings as you found them.

The information contained in this guide is not guaranteed to be accurate, and the author makes no representations or warranties about the completeness, reliability, suitability, or availability of the information provided. The author and any contributors to this guide are not liable for any injuries, damages, or losses that may occur during your ride or as a result of using this guide, including but not limited to personal injury, property damage, or other harm.

By using this guide, you acknowledge and agree to release and hold harmless the author, BikeTips, Broadsea Media LTD., and any contributors to this guide from any and all claims or damages arising out of your use of the information provided. This guide is not a substitute for your own due diligence, and you should always exercise caution and make informed decisions when cycling.

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Jack is an experienced cycling writer based in San Diego, California. Though he loves group rides on a road bike, his true passion is backcountry bikepacking trips. His greatest adventure so far has been cycling the length of the Carretera Austral in Chilean Patagonia, and the next bucket-list trip is already in the works. Jack has a collection of vintage steel racing bikes that he rides and painstakingly restores. The jewel in the crown is his Colnago Master X-Light.

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