You've got the bike. We’ve got the scenery. Just add 1,200 miles of Sustrans' National Cycle Trails for a free-wheeling adventure of coast, valley, hill and mountain. With some of the best long distance cycling routes in the UK, you can either go the distance or just go for the weekend. Here are 11 brilliant routes to get you started.
North Wales Coaster
You could cycle around the whole of Wales in a week, if you were so minded. But it makes more sense to pick a region, and spend a bit of quality time soaking up its charms. The National Cycle Network Route 5 runs right through the middle of Anglesey, crosses the iconic Menai Bridge and gives a close-up view of Conwy Castle and the coastline before reaching the Wales-England border at Connah’s Quay. It’s the perfect cycling trip to see the sights of the Wales’s northern edge. Ride it from east to west to enjoy the prevailing wind at your back – but save some gas for the big climbs towards the end of the ride.
Distance: 160km / 100 miles
Climb: 1,800m / 5,900ft
North Wales Coaster route map on Strava.
The Brailsford Way, Eryri (Snowdonia), North Wales
The guru of British cycling, Sir Dave Brailsford, grew up in Eryri and learnt his trade on these spectacular mountain roads. This is the longer of two routes – the shorter one ducks out at pretty Beddgelert - but either will give you wonderful views of Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) itself. A good start/end point is Caernarfon, whose thumping great castle dominates the skyline. And when you’ve finished, hop over the Menai Strait to compete in the Tour de Môn sportive, a 170km (106 mile) lap of the Anglesey coast that still manages to pack in 2,066m (6,780ft) of climb.
Distance: 120km / 75 miles
Climb: 1,900m / 6,200ft
The Brailsford Way route map on Strava.
Lôn Las Cymru, North to South Wales
This is the big one: a complete top-to-bottom tour of Wales, passing through its loveliest scenery. The actual route is infinitely adaptable (Chepstow or Cardiff are alternative end-points). A set of knobbly tyres will open up miles of traffic-free single-track. It’s still great for pure roadies, who can explore some gloriously untravelled tarmac in the high mountain passes. Sustrans' National Cycle Network is a good place to start route-planning – they’ve handily divided it into into Lôn Las Cymru north and Lôn Las Cymru south sections.
Distance: 400km / 250 miles
Climb: 5,600m / 18,400ft
Lôn Las route map on Strava.
Lôn Cambria - across Wales
The Sustrans Lôn Cambria route takes in the entire width of Wales at its narrowest point. Most cycle routes are planned west-east to get a bit of wind-assistance, but we’ve mapped this from Shrewsbury to Aberystwyth because the mountain views are even better this way, and it’s always good to end a long journey with a blissful 25-mile (40km) descent to the seaside. The traditional route includes a loop around the Elan Valley reservoirs near Rhayader, but we think they deserve their own entry...
Distance: 145km / 90 miles
Climb: 2,000m / 6,500ft
Lôn Cambria route map on Strava.
Six Dams - Elan Valley, Mid Wales
The reservoirs and dams on the rivers Elan and Claerwen were built high in the Cambrian Mountains to supply water to Birmingham. The 72 square mile (186sq km) Elan Valley estate is a wonderful blend of hefty Victorian engineering and the wildest Welsh uplands, easily rideable in a couple of hours. Road cyclists can extend the trek on the mountain road to Devil’s Bridge, while off-roaders can enjoy the splendid isolation of a rough track that runs alongside the Claerwen Reservoir, past the Teifi Pools, all the way to Strata Florida Abbey. Check out MB Wales for more info: if you’re planning a mountain bike tour of Wales, this is a great hub.
Distance: 44km / 27 miles
Climb: 775m / 2,500ft
Six Dams route map on Strava.
Tywi Valley circular tour, West Wales
The Tywi Valley is a truly lovely place for a cycle tour in Wales, with endless quiet lanes on either side of a broad river valley that’s guarded by ancient castles. This ride has a bit of everything: a stiff mountain climb to start, a gentle pedal along the valley floor at the end, and miles of pretty country byways in between. If you want to make a cycle holiday of it, Carmarthenshire has already planned the routes for you. I like Llandovery as a base – it’s got the Black Mountains on one side, Epynt to the north, and the Cambrian Range to the west … which includes one of my all-time favourite climbs, the Devil's Staircase.
Distance: 120km / 75 miles
Climb: 1,500m / 5,000ft
Tywi Tour route map on Strava.
Preseli Mountain and Coast, West Wales
The Tour of Pembrokeshire is one of Wales’ best sportives (and if you do the longest route, one of the toughest). The county is perfect for cycle tours – you can find a good list on Pembrokeshire County Council's website. This route, meanwhile, is the perfect way to get acquainted with wilder parts of north Pembrokeshire. The outbound coastal route (hillier than it sounds…) runs through Ceibwr and past St Dogmaels Abbey before heading inland to the highest pass in the Preseli Mountains. Drop into the stunning Gwaun Valley before a fearsome climb up the hairpins, which lead back to Newport.
Distance: 75km / 46 miles
Climb: 1,500m / 5,000ft
Preseli mountain and coast route map on Strava.
Gospel and Tumble, Wye Valley, Mid Wales
Here’s another corner of Wales that could be designed especially for cycle holidays. Tick off two iconic climbs on one circular ride from the pretty border town of Hay-on-Wye. First up is Gospel Pass, the highest tarmac road in Wales, cutting between Hay Bluff and Twmpa. The descent past Llanthony Priory is a useful breather before you hit Abergavenny. If you fancy tacking on a few extra miles, take a gentle (and highly scenic) diversion down Clydach Gorge to Brynmawr and back, courtesy of Sustrans. But save some energy for the slog up the Tumble, a formidable climb that’s featured in many cycle races. From here it’s largely downhill home, giving you a chance to enjoy Mid Wales scenery at its best.
Distance: 95km / 60 miles
Climb: 1,600m / 5,250ft
Gospel and Tumble route map on Strava.
Ride the Dragon, Brecon Beacons, Mid Wales
The Dragon Ride is one of the UK’s toughest sportives. Even the ultra-fit will struggle to finish its flagship route, the 296km Dragon Devil. And yet we’ve listed it because it contains several of the best climbs in Britain: Bwlch and Rhigos at the top of Rhondda, moorland treks across the central Brecon Beacons, the lonely Abergwesyn Pass, fearsome slogs up the Devil’s Elbow and Devil’s Staircase, the lovely climb up the Black Mountain from Llangadog… they’re all included. Taken individually, they’re all wonderful. Taken back-to-back… well, that’s just a beast.
Distance: 296km / 184 miles
Climb: 4,614m / 15,140ft
Bwlch y Groes, Mid Wales
The lakeside town of Bala is another good base for a cycling tour around Wales. Bwlch y Groes is often said to be Wales’ highest tarmac road - Gospel Pass just pips it, actually - but it’s still a grand climb up from Llyn Tegid through the mountains to the Bwlch. Ride around Lake Vyrnwy, and return via the heather-clad hills of the Hirnant Pass. By the way, we’ve mapped the ‘easy’ route up: it’s an even tougher challenge from the south.
Distance: 55km / 34 miles
Climb: 900m / 2,950ft
Bwlch y Groes route map on Strava.
Taff Trail, South Wales
For a lot of Cardiff cyclists, the Taff Trail is an essential part of the daily commute. It’s equally popular with families and visitors who enjoy pottering safely through the urban parkland, or even the 26.5km (16.5 mile) trek up to Pontypridd. But it’s also a good challenge for long distance cyclists: the full stretch from Cardiff Bay to Brecon takes in all kinds of urban, rural and post-industrial landscapes, before reaching the big mountains of the Brecon Beacons, which opens up whole new possibilities. Because it has sections of dirt track, you’ll be happier on your 32mm tyres than those skinny racers.
Distance: 88km / 55 miles
Climb: 980m / 2,215ft
Taff Trail route map on Strava.
And here’s why you should plan your cycling holiday in Wales…
Because we’ve got all the things that cyclists like, basically: endless miles of quiet lanes, big climbs, thrilling descents and incredible scenery. Then there’s the essential off-bike stuff: cafes, pubs, hostels, hotels. Oh, and loads of visitor attractions along the way.
Cycling has soared in popularity here over the past few decades. Lycra is ubiquitous. More cycling has led to more - and better - infrastructure. Counties like Carmarthenshire are promoting themselves as specialist cycling destinations. All over Wales, hospitality providers have sussed that we’re good for business, so they’re very glad to see us. Car drivers are more tolerant. Geraint Thomas winning the Tour de France helped, of course. Diolch, G.
As well as the routes we’ve listed here, you can choose plenty more from Sustrans’ 1,930km (1,200 mile) network, ranging from their 'Ten of the best routes in Wales' suggestions to longer, multi-day challenge rides in Wales.
Ebike tech has come of age, and a host of new providers are now offering ebike hire and tours, opening our hinterland up to thrilling new possibilities. There’s also a massive mountain biking subculture.
So if you’re planning a cycling trip to Wales, what are you waiting for?