You've got the bike. We’ve got the scenery. Just add 1,200 miles of 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's ten brilliant routes to get you started.
North Wales Coaster
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. 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.
Lôn Las Cymru - top to bottom
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, while roadies can explore some gloriously untravelled tarmac in the high mountain passes. The National Cycle Network is a good place to start route-planning.
Distance: 400km / 250 miles
Climb: 5,600m / 18,400ft
Lôn Las route map on Strava.
Tywi Valley circular tour, West Wales
The Tywi Valley is a truly lovely place to cycle, 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. This is probably a two-cake ride, so stop once in the market town of Llandovery and again at Wright's Food Emporium.
Distance: 120km / 75 miles
Climb: 1,500m / 5,000ft
Tywi Tour route map on Strava.
Lôn Cambria - across Wales
The 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) 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.
Distance: 44km / 27 miles
Climb: 775m / 2,500ft
Six Dams route map on Strava.
Preseli Mountain and Coast, West Wales
This is the perfect way to get acquainted with wilder, Welsher 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 and have a pint at the legendary Bessie's to galvanise you for a fearsome climb up the hairpins behind the pub, 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
Tick off two iconic climbs on one circular ride from the pretty borders 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 and the slog up the Tumble. 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
The Dragon Ride is one of the UK’s toughest sportives. Even the ultra-fit will struggle to finish its flagship route, the Devil Dragon (note: shorter and slightly less monstrous routes are also available, mercifully). 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 and through the lonely Abergwesyn Pass, fearsome slogs up the Devil’s Elbow AND Devil’s Staircase (both aptly named), 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: 298km / 185 miles
Climb: 4,500m / 14,750ft
Ride the Dragon route map on Strava.
Bwlch y Groes, Mid 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.
Distance: 55km / 34 miles
Climb: 900m / 2,950ft
The Brailsford Way, Snowdonia
The guru of British cycling, Sir Dave Brailsford, grew up in Snowdonia 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 Snowdon itself. A good start/end point is Caernarfon, whose thumping great castle dominates the skyline.
Distance: 120km / 75 miles
Climb: 1,900m / 6,200ft
The Brailsford Way route map on Strava.