The Scottish Highlands, with their breathtaking landscapes and rich cultural heritage, offer an unforgettable experience for cyclists seeking adventure. From rugged coastlines to serene lochs and majestic mountains, the Highlands have something for everyone, and tackling them on two wheels is perhaps the best way to enjoy the country’s remarkable sights.
Today, we’re exploring some of the best cycling holidays in the Scottish Highlands, providing recommendations on routes, journey lengths, sights to see, and accommodations along the way. Let’s dive in…
When Is The Best Time To Go On A Cycling Holiday In Scotland?
The ideal times to visit Scotland for a cycling tour are between the months of May and September when the weather conditions are quite stable. However, have in mind that the period between late May and September is the midge season in the area, so aim for its beginning or the end.
Midges (essentially, tiny mosquitos) can be found in all parts of the country, but they prefer more rural areas, especially the ones with damp soil. As for the climate, the weather is pretty moderate, and summer temperatures rarely go above the mid-20s. However, the chances of rain are usually high, so you should always pack a rain jacket wherever you go.
Choosing The Right Bike
Whether you are looking to rent or to get a bike of your own, learning more about the options can help you make a wise decision. For starters, bikes are usually categorised into three types: the heavy and practical ones that are ideal for touring the city, the mountain bikes designed for rough conditions, and the sleek road bikes with drop handlebars that can take you on a fast ride on many different roads.
People in the UK have been changing their perception of cycling, and the trend is visible in the cities in Scotland where you can easily find plenty of road bike rental stores.
Anyway, enough of the twaddle, let’s saddle up and check out some of our favourite cycling routes in the Scottish Highlands.
The North Coast 500
One of the most popular cycling routes in the Scottish Highlands is the North Coast 500. This 516-mile loop starts and ends in the bustling city of Inverness, taking you through some of the most picturesque landscapes in Scotland.
Cyclists can expect a challenging yet rewarding journey, with the route typically taking around 9-10 days to complete. Along the way, you’ll pass by enchanting castles, pristine beaches, and quaint fishing villages.
Accommodation options are plentiful, ranging from cosy bed and breakfasts to luxurious hotels. One notable stop is the Torridon Hotel, which offers stunning views of the surrounding mountains and loch.
The Great Glen Way
For those looking for a shorter cycling holiday, the Great Glen Way is an excellent option. Stretching for 79 miles between Fort William and Inverness, this route can be completed in just 4-5 days.
As you cycle along the banks of Loch Ness, keep an eye out for the elusive Nessie, the legendary creature said to inhabit the loch’s depths. History buffs will enjoy visiting Urquhart Castle, a mediaeval fortress perched on the shores of Loch Ness.
For a comfortable stay along the Great Glen Way, consider booking a room at the Lovat Loch Ness, a charming hotel with eco-friendly credentials.
The Hebridean Way
If you’re interested in exploring the wild beauty of the Scottish Highlands on two wheels, the Hebridean Way is the perfect choice. This 185-mile route traverses the length of the Outer Hebrides, a chain of islands off Scotland’s northwest coast.
The journey typically takes around 7-8 days to complete and offers a unique opportunity to experience the region’s rich Gaelic culture. Highlights of the Hebridean Way include the Callanish Standing Stones, an enigmatic prehistoric monument, and the white sandy beaches of Luskentyre.
Accommodations along the route are varied, with decent options including the Harris Hotel in Tarbert or the Polochar Inn on South Uist.
The Caledonia Way
For another more leisurely cycling holiday, consider the Caledonia Way. This 234-mile route runs from Campbeltown in the south to Inverness in the north, passing through idyllic countryside and charming villages. With relatively flat terrain, this route is suitable for cyclists of all abilities and can be completed in 7-10 days.
Points of interest along the Caledonia Way include the historic Kilmartin Glen, home to numerous ancient monuments, and the vibrant town of Oban, known for its fresh seafood and bustling harbour.
For a memorable stay, book a room at the Stonefield Castle Hotel, a 19th-century baronial mansion set amidst lush gardens.
The Isle Of Skye
For something properly challenging, the Isle of Skye is a must-see (and must-cycle!) destination. The island is renowned for its rugged landscapes and fairy-tale-like charm, making it a popular spot for cyclists.
There are several routes to choose from, but one of the most popular is the Skye Loop, which covers approximately 70 miles. The route takes you through quaint fishing villages, past cascading waterfalls, and offers stunning views of the iconic Cuillin Mountains. Cyclists can also explore the island’s rich history, with sights such as Dunvegan Castle and the ruins of Armadale Castle.
Accommodation options on Skye include everything from campsites to luxury hotels, with something to suit every budget.
Cairngorms National Park
Finally, another fantastic cycling destination in the Scottish Highlands is Cairngorms National Park. This vast wilderness area covers over 4,500 square kilometres and contains some of the highest mountains in the UK.
Cyclists can explore the park’s many trails, taking in the stunning scenery and spotting native wildlife such as red deer and golden eagles. Those looking for a challenge can attempt the Cairngorms Loop, a 150-mile route that takes you through the heart of the park. Along the way, you’ll pass by picturesque villages, tranquil lochs, and rolling moorland.
Accommodation options in Cairngorms National Park include cosy lodges, traditional inns, and luxurious resorts, ensuring a comfortable stay after a long day in the saddle.
Other Long Distance Routes
There are many well-known long-distance routes in Scotland, each offering different views and experiences. For instance, The Five Ferries route will take you on a tour of the islands of Arran, Bute, and Kintyre, all in a circular loop around the Firth of Clyde. The ride can be completed in one day, or split into a fun holiday.
But if you’re interested in seeing 10 different islands and covering a total of 185 miles, you should consider the Hebridean Way – a self-guided route located in the Outer Hebrides.
As for the coastal experiences, exploring the Coast to Coast Scotland cycle route is the way to go. The route starts in Annan and ends in Edinburgh, and the challenge can easily be completed on a single long weekend.
Family Friendly Routes
If you are planning to go on an adventure with your loved ones, you should know about the routes that are particularly suitable for families with children. For instance, if you pick the Speyside Way tour starting in the Cairngorms National Park, you’ll get to cycle along native birch woodlands and heather moors. Also, the 5-mile-long route offers plenty of spaces to take a break and have a picnic while enjoying the views of the Cairngorm Mountains.
Next, there is the Caledonia Way, starting from Fort Augustus which is located at the southern end of Loch Ness. The path is 11 miles long and full of breathtaking scenery, including the Caledonian Canal Heritage Centre. And if you wish to ride next to some of the country’s most interesting landmarks such as the Falkirk Wheel and the Kelpies sculpture by Andy Scott, you should consider taking the Helix Park route.
The Bottom Line
The Scottish Highlands offer a diverse range of cycling holidays for adventurers of all levels. Whether you choose to tackle the challenging North Coast 500 or meander along the gentle Caledonia Way, you’re sure to create lasting memories as you pedal your way through this enchanting region.