Family cycling holidays can come in all sorts of shapes and varieties: everyone on their own bike, kids in a trailer, kids on tow bikes, two adults trying to squeeze in riding, one adult trying to ride – and many more permutations besides!
Much of it depends on how old your kids are, whether you’re all going to be cycling and how fixed your personal riding/training requirements are.
The first big choice to make is whether this is a family bike trip where you all ride or whether it’s just the adult(s) on bikes.
This article shares our tips for planning the best family cycling holidays in both scenarios, plus the key things to look for in a destination and to consider before you book.
If you’re considering cycling holidays with children, the first thing to be clear on is whether you’re looking for somewhere:
Family cycling holidays where everyone cycles
When you say “family bike trip” this is probably what you’re thinking of: the whole family on bikes, cycling each day perhaps with the odd rest day. Here are some things to consider before you book.
How old are your children and how far can they cycle?
Be realistic about how far your child will want to cycle. You don’t want to put them off forever.
When reading family cycle trip reviews, check carefully for the age of the children. A cycling holiday with toddlers is very different from a trip with a fit 15-year old that’s been cycling since they were 4.
If you choose to do a point to point holiday, rather than a fixed-base, this is particularly important.
As a rule of thumb (and every child is different!), we’ve found that our under 10 year olds are unlikely to want to cycle more than about 30 kilometres per day over successive days, even when it’s flat. As our kids have edged closer to 10, we’ve increased this a bit, with the odd longer day thrown in. You will know your kids and what’s right for your family, but we’ve found this kind of distance is a good benchmark for our kids. More on mileage below!
If you’re booking with a family cycling holiday provider, ask them whether there are alternative routes or if there are short-cuts you can take if you get on the trip and then find it’s too demanding for your kids. (This article contains more info on other things you should check before you book an organised trip).
What bikes will you ride?
We’ve found that kids bikes are a lot more difficult to hire than adult bikes. Often we’ve ended up taking the bikes with us. Car bike carriers and trailers come in all different shapes and sizes. Hiring a bike van and having a camper van holiday could be another solution!
Choose somewhere with flat(ish) terrain and cycle routes
Babies/toddlers are heavy! If you’ve got your kids in a bike trailer or tag-a-long, even if you wouldn’t normally choose an easy flat destination, you‘ll be grateful for it if you’re carrying/pulling them around.
Likewise, once the kids are on their own bikes, avoid having your holiday ruined by moaning: go for somewhere flat.
If you’re with older/fitter children, they may be able to cope with more varied terrain. However, we still wouldn’t suggest the Alps as a first cycling holiday for families!
Family cycle routes
If you’re on this website, your natural preference is likely to be for the road. However… if you’re with young children and want this to be a holiday where everyone cycles, off-road trails are likely to be less stressful.
We had a wonderful time in the Ile de Ré, a beautiful island off the west coast of France, 12 km from La Rochelle. The island is criss-crossed by 100 km of flat bike paths (most of which are suitable for road bikes too). You’ll pass through exquisite villages to sandy beaches. Unsurprisingly it’s a long-term favourite of wealthy Parisians, and the restaurants and shops reflect this. Our ultimate guide to cycling Ile de Ré has full information.
France is also blessed with the “voie vertes” (aka greenways) and eurovelo routes. The Loire is a classic family-friendly cycling route. For our first family cycling trip where we all rode, we cycled from Tours to Amboise, then Amboise to Azay-sur-Cher and then back to Tours. This took in the wonderful Loire River, as well as the Indre, the Cher and the Vienne. It was a superb introduction to family cycling. More on that in this article.
Other alternatives might include the 45km route from Dieppe-Forges in Normandy. Or we’ve heard that Forges-les-Eaux is super family-friendly, with kids cycling, a nature reserve, horse-riding, outdoor chess and a family-friendly spa hotel.
Or the Promenade des Anglais in Nice is brilliant for kids that like to cycle and the city is surprisingly family-friendly too.
In the UK, many destinations have traffic-free riding on disused railway lines. Our guides to the Isle of Wight, Peak District, Lake District, Cornwall and Devon have information on some great family-friendly cycle routes.
We’ve written these in-depth articles to help you plan where to go on your family cycling holiday:
- Best family cycling holidays in Europe
- Best family cycling holidays in the UK
- Best family cycling routes in the UK
Don’t push the mileage
Though it can be tempting to try and cover lots of ground, be realistic in your expectations. Plan time for ice-cream stops and ideally beach/playground/kid-friendly activities for the end of the day.
On our first multi-day cycling tour (the Loire trip mentioned above) with our kids (then aged 4 and 7), we rode around 30 kilometres each day for three days on a circuit taking in the Loire and Cher rivers. We would set off after a leisurely breakfast, stop for coffee, lunch, ice-cream (plus any playgrounds we came across) and aim to be at the end destination by 3 or 4pm. It worked brilliantly.
It’s also important not to forget altitude gain when planning a route suitable for young kids. Our Loire trip had gains at around 150-200m across the whole of each day.
Hungry kids = disaster.
Take enough snacks and plan what you’ll do for lunch, whether a restaurant or a picnic.
It’s also a good idea to have in mind an emergency bakery , ice-cream or coffee stop break for mid-morning or mid-afternoon.
Of course you’ll need the essentials: kids-appropriate helmets, kids sun-cream, clothing for every weather (more tips in our packing list, here).
There are also some non-essentials that might increase the chance your children love their trip:
- Something shiny and new – of course age dependent, but could a shiny new accessory increase the likelihood they want to ride without moaning?! A bell or bike sticker perhaps? Or even a cheap bike computer that shows them how far they’ve been (this worked really well for us; we gave our eldest an old Garmin with the route and told him he was in charge of navigation (of course we had the route too!).
- Bike kit – probably a bigger splurge, but having some proper cycling kit can make the kids feel the part. We love Stolen Goat’s kids kit. A proper pair of padded shorts can make all the difference too, as we all know!
- Camera – give your child a cheap camera and a brand new notepad and you might encourage them to write a story or journal about their adventure. Might also cross off some holiday homework at the same time?!
- Language – continuing the covertly educational theme… could getting them going on an app like Duolingo mean you can put them in charge of ice-cream buying?
- Books – our kids loved reading Chris Hoy’s Flying Fergus series. Get them reading these, or something else cycling themed, before they go and they might be more inspired to get in the miles! Another option is a kid-friendly book about the place you’re riding; some kids love to be the tour guide.
Family holiday where adults cycle
Perhaps your kids are too young to be on bikes every day or you don’t fancy lugging them around in a bike trailer or tag-a-long – or perhaps your kids are older and they’ve made it clear cycling is not for them. In any event, sometimes you might be planning a holiday that’s got a heavy cycling element for the adults but the kids will only be cycling every so often, or not at all.
What will your kids do while you’re cycling?
Can you get childcare?
Could you find a nanny? Is there a crèche in the hotel or town? Are you happy relying on a nanny/crèche you don’t know?
We have often used a nanny while abroad. Our tip for finding someone is to contact the local five-star hotel and find out who they use. If you’re staying in a holiday villa or gite, they may also have local contacts they can put you in touch with.
Alternatively, could you travel with grandparents/aunts/uncles/any other responsible adult that could take care of the kids for a few hours?
Are there activities at the place you’re staying that will keep the kids happy? If not, it’s a tough ask for your childcare provider.
While staying in a gite or villa will give the kids more room to roam, a hotel should offer more facilities. Think about kids clubs, kids pools, soft play, playground etc.
Can you tag team with your partner?
Could you negotiate time on the bike in exchange for them having some time away from the kids at a different point?
Or could you set off first thing before your family are awake?
Are there some bike paths they can use for the odd morning/afternoon of cycling?
If your kids are young and they see you cycling, they’ll probably want to get out on bikes too. Is there somewhere you can hire bikes for kids? Is there a suitable trail they can ride?
Are there some fun family activities once you’re off the bike?
If you’ve spent the morning cycling away from the kids, you’ll probably want/be under pressure to spend the afternoon doing something family-friendly.
What that means will depend on your family, but when you’re picking accommodation consider staying somewhere with suitable activities on site – or at least being close to water parks, beaches, farms, swimming pools or other kid-appropriate activities.
Also, think about whether you want to be in the middle of the countryside or in a village or town. For us, an edge of village/small town location works best as it means that at the least there’s a few restaurants and shops within walking distance.
The places we’ve stayed that have worked best for the kids versus cycling balance when it was only the adults that were riding, were Playa Arena in Tenerife, Lanzarote and the Santa Monica Mountains (this is just our experience – there will be many other places that would work equally as well – do share your tips below!). The similarity between each of these is that there were great beaches for the kids to play on in the afternoon.
8 tips for a happy family bike trip
Here are our best tips for ensuring everyone has a great time and gets what they want from the holiday, whatever kind of trip it is! They are all tried and tested by us… Let us know your best tips in the comments below!
1. Be clear on expectations before you book
If you’re all going to be cycling, this one is probably going to be easier since you’ll all be part of the conversation over how far you’re cycling and over what terrain. However, if you’re looking to fit cycling in around your family, make sure you’ve spoken about how much cycling you’re hoping to do and how you’ll make it work, before you book – and certainly before you get there!
There’s nothing worse than going on holiday and then having a big argument because you were expecting to be riding for half of each day and your family didn’t even know you were planning to take your bike!
2. Find a destination that works for everyone
Find somewhere that works well for cycling and having a holiday – and make sure where you’re staying matches what you’ve told your family about the destination.
For example, if you want to go to Mallorca on an adults-only cycle trip, focus your sales pitch to your family on the beaches and attractions like the Cuevas Del Drach caves, rather than the cycling credentials. Then make sure where you’re staying is accessible to those things you sold them!
If you’re looking for a family destination where everyone rides, remember our tips above and keep the destination flat and (ideally) traffic free!
3. Under promise and over deliver
Whether you’re riding with the kids or by yourself, don’t push the mileage/time you’re riding. Don’t say it’s a two hour ride and actually it turns out to be a three hour ride. You likely won’t be going out again the next day…
4. Be flexible on when you ride
If the rest of the family aren’t riding, be willing to ride first thing in the morning or last thing in the evening. Riding while they’re still asleep, or having a relaxed breakfast, will be much easier for them to say yes to!
5. Consider bringing your own bike
If the rest of the family aren’t riding, the likelihood is that with family pressure/guilt factor, you’re unlikely to ever actually get over to the hire place. The logistics for just a day or two of riding won’t seem worth it. Whereas if you have your bike with you, it’s much easier to just slip out for an hour or two before everyone’s up in the morning…
6. Consider hiring electric bikes for the family
If the kids are old enough, getting them out on e-bikes, while you get a good work out on a normal bike, can be a great solution!
Even if you can’t find electric bikes and they end up on pedalling slowly on regular bikes, remember it’s not all about speed. There’s a lot of enjoyment to be had by taking it slowly, soaking up the scenery and chatting with your nearest and dearest.
7. Stay somewhere with catering and activities
One upside of staying somewhere that provides meals is that there’s less work to be done on holiday, what with shopping and cooking, and so more leisure time. Also, finding somewhere with activities (perhaps a kids’ club!) for the children, means your other half won’t have to entertain the kids in your absence. That might make it easier to negotiate time on the bike!
8. Make sure everyone gets what they want
Even if the place you stay doesn’t have much in the way of kids activities laid on, make sure you do your bit and don’t leave all the hard work to your other half, while you just ride your bike… make sure they get their fair share of time to do what they want too!
Over to you!
Do you go on cycling holidays with kids? What’s the best holiday you’ve had? Let us know in the comments below!
Want more tips on planning a cycling holiday? Our in-depth guide to cycle trip planning will walk you through the process.
Not sure where to go? Get in touch! We’ll happily help you decide.
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