How to plan a cycling holiday
There’s lots to think about when considering a cycling holiday, especially if it's your first cycling trip abroad and/or you want to make it awesome!
Below you’ll find our best tips on how to plan a bike trip - from deciding where to go and whether to book a tour, to picking accommodation and deciding what to take.
If you can’t find what you’re looking for, just drop us a line. We’d love to hear from you.
How to start
There are lots of factors to consider - this can make it difficult to know where to start!
We usually begin with the question of where to go and narrow it down from there. This article is structured in that way:
Part 1 covers where to go, with the idea that you create a long list of places you’d like to cycle in and then narrow the list down by using the remaining factors, such as who’s going on the trip, what kind of holiday you want and when you’re looking to go.
Part 2 moves on to other issues you’ll need to consider when planning your bike trip, including insurance, whether to hire your bike or take your own and what to pack.
We hope you enjoy the planning process!
Part 1: Where, when and how
It’s time to create your long-list of places you’d like to ride in!
If you’re looking for inspiration, head over to our 30+ destination guides here. They’re broken down by country and each regional guide gives detailed information on what it’s like from a cyclist’s perspective, including where to ride and GPX files.
These articles might also help you create your long-list of destinations:
Here are some factors to consider when picking your bucket list of cycling trip destinations:
Popular or off-the-beaten-track destination?
The mountains of Italy, France and Spain draw thousands of cyclists each year. Made famous by the Grand Tours, climbs like Alpe d’Huez, Mont Ventoux, the Stelvio and Angliru are always popular. Summers are short at these kinds of altitudes and this means the roads are busy with tourists - both the regular kind in cars and motorhomes but also the lycra clad kind... Hotels and accommodation make the most of the demand and prices in July and August are at their height.
If you’d prefer to go somewhere less known, other parts of Europe offer fantastic possibilities for some of the best cycling holidays in the world. For instance, you could opt for less mainstream places like cycling in the Costa Daurada or Romania. This might lead to your cycling trip requiring more planning as there will likely be less support available locally, but for more experienced cyclists this might be a price worth paying.
Easy cycling holidays, challenging adventures or something in-between?
How fit are you?! Are you looking for famous climbs and steep mountain passes - or are you less bothered about ticking off the famous cols and are happy in the hills?
For hardcore cycling fame and glory, the French and Italian Alps are obvious destinations and you could also consider the Italian Dolomites, French Pyrenees and Spanish mountain ranges such as the Sierra Nevada and northern Spain.
If you’re less about bucket list climbs and bragging rights, the foothills of the famous mountain ranges might suit you better than the mountain valleys themselves. These kinds of area often offer the option to cycle into the mountains or enjoy easier days in flatter areas on quiet roads. Base yourself somewhere like Port de Pollenca in Mallorca, Girona in Spain or Paphos in Cyprus and you’ve got the best of all worlds.
Classic easy cycling holidays in Europe tend to be focused around the river cycle paths and veloroutes of Europe - for example the Danube, the Loire and the Burgundy Canal, but we’d also encourage you to consider bases like Girona as mentioned above.
If you’re considering UK cycling holiday destinations, you’ve got hardcore regions for cycling such as Cornwall, the Yorkshire Dales and Lake District or easier cycling holiday destinations such as the Isle of Wight.
There are guides to all of these places (and many more besides) here.
How many days/weeks have you got?
It’s an obvious point, but bear in mind how long it’s going to take you to get to the destination you like the look of.
Factor in things like the time you have to arrive before a flight/ferry and transfer times at both ends to make sure you’re getting a realistic idea of the overall time it’s going to take you. Also take into account any quarantine requirements in light of global pandemics!
There’s no point booking a long weekend cycling trip somewhere that’s going to take you two days to travel to/from…
This article shares our pick of the best long weekends in Europe for couples to visit.
To fly or not to fly?
Flights and transfers (plus baggage charges/bike hire...) have an annoying way of eating into your cycling holiday budget. There's also the environmental cost - and it can be a lot easier to just stick everything in/on the car and drive, rather than having to pay careful attention to weight allowances and number of suitcases.
So, when weighing up flying or ferry/drive holidays, remember that many destinations in mainland Europe are a feasible drive away. Our pick of the best cycling destinations in Europe that you can drive to from the UK might come in handy.
However, if you've only got a short time to travel or want to get somewhere a bit more far-flung, flying might well be the only way to go. If you feel bad about your carbon footprint, you could always consider carbon off-setting!
How much driving are you willing to do?
If you’re doing a DIY trip, make sure you’ve planned your routes before you book (each of our free destination guides have lots of route suggestions). If there are particular climbs or routes you want to do, check out whether you’re going to be able to take them all in from the accommodation you’re staying in or whether you’ll need to drive to the start of a climb/loop route. Is that something you’re willing to do?
For example in the southern Alps, the famous climbs are much more spaced out than in the central Alps. This means you may only have a couple of loop rides from one base without repeating parts of what you’ve already done. The same goes for the classic destinations in the Dolomites like Corvara. To get to new areas you’ll need to get in the car or change base.
When we explored the Yorkshire Dales, we had our family in tow. We left the kids with grandparents at Centre Parcs Whinfell Forest, but this meant we had to drive into the Dales each day to start our rides. Not ideal.
Covid-19 and travel restrictions
You’ll need to check travel restrictions before you book (both from your own country and the one you want to go to).
Even if you’re free of restrictions, Covid may have got you thinking more generally about travelling in big groups, near too many people or to cities so these factors may also influence your decision.
Besides Covid, always remember to check FCO advice (or the travel advice of your particular country for those outside the UK) and new requirements due to Brexit.
Travel insurance and passport validity/travel documentation is important too (more on that below).
This will have a big influence on your decision.
Family cycling holidays
If it is a family cycling trip, will you all be riding, just the adults or just you?
Cycling holidays for families can be fantastic, but if everyone’s cycling, you’ll need to think carefully about the number of miles you’re riding each day, the terrain and places to stop en route. Depending on the age of the children, you will need to consider whether they’re up to riding their own bike and whether you’re happy on roads or would prefer bike paths.
From personal experience, cycling holidays with toddlers and young children are particularly age dependent. A cycling holiday with a sedate 2 year old who is happy to sit in a seat on the back of a bike is quite a different matter to a cycling holiday with a stubborn 4 year old who won’t go on the back of your bike but also can’t cycle more than a few kilometres.
If it’s just the grown-ups that are cycling, what will you do with the kids when you’re on your bikes? You’ll want accommodation with a great kids’ club or be willing to hire a nanny/babysitter.
If you’re the only cyclist, make sure your other half is on board with how much riding you want to do and when! It won’t hurt to pick somewhere where there are lots of potential kid-friendly excursions too.
Read our tips for planning a family cycling trip for more details and inspiration for good destinations.
Cycling holidays for beginners
If this is a cycling trip for beginner cyclists, you’ll probably have an easy cycling holiday in mind and will want to focus your research on Europe’s flatter terrain and easy routes.
You may also want to think about getting some extra support from a cycling holiday company. They can offer support in the case of mechanical breakdowns or if you or one of the riders in your group runs out of energy to ride any further. There’s more information on the options available below.
These tips for beginner cyclists might also be useful.
Singles cycling holidays
If you’re an experienced cyclist and happy in your own company, you might be happy travelling and riding by yourself.
Otherwise, you might want to get in touch with a reputable cycling holiday company and see what mixed group departures they have available. Some companies specialise in singles cycling holidays - do a bit of research and you’ll find lots of options.
Alternatively, you could consider just getting a few days guiding in your destination. This way you could do some riding alone and some with a local guide. There’s always the option to contact a local cycling club before you leave - many will be happy for you to tag along with one of their rides.
Group of cyclists
If you’re part of a group of cyclists looking for a cycling holiday, your requirements are likely to be different again. For example, if your group is on the large size, you might need quite a hotel that can offer lots of single rooms.
Also, one of the major questions you’ll need to consider is the fitness of the cyclists within your group. Are you all at a similar fitness level?
What are your objectives? Is this a hardcore training camp or a relaxed holiday in the sun?
What speed will you ride at? Will you ride all day every day?
Ideally there’ll be at least a few of you of similar abilities so that you can ride together. You could also consider the option for hiring electric bikes for those that are less fit; electric bike hire is becoming increasingly popular and available, especially in mountainous areas.
Supported/self-supported cycling tours/DIY cycling holiday
Who will do all the planning and booking for your trip? You or a cycling holiday company?
Getting a company involved will probably make it more expensive and you may lose some flexibility in the itinerary, but it should also take the hassle out of all the trip planning. They'll probably provide a support car and most meals. This is a particularly attractive option if you’re looking at a point to point trip or planning a trip on behalf of a group. It’s also a good option if you’re looking for other cyclists to ride with or just want the comfort of there being a support vehicle on hand.
Once you’ve decided you want a company to help you organised your tour, these guides to choosing the best cycling holidays in France and Spain should assist:
Cycling holidays in France
- Cycling holidays in Spain
Point to point or one base
A point to point trip will allow you to feel like you’re on a real cycling adventure, covering lots of ground, taking in beautiful landscapes and passing through plenty of towns and villages. Classic examples include London to Paris, Land’s End to John O’Groats, the NC500 in Scotland, Raid Pyrenees or the Routes des Grandes Alpes. There are also the long distance veloroutes that run throughout Europe.
Organising a point to point trip obviously requires much more effort than a single base type trip, since you’ve got to find somewhere to stay each night. If you’re camping and carrying all your gear it might be relatively straightforward, but if you’re relying on B&Bs/hotels and need someone to transport your gear, there will be much more to do in the way of logistics.
Which option is best for you will heavily depend on who you’re with, whether you’ve got someone to help arrange everything and whether you want a traditional holiday with a bit of cycling or a full on cycling odyssey.
You might want to base your holiday around a specific cycling event or challenge. The event itself may only take up a day or two, but perhaps you can tack on a few days and turn it into a holiday?
If you're the kind of person that's driven by objectives, perhaps you want to use your cycling holiday as more of a focused training camp to build your fitness for a particular goal for the season.
There are quite a few specific considerations when booking a training camp, so check out our guide to cycle training camps before you go any further.
On the other hand, perhaps you’re after a break, free from the pressures of hardcore gradients, finish times and training goals. You want to ride for the sake of riding, to meet people, experience the culture, natural beauty and sights, rather than clock up the kilometres.
In this case, you’ll probably want to keep things simple and be based from one place, making sure to check the riding from that base is beautiful without being overly strenuous. Also have a good think about what activities the destination offers when you’re off the bike - whether that’s restaurants, beach based activities or historical monuments, chateaux and vineyards to visit when you’re off the bike.
There are lots of factors to consider here:
Our destination guides contain an indicator of the best time of year to travel from a weather perspective, but the decision on what’s best for you will obviously be a very personal one.
Bear in mind the kind of accommodation that’s available at the destination. Our pick of Europe’s best cycling hotels could be a good place to start.
If you like 5 star luxury, you’re unlikely to find it in a small village on the side of a mountain in the French Pyrenees, the Alps or sun and sea destinations like Cyprus and Gran Canaria. But there are definitely some interesting options in places like Mallorca, Girona, Nice and further afield in the Seychelles. Even Tenerife has some excellent resorts. You’ll find our pick of the best hotels in those destinations if you click through to the destination guides.
Alternatively, if your budget is more restricted, there are some great options by the sea in Spain: Calpe is well-known for its excellent rates out of season, as is the Costa Almeria and Costa Daurada. (As before, you’ll find our pick of the best hotels in those destinations if you click through to the destination guides.) Camping, motor-homing and local B&Bs can also be good budget-friendly options.
We mentioned family-friendly cycling trips above - if you’re looking for places with good kids clubs that might allow you to sneak out for a few hours’ riding, check out the Club Med resorts in France. Also Club Le Manga in Spain has excellent kids sports facilities (this is the 5 star hotel, these are the 4 star apartments).
Part 2: Planning everything else
It’s worth thinking about travel insurance and making sure you have it from the day you book; that way you’ll have the peace of mind of cancellation cover from day one.
It’s important to ensure your insurance covers the cycling you’re actually going to be doing on holiday.
Think about insurance not only for you if you get hurt, but also damage/loss to your bike and to other people caused by you. There’s also all the potential cancellation/delay situations you will need to think about too. Bear in mind that while you might have cover for some things in policies you already have, classic travel insurance often doesn’t cover all kinds of cycling at all altitudes - and cycling events are often outside the scope of normal cover too.
We’ve written this article on cycling travel insurance to give you some pointers.
Other (boring but important) things to check
We mentioned FCO advice, Brexit and Covid related issues above - but you should also check your passport is valid and the expiration date is at least six months after your final day of travel.
Finally, also ensure you have the appropriate travel documentation (any necessary visas etc).
The age-old question of whether to take your own bike or hire one there.
On one hand you’ve got the horror stories about airlines losing/breaking bikes, you’ve got the hassle of packing and unpacking it and getting a transfer vehicle big enough to fit the box. Plus the temptation to test ride a new bike on your trip.
On the other side of the argument, perhaps you want to ride your beautiful bike somewhere new and awesome, you’re wedded to your particular set-up and the hire options aren’t great where you’re going…
There’s more to help you decide where to hire or take your own bike in this article. If you decide to hire, it also covers what to check before marching out of the bike hire shop.
Top tip: allow enough time to pack, especially if this is your first trip. Also, don't assume there'll be shops where you're going that will stock everything you need; the more remote you are and the more specific the thing is that's broken or been forgotten, the less likely you'll find it when you're there!
Packing for a cycling trip does require a bit of thought - fortunately we’ve done this many, many times and we’ve written down our list of what to take to help you out. You can find our ultimate cycling packing list here, together with reviews of some our favourite kit.
If you’ve decided to take your bike, allow time to service your bike before you leave. Nothing worse than arriving on holiday to find you’ve got to deal with bike mechanical problems… Also think about gearing - make sure you’ve got enough gears if you’re heading somewhere mountainous!
9. Do you need to train?
Have a careful think about your training well before you head off on holiday. After all, you want to enjoy yourself when you’re away!
So if you normally just do a few miles at the weekend, it’s worth doing a bit of training before you go away. Riding every day for a week, for hours and hours each day is very different to short Sunday morning rides at home.
Make sure your training matches the kind of terrain you’ll be riding. If you’re heading to the mountains, you may have to do repeated efforts up shorter local climbs to help you get ready.
If you’re planning to ride every day on holiday, it’s a good idea to at least try out riding back to back days at home. That way you’ll know how your body will respond.
Make sure you train wearing the kit you’ll be wearing on holiday. That way you know it will work and be comfortable. Likewise, if you’re going to have panniers on board, make sure you’ve trained with your bike loaded up so you know your stuff fits in them, how to pack them, how the bike handles with weight and that they are fit for purpose!
If you’ve opted for an organised trip, this is much less relevant. But, if you’re going DIY, it’s really important to think about what bike routes you'll do before you arrive. Trying to sort bike rides and GPX routes out on a dodgy wifi connection in the hotel is not what you want to be doing on evening 1 of your trip...
We’ve got hundreds of tried and tested routes in our destination guides; you can find all the cycling destination guides here, just click through to find our routes and GPX files.
For each route you pick, you should also consider where you’ll stop for breaks and lunch and whether there’s a plan B in case you or someone in your group isn’t up to it or has a mechanical.
Whether you’re planning your first cycling holiday or your thirty-first cycling holiday, whether you’re looking for an easy cycling holiday or a super challenging one, we hope this information has helped you.
Feel free to explore the buttons below, which link to additional content on the points covered above.
Have a fantastic cycling trip and don’t forget to drop us an email or message on social media to tell us how you got on!