Why you should try cycling in Edinburgh
Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland and is well known for being beautiful and steeped in history. But get on two wheels and start cycling Edinburgh and the surrounding Lothians, and you’ll quickly find another side to this fantastic city and the greener, quieter areas.
In the city itself, disused railway lines have been turned into traffic-free shared bike paths so it’s possible to do a full loop of the city almost entirely off road.
Beyond Edinburgh’s cycle paths, the sign posted National Cycle Network takes you further afield to some of the best long distance cycle routes in Scotland. Edinburgh is also perfectly situated to reach some of the most underrated road cycling routes in Scotland including the quiet back roads of East Lothian.
Whether you want rolling hills, short-sharp climbs or flat coffee stop rides, Edinburgh and the Lothians have it all!
Fancy an Edinburgh cycling holiday?
With a base in Edinburgh, you’ll never be short of a new thing to do or see – bike related or not.
The city centre has the historical sights (who doesn’t want to see a castle on top of an extinct volcano?) and sounds you’d expect from an ancient capital, but it’s a short journey south to the Pentlands for a hill walk, west for an unbeatable view of the Forth Bridges with an ice cream or two, or east for the stunning sandy beaches and golf courses of East Lothian.
This guide contains details of Edinburgh cycling routes, accommodation and bike hire in Edinburgh to help you plan your trip. Enjoy!
Written by Helen Langridge
Cycle routes in Edinburgh (and surrounds)
Edinburgh itself is relatively small for a capital, so it doesn’t take more than thirty minutes to get out into the countryside no matter which direction you go. That means there are loads of good options for cycling routes in and around Edinburgh.
If you want famous views, see our ‘City Cycling Edinburgh Highlights’ route or if you want to go for a challenging, punchy 100km then our ‘Lothian Loop’ will not disappoint. We’ve also included a family day out to the beach and back in our ‘Portobello Beach Visit’ route.
To get further afield, there are a number of Sustrans National Cycle Network routes which pass through Edinburgh. The NCN1 take take you north to the top of Scotland or south into England if you’re really wanting long distance!
Alternatively, the NCN75 provides traffic-free riverside paths and quiet road options to ride the iconic Edinburgh to Glasgow route – it’s up to you whether you ride back or take the train! Both of these routes are signposted from the famous Edinburgh Meadows, just follow the blue signs.
East Lothian coastal route
75km, 544m of climbing, max grade 10.6%
Suggested GPX route
Head east out of the city from Edinburgh Waverley Train Station to take in the coastal villages of East Lothian. It might be a lesser known corner of Scotland, but East Lothian is full of historical battle sites, manor houses, golf courses and rolling hills for a flat, fast ride out of Edinburgh.
If you’re after a punchy, challenging ride taking in castle ruins, vistas of the Pentlands and the opportunity for a dip in a reservoir, then this ride is for you. Leaving Edinburgh Waverley Train Station and after a quick leg warmer up and around Arthur’s Seat, you’re out of the city quickly and onto one of many bike paths in the Lothians. There are some challenging climbs here, including a switchback through Roslin Glen, so be sure to save something in your legs towards the end.
Easy/family cycling routes
Edinburgh’s railway bike paths make for fantastic family friendly routes around the city.
Venturing further afield can get much hillier or busier with on road routes necessary, but if you’re wanting a day at the beach with some smooth bike paths then the Portobello Beach Visit route makes for the perfect day out.
Portobello Beach Visit
Key stats: 24km, 175m of climbing
Suggested GPX route
Utilising Edinburgh’s traffic-free cycle network, take a stress-free ride around the city and out to Portobello for some sand, sea and ice cream. All paths are fully tarmacked and in good condition so suitable for children of all ages and road bikes down to the skinniest tyre.
City cycling Edinburgh highlights
Key stats: 28km, 351m of climbing
Suggested GPX route
This bike tour of Edinburgh has a lot of sightseeing opportunities to offer including Holyrood House, Arthur’s Seat, Calton Hill, Leith, Murrayfield Rugby Stadium, Grassmarket and more.
Cycling events in Edinburgh
While Edinburgh is famous for it’s comedy, drama, book and science festivals each year, it also holds the annual Edinburgh Festival of Cycling each June. It features a range of exciting events from storytelling to group rides and workshops; you’ll find something for the whole family.
Queen’s Drive – the road up the east side of Arthur’s Seat – is closed to motor vehicles each Saturday and Sunday. It makes for a much more pleasant ascent up the climb. For specific times and extra days of closure, see here.
Where to stay in Edinburgh (for cyclists)
Since we’re local, these recommendations are a guide but we haven’t stayed here ourselves. We’ve searched for the best bike-friendly places to stay in Edinburgh proper.
OUR CHOICE: The Knight Residence by Mansley
These serviced apartments not only have secure car parking to lock up your bike, they also have a washing machine, dryer and a fully-fitted kitchen to sate all your cycling-related needs pre and post ride!
You’ll be met with a welcome basket to get your self-catering holiday started, but the very central location in the Old Town has plenty of options for your dining requirements if you so wish.
What we like the look of
Things to know
The perfect mix of a comfortable place to stay, a brilliant location for the city and secure storage for your bicycle while you’re exploring on foot.
Edinburgh is chock full of places to stay from Air BnBs to hostels, B&Bs to high-end hotels, but having somewhere to store your bike is a must and that can be tricky in such an old city. It’s always worth calling any accommodation before booking to see if they’re happy to have your bike in your room, whether their stairs are wide enough to carry your bike up or if they have somewhere secure to lock it up.
Here are a couple of alternatives which can accommodate bikes:
The Premier Inn
Bike hire in Edinburgh
Bike rental in Edinburgh is easy and possible to do online before you arrive in the city, giving you more time to get out an explore. Whilst we haven’t used these services ourselves, they all have a great reputation within the community.
Bike shops in Edinburgh
If you bring your own bicycle to Edinburgh, there’s a huge selection of bike shops to get your spares or repairs while you’re here.
When to go
Edinburgh is host to at least 11 festivals every year, but during August the Edinburgh Fringe Festival causes the population to more than double. The roads are a constant traffic jam so while cycling is definitely the best way to get around, you might struggle to find a place to stay.
“If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes” is also a well-worn phrase up here in Scotland. During winter you are at risk of ice and snow on the roads so the best cycling months are May and September when the accommodation is quieter and the weather is still producing some stunning days of sunshine and fine temperatures.
Tips and articles
Tips for cycling in and around Edinburgh
Bring your layers. We’re fairly far north up here in Scotland and it can get chilly. That said, we can also get temperatures over 20 degrees and you’ll want to be able to remove some layers when that sun comes out. Pack your arm and leg warmers along with your cap and sunglasses.
Be aware of the tram lines in the city centre! The new Edinburgh tram runs from the airport in the west of the city to the top of Leith Walk in the centre and is currently being extended further. While bike lanes have been painted to encourage you to cross at a right angle, sometimes you may be running parallel with a tram line – be sure to stay safe.
Cycling in the countryside around Edinburgh and the Lothians can get quite rural. While you’re never too far from a village, amenities can be sparse. However, phone signal is always excellent and if one village doesn’t have a shop or cafe, the next one probably will.
To see a piece of famous cycling history, head to the Museum of Scotland and their ‘Sporting Scotland’ gallery. There you’ll find Graeme Obree’s bicycle ‘Old Faithful’ on whom he broke the Hour World Record in 1993.
While you’re walking (or cycling) around Edinburgh centre, don’t forget to visit Chris Hoy’s two gold postboxes, painted after his incredible gold medal wins during the 2012 London Olympics. They’re on Hanover Street and Hunter Square plus his golden hand prints outside the City Chambers.
There are several active cycling clubs in Edinburgh some of whom focus on racing and others meet for a social ride. Portovelo cycling club is recommended for an easy going, friendly club who meet at the southern end of the promenade in Portobello. An intermediate ride (their slowest with a no-drop policy) is at an average of 14mph and aims for an 80km route. For a women’s-only cycling club just outside of Edinburgh in Dalkeith, then we recommend Hervelo who offer a variety of sociable rides to a range of abilities.
Cycle maps of Edinburgh
Google does a good job in showing the bike paths in Edinburgh but for those who love a hard copy, the Lothian Cycle Campaign Spokes produce great Edinburgh cycle path maps. You can buy yours here.
Good to know
With over 200 cafes, 200 pubs and more than 2,000 restaurants, you’ll not be spoilt for choice for somewhere to eat and drink during your stay. Avoid the chains, and go local for the best gastronomic experience of this wonderful global city.
Edinburgh Castle is a classic attraction to visit but further down the Royal Mile, there are some even jucier bits of history to be experienced. The Real Mary King’s Close takes you underneath the streets to a once inhabited close. With a reputation for hauntings, it’s a fantastic and lesser known part of the city taking you deep into Edinburgh’s history.
How to get to Edinburgh
Nearest train stations:
Interested in other UK cycling destinations? Head to our UK cycling page here which has links to loads of articles on other UK destinations.
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