Bike tours are a great way for a family to explore a region or country. Together, you get a feel for a new place, its sights and scents, its history and culture and, perhaps most important, its people. On a biking trip, you often have encounters that you’d never have from a train, rental car or tour bus. Another bonus for parents when you're traveling by bike? Built-in physical activity every day means worn-out kids at night.
But which bike tours are the best bets for families? Based on nearly 15 years advising clients and getting their feedback when they return, BTD has assessed the tours and set up some criteria, dividing family-friendly tours into two main groups: tours better for families with younger children (12 and under) and tours suitable for families with teens.
Some things to think about when deciding on a location: Are the daily distances shorter, and therefore easier for shorter legs? Does the tour offer appropriate bikes and rental equipment for a variety of ages (bike seat, bike carrier, tag-along, children’s bikes)? Is there a lot for kids to see and do along the way, such as medieval castles, farms with roaming animals and — equally important — gelato shops? Does the tour possibly have educational value, enjoyable sites or attractions, non-cycling activities and built-in rest days?
Safety is the top priority for any parent, and dedicated bike paths typically offer the safest cycling. You may even have enough peace of mind to let the kids ride ahead to relieve some pent-up energy, get away from a sibling or just scope out the best ice cream shop in the next village. If the route doesn’t follow dedicated bike paths, it is important to find out if it is primarily on quiet side roads. Another important consideration: Is the route grade flat or mostly flat?
We’re also big fans of tours that stay two or more nights in hotels along the route, sometimes even being based in a single hotel with daily loop rides. It's possible for some family members to take the day off or do a shorter route while the others do a longer or faster ride. Many of these hotel-based programs also have built-in rest days for non-cycling activities of your choice. Each day you explore the local area without the pressure to get to the next town.
Bike and boat tours are another similar option, where your "floating hotel" travels with you. If you don't feel like riding, watch the world pass by from the comfort of the deck. Plus, sleeping on a boat adds an extra level of fun and adventure for children (okay, adults too). It’s also often perfect should they choose to stay on board instead of cycling one day. Logistics bonus: You skip rounding up everybody's toothbrush and repacking suitcases each day.
Here are seven of the top family biking tours.
Discover Catalonia Cycling on Via Verde, a repurposed rail trail, from the volcanic region of la Garrotxa in the interior to the Costa Brava passing through the fascinating medieval city of Girona. Most hotels have swimming pools, and you end with two nights by the beach. This tour is wonderful for families and groups of varied abilities seeking a leisurely cruise to the sea.
Families looking for a lot of independence might enjoy this tour in Ireland. The short daily distances (averaging 12 miles per day) leave plenty of time to explore at your own pace.
The Danube Bike Path is famous for its leisurely cycling and charm. And this version of the tour was made specifically for families, with shorter daily distances, built-in transfers by boat and train, and hotels that are especially family-friendly.
On this family-focused bike and boat tour, complete with non-cycling activities targeted to families with kids of varying ages, you'll enjoy daily bike rides and plenty of down time for all manner of fun.
Explore the rich tradition in the flat "polder-land," along the North Sea coast and in quiet fishing villages. Given the Dutch love of cycling, the region is crisscrossed with many quiet cycle tracks that stretch from one end of the region to the other. Each day, take a break from cycling aboard your floating hotel.
The Lake Constance cycle route through Austria, Germany and Switzerland is one of the most popular bicycle routes in Europe. Daily routes are relatively short as there are a variety of places and attractions waiting to be discovered with the Alps the unforgettable backdrop to the fascinating landscape of the lake. Ample ferries help make any day’s riding easy.
This tour takes you along a dedicated bike path through ancient and medieval towns, charming villages and more than 2,000 years of history. Tours along the Mosel can be easily customized based on personal preferences for daily distances and number of days, and you can opt to spend several nights in the same location.
By Jim Johnson, founder and president of BikeTours.com, which represents more than 70 local European bicycle tour companies and helps its clients choose, book and plan the bicycle tours of their dreams. To learn more, visit BikeTours.com.