Crisscrossed by cobbled pathways and steep, traffic-ladened lanes, Edinburgh might not seem ideal for cycling. However, despite the undulating topography and web of ancient streets, Scotland's hilly, historic capital is surprisingly well set up for cyclists.

Decommissioned railway lines, Victorian-era canal paths and wide seaside promenades are just of the many routes that can easily be traversed on two wheels. Whether you come with your own bike or rent wheels on arrival, here's how to make the most of cycling in Edinburgh. 

Where to rent a bike in Edinburgh

Let's start with the practicalities. Although Edinburgh’s Bike & Go bike share scheme closed in 2021, there are still plenty of local bike shops in the center where you can rent a cycle. Biketrax, a 15-minute walk from Edinburgh Castle, rents out road bikes for around £25 (US$35) per day, including a helmet, bike lock and lights; the cost decreases slightly for each additional day. They’re also a brilliant pick for electric bike hire.

Staying a bit longer? You might be better off picking up a second-hand bike. Pedal Forth, Soul Cycles and charity-run The Bike Station are all good options for used cycles (and they may offer daily or weekly rentals as well). You'll find a good range of mountain bikes, too – handy if you plan to tackle routes heading out into the hills.

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Tips for cycling in Edinburgh

Road cycling in Edinburgh is fairly easy, cobbles and topography notwithstanding. Drivers are used to sharing the road with cyclists, but wear a helmet and be wary of passing on the inside of buses, vans and lorries, which may turn left unexpectedly.

There are plenty of reserved bike lanes and cycle paths, and there's a safety box for cyclists ahead of the cars at traffic lights. Use bike lights and wear high-visibility clothing at night. Edinburgh's parks provide some useful cycling cut-throughs, particularly Holyrood Park and The Meadows. Contact Cycling Edinburgh for more tips and local insights.

When it comes to route-finding, the old-fashioned paper Edinburgh Cycle Map from Spokes gives a detailed overview of the city’s cycle network, including gradients and terrain. Purchase it online via the Spokes website, or from any of Edinburgh’s bike shops. Spokes also produces maps of the wider Lothian region if you’re planning a day trip beyond the capital with your bike.

Prefer to go digital? Maps of Edinburgh’s most popular cycle paths are easy to find online, and you can plan a route using the online cycle route planners at CycleStreets and BBBike, which also lets you filter by road surface type and street lighting level.

Dugald Stewart Monument on Calton Hill in Edinburgh
Cycle to the top of Calton Hill for one of Edinburgh's finest views © Leonid Andronov / Shutterstock

Edinburgh's best cycle routes

Edinburgh has commendable collection of cycle routes, so you can wind through the historic streets of the center or avoid the hustle and bustle altogether with a leisurely ride along the seafront. 

Portobello Promenade Loop

5.6 miles (9km) each way; 3 hours; intermediate

The suburb of Portobello is Edinburgh’s most attractive coastal neighborhood and it's home to one of the city's best beaches. The best ride here is a picturesque out and back that takes you right along the Portobello promenade, after a whirlwind tour of some of Edinburgh’s top sites.

Begin your loop at Edinburgh Waverley station and take a mini detour up Calton Hill to see the Athenian-inspired National Monument. You’ll then skirt around the grand Palace of Holyroodhouse and the base of Arthur’s Seat. After a short stretch along relatively quiet backstreets, you'll jump onto the Restalrig Railway Path, running all the way to the coast, where you can pick up the promenade path.

The return journey from Portobello largely follows the same route, apart from the final section where you’ll glide down Leith Walk back to the station. It's a great ride for people arriving in Edinburgh by train with a bike in tow.

Water of Leith Cycle Path

12 miles (19km); 1.5 hours one way; easy

A trip to Leith, one of Edinburgh's best neighborhoods just northeast of the city center, should definitely be on your agenda. Cycling here is a breeze, too, thanks to the Water of Leith Cycle Path, a 12 mile (19km) path reserved for bikes and walkers, cutting across Edinburgh to Balerno, just southwest of the center.

The mostly flat path weaves its way past numerous landmarks, including Dean Village, a slice of bucolic village life on the fringes of the city, and the Collington Tunnel with its huge psychedelic mural. You’ll also glimpse the grand facade of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art; it’s worth popping in to admire the Van Gogh, Dali and Eduardo Paolozzi masterpieces.

Dean Village along the River Leith in Edinburgh
Dean Village is a surprising find on the Water of Leith cycle path © Christian Mueller / Shutterstock

The Union Canal Towpath

31 miles (51km); 2.5–3 hours one way; intermediate

The Union Canal, once a vital freight route connecting Edinburgh with Falkirk, celebrates its 200th birthday in 2022. It’s one of the most popular traffic-free cycle routes in and out of the city, stretching for a total of 31 miles (51km).

Begin your ride at Lochrin Basin near Haymarket and dive into a kaleidoscope of Edinburgh scenery. Victorian tenements and industrial sites give way to awesome aqueducts and lush countryside around the picturesque River Almond Gorge. At the end of the canal is the Falkirk Wheel, an epic feat of modern engineering which allows boats to navigate the 110ft (34m) height difference between the Union Canal and the Forth & Clyde Canal.

Read more: Edinburgh's most fun free things to do

A nice halfway point between the wheel and the city is the 15th-century Linlithgow Palace, celebrated as Mary Queen of Scots’ birthplace. Once you’ve reached Falkirk, you can retrace your tracks back to Edinburgh or carry on to Glasgow by following the towpath of the connecting Forth & Clyde Canal.

The Union Canal towpath is barely a meter wide in places, so watch out for walkers and other cyclists. The route is well signposted as it’s part of both Route 75 and Route 754 of the National Cycle Network.

Innocent Railway Path

6 miles (9.5km); 40 minute round trip; easy

If you’re short on time, this scenic 6 mile (9.5km) out and back route is a good pick. The trail, which forms part of National Cycle Route 1, follows a disused railway line running from Newington near the city center to Brunstane just south of Portobello. 

The Innocent Railway Tunnel, a slightly elusive landmark along the southwest edge of Holyrood Park, is a sensible starting point. Endure a few cool, damp minutes in this eerie passageway before cruising through the leafy grounds of one of Edinburgh's most popular parks.

The path becomes steeper the further south you get and finishes up close to Brunstane station – handy if you want to cycle one way and catch the train back to town. If you’re not keen on climbs and only want to cycle in one direction, tackle this route from south to north instead.

A cyclist following the calm path beside the Union Canal towards central Edinburgh
The cycle path along the Union Canal offers a gentle transect through the Edinburgh suburbs © Bob Douglas / Getty Images

Mountain biking in Edinburgh

Go beyond the city limits and you’ll discover dozens of trails where you can tear through tricky terrain. The Green Cleugh Valley sits within the Pentland Hills and has several loops suitable for intermediate mountain bikers. A popular option is cutting through the gap between Hare Hill and Black Hill along a mix of rocky paths and smooth tracks.

If you're a more seasoned rider, consider the Capital Trail – an ambitious 124 mile (200km) route that has been mapped out by Bikepacking Scotland, aimed at advanced cyclists. It begins on Portobello Beach and takes you all around the hilly outskirts of Edinburgh. The surfaces and terrain are hugely varied, from steep uphill climbs around Peebles to long, flat sections along the Firth of Forth coast.

Bike repair shops in Edinburgh

Ride halted by a pesky puncture or a broken chain? Worry not – Edinburgh has no shortage of bike repair shops. Most bike rental shops also do repairs, and Halfords Bike Service offers a free assessment to check the overall health of your bike (handy if you’ve recently bought one second-hand). If you find yourself stuck somewhere remote, contact Allbikes-Edinburgh, one of several mobile bike repair services.

If you take your cycling seriously, you can pick up quality bike parts in Edinburgh’s many independent cycle stores. The Edinburgh Bicycle Cooperative is particularly good and stocks items from dozens of popular bike brands.

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This article was first published January 2022 and updated January 2022

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