There’s no feeling like whizzing down a mountain, feeling the wind in your face as the road whips by under your tires. Equally, there’s no prouder moment than reaching the top of a challenging climb, savouring the breathtaking views unfolding in every direction.
Ireland may not be the Alps, but there are a few notable climbs and descents. What Ireland lacks in elevation, it makes up for in everything else. Enjoy panoramic views, cosy pubs, ancient history and fantastic folklore tied to the landscapes you’re pedalling through on your day’s cycle.
Keep reading to find out which routes are our favourite bike climbs and descents from north to south.
Donegal is a wild and remote place, a county primed for adventure. Donegal’s mountains and coastlines make it excellent cycling country, offering both a challenge and rewarding views.
The Mamore Gap is a classic Irish cycling ascent in Northern Donegal on the Inishowen Peninsula. Cycling in a northerly direction, the ascent is unusual as there are no switchbacks or turns. Instead, expect a long, straight climb up a very steep hill. The descent on the other side is equally steep but features some very tight switchbacks and fantastic views out to the Donegal coast.
Powering up the Mamore Gap is a challenge for even determined cyclists, but it is well worth it. From the summit, marvel at views of Lough Swilly Fjord, the Atlantic Ocean, and Donegal’s weather-beaten hills and mountains. Look for holy sites near the summit, including a holy well and mass rock dating to the Penal Times when Catholic worship was outlawed. These sites add a bit of culture to the climb.
Back on the bike, the road descends at exhilarating speed towards the Atlantic Coast before winding around to Ireland’s most northerly point. Malin Head is an exposed headland with near-360º views of the Atlantic. It’s also a lesser-known filming location for the 2017 Star Wars film, proving just how other-worldly the Donegal landscape is.
Bike the Mamore Gap yourself on an epic, whirlwind bike tour of Donegal.
Donegal is a spectacular place to explore on two wheels. Snaking through western Donegal, the enchanting Glengesh mountain pass winds through some of Ireland’s most remote territory. Repeatedly ranked amongst the best drives in Ireland, Glengesh Pass is also a spectacular place to whizz through on your bike.
Linking Glencolmcille and Ardara, quiet roads, breathtakingly remote routes, winding mountain passes, and valleys abound. Leaving Ardara, a quaint village recognised for its tweed-weaving heritage, the climb is short and steep. The descent towards Slieve League and Glencolmcille is long, gentle and simply perfect.
Expect elevated views, stunning scenery and fast switchbacks. Make sure you catch a glimpse of the whole pass from the viewpoint before tackling the route.
Want to cycle it yourself? Join a bike tour to explore Donegal from Cliff to Coast – learn more below.
This final Donegal entry is probably the least known of the three, and it might be Donegal’s best-kept secret.
The views over Ballymastoker are jaw-dropping. The climb begins close to the coastline, offering cyclists some truly epic views. You’re cycling along Lough Swilly, one of just three fjords in Ireland. This is a real treat and makes the climb rewarding.
Ballymastocker Beach is also known as Portsalon. The beach is on the Fanad Peninsula side of the fjord and is close to Rathmullan House, another of Donegal’s best secrets. Rathmullan is a charming place to lay your head after a day’s cycling. The beach itself is a Blue Flag beach, and it is a wonderful place for a quick dip if you have time before beginning your climb.
When searching for the best biking climbs and descents in Ireland, you can’t go wrong with the Knockalla Mountain to Ballymastocker Beach route. Find out which trips you’ll bike this route below.
The lunar-like Burren landscape is a unique place of exposed limestone dotted with glacial boulders and vibrant wildflowers.
Though devoid of mountains, the Burren is surprisingly hilly. The best biking climb, and descent, is Corkscrew Hill, an evocatively-named winding descent of steep switchbacks in the northern corner of the Burren. The road whips through the rugged, craggy hill, with the flat-topped limestone hills of the Burren framing the horizon. It’s fast and fun, and offers a treat on an otherwise even-toned cycling tour.
The region has a plethora of ancient sites, including the 5,000-year-old Neolithic Poulnabrone tomb and the underground expanses of Aillwee Caves, to name a few. The region also has some of the most diverse wildflowers in Europe. Species found in the Arctic, past the Alps and down to the Mediterranean jostle for space in this unusual place.
Zip down Corkscrew Hill on our gentle-graded cycling trip, Connemara & the Aran Islands.
The Sheeffry Pass is undoubtedly one of the best-kept secrets in Irish cycling, crossing some of Ireland’s most rugged terrain.
Located in the lesser-known County Mayo, the Sheeffry Pass includes a short but heart-throbbingly steep climb, and a fast descent through the pass. Along the way, sights like the remote Tawnyard Lough and the Doolough Valley unfold on either side. The cycle finishes with a relatively easy ride back to Westport.
Enjoy iconic views over Croagh Patrick mountain, supposedly the site of St Patrick’s 40-day fast atop the peak.
Bike through the remote hills and corners of Mayo on the challenging trip along the Wild Atlantic Way.
The Conor Pass on the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry is one of Ireland’s most iconic climbs and descents. It’s fast, and it’s beautiful. The Conor Pass zips through some of Ireland’s most iconic peaks and valleys.
Running for 12 exhilarating kilometres (7.5 miles), Conor Pass is one of the highest mountain passes in Ireland. The scenery is epic, offering a mix of cliffs, peaks, waterfalls and corrie lakes. The Conor Pass is the most exciting way to cross the Dingle Peninsula and is a must-do for cyclists looking for an exhilarating descent.
You can pedal the Conor Pass while biking the Kerry Peninsulas. Learn more below.
Continuing south through Kerry, Moll’s Gap winds through the southern half of the Iveragh Peninsula. This peninsula is the same place that houses the Ring of Kerry, though Moll’s Gap doesn’t fall on this well-travelled route. Instead, Moll’s Gap whips down a narrow road connecting Killarney National Park and Kenmare Bay.
You can’t go wrong in Kerry – it is a region of windswept peninsulas, majestic mountains, old-growth forests, dazzling castles, and manors. Biking through Kerry offers some more challenging routes, and Moll’s Gap is a great example.
Formed by a glacier thousands of years ago, Moll’s Gap cuts through steep cliffs. It is full of hairpin bends and stunning views over the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks Mountains. Legend says the name comes from Moll Kissane, who once ran a shebeen (essentially an illicit, underground pub) where she sold her own poitín, a potent homebrewed alcohol. It’s gone now, but there are still plenty of pubs all over Kerry to enjoy a post-cycle pint, whiskey or gin.
Bike through Kerry and Moll’s Gap while cycling the Kerry Peninsulas, or for keen cyclists, pedal the entire Wild Atlantic Way. Learn more below.
Straddling the Cork and Kerry border, the Healy Pass is an epic place seemingly made for cyclists. The Healy Pass snakes through the Caha Mountains on the Beara Peninsula (the southernmost Kerry peninsula) for about 12 km/7.5 miles. The route winds through desolately beautiful scenery. It’s not for the faint of heart, as certain sections of the pass reach an 18% gradient, and the hairpin bends are adrenaline-pumping.
The history of the Healy Pass is a familiar, if tragic, story in Ireland. The road was built during the terrible famine years in the mid-19th century to provide the starving locals with back-breaking work building roads.
Today, Moll’s Gap is a beautiful way to explore Kerry’s least-visited peninsula. Pedal one of the best roads in Ireland, drinking in the marvellous views that roll out in every direction.
Whether you bike it while tackling the entire Wild Atlantic Way or pedal the Healy Pass on our deluxe Kerry Peninsulas trip, get ready for an epic cycle. Learn more below.
Like the Healy Pass, the Caha Pass also straddles Cork and Kerry. Located further inland on the impressive Beara Peninsula, it is one of the wildest landscapes on this list. Sweeping through mountains and lakes for 27 km/17 miles, the remote scenery and high mountains draw cyclists from near and far.
Chiselled out of the mountains, cyclists will wind along this route and pass under rock tunnels. The highest point is in Turner’s Rock Tunnel. It hits a 9% gradient and is often cloaked in low clouds, adding to the atmospheric locale.
The Caha Pass has a surreal quality to it, and pedalling through the rough-hewn tunnels makes it a unique experience in Ireland.
Bike this amazing mountain pass on the second day of our bucket list trip along the Wild Atlantic Way. Learn more below.
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