While some places like the Alps are almost synonymous with cycling, there are many other places sporting spectacular cycling. Ireland is one such place. From our extensive network of scenic backroads to our high density of heritage sites, our mild weather and our rural atmosphere, Ireland is a perfect place for cycling. Read on to find out more about why you should make your next European bike trip to pedal through Ireland.
There are 5,306 km (8,539 miles) of primary and secondary roads in Ireland and almost 94,000 km of regional and local roads in Ireland. These small, regional roads account for 94% of the road network in Ireland (and this does not even consider roads in Northern Ireland).
For its small size, Ireland has a lot of roads – more than several European countries of a similar size. Most of the roads we do have are back roads, and many such backroads are not used often and are therefore very quiet.
The large network of roads, compared with their relatively low usage, makes them great for cycling. Not only are they quiet, but there are plenty of variations to increase or decrease your mileage, make a detour to an interesting site, or include a scenic route.
If you’re cycling on local roads, you likely won’t have to share the pavement with many – if any – other road users. Also, backroads views are usually much better. It is important to note that some of the very rural, local roads aren’t always the best maintained.
Another great thing about cycling in Ireland is that there is just so much to see. You can hardly pedal five kilometres without zipping past a heritage site or a stunning view. The country is full of heritage sites from Neolithic tombs to fairy forts, holy wells to standing stones, castles and manors, quaint cottages, dramatic ridges, undulating pastures and more. Did you know that there’s an average of one fairy fort (actually Iron Age forts) per every two square kilometres in Ireland!
Then, of course, there are the views, particularly along the coast of the Wild Atlantic Way. There are plenty of scenic routes offering jaw-dropping views, and cycling is possibly the best way to truly appreciate the wide assortment of views.
Cycling offers the opportunity and flexibility to detour and stop by historic sites, secluded beaches, stunning viewpoints and more – whether planned in your itinerary or not.
Interested in history? Read our introductory guide to Irish history below.
If the promise of a pub motivates you to keep pedalling, then Ireland is the perfect place to cycle. You can’t pedal more than a few kilometres without spotting a pub – every small village in Ireland has a pub or three!
The Irish pub is an institution in this country. Due to the rural and agricultural nature of Ireland, the local pub is often the focal point of village life. Not only are beers and ciders served on tap, but it’s also the place to go for a bit of ‘ceol agus craic’ (music and fun) and a way to immerse yourself in Irish culture.
So if the thought of a refreshing pint at the village pub gets you to the top of the hill, there’s no better place to bike than in Ireland. In the evenings, you might want to stay out a bit later to catch an Irish trad music session – the perfect way to end a day’s biking. Learn more about traditional Irish music and listen to our playlist of Irish tunes here.
The Irish countryside is great for cyclists of all abilities. What’s great about this island is that depending on what you’re looking for, there are regions and routes that match your intended difficulty.
We have several classic and iconic routes. Corkscrew Hill in the Burren, Mamore Gap and Portsalon switchbacks in Donegal, the Healy Pass in Cork, and the Gap of Dunloe in Kerry to name a few challenges. But then are other routes that are less challenging but no less stunning and iconic – along Lough Swilly fjord in northern Donegal, around Lough Gill in Sligo, Connemara’s epic Sky Road, and of course the Slea Head loop in Dingle, Ireland’s westernmost peninsula.
But beyond the classic routes, there are many options and types of terrain based on your interests and ability level. The Burren in County Clare has some of the most unusual geology in Ireland, and for the most part, the routes are low-level without too many hills.
Nearby Connemara has majestic hills carpeted with wild heather. Plenty of roads skirt the foothills, making it a great place to enjoy mountain views without too much climbing. Learn more about biking through the Burren and Connemara here. Looking for more of a challenge? Kerry has some impressive climbs and descents, and the monumental mountain scenery is undeniably gorgeous. View our deluxe Kerry bike tour here.
Up in Donegal, the mountains may be less jagged, but the terrain here is wilder and the population more rural. Donegal makes for truly epic cycling country, and chances are, you’ll have it all to yourself. Learn more about biking Donegal from cliffs to coast here. Read more about the best cycling routes in Ireland.
The Irish climate is simply perfect for cycling. The temperatures here are mild almost all year round. It’s rarely more than 22°C (that’s about 70°F), and rarely colder than 10°C (50°F) by day, which is actually ideal for cycling – you’re never too hot and never too cold.
Even the rain here is rarely more than just showers. Sometimes a light drizzle or refreshing shower can be just the thing when out cycling. When it does rain more heavily, it usually doesn’t last long.
On the days where the rain is simply more than you want to cycle through, there’s always an indoor or alternative experience from museums to heritage sites, workshops, farm tours, spa days, and more. Also, don’t forget – with rain comes the beloved Irish phenomenon, the rainbow.
In the summer, Ireland enjoys up to 17 hours of daylight, and when the sun shines, it shines for days. The longest day of the year is July 21st, the Summer Solstice when the sun doesn’t set until after 10 pm, and even well after that, the country is more twilight than full dark.
With this many hours of daylight, it leaves you lots of time for pedalling and plenty of daylight for breaks, activities and cultural visits.
Even as we head into winter or in early spring before the days lengthen much, the late sunrises and the early sunsets are often some of the most spectacular of the year.
Biking is a sensory experience. Enjoy the sweet scent of the flower-lined hedgerows or perhaps spot the fauna that live in rural Ireland including plenty of birds, herds of red deer or even mountain hares.
Feel the fresh Atlantic breeze and taste the salty air as you bike through some of the freshest air in Europe – blowing straight off the ocean.
Stop along the way to walk through the soft grass of the headlands or the warm sand along the pristine beaches, perhaps dipping the toes into the Atlantic.
Biking along the coast and want to know what you can spot? Read our blog about birdwatching in Ireland and our marine wildlife guide.
While you can cover more ground in a car, bike speed is really the best way to take in any wider corner of Ireland. By travelling between 25-50 km/h (15-30 mph), you can slow down and bask in the views.
Instead of dashing by in a car while focussing solely on the road, biking is the perfect speed for drinking in scenic panorama and spotting castle turrets poking through the trees or standing stones crowning hilltops.
Biking also offers so much flexibility to stop along the way and visit ancient sites, take in the panoramic views, take stunning photos, or stop for a delicious sweet or savoury treat at a cafe. Keep an eye out for the brown “tourism” signs on the side of the road indicating points of interest.
Ireland is a very rural country. Populations are spread across long distances, and B&Bs are dotted across the counties, even in the most rural of places.
This is great for cycling because it makes it easy to explore the remote corners of Ireland but still have access to local amenities found in small villages. It also makes it easy to enjoy linear routes, cycling from village to village.
B&Bs are used to hosting cyclists and other outdoor enthusiasts, and a warm welcome of Irish hospitality awaits you after a day out on the saddle. Ireland’s culture of small villages and rural spaces is perfect for enjoying a nice relaxing evening after a day on the saddle.
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