From family-friendly cycles to epic spins on the open road, our writers bring you the best cycling routes in Ireland this summer
In years to come when we are watching the inevitable Reeling in the Years review of 2020, one of the positive storylines that may feature from these strange days is how our love affair with the bicycle has been re-ignited.
Be it cycling to work, for leisure or exercise, the numbers have grown as dramatically as any of those exponential graphs we’ve become so used to seeing. We've been discussing local spins, and the best cycling routes in Ireland.
A recent Sport Ireland survey puts the figure of regular bike users at over 500,000, more than double the number 12 months ago. The two wheels has become part of the new norm.
With this growth, combined with a summer of staycations, we hope our Summer Cycles guide will help you explore Ireland on two wheels.
You’ll find a mix of routes, from greenways to coastal routes to hidden midland gems. Most are manageable for a mix of abilities and avoid busy traffic areas, while our Bite Size Rides are a perfect starting point for little pedallers.
As much as possible we’ve tried to make sure the information is up to date, but with some bike hire operators saying they’re taking it ‘day by day’ given current restrictions, it’s best to ring ahead if you plan on hiring bikes or availing of a greenway shuttle service.
Safe cycling and enjoy.
- Ciarán Lennon
If you build it, they will come. The 43km Great Western Greenway proved it — and many others have since followed its impressive lead. Every greenway project that gets a green light for state funding should give a little thanks to the vision and determination out west.
The wild and beautiful off-road cycling path from Westport to Achill follows part of the old railway line, which was last used in 1937, and features some gentle gradients and some of the most spectacular cycling scenery in the country.
The villages of Newport and Mulranny are spread out in between, where you’ll catch the best of the views of Nephin Beg mountain range and across Clew Bay to Croagh Patrick. After a sedate opening section, riding north from Westport, things get a little wilder and more exposed as you curve around the bay.
The route is almost entirely car-free and the mix of gravel-packed and tarmac surface makes it manageable on any bike; even a road bike will survive the few bumps along the way.
It’s a route that will be familiar to many but the scenery never gets old, and on its 10th anniversary it’s worth returning to explore in a little bit more depth.
A twist to add to the regular greenway is the 19km Rocky Mountain Way, which starts in Newport and runs along the cycling trail before turning onto an off-road signposted trail that should be done on a mountain bike. From the greenway you join the Lettermaghera loop, and with its greater elevation the views over Clew Bay become more dramatic. It may be a bit harder work but Electric Escapes have suitable e-bikes to rent which will lighten the workload on the boggy trails.
Also just outside Newport and just a short detour away are the ruins of the 15th-century Burrishoole Abbey, beside a quiet estuary. There’s a loop walk you can follow from here when the tide is out. A little further down the coast, and a bit further off course, Rockfleet Castle — synonymous with the famed ‘pirate queen’ and chieftain Grainuale — still stands defiantly.
For something a little different — and no, this is not a plot twist from Father Ted — see the Old Irish Goat Interpretive Centre, which has been established in the old Mulranny Garda Station. It details the past, present and future of the feral native Irish goat.
After you’ve put your bike away for the day, the Newport-based Terra Firma specialises in dark sky safari.
Back on the greenway, however, the final stretch into Achill from Mulranny is initially protected from the winds by the mountains, but as the cycle-way opens up towards the dramatic scenery of Ireland’s largest island, expect a breeze in your face. At least it’s mostly downhill to the end of the journey at Achill Sound.
- Ciaran Lennon
Terrain: Mostly gentle gradients with a few very short but steep sections. Some cattle grids to negotiate but perfect for a hybrid bike, and doable on a road bike.
Refuelling: The Greenway Cafe (Mulranny) and Riverside Cafe (near Newport) haven’t reopened this year but for a local flavour investigate the Gourmet Greenway list of 18 food producers. It covers everything from Murrevagh Honey to the Blue Bicycle Tea Rooms in Newport
Added extra: Achill is one of the National Cycle Network hubs, with wild and stunningly beautiful scenery along quiet country lanes and trails. There are three specifically designed routes that can guide you around, from 12km to 44km. The longest route takes in some moderate climbs but with spectacular sea-cliff scenery along the Atlantic Drive.
Bike rental: The four main locations for bike rental are Westport, Newport, Mulranny and Achill Sound. Many of the providers are currently not providing a shuttle service due to Covid-19 restrictions, but they will offer ‘breakdown’ assistance. www.greenway.ie has a detailed list, while www.electricescapes.ie have e-bikes to rent.
Pól Ó Conghaile's route tip: Pure Magic (puremagic.ie) is a funky water-sports base, with lodge rooms and takeaway pizza on Achill Island. Or try the Mulranny Park Hotel (mulrannyparkhotel.ie) overlooking Clew Bay — it’s right on the greenway, and does packages including bike hire.
This is a fantastic family-friendly route (see our 10 best family cycles in Ireland) that begins and ends along the grassy towpath of the majestic River Barrow. The Barrow Way is one of the top off-road cycle routes in the country. The route is ideal for hybrid, touring and mountain bikes and can even be managed on a road bike.
The Barrow Valley below Goresbridge, Co Kilkenny is undoubtedly the most beautiful section. It’s unspoilt and peaceful — a great place to cycle and feel safe.
This route starts by joining the towpath by the old mill near the bridge, and you don’t have to cycle far to leave the roads and sounds of cars behind.
Among the features of the river are the many locks on the canal sections, and it is fascinating to see boats pass through as they operate the opening and closing of the gates to cause the water to rise or fall as needed.
Lower Ballyellin Lock is the first of five locks on this section of the river, followed by Ballytiglea, Borris, Clashganny and Ballykeenan.
After 5km, pass under Ballytiglea bridge and a diversion into Borris village is highly recommended. Borris has become quite a chic place with its beautiful main street, viaduct, Borris House and traditional pubs. It is about 2km into the village.
Native broadleaves line both sides of the river as you pass by the grounds of Borris House just where the wild Mountain River joins the Barrow, a nice stopping-off point for a picnic or refreshments.
There’s nothing like a spot of wild swimming too if you are out for a cycle on a fine summer’s day — and there are river lifeguards operating at Clashganny and Graiguenamanagh from 2.0pm each day, providing a great service to locals and visitors over the summer months. Clashganny is a base for canoeing and there is also a really nice forest walk high above the river here. When you round the bend in the river before Graiguenamanagh it can be quite a surprise to see the dozens of boats moored on both sides of the river — it is a real Mecca for boaters and water sports.
For variety, the route follows the road back towards Ballytiglea bridge. Simply cross over the road-bridge from Tinnahinch village on the Carlow side to Graiguenamanagh on the Kilkenny side and then take a right at the famed Duiske Abbey.
There’s a bit of climb out of town but follow this road all the way back to Ballytiglea and keep an eye out for the famous Romanesque doorway of Ullard Church ruins.
The last 5km of the loop is back on the river from Ballytiglea to the starting point at Goresbridge.
- Route by Turlough O’Brien, former Carlow football manager and writer of Cycling South Leinster (Collins Press)
Terrain: Off road and on road, mostly flat. Towpath is grassy in sections. Best suited to hybrid, touring or mountain bikes.
Added extra: The full length of the Barrow towpath can be explored by bike. It stretches 100km from north Kildare, near Robertstown, where it meets the Grand Canal, down to St Mullins in the south of Carlow.
Bike shops: You can rent mountain bikes from Graiguenamanagh Bike Hire at the Waterside Guesthouse in the heart of Graiguenamanagh.
Pól Ó Conghaile’s route tip: The Step House Hotel in Borris is about 2.5km off the trail (take the R705), with decent rooms, self-catering and food options. Or extend your cycle with a pedal to scenic St Mullins and its mighty Mullichain Café (facebook.com/mullichaincafe).
This route is almost hidden in plain sight, starting in the busy suburb of Lucan, yet almost entirely on country roads. Apart from one gentle rise at the very start it’s a flat route on generally quiet roads through counties Dublin, Meath and Kildare.
With Lucan village at your back, pass over the Liffey on the 206-year-old structure that is Ireland’s largest single-span masonry arch bridge.
Carry on up the hill, on the cycle path where possible, through the roundabouts. By the time you cross the bridge over the railway and Royal Canal you’ll feel a long way from the city and suburbs. Take the first left after the bridge and spin by the barges berthed at the Royal Canal Amenity Group.
Continue past Confey GAA and soon you will have the perimeter wall of Carton House on your left-hand side.
Keep following the wall around to the left and you will pass the Dunboyne entrance to the magnificent estate. Continue until the turn for Kilcloon/ Kilcock (L22143) — if you get to a roundabout you’ve gone too far!
There is a lovely folly on your left as you head towards Moyglare Road. At the crossroads go across the road and take the left fork past the beautiful Moyglare Church — this is a nice tranquil spot to stop for a moment.
The road surfaces here are very good and the kilometres float by; keep going until you come to a junction, then take the left for Kilcock. Go through the town and take the left for Maynooth; the canal is on your right. This was the old road to the west; it is in good condition and very flat. Sooner than you think you will be in Maynooth; go through the town and head towards Celbridge; pass the Glenroyal Hotel and go over the railway bridge, then take the R405 towards Celbridge.
You will arrive at the top of the town with the entrance to the Castletown House estate on your left. The 18th-century Palladian building has much shared history with Carton House, with Lady Louisa Conolly growing up in the latter before dedicating much of her adult lift to the improvements at the former.
The traffic in Celbridge can sometimes be a bit busy, but take the left at the Bank of Ireland and cross the Liffey again, then stay left for the home run back to Lucan. Once you pass Weston Aerodrome, take the right and drop down into the village.
Depending on the time of day, pick up a well-earned treat from either the Artisan Pantry or Power Wines or both.
- Gabriel Bruton
Terrain: Road, quite flat overall. Mostly quiet secondary roads. Road/cross bike would be ideal, but hybrid would also be good.
Refuelling: Plenty of options along the way. Maynooth has L’Art du Chocolate, but try to hold out until the end and get a drink and a cake in Artisan Pantry in Lucan and eat it down by the river.
A little extra: How about taking the bike on the train and heading way out west? InterCity from Maynooth to Sligo? All InterCity trains have bicycle carriage facilities.
Bike shops: Stagg Cycles in Lucan is a friendly, busy shop where they know their stuff. Two Wheels in Kilcock comes recommended.
Pól Ó Conghaile’s route tip: Castletown House is back open for tours, with takeaway treats available at the Courtyard Kitchen (castletown.ie) — a breakfast bap, soup and sambos and ‘shareable’ banoffi are highlights. See intokildare.ie for other ideas.
Get Waterford people talking about their greenway and it evokes as much pride as John Mullane on Munster hurling final Sunday. They have much to be proud about.
The natural landscape and magnificent structural achievements of an 1870s railway made a good starting point, but they’ve built cleverly on these foundations.
Start with the practical facilities: there are 10 purpose-built car parks, it’s fully accessible for wheelchairs, there are multiple bike-hire options with shuttle services, not to mention the consistent three-metre-wide fully-sealed surface. Mayo set the trend but Waterford has raised the bar.
And there’s lots to see and do along the way; you can easily make this a full-day trip.
The 10km section from Dungarvan to Durrow is the most spectacular, with the Ballyvoyle viaduct, the 400m-long Ballyvoyle tunnel and Durrow Viaduct, along with some spectacular sea views, forming part of the ‘Golden Mile’. But right from its official start at Grattan Quay on the banks of the Suir to Dungarvan bay, your itinerary could be as full as a New York bus tour.
On the opening section you will pass the ninth-century Woodstown Viking site, which pre-dates Waterford city, and the beautiful Mount Congreve Gardens with its magnificent collection of azaleas and rhododendron. All the way to Kilmeadan you ride alongside a narrow-gauge railway track belonging to the Suir Valley heritage train, which is an option for exploring this section for those who aren’t comfortable on two wheels.
The next section towards Kilmacthomas is a bit more sedate but as the countryside opens up the impressive Comeragh mountains come into view.
About a kilometre before Kilmacthomas you’ll pedal by the front door of Coach House Coffee, the centre of the regenerated famine workhouse development. There’s a gift shop and ample outdoor seating tailor-made for the greenway traffic, but it’s also worth rolling off the cycling path into the revitalised Kilmacthomas, regarded as the heart of the greenway. Riding over the viaduct is a thrill but the best views of the stunning 1870s stonework of the seven-arch structure is from ground level.
Next up (see our Waterford Greenway tips), the route starts to turn south towards the Copper Coast and it’s another 13km to Durrow and the start of the Golden Mile.
Keep an eye out for the fairy doors here, but you certainly won’t miss the dramatic green wall of fern leaves and moss either side of the dimly lit Ballyvoyle tunnel, and after coming out of the darkness the views over Clonea beach are even more startling.
There’s a railway-themed playground at Crooked Bridge, and if you keep rolling it’s almost all downhill to the bustling and bike-friendly Dungarvan.
- Ciaran Lennon
Terrain: High-standard greenway, suitable for all bikes and safe for the smaller cyclists. Largely flat but some effort required coming away from the coast.
Refuelling: You won’t go wrong with the Coach House Coffee but Kiersey’s Bar and Tearooms on the main street in Kilmacthomas has a bike-friendly set-up and a tempting menu.
A little extra: The next major stage of development will focus on linking up with the greenway trail to New Ross, and more locally, the council plans to connect towns and villages that are just off the greenway. The 2km cycling path that connects the greenway near Crooked Bridge with Clonea strand is a fine example of how this can work and provides a safe little detour, particularly for those packing their bucket and spade.
Bike hire: There are multiple bike-hire options all along the route; www.visitwaterford.com has a comprehensive list. Normally bike-hire companies offer a shuttle service along the route, but with Covid-19 restrictions some are not able to provide this service. Ring and confirm arrangements before you get started.
Pól Ó Conghaile’s route tip: As you pedal into Dungarvan, plot a course for Eunice Power’s fish n’ chip shop, AndChips (andchips.ie). Homemade tartar sauce, gluten-free chips and mouthwatering milkshakes are just some of the extras... excellent bribes to get kids over the line.
It may be 33 years since the last train arrived in Athlone from Mullingar, but even on two wheels it’s not difficult to imagine making this journey on the old Midland Great Western Railway.
The 42km dedicated cycling greenway traces the old railway route, with signs of its previous existence following you all the way.
A single railway track runs parallel to the beautifully smooth tarmac, past station houses, under arched bridges, through a tunnel and past fertile farmland all the way to Athlone.
There aren’t too many twists and turns but cycling on this immaculately surface makes progress pretty easy for all levels of cyclist. There is no regular shuttle service available so it’s worth planning your day carefully.
With lots of entry and exit points, you can hop on and off to explore the villages and attractions along the way.
We’re starting from Mullingar, but the route can be done sections or in reverse — worth considering if the wind is blowing from the west.
Just outside the town you’ll pass access points for the Royal Canal Greenway, but we are staying on track through sheltered countryside in the first of the three sections.
Some of the masonry stone-arch bridges you see along the trail are protected structures; where these are crossed by the cycleway they can be identified by the old-style parapet railings.
After 11km you’ll reach the picture-postcard Castletown Station, which was closed in 1963 but has been beautifully restored. The town of Castletown Geoghegan is a 3km detour from the greenway.
The next main stop is 16km away in Moate. As you move west the old rail route becomes elevated over the countryside and you get a clearer view over the heart of the midlands. You might recognise the Moate station from the 1979 film The First Great Train Robbery.
At Moate there is direct access to Dún na Sí Amenity & Heritage Park, with a lovely little cafe making it the ideal refuelling point. The heritage park is also worth exploring, and there’s a playground if the kids still have the energy.
The final section brings you as far as the White Gates on the Ballymahon Road in Athlone. Take a left turn towards the town centre.
The Old Rail Trail will eventually form part of the proposed Galway to Dublin Cycleway, which will be Ireland’s first dedicated inter-city coast-to-coast route for cyclists.
Terrain: Almost entirely off-road greenway. Generally flat with smooth sealed surface and some gentle slopes. Really safe for families and suitable for all types of bikes. Some intersections with public roads require caution.
Note: Unlike the greenways in Waterford and Mayo, there is no regular shuttle service to pick you up along the way, as the trail is not as easily accessible by road. However, some bike hire companies may be able to arrange drop-off points for your bikes. Contact them before you travel.
Refuelling: All main towns and villages on the route have cafe facilities. Dún na Sí Heritage Park in Moate is a great locally run cafe with outdoor seating overlooking the park and play areas.
A little extra: Just west of Mullingar, there is access points to the Royal Canal Greenway which links to Abbeyshrule and Ballymahon. On the east side of the town you can follow the towpath along the Royal Canal all the way to Maynooth.
Bike shops: Bike hire is available from Mullingar Bike Hire (mullingarbikehire.com, currently bookings by appointment) – they also provide the option of cycling east along the canal and leaving your bike at Enfield, where you can get the train back to Mullingar. Buckley Cycles in Athlone have just restarted their rental service this week.
Pól Ó Conghaile’s route tip: The twin towers of Athlone dining are Thyme (thymerestaurant.ie) and the Fatted Calf (thefattedcalf.ie), both thankfully reopened after a Covid hiatus. Or if you fancy a pint with turf on the fire and sawdust on the floor, hit up Seán’s Bar (seansbar.ie).
The heart of the Kingdom is a playground for serious cyclists. Think Gap of Dunloe, Moll’s Gap, Slea Head; think testing climbs and, in summer, busy roads.
However, this route was designed by Dave Elton, the man who co-wrote the book on Kerry cycling, with the idea of keeping the climbs, and passing traffic, to an absolute minimum. And what we get is an enjoyable spin through the Kerry countryside that should be manageable for most levels of cyclist, with views of the mountains, if not a taste of them.
A few minutes after departing the centre of Killorglin turn left off the N70 – where a right turn would bring you to the golf club – on to the quiet road through the hamlet of Callinafercy and continue on through the wooded area all the way down to the pier. As you approach the water, the road opens up to views of the Dingle peninsula and the Slieve Mish mountains.
Returning inland, there’s a bit of a drag as you approach Milltown, but only enough to work up an appetite. You briefly rejoin the N70 here but the first right turn just before the town will bring you back on to country roads. The land is open and flat here so you can take in views of the mountains from a safe distance.
You roll back towards the River Laune, which flows from the Lakes of Killarney through Beaufort and Killorglin. About 4km after leaving Milltown you reach a crossroads which, the last we checked, has no obvious signage, but a left turn will bring you past the Kerry Woollen Mills, a shop where they’ve made fine wool for over 300 years.
Continue straight through the junction after the mill and the road starts to rise a little. Take a right turn at the next T-junction for a down hill ride towards Beaufort, where you cross the eight-arch Beaufort Bridge to keep you on the country roads.
If you’ve time for a detour it’s easy to follow the signs for the Gap of Dunloe, but to compete this loop take the right turn for Killorglin, where it’s almost all flat back to where you started. A small incline as you reach the town will justify a stop in Jack’s Bakery and Deli.
- This route was designed by Dave Elton, co-author of Cycling Kerry (Collins Press) and co-owner of Kerrycycling.com
Terrain: Mostly flat and on quiet country roads. Some modest uphill sections near Milltown and before Beaufort.
Refuelling: Jack’s in Killorglin do the nicest pies in Kerry, according to Dave, if you want to load up before you set off.
Bike shop: O’Shea Cycle, which doubles up as a toy store, is in the centre of Killorglin. Killorglin General Cycles, just outside the town, offer a range of bike hire options, from bike trailers to carbon-fibre racers. And they provide a delivery service.
Added extra: It’s only 4km from Beaufort to Kate Kearney’s cottage, the entrance to the Gap of Dunloe, which will tempt the more experienced cyclist.
Pól Ó Conghaile’s route tip: The family-run Loch Lein House (lochlein.com) offers river and mountain views, with hosts Paul and Annette Corridan on hand to offer off-radar walking and cycling tips. It reopens from the end of July.
This route starts off in Corofin, a small village on the outskirts of the Burren. Take the road north through Kilnaboy, and after about 7.5km, you’ll reach the first beauty spot of this tour — Leamaneh Castle.
This castle was built around 1480 by one of the last High Kings of Ireland, and passed down through generations of the same family before eventually falling into ruins. The gates which formerly stood outside here can now be seen at Dromoland Castle, and one of the old ornate fireplaces now takes centre stage at the Old Ground Hotel in Ennis.
You’ll take a right at Leamaneh and soon arrive at the junction for Carran. Here, you can continue on or take a detour from the route and check out the Michael Cusack Visitor Centre. Cusack, the founder of the GAA, was born in Carran. The historical centre aims to tell his story from his beginning in a small cottage in famine-stricken Ireland to founding one of the greatest sporting organisations in the world.
Carrying on, you follow a sweeping road through the Burren, passing by Poll na mBrón (meaning ‘hole of sorrows’) after 16km. This is one of the most famous dolmens or portal tombs in Ireland. Remains found here in 1986 and 1988 date back to 3800 and 3200BC.
On the descent into Ballyvaughan, take a stop at the viewpoint. Here, you can truly appreciate just how beautiful the Burren landscape is — rolling green hills mixed with layers of limestone. Every time I come along this road, I find myself slowing down to appreciate it all.
Once you go through Ballyvaughan, you’ll start your journey on the stunning coast road. We might not have the weather to match the scenery, but I find that I never mind that much once I’m on this road!
You will pass through some beautiful villages, notably Fanore. Take a moment to check out the beautiful beach — it’s a surfing and windsurfing hotspot, but most of the time, it is quiet and peaceful. Make your way through Doolin, the traditional music capital of Ireland, before heading out onto the road towards Lahinch.
After 62km, you’ll come to the Cliffs of Moher. There’s no parking fee if you arrive on your bike, but no matter what form of transport you take, it’s a must-visit if you’re travelling along the coast road. Nothing I have seen in the world can match these views. Enjoy a bit of a descent after this — you’ve earned it.
After passing through Liscannor, carry on towards Lahinch. Finally, it’s time for a coffee stop. My personal favourite is Dodi’s on the Main Street. Ride through Ennistimon, and across the back roads towards Corofin, and you’re finally home. Then head to Bofey Quinn’s for a celebratory pizza to reward yourself!
- This route was designed by Imogen Cotter, who is an Irish cyclist living and racing at an elite level in Belgium. She is also a coach with Panache Coaching.
Terrain: Road; hilly in parts. The Coast Road is usually quiet — you can enjoy the views with worrying about cars.
Bike choice: Road bike. Hybrid would also work.
Refuelling: The most important part of a spin in my opinion. Coffee and cake at Dodi’s in Lahinch is a must. A flat white and slice of cherry bakewell will help you get through the last 25km
Added extra: If you still haven’t had enough of the coast road, you can carry on through Lahinch, and head towards Spanish Point. Stop at the Armada for a coffee or an ice-cream, then spin back in towards Miltown Malbay and head home to Corofin via Inagh.
Bike shops: While not on this route, E-Whizz in Kilfenora rent electric bikes, while Doolin Rent A Bike have touring bikes available.
Pól Ó Conghaile's route tip: Gregan’s Castle (gregans.ie) outside Ballyvaughan is a Blue Book country house hotel working wonders with local food, while the cosy, 12-bed Fiddle + Bow in Doolin (fiddleandbow.ie) made our Fab 50 list of Ireland’s best places to stay this year.
It’s a real treat and a bit of a surprise to cycle along the banks of the Boyne on the old path of the Boyne Canal walkway. In Navan, turn into the Ramparts car park for access to the river side. While it’s a narrow path and can be slightly overgrown on the sides, it has stunning views of the mythical River Boyne — where Fionn Mac Cumhaill gained the knowledge of an Bradán Feasa (the Salmon of Knowledge).
This section of the Boyne is overlooked by Dunmoe Castle and Ardmulchan Castle and Church along the pathway, adding to the great sense of history associated with the river. The path ends after 7km at Broadboyne Bridge, and it’s back on to gentle country roads all the way into Slane.
Until you reach the N2 on the edge of the town the road is very quiet, with some rolling hills. When you cross the bridge, the road starts to climb until you reach the centre of Slane. Turn left to continue on this route, but to visit the Hill of Slane go through the crossroads until you see the sign for a left turn.
The Hill of Slane stretches back into the mists of time, to the time of the Fir Bolgs and the Tuatha Dé Danann. It was where Patrick chose to light the first paschal fire in 433AD in defiance of the pagan King Laoghaire, who at that time was lighting the Bealtaine fire on the distant Hill of Tara.
The return route takes you by the entrance to Slane Castle on the Navan Road. The home to Lord Henry Mountcharles has hosted some of the greatest open-air rock concerts in the world — a who’s who from the rock hall of fame, including U2, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Queen, David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, Guns N’ Roses and Thin Lizzy.
Stay on the N51 until you reach Wiggers Cross and a left turn back down to Broadboyne Bridge and you return to Navan along the Boyne Canal walkway.
- This route was designed by Turlough O’Brien, former Carlow football manager and writer of Cycling South Leinster (Collins Press)
Terrain: This route is on a mix of canal path and local roads. This is an easy route, mostly on the flat apart from the steep entrance into Slane.
Note: Caution is required on the entrance into Slane, which suffers from traffic congestion at the Boyne bridge.
A little extra: It’s only a 7km detour to the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre, which gives you access to Newgrange. When you reach the N2 just outside Slane, turn right before taking a quiet country road at your next left turn. Continue east, taking another left, before reaching the Visitor Centre, the starting point for all visits to Newgrange.
Bike shops: You’ll find the Navan Cycle Centre in the middle of the town.
Refuelling: Right at the start, or end, of this route in Navan, check out what looks like a trendy interior design shop called Ode Design. It also serves great coffee and snacks in a cosy environment.
Pól Ó Conghaile’s route tip: Done the pedalling? You’ve earned the pastries. Stop by George’s Patisserie (georgespatisserie.com) in Slane for takeaway treats and coffee — from lemon drizzle slices to artisan breads, it’s hard to go wrong here (they do a breakfast fry-up, to boot).
The heavenly gardens of Altamont are the perfect starting and finishing point for this short scenic loop based around the River Slaney. The route is mainly on very quiet local roads that are a joy to cycle on.
Park in the grounds of Altamont; there is a €2 charge which gives admission to the gardens afterwards, ideal for a picnic or a snack at the Altamont café.
Turn right on leaving the Gardens and head in the direction of Ardattin and Aghade. Just after 1km take the right fork in the road and continue to the next junction. Navigation is easy as it consists entirely of right hand turns!
Aghade bridge is one of the most picturesque spots on the Slaney River and is a popular bathing spot but only for experienced swimmers or those with local knowledge, as the river is fast-flowing and rocky.
Continue to the edge of Ardattin village and take another right onto the Ballintemple road. This is a very narrow road with little traffic. It passes through the Coillte nursery as it winds its way onwards. Just after the 10km mark you encounter a small bit of uphill but nothing major and there is a sharp right-hand turn onto another bóithrín. The views from the up here are beautiful as you look out over the Slaney Valley in the direction of Mount Leinster.
It’s downhill to Kilcarry bridge from here but take care as it is quite steep and narrow; turn right where the roads meet. The river at Kilcarry is another popular bathing point.
Pass over the bridge and take the road straight ahead up a short, steep hill. Continue for 3km until the junction with the N80, which you must join for about 1km. This is a busy section and caution is advised. Turn right at the crossroads and return to Altamont for refreshments and a walk in the gardens.
Alternatively you could retrace your route back from Kilcarry Bridge if you wish to avoid the N80.
- Turlough O'Brien
Terrain: This route won’t trouble too many cyclists. It mostly covers quiet roads apart, from small stretch along the N80, and is suitable for all bikes.
Pól Ó Conghaile’s route tip: Huntington Castle, its gardens (€6/€3) and tearooms have reopened in Clonegal (huntingtoncastle.com). This is about 3km south of Kilcarry bridge, just off our loop. The 500-year-old yew walk is your Insta stop, and you can raise the pinkies with teas and coffees served in vintage china cups and saucers. For more on Carlow’s under-rated garden trails, including the lovely Altamont House & Gardens, see carlowtourism.com.
All roads in this part of picturesque south-west Wexford funnel towards Hook Head, taking you on quiet country lanes flanked by fields of ripe barley and around hidden coves of golden sands.
You can start this route from Duncannon, or Fethard if you need to rent bikes, but another option is to set off from the 12th-century Cistercian Tintern Abbey — almost immediately you’re greeted by blue-sea views as you roll around the west shores of Bannow Bay.
Much of this loop follows the EuroVelo1 route, which will direct you along the coast, and you won’t go too far wrong following these blue and white signs. As you roll into Fethard pedal past the signs for Hook Head at Hook Head Adventures and continue straight past the refreshed coffee shop Gailinn towards Baginbun Head. This minor detour rewards you with views over the dramatic Carnivan Bay, a privately owned Martello tower and Baginbun Beach, site of the 12th-century Norman invasion.
The road will naturally put you back on course for the famous lighthouse, which you start to see glimmering in the distance as the road rises and falls through undulating countryside. Near Templetown stands the ruins of the Templar Church, which speaks to a fascinating period in the peninsula’s history when King Henry II gifted large swathes of land to the Knights Templar.
On weekends, you’ll be passed by a steady stream of cars and camper vans on the final stretch down the narrow peninsula, but the road still leaves plenty of space for cyclists.
Loftus Hall, which is supposed to be haunted by the devil, can be clearly seen from the road and is due to reopen this weekend for guided tours.
There’s only one way in and one way out from here so it’s straight ahead to the oldest operational lighthouse in the world, which has been shining across the Celtic Sea for 800 years. With its fascinating history, stunning views, cafe and playground, it’s a magnet for summer tourists.
After drinking in some sea air return on the same road past Loftus Hall again before swinging left where the road splits in two along the ‘scenic route’. This takes you on the west coast of the peninsula, with another set of stunning sea views stretching across to Dunmore East on the Waterford coast. Watch out for the signpost for Dollar Bay, with a setting money couldn’t buy and a beach that’ll invite you in to cool down.
It’s an easy spin to the pretty village of Duncannon, which is known for its 450-year-old fortress but if the sun is shining it’ll be hard to resist the beach-side hut Zepher, which sells coffee and ice-cream from its grassy perch overlooking yet another splendid beach.
The final leg brings you inland through some pleasant countryside before returning to the abbey. If you still have the energy stroll the 500m to the Georgian-era Colclough Walled Gardens which were beautifully restored and reopened to the public in 2013.
- Route described by Ciarán Lennon
Terrain: Mostly flat but with some rolling undulations. Typical country road surface: rough in places and some fresh loose clippings.
A little extra: Much of this route runs along the pan-European EuroVelo 1 route – which starts in Portugal and ends in Norway, if you want to be really adventurous. But more locally, the signs will direct you on cycling suitable scenic roads. If you follow the signs west you’ll end up in Ballyhack, where you can get the Passage East ferry across to Co Waterford.
Bike shops: Good standard hybrid bikes are available to rent from Hook Head Adventures in the centre of Fethard. They also do sea kayak tours if you fancy taking to the water.
Refuelling: Hook Head may be the natural resting point on this loop, but Duncannon has plenty of options to replenish a thirsty cyclist, and the newly opened Gailinn in Fethard serves fine coffee.
Pól Ó Conghaile’s route tip: Hook Lighthouse (hookheritage.ie) is far, far more than an 800-year-old beacon. Tours, events and a café and bakery are based out of a visitor centre in the old lighthouse keepers’ cottages alongside. Mine’s a toasted crab sandwich, thanks.
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