Lots of people have Ireland on their “bucket list,” and we were among them. Biking the Emerald Isle offers beautiful countryside and scenic views along a dramatic coastline.
My husband, Dean, and I combined a trip to Ireland with our love of cycling and booked a June VBT biking vacation: Ireland: Galway & Connemara Coast. This was our third VBT trip, having traveled with them to Acadia National Park and again to Slovenia, Austria, and Italy. Spectacular trips!
If you are a cyclist, here are some reasons why I think you’ll fall in love with cycling in Ireland.
1. Epic Scenery
Part of the joy of biking is being in the scenery. You’re not cruising along on a narrow road gazing out the window as you fly by, you’re on a bike, and you’re in it. Of all the things to love about cycling in Ireland, at the top of the list has got to be the epic scenery and landscapes. Here are two of the many highlights.
The Wild Atlantic Way
It was thrilling to bike along the western coastline called The Wild Atlantic Way (WAW), the longest coastal route in the world. It’s named for rugged Atlantic storms that roll in along the western coast. The WAW covers some 1,600 miles from the northern Inishowen Peninsula to the southern town of Kinsale in County Cork.
The Burren is a large limestone plateau along the west-central coast of Ireland that was shaped by glaciers. The name “the Burren” comes from the Gaelic Boireann meaning “place of stone,” and at about 200 square miles, they aren’t kidding. It is truly unique among all the landscapes we saw. We hopped off our bikes and took an uneven, craggy walk to enjoy this unique, rugged beauty.
2. Historic Sites
Ireland is replete with history and a cycling trip can get you up close and personal with many of these historic wonders.
At the edge of the Burren sits the 13th-century Corcomroe Abbey, home to Cistercian monks for about 400 years. Although now in ruins, the cross-shaped abbey was a fascinating stop on our biking tour.
The Burren Centre, Kilfenora
Ireland’s first interpretive center, the Burren Centre, provides a history of the area’s ancient tombs, castles, and natural farming methods. It’s a great place to get off your bike and explore more about this rich and historic area.
The town of Kilfenora is called the “City of the Crosses” because it has one of the greatest collections of high crosses in Ireland. Next to the Burren Centre, the Kilfenora Cathedral contains many crosses and fine carvings on grave slabs, windows, and doorways.
3. Moderate Temperatures
Ireland’s climate is temperate year-round, with a high of 67 degrees Fahrenheit in July to a low of 34 in December and January. We went in June and had seasonal temps in the 60s.
Pro Tip: Rain gear is essential when biking in Ireland. There’s a reason it’s called “the Emerald Isle.” All that green comes from somewhere!
4. Terrain For Cyclists Of All Abilities
The trip we took is rated easy/moderate, which is defined as “a combination of easy terrain mixed with moderate hills,” with daily mileage of up to 33 miles. If you are a cyclist who likes a challenge, Ireland is a great place to bike. Some of it was hilly, some stretches had switchbacks, and one stretch was very steep for half a mile (we walked our bikes, as did most others on our tour). If you prefer more level biking, you could work with an outfitter in Galway (like this one) to get a bike route that suits you.
Pro Tip: Bikes match the direction of vehicle traffic, so we biked on the left side of the road. It definitely takes some getting used to, so take your time as you get started.
5. Intriguing Galway
A good cycling trip has adventures both on and off the bike. In the bustling town of Galway, take a break from biking and enjoy authentic Irish restaurants, live music, and the riverwalk along the River Corrib to the Galway Cathedral. The streets of Galway are interesting with sculptures and lots of shops.
Pro Tip: We enjoyed lively tunes from street musicians as well as various musical options in bars and restaurants, including Taaffe’s Bar.
6. Food To Keep A Cyclist Going
If you are cycling, it’s good to keep calories up, and Ireland has quick lunch stops to fuel your ride and plenty of places with more hearty evening fare to enjoy after a day of biking. Here’s a sampling of what we enjoyed, from north to south.
Galway — McDonagh’s
Our VBT guide recommended eating at McDonagh’s for authentic Irish fish and chips, so that’s what we tried (and enjoyed). He said it’s served with “mushy peas,” so you know it’s the real deal.
Ballyvaughan — The An Fear Gorta Tea & Garden Rooms
This tearoom on Coast Road in Ballyvaughan, County Clare, is a great place for a light lunch of soup and sandwich — nothing too heavy when you are cycling for the day. The front gardens in full bloom are also a plus!
Lisdoonvarna — Sheedy’s Hotel & Restaurant
Sheedy’s Hotel & Restaurant features fabulous meals by their regionally famous chef, including asparagus and leek soup, beet and goat cheese salads, local salmon, au gratin potato “blocks” (cheesy potatoes in a brick shape — and delicious), and homemade lemon curd. It’s enough to make you eager to get back on the bike to work off those calories!
Pro Tip: Sheedy’s is also a charming place to stay, complete with some rooms facing their lovely English Garden. The biking here gave us our first taste of Ireland’s rolling hills.
Ennis — Brogan’s
Brogan’s is a family-run Irish pub with dark wood, stained glass, and a lot of character. While the menu is filled with hearty soups, brown bread, and classic Irish fish and chips, we opted for a couple of giant burgers and “chips” (French fries).
Pro Tip: Ennis is a pretty little town on the River Fergus to enjoy views of St. Peter and Paul Cathedral, the Ennis Friary, and a self-guided sculpture walking tour.
Cork — The Elbow Lane Brew & Smokehouse
In Cork, the Elbow Lane Brew & Smokehouse is great for ribs and potatoes — hearty foods after a day of biking. Watch the bartender, part chemist/part artist, mix up a coffee drink like a masterpiece.
Pro Tip: While in Cork, don’t miss the English Market, the oldest European market of its kind. Stretching an entire block, it’s famous for mid-19th-century architecture and locally sourced artisan food. Grab a snack to throw in your bike bag for the next day’s pedaling.
7. People You’ll Meet Along The Way
As always, the people make the trip. The VBT guides were knowledgeable, friendly, and local to the area. We also biked with 14 fast friends, ranging in age from 16 to 70-something.
The local Irish people we met were so gracious. Sure, most of them work in the hospitality industry, but we could tell they genuinely care for people. While the English language is common in Ireland, we also enjoyed listening for the Gaelic language — Gaeilge, or Irish as it’s known locally — is a Celtic language and one of “the oldest and most historic written languages in the world.”
8. The Birthplace Of Guinness
I’d be remiss if I wrote an article about Ireland and didn’t include Guinness. It’s ubiquitous and a great choice after a day of biking. Over $2 billion worth of this beer is brewed annually in more than 50 countries, but people say there’s just something special about enjoying a Guinness in its birthplace. I’d have to agree.
9. The Aran Islands And Connemara
As part of our biking, we took a ferry out to the Aran Islands to bike on Inis Mór (also spelled Inishmore) and then ferried back to the mainland of Ireland and biked into storybook Connemara, where we loved the mountains, the turf stacks, and even learned how to perfect Irish coffee. These areas also offer spectacular experiences and extraordinary biking.
So Much To Offer
We loved our cycling along the coast of western Ireland. These are some of the main reasons why I think cyclists will fall in love with Ireland, as we did. It’s a beautiful and fascinating country that has so much to offer, and cycling is a wonderful way to experience it.