Cycle Touring Ireland

The Emerald Isle: a fitting name for a place that gets nearly 55-inches of rain per year, just shy of the 68+ inches that would classify it as a rainforest.  Although we came expecting rain and were content with a little moisture falling on our trip, the weather as a whole wasn’t too bad.  Highs around 65, lows around 55; pretty ideal temperatures for biking considering most of the U.S. was pushing triple digits. It seemed that this year was actually one of the driest they’ve had for a long time. Bad for agriculture, but pretty nice for us.

In fact, if you can get over the rain, Ireland is set up perfectly for bike touring.  In general, the topography is mild (although we did curse a few of the steep hills), the back roads have little to no traffic, the locals are extremely friendly and very bike conscious while driving (although most still think you’re mad for cycling around the country).

Compared to the U.S., the towns are located fairly close to each other and the entire country can be biked in a few weeks fairly easily.  And most importantly, EVERY community has a pub, even if they don’t have a single place that serves food.  If you’re looking for something new to do, bike touring in Ireland will not disappoint.

We landed in Dublin and took a taxi straight to the bike rental shop.  With bikes under our feet, we navigated to our first nights’ accommodation; a quaint little B&B just outside of the downtown area.  In fact, every night during the trip we stayed in a different town and a different B&B.  B&B’s are prolific in Ireland, and while you can find hotels and hostels in bigger towns, B&B’s were often our only option.

We did venture around the country with reservations which had its pros and cons.  On one hand, it removed some of the spontaneity, but on the other hand, there’s no way we would have found half the B&Bs we stayed in without first finding them online and on more than a few occasions, every room in the B&B and sometimes the entire town was booked because of a local concert, golf tournament, or some other special event.

We started planning our route several months in advance, some with the help of guidebooks, but mostly with Google Earth.  Before the trip, we purchased a new model Etrex 20 (with upgradable memory card slot and color maps) and a memory chip that had every road in the UK and Ireland.  From the comfort of the computer at home, we carefully planned out our cycle route to be off the beaten path. Read here also about some typical Irish food.

These back roads were certainly the highlight of our trip with amazing scenery and nonexistent traffic. We found ourselves cycling extra slow on these sections rather than pounding out the miles, solely so we could enjoy the journey. And when we couldn’t avoid the traffic altogether, it was fairly easy to maneuver around in traffic since many of the larger roads had bike lanes.

We traveled on a combination of bike, bus, and train, using the latter to cover sections that were farther than we wanted to bike. The Bus Eireann system was super easy to navigate.  Bikes, which are charged an extra, usually arbitrary fee, go in the undercarriage. You can usually fit them standing upright strapped to a pole, but you need to bring your own straps or bungee cords.  And while not very cheap, it was our only option to cover long distances in a reasonable amount of time.

In case you’re interested here’s our exact route from town to town:  Pickup bikes in Dublin; bus to Cashel; bike to Cahir; bus to Limerick; bike to Bunratty; bike to Ennis; bike to Lisdoonvarna; bike to Kinvara; bike to Galway; bus to Donegal; bus to Letterkenny; bike to Londonderry; bike to Portrush; bike to Ballycastle; bike to Glenarm; bike to Larne; train to Belfast; train to Dublin. All in all, we covered about 250 miles on a bike in about 15 days.

Castles, abbey’s, historic ruins, whiskey distilleries, and beer brewery tours, natural wonders, gorgeous scenery; of all we did, saw, or biked past we continually get asked, “What was your favorite part of the trip?” The answer?  All of it!  The experience for us Americans in Ireland as a whole was magical.  I wouldn’t have changed a second.  Not even the rain, because through adversity memories that last a lifetime are created.

Ten years from now, I may not remember much of the Giants Causeway, but I’ll remember the tire we changed seconds before the sky unleashed one of the most torrential downpours I’ve ever been in!  Memories like that are the reason we chose to see Ireland by bike.  Yes, you can see more country in less time in a car and I’m sure you’ll have a great time, but it’s a very different experience. Check out also this post about “How the speak proper Irish.” 

Having traveled extensively by car, we were ready for something different – we wanted to see, feel, smell and savor the trip rather!  And although there were times we wanted to push the bikes out into busy traffic or over the edge of a cliff and into the ocean, we would absolutely do it again.