The Tops in Touring: Road Cycling's Best Spots

Ireland: Biking the Emerald Isle

Ireland is unquestionably one of the best cycle touring destinations in the world. It's small scale makes it possible to see much of the countryside in a week or two. Conveniently, a good share of the prettiest scenery is packed together in County Kerry, Ireland's magical southwestern corner. Most tours of this region begin in Shannon, a pretty city that can be reached by direct flights from America.

From Shannon, ride south to Tralee and Killarney, charming towns with many colorful pubs. Taste the local brew (Ireland has hundreds of regional beers), and meet the locals. Tell them your grandfather was Irish and you'll be welcomed like a returning hero. After Killarney, explore the Ring of Kerry, a beautiful area of high, rocky headlands, quaint harbors, and peaceful villages. Don't miss the Dingle Peninsula; here the road snakes along sheer hillsides high above the Atlantic.
If you have the time, once you've completed the Ring of Kerry put your bike on a train and head north to County Donegal, land of Keats. From Donegal Town, head north to Letterkenny, then follow the southern shore of Lough Swilly to Land's End at Fanad. This region has a timeless quality, with few settlements and nary a tourist in sight. From Fanad, follow coastal roads south. You'll pass isolated bays and harbors, and cross through the rugged, forbidding terrain of the Bloody Forelands, where Gaelic is still the mother tongue. This is the one stretch of Ireland where you may have trouble getting a room without reservations.

Continue south along the coast to Sligo, and then west through County Mayo. They say the sun never shines in County Mayo, but when it does, it is one of the prettiest places you'll ever see. Explore the remote west coast of County Mayo, perhaps taking a day-trip by boat to one of the offshore islands. Then work your way south, passing by dramatic Killery Harbor that separates Mayo to the north and County Galway to the south.

Once you reach County Galway, it's time to turn east and head back towards Shannon. You can either follow the coast, or swing inland past Ballynahinch and Lough Corrib. Here you'll find some of Ireland's best trout fishing. It's possible to cross from the west coast to Galway City in a day, and then it's only another day's ride to Shannon airport, and your flight home.

Practically Speaking
Ireland is a cyclist's dream—a place of verdant countryside, picturesque villages and dramatic coastline. Throughout this island country you'll find small bed and breakfasts offering clean and cozy accommodations for very modest rates, usually under $35 a night. There are no great mountain ranges to cross, and no heavy traffic with which to contend. On this quiet island, the pace of a cyclist suits the land well.

In three weeks, you could see virtually all of western Ireland. In two weeks, you can see most of the highlights of the southwest and far north, if you cross between Kerry and Donegal by train or bus. Either way you will have a memorable trip that need not cost more than $60 per day, if done independently.

Paul McMenamin is the author, editor, and photo director of the original Ultimate Adventure Sourcebook.

Published: 2 Feb 2001 | Last Updated: 14 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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