Coast to the Right of Me, Towns to the Left, Here I Am


Infused with legends and mystery, the northern pocket of the Emerald Isle is a compact country—5,500 square miles, about the size of Connecticut—stocked with a litany of historic sites, charming rural towns, and scenic spots, as well as a turbulent modern history that has somewhat diminished its appeal to tourists. That reputation, however, belies the most important aspect of Northern Ireland: Divisions along nationalist lines may forever exist, but the Irish people are an irrepressibly gregarious bunch who will welcome the intrepid traveler with open arms, proffering advice and directions over a smooth pint or two. And Northern Ireland does hold one advantage over its neighbor to the south: the steady flow of tourists to the Republic of Ireland means the North's dramatic seascapes and fairytale-worthy countryside are less crowded, though no less spectacular. The few cycling operators within Northern Ireland maintain small, intimate tours of the region, and for the cyclist who prefers to see it on his or her own, the friendly reputation of the Irish prevails wherever one chooses to pedal.
Northern Ireland's coastal routes tend to see more riders since many of the region's famous sites are relatively close to one another, not to mention the addictive, expansive views from the thin, cliff-hugging roads. But inland tours are also well worth the calorie-burning effort, where the sheep grazing on moorlands far outnumber the people you'll encounter.
Note that many tour companies will also help plan solo routes, especially helpful if you want a solid combination of inland and coastal rides. Indeed, the entire country is very bike-friendly, and recent years have witnessed a concerted effort to improve road-cycling opportunities for locals and visitors alike. Additionally, even without a support van to transport equipment over the longer routes, trains and ferries will accommodate bikes, so it's quite possible to hopscotch around the country in search of the finest country lanes, the most invigorating coastal runs, and that green, green scenery that has spawned nostalgic Gaelic ballads the world over.

Published: 2 Jun 2003 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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