Cycling for Fun in Northern Ireland

It is quite possible to cycle the entire length or breadth of Northern Ireland in less than a week, yet the backdrop to the ride is both varied and breathtaking as you pass dramatic coastline, quiet villages, undulating glens and rolling hills blanketed by patchwork fields.

There is a great sense of achievement to be had by cycling a coast to coast route and travelling through a country from one side to the other can offer a memorable adventure.

The 242-mile Belfast to Ballyshannon route provides such an opportunity as it passes through the counties of Antrim, Down, Armagh, Tyrone, Fermanagh, Leitrim and Donegal.

Rather than dash across the country in a rush, the route meanders gently and takes its time, ensuring that the rider sees everything the country has to offer in terms of people, landscape and attractions.

Nevertheless, within a few hours you will have gone from the coast, through the outskirts of Belfast with its leafy green valleys and on to huge open skies by Lough Neagh.

Route highlights include Oxford Island, Armagh Cathedrals, the Sperrin Mountains and Marble Arch caves.

Cycling Nirvana

Those keen on costal routes would be foolish to ignore the trip from Ballyshannon to Larne. The Antrim coast is tough to top in terms of scenery and attractions, so throw in Atlantic beaches, Derry City – the only walled city in Ireland – and the Sperrin Mountains and it comes close to cycling nirvana. The route is 281 miles long and takes in Lough Erne, Causeway Coast and Glens of Antrim.

The Strangford Lough trail is an 82-mile circular that explores one of Europe’s richest wildlife habitats. As well as being a haven for wildlife such as butterflies, Brent geese and wild flowers, Strangford Lough was designated as the first Marine Nature Reserve in Northern Ireland.

The route trundles along the shores of the Ards Peninsula and Strangford Lough and takes in Castle Espie, Exploris and Castle Ward.

The 230-mile Kingfisher trail was the first long-distance ride in Ireland to be mapped and sign-posted and, because its figure of eight route falls naturally into two main loops, it can also be cycles as two smaller circulars.

Named after the bird synonymous with the area, the trail flows through the Fermanagh and Leitrim Lakelands and takes in Crom, Marble Arch Caves, Castle Archdale and Florence Court.

Rugged Beauty

Those searching for a slice of Ireland’s ocean-battered coasts, rugged beauty and deserted mountain landscapes should try the 202-mile north-west circular. From Sligo Town in the Republic of Ireland, the trail passes the grave of poet William Butler Yeats in Drumcliffe.

The rugged coast road brings you to Rossnowlagh beach and then the route gradually becomes flatter and more lush from Donegal, passing the ‘Let the Dance Begin’ sculpture in Strabane, County Tyrone.

Finally, the Loughshore Trail is ideal for those making a flying visit, as it passes only 200 metres from an international airport.

A 113-mile circular, it is sign-posted in both directions and takes in Lough Neagh Discovery Centre, Ardboe Cross, Oxford Island and Kinnego Harbour. Eel fishing is often prominent, as the lough has one of the largest eel fisheries in Europe.

It provides smoked delicacies on the menus of some of Europe’s finest restaurants and London’s jellied eels.