Is cycling in Ireland something you’ve considered? Even if you’re not up for a long-haul cycling trip, there are plenty of opportunities for shorter spins.
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In recent years, greenways – suitable for both walking and cycling – have sprung up all across the country.
In 2020, the Irish government promised a bold new plan for transportation in Ireland, part of its “Our Shared Future” wellness initiative.
According to the report, 10 percent of the country’s total transport capital budget will go toward cycling trails, with a further 10 percent to be spent on walking infrastructure, all amounting to approximately €360 million per year.
While that’s great news for Irish citizens, it’s also welcome news for tourists who are eager to safely see the Emerald Isle in all its glory.
Rather than taking to the Irish roads, some of which are perceived to be unsafe for cyclists, the Irish government welcomed the creation of greenways that would serve both its own citizens and visitors to the country.
Helping to make the greenway initiative and cycling in Ireland successful was the willingness of landowners to grant access to their properties.
Here are 8 greenways and trails that you can access while vacationing on the island of Ireland.
1. The Royal Canal Greenway
An 80-mile (130 km) greenway that is suitable for walkers, runners, and cyclists and runs along Ireland’s historic 225-year-old Royal Canal is now officially open.
Travelers on the Royal Canal Greenway, the country’s longest greenway, will pass 90 bridges, 33 locks, 17 harbors, and four aqueducts, not to mention the dozens of B&Bs, restaurants, shops, and pubs that are situated along the route.
Stretching over four counties, including Kildare, Meath, Westmeath, and Longford, the entire journey can be done all at once or in stages.
The building of the Royal Canal is an interesting piece of Irish history.
Constructed in 1790, the entire length of the canal is 146 km (90 miles). It was built to connect the River Liffey in Dublin with the upper River Shannon in County Longford.
Work on the Grand Canal was also underway around this time. That canal also linked the River Liffey with the Upper Shannon but took a more southerly route.
In its heyday during the mid-1800s (and at the height of the Famine), close to 50,000 people used the boats on the canal, with more than 100,000 tons of goods transported up and down the canal as well.
In fact, the Royal Canal was at one time a stage in the long journey that so many emigrants took from Ireland to the New World.
Their passage on the canal boats would have led them onto boats from Dublin that either sailed to England, Canada, or the United States.
Only 28 years after the canal was built, it was sold to the Great Western Railway Company. They initially planned to drain the canal, but thankfully that plan was rejected.
The off-road greenway starts in Maynooth, a university town in north Kildare that has become part of the commuter belt surrounding Dublin, Ireland’s capital.
Some of the attractions that can be found along this magnificent greenway include Carton House in Maynooth, once the ancestral seat of the Earls of Kildare.
It was designed by Richard Cassels, who also designed Leinster House in Dublin and other prominent buildings around Ireland.
Today, it is a luxury hotel, but you can walk around the grounds surrounding the hotel and even go inside for afternoon tea if you'd like.
The gates to the house are across the street from Pikes Bridge.
From the bridge, you can also see Connolly's Folly, a monument that was built in 1740 by the poor for no real reason only to give them employment.
It was commissioned by Katherine Conolly, the widow of the philanthropist and politician William Conolly of Castletown House.
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The monument consists of a 50-foot high (15 meters) obelisk on top of a 50-foot podium of arches.
You can also catch the National Famine Way trail that connects with the greenway.
It follows the path that close to 1,500 famine emigrants took from Strokestown in Co. Roscommon to Dublin in 1847.
Their long walk took them along the Royal Canal. A sculpture in Dublin marks the end of their journey.
At Mullingar, the canal meets the Old Rail Trail, mentioned below in this post, which runs in a southwest direction toward Athlone. This greenway is currently being expanded to reach Galway.
A greenway connection from Maynooth to Dublin is in the works, with two short stretches already completed. The project will hopefully be finished soon.
Bike Rental: Royal Canal Bike Hire, Maynooth
2. The Great Eastern Greenway
The Great Eastern Greenway (also known as the Carlingford Lough Greenway) can be found along the southern shore of Carlingford Lough. Built on the old Dundalk Newry & Greenore railway line, the trail connects Carlingford and Omeath in Co. Louth.
The railway was built by the London and North-Western Railway to carry passengers and freight between Dundalk and Newry, Co. Down.
The Mourne Mountains in Co. Down and the Cooley Mountains in northeast Co. Louth provides a beautiful backdrop for this 7-km (5.6-mile) greenway.
Nearby attractions in Carlingford include King John’s Castle (also known as Carlingford Castle), which was built by Hugh de Lacy in the 12th century, the Mint, and The Thosel, a 15th-century building that is attached to the last remains of the town’s four town gates.
Bike Rental: Carlingford Bike Hire, Carlingford, Co. Louth.
3. The Great Western Greenway
The Great Western Greenway was the first of its kind to be developed to make cycling in Ireland safer and more enjoyable.
Built on top of the old Midlands Great Western Railway line in Co. Mayo (which was closed in 1937), the first 14 km (8.6 miles) of the Greenway opened in 2010, with the remainder of it unveiled in June 2011.
The total length of this bike/walking trail is 42 km (27 miles).
The part of the route that goes from Achill to Newport is particularly impressive.
Feast your eyes on the spectacular Nephin Beg mountain range that includes Nephin, its highest range, as well as the Nephin Beg, Slieve Carr, Birreencorragh, and Corranbinnia/Cushcamcarragh mountains.
Nephin Forest is also part of the range. The whole region is considered Ireland’s first designated wilderness area that includes forest roads and walking trails.
It also includes a large amount of Ballycroy National Park.
The greenway will take you close to Clew Bay and the nearby Croagh Patrick, Ireland’s holy mountain.
Some of the heritage sites you’ll see along the way include Rockfleet Castle, once the home of Granuaile (Grace O’Malley), the infamous Pirate Queen, as well as the 15th-century Burrishoole Abbey.
Be sure to check out the towns of Newport and Mulranny, which are both on the Greenway.
Bike Rental: Clew Bay Bike Hire, Westport, Co. Mayo.
4. The Waterford Greenway
Like the greenway in Co. Mayo, this one also runs along an abandoned railway line that was once the Waterford-to-Mallow rail route.
It was opened in 2017, 50 years after the last train had traveled along its tracks.
The Waterford Greenway runs between the Viking city of Waterford and the historic port of Dungarvan.
The route is an easy one that will take you through some of the most beautiful scenery in Southeast Ireland.
You’ll meander through lush green countryside, with views of the Comeragh Mountains, with the remainder of the route hugging the coastline known as the Copper Coast.
As you make your way along the Greenway, you’ll cross 11 bridges, two stone viaducts, and cycle through the 400-meter Ballyvoyle Tunnel.
The greenway is divided into six sections, all mostly flat terrain.
Some of its notable attractions include the Woodstown Viking site, where archaeologists in 2003 uncovered evidence of an 8th-century Viking settlement that actually pre-dated the one in nearby Waterford City; Mount Congreve, home to the largest collection of plants in Ireland; the remains of Kilmeaden Castle; the Kilmacthomas Workhouse; a heritage narrow gauge railway that travels for 8.5 km on the abandoned Waterford to Cork railway line; the Cloughlowrish Stone, and Dungarvan Castle.
Bike Rental: Waterford Greenway Bike Hire & Visitor Centre at three locations, including Waterford, Dungarvan, and Kilmacthomas.
5. The Great Southern Greenway
If you’re in the Limerick area, be sure to check out the 39 km (24 miles) Great Southern Greenway which is also on an old railway line that once linked the city of Limerick with Tralee in North Kerry.
The line opened between 1867 and 1880 and closed between 1975 and 1977.
There are five sections to the greenway connecting the towns of Rathkeale, Newcastlewest, and Abbeyfeale, which lie on the Limerick/Kerry border.
There are plans, however, to extend it to Fenit in Co. Kerry, making it 85 km in total (52 miles). That is expected to be complete by June 2021.
The greenway reveals much of the beautiful Limerick landscape that is untouched by modern development.
While there are plenty of signposted walking routes along the trail, some of the more interesting things you’ll discover along the route include the Doctor’s Bridge constructed in 1880, with its beautifully angled arch and stone walls; Tullig Wood; panoramic views of the Golden Vale, an area of rolling pastureland that covers parts of Counties Limerick, Tipperary and Cork; the ancient churchyard at Clounagh and the ruins of the 15th-century Lisnacille Castle in the distance.
Bike Rental: Pedal Pursuits Bike Hire, Newcastle West, Limerick
6. Old Rail Trail: Mullingar to Athlone Greenway
Ireland’s midlands are often overlooked by tourists who are eager to see the coasts, but there’s a lot to see and do in this area of Ireland.
The area includes Counties Leitrim, Roscommon, Longford as well as parts of Westmeath, Cavan, North Tipperary, Galway, and Offaly.
Lakes are plentiful in this region, and of course, you can’t miss Ireland’s longest river, the Shannon.
Also making its way through the heartlands are a number of canals, one of them being the Royal Canal, which was originally built in the 18th century to transport freight and passengers from the River Liffey in Dublin to Longford.
The canal fell into disrepair during the latter half of the 20th century, but much of it has been restored for navigation.
The Old Rail Trail: Mullingar to Athlone Greenway is a dedicated cycle path that follows the former Midland Great Western Railway, which runs parallel to the canal.
The 40-km (24-mile) greenway is an ideal route for cycling in Ireland and can be accessed in Mullingar, which is about an hour’s drive from Dublin.
You’ll cycle through much of Ireland’s beautiful midlands landscape before reaching the bustling town of Athlone.
Plenty of entry and exit points along the way will give you the chance to explore the many little villages and towns that are close to the greenway.
Some of the attractions close to the greenway include the following:
Mullingar – the Cathedral of Christ the King is located close to the canal. It is known for its amazing mosaics, the work of the Russian-born mosaic artist Boris Anrep, whose other mosaics can be found in London’s Westminster Cathedral.
Belvedere House Gardens & Park is also worth a visit when you’re in the area. The house, which once belonged to the Rochfort family, is about a 13-minute drive/27-minute cycle from the cathedral.
The house sits on 160 acres and includes a Georgian villa, a Victorian walled garden, and one of its most unusual features, the Jealous Wall.
The Heritage Park at Dún na Sí – entrance is available from the exit point at Moate. There is a lot to experience here, including an ancient ring fort and a mass rock typical of those used by Catholics during Ireland’s Penal Times.
Learn about life in an Irish farmhouse 100 years ago and view the unique collection of farm machinery. Learn, also, about the traditional trades that were common in Irish society in the blacksmith’s forge and fisherman’s cottage.
Learn about the castle’s first 400 years, from a timber fort to the defensive structure that you see today. You’ll also learn about the early settlers who lived in the Athlone area, from pre-history to the 12th century.
Be sure to look out for the massive North Gate lock and key. You’ll see the inscription date of 1613 on the enormous iron padlock.
Bike Rental: Mullingar Bike Hire, Mullingar.
7. Newry Canal Way
The Newry Canal Way, running from Portadown to Newry City, is the longest traffic-free greenway in Northern Ireland.
It was built to link the Tyrone coalfields to the Irish Sea at Carlingford Lough near Newry. It was actually the first summit-level canal to be constructed in Ireland or England in the mid-1700s.
Summit-level canals are artificial waterways connecting two separate river valleys. They were considered the first steps in the developing transportation system of the 18th century (before railways and cars).
The greenway is 37 km (20 miles) long and includes some interesting attractions along the way.
They include Moneypenny’s Lock and Museum, a restored 18th-century lock-keepers house, with stables and a bothy (a small cottage) located right on the canal.
The house, belonging to the Moneypennys who were lock keepers for 85 years, is open to the public, although parts of it are now a private residence.
The greenway also passes through the village of Scarva, known for its colorful floral displays during the summer months.
If you don’t have your own transport, you can get to the greenway’s starting point at Portadown by taking the train from Belfast on the Belfast-Newry railway line.
Bike hire: Craigavon Watersports Centre
The Comber Greenway
This is a much smaller greenway than the others mentioned in this post, but if you’re staying in Belfast for a few days, The Comber Greenway is well worth doing.
The seven-mile (11 km) traffic-free section of the National Cycle Network follows the old Belfast to Comber railway line.
The greenway starts at the western end of the Queen Elizabeth Bridge in Belfast.
The traffic-free cycling portion of it does not begin until you reach Dee Street in East Belfast, which is close to the Harland & Wolff shipyard.
Attractions to watch out for along the way include the CS Lewis statue in honor of the Belfast-born writer CS Lewis, views of the shipyard, and one of Belfast’s main attractions, Titanic Belfast, the parliament buildings at Stormont, and the hills surrounding this beautiful city.
There are rural parts of this greenway, too, especially as you get closer to Comber.
Alternatively, another bike ride to take while still in the Belfast area is the Lagan Towpath, a 17-km (10 miles) that will take you along the River Lagan and a canal system that runs from Belfast to Lisburn.
Bike Hire: Belfast Bikes
- If the journey seems too daunting, rent an e-bike.
- Reserve your bike ahead of time, especially if you are in Ireland during the busy tourist season.
- Pack a lunch and water or some snacks, or if your journey is longer, stop half-way for a bite to eat.
- Wear layers since Ireland’s weather is changeable
Have you tried cycling in Ireland? Let me know in the comments below. For more information on cycling trails around Ireland, visit Let's Cycle Ireland.