Grab a cycling helmet and head for Ireland’s fantastic greenways to enjoy spectacular scenery in an eco-friendly way.
The Great Western Greenway in County Mayo led the way in restoring disused rail routes in 2010 and they set the bicycle bar high. Stretching between Westport and Achill Sound for 42km, its landscapes and seascapes are ever changing, with views of the many islands of Clew Bay or the Nephin Beg Mountains, and popular stop-off points of Mulranny, Achill Island and the cultural hub of Westport. Train travellers can hop on the Greenway at Westport, with an access point just 500m from the town centre, and Clew Bay Bike Hire just two minutes’ walk from the station. You can also rent bikes in Newport, Achill and Mulranny. Clew Bay Bike Hire also offers a shuttle service if you don’t want to cycle all the way back again.
The Waterford Greenway may not be the oldest but it is now officially the longest former railway greenway in Ireland at 46km, on the former Waterford to Mallow railway line. Also known as the Déise Greenway, the colloquial name for Waterford County, the trail takes you from Waterford to Dungarvan. After Waterford, you follow the banks of the River Suir as far as Mount Congreve Gardens, when you leave the river and saunter in the shadow of the Comeragh Mountains. From peaks to beach, you arrive into Dungarvan with the natural highs of Dungarvan Bay and Clonea Strand stretching out before you. Discover Déise by taking the train to Waterford and hire a bike at Waterford Greenway Bike Hire, just two minutes from the station. They also have two hubs at Kilmacthomas and Dungarvan.
You can escape the industrial and commercial hub of Belfast very quickly on the 11.2km Comber Greenway, which takes you out of Belfast to County Down’s small town of Comber. Starting in the shadow of Belfast’s iconic Harland and Wolf’s giant yellow cranes, you cycle out through the suburbs. A shorter greenway, you can extend your trip by cycling on road to – and walking around – Island Hill and North Strangford Nature Reserve, Castle Espie Woodland Trail, or a bit further to Scrabo Hill. The Comber Greenway is just under 1km from the Titanic Quarter and eponymous railway station, and you can use the city’s shared Belfast Bikes rental scheme to enjoy the route, with several docking stations nearby.
The Limerick Greenway, also known as the Great Southern Trail after the name of the original rail route that went from Limerick to Tralee, is a 39km off-road trail between Rathkeale and Abbeyfeale, with plans to extend it as far as Listowel later this year. This is a journey through ancient Irish heritage, taking in five original cut-stone bridges, the medieval Desmond Castle and the Irish Palatine Heritage Museum in Rathkeale in the former station. The nearest connection by train today is in Limerick city, though this is 31km from the greenway. You can, however, travel with Bus Eireann to Rathkeale, Newcastle West and Abbeyfeale, with bike rental at the Greenway’s Barnagh hub. Or you can put your own bike on the bus for a €10 fee.
The longest off-road trail in Ireland (not on a former rail route), the Royal Canal Greenway stretches 130km from Maynooth to the village of Cloondara in County Longford, where the Canal meets the River Shannon. Although you do need to get off and push at some of the town hubs, its main access points are at Maynooth, Enfield, Mullingar, Cloondara and Longford town. There are bike rental spots and train stations in all of these towns too. Criss-crossing the canal at various points, a journey along the Greenway also takes you along a cultural cross-section of Ireland’s Midlands, with highlights including the historic market town of Mullingar, Enfield and the Boyne Valley, as well as many locks and canal heritage en route.
It’s not such a long way to Tipperary along the county’s Suir Blueway. Although it gives off-road, riverside access to cyclists for 21km between Carrick-on-Suir and Clonmel, kayakers and canoeists can also access the trail for an additional 32km of the River Suir. Heritage highlights along the way include the exquisite Elizabethan Ormond Castle in Carrick-on-Suir, and one of the best preserved medieval castles at Clonmel. Access the route by train at both ends of the Blueway, with bike rental at Blueway Bike Hire in Carrick-on-Suir.
The Suir Blueway is one of three that have recently become the first accredited blueways in Ireland, meaning they are now considered world-class destinations for water-based and water-side activities.
The others are the Boyne Blueway in Trim, County Meath, and the Lough Derg Blueway, which traverses counties Clare, Tipperary and Galway.