11 Stunning Reasons to Cycle Clare & the Aran Islands
We’re a tad spoilt for choice when it comes to remarkable roads in Ireland. This cycle route explores some of the most stunning scenery in Ireland at the perfect pace. It is an experience that will stay with you for a lifetime. For someone who is perpetually late and takes endless photos, the self-guided aspect of this cycle tour is genius. The plan to cycle self-guided may not always go to plan. Don’t fear. If you find yourself lost you’ll soon realise it’s difficult to find anything but marvellous views along Ireland’s west. Immerse yourself in nature, history and the lively Irish culture at your own pace.
Let’s begin eh? Don’t forget your camera.
Ennis is a truly hidden gem and your entry point into the capital of county Clare. After an early transfer from Dublin the town is yours to explore. Wander the colourful streets, listening out for traditional buskers and savouring smells from local cafes. The Ennis Friary is the town’s oldest building and is an iconic stop while you’re in town. Founded in the late 13th century, the history, archaeology and sculptures contained within the medieval building are a treasure. Not a history buff? Perhaps the Dromore Wood Nature Reserve is more your style. The national park offers two gorgeous walks taking in lakes, limestone and woodlands full of wildlife. Keep your eyes peeled for a red squirrel. Remember, wasting time in Ireland is not time wasted.
- Spanish Point
Cycle alongside rolling green pastures until the mighty Atlantic comes into view at Spanish Point. The area was named Spanish Point after several ships from the Spanish Armada sunk in 1588 during wild weather. Nowadays Spanish Point is a great spot to enjoy white-sandy beaches and sample some fantastic local seafood.
- Cliffs of Moher
Words alone cannot do the Cliffs of Moher justice. They are one of the most, if not the most, iconic destinations in Ireland. Just outside of Liscannor village, the vertical cliffs stretch as far as the eye can see with the highest peaks towering 200m over the wild Atlantic. It is a rugged landscape of immense natural beauty. Can you hear the sounds of sea-bird colonies and crashing waves? If you’re blessed by sunny skies you’ll enjoy tremendous views across to the Aran Islands and Galway Bay. I would recommend the Cliff Walk as the best way to experience your visit. Hike along the 8km of coastline, perhaps on your designated rest day? Sense of adventure is essential.
- Wild Atlantic Way
Spend today’s cycle with the mighty Atlantic Ocean on your left and the rocky Burren National Park on your right. The Wild Atlantic Way provides a sensational journey along sweeping coastlines and towering sea cliffs. Soak in views from the northerly tip at Black Head before reaching Ballyvaughan. Take in this enchanting village while being surrounded by the limestone landscape of the Burren. Don’t forget to keep your eye out for hidden beaches and grand bays as you cycle the loop back to Doolin.
I would argue that Doolin is the best possible place to be based for 4 nights of your cycle adventure. Are you mad for trad? For many Doolin is the Irish traditional music capital. In other words, you are guaranteed good craic. A visit to McGann’s Pub in the heart of Doolin is an absolute must for a drink and a homely Irish meal. Listen to some powerful folk music and enjoy what can only be described as a truly intimate Irish town.
- Aran Islands – Inishmore
A short ferry ride from the mainland lies the wild beauty of these ancient islands. Immerse yourself for an entire day on the largest of the islands, Inishmore. Only 14km long and 4km wide the island is a cyclist’s paradise. Arrive in Kilronan and cycle through and eclectic mix of attractions along the way. The natural land and seascapes reveal an abundance of wildlife and native wildflowers. Inishmore is famously known for its strong Irish culture and prehistoric stone forts. You cannot miss seeing Dun Aoghasa, a semi-circular stone fort perched on the edge of vertical cliffs. Follow the road along the north coast and enjoy the breath-taking white sands of Kimurvey Beach. Take your time today and hop off your bike at every photo opportunity. You have all the time in world to explore the raw beauty of this incredible island. Well, until the afternoon ferry arrives. Get cracking!
- Doolin Cave
Descend into Doolin cave and marvel at the largest free-hanging stalactite in the Northern Hemisphere. Journey beneath the limestone valley into darkness and learn how weak acidic water dissolved limestone rock, thus bringing the cave to life. Can you believe the 7.3 metre long stalactite has taken 70,000 years to form? This is truly one of the best kept secrets along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way! Side note: No photo inside of Doolin Cave has been included to guarantee you visit.
- Poulnabrune Dolmen
Discover this archaeological mystery on your cycle loop from Doolin. The name ‘Poulnabrune’ literally means hole of the sorrows, and it is exactly that. Situated in the Burren National Park the dolmen is a burial site of a local Chieftain. A spectacular remnant of Neolithic history. Be sure to wander around the 4,500 year old dolmen as it provides magnificent aspects from every angle.
- Noughaval Catholic Church
Only a few kilometers outside of Kilfenora are the ruins of this early monastic site. Exploring the grounds you will notice two distinguishing features, a decorated arch over the church doorway and an ancient Celtic Cross on the grounds nearby. Hundreds of these crosses are dotted throughout cemeteries in Ireland and the United Kingdom. It is believed that St. Patrick introduced the Celtic Cross, during his conversion of paganism to Christianity. The date of the crumbling site is unknown, creating a haunting yet intriguing atmosphere.
- Noughaval Catholic Church
Burren National Park
Cycle into the heart of the Burren and wind around amazing limestone mountains at every turn. Burren National Park is a place of grand national beauty. The gnarly rocks seen here are made up of limestone pavement, formed from a tropical sea over 330 million years ago. Look close enough you will discover valleys teeming with colorful flora and fauna. If you haven’t been wowed enough by this lunar landscape you should stop at the Hazel Mountain Chocolate Factory. Hidden in the Burren mountains it is one of the most remote chocolate factories in the world. Chocoholic or not, this place is also worth a visit.
- Kinvara & Dunguaire Castle
Marvel at the views of Dunguaire Castle from the quirky seaside town of Kinvara. You will soon discover why Dunguaire is the most photographed castle in the west. Perfectly placed on the harbour shoreline the castle is well worth climbing up the stairs to explore. After hundreds of kilometres of cycling why not find yourself a nice pub and reward yourself with a freshly poured pint of Guinness? You’ve earned it. This was a cycle adventure well done.
Self guided Clare, Aran Islands cycle by Extreme Ireland