I’m always up for an adventure, and cycling the Wild Atlantic Way is something of a dream for me, even though I don’t own a bicycle!
This scenic route is quickly establishing itself as Ireland’s answer to LEJOG – the famous course that stretches across the UK from John O’Groats to Lands End – but is even longer and arguably more challenging.
By the time you’ve completed the Wild Atlantic Way, you will have cycled 2,500 km and climbed over 23,000 m, which is roughly equivalent to climbing Mouth Everest three times in a row!
Not sure you’re ready for such an adventure? Fortunately, you don’t have to do the whole Wild Atlantic Way in one go – the route has been conveniently divided into stages to make it more manageable.
There’s also an alternative route for less experienced cyclists, which covers just 1,040 km but still allows you to enjoy the dramatic landscapes, charming villages, and rich cultural heritage.
Key Points From This Article:
The Wild Atlantic Way is one of the longest coastal routes in the world, stretching along 2,343 km of Ireland’s west coast.
The route can be challenging, with a length of 2,500 km and climbs of over 23,000 m, but it can be broken down into stages for a more manageable journey.
Cyclists of all levels can enjoy the Wild Atlantic Way, with options for shorter and less demanding routes, and the route can be cycled between May and September for the best weather.
What is the Wild Atlantic Way?
The Wild Atlantic Way is one of the longest coastal routes in the world, winding its way along 2,343 km of Ireland’s dramatic west coast.
The National Tourism Development Authority of the Republic of Ireland, Fáilte Ireland, launched the signposted route in 2014, hoping it would boost tourism. The initiative has proved successful, with millions of international and domestic tourists traveling the route each year.
Devised as a long-distance touring route, it soon attracted adventurous hikers and cyclists keen to tackle the journey and experience its natural beauty and cultural highlights.
Where Does the Wild Atlantic Way Begin and End?
Traditionally, the Wild Atlantic Way starts in the north and finishes in the south, but most cyclists travel the other way around to capitalize on the prevailing winds.
Starting in Kinsale at the southern end of County Cork, the Wild Atlantic Way first heads south to Mizen Head before turning north and following the coast to the Inishowen Peninsula in the north of County Donegal.
How Long does it take to Cycle the Entire Wild Atlantic Way?
A keen cyclist can complete the Wild Atlantic Way in less than two weeks if they’re lucky with the wind and don’t experience too many mechanical issues.
You’ll need to cover 180 km to complete the route in 13 days, so if you’re not up to that, you need to plan accordingly. If 100km a day is your maximum, you’ll need to dedicate a whole month to the adventure, although some do it much faster.
The current cycling record for the Wild Atlantic Way was set by Joe Barr in 2021. He cycled from Inishowen to Kinsale in 5 days, 7 hr 46 min, averaging a speed of 11.34 mph.
Is the Wild Atlantic Way Suitable for All Levels of Cycling Ability?
If you’re going to tackle the Wild Atlantic Way on your own, you need to be an experienced cyclist of above-average fitness. If not, you might want to consider cycling with a dedicated tour company that provides support along the way and gives you the option of hopping in a vehicle should your legs get too tired.
Tackling the whole Wild Atlantic Way in one go is a big challenge, and means you need to get at least four weeks off work, which could be difficult for some.
Fortunately, there is a shorter alternative more suited to those who prefer a more relaxed pace. The MizMal route follows the west Ireland coastline from Mizen Head to Malan Head in the north but cuts out many of the headlands and promontories included on the Wild Atlantic Way, reducing the journey by more than half.
You can do the MizMal ride in either seven or 12 days, depending on your fitness levels and preferred pace. To complete it in seven days, you’ll need to average 145 km per day, while on the longer tour, you’ll only need to cycle around 87 km daily.
These options make it possible for all levels of cyclists to enjoy the highlights of Wild Atlantic Way without having to achieve Olympic-level fitness beforehand! If you can ride between 50 and 70 miles once or twice a week, you can easily complete the MizMal or a couple of stages of the Wild Atlantic Way.
What is the Best Time of Year to Cycle the Wild Atlantic Way?
The Wild Atlantic Way is best enjoyed between May and September when the weather is warmer and drier.
Even then, your chances of getting sunshine and blue skies every day are minimal. Large weather fronts drift in off the Atlantic Ocean, bringing with them an assortment of conditions, from wind and rain to warm sea breezes and sunshine.
Unfortunately, this summer period is also the busiest, which could detract from the experience. Popular landmarks and attractions will be packed with people, and you may find yourself sharing sections of the route with an endless stream of tour buses and hire cars.
To get the best of both worlds, plan your Wild Atlantic Way cycle tour for September when the school holidays have come to an end and the mellower sun illuminates the spectacular vistas of the west Ireland coast.
The Most Scenic Routes Along the Wild Atlantic Way
Kinsdale to Mizen Head
Assuming you’re traveling the Wild Atlantic Way from south to north, the first day of your adventure will be one of the most memorable.
With its ancient stone circles, sandy beaches, and pretty villages, the journey from Kinsdale to Mizen Head gives you a taste of what the Wild Atlantic Way is really about.
The route meanders around the peninsulas of Sheep’s Head and Berea, giving you breathtaking views of the mountains while following the jagged edge of the coastline.
This section of the Wild Atlantic Way offers a combination of long, flat valleys and dramatic mountain climbs. The route takes you through the foothills beneath the Slieve Mish mountains, past rocky outcrops and death-defying cliffs.
From Slea Head Drive, you can see the rugged beauty of the Blasket Islands and could catch a glimpse of seals, dolphins, and even whales.
The seaside town of Dingle is the perfect place to stop for a bite and soak up the town’s vibrant atmosphere.
The Loophead peninsula is nestled between the Atlantic Ocean and the River Shannon, and the route meanders along the coastline, taking you past cliffs and castles before emerging at the Loophead Lighthouse.
From there, you can stare down into the raging waters of the Atlantic Ocean, imagining the days when warriors and witches roamed the countryside.
The Cliffs of Moher and the Burren
This is the Wild Atlantic Way at its best! Freewheel through the alien landscape of the Burren, where gray rocky pavement supports a surprising diversity of flora and fauna.
The route along the Cliffs of Moher is arguably one of the greatest cycle routes in the world and well worth taking your time over. One of Ireland’s most famous landmarks, the Cliffs of Moher tower over the rough Atlantic Sea, offering visitors spectacular views of the Arran Islands.
The Most Challenging Sections of the Wild Atlantic Way
The Wild Atlantic Way doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to challenging your strength and stamina, and you’ll be put to the test right from the outset.
The ride from Kinsale to Mizen Head isn’t as hilly as some of the later sections of the Wild Atlantic Way, but as you’ll be cycling straight into a headwind, it will feel harder than it looks.
One of the most rigorous climbs on the Wild Atlantic Way is situated between Killary Harbour and Westport. You need to get out of the saddle to tackle the Sheeffry Pass, which includes a 500ft ascent to the top.
The Mamore Gap is even more challenging and is considered one of Ireland’s toughest climbs. Even the fittest cyclists will have to dig deep on this two-kilometer ascent. The steep terrain is challenging even for the sheep, and with an average gradient of 12.3%, you’re definitely going to feel the burn!
Cycle Tours and Bike Rentals on the Wild Atlantic Way
If you feel cycling the Wild Atlantic Way solo might be a bit much to ask, you can always contact one of the cycle tour companies offering supported trips along the route.
Wild Atlantic Cycling Tours will meet you at the airport, transfer you to your starting point, and assist you every step of the way. If you encounter mechanical mishaps, they’ll be there to pick up the pieces. If your legs give out or the saddle sores kick in, you can opt to spend the rest of the day traveling in the support vehicle.
Cycling tour operators also take care of all your logistics, giving you peace of mind while letting you enjoy the experience at your own pace.
Other cycling tour operators offering Wild Atlantic Way experience include Ireland by Bike and Green Marble Cycle Tours.
If you don’t want to travel with your own bike, you can easily hire one either from a cycling tour operator or one of the many bike rental companies dotted along the Wild Atlantic Way.
Wild Atlantic Sports in Kinsale rents out touring bikes complete with panniers, helmets, hi-vis vests, locks, and repair kits. They charge weekly, rather than daily rates, which makes their prices more affordable.
Accommodation Along the Wild Atlantic Way
The accommodation available on the Wild Atlantic Way is as varied as the terrain you travel through. From wild camping spots to wooden glamping pods and B&Bs to hotels, there’s something to suit everyone’s taste and budget.
Those that like something a little different can book accommodation at castles and lighthouses, while those wanting to immerse themselves in the local culture will probably feel more at home in small, family-fun guesthouses and B&Bs.
Not all venues will have dedicated bike storage facilities, but most will accommodate you as best you can or even let you keep your bike in your room for the night.
Due to the growing popularity of the Wild Atlantic Way and Ireland’s west coast in general, it’s usually best to book your accommodation in advance, especially if you have your heart set on specific stopover points.
If you decide to simply go with the flow, a quick chat with a local bartender will usually be all its takes to locate several different places to rest your weary legs!
Must-See Attractions Along the Wild Atlantic Way
There’s very little on the Wild Atlantic Way that doesn’t deserve a visit, but some of the highlights include places we’ve already mentioned, like Dingle, the Cliffs of Moher, Killary Harbour, and the Burren.
Some other places you might want to earmark before you start planning your trip include the colorful town of Westport, the turquoise waters of Clew Bay, the epic Slieve League cliffs, and the remote and rugged Achill Island.
There are so many places of historical and cultural interest, outstanding natural beauty, and geological significance that it’s impossible to list them all. You certainly won’t have time to visit every one of them, so select the ones that appeal the most and plan your route and pace accordingly.
Safety Considerations for Cyclists Riding the Wild Atlantic Way
In most places on the Wild Atlantic Way, it’s both legal and safe to ride two abreast, but there are sections when the road is so narrow and windy that single file becomes necessary.
Areas around popular tourist attractions tend to get clogged up with traffic, and you’ll find yourself squeezing between coaches as you pedal your way through. While this might not be ideal, those who’ve cycled the route before say drivers are generally friendly and polite, so it doesn’t pose too much danger.
In general, the west coast of Ireland is a pretty safe place, but there’s always a risk of petty crime, especially in areas where there are lots of tourists. Leave your jewelry and other personal effects at home, so you’ve got less to worry about, and make sure your wallet and other personal belongings are secure and out of sight.
There’s also a slim chance your bicycle could get stolen, so make sure you always lock it securely and try to keep it inside overnight.
Before You Go
Seeing as I’m more of a horse rider than a cyclist, my legs are hurting just writing this, but I’m adding cycling the Wild Atlantic Way to my bucket list anyway! I envy those of you already out there every weekend clocking up the miles because this dream is already within your grasp!
Isn’t it time you thought about cycling the Wild Atlantic Way, or at least part of it, and becoming a part of this ancient coastline where the natural beauty provides an awe-inspiring backdrop for a rich and varied cultural history?
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"Like many so-called Brits, I have a bit of Irish and a bit of Scottish in my blood, which is possibly where the red hair comes from. I’ve been fascinated by the history of Ireland for years, since I discovered the story of the Irish Pirate Queen, Grace O’Malley.