What are the top 3 most challenging cycling routes in Northern Ireland?

11 June 2024

Ireland, with its enchanting landscapes, offers an abundance of appealing and challenging routes for cycling enthusiasts. But what if you're seeking thrilling trails that will test your stamina and endurance? Northern Ireland, with its rugged coastlines, mountainous terrains, and scenic parks, has just the answer for you. In this article, we will explore the top three most challenging cycle routes in Northern Ireland. These are not your average day rides. These trails demand the best from you, offering, in return, some of the most breathtaking views you can imagine.

1. The Mourne Mountains Loop

Unquestionably, the Mourne Mountains Loop is one of the most challenging cycle routes in Northern Ireland. This demanding trail offers a unique blend of natural beauty and grueling gradients. It’s the kind of ride that will push your limits, but the rewards are truly worth it.

The loop commences and concludes in the county town of Downpatrick. As you follow the 150km route, you will pass through the charming village of Castlewellan before you reach the foothills of the imposing Mournes. The climb here is steep and relentless, but as you ascend, you'll be treated to panoramic views of the stunning mountain range.

One of the key highlights of this ride is the descent down to the Silent Valley Reservoir. Here, you'll encounter a thrilling downhill trail that is both exhilarating and technically challenging. The loop also takes you along the scenic coast, via Newcastle, and back to Downpatrick. Preparation and a good level of fitness are essential for this route.

2. The Giant's Causeway route

The Giant's Causeway, a UNESCO World Heritage site, offers a cycling route that is as challenging as it is stunning. Starting from Bushmills in County Antrim, the road to the Giant's Causeway is a test of both physical endurance and mental grit.

This 60km route takes you along the Northern Irish coast, offering spectacular views of the sea on one side and rolling green hills on the other. As you ride towards the Causeway, you will encounter steep climbs that will test your power and endurance. By no means is this an easy ride, but the sight of the unique hexagonal rock formations at the end is a reward that makes the struggle worthwhile.

The route isn't just about the tour to the Causeway. The journey back to Bushmills is equally demanding, with steep climbs and descents on the cards. While a challenging ride, the Giant's Causeway route is a must-do for any cyclist looking to challenge themselves in Northern Ireland.

3. The Lough Navar Forest route

The Lough Navar Forest route in County Fermanagh is another challenging cycling trail in Northern Ireland. The forest, known for its rich biodiversity and mesmerizing views over Lower Lough Erne, offers a 25km cycle route that is as challenging as it is picturesque.

Starting from the Lough Navar Forest Park, the trail goes through dense woods, along rugged road surfaces and steep climbs. The ride is a test of your mountain biking skills, with rocky terrains and narrow trails. However, amidst the challenge, the route also offers moments to catch your breath and enjoy the beautiful forest surroundings.

The crowning jewel of this route is the scenic viewpoint at the top of the Magho Cliffs. After a challenging climb, you can marvel at the panoramic views over the enchanting Lower Lough Erne and beyond. Despite the short distance, the Lough Navar Forest route is a demanding ride, but the spectacular views offer a sweet respite to your hard work.

In conclusion, there's no denying that Northern Ireland is a cyclist's paradise. Whether you're looking to test your endurance on mountainous terrains, challenge your stamina on coastal roads, or improve your off-road biking skills, there's a trail waiting for you. The Mourne Mountains Loop, the Giant's Causeway route, and the Lough Navar Forest route are three of the most challenging cycle routes in the region. So gear up, prepare well, and get ready to explore Northern Ireland on a bike like never before.

4. The Strangford Lough Cycle Route

A thrilling long-distance ride that would test both your mettle and muscle is the Strangford Lough Cycle Route. This 115km route is a perfect blend of endurance, stamina and spatial awareness, curving along the stunningly beautiful shoreline of Strangford Lough, Northern Ireland's largest inland sea.

Starting from Newtownards, the route takes you through a varied landscape of quiet country roads, bustling market towns and picturesque coastal paths. Along the way, you'll pass by the town of Comber, famous for its potato cultivation. Then, the route leads you to Downpatrick, where you can visit the St. Patrick Centre, a museum dedicated to the patron saint of Ireland.

The ride offers a challenging test in the form of the Scrabo Hill. This is a tough climb, but reaching the top gives you a fantastic view over the Lough and the surrounding landscapes. The descent from the hill will certainly be an adrenaline rush, requiring good control over your bike.

After the downhill thrill, the route brings you along the western shore of the Lough. This part of the ride is a soothing contrast with its tranquil scenery. The route ends back in Newtownards, making it a full loop. With a mix of exciting climbs, fast descents and beautiful sceneries, the Strangford Lough Cycle Route is certainly one of the top challenging cycling routes in Northern Ireland.

5. The Causeway Coast Cycle Route

The Causeway Coast Cycle Route is one of the most scenic and challenging cycling routes in Northern Ireland. Starting and ending in the historic city of Londonderry, this 315km route takes you along the stunning coastlines, offering breathtaking views of the North Atlantic Ocean, rugged cliffs, and the world-renowned Giant's Causeway.

The first part of the route heads east along the coast, passing through the towns of Portstewart and Portrush before reaching the Giant's Causeway. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a geological wonder with its unique hexagonal basalt columns. It's a perfect spot to rest and take in the natural beauty.

The route continues through the Glens of Antrim, a series of nine glens, each with its own unique character and charm. The ride through the glens is demanding with numerous climbs and descents, but the spectacular views make the effort worthwhile.

The journey back to Londonderry is no less challenging. It involves climbing over the high Sperrin Mountains, a range that is considered one of the wildest and most unspoilt landscapes in the UK.

Despite the challenge, the Causeway Coast Cycle Route offers an unmatched opportunity to experience the natural beauty of Northern Ireland. With a high level of fitness required, this ride is an excellent choice for avid road cycling enthusiasts.


Northern Ireland, with its diverse landscapes and challenging terrains, is a dream destination for cyclists around the world. The variety of cycle routes, from the breathtaking Mourne Mountains Loop to the enchanting Lough Navar Forest route, provides experiences that are as rewarding as they are challenging. Additional routes, including the Strangford Lough Cycle Route and the Causeway Coast Cycle Route, add to the diversity and excitement on offer.

Each route demands a good level of fitness, skilled control over your bike, and a spirit ready to conquer the most intense climbs and swift descents. Remember, it's not just about the physical exertion but also about soaking in the beauty of the surroundings. Whether it's your first Ireland tour or you're a seasoned visitor, these cycle routes promise to give you an unforgettable cycling adventure in Northern Ireland. So, get your mountain bike ready, plan your trip, and embark on a journey that you'll remember for a lifetime.

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