We have always dreamed of cycling Ireland, but after we had kids, we figured we’d need to put the dream on hold until they were old enough. We are a very active family when traveling and we love the idea of a family cycling holiday, but we have often struggled to find a tour operator which has the right equipment and a family-friendly itinerary.
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While researching our Ireland vacation, our Lonely Planet ranked Connemara as it’s #2 destination in Ireland (just behind Dublin). Its combination of beautiful coastal scenery, charming small villages and desolate hills and valleys appealed to us.
The more we looked at the region, the more we realized this would be a perfect area for a family cycle trip – if only we could find a self-guided Connemara bike tour by an outfitter who specializes in family cycling vacations.
A quick Google search later and we found Green Marble Tours, who specialize in cycling tours of Ireland with a focus on biking along outstanding scenic spots. We were excited to see they offered several family-friendly Irish cycling tours, including the Family Connemara Adventure – a 7-day self-guided Connemara cycling tour with age-appropriate cycle gear for the kids!
We love to work with companies who cater to active traveling families, so we quickly teamed up with Green Marble Tours, allowing us to share our experiences with you.
The following is an honest account of our experiences on this family-friendly Connemara bike tour:
Benefits of a Self-Guided Family Cycle Tour
The concept of a self-guided tour of Ireland is perfect for families who (like us) don’t like the typical guided tour experience. Self-guided cycling tours provide all the equipment and logistical support you need to make your trip super-easy and enjoyable.
The benefits you can expect on a Green Marble Cycling tour are:
- Detailed route notes along with maps – for each day of the trip you will receive a map of your route along with step-by-step route instructions and details of the highlights you will see that day.
- Luggage transfers – we love this part about self-guided trips. Green Marble will transport your luggage from place-to-place for you, meaning you only need to take a small day bag with you on your daily cycling.
- Emergency support – chances are you will not need it, but Green Marble is there to help just in case you need it.
Literally moments after we entered our Oughterard hotel, we were greeted by our Green Marble representatives. They were very prepared and walked us through our welcome package which contained all the information we need for the upcoming family cycling vacation in Connemara. The debrief covered all pertinent topics such as the itinerary, daily logistics, dining options, safety considerations, etc.
Cycling Tour Equipment
After we completed our debrief, we walked to a nearby parking lot where the Green Marble Tours van was parked with our equipment. Our representative took the time to ensure that our bikes were properly adjusted for our size.
He went through all aspects of the equipment with us and even gave us a demonstration on how to change a flat tire. We appreciated the panniers for our stuff and the well-stocked repair kit in case of a minor incident along the way.
Cycling Gear for the Adults
Green Marble Tours provided each of us a high-quality Stevens hybrid bicycle (one was even brand new). A hybrid bike is a useful blend of a mountain bike and road bike which allows you to navigate a wide range of riding conditions.
They have a flat handlebar and upright seated position of a mountain bike but are lighter with have smaller, smoother tires. The combination of comfort and flexibility made them perfect for our Connemara tour.
Cycling Gear for the Kids
Green Marble Tours has a wide variety of equipment for kids of all ages and capabilities, including kids’ bikes, trail-gators, tag-alongs and child-trailers.
For our 6-year-old, we got a tag-along bike, while our (nearly) 4-year-old got a single seat chariot. The tag-along was a big hit with the kids, and they ended up taking turns on it.
Connemara Tour Accommodations
Aside from the larger centers of Galway and Clifden, Connemara is populated by charming country-side villages. As such, large hotels are nowhere to be found and most of the accommodations on this family cycle trip are in high-quality bed & breakfasts. Green Marble Tours will arrange suitable family-friendly accommodations for your family.
The actual accommodations will vary for each family who takes this tour, so it’s not worthwhile for us to list where we stayed. We stayed in one hotel (with separate rooms for the adults and kids), while the rest were family-friendly B&B’s.
Having access to healthy food is imperative when on an active trip such as this. Traveling with small kids who may be finnicky eaters can make this even more challenging. With a little pre-planning you’ll be able to ensure that even the pickiest eaters will have something nourishing and enjoyable to eat at every meal.
A free breakfast is included at each stay, making it the easiest meal of the day. Offerings will vary from place-to-place, but a typical offering is a choice of a full Irish breakfast or a continental breakfast.
A full Irish breakfast is perfect pre-biking fuel. You’ll typically get sausage, bacon, black and/or white puddings, eggs, baked beans, fried tomato and toast.
Kids will often enjoy at least some elements of the Irish breakfast, but you’ll often find a selection of cereals, granola, yogurt and fruits.
We eagerly demolished our full Irish breakfasts every day which gave us excellent energy for the cycling ahead. Our kids often ate portions of our breakfast, while enjoying their cereal, fruit and yogurt.
We self-catered lunch every day by stopping at grocery stores along the route. We’d buy bread, peanut butter, fruit, granola bars, Tunnocks Tea Cakes (OMG – so good!), etc.
For dinner, we’d find a nice restaurant in the town we were staying in. We enjoyed the local fare including Irish stew (so good!) and fish and chips.
We had no trouble finding places which had a children’s menu. Many restaurants had toys for the kids and offered popular foods such as pizza, chicken nuggets, pasta, sausage and chips, etc.
The Family Connemara Adventure
Day 1 – Oughterard
We arrived in Oughterard by bus from Galway in the early afternoon. It was a very short walk from the bus stop to our hotel. After our debrief and equipment sizing, we grabbed some groceries then walked the kids over to the nearby playground to let them blow off some steam.
Day 2 – Oughterard to the Aran Islands
After years of dreaming of this, we were so excited to go and bike Ireland. The forecast was good and the current weather was calm with patches of blue sky. Our hotel was kind enough to serve us (an amazing) breakfast 30 minutes prior to opening so we could get on our way.
After a few minutes along the highway, we turned onto a tranquil single-lane country road where we stayed for most of day. We got many waves from friendly locals and had a good laugh with a lady out walking her dog.
As the landscape transitioned to rural life, you start to see the visions of Ireland you came for. The rolling hills are green, the birds are singing and wildflowers are everywhere. The kids loved all of the animals, including sheep, cows and horses.
Before long you begin a slow but steady ascent up a large hill. Over the next 4.3 miles / 7km you’ll ascend 700 feet / 215m. It’s a bit of hard work, especially if you are towing the kids, but if you are in reasonable shape, you’ll make it to the top.
Near the summit, sheep graze on the lush green grass amidst the jagged rocks. A mist had rolled in, partially covering the wind farm near the summit. We naively thought it looked mysterious and moody.
We stopped for a water break and pictures near a beautiful stream, but we didn’t stay long as the midges were out. We all sprayed some Smidge on and got back on the bikes. Midges can’t fly fast enough to keep up with bikes.
Once passing the summit, the ride is mostly flat or downhill for the next 11.8 miles / 19km. We liked the ratio – 7km of effort for 19km of easy biking!
The mist began to cause us a bit of trouble. It wasn’t raining, but as we cycled through the mist we’d get wet. It was a pretty fun experience actually and we dressed appropriately for the rain, but it was a valuable lesson not to trust the weather forecast.
We arrived at the ferry dock an hour early. The transfer to our Aran Island hotel was super easy: Green Marble had already taken care of our ferry tickets and arrived with our luggage as promised. They even stayed to help us get our bikes on to the ferry.
The hotel shuttle van was there to greet us on the other side and took our bags to the hotel while we rode our bikes.
Day 2 Stats: In total, we biked 18 miles / 29km with 2,050 feet / 624m in total elevation gain. Aside from the initial ascent, we barely notice the rest of the uphill sections. It took us 2 hours and 42 minutes of moving time to complete this leg of the journey. We’re pretty slow though as we stop for lots of pictures and videos, breaks for the kids, etc.
Day 3 – Inis Mor (Aran Islands)
We woke to blue skies and sunshine. We were fortunate to have a beautiful, hot day for our free day on Inis Mor. We were on our bikes and started cycling west on the main road by 8:45am. Our early start rewarded us with very little traffic to contend with.
Around the 4.3 mile / 7km mark, there is a beautiful, large white sand beach. What a great surprise, we had no idea there’d be beaches like this on the island!
With the sun shining, we were surprised with the clarity of the ocean water – at spots it seemed on par with the world-famous Caribbean water! The beach was completely empty at this time of day, so we locked up our bikes, took off our shoes and socks and hit the sand for some fun on the beach.
Just beyond the beach on the main road was a small, but interesting graveyard filled with Celtic cross tombstones. We are suckers for an interesting picture, so we parked our bikes and explored for a bit.
We arrived at Dun Aonghasa, the island’s main attraction, at 10:40. Dun Aonghasa is a prehistoric hill fort which dates back to 1100BC. It features a triple wall defense and is perched atop a massive oceanfront cliff offering amazing views. The cliffs are very high with no protective barriers at all, so watch your kids close.
Our next stop was a short bike ride away. Wormhole is a perfectly rectangular hole in the rocks near the sea. The ocean water flows underneath it, waves crash over it and cliffs tower overhead. This is an amazing sight and has been the location for Red Bull cliff diving competitions. It really must be seen while on the island.
We took the quieter northern back road back to our hotel, passing many other cyclists but not many vehicles. This highly scenic road follows the ocean most of the way and the views are excellent. The kids loved seeing all the donkeys along the way (including a baby!) and we liked the picturesque abandoned stone houses filled with flowers and plants growing up the walls.
We appreciated having two nights in one location; when traveling with kids, the less packing and unpacking the better!
Day 3 Stats: There is no set route or itinerary for Day 3. The route we describe above was 12 miles / 19km long with 715 feet / 218m elevation gain. We maintained our leisurely tourist pace on the bikes and the riding took us just under 2 hours.
Day 4 – Inis Mor to Carna
We took the early ferry back to the mainland, allowing us to take our time to Carna.
The first leg of this journey involves a short 1.2 mile / 2km stretch along a busy 2-lane highway. This isn’t the most enjoyable part of the day, but the drivers were safe and courteous and no one got too close for comfort. We felt comfortable in no time and were able to enjoy quick views of the rugged coastline.
Soon the road forks and the traffic got much quieter. This road features many nice country houses with beautiful gardens, overflowing with huge Hydrangea in an amazing array of colors. As usual, the many donkeys we passed were a huge hit with the kids.
Before long we turned onto a desolate, single lane back-country road with hardly a car in sight. As with many backroads, the scenery really takes off here with rock-filled fields of flowing grass and large mountains looming off in the distance.
We enjoyed the sound of birdsong while passing many lakes and large patches of bright wildflowers. As we crossed a narrow ocean inlet at the end of this leg, we stopped to admire a beautiful heron standing patiently in the flowing seaweed beds waiting for a tasty fish to swim by.
Turning back onto another busy highway was a bit of a shock after the tranquil country road, but we were able to break it up with a stop at a nice little café halfway through. You won’t find her on Google Maps, but watch for her roadside signs. She was kind to our kids and we thoroughly enjoyed our fresh ground coffee and ice cream. A perfect place to stop and rest our legs about 1/3 into the day’s journey.
Before long, the road splits again and we turn onto a quieter coastal highway. The amount and variety of wildflowers is truly amazing. Much of this leg follows the shores of a large coastal inlet providing some breathtaking scenery.
The surprisingly large mountains are always nearby, giving an interesting counterpoint to the coastal beauty. The locals were especially friendly along this stretch; always take the time to wave and say hello. We also saw many donkeys, sheep, tons of butterflies, several herons and a huge flock of large white birds in the distance; they were a bit too far to confirm, but we believe it was nearly 100 swans.
At the 22 mile / 35km mark, we stopped at a great playground to rest our legs and reward the kids for being such good cycling companions.
Day 4 Stats: Day 4 was a long, but enjoyable ride along the Irish coastline. The total distance we cycled was 27 miles / 43km with 1,450 feet / 442m of elevation gain. This leg took us just under 3 hours of moving time on our bikes (about 4 hours including breaks).
Note: Cashel is the standard destination for Day 4, while Carna is an alternate destination.
Day 5 – Carna to Clifden
We awoke to the sound of rain on the window. The sky looked dark and ominous, but we held out hope that it’d pass by the time we finished our incredibly good full Irish breakfast. No such luck – it was pouring as it was time to go. The panniers that Green Marble provided had rain covers, so between the panniers and the storage compartment on the back of the chariot, we were able to keep our gear dry.
Our little guy volunteered to ride on the tag-along which exposed him to the full elements. It was windy and raining hard, but he really seemed to love it! It was still warm out and we ended up taking our warmer layers off pretty quickly. When you are dressed for the rain, it’s really not that bad.
It’s a bit harder to focus on the scenery when it’s wet, but we made a real effort to keep looking around as it was so beautiful. The first leg of the journey was along the back coastal road that goes through Carna. The ruins of houses departed long ago making this stretch a lot of fun.
The rain stopped after an hour; just as we were leaving the country road. The next leg was along a highway, but it wasn’t too busy. The terrain transitioned to a beautiful rocky grassland, with hundreds of sheep grazing on the slopes.
We stopped to take some pictures of a beautiful white horse standing by a boat next to the water. It was one of those postcard worthy scenes you feel grateful for. Then a little brown foal emerged from behind the boat – it was so small and cute! We kept clicking away like equestrian paparazzi when the most amazing thing happened… the horses started walking up the path towards us!
A first I was wondering if she was protecting her little one, but she simply stopped at the steel gate. She smelled my hand and let me pat her gently on the nose. Then she allowed our daughter to do the same. The foal timidly joined its mother but kept its distance. Our kids simply loved this special experience; it was hard to pull away and get back on the road.
By the time we began the next stage of the journey, our clothes were nearly dry from the wind. We stopped a few times to take pictures of Cashel, including the beautiful church.
The road leaving Cashel had some of the nicest stretches of ocean scenery so far on this Connemara bike tour. We were excited to see many more mother horses and their foals in the fields as we passed.
At this stage you have a choice of a longer leg which follows the ocean or cutting the corner through an Irish bog. To this point, our family cycling holiday had taken us along long stretches of beautiful coastal scenery, so we thought we’d give the bog route a try for something new.
We loved the wide open spaces on this quiet country road; there are no houses to be seen anywhere, just flowing grass, large boulders and many lakes. We stopped midway and sat on a large boulder for a picnic lunch, soaking in the amazing scenery.
The final leg of the day was along a busy highway into Clifden, a very popular tourist destination. As always, drivers were safe and courteous, but we did pull over a few times to relieve the backlog of cars. Thankfully, the last half of this leg had a dedicated bike lane.
Day 5 Stats: Today we cycled 26.5 miles / 42.5 km with 1,515 feet / 462m of elevation gain. It took us slightly less than 3 hours of cycling time to reach Clifden.
Day 6 – Clifden
There was a Heavy Rainfall Warning in effect for Clifden, but it looked like the morning would be dry. Not wanting to miss out on our final day of cycling on this tour, we threw our rain gear in our panniers and we hit the road.
There are three different cycling loops you can do from Clifden. Had the sun been shining, we could have taken the longer route down to Dogs Bay and Gurteen Bay. Take a look at this satellite shot to see why this place is amazing; it’s two half-moon beaches set back-to-back! I’ve never seen this anywhere, let alone Ireland.
We chose to cycle the shorter, but very scenic Sky Road loop, which circumnavigates a peninsula just west of Clifden. Most people cycle & drive the loop clockwise, as did we.
The first 3 miles / 5km of the Sky Road is mostly uphill, but it’s about half the elevation gain than the hill we climbed on our first day. It’s amazing how much stronger our legs felt on the bikes this day compared to when we began.
The journey along the first stretch of road is a pleasant one, passing mostly bed & breakfasts with nicely manicured gardens. The ocean views start to appear after 1.8 miles / 3km and there are several places you can pull over to soak in the vistas.
A half-hour after we began, we arrived at the official Sky Road Viewpoint and you’ll quickly see that it’s worth the effort. The views of West Ireland’s islands, peninsulas and the North Atlantic Ocean are phenomenal from here. There are a few picnic tables at the top if you wish to have a little break or picnic lunch.
Continuing clockwise around the peninsula, the road descends quickly until it reaches its most westerly point. Here you can continue cycling Sky Road or take the Lower Sky Road back along the southern edge of the peninsula.
We kept following the main Sky Road which hugs the northern coastline most of the way. It’s more rural along here with plenty of sheep, cows, horses and foals for company. After cycling 7.6 miles / 12.3km we had reached the end of the Sky Road and were about to turn onto the main highway to go back to Clifden. But the rain had held off and we enjoyed the ride so much that we turned around and did the whole thing in reverse!
When we reached the far end of the peninsula, we took the Lower Sky Road for some different scenery and to avoid the steep climb to the top. The Lower Sky Road is an enjoyable ride along the coast with hardly any cars.
It started raining about 5 minutes from our hotel, but it didn’t last long. Just goes to show you shouldn’t put too much weight in weather forecasts around here. It’s best to prepare for all kinds of weather and just go and have fun, no matter what the sky is doing.
It took us 1 hour and 50 minutes to go 15.5 miles / 25 km. The scenery was stunning and was a fitting end to an amazing self-guided Connemara bike tour.
To be honest, at the outset of this trip we were a little worried whether it was going to be too much for the kids. We needn’t have worried; they did awesome. Even when the rain was pouring down on us, they amazed us with their energy, resilience and positive attitudes.
The Connemara region also did not disappoint. It packed in an incredible amount of beautiful natural scenery and just enough history and culture to keep us interested. Without exaggeration, we must have seen several million flowers along the way – they were simply everywhere. And we always love the animals; the sheep, cows, donkeys, horses and their foals were a lot of fun.
Green Marble Tours did an excellent job. Their trip information package gave us interesting information about the region and the places we would be cycling. Their route maps and detailed directions gave us confidence as we set out each day. The equipment was in great shape and was well maintained, with help only a phone call away, we felt safe taking our family on the road.