Ride this incredible route of Ireland in just a weekend

When I think back to my most memorable tours, they have a few things in common. I’ll ride on exhilarating roads, see incredible sights I wouldn’t get to see at home, eat some fantastic food, and enjoy experiencing a different culture.

Throw in a ferry (everything feels more adventurous when a ferry is involved), a group of good mates, and even a motorway stint or two to make you appreciate the twistier moments, and you’ve got the makings of a fantastic time away on two wheels.

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My thinking is that you need at least a week off work and a ferry ticket to Calais to achieve this. But this route I’ve just ridden in Ireland has proven me very wrong.

With just one day off work and a free weekend, I headed over to Ireland to ride some of the best roads in the British Isles and let me tell you, it’s up there with the best times I’ve had on two wheels.

Our reason for travelling to Ireland was to attend the ABR Rally hosted by the lads from the ABR Forum. Every year, they put on a memorable, lowkey event in a different region of the Emerald Isle.

Last year, we had an incredible weekend in Westport, and this year, we headed to Glengarriff on the southwest coast.

The ride out on Saturday, led by Damien on his Ténéré 700 and mopped up by Heff on his Triple Black GS, showcased some of the best roads and views in the area, inspiring this route right here.

The concept is simple: cross over to Ireland with Stena Line’s newly launched Motorbike Daytrips promotional rate (see the box out for more information), blast down to the southwest, spend a day riding a truly world-class road route, enjoy an evening of great craic in Killarney, and blast home ready for work on Monday.

If you’ve got more time to spare, by all means, stay on and explore the rest of the Wild Atlantic Way. You’ll have an amazing time, but for this route, we’re sticking strictly to the day ride that starts and finishes in Killarney.

Getting to Killarney is simple from either Dublin or Rosslare, Ireland’s two main ferry ports. It’ll take you about three and a half hours, but it’s straightforward riding, and the destination is more than worth it. Set the cruise control and munch the miles.

I chose Killarney as the starting point for this route as it’s a great town in a beautiful part of the country and it’s known for its lively nightlife and stunning surroundings.

It is ideal for everyone, whether you want to enjoy the Irish craic and a pint of the country’s most famous export, or simply unwind in beautiful natural surroundings. Either way, you’ll arrive pretty late on Friday, so get a good night’s sleep before one of the best day rides you can have.

Our route is approximately 135 miles long, taking you in a figure of eight around the Beara and Iveragh Peninsulas. Along the way, you’ll ride mountain passes that wouldn’t look out of place in the Alps, glide along coastal roads that rival those found on the NC500, and enjoy some of the most rugged and remote scenery in the British Isles. It is a sublime day on two wheels, so after a hearty Irish breakfast, suit up and hit the road…

The Ring of Kerry

The Ring of Kerry is one of Ireland’s most iconic scenic routes, taking in the stunning coastal roads of the Iveragh Peninsula in County Kerry.

While it is definitely recommended that you do it in its entirety, for this ride, we’ve decided to only use a short section of it. If you’ve got the time spare, by all means, ride the lot, but if you’ve got a ferry to catch the following day, stick to what we’ve suggested.

Starting in the town of Killarney on the northeastern shores of Lough Leane, we head southwest following the Ring of Kerry towards Moll’s Gap.

If you needed something to wake you up after a long day’s ride to Killarney the day before, this is it. It starts relatively benignly, but before long, you’ll twist and turn with the tarmac as it rises into the mountains.

This section can get very busy with tourists in cars, campervans and coaches, but it’s well worth it.

Caha Pass

Just about every road on this route will leave you grinning from ear to ear, but some roads are just so fun that you want to ride them twice, and that’s precisely what I did with the Caha Pass.

Linking Kenmare with Glengariff, the Caha Pass comprises a series of sweeping bends that whisk you up and over the Cork and Kerry border.

The views from the saddle are sublime, with Bantry Bay stretching out to the south and the wild peaks of the Shehy Mountains rising in every other direction.

The fun begins as you pass Molly Gallivans Visitor Centre, after which the following eight miles will see you twisting and turning around the mountains and, on three occasions, through rocky tunnels cut straight through the mountainside.

Healy Pass

The Healy Pass was built in the second half of the 1840s as part of a series of projects designed to provide work and relief for poor families during the potato famine.

Ultimately flawed, these projects saw groups of men build pointless roads, often leading to nowhere. Over 100 years later, living in far less troubled times, many of these famine roads have become the sort of routes that we bikers seek out, and the Healy Pass is one of them.

I was shown it during the ride out at this year’s ABR Ireland Rally, and Heff pointed out that it’s best ridden south to north, and by God, he’s right.

It’s as close to riding an Alpine pass as you’ll get on the British Isles, and you’ll be blown away by just how enjoyable it is on two wheels. While it doesn’t rise as high as its European counterparts, reaching approximately 300m above sea level, it’s every bit as exciting as you ride a combination of hairpins and long sweeping bends for almost nine miles.

The Ring of Beara

Unlike its more famous counterpart, which does a great job stealing the limelight, the Ring of Beara offers a quieter yet equally enjoyable ride.

Following the coast of the Beara Peninsula, across Counties Cork and Kerry, this route takes you on a coastal tour along the winding roads from Glengariff to Kenmare, with the Atlantic Ocean to your left and rugged mountains to your right.

We ride just a short section between Glengarriff and Adrigole before hopping onto the Healy Pass and another section from Tuosist to Kenmare.

Still, you’ll understand why it’s such a great ride. If you’re following this route, how it’s been designed means you won’t have time to ride the whole Ring of Beara, but take note and start planning to revisit it when time’s not so tight. You’ll be glad you did.

Ballaghbeama Gap

After riding the coastal roads of the Beara Peninsula, we rejoin the Ring of Kerry for a short blast before turning inland to the Ballaghbeama Gap.

This lesser-known gem lies in the interior of the Iveragh Peninsula, smack bang in the centre of the Ring of Kerry. As such, it’s often overlooked by those travelling along County Kerry’s poster boy, and you’ll discover that it’s a lot quieter and more remote than the often-busy N70 coastal road.

Riding through the Ballaghbeama Gap is like finding a secret passage through the mountains.

The narrow road takes you through a small gap between the imposing MacGillycuddy’s Reeks mountain range, providing a thrilling ride with tight bends and steep inclines. The remote, rugged landscape around you is captivating, making this ride a magical one where you’ll want to stop and take in your surroundings.

Carrauntoohil

This route will take you on a circular tour of Ireland’s highest peak, Carrauntoohil (1,038m), which dominates the skyline as you ride from the Ballaghbeama Gap to the Gap of Dunloe.

While you can’t ride up the mountain, the nearby roads offer spectacular views of this towering landmark. The view from the Lough Acoose view point across the calm waters of this mountain lake is superb.

Continuing on, you’ll have the opportunity to ride up the dead-end road to the Carrauntoohil Coffee Hut, which will reopen on May 11. This is a great place to stop for coffee and a cake, surrounded by beautiful views.

The Gap of Dunloe

As we head back to Killarney, we dart south at Dunloe to finish the route with a showstopper: the Gap of Dunloe.

Riding through it is a brilliant experience as the narrow road slices past steep cliffs, along small mountain lakes, and over old stone bridges (including the famous Wishing Bridge) through a landscape that’s been carved out by glaciers in years gone by.

Unlike the quieter Ballaghbeama Gap, the Gap of Dunloe can get quite busy, particularly with horse-drawn carts taking tourists on trips through the impressive pass, and walkers enjoying a short hike up the road.

One Trip Advisor review highlights this with the title ‘Beware the horse cart cartel’, which will try various tactics to get you to employ their services. Regardless, there’s a reason this magnificent pass is so busy.

Killarney

After the Gap of Dunloe, you’ll be deposited back on the Ring of Kerry at Moll’s Gap, and if it looks familiar, it’s because you were here earlier in the day.

We head back towards Killarney, giving you one last opportunity to enjoy the twists and turns of the N71 before returning to your accommodation for the evening.

Killarney’s a great place to relax after a long day in the saddle, with lively pubs playing live Irish music into the evening. Don’t stay out too long, though; you’ll have a long ride ahead of you tomorrow if you plan to get home before work on Monday.

What I wore

Klim Kodiak Jacket

There was a noticeable chill when we rode through Ireland, with temperatures going as low as 3C. A four-season jacket was a must, and I was so glad to be in Klim’s Kodiak Jacket. A premium piece of kit at £1,500, the Kodiak is one of the best touring jackets I’ve had the pleasure of wearing.

From the tailored, comfortable fit and premium down mid-layer to the many pockets, the three-layer Gore-Tex Pro Shell waterproof membrane, and the impressive build quality, it’s a jacket you’ll love wearing.

Klim Krios Pro helmet

Along with the Kodiak, I wore the Klim Krios Pro, the company’s flagship adventure helmet. Complete with a full carbon fibre outer shell and Koroyd impact protection, the Krios is an incredibly lightweight and comfortable lid that doesn’t compromise on protection.

It features a wide visor aperture, a well-designed peak that catches minimal wind even when shoulder checking at motorway speeds, and plenty of ventilation for when the going gets warm. At £670, it’s a premium piece of kit, and I’ve enjoyed every mile in mine. I’m looking forward to a summer of riding in the Krios Pro.

Getting there

Getting to Ireland is easy. Stena Line operates several crossings from Wales to Rosslare (leaving from Fishguard) or Dublin (from Holyhead). Both Rosslare and Dublin are about three and a half hours from Killarney, but it’s worth noting that Dublin has an afternoon return crossing while Rosslare’s is later in the evening, getting you back to Fishguard at about 11pm.

For 2024, Stena has also introduced ‘Motorbike Daytrips’, providing return booking for motorcyclists staying in Ireland for less than 48 hours (perfect for this route) for just £76. Head to www.stenaline.co.uk to find out more.

The route

Plug these waypoints into your SatNav device to follow as near as dammit the route.

  1. Killarney
  2. Moll’s Gap
  3. Glengarriff
  4. Adrigole
  5. Tuosist
  6. Glencar
  7. Carrauntoohill Coffee Hut
  8. Auger Lake
  9. Moll’s Gap
  10. Killarney

Total miles: 134