Cyclists at Bushmills Inn, County Antrim
Amazing scenery combined with delicious food, these cycle trails will take foodies on a culinary tour of some of the best local produce in Northern Ireland.
Paniers at the ready…
1. Towpath from Belfast to Lisburn, County Antrim - 11 miles linear route
The Lagan and Lough Cycle Way is a mostly flat, off-road route along which you are guaranteed to be in foodie heaven. Start from Belfast city centre and hop on a Belfast bike outside St George’s Market, where you’ll be guided by the smells of fresh produce on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday morning.
A traditional Belfast Bap is a must, or try something a little more exotic from the many stalls selling fresh fruit and vegetables, fish, cheese, bread and pastries. Cycle about 2.5 miles up the river to get your barista fix at bike-friendly café 5A Lockview Road in Stranmillis. Or continue through Lagan Meadows to take a teabreak at the Lock Keeper’s Inn near Shaw’s Bridge. From here it is approximately 6 miles of picturesque cycling along the River Lagan to the end of the towpath near Hilden Brewery and Tap Room Restaurant. There, you can tuck into a refreshing craft beer or a delicious meal.
Accommodation nearby: Radisson Blu, Belfast Hotel
2. Whiterock and Mahee Island, County Down – 27 miles circular route
The trail on Whiterock and Mahee Island is a 27-mile route on public roads and has some climbs along the western shores of Strangford Lough and Drumlin country will reward you with some of the finest views and tasty treats along the way. Setting out from Comber town centre (accessible from Belfast via the Comber Greenway if you want to add more mileage) pay a visit to the Comber Market selling everything from fudge to fadge (Irish potato bread) or enjoy a freshly-baked scone from the Georgian House. From here follow signs to Castle Espie Wetland Centre and onto Mahee Island, stopping off at the beautiful Nendrum Monastic site. The coastal views from here onto Whiterock are simply stunning. Cycle back around Whiterock to Daft Eddy's for a cuppa al fresco or some freshly caught fish. Then heading inland, green fields will be by your side as you pass the hamlet of Kilmood. With the beautifully restored thatched cottage Old Post Office Tearooms and The Poacher’s Pocket situated in nearby Lisbane, a quick detour is a must before re-joining the outward route back to Comber.
Accommodation nearby: Castle Espie Cottages
3. Newcastle & Lough Island Reavy, County Down – 25 miles circular route
You’ll have to be fit for this one; Newcastle & Lough Island Reavy has some strenuous climbs. But it will be worth it when you are rewarded with spectacular Mourne Mountain scenery. Starting in the seaside town of Newcastle, fuel up in Café Creme and pocket some Abernethy Butter Fudge to help you up the hills. The nearby Cookie Jar also serves delicious wheaten bread. Once on the road you’ll pass Tollymore Forest Park before cycling the Trassey Road, one of the main routes through the high Mournes with views of Slieve Croob and Lough Island Reavy Reservoir. Heading on past Castlewellan Forest Park it will be time to pump those legs uphill where you will be rewarded with spectacular views of the Mourne Mountains, Dundrum Bay and Newcastle in the distance. Arriving back at Newcastle spruce yourself up and enjoy dinner in Vanilla or the Percy French. While in the area, try an artisan beer or two from Mourne Mountains Brewery. It is produced using fresh water from the Spelga Dam in the heart of the mountains and let’s face it, you’ll have earned it.
Accommodation nearby: Burrendale Hotel, Country Club and Spa.
4. Ballycastle Loop, County Antrim – 35 miles circular route
This route links the coastal town of Ballycastle to the Giant's Causeway using the spectacular Causeway Coastal Route, returning via Bushmills and the country roads of North Antrim. Carb load at Ursa Minors independent Artisan Bakehouse in Ballycastle, where they use traditional techniques to hand-mould loaves, or try some North Coast Smokehouse fish at Thyme and Co Café. Starting opposite the Marine Hotel, travel west following the Causeway Coastal Route passing Kinbane Castle and continue on to Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge and Ballintoy. Leaving here you’ll pass the sweeping sands of Whitepark Bay, quaint hamlet of Portbradden and ruins of Dunseverick Castle until you reach the Giant's Causeway, before returning to Ballycastle via Bushmills, where you can take a tour of the famous whiskey distillery. Back at Ballycastle take a well-earned seat at the harbour for some of the best fish and chips in the area from Mortons. You can also shop for local artisan food at the Ballycastle Food Market – check when it’s on here. For a real taste of the area visit family run Broughgammon Farm for a butchery and cookery course or to purchase something from their farm shop.
Accommodation nearby: Strand Cottage
5. Faughan Valley Cycle Way, County Londonderry – 22 miles
Experience the best of both worlds – the bustling cultural city of Derry and its stunning rural surroundings on the Faughan Valley Cycle Way. Starting from the city, the route follows the traffic-free National Cycle Network along the River Foyle where you will pass The Third Bridge sculpture. Continuing on quiet country roads you’ll pass Shoal observation point before returning to the city. Once back in the city, enjoy a pint in Paedar ODonnells Bar - famous for its live traditional music - or try a refreshing craft beer from the Walled City Brewery. This unique Brewhouse in Ebrington Square also has a restaurant serving tasty beer-braised pulled pork and Irish potato boxty. For fine dining head to the banks of the River Foyle where you’ll find Browns Bond Hill. Head Chef Ian Orr is renowned for his dedication to fresh seasonal produce and support of local suppliers, best sampled via the six-course tasting menu.
Accommodation nearby: Beech Hill Country House Hotel