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Top 12 things to do in Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands
Be inspired for your next short break in the tranquil heart of Ireland.
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There’s nothing like kicking back for a couple of days and reconnecting with nature in one of Ireland’s most undiscovered places. Leave behind the hustle and bustle and tap into the relaxed rhythm of Ireland's Hidden Heartlands. With exciting family friendly activities, endless walks and breathtaking waterways to explore you might have a hard time squeezing them all into one short break.

Read on for our top 12 suggestions to inspire your next short break in the tranquil heart Ireland.

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1Explore The Royal Canal Greenway

Longford has lots of ways to get active, from relaxing bike rides to canoeing and leisurely canal cruising. Spend some time on the Royal Canal Greenway, a 130km walking and cycling corridor from Maynooth to Cloondara in Longford. This is a wonderful off-road trail that meanders along the bank of the Royal Canal right up to the River Shannon. Along the way, visit the Corlea Trackway Visitor Centre to see an actual Iron Age trackway built in the year 148 B.C. – the largest of its kind uncovered in Europe.

Two women cycling the Royal Canal Greenway
Walk or cycle the Royal Canal Greenway.
2Get active on the Shannon

The Shannon Blueway is a web of trails that lets you explore the area by canoe, bike or on foot. Surround yourself with beautiful lakeside views on the floating boardwalk on Acres Lake as you continue your walk or cycle into Drumshanbo, connecting on to Leitrim village. 

Try your hand at stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) with Leitrim Surf and SUP Company. While you’re there learn bushcraft skills and take a guided canoe trip with Slow Adventure in Leitrim. 

Experience the wild Clare landscape by mountaineering, sailing or kayaking with the UL Sport Adventure Centre in Killaloe. The Hodson Bay in Athlone is where you’ll find Baysports. Here you can hire kayaks, paddleboards, pedal boats and have a go on the tallest inflatable waterslide in the country. 

For those of you love to play a round of golf there are amazing courses along the banks of the River Shannon in Portumna, Athlone and Glasson. 

People paddle boarding at UL Sports Adventure Centre in County Clare
Take to the water at UL Sports Adventure Centre.
3Cruise the waterways

Taking to the water on a cruise is the perfect way to experience the tranquil calm of the Midlands. Choose from Emerald Star or Carrickcraft for your cruise rental sail to Lough Ree, from either Carrick-on-Shannon or Portumna on a three to five day trip. 

At Banagher, rent a boat from Silverline Cruisers and travel along the wildlife haven of the Shannon Callows to the remains of the monastic city of Clonmacnoise – at the crossroads of two major historic routeways. Nearby is the small village of Shannonbridge with its small but delectable choice of pubs and cafes, and Shannon Harbour where the Grand Canal meets the mighty Shannon. 

For a sustainable and stress-free cruise down the Shannon, hop on an electric boat from Carrick Day Boats. The boat runs quietly, so you'll be able to get up close with local wildlife. 

Boats docked at a marina in Carrick on Shannon.
Rent a boat and cruise along the River Shannon.
4Go island hopping

It's said that Cavan has 365 lakes, one for each day of the year, and dotted across these lakes are beautiful, peaceful islands. Cavan is the source of both the Shannon and Erne rivers, and the undulating landscape of the northwest of the county is an exceptional place to get away from it all. 

One of the county’s most idyllic watery gems is Lough Oughter, with the historic Clough Oughter Castle standing proudly on an isolated island in the lake. The choice is yours to pedal or paddle around the archipelago of islands of the Erne River system. 

Just outside Cavan town, Cavan Adventure Centre has kayaks, canoes, boats, bikes and camping for you to make the most of your trip. 

Two people kayaking at sunset on Lough Oughter
Kayak on Lough Oughter at sunset for an unforgettable experience.
5Walk through idyllic countryside

The 64km Lough Derg Way winds its way along the Shannon and canals to the lake port of Dromineer on Lough Derg. It’s an ideal place to explore on foot with lovely lakeside trails and incredible views. 

Between Offaly and Laois, the Slieve Bloom Way is a 70km circuit that loops around the spectacular Slieve Bloom Mountains on Ireland's central plain. There are six trailheads and 17 looped hikes that range from 4km to 16km. The track crosses forests, deep valleys and old roads rising to a height of 460m at Glendine Gap. 

Further north, the 26km long Cavan Way makes its way through valleys and hills including the spectacular archaeology and geology of the UNESCO Marble Arch Global Geopark. It eventually connects with the Ulster Way at Blacklion with the Leitrim Way at Dowra village. 

The Ballyhoura Way, which is part of the longer O’Sullivan Beara Trail, is a 90km trail that showcases the beautiful landscape of the region. This trail through Cork, Limerick, and Tipperary offers stunning views of lush pastureland of the Golden Vale, forest trails in the Ballyhoura Mountains, and a breathtaking view of the Glen of Aherlow.

People at the Shannon Pot on the Cavan Way in County Cavan
Spot the incredible archaeology on the Cavan Way.
6Uncover a forest adventure

You won’t want to leave Lough Key Forest and Activity Park, a stunning 400-hectare park in Roscommon with lakes and forest trails and lots of outdoor activities. For a unique way to explore the park glide along quietly and take in all the scenery on the Rockingham Roll Segway from Woodland Segway. Get out onto the water with a boat trip on the lake or get a bird’s eye view from the treetops on Ireland’s only Tree Canopy Walk. 

Young girl climbing a wooden bridge in Lough Key, Roscommon
Take all the family to Lough Key Forest and Activity Park.
7Connect with the past

Preserving the heritage of the Arigna Valley in Roscommon is the Arigna Mining Experience. The tours, run by former miners, gives a unique insight into coal-mining life from the 1700s until its closure in 1990. During the underground tour, experience what it was like to work in some of the narrowest coal seams in the western world. 

See the story of the famine unfold at the National Famine Museum, Strokestown Park. More than two million people either died or emigrated during the Great Hunger when blight destroyed the potato crop. Inside the museum is a compelling archive of letters, stories and images, much of which laid undiscovered for over 170 years. 

People at the National Famine Museum Strokestown in County Roscommon
Learn more about Irish history at the National Famine Museum, Strokestown Park.

Journey to the ‘Otherworld’ at Rathcroghan near the medieval village of Tulsk in Roscommon. Once the seat of the legendary Queen Medb of Connacht, Rathcroghan is one of the most impressive and intriguing landscapes in Ireland – both mythologically and archaeologically. Visit the fine interpretive centre and museum at Tulsk before heading off on an intriguing tour of the sites. 

Explore the Hill of Uisneach, one of the most sacred locations in the world and the spiritual centre of Ireland. Learn all about its mythology, folklore, archaeology and history, from the Bronze Age to medieval time, on a guided tour of the resting places and residences of its goddesses, gods and High Kings. 

8Explore the grounds of a historic castle

You’ll find some of the best gardens in County Offaly in the grounds of Birr Castle Demesne. Spread over 50 hectares, the gardens are home to 2000 species of plants and flowers, tall box hedges, local wildlife and a Giants Grove, the largest collection of giant redwoods outside of California. Take a walk in the formal gardens in the castle’s courtyard, along the terraces that overlook the Camcor river, or by the lakes, river and waterfall.

There are sand pits, climbing frames and Ireland's biggest treehouse for children, and the Historic Science Centre and Great Telescope will inspire future astronomers and young explorers.

Travel to Westmeath and wander the dreamy Tullynally Castle Gardens that date from the late 18th century. Roam the terraced lawns, walled flower gardens and enchanting ornamental lakes. The star of the show is the pretty summerhouses, each of which frames a different view amongst the unusual trees and shrubs collected by the owners. Even if the weather isn’t playing ball, ducking into the tearooms and sitting by the cosy wood-burning stove is the perfect place to watch the world go by. 

Birr Castle
Wander through the gardens of Birr Castle Demesne.
9Spend a day in Portumna

Portumna is a key hub for cruise holidays on the River Shannon and its where you’ll find the impressive Portumna Castle. It was damaged by a blazing fire in 1826, but today the remaining castle is an imposing example of Irish architecture of the early 17th century. Built before 1618 by Richard de Burgo, an exhibition on display in the castle uncovers the stories and intrigue of its former residents. While you’re in Portumna visit the Irish Workhouse Centre to learn about these infamous institutions and don’t miss Portumna Forest Park which you can explore on foot or by hiring bikes.

Aerial view of Portumna Castle and Gardens in County Galway
Soak up views of Portumna Castle.
10Enjoy an afternoon tea

Afternoon tea is a real indulgence, and there are some great places nearby to treat yourself. Lough Rynn Castle in Mohill, Leitrim, is a favourite of the locals and afternoon tea is served in a majestic setting from 12 noon to 6pm. 

The magnificent dining room at Kilronan Castle in Boyle, County Roscommon, is another beautiful setting for afternoon tea – so fully enjoy the company and this luxurious tradition.

Enjoy delicious afternoon tea with a beautifully decorated table for two while you relax into the soothing environs of the Townhouse Café at Townhouse Doneraile. Cosy up in plump velvet seating in the bookcase-lined café and snack on sweet treats along with your tea or coffee.

Afternoon tea at Kilronan Castle in County Roscommon
Treat yourself to afternoon tea at Kilronan Castle.
11Dine out in the heart of Ireland

A highlight of many short breaks to this part of Ireland is enjoying a delicious lakeside lunch in a friendly pub. You'll be spoilt for choice with Keenan’s of Tarmonbarry, Paddy's Bar in Terryglass and Larkins of Garrykennedy. For a filling burger, Skelly's pub on Ballymahon, Longford, comes highly recommended too. 

MacNean House & Restaurant is a real treasure of the Cavan food scene. Owned by Neven Maguire, the Michelin guide regards it as a “stylish restaurant in a smart townhouse, with a chic lounge and a plush dining room”. There’s also a wide range of cookery courses available if you’re looking to bring the flavours back home with you.

Three people eating at Larkins in Garrykennedy, County Tipperary.
Grab a tasty bite to eat at Larkins.
12Learn about beekeeping

Visit Leahy Beekeeping in Loughrea, Galway and learn about the captivating world of beekeeping and honey making. Watch beekeepers handle swarms of bees and see them collect pollen from the nearby plants. Explore the grounds adorned with colourful elderberries, dandelions and heather. After your tour, stop by the kitchen and try fresh, raw honey or pick up some natural skincare products to take home.

Head to Brookfield Farm on the shores of Lough Derg in Tipperary and learn about sustainable farming and beekeeping. Taste test their wildflower honey, meet adorable lambs and pick up a gift to take home.

Bees from Leahy's Beekeeping in County Galway
Say hello to the hives of bees at Leahy Beekeeping.
Start planning your trip to Ireland's Hidden Heartlands now

Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands is brimming with incredible things to do. Squeeze in as many as you can on your next break away.

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