Read on for our top ten suggestions to inspire your next short break in the tranquil heart Ireland.
Treat the whole family to a fun break amongst 400 acres of woodland with tropical swimming pools and over 100 indoor and outdoor activities all year round. Center Parcs in the beautiful County Longford is Ireland’s first resort of its kind and just another reason to visit Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands.
Longford also has lots of ways to get active, from relaxing bike rides to canoeing and leisurely canal cruising. Spend some time on The Royal Canal Way, a 140km walking and cycling corridor from Dublin to Clondra 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.
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 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.
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. The 500km Beara-Breifne Way, Ireland’s longest national waymarked trail, runs nearby and is another great option to uncover hidden pockets of beautiful countryside.
In Offaly, the boardwalk at Clara Bog Visitor Centre and Nature Reserve’s is a 1km looped bogland walk that’s home to many native plants, birds and animals. 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.
Taking to the water on a cruise is the perfect way to experience the tranquil calm of the Midlands. Choose from Shannon Culture Holidays, 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.
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.
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.
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.
Preserving the heritage of the Arigna Valley in County 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 in Strokestown. 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.
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.
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 The Barge in Leitrim Village, The Derg Inn and Paddy's Bar, both 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.
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.
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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