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The unforgettable waterways of Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands
Cruise along the River Shannon.
Ireland's Hidden Heartlands logo colour
The key to Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands is the River Shannon. The gentle shrug of water across the surface of Lough Derg makes you want to put down anchor and just float for a few hours. Lap up the quiet, cast out a line, or tuck into your picnic basket for a lazy lunch.

Cruise along the waterways of the mighty Shannon and explore the quaint towns of Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands.

1Renting a boat on the Shannon

Experience Ireland's longest river on a fantastic cruise of the River Shannon. Set sail from any of the hubs along the route and enjoy unbeatable craic in Carrick-on-Shannon, gorgeous views as you sail from Athlone and tasty lakeside meals in Banagher and Killaloe.

Carrickcraft, Emerald Star and Silverline Cruisers have a great range of rental options from 2-10 berths. The staff are happy to share tips on things to do, from a leisurely cruise to Banagher to a tour of Athlone and Hodson Bay. Most of the rental companies along the Shannon allow you to bring your pet along on your cruising adventure. 

Stay every night in a town or village or escape to the wilderness on remote jetties where you can cook and eat on board in the well-equipped onboard kitchen. 

Check out our guide to the best River Shannon cruises and plan your dream holiday.

Boats on the water in County Leitrim
Set sail on the Shannon in Ireland's Hidden Heartlands.
2Chinese Dragon Boating, Carrick-on-Shannon

Canoe boats with ferocious dragon heads on either end, roar down the clear waters of Carrick-on-Shannon. These Chinese Dragon Boats can be spotted on the river with a helmsman from Leitrim Surf Company steering the course, while the crew rows in unison to the rhythm of the onboard drummer. This is definitely one of the most unique ways to explore the waterways of Carrick-on-Shannon. 

3Stand-up paddleboarding (SUP), Killaloe

Strap on a life jacket and set off on an adventure aboard your paddleboard. Stand-up paddleboarding is a memorable and surprisingly simple way to witness the indigenous beauty of the Shannon. Set off from the still waters of Killaloe and float under old bridges and into the wilds of the countryside. 

4Holy Island, Lough Derg

This monastic settlement brims with history. From remnants of the Celts’ potion-making equipment to the Viking raids of the 9th century, the stories of the Holy Island's past cling to the land. With the ruins of no fewer than six churches on this tiny but pious isle, its easy to see where this island got its name.  

For an expert’s insight into this ancient monastic settlement seek out local historian, Ger Madden. His tours from Mountshannon bring this ancient monastic settlement back to life with his wealth of knowledge, and storytelling prowess. Keep a lookout for the white-tailed eagles, Saoirse and Caimin and their chicks, who have nested in the area.

Holy Island
5Castle Island, Lough Key

The calm waters of Lough Key are dotted with small, lush islands and none are more intriguing than Castle Island. The abandoned, striking McDermott’s Castle stands solely on this uninhabited island surrounded by mature trees and stone walls. Nearby Lough Key Forest and Activity Park is the place to go for anyone looking to learn more about the legend of Úna Bhán and makes a great base for a couple of days by the water. 

Girl using a zipline at Lough Key Forest and Activity Park
Zip through the trees at Lough Key Forest Park.
6Baysports, Lough Ree

For something equally adventurous in Westmeath head to Baysports, just outside Athlone. It’s an exciting place that’s perfect for families of all ages with an inflatable water park, kayak tours and pedalos. Kids, and adventurous adults, will love playing on the largest floating slide in the country. 

7Walk the floating boardwalk on Acres Lake, Drumshanbo

Head to the Shannon Blueway just outside of Drumshanbo and experience one of the most unique walks in Ireland. Making up part of a larger 6.5km walk is a wonderful 600m long stretch where you stroll on a floating boardwalk across Acres Lake. Listen to the water gently lapping against the boardwalk and birds singing in the sky, this relaxing walk is ideal for your next trip to Leitrim.

8Plan a day fishing on Lough Derg

Pack your rod and visit Lough Derg for a great fishing holiday. Base yourself in Portumna at the north of Lough Derg or stay in Killaloe and Ballina to the south. The waters here are well stocked with salmon and bream, but as every serious angler knows, it's the brown trout and pike that attract people from all over the country.

Rent a fishing boat from Shannon Boat Hire and cast your line in every nook and cranny of this gorgeous lake.

Shannon Boat Hire
9Go swimming in Mountshannon

Visit a stunning award winning beach in Clare and go swimming in Lough Derg. The chilly and clear waters of Mountshannon Beach are perfect for an early morning swim with friends, and afterwards, warm up a coffee and treat at the nearby bakery. 

Remember to be safe when you swim, never go alone and make sure to always swim within your ability.

Plan your holiday in Ireland's Hidden Heartlands

Whatever your preferences, the River Shannon and stunning lakes in Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands are filled with breathtaking vistas and enriching experiences. Head over to our On the Water page now and get even more inspiration for your next trip.

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