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The unforgettable waterways of Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands
Cruise along the River Shannon.
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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.

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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.
2Canadian canoeing, Dromahair

Gather a few friends and hop on a Canadian canoe with Adventure Gently in Dromahair in County Leitrim. Sail along the Shannon Blueway while picking up interesting facts from your canoeing guides, Adrienne and Graham, and soak up views of the beautiful wildlife - if you're lucky, you might even spot the darting kingfisher. This is definitely one of the most unique ways to explore the waterways of Leitrim. 

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. Pay a visit to UL Sport Adventure Centre to rent a paddleboard and set off from the still waters of Killaloe, floating under old bridges and into the wilds of the countryside as you go.

Four people paddle-boarding in Killaloe, County Clare
Take to the paddle board in Killaloe.
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.

Aerial view of Holy Island in County Clare
Explore the many ruins on 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. Take in views of the island from the water with Lough Key Boat Tours and gain local knowledge from your guides. Or opt for a leisurely cycle and rent an electric bike from Electric Bike Trails in Boyle. Pedal with ease along the 8km woodland trail in nearby Lough Key Forest and Activity Park and enjoy stunning views of Castle Island from afar. 

If you get hungry, stop by the range of food trucks available at the park. 

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. 

Three people kayaking at Baysports Waterpark in Athlone, County Westmeath
Discover a variety of water activities at Baysports Waterpark.
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

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. 

Find a spot for angling in Loch an Dochas at Lough Boora Discovery Park. Before you leave, be sure to check out the impressive outdoor sculptures that are scattered across the grounds. 

Ensuring that fishing is available to everyone, Lough Ree Access for All Boat Trips offers tours of Lough Ree and the River Shannon three times daily on their own wheelchair accessible boat. Kick off your expedition by booking your ticket online. 

A man in a wheelchair fishing on a boat in Lough Ree in County Roscommon.
Enjoy a day of fishing on Lough Ree.
9Go swimming in Mountshannon

Visit a stunning award-winning beach in Clare and go swimming in Lough Derg. Boasting three Blue Flag beaches, Lough Derg in County Clare is the perfect place for a spot of swimming. Make the short trip from Portumna town to the bathing area at Portumna for a quick dip in the refreshing waters. 

For a lakeside paddle, head over to Twomilegate for a relaxing day and pack a picnic to have along the shore. 

If you're a nature lover, check out Mountshannon Beach during the bathing season when it's life-guarded and admire five habitats of wildlife that call it home. Afterwards, warm up with a coffee and a sweat treat from the bakery nearby. 

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

Mountshannon Beach in County Clare on a sunny day
Visit Mountshannon Beach for a refreshing swim.
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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