Start your day in Sligo
Almost everything you would want to see in Sligo town is reachable on foot. Take a walk along the banks of the Garavogue River on Rockwood Parade to get your bearings, stopping at Ósta Cafe & Wine Bar for a coffee at a waterside table (and a homemade scone for good measure). Just around the corner, you’ll spot the first of many nods to WB Yeats, in the shape of an eight foot WB Yeats bronze statue engraved with words from his poetry. He spent his childhood summers in Sligo and wrote longingly about it over the years – you can check out his favourite local spots on the newly-launched Yeats Trail.
Just over Hyde Bridge you’ll find the Yeats Building, a medieval revival style structure that’s home to the Yeats Society Sligo. Inside, you can learn about Yeats and his accomplished family, including his famous artist brother Jack. Upstairs, the Hyde Bridge Gallery features the work of new artists, with exhibitions changing roughly every month.
Want to keep the art theme going? Head up Stephen Street towards The Model – Home of the Niland Collection. This vast gallery is one of the foremost contemporary art centres in Ireland and the space is impressive, the interior combining a modern, airy atrium with hints of the stone from the old 19th-century building.
In the main exhibition spaces, there’s an ever-changing mix of contemporary collections – you might see a film projected onto a glass prism embellished with volcanic ash, or a giant bird’s nest in the middle of a room. The gallery’s Niland Collection started in 1954 when Jack B. Yeats donated one of his paintings to the Sligo Corporation. Local librarian Nora Niland dedicated herself to growing the collection, which grew rapidly over the years and now includes pieces from contemporary Irish artists as well. The Model presents six exhibitions a year from the collection, so you never know what you might see.
If all that culture leaves you in need of a sit down, head to the gallery’s Art Lounge down by the main entrance. With a giant sofa facing an old fireplace and a big stash of fancy art magazines and coffee table books, this space is a great place to rest your bones before you head off again.
Where to eat in Sligo town
Just around the corner from the train station, Baker Boys is a café and deli run by the folks who own Shells in Strandhill. That similar beach bar feel is in place here, with dishes like vegan beans on toast and Thai calamari salad in the café, and Nutella doughnuts, almond croissants and eclairs in the deli, which is open from 7.30am.
There’s a bit of a party vibe in Flipside, where music plays on the speakers as people tuck into towering burgers and loaded fries. If you’re really hungry, order a portion of sticky Korean chicken tenders for the table to boot. They do a great vegan burger, too.
Feel like something sweet? Fabio’s is a local gelato spot where they make all their ice cream on site using natural ingredients. Their spicy dark chocolate and orange sorbet, known as 'Bull’s Blood', is so good you’d never guess it’s dairy free.
Walker 1781 is a bar and restaurant on O’Connell Street where you can get a bowl of seafood linguine and a glass of wine, or a wood-fired pizza with a cocktail. Their Guinness and leek sausage pizza is top notch, with cloves of roasted garlic melting into the cheese.
Greet the afternoon in Carrick-on-Shannon
It’s easy to get to Carrick-on-Shannon from Sligo – the Dublin train runs between the two (45 minutes, every two hours), and Sligo station is an easy 10-minute walk from the city centre. Once you land in Carrick, it’s a 1km walk along the road to the river. Cut down and stroll through the Cortober Riverside Park until you reach Cumann na mBan Bridge, which has a cool pedestrian addition on the side of its old stone arch.
Follow the steps down and you’ll find yourself at the edge of the Public Marina, the docking spot for all the local boats along with the Emerald Star river cruisers that people rent for a boating holiday (you can spot the newbies as they nervously manoeuvre their boats under the bridge). The town is an Irish boating hotspot, and a stroll through the marina is a great way to snoop on the vessels, from the little dinghies with funny names to the slick river cruisers that look more like yachts.
If all that boat spotting puts you in the mood for a sail, set off for a trip along the River Shannon with Moon River Cruises. This hour-long cruise takes you up the Shannon and into Lough Eidin in County Roscommon, passing the little lake islands as you go. There are plenty of seats inside, but if you want to keep your eyes peeled for local wildlife then sit on the bow or the stern, so you can spot kingfishers, swans and the dozens of electric blue damselflies that love to fly around the boat.
Fancy taking the helm yourself? You can hire one of the company’s small Carrick Day Boats for a half or full day, to explore the Shannon at your own pace.
Back on dry land, the Moon River dock also marks the start of the Riverfront Amenity Park, a beautifully maintained resource thanks to the local Tidy Towns organisation, who have filled planters (plus old bath tubs and bike baskets) with wildflowers, bee-friendly plants and even strawberries. Don’t miss the short boardwalk that cuts into the River Shannon, where you can sit on one of the benches and watch the boats sail by. There’s also a Free Small Library, where you can borrow a book from the collection stored in a miniature wooden house.
The walk through the park will only take a few minutes (depending on how often you stop to smell the roses), so retrace your steps at the park’s end, then head up Bridge Street. A few minutes up the road you’ll find Costello Chapel, the second-smallest chapel in the world (after the Cross Island Chapel in New York State). There’s barely room for a couple of people to stand, and under the glass floor you can see the caskets of Edward Costello and his wife Josephine, for whom he built the church. If you’re in town on a Thursday, check out the Carrick-on-Shannon Farmer’s Market over the road in Market Yard, with stalls selling homemade breads, pastries and bouquets of wildflowers.
Follow St George’s Terrace to the left and you’ll reach the Dock Arts Centre, just a couple of minutes away from the chapel. Exhibitions in this multidisciplinary arts centre change every few months and feature a variety of different artists and mediums, from large scale sculptures to multimedia pieces. It’s also home to the Leitrim Design House, a top tier gallery shop where you’ll find ceramics, textiles and jewellery made by local designers.
Where to eat in Carrick-on-Shannon
A gastropub long before they were commonplace, The Oarsman is a bar that specialises in craft beer and great food, like slow braised lamb belly and seaweed battered fish and chips. If the day is a little grey, this is a great place to get cosy – especially if you order a bowl of their epic chocolate mousse for dessert.
Just over the road from The Dock, The Red Bank restaurant feels a little like a gallery itself, with giant artwork on the moss green walls and chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. There are a few different dining spaces inside, but the surprise is out the back, where a giant tree grows through the middle of a tented dining space, with fairy lights twinkling on the branches. The food is fairly elegant, but they make an epic burger – they also stock Gunpowder Gin behind the bar, from the nearby Shed Distillery in Drumshanbo.
Fancy something sweet? Cake Me Away is the spot for baked treats, from dense chocolate brownies to lime cheesecake. But there are also homemade doughnuts, eclairs and jalapeño scones behind the counter, so come hungry. You’ll also find a big stack of newspapers and magazines at the front, and some outdoor tables for sunny days.