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Cruising the Shannon: 4 short self-drive Shannon cruises
Cruise along the scenic River Shannon
Cruising the tranquil waters of Ireland’s longest river features on many a bucket list, but did you know that it’s a possibility on a short break? Captain your own boat for a three-day cruise along the River Shannon, dock in tranquil spots and discover pretty villages and historic sites along the way.

Here’s four perfect short cruises along the magnificent River Shannon to put on your list.

Enjoy home comforts on your self-drive Shannon cruise

You don’t need a special captain’s hat or a license as your hire company explains the rules of the water for your self-drive cruiser, how to moor and navigate the canal locks. And while the scenery is the main attraction, the comfort of the cruiser comes a close second with everything you need for dining alfresco and getting a good night’s sleep. With boats to suit two to 12 people, cruising the Shannon is a unique way to spend time with family and friends. 

To really enjoy the gorgeous views and relax with the flow, seasoned cruisers recommend two to four hours cruising a day. Cruising season kicks off in mid-March to the end of October. All you need to do is decide which marina to cast off from and which leisurely route to take, as you journey at your own pace through the serene and scenic network of lakes and rivers on the Shannon-Erne Blueway.

Woman wearing a lifejacket sailing in a boat on the River Shannon
Cruise along the River Shannon.

Short cruises from Carrick-on-Shannon

The vibrant town of Carrick-on-Shannon is the cruising hub of Ireland with hundreds of colourful boats bobbing in the pretty marina. Bustling with crews and water lovers, you can fuel your boat and yourself here.

Stock up in fresh-baked bread in the much loved Lena’s Tea Room, visit The Leitrim Design House in the old, 19th century courthouse where you discover the handiwork of over 250 artists. And don’t leave without visiting Ireland’s smallest Chapel, Costello Memorial Chapel, built in 1877 by a heartbroken husband in memory of his wife.

A small boat approaching bigger boats at Carrick-on-Shannon Marina, Co. Leitrim
Start your journey in charming Carrick-on-Shannon.

Rent a boat in Carrick-on-Shannon

Carrick-on-Shannon has a fantastic range of boats to choose from. Sail the Shannon in style on a luxurious ten berth boat with five bedrooms and a sundeck for relaxing in the tranquillity of the river or enjoy a romantic cruise on a smaller boat.

Hire your boat from Carrickcraft, Emerald Star or Locaboat.

Cruise north to Lough Key

The voyage from Carrick-on-Shannon north to Lough Key is known for its captivating scenery and with only one lock, it’s a good place to start for the absolute beginner. Your total journey time is just three hours without stops to Boyle so you can really take things at your own pace.

From Carrick-on-Shannon travel the narrow, meandering Boyle River into Lough Eidin and on to Lough Key, one of the most beautiful lakes in Ireland. You can moor your boat at the jetty of Lough Key Forest Park, a real highlight of this mini cruise where you can explore the Canopy Walk, try out the ziplines or Forest Segway and stop for a bite to eat. 

Journey on to historic Boyle, a good place to stop for the night with lots of busy restaurants and bars. Explore Boyle Abbey before taking your time to cruise around Lough Key for the next few days on your way back to Carrick-on-Shannon.

A small wooden row boat passing a castle on Lough Key.
There's all sorts of activity happening on the river.

Cruise south to Dromod, Rooskey and Tarmonbarry

If you choose to cruise south from Carrick-on-Shannon your journey time to Tarmonbarry is six hours, but there’s plenty of wonderful stops along the way. It’s about two hours south to historic Jamestown which still has part of its fortification walls, and a further hour through a manned lock to reach the harbour in Dromod. The views here are stunning with easy access to the town where you can stop for lunch or dinner. It’s also worth checking out the Railway Museum.

Just an hour further south you’ll reach Rooskey, a beautiful village at the bridging point of the Shannon in County Leitrim, famous for its angling. Moor in the harbour, stroll around the town and listen out for an impromptu music session. The charming village of Tarmonbarry, less than an hour away, is the next stop before you head back north to Carrick-on-Shannon.

White boat with blue floats on the River Shannon
Hit the open water in a modern cruiser.

Cruise on The Shannon from Banagher

There’s lots to explore on a short self-drive cruise from the marina in Banagher as you travel north to Athlone and Lough Ree, one of the largest lakes in Ireland with an abundance of historical sites.

Banagher boat hire

Take the whole family to Banagher and cruise the Shannon in a modern boat with enough room for everyone. Whip up a gorgeous lunch in the onboard kitchen and eat on the deck, surrounded by nature.  

Hire your boat from Locaboat, Carrickcraft or Silverline Cruisers

Boats docked beside a grassy bank near a bridge on the Shannon
Enjoy sailing in comfort on a luxurious cruiser.

Cruising north from Banagher to Glasson  

Your cruise time from Banagher to Glasson is four hours, but before you set sail, you’ll want to explore the rural village, complete with a Martello Tower built to ward off Napoleon. Take in the views across the water and treat yourself to pizza at J.J.Hough's Singing Pub – known as one of the liveliest spots in the midlands.

Shannonbridge, named after its imposing bridge, is an hour up-river and known for the beautiful peat landscape around the village. Catch the famous sunset from Lukers Bar with its incredible views of the Shannon.

Your next stop is a real highlight of your cruise, the ancient city of Clonmacnoise; a place of huge historical and religious significance. There you’ll walk amongst the dramatic stone ruins of an ancient monastic settlement and the burial place of two of Ireland’s High Kings.

Headstones and a tower at Clonmacnoise, Co. Offaly
Stopping off at Clonmacnoise is a must when you're on the Shannon.

Meander north for another hour to the largest town on the river, Athlone, home to the medieval Athlone Castle which dominates the waterfront. Stroll around the town and its many bars and restaurants, and toast your cruise in Sean’s Bar, the oldest bar in Ireland, dating to 900 AD which still has part of its original wattle and daub walls.  

From Athlone, it’s just an hour’s further cruise on Lough Ree to the picturesque village of Glasson (or Glassan), known as the Village of the Roses. You’ll find Wineport Lodge with its dramatic views or moor your boat at Hodson Bay and drop in for dinner in the hotel of the same name.

Shannon cruises from Portumna

Where to rent a boat in Portumna?

Rent a plush boat with all the modern conveniences and enjoy a relaxing trip on the Shannon. Portumna is a great place to begin your fishing holiday, so reserve a boat with a large cockpit and fish in comfort from your cruiser.

Hire your self-guided cruiser from Emerald Star.

A woman paddling with a dog on Lough Derg.
Keep an eye out for boats of all shapes and sizes as your cruise down the River Shannon.

Cruise south from Portumna to Lough Derg

The fishing town of Portumna is an easy gateway to the mystical Lough Derg, with its dramatic scenery and pretty towns and villages hugging its shores. Before you take to the water, explore Portumna Castle and catch a glimpse of Ireland’s dark past at The Irish Workhouse

From here, you can take a one-way cruise south to Killaloe and transfer back by road, or spend a few days discovering Lough Derg before cruising back to Portumna

As you journey south, moor at the harbour in Portumna Forest Park and go for an amble along its peaceful nature trails. An hour from Portumna towards the northern tip of Lough Derg, you’ll arrive at the lovely historic village of Terryglass. Soak up the history of the area and stop for home cooked food at the 200 year old Paddy’s Bar.

Daffodils in Portumna Forest Park beside Lough Derg, Galway.
Enjoy the natural surrounds of Lough Derg.

Lough Derg is known for some of the most dramatic scenery in Ireland and there are plenty of little villages to discover along its shores. Cruise south on the lake stopping in the unspoilt village of Kilgarvan or the popular Dromineer with its 16th century castle on the quay.

The picturesque and historic village of Garrykennedy, famous for its Irish music sessions, is a five-hour cruise from your starting point in Portumna. But if you’re planning a longer trip (or have arranged a transfer), another leisurely three hours on the water takes you to the twin towns of Killaloe and Ballina.

Separated by the much photographed 18th century bridge, with lots of lovely walks and places to lunch, you could easily spend the day here. The Brian Boru Heritage Centre is a must-visit before you make your journey back to Portumna.

A cloudy blue sky and boats at Killaloe Harbour on the River Shannon
Book your self-drive cruiser now.
Plan your cruise on the Shannon

With so many ways to explore the beautiful River Shannon and its lovely loughs on a short break, where are you planning to go first? Don’t miss our On the Water page for more inspiration on incredible boat trips, tours and cruises in Ireland.

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