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4 short self-drive cruises to take along the Shannon
Take your pick from a few cruising routes along the River Shannon.
Cruising the calm waters of the country's longest river is the perfect anchor for a short break in Ireland's Hidden Heartlands. Captain your own boat for a three-day cruise along the River Shannon and Shannon-Erne Waterways, dock in tranquil spots and discover pretty villages and historic sites along the way.

Here are short cruises along the River Shannon to explore on your next stay.

Enjoy home comforts on your self-drive Shannon cruise

You don’t need a special captain’s hat or a license to venture down the Shannon-Erne Waterway. With the guidance of your boat hire company, you'll learn the rules of the water for your self-drive cruiser, how to moor and navigate the canal locks. Though 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 and Shannon-Erne Waterways is a unique way to spend time with family and friends. 

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

Woman wearing a lifejacket sailing in a boat on the River Shannon
Have some fun on 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 marina. Bustling with crews and water lovers, you can fuel your boat and yourself here.

Fill up on a farmhouse roasted chicken bap with herb and onion stuffing in the Landmark Hotel's Boardwalk Café. Afterwards, visit The Leitrim Design House in a former courthouse and discover the handiwork of over 250 artists. Or visit Ireland’s smallest chapel, Costello Memori-l Chapel, built in 1877 by a heartbroken husband in memory of his wife.

Boats in Carrick-on-Shannon in Co Leitrim
Start your journey in 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 10 berth boat with five bedrooms and a sundeck 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 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. Moor your boat at the jetty of Lough Key Forest Park and venture inside to take on the Canopy Walk, the ziplines and the Forest Segway. 

Zipit Forest Adventures at Lough Key Forest & Activity Park, Boyle, Co Roscommon
Experience new heights at Lough Key Forest Park.

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.

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 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 great, with easy access to the town where you can stop for lunch or dinner. It’s also worth checking out the Cavan and Leitrim Railway to see their collection of steam trains.

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 lovely 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 west to Leitrim village, Ballinamore and Belturbet

A cruise through the Shannon-Erne Waterway is dotted with small towns filled with experiences that make it worth this week-long cruise. Start off by visiting Leitrim village, just an hour from Carrick-on-Shannon, and exercise your land legs with a relaxing cycle. If you didn't bring your own bike along for the journey, you can rent one from Electric Bike Trails nearby. Stop into the nearby The Shed Distillery Experience in Drumshanbo, where you can get an in-depth tour to learn how their popular Gunpowder Gin is made. 

The Shed Distillery in Drumshambo, County Leitrim
Stop by The Shed Distillery Experience in Drumshanbo.

Once you're back onboard, embark on the seven-hour stint to Ballinamore. Play a round at Ballinamore Golf Club, or head to the Glenview Folk Museum to admire their collection of over 6,000 artefacts from pre-Famine Ireland. 

The penultimate stop brings you across the Cavan border and into the town of Ballyconnell. Soak up a bit of fresh air on the Ballyconnell Canal Loop. Along the way, keep an eye out for some of the area's archaeological finds such as the promontory fort at Ballyhugh and the decorated Killycluggin Stone. 

Finally, round off your cruise in Belturbet. Visit Drumlane Abbey and Round Tower, a historic site first erected in 550 AD that was once home to notable Irish clans. Before turning back for Carrick-on-Shannon, settle down in front of an open fire at the Seven Horseshoes Hotel for a delicious meal in their restaurant. 

Drumlane Abbey and Round Tower in Co Cavan
Browse the remains of Drumlane Abbey and Round Tower.

Cruise on the Shannon from Banagher

There’s lots to explore on a short self-drive cruise from the marina in Banagher 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 or opt for an eco-friendly form of transportation with Carrickcraft and Silverline Cruisers, who have recently converted from diesel to the biofuel HVO. 

A family cruising the River Shannon in Banagher in Co Offaly
Enjoy sailing in comfort on a luxurious cruiser.

Cruise 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 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
Make a pitstop at Clonmacnoise.

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, which dates back to 900 AD. It even still has part of its original wattle and daub walls.  

From Athlone, it’s just an hour along Lough Ree to the picturesque village of Glasson (or Glassan), known as the "Village of the Roses". Moor your boat at either Glasson Lakehouse or Wineport Lodge and grab a bite to eat in their incredible restaurants. Or opt for a pitstop at Hodson Bay and drop in for dinner in the hotel of the same name.

Aerial view of Glasson Lakehouse in Co Westmeath
Wine and dine yourself at Glasson Lakehouse.

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 boat cruising into Portumna in Co Galway
Say hello to the local wildlife as you cruise into Portumna.

Cruise south from Portumna to Lough Derg

The fishing town of Portumna is an easy gateway to 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 Centre.

Aerial view of Portumna Castle and Gardens in Co Galway
Raom the grounds of Portumna Castle and Gardens.

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 small 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.

Once you've fed your appetite, cruise south on the lake and stop in the quiet village of Kilgarvan. If you're a car enthusiast, save some time to visit the Kilgarvan Motor Museum which is home to an impressive selection of vintage and classic cars. Or, make a pitstop in Dromineer and take in sights of the town's 16th century castle on the quay.

The 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 in either town. Visit Killaloe's Brian Ború's Fort where the Irish High King once lived. 

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

There are so many lovely waterways to explore around the country. Get out on the water and start planning your next cruise getaway. 

More to discover
On the waterHow to explore the Shannon Estuary Way

Winding through counties Clare, Limerick and Kerry, the Shannon Estuary Way covers 207km of some of the most historic sites and beautiful natural landscapes along the Wild Atlantic Way. Whether you’re wandering polished manors and gardens or spotting dolphins along the shores of the River Shannon, a day (or two) spent along the Way is full of surprising discoveries.

On the waterSpend a car-free day in Sligo and Carrick-on-Shannon

There’s plenty to see around Sligo, from the local stretches of untamed coastline to the mountains that frame the edge of the city. But if you’re basing yourself in Sligo town, it’s well worth putting time aside to explore the town itself, whether you want to amble around a gallery or soak up the local café scene. When you’re ready to explore further afield, hop the border into Leitrim to spend some time in the pretty market town of Carrick-on-Shannon, just a short train ride away.

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