Top 10 Things to Do in Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands

There’s nothing to compare with kicking back for a couple of days and reconnecting with nature in one of Ireland’s most undiscovered places. Leave behind the hustle and bustle of everyday life and tap into the relaxed rhythm of Ireland's Hidden Heartlands. Read on for our top 10 suggestions to inspire your next short break in the tranquil heart of rural Ireland.

1. Visit Center Parcs Longford Forest and its environs

Imagine a break amongst 400 acres of woodland with tropical swimming pools and over 100 indoor and outdoor activities all year round? Center Parcs in the beautiful County Longford is Ireland’s first resort of its kind and just another reason to visit Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands (3, 4 and 7 night options available).

Longford has lots more on offer too, from outdoor sporting activities to canoeing and leisurely canal cruising. Spend some time on The Royal Canal Way, a 140km walking and cycling corridor from Dublin to Clondra in Longford. This is a wonderful off-road trail that meanders along the bank of the Royal Canal right up to the River Shannon. Enroute, visit the Corlea Trackway Visitor Centre to see an actual Iron Age trackway built in the year 148 B.C. – the largest of its kind uncovered in Europe. Coming soon is the nearby Lough Ree Distillery Visitor Centre in Lanesborough.

2. Get active on the Shannon

The Shannon Blueway is a web of trails just waiting to be explored by canoe, bike or on foot. The new floating boardwalk at Acres Lake extends your walk or cycle into Drumshanbo, connecting it to Leitrim village.

Try your hand at Stand-Up Paddleboarding (SUP) with Leitrim Surf Company. While you’re there learn bushcraft skills and take a guided canoe trip with Slow Adventure, Leitrim. Or perhaps head south to the UL Sport Adventure Centre in Killaloe and have a go at mountaineering, sailing or kayaking. The Hodson Bay in Athlone is where you’ll find Baysports. Here you can hire kayaks, paddle boards, pedal boats and have a go on the tallest inflatable waterslide in the country.

For those of you with a specific shade of ‘green’ in mind, check out Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands Golf Association for a range of stunning parkland golfing options.

Walking trail overlooking Ballina/Killaloe, Co Tipperary
Glasson Hotel and Golf Club, Athlone, Co. Westmeath
Walking trail overlooking Ballina/Killaloe, Co Tipperary
Walking trail overlooking Ballina/Killaloe, Co Tipperary

3. Walk through idyllic country

The 64km Lough Derg Way winds its way along the Shannon and canals to the lake port of Dromineer on Lough Derg. It’s an ideal place to explore on foot with lovely lakeside trails and incredible views. The 500km Beara-Breifne Way as Ireland’s longest national waymarked trail is another great option to uncover Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands.

In Offaly, Clara Bog Visitor Centre and Nature Reserve’s boardwalk is a 1km looped bogland walk that’s home to many native plants, birds and animals. Further north, The Cavan Way is a 26km walkway through valleys and hills including the spectacular archaeology and geology of the UNESCO Marble Arch Global Geopark, and connects the Ulster Way at Blacklion with the Leitrim Way at Dowra village.

4. Cruise the waterways

Taking to the water on a cruise is the perfect antidote to daily stress. Whether you choose Shannon Culture Holidays, Emerald Star or Carrickcraft for your cruise rental allow three to five nights for a return trip to Lough Ree, from either Carrick-on-Shannon or Portumna.

At Banagher, rent a boat from Silverline Cruisers and travel along the wildlife haven of the Shannon Callows to the monastic city of Clonmacnoise – at the crossroads of two major historic routeways. Nearby is the small village with Shannonbridge with its small but delectable choice of pubs and cafes, and Shannon Harbour where the Grand Canal meets the mighty Shannon.

Another relaxing cruising option is to make your way to Athlone from either north or south and follow this 2-day itinerary. Round off by crossing part of Lough Ree to Lecarrow village, County Roscommon, with its lovely harbour, restaurant and pub.

5. Island hopping

It's said that Cavan has 365 lakes - one for each day of the year. The source of both the Shannon and Erne Rivers, the undulating landscape of northwest County Cavan is a place away from it all, but not that far away!

One of the county’s most idyllic watery gems is Lough Oughter. With the historic Clough Oughter Castle as a backdrop, the choice is yours to peddle or paddle around the archipelago of islands of the Erne River system.

Just outside Cavan town, Cavan Adventure Centre has kayaks, canoes, boats, bikes and camping for you to make the most of your trip.

Lough Oughler Castle
Lough Oughter Castle

6. Uncover a forest adventure

You won’t want to leave Lough Key Forest and Activity Park, a stunning 400-hectre park in Roscommon with lakes and forest trails and lots of outdoor activities. A unique way to explore the park is to glide along quietly and take in all the scenery on the Rockingham Roll Segway from Woodland Segway. Try a boat trip on the lake or get a bird’s eye view from the treetops on Ireland’s only Tree Canopy Walk.

Segways in Lough Key Forest Park, Co Roscommon
Segways in Lough Key Forest Park, Co Roscommon

7. Spend a day in Portumna

Portumna Castle was gutted by a fire in 1826, but today the castle is an imposing example of Irish architecture of the early 17th century. Built before 1618 by Richard de Burgo, the exhibition uncovers the stories and intrigue of the castle’s former residents. While you’re there take in the Irish Workhouse Centre and don’t miss Portumna Forest Park which you can explore on foot or by hiring bikes. Portumna is also a key hub for cruise holidays on the River Shannon.

8. Connect with the past

Preserving the heritage of the Arigna Valley in County Roscommon, the Arigna Mining Experience offers a unique insight into coal-mining life from the 1700s until its closure in 1990. During the underground tour, experience what it was like to work some of the narrowest coal seams in the western world.

Another window into the past is the story of the famine which unfolds at The National Famine Museum, Strokestown. More than two million people either died or emigrated during the Great Hunger when blight destroyed the potato crop and the Museum shares its compelling archive, much of which laid undiscovered for over 170 years.

Arigna Mine Experience, Co Roscommon
Arigna Mine Experience, Co Roscommon

Journey to the Otherworld at Rathcroghan near the medieval village of Tulsk in County Roscommon. Once the seat of the legendary Queen Medb of Connacht, Rathcroghan is one of the most impressive and intriguing landscapes in Ireland – both mythologically and archaeologically. Visit the fine Interpretive Centre and Museum at Tulsk before taking a detailed tour of the sites.

9. Dine out in the heart of Ireland

A stay in Ireland's Hidden Heartlands is all about lingering over lunch, ideally in a lakeside pub. You'll be spoilt for choice with The Barge, Leitrim village; The Derg Inn and Paddy's Bar, both in Terryglass; and Larkins of Garrykennedy. The burgers in Skelly's pub, Ballymahon, Longford, come highly recommended too.

MacNean House & Restaurant is a real treasure of Cavan’s food scene. Owned by Neven Maguire, the Michelin guide regards it as a “stylish restaurant in a smart townhouse, with a chic lounge and a plush dining room.” There are also cookery courses available if you’re looking to bring the flavours back home with you.

10. Enjoy an afternoon tea

Afternoon tea is a real indulgence, and there are some compelling options around Ireland's Hidden Heartlands. Among the go-to destinations is Lough Rynn Castle in Mohill, Leitrim, where it's served daily from 12 noon to 6pm. Kilronan Castle in Boyle, County Roscommon, is another beautiful setting for afternoon tea – so fully enjoy the company and this luxurious tradition.

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