Ireland's lakeside playgrounds

Take to the waters and the wild, and discover slow travel at its finest along Ireland’s inland waterways…

Birds dart from wind-ruffled reeds, navy-coloured waters ripple in gentle breezes and a blanket of green envelops the surrounding landscape… Ireland’s waterways are pockets of paradise in a hectic world. They’re places of poets and pilgrims, of roamers and ramblers, all of whom are drawn by the rustic beauty, quiet villages and unhurried pace of life that define our waterways.

This is slow travel at its finest – kayak to mysterious monastic islands, laze over lunch in a waterfront tavern or stroll along peaceful riverbanks. Here are three glistening oases to get you started…

Lough Erne

Life operates at a slower pace here in County Fermanagh, amidst a landscape dappled with cobalt-blue waters, the most famous of which are Upper and Lower Lough Erne – two connected lakes boasting over 154 islands.

What to do: Excellent for boating and kayaking, explore islands such as Boa, Devenish, White Island and Lusty Beg. Off the water, be wowed by the subterranean wonders of the Marble Arch Caves, one of Europe’s finest show caves, enjoy Enniskillen, a handsome island town that separates Upper and Lower Lough Erne; and uncover the elegance of both Castle Coole and Florence Court.

Where to eat: Take lunch by the water at Lisnaskea’s gorgeous Watermill Restaurant, a thatched-roofed fine dining delight. Try local baking at the Kissin Crust Coffee Shop, or settle down for a pint of porter in the Victorian bar at Blakes of the Hollow pub in Enniskillen.

Explore more in the area: Visit Belleek Pottery, established in 1857; go walking on the incredible Cuilcagh Legnabrocky Trail; and stroll through Crom Estate.

Lough Corrib

Set within the wild and rugged beauty of Connemara in County Galway, Lough Corrib offers adventure, angling and amazing beauty both on the water and off it. Rich with salmon and wild brown trout, it’s a favourite of anglers who come here to enjoy a tranquil fishing experience.

What to do: Kayaking on Lough Corrib will reveal lots of secret islands swathed in soft reeds, while walking routes will clear any cobwebs that are still lingering. Corrib Cruises gets you onto the water to enjoy nature at its most unspoiled. While back on land, discover the gem of Aughnanure Castle. Dating from around 1500, it has a stunning lakefront location.

Where to eat: Pat Cohan’s bar in Cong is the kind of pub you dream about – small, cosy and with a traditional atmosphere, it’s perfect for a casual bite to eat. Powers Thatched Pub and Restaurant in Oughterard is another quintessential Irish pub with tasty food to match, or go upscale at Ashford Castle with dinner in the sumptuous George V Dining Room, with Waterford Crystal chandeliers, a piano player and exceptional dishes.

Explore more in the area: Spend a day in the bohemian city of Galway; explore the fishing village of Roundstone; and step into medieval history at Ross Errilly Friary, northwest of Headford.

Lough Ree

Lying at what claims to be the geographical heart of Ireland is Lough Ree, a tranquil stretch of water that measures around 30km from top to toe. This lovely liquid playground is as mystical as it is majestic, with even its very own legendary lake monster. At its southern tip, you’ll find the buzzing town of Athlone with an impressive 13th century castle, characterful old pubs, and plenty of walking and cycling trails.

What to do: Lough Ree takes its water sports seriously, with boating, water-skiing, canoeing and windsurfing all vying for attention. Try a boat tour with Barracuda Boats, or set sail for the monastic site of Clonmacnoise on a replica Viking boat with Viking Ship Tours. A visit to Lough Ree’s many islands is a real treat, with the northerly situated Inchcleraun of particular interest thanks to the remains of a 6th century monastic settlement.

Where to eat: Athlone dishes up great food in its pubs, delis, cafés and restaurants. Enjoy the local gastro delights of the Fatted Calf, where tasty dishes such as treacle-braised short-rib beef vie for attention with cider-brined pork belly. The Ballinahown Tea Rooms are an ideal stopping-point for gorgeous bakes within the surrounds of a unique craft village, while Grogan’s of Glasson is great old pub set within a building that dates from 1750.

Explore more in the area: Try the Claypipe Visitor Centre in Knockcroghery, County Roscommon; visit the remarkable Belvedere House and Gardens in County Westmeath; and go back in time at Birr Castle in County Offaly.