Kayaking and canoeing in Ireland

Keem Bay, Achill Island, County Mayo

Swap planes, trains and automobiles for winding rivers, glassy lakes and vast ocean waters with a kayaking and canoeing adventure you’ll simply adore

Writer travel writer Rick Le Vert described Fermanagh's Upper Lough Erne as a paddler's paradise, that’s “chock-a-block with hidden nooks and crannies, secretive islands and majestic estates.” It’s almost as if, with each stroke of your paddle and playful splash of water, the world – and its worries – drift further and further away.

Waterside wonders

Summing up Ireland’s network of waterways isn’t easy, but were the Lakelands to have a capital, Fermanagh would be it. The maze of bays, narrow channels of slow moving water and innumerable islands around both Upper and Lower Lough Erne offer superb opportunities for people embarking on their first canoe or kayaking trip. And there are wonderful places to stay around the water: camping at Castle Archdale, island accommodation on Lusty Beg, and quirky bubble domes at Finn Lough. 

A trip into the great outdoors like this is fundamentally reinvigorating. Life is brought back to the basics – shelter, warmth and food

Pól O’Conghaile, travel writer

The loop along the River Shannon’s elbow – where Lough Allen is shared by counties Roscommon and Leitrim – also beckons those keen to silence the relentless sounds of urban life. The Blackwater Canoe Trail around Armagh and Tyrone brings you alongside the National Trust’s The Argory – a handsome stately home on a gorgeous riverside estate. And the Barrow River, flowing through Kilkenny and Carlow, invites you to discover the treasures of Ireland's Ancient East on its banks. 

An ocean of adventure

Beyond the inland waterways lies another option – the sea. And a kayak or canoe is your ticket there. It’s a pass to small coves and caves that can remain frustratingly inaccessible from the land. Just ask author Jasper Winn who took his kayak and skirted the entire island: “The trip also gave me a reminder of just how gorgeous the place (Ireland) is…

You start to see places in a different way. You get to camp in solitude on uninhabited islands. You get to see wild places...

Jasper Winn, travel writer

Truth be told, the entire Wild Atlantic Way from Cork to Donegal is an incredible stretch. West Cork is a firm favourite of Jim Kennedy from Atlantic Sea Kayaking. Island hopping from Ardmore in Galway lets you skip along a line of uninhabited islands, including MacDara’s Island (named after the patron saint of the traditional Galway Hooker boat) says Conor Smith from the Irish Sea Kayaking Association. While Achill Island in Mayo has its Blueway – a network of water trails – and the folks at Achill Surf are only delighted to guide you from Golden Strand to Silver Strand across the teal-toned crystal waters of Keem Bay.

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