Home #WHERETONEXT UK Travel Ireland’s vast network of Rivers, Lakes and Canals

Travel Ireland’s vast network of Rivers, Lakes and Canals

Ireland's vast network of rivers, lakes and canals are ecosystems of activity, but also rich in unique experiences, outdoor adventure and pure relaxation

Ireland’s waters and the wild

‘Come away with me O human child, to the waters and the wild’, wrote the great Irish poet WB Yeats over a century ago. The invitation still stands today in a land of crystal clear lakes, majestic rivers, tranquil canals, a rich heritage and a warm welcome.

The island of Ireland is simply packed with lake and riverside holiday options that can wrap you in the stillness and calmness of some of the most unspoiled waterways in Europe, or let you indulge in unique waterborne adventures.

E-foiling and mobile saunas are some of the newest additions to the island’s water adventure scene, with the Hot Tub Boat in County Westmeath offering a memorable experience of the majestic Lough Ree, Ireland’s third largest lake.

The 33-foot boat carries a specially fitted covered hot tub, taking up to six people as they relax in 37-degree water and are serenaded by an in-built sound system. All the boat’s sailings are in sheltered areas and the spa experience with a twist can even let you see a sunset over the lake.

E-foiling is an exciting new futuristic activity that has been likened to taking a magic carpet ride, and Strangford Lough Activity Centre in County Down is the first to offer the experience on the island of Ireland.

Strangford Lough is an ideal location for e-foiling. There is plenty of flat, enclosed water and beautiful scenery to enjoy while your battery-powered electric surfboard flies about 80 cm above the water on its hydro foil wing. The e-foil is almost silent, allowing you to enjoy the pristine environment without imposing on it.

For another unique experience on Ireland’s waters look out for the Mayfly, an eco-showboat and the first solar-electric boat to undertake a journey up the mighty River Shannon and Erne Waterway from Limerick to Enniskillen. The boat, a mobile work of art hand painted by artists, is carrying a joyful message about climate action.

The four-month arts voyage is developing conversations about climate at 17 town and village events along the waterways during a series of Eco Sundays involving local artists, scientists, farmers and communities. Anyone is welcome to attend.

After setting out in April, the Mayfly will make the last stop on its expedition in Carrybridge, County Fermanagh, on 21 August, where you are invited to join the crew for a wonderful afternoon of art, conversation and workshops.

Whether it be holidays afloat on a barge or a cruise, a lakeside cottage, stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking or wild swimming, Ireland’s waterways offer unlimited fun and relaxation. Even with limited time, the possibility of day boat hire makes rivers and island-dotted expanses of open water easy to explore.

In Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands such opportunities are plentiful, with the likes of Lough Derg Boat Tours, whose private and scheduled tours take in Lough Derg, one of three lakes on the River Shannon. Or at Carafin Activity Park on the upper reaches of the River Erne, you can enjoy fun-filled days out on pedal boats, hydro bikes and sightseeing tour boats.

Accessibility on the water is also covered in the Hidden Heartlands with Lough Ree Boat Trips. The boat lets wheelchair users roll on and off in their own manner, and once on board, enjoy angling, sightseeing and other excursions in all weathers. The boat is the only licensed vessel of its kind in Ireland and Britain for passenger travel of this nature.

There are also luxury water taxi and boat tours on Lough Ree taking in the River Shannon, the town of Athlone and the ancient monastic settlement of Clonmacnoise with Hidden Heartland Tours.

Meanwhile Moon River day boats at Carrick-on-Shannon in County Leitrim are 100% electric. Hire for the day and you can have a wonderful bird’s eye view of the waterside flora and fauna, moor up in on the quays and stroll around villages, have a spot of lunch and head away again to see where the River Shannon takes you.

A silent boat experience is also available on Lough Erne in County Fermanagh’s stunning lakelands. The Island Discovery pontoon boat from Erne Water Taxi is an all-electric passenger boat that enables up to 12 passengers to experience the beauty, distinctive sights and sounds of the water.

The boats are so quiet you might surprise a kingfisher mid-flight or creep up on a flock of geese.