Today we are throwing a highlight on County Leitrim and the ten best things to do while visiting this small but weighty county. Finding itself inland in the north west of Ireland, sandwiched between Sligo to its left and Cavan to its right, Leitrim, delightfully stuck in the middle, is packed with landscapes, waterways, and adventures you don’t want to miss. This hidden gem, in a country of hidden gems, is most certainly one of its brightest jewels for its unspoilt charm, welcoming people, and picturesque towns. Leitrim undoubtedly has a quality like no other considering, even in the peak of the tourist season, it is delightfully uncrowded but packed with things to do and places to see. Not only that, but it boasts a wonderful solitude and peacefulness for the perfect getaway.
If you’re mulling over this beautiful part of the country and wondering where the highlights are, we’ve gathered together the top ten best things to in Leitrim to help you along. Rich in an incredible heritage, with vast greenery and endless opportunities, Leitrim will surprise and delight you with its enticing things to do.
All the Lakes
Despite being inland, Leitrim has enough water to whet your appetite for getting out on a paddleboard or hopping into a canoe. With plenty of lakes to choose from, Leitrim offers much in the way of things to do on the water, on its shores, and along its perimeters. Rich in history and delightfully awash with myths and legends, there is a poetic allure awaiting you on the lakes of County Leitrim. Let’s not forget the River Shannon winds its way through Leitrim and offers so much in the way of things to do and see, such as river cruises, bike trails, and paddle boarding, with many wonderful eateries along the way.
Among the most popular of the Leitrim lakes are Glencar Lough, Lough Allen, and Lough Gill which is shared with County Sligo. These three lakes are set amongst some of the most beautiful backdrops you will ever see, with their own unique things to do amongst their surroundings, some of which we will explore further on. They are the largest to be found in County Leitrim, along with Lough Garadice whose idyllic setting is quietly peaceful with its waters dotted with small islands.
Hidden away are some of Leitrim’s smaller lakes who are also host to spectacular isolated visions. Glenade Lough, Lough Rynn and Doogary Lough, all offer calm getaways from the loudness of life.
Falling for the Glencar Waterfalls
There is no shortage of stunning sights in County Leitrim, as we explore its wonderous landscapes and lakes, but none are more ideal and remarkable than the Glencar Waterfalls. It’s a perfect spot for the budding photographer to capture these falls and the surrounding beauty in all the glory our fluctuating seasons have to offer.
Situated on Glencar Lough, the spectacular Glencar Waterfalls are 50ft high and swell after a heavy rain, making the waterfalls even more impressive. Although more waterfalls can be viewed along the route to Glencar, this romantic waterfall made famous by poet W. B. Yeats for his dreamy ruminations in the poem “A Stolen Child”, is most impressive and a must for your itinerary.
The incredible vision of Glencar Waterfalls can be taken in from viewing platforms along a short but wonderfully scenic, wooded walk. Entry to the waterfalls is free, it is easily accessible and has a car park and picnic area. A must have playground for the little ones is also on site. Could there be a more perfect setting for your afternoon? Take and break and indulge in a coffee and treat at the TeaShed. Glencar Waterfalls is often on the top of everyone’s list of things to do in Leitrim, so be sure not to miss it.
Boating Along the River Shannon
It would be careless of us not to explore the River Shannon with you considering it is Ireland’s longest river and winds its way right through County Leitrim along with ten other counties. Running over 220 miles, it separates the west of Ireland from the east. According to an ancient legend, the River Shannon was named after a Celtic goddess called Sionnan, the granddaughter of Lir, who was carried out to sea after a well she discovered burst.
Along with exploring the legends, the River Shannon is bountiful with adventure too. From kayaking, paddle boarding, river cruises, and fishing, setting out on the waters and dipping our toes is probably one of the best things the Shannon has to offer. Boating along the River Shannon offers so much by way of things to do that it is a getaway in and of itself. Stopping off for the most scenic of walks, exploring the expansive loughs and of course pausing at the fantastic places to dine in with the many classic pubs along the way, makes this boating holiday a must do. With only a few locks along its length, the river is easily navigable and wonderful to explore. You may even spot swans, kingfishers or even a bottle-nosed dolphin along the way.
Retreat to Nature
The quietness and solitude of County Leitrim offers so many opportunities to escape a fast paced, unbalanced life. Finding eco retreats and getting back to nature is easy in this part of the country. Simply step outside. With its incredible landscapes, Leitrim is a haven for anyone wishing to escape for a while and take on a yoga, meditation, or mindfulness retreat.
There are endless opportunities to explore when retreating to nature. In the Leitrim hills of Dromahair you will find Ard Nahoo, an award winning eco retreat and yoga school. With eco cabins to enjoy and “slow adventures” encouraging you to connect with the world around you, this retreat is a must for your list of things to do when escaping back to nature.
With eco-tourism high on many of our lists when we are looking to dodge the doldrum and reconnect with ourselves and our world, The Organic Centre in Rossinver, is a great spot. Here you will find excellent courses on gardening, food, and crafts which are not only interesting but entertaining too. Certainly one of the more unique things to do while visiting County Leitrim.
Parkes Castle is an incredible vision as it lingers directly on the edge of the shores of Lough Gill. A restored plantation castle from the early 17th century, Parkes Castle was once the home of English captain Sir Robert Parke and his family, who sadly saw tragedy when two of Parkes children drowned in the lake.
The castle fell into disrepair when the eldest child married and left the castle, leaving the castle deserted for almost two hundred years. Now beautifully preserved, Parkes Castle showcases a banquet hall, family room, and courtyard in the restorations. Alongside the stunning preservation, the castle hosts a permanent exhibition with guided tours.
Of course, sitting along Lough Gill adds to the wow factor of Parkes Castle as the scenic drive along the shores of the lough are simply stunning. Lough Gill, which mostly sits in County Sligo but is happily shared with County Leitrim, is a beautiful setting with plenty of spots to explore with fantastic walks. For those interested in the history of British rule and the plantation era, a visit to Parkes Castle will easily tick that off your list of things to do.
Moorlands Equestrian Centre
If you are someone who prefers to be on four legs rather than out on the water, then be sure to check out Moorlands Equestrian Centre at Lough Allen in Drumshanbo. Moorlands is one of Ireland’s most acclaimed centres with pony camps and kids clubs with gentle and enthusiastic horses. A family run business Moorlands has been trekking along for almost 30 years.
The scenic setting with the backdrop of Sliabh an Iarainn mountain and the Arigna mountains makes Moorlands all the more enticing. With top quality facilities, excellent instructors, trainers and beautiful horses, all of your needs are catered for here. With Lough Allen Hotel and Spa onsite, it’s the perfect spot for a riding holiday with everything at your fingertips and many things to do while visiting.
Kingfisher Cycle Trail
And if the water doesn’t tickle your fancy, and four legs are far too many for you, why not try two wheels. Dust off the bike and take on the Kingfisher Trail which loops through the country roads of Fermanagh, Leitrim, Cavan, Donegal, and Monaghan. Met with a vista of stunning attractions and landscapes, the Kingfisher Trail is a stunning route. What sounds like an arduous haul is actually a trail ideal for all levels of cyclists as the route brings you through mountain climbs, gentle hills, delightful laneways, and lake views.
With over 300 miles of roadway, clearly marked, through beautiful countryside, the route encompasses shorter trails and tours depending on how much of the course you wish to complete and your experience level. It’s certainly not an easy haul but the rewards are immense as you take in the stunning countryside and immense landscape.
And when you find yourself in Leitrim but without a bike, you can easily rent a bike along the route and make your way through some of the Kingfisher Trail. With routes to suit everyone, you are bound to find your way onto the road.
Cavan and Leitrim Railway
For something a little different on your list of things to do we’ve included time to explore the Cavan and Leitrim Railway. This restored 19th century narrow-gauge railway gives you the chance to delve into the history of steam transport, bringing you back to another world travelling through the untouched surroundings of County Leitrim.
The railway and museum, located in Dromod and completely staffed by volunteers, were delicately restored by a group of stalwart preservationists who unearthed the track bed and sheds in the 1990s. A large project ensued, and the Cavan and Leitrim Railway was reborn as a collection of wagons, artefacts, carriages and steam and diesel engines were gathered together.
For the train and railway enthusiast, the Cavan and Leitrim Railway is a must on the list of things to do in Leitrim when visiting. Especially considering trains run on a short section of the railway making it a fun and eclectic experience.
Find the Leitrim Towns
Leitrim may have the smallest population of all of Ireland’s counties, but the people are vibrant and the towns brilliantly energetic. Carrick-on-Shannon is Leitrim’s beating heart and certainly not to be missed when you’re writing up your itinerary. In fact, it’s impossible to not make your way here as it simply pulls you in. Known as a water sports paradise, and the cruise capital of the Shannon, Carrick-on-Shannon is full of things to do from indulging in beauty retreats, hiking and walking through the landscapes, to immersing yourself in its history, folklore, and culture.
If and when you have ticked off your list of things to do in Carrick-on-Shannon, find yourself in Ballinamore, a large and welcoming town known for its angling and fishing. With a total of 40 lakes gathered together in a 10km distance, Ballinamore is a beautiful backdrop for your excursion to Leitrim. Ideally located as a starting off point, Ballinamore is host to a great many pubs and restaurants after a day spent horse riding, golfing, and exploring.
For a smaller and quieter town experience head to Drumshanbo, a charming town which sits at the foot of the Sliabh an Iarainn mountain. Lively with traditional music and a heartbeat of Irish custom and culture, Drumshanbo is beautiful not only for its countryside but for the people who live there.
Step Back in Time in Leitrim
Aside from the intense beauty of the natural landscape, the opportunity to find honest peace and tranquillity, and having plenty of sporting activities nearby, let’s not forget that Leitrim is also rich in history with many bygone places to visit. So, let’s add them to your list of things to do in Leitrim.
With excellent exhibits and ancient artefacts, St Georges Heritage Centre in Carrick-on-Shannon is an essential spot on your itinerary. This 200-year church on beautiful grounds is steeped in history. St Georges Heritage Centre also includes the Workhouse Attic Memorial further along the brass plaque trail. A haunting reminder of the famine workhouses, this memorial brings you through the poignant history of Ireland’s famine era.
Step back in time with a visit to the intriguing ruins of Manorhamilton Castle in the beautiful town of Manorhamilton. This 17th century stronghold has a most interesting history with a permanent exhibition and many replica items to fascinate any would-be historian. Finally, peek inside the history of Fenagh Abbey whose ruins date from the 15th century. The Fenagh Visitor Centre is home to a small exhibition with information about the abbey and also the surrounding archaeological sites.
We’ve said it before, but we’ll say it again, Leitrim may be small, but it is certainly jam packed with history, mystery and adventure!