One of the most adventurous and compelling parts of Ireland is County Sligo which is awash with things to do in the west. Brimming with mystery and adventure, Sligo calls out for explorers to take in her lands, her lakes, and sea waves. When looking for things to do in this corner of the Wild Atlantic Way, you will be hard pressed not to find something which will take your breath away. A surfer’s paradise, Sligo is home to mysterious rugged landscapes, powerful histories and an abundance of adventure and excitement to reignite or drive your passions.
Having such a rich tapestry, including the uniquely iconic Sligo mountain, Benbulben, also known as Table Mountain, and the Queen Maeve Trail up Knocknarea Mountain, Sligo in all of her beauty inspired the great poet W. B. Yeats. Often referred to as Yeats Country, Sligo is not just for literary icons. There are so many great things to do in Sligo. We have gathered together some of the must do adventures to add to your itinerary including megalithic tombs, kayaking, surfing, hiking, and some of the best eating and drinking hotspots.
Explore Lough Gill
Lough Gill, a freshwater lake, sits mainly in County Sligo but partially shares her beauty with County Leitrim. The magic of Lough Gill rests not just in the stunning waters, which are an angler’s paradise with salmon, trout, and pike at home here, but also in the majestic landscape which surrounds it. Bordered by stunning woodland, this scenic lake lies east of Sligo town and makes for an adventure like no other with so many things to do here.
Along the shores of Lough Gill at Half Moon Bay, sits Hazelwood Forest. With mostly flat routes, this forest is the epitome of tranquillity as the sun glints through branches or rainfall rattles on the treetops. With a spacious car park and lake views from the picnic area, Hazelwood Forest is a wonderful wander through nature. Along the way you may spot some beautiful sculptures by Irish and international artists. At the southern shore of Lough Gill begins another stunning woodland walking trail. Known as Slish Wood, this area is referred to as Sleuth Wood by W. B. Yeats in his poetry. This lakeshore and hillside track is a stunning trail between the lake and the Ox mountains.
Adding to that, settled on Lough Gill are some of Sligo’s most wonderful island escapes which Yeats so reverently refers to in his poem, “The Lake Isle of Innisfree.” In all, there are around twenty small islands sprinkled on Lough Gill, Innisfree perhaps being immortalised as the most famous. The best way to explore the lake and the islands is to hire a kayak and take to the water! We did say, Sligo was full of adventure and with Lough Gill first on your list, you’re hitting one of the sweet spots first!
Dive into Rosses Point
The small seaside village of Rosses Point is home to one of Sligo’s smaller but truly magnificent beaches. This blue flag beach sweeps just 400m with panoramic views of Oyster Island, which is renowned for its 170-year-old lighthouse. Alongside its beaches, Rosses Point is home to a wonderful harbour, yacht club, and some of the most breath-taking views in County Sligo. With plenty of things to do, Rosses Point is a Sligo highlight.
When visiting Rosses Point surfing, paddle boarding and kitesurfing are almost a guarantee if you’re keen to get out on the water. Not only that, but the area is steeped in local history, not to mention how W.B. Yeats and Jack Yeats were known to visit the village and its surrounding areas during the summer months. Rosses Point inspired many of their writings and paintings and with its natural beauty and freedom, we can understand why.
Uncover Sligo Abbey
Sligo Abbey, a medieval Dominican friary, is a must-see spot to add to your list of things to do in Sligo. Originally built in 1252, the Abbey was accidently burnt down in 1414, suffering much damage. It endured even more destruction during the 1641 rebellion. Under the Banishment Act of 1697, the Abbey friars were forced to leave for Spain. Sligo Abbey then stood empty until later in the 18th century when some friars returned temporarily until a new building was erected.
With a visitor centre, the history of Sligo Abbey and the local area is at our fingertips. There is much to explore including a Renaissance tomb and a magnificent high altar which is the only one to survive in any Irish church. With most of the Sligo Abbey ruins dating to the 13th century, what is left to marvel at includes the original walls of the church, the tower, the remains of the sacristy, and the refectory and three sides of the cloister. The timbers of the roof having been destroyed over the centuries means Sligo Abbey is open to the seasons and makes a stunning backdrop for any photographer.
Note we have been informed that Sligo Abbey is currently closed due to COVID 19 restrictions for summer 2021.
Head Out on the Water
Located along the Wild Atlantic Way, Sligo is overflowing with rivers, lakes, and oceans. At the heart of it, Sligo offers so many things to do out on the waterways. From surfing, paddle-boarding, and kitesurfing on its numerous beaches to kayaking and fishing on Lough Gill, Sligo is a must for anyone more at home in their waders or wetsuit than their jeans!
Strandhill is considered to be the most popular hotspot for getting wet learning to surf. A perfect beach for beginners to learn to surf, it is one of the most popular spots for surfing around the globe. Strandhill also offers seven miles of sandy beach, hidden caves, giant sand dunes and a seaside village with local markets and a history to fall in love with. There is great ice cream and treats to avail of too.
Further north, the fishing village of Mullaghmore in Sligo offers more opportunities to get in the water. Popular with swimmers, this beach runs two miles inside a crescent-shaped bay and is a great spot for windsurfing.
If fishing and angling are more your speed, for a great day out, chartering a boat is one of the best things to do in Sligo. With the expertise and knowledge of a good skipper, you will be in good hands!
Climb Benbulben from Top to Bottom
Also known as Table Mountain, Benbulben is a sight like no other and must be added to your things to do list when visiting Sligo. In fact, no visit is complete until you take in its sights and explore the surrounding area. Climbing to the peak of Benbulben may be left to some of the more experienced climbers, it still remains a must-see spot. If you are up for the challenge, walking tours are available with an experienced hiker to get you to the top. The lower ring walk affords the novice or younger walker a chance to encounter the mighty mountain.
The Benbulben Forest Walk at the base of the mountain offers a looped 5km trek. This beautiful and energising walk brings you close enough to Benbulben mountain to admire its unique ridges and explore what is arguably Ireland’s most distinctive mountain. There are also incredible views of Donegal Bay, Mullaghmore and Slieve League.
Come prepared when visiting Benbulben. Camera, good hiking or walking boots, plenty of water and snacks and eyes as wide as possible to take in the glorious sights.
Uncover Yeats Country
Sligo is often referred to as Yeats Country for the incredible way the poet W. B. Yeats has immortalised the county in his works. Many of his works and poetry reference aspects of the Sligo landscape in a dreamy and respected manner which elevates our love for this part of the Wild Atlantic Way. He notably referred to Sligo as “the land of heart’s desire.”
Wherever you go in Sligo, you are reminded of Yeats and his words. To venture more into this incredible mind, Sligo town hosts the Yeats building which can be found on Hyde Bridge. This 19th century red brick building is home to the International Yeats Society and houses a permanent exhibition on the life and works of W. B. Yeats. Guided tours with a local volunteer are available documenting the connection of Yeats to County Sligo. Honouring the life and work of Yeats, here you will find an exemplary reference library of over 3000 books, a poetry circle, and the Yeats international summer school. And more!
A visit to Drumcliffe Cemetery will bring you to where Yeats is buried. The gravestone reads a simple but distinctive inscription, “cast a cold eye on life, on death, horseman, pass by.”
Step Off the Mainland and Island Hop
Aside from getting lost in the beauty of the islands on Lough Gill, Sligo offers much more adventure when we decide to step off the mainland and island hop! Visitors are often unlikely to have heard about some of the smaller islands off the coast which are mostly uninhabited but well worth a visit.
Remote islands such as Inishmurray Island and Coney Island are about 7km from the coast with chartered boats and tours available. Inishmurray Island is home to an early Irish monastic settlement believed to have been built in the 6th century. Some of the old houses and the retired school can still be visited on the island despite the last inhabitants leaving Inishmurray Island in 1948. Hopefully boat trips can resume to Inishmurray Island soon.
Coney Island, so named because of the abundance of rabbits inhabiting the island, has just one family counted as permanent residents, albeit there are many temporary summer vacationers to be seen frequenting the local pub in the summer months. Coney Island holds much mystery and fantasy with Irish folklore stories of fairies, mermaids, and spirits throughout the island!
Find the Tombs at Carrowmore, Carrowkeel or Elsewhere
For history and archaeology buffs alike, Sligo offers so much in exploring ancient Ireland. Two sites worth adding to your things to do list are Carrowmore and Carrowkeel, ancient megalithic tomb sites.
Carrowmore, on the Cúil Irra peninsula, hosts Ireland’s oldest assemblage of dolmens and stone circles making it the largest cemetery of megalithic tombs in Ireland dating back to the Neolithic period. Thirty tombs sit here amidst the heart of this ancient ritual landscape which is overlooked by the Knocknarea mountain. The Carrowkeel megalithic collection, situated on the west side of Lough Arrow, is a stunning vision of 14 Neolithic cairns.
Sligo is home to many Neolithic sites worth visiting and exploring including the Creevykeel Court Tomb located close to the sea near Mullaghmore, Cairns Hill which is just a short walk from Sligo town, and the largest cairn in Sligo at Heapstown located north of Lough Arrow. For a special feast, find your way up Knocknarea mountain and find the tomb of Queen Maeve which sits at the top of this mountain. The entire mountain acts as a monument to Queen Maeve as the cairn is an impressive 55 metres wide and ten metres high. The hike to the top of Knocknarea mountain is well worth it!
Take Out the Camera
Although we like to encourage you to visit these beautiful spots and avoid seeing it all behind the camera, County Sligo is a photographer’s utopia. From sunset shots at Mullaghmore, Strandhill Beach and Rosses Point to the landscape views from the top of Knocknarea Mountain and Benbulben or from Knocknashee (the climb and all the steps are definitely worth it), the camera forever captures Sligo’s intense natural beauty.
Devil’s Chimney, a stunning waterfall on the Sligo/Leitrim border, is another amazing photo backdrop, especially after heavy rainfall when the waterfall swells. Read more here. The Gleniff Horseshoe is one of Sligo’s most intensely scenic drives with a literal mountain of photo opportunities with views of Truskmore Mountain and the Cliffs of Annacoona. But no matter where you go in County Sligo, your camera will certainly thank you for it!
Dine Out and In
With so much exploring to be had, we are certainly not short of things to do in Sligo. Finding places to dine in and out in is a wonderful experience too! With many hotspots flashing intense views of the Sligo landscape and tickling our taste buds with fresh and rich produce, Sligo offers an exemplary dining experience.
The traditional old-style pub and restaurant, The Beach Bar is the best spot to indulge in good food and relax while taking in the views of Benbulben and Knocknarea. Pulling a pint in the charming pub of Hargadon’s in Sligo Town is a must, as is the Strand Bar in Strandhill where you can relax after hitting the waves. The food delivered from the kitchen of Knox on Sligo’s O’Connell street or from Osta Café looking out on the Garavogue River is second to none and will leave you salivating simply reading the menu! The delicious grocer Pudding Row in Easkey is renowned for their healthy, local produce and the fresh plant-based food at Sweet Beet will leave you wanting more.
Sligo town, and the villages throughout the county have choice after choice when it comes to feeding your hungry body. Alongside these plentiful eateries, dotted along the mountain ways, the beaches and the lakes, there are opportunities to find hidden gems from bakeries, ice-cream parlours, tapas joints, and traditional Irish pubs. Whatever you fancy, Sligo is sure to provide.
The Model, Sligo
The best place to hangout and visit on a rainy day in Sligo is the Model in Sligo. A contemporary gallery with an emphasis on the works and paintings of Jack Butler Yeats currently on his 150th anniversary. There are various exhibitions and events throughout the year. You could be lucky and stumble upon an informal music afternoon or just spend a morning or afternoon enjoying a relaxing cultural experience enjoying the exhibitions.