Experience the very best of Leitrim and Roscommon with a trip around Carrick-on-Shannon and the North Shannon.
Carrick-on-Shannon is a delight to walk around so start your day with a self-guided walking tour of the town. Maps can be picked up from the tourist office at the Old Barrel Store on the Quays. Wandering around what is Ireland's smallest county town, you'll come across hidden gems such as the jewel-like Costello's Chapel, as well as plenty of quirky little cafés that make for great pit stops along the way. If you're more into natural beauty rather than built heritage, take off into nature on the Carrick-on-Shannon Slí Walking Route. It starts near the bridge opposite the crumbling ruins of Carrickdrumruske Castle and snakes along the river. Feeling hungry after all that? Drop into Lena's Tea Room for some gourmet sandwiches in 1920s-style surroundings. After lunch, it's time to explore the Lough Allen Canal which forms part of the route of the Shannon Blueway; a network of water and land based trails featuring at the centre the iconic floating boardwalk or "Snake in the Lake" as its affectionately known. A short drive from Carrick-on-Shannon is Battlebridge, which is a great spot to embark on a leisurely Blueway walk. On the stroll from here up to Drumleague Lock, you'll have the canal on one side and the Shannon on the other, while the surrounding green fields, leafy canal banks and sound of birdsong will transport you into another world. Fancy getting out on the water? Book in with Leitrim Surf Company for a stand-up paddle boarding session; the Drumshamazon trip glides along the canal into the wide-open beauty of Acres Lake. It's definitely an afternoon well spent. Back in Carrick-on-Shannon, head for dinner at The Oarsman – this award-winning gastropub has a lively atmosphere, friendly staff and some of the best cooking in town.
You could hang around Carrick-on-Shannon and grab yourself a mighty fine breakfast, but it's worth taking a trip to the small village of Drumshanbo, about a 15-minute drive away. Apart from its pretty streetscape and an abundance of tiled shop fronts and houses, the village is also home to a cracking little café – the Sweet Geranium. Grab a seat and you'll witness a steady stream of loyal locals who drop in for coffees, cakes and endless cups of tea. The hustle of staff and clatter of crockery, the sweet scent of freshly-baked scones and the big bright windows that overlook the street create a laid-back atmosphere that feels authentic and uncontrived – don't be surprised if you drop in for coffee and end up staying for lunch. Next up, it's Arigna in County Roscommon. The journey here is an exercise in calm along roads edge with sheep-sprinkled fields and rural country lanes shaded by trees. Follow the signs for the Arigna Mining Experience and you'll find yourself on top of the Arigna mountains, with the undulating countryside of County Roscommon sweeping out before you. It's a sight that must have been like manna to the miners who spent airless days and nights stuck inside what was Ireland's only coal mine. You can experience just a taste of the conditions they worked in on a tour of the mine, led by guides who once worked in the mines themselves. It's an eye-opening experience that you won't forget in a hurry.
It's back to the great outdoors next with Lough Key Forest and Activity Park. On the way, stop off in the town of Boyle for lunch at the King House Tea Rooms, followed by a quick scamper around Boyle Abbey, established by Cistercian monks in 1161. From here, it's a short drive to the forest park, one of County Roscommon's finest outdoor attractions. This vast nature area of 350 acres features a tree canopy walk, zip lines, boat tours, Segways, woodland safaris and an adventure play kingdom, but part of experiencing Lough Key is about getting out there and exploring the walking trails that meander across fairy bridges and into bog gardens. Head back to Carrick-on-Shannon for a well-deserved dinner at Vitto's – an Italian restaurant with a few surprises up its sleeve.
A half-hour drive from Carrick-on-Shannon, Strokestown Park is worth devoting a whole morning to. As well as woodland walks around the grounds, the park is home to a magnificent Palladian house, walled garden and Ireland's National Famine Museum. You can wander around on your own, but the tour guides really bring the history of this unique property to life. After exploring the museum and house, take some time to relax in the splendour of the restored walled garden, which dates back to the 1740s and features a delightful croquet lawn, summerhouse, lily pond and Victorian rose garden. Afterwards, step outside the garden and take the woodland walk through a forest of beech and oak trees that was first planted in the early 1700s. Back on the road, drive through the scenic riverside town of Roosky up towards Drumod for lunch at Cox's Steakhouse. Take a quick tour of the surprisingly interesting Cavan and Leitrim Railway museum, a short walk from the steakhouse, before making your way back to Carrick-on-Shannon. It's time to sit back and relax next with a boat tour on the Moon River Pleasure Cruiser, which will bring you along the river through beautiful surroundings with live music and a history of the area.