When it comes to river cruises, Ireland is a destination that is sure to tick a lot of boxes no matter what type of holiday you have in mind. If you are looking for an Irish river cruise where you can explore some of Ireland’s most beautiful destinations, then this Shannon River cruise guide is for you.
The River Shannon
The River Shannon is the most popular destination for Irish river cruises. A Shannon river cruise is a journey through the heart and history of Ireland. Sites along the River Shannon include forts, noble estates and monastic settlements. You will discover the local myths, legends, fables and folklore as well as the warm and welcoming Irish people. As for the scenery, well, with lush green landscapes of rolling pastures, you’ll soon understand why Ireland is nicknamed ‘The Emerald Isle’.
At 360km (224 miles), the River Shannon is the longest river in Ireland. It begins at the Shannon Pot in the Cuilcagh Mountains in County Cavan, and it ends at the Shannon Estuary in County Limerick. Its journey from source to mouth meanders through 11 counties – Cavan, Leitrim, Longford, Roscommon, Westmeath, Offaly, Tipperary, Galway, Clare, Limerick and Kerry.
The River Shannon is also linked to Lough Erne in County Fermanagh in Northern Ireland via the Shannon-Erne Waterway; this makes it possible to cruise between the North and South of Ireland.
There are three main lakes on the River Shannon; Lough Allen in counties Leitrim and Roscommon; Lough Ree in counties Westmeath, Longford and Roscommon; and Lough Derg in counties Clare, Galway and Tipperary. There are other smaller lakes along the Shannon including Lough Bofin, Lough Boderg and Lough Forbes.
If you would like to learn more about the river Shannon, have a read of our River Shannon Facts and FAQs blog post.
Cruising on the Shannon River
An Irish river cruise on the Shannon is a relaxingly-active way to explore some of Ireland’s most beautiful destinations. In Ireland and Northern Ireland, you do not need a license to cruise. As long as you are 21 years or older, you can hire a cruiser.
Carrickcraft has marinas in Carrick-On-Shannon, Banagher and Bellanaleck. We are the only Cruiser company with marinas on both the Shannon and Erne. Whether you are a newbie or an expert boating enthusiast, we will make sure you are matched with a boat that suits your needs. Take a look atour fleet of two to ten berth cruisers.
Once you have decided on your Carrickcraft cruiser, we will help you become familiar with the craft, and we will demonstrate how to leave and return to a mooring. Then you will be able to do some manoeuvres yourself. We will also show you how to navigate the River Shannon and give you our bespoke navigation guide.
If you have never taken a cruise on the River Shannon, we have loads of useful information on our website to help you prepare. But be warned, your excitement levels will rise the more you learn about boat hire holidays on the River Shannon.
Things to do on a Shannon river cruise
You can be as mild or wild as you want on a Shannon river cruise, but one thing is for sure, you’ll never be bored.
Fishing – there are great stocks of a wide range of fish on the River Shannon including brown Pike, Bream, Perch, Roach, Rudd and Tench. All along the River Shannon, there are plenty of fishing hotspots and coarse angling areas. There are different permit requirements for fishing in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, so please check what, if any, licence you need before you start fishing.
Bird watching – birders and twitchers are in for a treat when cruising the River Shannon as the bird watching along these waters is world-class. Keep your eyes peeled for Kingfishers, Whooper Swans, Black-tailed Godwits, Mute Swans, wigeons, and Golden Plovers.
Swimming – pack your bathers, as the fresh and unpolluted water of the River Shannon is perfect for a dip. The river is also quite shallow in some areas so even children can enjoy a splash around too.
Water sports – the River Shannon has some great sheltered waters which are perfect for water skiing and wakeboarding. Some of our pleasure crafts will easily tow a speedboat or ski-boat, and there are plenty of places to tie up the cruiser so you can get out on the water to ski or board.
Paddling – fancy something a bit gentler? Take a canoe or kayak out on the calm waters of the River Shannon and explore the lakes up close and personal and glimpse the countryside in a way few others do.
Blueways – fancy combining on and off-water activities? Just look for the ‘Blueways’ trails. Blueways are a network of multi-activity routes running on or alongside the waterways. The trails provide access to unspoilt landscapes via paddling, walking or cycling.
But wait, there’s more! We’ve got an activities section on our website detailing all the different activities you can do while cruising the Shannon River and blog posts on the best things to do while you are cruising through Enniskillen, Carrick-on-Shannon, Athlone, and Banagher.
Ireland is your oyster when you take a River Shannon cruise holiday as there are no set routes. You are free to go where you like and at your own pace. However, we have put together some lovely Shannon Erne cruise itineraries for those looking for some inspiration planning their boating holiday in Ireland.
Our Lough Key Tour covers 208km and takes 26 hours to complete. It is a perfect one-week Shannon river cruise itinerary through Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands.
It begins and ends in Carrick-on-Shannon and takes you through Keshcarrigan, Ballinamore, Leitrim, Lough Key Forest Park and Boyle.
You’ll go through 22 self-operated locks, all of which are electric/hydraulic and very easy and fun to operate.
Carrick-on-Shannon is the largest town in County Leitrim, but it is relatively compact so very easy to explore on foot. We have a travel guide to the best things to see and do in Carrick-on-Shannon, so why not spend a little time in this terrific town before sailing away.
Carrick-on-Shannon is a great starting and finishing point for a River Shannon cruise not least because we have a marina here. So, hiring a boat is very easy and convenient, just pop down to Carrickcraft, and we’ll sort you out.
Heading north, history lovers, make sure you stop at Keshcarrigan which lies at the foot of the Sheebeg and Sheemore hills. Have a look at the ancient pagan burial site and brush up on your knowledge of mythical Irish warrior Finn McCumhaill as it is said he is buried in Sheebeg Hill.
When you get to Lough Key Forest Park in County Roscommon, it’s time to moor up and get muddy exploring the nature trails, especially the Tree Canopy Trail and the bog garden. Lough Key is one of the largest forest parks in Ireland and there is plenty to do for people of all ages.
Boyle in County Roscommon is another historic town with lots to keep you entertained. Stretch your legs along the Miner’s Way and Historical Trail or take a tour of the gorgeous Georgian mansion, King House or tour the beautiful 12th-century Boyle Abbey.
Our Lough Ree Tour covers 176km and takes around 22 hours to complete. It is another one of our week-long River Shannon itineraries, but this one sees you sailing south.
Lough Ree means Lake of the Kings in English and the lough is very important in Irish history. Due to this location in the heart of Ireland, it has been a site of strategic importance for battles, birds, learning and legends.
A major Viking battle took place on Lough Ree in 937. Some 25,000 wildfowl migrate here in winter. South of Lough Ree is Clonmacnoise Monastic Settlement, which was Europe’s first university. And Queen Maeve was killed by the son of the King of Ulster as she bathed on the shores of Inchcleraun, an island on Lough Ree. As you can see, a cruise around Lough Ree takes you through a lot of Irish history as well as some stunning scenery.
This loop route begins and ends in Carrick-on-Shannon, and again, we suggest spending some time wandering around Carrick-on-Shannon and renting one of our craft from our marina.
This itinerary sees you cruise through Dromod, Rooskey, Killinure, Athlone and Lanesborough. You’ll have to pass through six locks this time but at the first lock, Albert Lock, the lock-keeper will take your lines and help you.
Dromod is a lively village in County Leitrim and is a popular stop with pleasure cruisers as it has a lovely harbour area. It is also a good spot for fishing.
As you continue towards Rooskey, you can stop off at the Shannon River Adventure Centre and try some fun activities both on and off the water. It’s a great spot for families, and you can enjoy kayaking, canoeing, archery, orienteering, and much more besides.
After some tranquil cruising through idyllic scenery, you’ll cruise to Athlone which is located in the centre of Ireland in County Westmeath. Being the largest town in the Midlands region, there’s loads on offer for sailors and landlubbers alike. If you are looking for inspiration, we have a detailed post on the Best Things to Do and See in (and Around) Athlone.
If you can drag yourself away from Athlone, you’ll make it to Lanesborough, which is another excellent fishing spot. Just to the south of Lanesborough, you’ll find The Commons, a rich ecological area which consists of a semi-natural woodland adjoining a disused quarry. This is a brilliant place to do some birdwatching.
Our Lough Derg Tour covers 165km and takes around 22 hours to complete. It is another week-long River Shannon itinerary. Lough Derg is the third largest lake on the island of Ireland, and this route sees you setting off south from the town of Banagher.
Located in Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands, Banagher in County Offaly is a pretty town popular with boaters due to the marina’s proximity to the town. You can just moor up and walk into the heart of the action. If you would like to spend some time exploring this area, we have a guide to the Best Things to Do and See in (and Around) Banagher.
On this route, you pass through Terryglass, Garrykennedy, Killaloe, Mountshannon, Shannonbridge and return back to Banagher. There are just two locks to pass through, and at the first lock, Meelick Lock, there is a helpful lock-keeper to show you the ropes.
This route is perfect for those who like lively towns with traditional pubs with warm Irish welcomes and hearty food. You’ll also journey through some bucolic scenery with sites of historical significance.
Lough Derg is also particularly popular with those looking to enjoy some coarse fishing for bream, tench, roach and perch, as well as record weight pike.
However, if you aren’t into angling, there are many other things to do here in the Lakelands district of Ireland.
Terryglass in County Tipperary is located in the region known as Ireland’s Ancient East. It is a mighty popular stop off thanks to its awarding-winning pubs and restaurants. Try some excellent Irish food at The Derg Inn Restaurant, The Derg Inn Bar or Paddy’s Bar and Restaurant.
Garrykennedy is a charming town with a postcard-perfect setting. Moor up, get out and walk around taking in the old stone walls, ruins, traditional thatched-roof cottages and Garrykennedy forest walk.
Killaloe is the busiest boating and fishing centre in County Clare, and there is a huge array of activities to do both on and off the water. There’s also the brilliant Brian Boru Heritage Centre where you can learn all about the history of Killaloe, Brian Boru and the region’s Celtic and sailing significance.
Continue to Mountshannon and Shannonbridge where you can see a fort and old stone bridge that connects County Offaly and County Roscommon. You can also visit Clonmacnoise monastery, which was founded in 544. This site, which is now a preserved ruin, was a renowned centre of religion and learning.
Beginning and ending in Banagher, you’ll cruise through Shannonbridge, Athlone, Hodson Bay and Killinure.
Before you cruise away, take some time to wander around Banagher and soak up the chilled out vibe and stock up on supplies before heading north to Shannonbridge.
Shannonbridge is located in the area known as Ireland’s Ancient East, a region crammed with culture, attractions and historic sites. It is the perfect place to moor up and visit the preserved ruins of Clonmacnoise monastery. From Shannonbridge you can explore the region on foot via the 38km walking route called The Offaly Way which links the Slieve Bloom Way to the Sli Mor. If you would like to experience the charm and warmth of an old-style Irish pub, pay a visit to Killeen’s Pub and Tackle Shop, which is just a five-minute stroll from the Shannonbridge pier.
Cruising into Athlone, this is the perfect place to get off the water and into a lively historic town and mingle with the locals. Check out Athlone visitor Centre and Derryglad Folk and Heritage Museum. There is loads to do here, even when the weather isn’t cooperating. It is also a very family-friendly area with lots to keep children of all ages entertained.
Speaking of which, cruise on up to Hodson Bay on the banks of Lough Ree and get wet and wild at the water park, which is the largest inflatable water park in Ireland.
Our River Shannon Tour covers 140km and takes around 20 hours to complete. However, rather than being a loop, this is a one-way route that starts in Banagher and ends in Carrick-on-Shannon, or vice-versa. As part of this tour, we can collect you from Dublin Airport and take you to the start marina and then drop you back to the airport when your Shannon river cruise is finished.
Our River Shannon Tour itinerary is perfect for those who want to cruise as much of the river as possible on a one-week boating holiday.
If you decide to start in Banagher, you hire your cruiser from our marina here. If you start in Carrick-on-Shannon, you hire your cruiser from our marina there.
Banagher is a great place to stock up on any river cruise supplies that you may need. Have a look around the local stores and pick up as many Irish food and drink products as you can. We suggest you buy tonnes of Irish cheeses, homemade soda bread, preserves and scones.
The route takes you from Banagher to Terryglass, Killaloe, Portumna, Athlone, Lanesborough, Dromod and Carrick-on-Shannon.
Stop off in Terryglass and experience a real Irish pub. Soak up the atmosphere and eat up a hearty traditional Irish meal.
A stop in Killaloe will allow you to learn more about the Celtic history and nautical heritage of the region in the Brian Boru Heritage Centre, as well as getting active both on and off the water.
Portumna in County Galway is where you can play a round of golf, or go go-karting. There are food trails and heritage trails as well as a Blueway trail for you to enjoy. Make sure you also pay a visit to the Irish Workhouse Centre to learn about a real workhouse and then stroll around Portumna Gardens.
From Portumna it is on to lively Athlone – stock up on supplies and hit the local bars and nightclubs and enjoy some great food – before cruising onto Lanesborough with its excellent birdwatching and fishing opportunities.
Dromod is a nice place to stop and stretch the legs with a walk around its picturesque harbour. There are also some great restaurants here with fantastic views.
The final leg of your River Shannon cruise is from Dromod to Carrick-on-Shannon, where Carrickcraft has its marina. Soak up the scenic verdant surroundings before exploring on foot or bike the Carrick-on-Shannon region. If you need some inspiration, here’s our guide to the best things to do in Carrick-on-Shannon.
Our Complete Shannon Tour covers 415km and takes 52 hours to complete. It is a fantastic itinerary for those who have two weeks to enjoy a Shannon River cruise.
This looped route takes you from Carrick-on-Shannon and on to Lough Key, Lough Ree and Lough Derg. On this route, you’ll have plenty of time to really see the sights of the many towns along the River Shannon. You’ll also have time to indulge in your favourite on-river pastimes be it fishing, paddling, swimming, nature watching or just chilling out on the deck. It will also give you plenty of time to explore the lakes and islands at a more leisurely pace.
Our suggested stops on this two-week River Shannon cruise holiday are Carrick-on-Shannon, Boyle, Dromod, Tarmonbarry, Killinure, Athlone, Banagher, Terryglass, Garrykennedy, Killaloe, Portumna, Athlone, Lanesborough and back to Carrick-on-Shannon. This sees you journey into counties Leitrim, Roscommon, Limerick, Westmeath, Offaly, Tipperary, Clare, Galway and Longford. Talk about an epic Irish river cruise.
Shannon River cruising with Carrickcraft
We hope you have enjoyed our River Shannon cruising guide, as you can see a boating holiday is a wonderful way to see this stunning part of Ireland. You can go where you want at your own pace and make it as relaxing or active as you like.
If you want to explore the River Shannon, Carrickcraft has an extensive fleet of cruisers as well as two marinas along the River Shannon that make hiring a craft and getting out on the water as convenient as possible. If you would like to know more and discuss your requirements for a River Shannon cruise, please contact us, and we will be delighted to help you plan your Irish boating holiday.
Melanie May spent five years backpacking solo around the world and turned her wanderlust into a career when she became a freelance writer and photographer. She won the ‘Best Newcomer’ award at the Travel Extra Travel Journalist of the Year Awards 2018 and is a member of the British Guild of Travel Writers. She runs her own blog, Travel Eat Write Repeat (www.melaniemay.com) and you can follow her travels over on Instagram @_maymelanie