Until last weekend, the only time I had ever been to Leitrim was driving through it on my way to Donegal. It's not a county that is talked about a lot and I don't think many people in Ireland, or abroad, have any idea how much this relatively tiny county has to offer.
Having spent an incredible three days exploring every corner of the county on foot, boat, paddle board and car, I think it's fair to say that Leitrim has the best of Ireland tightly compacted into one small county. There really is so much to do here that I have already started planning my return adventure. If you're planning a trip to Ireland, here are nine great reasons to make Leitrim the destination rather than the stopover.
9. Historic Castles
Did you know Lough Rinn Castle in Leitrim was the hotel of choice for Irish Rugby player Brain O' Driscoll and his actress/writer wife Amy Huberman for their wedding day? A visit to this 19th century castle, set on 300 acres on land and complete with a beautiful walled garden, gives anyone visiting this part of Ireland a real taste of luxury. For a slightly different castle experience, you can check out the three-storey tall Parkes Castle, which dates all the way back to the 16th Century and overlooks Lough Gill, making for perfect sunset photographs!
8. Stunning lakes
With this part of Ireland known as 'The Lakelands', it's no surprise that Leitrim is home to no fewer than ten lakes to take your breath away. Be sure to walk down to the beautiful Glencar Waterfall from Glencar Lough, take a tour of Parkes Castle (mentioned above) when at Lough Gill and consider renting a boat to cruise around Lough Allen, especially beautiful in the late afternoon as the sun sets over the lake. It's also home to the Lough Allen canal, which is a fun experience for anyone who has not gone through a lock before.
7. Outdoor Adventure
Who knew that tiny Leitrim could provide so many hours of entertainment for outdoor adventure enthusiasts? One of the most fun things to do, if the weather is good, is to head off down the Shannon on some stand-up paddle boards with Leitrim Surf. Not only will you get to see Ireland from a totally different perspective (nothing beats seen the countryside from the middle of a river!) but you will be enthralled by instructor Lee's stories from his life oversees.
6. Mental nightlife
Anyone who has spent a Saturday night in Carrick-on-Shannon might not live to tell the tale. For a town with a population of only a few thousand, this place is mental at the weekends. One of the top hen and stag destinations throughout all of Ireland, be prepared to be overrun by groups of men in fancy dress or gaggles of girls in matching pick sashes with penis straws sticking out of their cocktails as you make your way from Dunnes Bar to late-night Murtaghs. While a little (or a lot) brash, it won't stop you from having fun. You are on holiday after all!
5. Foodie heaven
I couldn't believe how many amazing restaurants there were to be found in Leitrim. Special mention has to go to Irish-Asian Fuzion restaurant The Cottage as I don't think I will forget the tasting menu I ate there for a very long time. It was honestly the best food I have ever eaten and was prepared and presented so perfectly. The desserts tray was phenomenal...you could go there and just eat dessert and leave a happier person. The Oarsman in Carrick-On-Shannon was also a treat...order the chicken wings, you won't regret it.
4. River cruises
One of the best things about Leitrim is how accessible all the various activities are to everyone? Who knew you could rent a boat and cruise down the river Shannon for 3 days despite having no qualifications what so ever? We opted for the 3-hour cruise rather than the 3-day one, but we got into the swing of steering the boat in no time and all agreed we would love to return sometime and rent one of the cruisers for a longer period. While they do move at a snail's pace, it makes for a nice change considering how hectic most of our lives are.
3. Live music sessions
If you're not up for a mad night out in Dunnes, as mentioned above, you'll be happy to know there are plenty other options for people just looking for a more relaxing night out. Many of the pubs have live music sessions, with the type of music being played / sang changing depending on the day. From traditional Irish tunes to American bluegrass, and with the pub welcoming passers-by to 'join the band', you are guaranteed a real taste of real Irish music sessions in County Leitrim.
2. Forest Walks
I say forest walks, but what I actually mean is something a bit more exciting. If you're passing by Leitrim, or staying for a few days, I can't recommend highly enough stopping by Lough Key Forest Adventure Centre in neighbouring Roscommon. There are peaceful walks through the forest, which can be stepped up a notch by throwing in Segways, Canopy tours and 900 metres of ziplines into the mix. Why walk on the forest floor when you can fly around from tree to tree on the Zipit experience?!
1. A glimpse into the past
One thing Leitrim, and the surrounding area, is good for is a pretty interesting history lesson! From a tour of Arigna Mine (technically in Roscommon but a short drive away!) with a fascinating tour guide who actually spent 18 years of his life working down there to a visit to Corracloona Megalithic tombs (if you can find them!) which date back more than 1,000 years, a trip to this part of Ireland ensures a glimpse into our fascinating history.