When I look back through time and space, the last year seem to have flown in a blink of an eye. This was the year I will look back on and remember climbing, surfing, exploring Sligo and living within these fleeting moments where summer flowers smelled like heaven, the air was deliciously crisp in autumn and where the act of writing our adventures in ink etched into my soul.
As the residents of Sligo, we have spent the last year exploring our big beautiful backyard. Our days mostly centred around the hiking trails, beautiful lakes, coastal inlets and personal journeys.
One particular place we kept returning back to was Lough Gill that’s located between two counties as its woodland walks provided a perfect shelter from the near-constant drizzle.
For those of you who haven’t heard of Lough Gill, it’s a very scenic lake situated just east of Sligo town. Lough Gill is so picturesque, in fact, it has never failed to delight anyone visiting it.
If you wish to dip your toes in the water and visit a place where utter beauty and majesty unfolds before your eyes, see our top places to visit around Lough Gill.
A local’s guide to Sligo: 7 amazing things to do on a Lough Gill drive
If you are looking for a beautiful place to visit in Sligo, that’s rich with history and incredible views, then definitely add Lough Gill to your list.
In this blog post, we want to share some of our favourite spots as well as a few highlights for your first trip to Lough Gill.
Surrounded by wooded hills and rich in heritage, Lough Gill offers visitors plentiful natures trails, viewing points and picnic spots. You can stop at every scenic place, and you can pick one or two, depending on your schedule.
This is by no means a comprehensive guide to the area, but it should give you a good idea of which places to add to your route if you are exploring Sligo and its surroundings.
Why visit Lough Gill
Places like Lough Gill is the stuff that dreams are made of – here you’ll find megalithic tombs locally known as Giant’s Grave, sleepy islands, hospitable people, Holly Well and nurturing tranquillity.
Lough Gill makes for a beautiful drive at any time of the year, yet it is particularly stunning in the autumn with an amazing quality of light and with the stunning display of colours casting a magical spell over the region.
For those looking to add a touch of adventure – you can go island hopping with Sligo kayak tours, visit the ancient abbey ruins, walk or bike through many forest trails, cruise on the water, meet lovely people and sample one of the finest beers brewed in Lough Gill Brewery.
Road Trip Details & Essentials
The Lough Gill drive, a beautiful short and easy drive from Sligo town, is a 40 km loop around the lake’s perimeter, and you can simply complete it in one hour. The loop drive is well signposted, the road quality is good, and there are no crowds.
- Highlights: Beautiful views, unspoiled countryside, friendly locals
- Duration: 1-5hours
- Route length: 40 kilometres
- Start: Sligo Town
- Stops: Donney Rock, Slish Woods, Parkes Castle, Drommaghair Village, Hazelwood
- Finish: Sligo Town
#1. Explore Hazelwood Forest
Start your adventure with a drive to Hazelwood Forest. Leave Sligo Town behind and head northeast on N4 and turn onto N16 followed by R286.
There are numerous walking trails at Hazelwood Forest – mainly flat surfaces, easily manageable for families with kids in tow – crisscrossing through the peaceful setting as well as a spacious car park and a picnic area with lake views.
It’s one of the most beautiful woodlands around Sligo – in the spring the forest becomes alive with bluebells and summertime arrives with an abundance of butterflies.
If you are a massive fan of starburst through the trees and love to observe swans and ducks gliding along the water, then you’ll be at home in Hazelwood.
Over the years of exploring Sligo, Hazelwood Demense quickly became one of our favourite places to step back from monotonous everyday life. We love photographing the beautiful Half Moon Bay while taking in the views towards Goat, Cottage and Church Islands.
#2. Visit Parke’s Castle
Get back in a car, head southeast toward Hazelwood Rd and follow the R286 to Parke’s Castle.
Beautiful Parke’s Castle, located in County Leitrim and overlooking the Lough Gill is well worth the short drive from Sligo town.
Once the home of Robert Park and his family, this beautiful castle – with its rectangular shape, mullioned windows and fantastic views over the lake – has undergone extensive restorations. Traditional craftsmanship and Irish oak were used to renovate Parke’s Castle and the beautiful spiral staircase.
At the beginning of a tour, you’ll get to see a short movie about the castle and historic sites in your surroundings before walking into gardens and wandering around the courtyard grounds. There is plenty of free parking spaces right beside the castle and helpful staff on hand as well as a guided tour that takes place every hour.
• Location | Parke’s Castle is situated on Sligo-Dromahair Road (R286).
• Admission | April to Sept 10am-6pm (Daily) – the last admission is 45 mins before closing. Adult: €3.00,| Group: €2.00, Child | Student: €1.00, Family: €8.00.
#3. Go on a Boat Trip
While at Parke’s Castle, you can use an opportunity to hop on the Rose of Innisfree boat-it’s a lovely way to see the lake and to soak up the atmosphere of Yeats backyard.
The tour boat has two departing points – one from Parke’s Castle and another one at Doorley Park in Sligo.
While on the boat, listen to George, the knowledgeable boat’s captain and narrator to passionately recite Yeats poems and provide plenty of history as you glide across the lake that’s situated between two counties.
Visit their official website for more detailed information and prices here.
#4. Stop at Dromahair Village
From Parke’s Castle, get back on the road, head north toward R286 and make your way to Dromahair Village.
Dromahai meaning “Ridge of Two Demons” is a lovely village with a historical past located near the southeast shore of Lough Gil in County Leitrim. It’s one of those places travellers usually pass by without stopping – there isn’t much to see and do.
If you wish to stretch your legs, you can enjoy a lovely riverside walk that will take you all the way to Creevylea Abbey, a Franciscan Friary, which is said to be one of the last monasteries in Ireland.
Founded in 1508, by Owen O’Rourke, The Abbey now is in ruins, and you can wander in and out of different rooms and through various arches.
#5. See the Isle of Inishfree
Your next stop on the Lough Gill Loop drive is the Isle of Inishfree. Head south on Main St/R288 toward Church Rd and follow the signs for the Isle of Inishfree.
In total, there are around 20 small islands scattered around the picturesque Lough Gill and Inishfree Island is the lakes most famous island; thanks to William Yeats who wrote the ”Lake Isle of Innisfree” in his 1892 poem while living in London.
The drive to the island is a very narrow lane, take is slow, but don’t let this put you off from venturing off the main road. Even if there’s another car – locals are well customised to managing small country roads.
From the Isle of Inishfree follow the Sligo Way sign – it brings you on a short walk where you can enjoy more natural wonders of Sligo.
There are a few other islands worth mentioning. Church Island is the largest one on the lake and contains ecclesiastical remains. On Beezie’s Island, you’ll find another ruin – an old cottage once occupied by Mrs Beezie Clerkin who was the last resident – often referred to as ‘The Lady of the Lake’ – on Lough Gills islands.
#6. Explore beautiful Slish Wood
Get back on the main road, head east, turn onto R287 and drive to Slish Wood, located on the southern shore of Lough Gill.
Within the old oak woodland, which is perfect for blowing away a few cobwebs, you will find walking trails, stunning views, a delightful lakeshore and picnic areas. The looped hillside walk that starts at the northern end of the car park is clearly marked and makes for a lovely weekend walk.
In addition to the looped walk, that waves through the forest and back to a car park, you can pass along the shore and continue on the Sligo Walk Trail which brings to a lovely timber walk board and offers fantastic views over Lough Gill and Inishfree Island.
#7. Take a stroll at Dooney Rock
From Slish Wood, head northwest toward R287 and just after a couple of kilometres is your next stop – beautiful Dooney Rock.
If you choose to stop at Dooney Rock, you gonna love it because there is nothing more beautiful than filtered light reaching the floor of the forest and creating mood lighting.
Dooney Rock looks equally impressive on a sunny summers day when light from a sun twinkles across its waters and on a gloomy winter morning with trees dropping chilly raindrops onto your head.
Steeped in layers of beauty, Dooney Rock seemingly holds pretty much all you need for a relaxing walk; lovely woodlands with green ferns scattered on the forest floor, family-friendly walking trails and the splendour of the lake that gets me every time we visit.
From Dooney Rock, follow Cleveragh Dr to R870, then take R287, N4 and N16 to N4 back to Sligo Town.
Suggested gear for exploring Lough Gill
Weather in Ireland is known for being ridiculously unpredictable, and the best thing you can do is dress in layers. When it comes to clothing, a good option is an outdoor clothing store where you can get high-quality products that will last almost a lifetime.
*Our Crossings tip: Make sure you pack enough food, snacks and water – there aren’t many places where to stop for lunch or dinner.
- Waterproof hiking boots with a good grip
- Rain jacket
- Sunglasses and sunscreen
- Reusable water bottle
- Healthy snacks
How to get to Sligo and Lough Gill
The best way to visit Sligo and the surrounding landscape and to experience all that the county has to offer is by car. You can also make the trip around Lough Gill more memorable by renting a bike and cycling the whole loop.
- By plane | Nearest airport is Ireland West Airport located halfway between Sligo and Galway on the main N17 North-South road. Here you’ll find Budget, Avis, Europcar and Hertz car hire services.
- By bus or train | The nearest train and bus stations are in Sligo with connections to Galway, Dublin and other Irish cities and towns. You can use Bus Éireann services to plan your journey to Sligo or check out Irish Rail timetable for timetables and fares. There is one bus a day from Sligo to Drommahair, costing approximately EUR 20.
Where to stay nearby
- Ard Nahoo | Relax in wooden Eco Cabins, surrounded by peaceful countryside in County Leitrim and treat yourself to natural healthcare treatment or yoga session. Ard Nahoo is a multi-award winning retreat centre, a great place to unwind after a long day of exploring.
- Riverside Hotel | Located in Sligo town, Riverside Hotel overlooks beautiful Garavogue River and offers stylish and comfortable rooms with flat-screen Tv, free WiFi. There’s also The and
- The Glasshouse | Situated right in the heart of Sligo town, The Glasshouse is a trendy hotel has beautifully decorated rooms, a gym and an AA Rosette restaurant. Secured parking is available on side and costs EUR 4 per day.
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Now, over to you!
Have you been to Lough Gill? Let us know in the comments below!
Let us know if you are plotting a visit to Lough Gill and have travel-related questions!