Lough Derg combines a whole lot of recreational activities with cultural heritage. Connecting the counties of Tipperary, Clare and Galway with each other, a trip to Lough Derg lets you tick off loads of sights from this beautiful part of Ireland. Find out about the twin-towns of Killaloe and Ballina, the numerous activities you can do in and around the area, and its historic past.
The famous twin town at Lough Derg are connecting County Tipperary and Clare with a bridge across the water. The history of the bridge to connect the two towns dates back to the 11th century and its present day stone bridge was built in the early 18th century. Despite being the birth place of the Irish High King Brian Boru and its Heritage Centre, the quaint little lakeside towns have more to offer than its historic charm. As mentioned before, the famous bridge definitely adds that Insta-Moment when you visit the towns. Try to visit over a weekend and check out the Farmers Market in Killaloe. It takes place Between-the-Waters, meaning the space between the canal and the river. It’s a great spot for families, and you can all look forward to trying out some delicious street-food and see all the fresh, locally-sourced produce, starting from veggies to cheese and sea food. When you cross the bridge to Ballina you can look forward to strolling around in the beautiful riverside park or in Summer even go for a dip in the seasonal outdoor pool. As well as in Killaloe, Ballina is a great spot for music fans so you can relax in one of the pubs in the evening listening to Irish trad sessions. Both towns also host many artisan shops and lovely bakeries, galleries and boutiques.
Needless to say, when it comes to activities everything at Lough Derg evolves around watersports. Paddling and Kayaking are the most popular sports and you can rent kayaks and additional gear at any little village nestled at the shores of the lake. However, there are also companies that offer water skiing, wake boarding and surfing or even speed body boarding. If you’re a water baby, then you will love this area. Another water sport activity that is quite popular at Lough is sailing. If you have never sailed before you could even take classes, it is also offered for kids (aged 7+). Some fun for the whole family offer water splash parks: Aquasplash for example is an inflatable water park parcours where you can go wild. They also offer SUP, as well as a ride on the Banana Boat and kayaking. They are open every day in Summer and are located in Dromineer ( Co. Tipp).
Lough Derg Garden Trail
Combining 8 gorgeous gardens, Lough Derg Garden Trail makes a tranquil and relaxing trip to visit County Tipperary, Clare and Mayo. Starting north of the lake in Portumna and finishing in Ballina-Killaloe it stretches for 35km. Not only public gardens can be visited but also beautifully kept private ones. You do have to check their opening hours though, as some are only open on appointment on on certain days of the week. To name only a few, I would definitely recommend checking out Castletown Glebe Garden, which can only be visited by appointment. It is filled with the beautiful colours of azaleas, rhododendron, herbaceous, and rodgersia. Go on a relaxed woodland walk, pass by the waterfalls and the mountain stream. Another hidden gem on route are the Fancroft Gardens. Surrounding Fancroft mill that dates back to the 1800s, this peaceful space was lovingly designed by Garden Architect Angela Jupe. You can even book a 90-minute tour and discover its history, the walled garden, as well as the glass house.
The Lough Derg Blueway
I love the idea of the Irish Blueways. You will find the recreational trails in the centre of Ireland alongside rivers, canals and lakes. They lead you in picturesque scenery next to and across the waters of the midlands. Of course Lough Derg is also part of the Blueway. You can enjoy the trails by bike, or hike a stretch of it. You might also want to discover the Blueway right in the water and paddle along in your canoe, paddle board or sail it. If you want to do the full stretch of the Lough Derg Blueway then you have got to go cross-vehicle! There are 21 paddling journeys as well as walking and cycling trails that all go hand in hand, for you to discover the Blueway at its best.
Cycling & Hiking
Of course the fastest way to explore the region at and surrounding Lough Derg by sheer man power is by bike. There are a couple of routes that I’d recommend and you can choose from the distance what fits you best. There is one going past the lakeside villages of Dromineer and Terryglass, exploring the eastern side of the lake. This one is 65km long. You an divert throughout the route and cut back to shorter cycle routes, it is all signposted. Another great loop but also the shortest with only 30km, will give you stunning views across the lake and passed through Castlelough and Garrykennedy. You can find these loops at the North Tipperary Cycle Network. They also offer more than these loops and this is also where you can find the maps.
If you don’t mind a bit of a slower journey but nevertheless, equally challenging then you could also discover Lough Derg and its surrounding mountain ranges by foot. Hike up the Millenium Cross through open bog but also steep parts and visit the mythological Graves of the Leinster Men. This hike will give you amazing views across the lake.
Travelling to Lough Derg you will be surrounded by history and heritage. The best examples are the many castles that you find in this area. In Nenagh, for example, you will find the majestic medieval tower of Nenagh Castle rising up high. Alongside building the Norman town, the castle was also erected in the 13th century. You can climb the 101 steps to reach the tower to get a nice view across the town. Overlooking Lough Derg’s Lakelands is Tullaun Castle dating back to the 16th century. The old castle is currently being restored so we can look forward to the reopening of this historic site. Portumna Castles is another great castle to visit. The Jacobean-style building from around 4 centuries ago was home to the Burke family. Visit the beautiful gardens, the Willow Maze, as well as the restored kitchen gardens, surrounding the castle.
Where to stay – my top pick
For an extra special stay, be sure to check out this wonderful little cabin on Airbnb – I spotted it ages ago and I’ve been in love with it ever since! Pop’s Dream is a heavenly little boathouse with space for up to 2 people, perfect for a couple’s retreat or anyone looking to get some serious downtime by themselves. It’s tucked away in a quiet corner by the banks of Lough Derg and comes with its own outdoor terrace and private mooring. Inside you’ll find a cosy living room with French doors that open up to lake views, a fully-equipped kitchen plus a bathroom and mezzanine-level sleeping area. Fire up the BBQ during the summer – or cosy on up next to the stove in winter. Things don’t get much more romantic than this!
Plan your adventure in Ireland's Hidden Heartlands
Even when you’re in the heart of the country, you’ll never be too far away from water. Covering almost 120km², Lough Derg is Ireland’s third largest lake and there are endless opportunities for exploring, whether that’s on land or on water. Why not treat yourself to an idyllic stay in the country – you can browse top hotel and Airbnb deals, or take a look at the most recent deals I’ve found in Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands!