A cruise on the Shannon River with Le Boat is one of the most unique ways to explore Ireland taking you through the heart of the country and its long history. When you choose an Irish River cruise, you have the chance to self-drive along Ireland’s ancient highway to historic ruins and famous castles. Each town along the River Shannon welcomes bargers with open arms and ice-cold pints of Guinness as talented musicians entertain the crowd with lively traditional music.
Cruising on the Shannon
Cruising the Shannon may be the goal, but getting off the boat to experience Irish hospitality is what creates memories to last a lifetime. If you are planning a cruise on the Shannon, we are going to give you all the information you need to make the most of your trip. Check out all of Le Boat’s destinations in Europe and Canada. See details here.
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About the Shannon River
The Shannon River is the longest river in Ireland spanning 360 km through the heart of the country. It starts in Shannon Pot in County Cavan in the north of Ireland and ends in County Limerick at the Shannon Estuary.
During our 8-day Shannon River Cruise, we traveled from Carrick on Shannon from the Le Boat office to Portumna where Le Boat has another office. Boats are all parked in their marinas with full power and facilities.
In Ireland, Le Boat is known as Emerald Star. Emerald Star has been Ireland’s number one boating holiday provider and has been operating on the Rivers Shannon for nearly 50 years so I can understand why they didn’t want to lose their name!
Our Shannon River Cruise Route
This was our fourth Le Boat River Cruise. We had just finished cruising the Canal du Midi in France and made two other trips on the Rideau Canal in Ottawa, Canada the summer before. We were looking forward to cruising the River Shannon as it looked similar to a Rideau Canal cruise with more open water and lakes than the long and narrow Canal du Midi. Ireland has a special place in our travel hearts and we were going to visit places in Ireland that we hadn’t seen before.
What to Expect on a Cruise on the River Shannon
Carrick on Shannon to Portumna (or visa versa) is one of the most popular routes for Shannon River Barge Cruisers. It is a 160 km journey that takes you through 5 locks and under 2 bridges. To travel 160 km on a Le Boat houseboat, the journey takes approximately 20 hours of cruising time. Boats are limited to 10km per hour, so when you are Shannon Cruising, you are sitting back to relax. As you can see from the map, we covered a lot of Ireland.
We were surprised with just how many Irish were cruising the Shannon River on either their own boats or with boat rentals. It definitely reminded us a lot of the Rideau Canal in Canada in that sense. When cruising that canal, we saw many independent boaters enjoy the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
We flew into Dublin where our shuttle from Kearns Coaches picked us up to take us to the Le Boat Headquarters at Carrick on Shannon. We asked our driver if we could stop at a grocery store to pick up supplies and he was happy to have a short break while we bought food and drinks for our week on the River Shannon.
Carrick on Shannon is a city where we could have bought all our supplies, so the stop wasn’t needed, but it was nice to be able to load food into the van and offload it directly at the dock.
Do you Need Boating Experience to Cruise the Shannon River?
You do not need boating experience to cruise the Shannon with Le Boat. A Le Boat representative will walk you through everything you need on the boat and then take you out for a short lesson. All boats have a maximum speed limit of 10 km per hour and there are plenty of bumpers on the boat. Plus, boats have thrusters that you will learn how to use in your orientation and they make driving easy.
Our guide walked us through the heating and air conditioning and all of the controls that we’d be using during the next seven days. And he will take you out on a test drive to show you how to use the thrusters and controls. By the time he left the boat, we felt confident to start navigating our way along the Shannon River.
Day 1 – Carrick on Shannon
We spent the night at Carrick on Shannon and instantly fell in love with this town. There are plenty of things to do in Carrick on Shannon that you could spend 2 nights in the town.
Carrick on Shannon is a lively city filled with pubs that are packed to the hilt. We found out that it is a popular Stag and Hen party destination in the UK and wedding parties had flown in from all over Britain to celebrate.
It was easy to find a pub where we introduced my brother Jim to a proper pint of Guinness. Before Ireland, he vowed that he would not become a fan of Guinness because he doesn’t like dark beer, but we soon made a “Guinness Lover” out of him. We spent the night bar hopping and listening to talented Irish bands before walking back to our boat that was located right downtown in the Le Boat Marina.
One not to miss destination in the heart of downtown Carrick on Shannon is Costello Memorial Chapel. It is said to be the second smallest chapel in the world and was made by Edward Costello who devoted it to his wife who died in 1877. Both their tombs are on display under glass inside.
Day 2 – Carrick on Shannon to Tarmonbarry
We had plenty of time each day to get to our next destination on the Shanon River, so each morning we made breakfast on the boat and enjoyed a leisurely pace before setting off for Tarmonbarry.
Le Boats have full kitchens and they supply you with pots and pans, dishes, and cutlery. By ordering the picnic starter kit, we also had salt and pepper, olive oil and tin foil. All we needed to purchase at the grocery store was the meals and snacks we wanted for the week ahead.
Lunch at Dromod
En route, we stopped at the lovely riverside village of Dromod. Dromod is a picturesque town that is a perfect stop for lunch. We docked at the harbor that has been used for more than 150 years for barges carrying Guinness and using it as a stopover. There are a couple of restaurants and pubs with a notable steakhouse.
You can walk out to the railway museum and can take a short ride on the still-operating steam train. Outside you’ll see classic automobiles, an old bus, an airplane, and a submarine. Inside the museum, there are weapons on display from WWII.
If you aren’t going to cook lunch on the boat, we suggest stopping for lunch at the Brandywell Bar Restaurant and Lodge to try some Guinness Pie or you can stock up on some groceries at Kinneden Organics to purchase some organic fruit and vegetables. Cox’s Steakhouse is another popular restaurant and if you are staying the night, make sure to book a table in advance for dinner.
Overnight in Tarmonbarry
After a couple of hours at Dromod, we made our way to Tarmonbarry where we spent the night in this lively town. We were told that we’d need to call the bridge keeper to get under the bridge, but as he was driving by, he yelled over to us, saying we’d make it. Just go slow! Only in Ireland eh?
We followed his advice and slowly crossed under the bridge ducking our heads as we passed. We were in Tarmonbarry with plenty of hours to spare before sunset.
It was then on the bikes that we rented from Le Boat in search of the Abbey that was built by Saint Barrech, (Barry) in the 6th Century. It was a longer bike ride than expected, but after cycling through farmland, hills, and the Irish Countryside, we finally found the Abbey that houses his stone boat.
Legend has it that Saint Barry performed a miracle when he needed to cross the River Shannon to tend to a sick comrade. With no boat in sight, we turned a giant boulder into a watercraft to cross the river. We saw said boulder in all its glory at Whitehall Church just north of Town.
This is a great town to hang out in for the evening with plenty of pubs and restaurants. We listened to live music at Keenans and enjoyed a pint outdoors at The Shannon Bar and Garden.
Day 3 – Tarmonbarry to Lanesborough
After a night of several pints of Guinness, we slept like babies in the quiet marina. This marina is located on a cycling and walking trail and makes for a good place to stretch your legs in the morning.
It was then off to Lanesborough just in time for lunch.
Make sure to stop in this town as there are a couple of superb historic churches to explore. There’s a distillery in town and great places for coffee. It was during this trip that Jim and Janice learned that Dave and I love a good cup of coffee as we set out each day to find a delicious coffee shop. We always found what we needed!
Lanesborough to Athlone
We parked our boat by the bridge across the Shannon River from Lanesborough. It is here that you can explore the twin cities of Lanesborough and Ballyleague. Sling Shot Gin is distilled right in this town and you can stop in for a taste and to purchase an Irish souvenir.
Don’t miss visiting St. John’s church which dates all the way back to the beginning of the Christian tradition in Ireland during the 5th Century. Lanesborough is a great place to enjoy lunch and to stretch your legs before moving on to your stop for the night, Athlone.
Overnight in Athlone
Athlone is the largest city on your Shannon River Cruise and we suggest spending two nights here if you can. I’d rather do day trips out to Lanesborough and Loch Ree during the day and use Athlone as a base for two nights. Loch Ree is so popular to explore that there are Viking ships that take tourists out to explore its Viking history and all of its monasteries dotting the shore.
Day 4 – Athlone
Athlone is home to the world’s oldest pub and we parked our boat directly in front of this historic landmark. The pub is located directly on the Shannon River and Le Boat has prime docking spaces right in the center of town. If it is full, you can also park at the marina a little bit before town, but we recommend getting to Athlone early to get a spot at this prime location. We were within walking distance from everywhere. And had a thousand-dollar-a-night view from our prime location.
There are so many things to do in Athlone, that it is one of the top tourist destinations in Ireland. It’s a popular stop for tour buses traveling between Dublin and Galway and for good reason.
Wander through its Medieval Streets to peruse its shops, restaurants, and cafes. And make sure to visit Athlone Castle which dominates the waterfront. Our boat was just a few short steps away from this historic landmark dating back to 1210. You can take guided tours through the castle grounds.
Sean’s Bar – World’s Oldest Pub
The World’s Oldest Pub was definitely a highlight. The Guinness Book of World Records says that it is Europe’s oldest pub, but the evidence shows that it is actually The World’s Oldest continuously operating pub. They have the paperwork to prove it. Sean’s Bar dates back to 500 AD and it was during renovations in the 1970s that they found thousand-year-old coins and the original structure made of Wattle and Wicker.
This town was made even more famous when Michael Jackson stopped in to drop a lot of money in the Bastion Gallery. Athlone truly is a gem of a Shannon River Cruise and many Shannoriver cruisers use this as a base and simply do day tours from here.
Day 5 – Athlone to Shannonbridge
Today is a beautiful day so make sure to leave bright and early to take your time at one of the most extraordinary stops on the Shannon River. Today you visit the spectacular Clonmacnoise. This stop is an ancient city that showcases a 6th-century monastic settlement.
We left Athlone as soon as the locks opened to make it to Clonmacnoise before the crowds. Even though you can dock your boat here on the Shannon River, bus tours frequent this wonder of Ireland. So you will be sharing it with overland tourists.
Clonmacnoise is a monastic settlement from the 6th century. Pulling up to the dock is incredible unto itself. The first thing that comes into view is the high fort overlooking the Shannon River. As you walk up the path towards the entrance, the crosses and churches come into view and you know you are in for something special.
Plan to spend two hours enjoying Clonmacnoise. Your visit begins with a 15-minute film explaining the history of the monastery followed by a guided tour. The guided tour offers insight into the crosses and grounds, and is good to take part in but it is also nice to stick around after the crowd leaves (And before the next one arrives).
During that time, you have time to enjoy the grounds on your own. There are more than 700 early Christian gravestones, high towers, and incredible stone crosses.
Inside the museum is fantastic as well. Make sure to keep an eye out for The North Cross, which looks similar to the cross on the Book of Kells. Read more: 34 of the Best Things to do in Dublin, Ireland
Since this site is one of the early Christian settlements, Clonmacnoise is a popular religious pilgrimage, and Pope John Paul II gave mass here in 1979.
Overnight at Shannonbridge
Tonight is the night we docked at Shannonbridge which is another highlight of a Shannon River Cruise. Like so many places that we docked during our Le Boat trip on the Shannon, we parked right downtown and could walk everywhere. In fact, we were once again in front of a famous Ireland pub! Luker’s Bar Shannonbridge is home to one of the best-preserved pubs in all of Ireland. Luker’s Bar is so famous that it is on the Irish Bar Calendar featuring famous bars in the country.
We were lucky because John, the owner was serving that night and he took us on a tour into his authentic pub that has barely changed since the 1750s. There is the last remaining Victoria Regina Fireplace in all of the British Isles, old wooden tables where you can almost smell the scent of an 18th-century party and memorabilia from a bygone era.
You may want to spend all your time in the pub when docking your boats on the River Shannon, but make sure to venture out to explore more of Shannonbridge. The bridge itself is a beautiful arched structure that was completed in the 1700s. There is a spectacular old fort located right on the River Shannon where you can grab a coffee and explore the martello towers.
The fort was built to secure the Shannon River from an invasion by Napoleon and there are plenty things to see. If you are looking for live music, Killeen’s Bar has music on Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday nights from May to October.
It may be a small town, but you can manage to go pub hopping in Shannonbridge. That’s just the way things are in Ireland.
Day 6 – Banagher
Banagher is a lovely next stop on the River Shannon cruise where you’ll be staying in a large marina. This marina has showers, laundry, and nearby food trucks in the high season. It’s a very short walk to town to enjoy plenty of pubs and restaurants. Make sure to visit the River Shannon Brewery to take a break from Guinness and try out their artisan craft beers the Martello Tower and Crank Red Ale.
It was in this town that we enjoyed one of our favorite dinners on the River Shannon. Sadly, I completely forgot its name, but if you walk into a back alleyway not far into town, you’ll come out to a picturesque courtyard. Dave and I found it while looking for a coffee shop and they had delicious cappuccinos. While sipping our coffee, we made a reservation for that night.
This lovely restaurant is a new addition to the town with fantastic food and a wonderful atmosphere. At the time of writing they didn’t have their liquor license yet, but they allowed us to bring our own wine.
One of the more unique things to do in Banagher is to hop in for a swim in the River Shannon at the Banagher Swimming pool which is located right in the waters of the river.
Day 7 – Portumna Castle
Our final drive along the Shannon River before our last evening was a beautiful trip through Lough Derg to Portumna. We suggest passing Portumna and making your way to the marina in front of Portumna Castle. It is through the bridge and you will have to time it according to your timetable that you’ll receive from Le Boat, but trust me, you will want to stay in front of the castle.
Portumna Castle is a gem of Ireland and both King James I and Queen Elizabeth I visited this stunning castle. You can take a tour of the castle grounds and inside there is a cafe offering fresh coffee and food that can be visited for free. Luckily we had our bike rentals and enjoyed a nice ride through the picturesque Portumna Forest Park.
There are plenty of pubs, restaurants and shopping in town and as is the case with all of the towns and villages on the Shannon River, an interesting church and some old ruins.
The Abbey Ruins located between the castle and town can be easily explored during your walk and are completely free to enter. They were a highlight of the many things to see on the River Shannon.
Day 8 – Final Night Portumna Dock
It was a 9 am check out the next day, so we left Portumna Castle in the afternoon to make the final bridge crossing back to the Le Boat dock in Portumna. This dock is an isolated place to make sure to have what you need for the night. You can order food and have it delivered for a flat fee from town. The Le Boat staff were nice enough to make a call for us and we ordered Italian food for our final night on the River Shannon.
We spent the night relaxing and packing up to be off the boat and ready for our shuttle back to Dublin bright and early.
Our Le Boat trip had come to an end, but the memories created will last a lifetime.
About a Shannon River Cruise
Our route took us from Carrick on Shannon to Portumna. It was an 8-day cruise and we spent about 3 hours each day on the Water.
- Our trip spanned 160 km / 5 locks / 2 Bridges / 20 hours of cruising
- Locks are open Monday – Saturday 09:00am -8 pm and Sundays 10:00am-6:00pm
- When renting a Le Boat, everything is included. They give you smart cards if need to operate the locks. Most of the time they are not needed, but I have read that they are required on the Shannon Erne.
- Life Jackets must be worn at the locks.
- This is the perfect trip for beginners as no experience is needed. The days are relaxing and you’ll glide into each town early enough to explore and enjoy.
Be prepared for Irish weather, it can turn in an instant and we experienced a lot of rain. We had to drive from below most days, but we had the heat on and the snacks flowing as we took in the leisurely pace of exploring the Shannon.
The great thing about visiting Ireland is if the weather is bad, the pubs are open with friendly and welcoming people waiting to warm you up with a nice pint of Guinness by the fire.
1 thought on “Cruise the Shannon River – Ireland’s Ancient Highway”
What a beautiful place!