8 Ways to Travel Deeper in Ireland, According to Locals
Slow down and immerse yourself in Derry/Strabane and Leitrim with tips from the people who know it best—the walkers, craft brewers and distillers, “slow adventure” guides, and others who call this gorgeous part of the country home.
Northwest Ireland may be under many people’s radar—but as I discovered on my recent trip to Derry/Strabane and Leitrim, getting to know the region by connecting with its welcoming locals makes for a journey that’s rewardingly adventurous. Whether you’re passionate about history or culture, nature, or storytelling, with residents as your guides you’ll experience a “slow adventure,” a way to travel at a more relaxed pace that enriches you—along with the people you meet and places you visit. Everyone from surfers to scientists shared their top picks of what to do and see in these parts of the Emerald Isle. Here’s what they told me.
Head over Sliabh an Iarainn Mountain
Eileen Gibbons, co-owner of Electric Bike Trails in Leitrim, took me cycling on the Shannon Blueway and told me about the area’s paths as we cycled past wildflowers and felt the mist on our faces. Gibbons recommends driving (or cycling if you’re up for a challenge) over Sliabh an Iarainn Mountain. You can take in the spectacular views of Lough Allen and visit the hidden Pól an Eas waterfall on the Yellow River on the way up and down. It’s a great way to get a feel for the landscape and connect with the environment.
Get to know historic, tranquil Ireland
In Drumshanbo, I went stand-up paddle boarding with Lee Guckian from the Leitrim Surf Company. A lover of watersports, he encouraged me to stop, breathe, and feel the silence of our surroundings as we paddled down a tree-lined canal leading into Acres Lake on our “Drumshamazon” safari. The aquatic adventurer suggests getting to know ancient Ireland. Keeping an eye out for things like historic sweat houses and immersing yourself in the country’s history gives a more authentic sense of the island. He also endorses just enjoying the area’s tranquility. “There are still places you can find yourself on your own here,” he says of what’s known as the hidden gems.
Unplug and canoe to O’Connor’s Island
Edwin of Lough Allen Adventure invited me on a boat ride to O’Connor’s Island and showed me campsites local children use on school trips. His enthusiasm for teaching outdoor survival skills got me excited about wild landscapes. Edwin recommends leaving your cellphone behind to fully experience wild camping, bushcraft, and other nature-based activities on a canoe expedition to O’Connor’s Island. The outdoorsman says it’s a great way to reconnect with the environment and make meaningful new connections with the place.
Forage at Fowleys Falls
I lunched with Nuala McNulty, owner and manager of Tawnylust Lodge, at Fulacht Fiadh Cafe. Over kimchi sandwiches, she shared how she loves hosting visitors from all over the world. Some have even permanently relocated here after falling for Ireland’s natural beauty and local culture. Nuala vouches for Fowleys Falls, a series of waterfalls in Leitrim. Her tips include walking there from The Organic Centre and foraging and picnicking in the area around the falls.
The stories bogs tell
Charismatic paleo ecologist Martin Bradley took me on a tour of ancient landscapes. From rock formations to pagan wells, he showed me the highlights of the wild areas near Derry, weaving stories into their history. The Foyle Trails owner, who interprets Ireland’s ancient landscapes through storytelling, tells visitors to check out one of the 8,000-year-old bogs near Derry and recommends a guide for safety. There are several bogs in Slievedoo (“The High Dark Place”), and their water and vegetation tell the stories of the ancient people and living landscapes of the area. “Our history is still alive,” says Bradley, “even in the bogs.”
Darren Thompson, an instructor from Far and Wild, took me stand-up paddle boarding on the River Foyle in the heart of Derry, an ideal way to get closer to this area’s emblematic waterway, while also seeing the city’s beautiful landmarks. His adventurous spirit showed as we paddled through a warm summer downpour. Thompson puts coastal climbing at the top of the list for fellow thrill-seekers. Great places for rock climbing, coasteering, and bouldering just outside of Derry mean you can get outdoors and experience Ireland’s geology firsthand in an extraordinary yet easily accessible way.
Choose your outdoor adventure
Pauline Lusby, who runs the City of Derry Equestrian Centre, and I went horseback riding along country roads and through the 30 verdant acres of her farm, which has been in her family for generations. Whether horseback riding or bottle-feeding spring lambs, Lusby simply encourages experiencing the outdoors near Derry. Thanks to pristine landscapes, she explains all visitors need to do is “figure out what you’re passionate about and do it” to revel in the distinct charm of this area named for the Irish word doire, meaning “oak grove.”
Work with animals
I met Martina Rogers, co-owner of Northbound Brewery in Derry, on Derry’s Famous Beer & Cheese Tour. She took me through the brewing process and taught me about Ireland’s culinary heritage as we sipped beer poured right from the tanks. The brewer recommends distinctive activities like walking alpacas and sheepdog herding in Northern Ireland. Places like Glenshane Country Farm in the foothills of the Sperrin Mountains offer visitors the opportunity to learn how to herd sheep with a trained sheepdog, one of many local traditions allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the local culture for a deeper, richer, and more meaningful Ireland experience.
When you’re ready to start planning a trip to some of Ireland’s and Northern Ireland’s less-visited corners, go to Slow Adventure Ireland for suggestions on how and where to connect with nature, experience traditional culture, and meet local characters. The counties’ stunning coastline, historic sites, and famously warm welcomes await.