Get to Know a Different Ireland
Of the countless awe-inspiring ways to explore the island of Ireland, some offer less-touristed experiences than others. If you’re game to venture beyond the usual traveler beaten track, Derry~Londonderry/Strabane and Leitrim will delight you with their “slow adventure” offerings.
Perhaps now more than ever, you find yourself craving a complete escape—a journey beyond the always-connected world we live in, and a deep dive into remote beauty, unspoiled stretches of earth, and meaningful moments with others. If you’re looking for that type of getaway, a “slow adventure,” look no further than the counties of Derry~Londonderry and Leitrim. These regions of Ireland, characterized by open spaces, authentic experiences, and warm, welcoming people, lend themselves to the kind of transformative trip that only comes from slowing down and immersing yourself fully in a place.
Immerse yourself in old, new, and nature
Beginning in the Northern Ireland City of Derry~Londonderry (from the Old Irish for “oak grove”) and its neighboring Strabane, you can discover a cosmopolitan region that’s a gateway to nature and off the typical tourist circuit, in a county whose history stretches back to the 6th century as one of the island’s oldest continuously inhabited places. Set against Donegal’s stunning hills and at the foot of the Sperrin Mountains, you’ll not only have city access, but also easy access to coastal and countryside experiences.
Orient yourself by ambling the 400-year-old City Walls of Ireland’s only intact walled city, Derry~Londonderry—one of Europe’s finest walled city examples. Appreciate a bird’s-eye view of this strategic location where the Wild Atlantic Way meets the Causeway Coastal Route, and what helps make this an ideal jumping-off point for exploring the surrounding rural setting’s natural beauty.
Try Derry’s Famous Beer & Cheese Tour, one of the region’s many opportunities to connect delicious food with the land from which it originates. Derry~Londonderry location near the River Foyle is no accident; fish including salmon and shellfish, specifically oysters, abound here (and much of its estuary is an internationally important bird sanctuary). On the tour, you’ll see how this culinary heritage continues by meeting the makers at Northbound Brewery and Dart Mountain Cheese and enjoying brews right from the tanks and award-winning cheeses.
You can also opt into Far and Wild’s Foodie City Cycle, a two-hour tour that will get your blood moving while also introducing you to Derry~Londonderry/Strabane’s LegenDerry Food Culture. From craft breweries to award-winning street food, sample ultra-fresh ingredients from nearby farms and purveyors and go sightseeing on two wheels.
Take advantage of an unexpected perspective of Northern Ireland’s second-largest city from River Foyle on a City Paddle Boards tour with eco-adventure company Far and Wild. Flow with the tide as it meanders between the Atlantic Ocean to the North and heart of Donegal to the South, and experience stress melting away on this waterborne adventure. As you listen to the quiet of the river, note the iconic Peace Bridge, the setting for many of Derry~Londonderry’s world-famous festivals, and a pedestrian and cycling favorite.
For those who enjoy hill-walking, head just outside the city to the Sperrins, a protected “Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty,” and experience Ireland’s same breathtaking interior that inspired Country Londonderry resident and Nobel-winning poet Seamus Heaney. For a guided way to contextualize the land, Folkways and Ritual Landscapes explores sacred sites such as tombs, bogs, and healing wells. Led by a local expert, the tour includes consummate storytelling like the ongoing tradition of tying ribbons on blossoming “fairy” trees.
Reconnect with nature and explore the heartlands
For more head-clearing serenity about two hours’ drive from Derry~Londonderry, Dublin, and Belfast, County Leitrim is home to authentic rural villages and opportunities for a treasure trove of distinctive ways to let time unfold and allow yourself to be fully present. Located in the Northwest of Ireland, “Lovely Leitrim,” as it’s known, makes an ideal, scenic gateway for touring the Wild Atlantic Way, Northern Ireland, and the Hidden Heartlands.
Get to know this incredibly scenic area by foraging, wild swimming, angling, or storytelling with local guides. Listen to fishing tales as you learn about the local fishing scene and fish for bream, tench, rudd, roach, salmon, and pike. Or experience “outback outdoors” with the Lough Allen Adventure Center, nestled among the Sliabh an Iarainn Mountain Range and the Arigna mountains.
Recenter yourself when you take your time and embrace nature as you hike and picnic, horseback ride through pristine countryside, cycle quiet roads and trails, or canoe scenic waterways. Meander County Leitrim’s Blueways and Greenways, which connect the island’s lakes, canals, and rivers through networks of trails accessible to all levels of hikers.
For those who wish to take to the water, anyone aged 21 and up can rent a cruiser and explore the Shannon Waterways and Shannon Erne. Spend a full day exploring to take in the beauty of the landscape and enjoy sensations that connect you more deeply to the environment. If you’d rather leave the navigating to the experts, take a river tour with local operators like Moon River Cruises—then make sure to stop by one of the county’s riverside pubs for refreshments.
There’s no shortage of award-winning restaurants, cafes, and gastropubs here, including meals cooked with ingredients sourced directly from local farms and producers, along with other slow food experiences. Sample local spirits on a tour of The Shed Distillery, known for its Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin, and toast the first distillery to open in the region in more than 100 years. Pop by Jinny’s Bakery & Tearooms to enjoy tea and fresh-baked cake while overlooking Acres Lake and the Shannon Blueway.
For another charismatic town, and to familiarize yourself with community and tradition here, visit Carrick-On-Shannon and its shops, restaurants, pubs, and a lively arts scene. Stroll the sign-posted town trail, a guide to 31 landmarks throughout town. Check out Leitrim’s first integrated arts center, The Dock, housed within the 19th-century former courthouse and offering art galleries, contemporary Irish crafts at Leitrim Design House, and more. Wrap the day with a refreshment in a local café and take home stories from your unique-to-you Ireland adventure.
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.