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Great Outdoors in Ireland

Top Boating Trips

Imagine the scene: gentle waves lap at the edges as your boat heads for open water drawing a perfect silver line across the tranquil mirror-flat surface. Every sound is crystal clear: a dog barks, a kingfisher whirrs past flying low across the water, and fellow-sailors shout a hearty welcome. This magical moment can easily be yours in Ireland, thanks to the wealth of possibilities for either guided tours or private hires.

Coast or Inland?

Ireland's indented western seaboard from Donegal to Cork has many first-class sailing opportunities. The main towns have sailing clubs in scenic areas. The best option is to choose an area such as West Cork and spend a week sailing from port to port. If you want to enjoy the very heart of Ireland, the River Shannon offers an unequalled choice of boating trips from the north Midlands down to Limerick. Cruisers can be hired at Carrick-on-Shannon, Banagher, and Portumna. Crossing the Irish border, the Shannon-Erne Waterway has opened up a little-known area of untamed beauty. And the renaissance of Ireland's canals is a recent regeneration success.

The Five Best Boating Trips?

River Barrow: Hire a traditional steel canal boat at Rathangan in Co. Kildare for a 120-km (70-mile) trip along the idyllic Barrow—Ireland's oldest navigation—passing through a Chaucerian landscape and dropping anchor at Graiguenamanagh (known as Graig); en route sign up for a canalways pub crawl.

West Cork Sailing: The harbors of the ports of call along this coast, such as Kinsale, Glandore, Baltimore, and Bantry, offer delightful overnight stays.

River Shannon Cruising: One of the best places to hire from is the delightful boating town of Carrick-on-Shannon—putter your leisurely way down to Lough Ree or as far as the Lower Shannon.

Fermanagh Lakes: With 700 km (430 miles) of rivers, lakes, and canals, Fermanagh is tops. Upper and Lower Lough Erne are dotted with islands topped with castles or Round Towers ideal for exploring.

Royal Canal: With its reconstructed locks and bridges, the 145 km (90 miles) canal is perfect for those on narrow boats, and in 2010 it became fully navigable from Dublin to Richmond Harbor in County Longford. Towpaths run from the Liffey all the way to the Shannon.

Guided Tours or Private Hire?

A first-time boater? Get some courses under your belt by contacting the International Sailing Schools Association. Of course, if you want to sit back and have it all done for you, book half-day or full-day guided pleasure cruises.

Information, Please?

The best websites about boating in Ireland include www.sailing.ie; www.sailingschools.org; www.discoverireland.ie/lakelands; www.waterwaysireland.org; www.iwai.ie; Emerald Star Cruisers: www.emeraldstar.ie; Riversdale Barge Holidays: www.riversdalebargeholidays.com; Canalways Ireland: www.canalways.ie; Royal Canal Cruisers: www.royalcanalcruisers.com.

Best Walks and Hikes

Catch the right day and an Irish hilltop can seem like a slice of heaven. The country is laced with 33 well-marked walking trails. If you're not feeling adventurous, strolls through a forest park or a lakeside dander are wonderful options. If you're going for bragging rights, consider walking the newly added extension to the world-renowned International Appalachian Trail, stretching along the spectacular coastal cliffs of Slieve League in County Donegal.

The Top Hiking Regions?

The Reeks of Kerry: Munster, in the Southwest of the country, has Ireland's biggest mountains with the MacGillicuddy's Reeks in Kerry (1,039 meters, 3,414 feet) leading the way in the hierarchy of height. They attract serious hill walkers and serious gongoozlers (those who like to gaze up at the peaks).

West Is Best: Many of Ireland's West Coast walking routes are framed by spectacular Atlantic scenery: Connemara, Sligo, and Donegal are renowned for the allure of their hills with thrilling views.

Ulster Way: Relaunched in 2009, the 1,000 km (625 miles) circular Ulster Way crosses the most stunning upland areas of Northern Ireland including the impressive Mountains of Mourne.

The Five Top Walks?

Burren, Co. Clare: An unforgettable trip into an otherworldly place, this lunar-like landscape is threaded with looped walks, rare flowers, and ancient ruins, many with a backdrop of unbeatable views across Galway Bay. The entire Burren Way is a 15-km (21-mile), five-hour pleasure-filled walk.

Silent Valley, Co. Down: Catch a bus from Newcastle and, after a two-hour (undemanding) walk around this idyllic place, you will realize why it was so named.

Glendalough, Co. Wicklow: The gentle, three-hour circular Spink Walk takes you across a wooden bridge, along a boardwalk, through conifer woodland and alongside the Upper Lake with sweeping views over the valley.

Slievenamon, Co. Tipperary: An unmistakable landmark famed in song, there is an easy track to the top where a burial cairn reputedly contains the entrance to the Celtic underworld.

The Barrow Way, Co. Carlow: Follow the Barrow river on a 70-mile meander through the forgotten midlands, where countless historical sights pepper the pastoral landscape. It's a feast for wildlife lovers as well.

Weather or Not?

Irish weather is fickle, mist comes down quickly, and it's easy to get lost. Check the forecast and leave word with someone at your hotel about where you are going. Layers of waterproof gear and fleeces are a good bet so you can strip off when the sun comes out (don't worry, it will appear if you wait long enough!). Even though signposting is generally good in hill areas, bring a map: free walking guides are available from regional tourism offices, but invest in Ordnance Survey Discovery maps available at newsagents for €8. Wear comfy boots and bring fruit or chocolate and a warm or hydrating drink.

Information, Please?

The two best websites are www.discoverireland.ie/walking and www.walkni.com.

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