Visit Sligo, an off the beaten path Ireland destination. Things to do in Sligo focus on its scenic beauty, providing some of the best things to see in Ireland.
Welcome our guest poster, Lizzie from Wanderlust and Life, who describes an off the beaten path Ireland destination, County Sligo. You’re going to want to visit the Sligo attractions she recommends before everyone else discovers they rank among the best things to do in Ireland.
From walks in Sligo’s outstanding scenic beauty to places to stay in Sligo, Lizzie’s tips have an insider’s edge. Read on. . .
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One of the best moments when travelling is when you find one of the real hidden gems in Ireland that most people don’t know about. For us that moment came when visiting Sligo. Or rather I should say that moment came for me, because my husband, Dave, was lucky enough to grow up there.
Sligo isn’t exactly the first place you think of when you plan a trip to Ireland, which really is a shame because it has so much to offer.
Tip: You might even wonder is Sligo in Northern Ireland? Pretty close, but no! Check out the map of County Sligo Ireland below. It’s in the lesser visited northwest of the Republic of Ireland.
Like most people who grow up somewhere with a small population and a lot of natural beauty, Dave only really appreciated the wonderful things to do in Sligo once he left. From the beaches along the rugged coastline battered by the North Atlantic Ocean, to the peace and tranquillity of Lough Gill which inspired W.B. Yeats, Sligo Ireland really is worth a visit.
And do you want to know the best thing about it? It is the fact that not many people know about Sligo, making it one of the best kept secrets in Ireland. If you are looking for an authentic Irish experience then get yourself over to Ireland’s north west!
Background Reasons to Visit Sligo Ireland
County Sligo is located in the north west of Ireland and makes up a small part of the Wild Atlantic Way. Famed for its natural beauty, its Irish name is Sligeach, which means ‘abounding in shells’.
It is thought that this is in reference to the abundance of shellfish found in the area due to its extensive bays and beaches. Either way, you know a visit to County Sligo is going to result in some great food and some even better scenery.
On top of this, if you are a fan of Irish literature you might be aware that County Sligo is the place that inspired Nobel prize-winning poet W. B. Yeats to write some of his poetry. In fact, for Yeats Sligo meant so much that his wish was to be buried by the foot of Benbulben, an eye catching mountain which dominates the landscape.
More recently, a Leonard Cohen Sligo connection was forged in an homage the late singer-songwriter performed after being drawn to Lissadell and the poetry of Yeats. Cohen’s moody delivery and the stark beauty of his body of work struck just the right chord in harmony with Sligo’s natural beauty.
Getting to Sligo
If you are flying in from Europe, the closest airport is Knock Airport, which you’ll see on the Sligo map is about a 45 minute drive from Sligo Town centre. If you get stuck behind a tractor whilst negotiating Ireland’s narrow roads, which believe me happens a lot, then you probably want to add on another 10-15 minutes.
The two main airlines that fly into Knock are Aer Lingus and the budget carrier Ryanair.
There are also regular trains from Dublin that arrive in Sligo. The Dublin to Sligo train journey time is around 3 hours.
Getting around in Sligo
The best way to get around Sligo is by car. Despite arguably having as much beauty as the Ring of Kerry further south or some fantastic food like its neighbour Galway, Sligo isn’t frequented by tour buses. This means that in order to make your away around the County and surrounding areas you will need a car.
You can rent a car either in Sligo Town, or at the nearby Knock Airport if you have flown in. The fact that it isn’t overrun by tourists is a part of what makes it so special, and there are often times when you arrive at particular attractions and you can feel like you have it all to yourself.
Accommodations and Hotels in Sligo Ireland
So first things first, where should you stay in Sligo? For convenience, you could look at basing yourself in Sligo Town. Sligo hotels offer a variety of options ranging from budget to luxury.
One of the most popular places to stay in Sligo is the Glasshouse Hotel, a 4 star accommodation with fantastic views over the Garavogue river. By staying in this area, you are close to the hustle and bustle, and you have a choice of pubs and restaurants to choose from.
For other popular choices in Sligo proper, check out the City Hotel Sligo and the Great Southern Hotel. Sligo hotels often have special offers, or if you’re looking to stay at a B&B, Sligo Town options, reviews and rates on TripAdvisor can be seen here.
Alternatively, if you are looking for something a little bit more low key, head to Strandhill. This is where one of County Sligo’s most beautiful beaches along the Atlantic Ocean sits. Accommodation in Strandhill Sligo will range from a variety of apartment style lodgings as well as a few hotels and B&B’s. Click here for details.
There are still a handful of restaurants in the area and some lively bars. And on the plus side, you can breathe in the sea air and walk past the beach at night listening to the waves crash.
Tip: If your dream is to stay in an Irish castle hotel, Kilronan Castle Sligo Estate and Spa should be on your list. This is a royal ancestral home which delivers and elegant and sophisticated traditional experience. Click here for reviews and rates.
The best things to do in Sligo Ireland
Sligo is best explored at a slow pace giving you time to take in the natural beauty. Some of the most fun things to do in Ireland as well are to feast on traditional Irish food, and sample a few local tipples. Here are some of the best things to do when visiting County Sligo.
As you drive through Sligo, the sight of either Knocknarea or Benbulben are never too far, and the myths and history of these two sights are embedded in the psyche of the locals who will proudly tell you the folklore surrounding each of Sligo’s main attractions.
Knocknarea is a mountain with a distinctive mound at the top that provides an atmospheric backdrop to the city and is shrouded in Irish mythology. It is said to be the final resting place of the Warrior Queen Maeve of Connaught.
According to legend, Queen Maeve is buried on the top in an upright position with a spear in her hand facing towards her enemies in Ulster. You can climb to the top and this usually takes around 1 hour each way. Make sure you wear appropriate footwear and check the weather forecast as this can change in a blink of an eye in County Sligo.
Benbulben is the other spectacular mountain backdrop in Sligo. Its distinctive shape was formed in the ice age due to glaciers that sculpted the landscape.
Benbulben is over 500 meters high, so as you probably guessed climbing it is no easy feat. If you do have the time and the fitness levels to do it though, you will be rewarded with spectacular views over Sligo. Its distinctive shape was formed in the ice age due to glaciers that sculpted the landscape.
Finally, our personal favourite and one of the true hidden gems in County Sligo has to be the Gleniff Horseshoe. It is a six-mile loop of narrow winding road surrounded by spectacular mountain views. If you take the walk to the top, you will get some expansive views of Donegal Bay.
The best thing about visiting has to be the fact that not many people know about it. When we arrived, we got out of the car and there was no one else around.
There is something incredibly magical about standing at the base of a mountain range with only the sheep and occasional squawk from a bird for company. I can guarantee that if this was located anywhere else in Ireland, you would be elbowing tourists out of the way just to get a glimpse.
Enjoy the beaches of County Sligo
County Sligo is also home to some of the most beautiful beaches in Ireland. One of the most popular is Strandhill, which is home to a surf school. Strandhill Ireland is one of the top surfing spots in Europe.
The water is too rough here though if you are wanting to swim, but it makes for a fun day out nevertheless. You can go for walks in amongst the sand dunes and treat yourself to some ice cream afterwards.
If you are looking for something a little more low key, then a visit to Aughris Head is a must. This is another hidden gem in County Sligo where you can go for walks along the cliffside.
Here you can look down at the rugged landscape that is constantly kissed by the waves of the Atlantic Ocean rolling in. Further down the track you will come across fishermen casting their rods into the water, who will smile and nod as you walk past.
Tip: Visit the Aughris House and Beach Bar Sligo for an authentic seaside Irish thatched pub and accommodations experience. Click here for information.
Another great spot for an afternoon walk is Mullaghmore, a small fishing village with some great restaurants. One of the best things to do in Mullaghmore is to venture out a little further from the main village, where you will discover a cliff walk.
Whilst often windy it is a remarkable place to sit and listen to the waves crash violently on Mullaghmore Beach below. From here you can also see Classiebawn Castle, one of the famous castles in Sligo.
Classiebawn was once frequented by Lord Mountbatten, a British Royal Navy officer and statesmen. His relatives include members of the current royal family.
In 1979, Mountbatten was killed in his fishing boat by a bomb planted by the IRA. This incident is a reminder of the tumultuous history of the relationship between the Irish and the British and the ‘troubles’ that occurred in Northern Ireland.
If the weather permits and you want to go for a dip then head to Rosses Point. There are lifeguards on duty here in the summer months, and the waters are a lot calmer then at Strandhill making it ideal for swimming.
When it gets warmer, you will find a lot of locals taking their Sligo holidays, trying to catch a bit of sun and the beach becomes full of families building sandcastles, and kids splashing around in the water.
There is a scenic coastal walk here at Rosses Point as well, where you can see the sweeping views that inspired poet W.B. Yeats to write some of his earlier poems. When Yeats was a boy, his uncle had a house around here, which now unfortunately sits in ruins, but back in the day this is where Yeats and his brother would come and spend their summer days.
Spend even a few moments here and it is easy to see how this landscape could inspire anyone.
Tip: Don’t miss Ballymote Castle, south of Sligo Town in the province of Connaught, for a look at the largest Norman castle in the region. Built in 1300, the castle was won and lost numerous times in a series of events over the course of three centuries, and then left to ruin. Click here for reviews and additional information.
Explore the parks
There are a number of peaceful and picturesque parks to walk through in Sligo, most of which are located along Lough Gill. Slish Wood is one of the more wooded paths you can take that provides you with some beautiful views over the lake.
Also located close to Lough Gill is the Tobernalt Holy Well. This spiritual spot is a place for reflection and where Catholic Mass is still sometimes held today.
During the time of the Penal Laws which restricted the rights of Catholics in Ireland, and particularly in the 18th century, the Holy Well was where Irish Catholics came in secret to celebrate Mass under fear of persecution.
Pay homage to W.B. Yeats
If you are a fan of Irish Literature, then you should make sure you visit W.B. Yeats grave. His remains lie in Drumcliffe Cemetery which is located at the base of Benbulben.
Yeats died in France in 1939 and his wishes were to be repatriated back to Sligo. However, due to the outbreak of World War II, it was not possible for him to be repatriated, and he was buried in a temporary grave. It wasn’t until 1948 that he was brought to his final resting place in Drumcliffe.
Some people argue however that it was not the remains of W. B. Yeats which were repatriated back to Sligo, so it is not really his final resting place. But one thing you cannot argue with is his love for Sligo and his grave is at the very least, a symbolic show of love to the place that inspired him so much.
Tip: In the Lough Gill area, don’t miss Lissadell House, an austere 19th century Greek Revivalist country house which was the the childhood home of the Gore-Booth sisters, Irish revolutionaries and suffragettes. Immortalized by Yeats in his poem, In Memory of Eva Gore-Booth and Con Markiewicz, as the “two girls in silk kimonos, both Beautiful, one a gazelle,” quoted by Leonard Cohen, who was captivated by the legendary Lissadell, in the video below.
Must see spots in neighboring Leitrim
If you do find yourself in County Sligo we highly recommend making your way to the neighbouring county, Leitrim. Two of the top sights include Parkes Castle and Glencar Waterfall.
Parkes Castle is situated on the banks of Lough Gill and is a restored castle from the plantation era of the early 17th century. It is peaceful and picturesque to explore.
If you have the time there is a boat called the Rose of Innisfree that takes you directly out onto the Lough. Named after one of Yeats’ most famous poems “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”, the tour takes you on a literary journey and allows you to see the beauty that Yeats beheld in this wonderful land.
Finally, another top sight in Leitrim has to be Glencar Waterfall. This is another of Yeats inspirations as he mentions it in his poem “The Stolen Child”.
The waterfall is free to visit and there is plenty of parking too. It is best seen after a heavy rainfall as it really comes to life, but due to Ireland’s often wet climate there is no danger of it drying up.
Tip: Close by the Glencar Waterfall is the Devil’s Chimney, another impressive waterfall whose spray moves upward, giving the appearance of rising rather than falling. This waterfall is only active in wet weather.
Eating and drinking in Sligo
As soon as you arrive in County Sligo you will be spoilt for choice when it comes to food and drink. Here are two of our favourite places for a good quality meal.
Shells Cafe – Located in Strandhill and just across from the beach you will find this quaint unassuming café. The food here is absolutely incredible and they put their heart and soul into making it too. If you order one of the sandwiches, this is served on home-made bread, and with a side of soup, you are looking at the perfect Irish lunch.
Hargadons – Back in Sligo Town you will find one of the oldest pubs in Sligo. The food here is so good that you often have to wait quite a while for a table, but it really is worth it. They serve a lot of traditional Irish food, in fact ingredients found in the meals come from no more than 60 miles from the pub’s location. So it really does give you the opportunity to sample the local cuisine.
If you are wanting to sit down with a pint and have a chat with the locals then head to some of the bars in Sligo Town. Foley’s is popular with locals who will welcome you and show you a real Irish night out. Quite a few bars in the town play ‘trad music’, which is your traditional Irish Folk music. If you do happen to find a pub with a live band, it really does make for a great night out.
Sligo: A Recap
Hopefully after reading this post you will want to pack your bags and head to County Sligo. From the friendly locals, to the natural beauty, and its steeped history, there really is something for everyone in Sligo.
Lizzie and Dave, Australian and Irish respectively, come to us from Wanderlust and Life, where they describe themselves as “ordinary people looking for a life less ordinary.”
They love immersive and budget friendly experiences to encourage other couples to travel together.