Corrib Cruise, Co. Galway
Slipping free of the moorings at Ashford Castle and chugging out onto the glistening expanse of Lough Corrib… it’s a quintessential Irish tourist experience. The boat, the Isle of Inisfree, is run by brothers Patrick and David Luskin, and they’ll fill you in on all the local lore and stories, with an on-board bar serving up refreshments as you go. Traditional music cruises depart daily during the summer months, and you can also catch the Island Cruise at Lisloughrey Pier near Cong. The two-hour trip includes a stop at Inchagoill Island, said to have been visited by St. Patrick.
Details: corribcruises.com; €20/10pp.
Garinish Island Ferry, Co. Cork
Seals, swans and white-tailed sea eagles… and that’s before you even get as far as the island. Setting out from Glengarriff, the Harbour Queen ferry takes visitors on a short trip across the bay to the famous island of Garinish – home to a striking set of Edwardian gardens sheltered in a subtropical climate. A formal architectural garden forms the heart of the arrangements, with highlights including a Martello tower, Italian pavilion, Grecian temple and, of course, vivid array of plants. On your way back, ask the captain to slow down as he passes the eagles’ nest… if you’re lucky, you’ll see one of the majestic birds eyeing you from the branches.
Details: harbourqueenferry.com; €12pp
Dublin Bay Cruises, Co. Dublin
Sometimes we forget Dublin is a coastal city. That’s not a mistake you’ll make after a 90-minute trip from Dun Laoghaire to Howth, however. Dublin Bay Cruises sails six times daily from March to October, inviting passengers to kick back and chill out as the city skyline, Napoleonic towers, teeming seabirds, ancient ruins and perhaps even seals and dolphins drift by. Dalkey Island is a personal highlight – the remains of a church and Martello tower harking back to habitations of generations past. Watch out for the sea stack off Ireland’s Eye, too… and the odd pair of playful puffin.
Details: dublinbaycruises.com; €22pp (€28 return)
Lough Ree, Co. Westmeath
Want a boat trip that motors rather than moseys? Try Terry Benson’s 140bhp open-topped powerboat for size. Barracuda Boats can go south to Clonmacnoise or north into Lough Ree – Ireland’s third-largest lake – where you can explore islands and ancient ruins at souped-up pace. It’s thrilling to thump over the waves with the wind in your face (although Terry can of course tailor the speed), and the boat covers pretty serious ground within a few hours. In Lough Ree, ask him to show you Hare Island, where Viking gold was found in 1802, and the lovely Coosen Point.
Details: barracudaboattrips.com; from €15pp.
Killaloe River Cruises, Lough Derg
Together, the twin towns of Killaloe and Ballina make one of the most picturesque stops on the River Shannon. It’s here that passengers join James Whelan’s cruises (the Spirit of Killaloe seats 50, while the Spirit of lough Derg seats 12) for a tour of Ireland’s pleasure lake. From the 13-arch stone bridge to Holy Island and all the marvellous lakeshores in-between, the cruises offer a gorgeous interlude – not to mention an introduction to some fine Clare and Tipperary scenery. Look out for Brian Boru’s 11th-century fort, and the eagles nesting near Mountshannon. James gives a gently informative running commentary too.
Details: killaloerivercruises.com; €12.50/€7pp