Sligo seduces with its stunning Wild Atlantic Way scenery, surf and setting nestled beneath the beauty of Ben Bulben and Knocknarea.
It is a place of great legends and literary giants, where Queen Maeve stands guard and Yeats lays resting.
Its spectacular waves welcome surfers and its wild ways welcome walkers whilst its majestic mountains embrace bikers and hikers looking for adrenaline-inducing adventure.
As Yeats himself might have said, you should arise and go now and make a break for it to Sligo.
Here are ten great experiences to have in The Yeats County.
Climb Knocknarea along the Queen Maeve Trail
“The wind has bundled up the clouds high over Knocknarea and thrown the thunder on the stones for all that Maeve can say.” W.B. Yeats
W.B. Yeats was so taken by the beauty and mythology of Knocknarea that he wrote about it in no less than seven poems. And once you clasp eyes on this mountain, which dominates the Sligo landscape, you will be captivated by it too.
Queen Maeve was the warrior queen of Connacht and legend has it that she is buried in the cairn at the summit of Knocknarea - upright, spear in hand, facing her enemies in Ulster.
To reach the summit and the cairn, follow the 6km Queen Maeve Trail loop which starts opposite the Sligo Rugby Club, about 8km west of Sligo town. The route starts off flat and then you ascend some steep steps before reaching a wooden boardwalk which has viewing platforms with information points along the way. The coastal views are wonderful and you can also see the Ox Mountains, Lough Gill and Slieve League in Donegal. On a clear day, you can even see Croagh Patrick. The whole loop takes about 2 hours to complete.
Surf the waves at Strandhill
Whilst you are in this area, why not take a spin out to Strandhill beach which is just 2km from the Sligo Rugby Club. Surfers flock to this beach because of the great swell due to the beach’s westerly facing direction exposing it to the wild Atlantic waves.
Whether you are a pro or beginner, you’ll find the conditions at Strandhill perfect and enjoyable come rain or come shine. Get a lesson with one of the excellent surf schools in the area and before you know it you’ll be catching the waves and hanging ten on this beautiful beach which is looked over by Benbulben and Knocknarea. It’s a very scenic setting for surfing.
Shuck, slurp and sip on the Sligo Oyster Experience
Taste the Wild Atlantic Way by taking a tour of a working oyster farm and learn all about the fascinating life cycle of this marvellous mollusc. Not only will you enjoy the stunning coastline of Sligo as you see the oyster beds, but you'll also learn about the harvesting process and how to shuck an oyster and you’ll also get a chance to taste the oysters straight from the sea. The Sligo Oyster Experience is located Rinn, about 8km west of Sligo town.
If you don’t fancy heading out to Sligo bay, you can sip, slurp and shuck from the comfort and warmth of the Oyster Bar in WB’S Coffee House in the heart of Sligo town. Again, you’ll also get to indulge in some naked and dressed oysters with a glass of perfectly paired wine.
Kayak the tranquil waters of Lough Gill
Lough Gill, some 7km out of Sligo town, is home to around 20 small islands as well as the Lake Isle of Innisfree, immortalised by W.B.Yeats in his poem of the same name. A wonderful way to explore this scenic lake is to get out on the water in a kayak. Kayaking is great fun and very easy to get the hang of and as Lough Gill is quite tranquil, it is easy to paddle around and rather relaxing, too.
Go with a guide and you’ll hear all about the history and legends surrounding the region. Keep your eyes peeled for kingfishers, otters, herons and salmon as the lough is home to an abundance of wildlife.
Coolaney National Mountain Bike Park
Get the adrenaline pumping as you power those peddles along the terrific trails in the Ox Mountains near Coolaney, 20km outside of Sligo town.
Tackle the terrain through forest and heathland and the single winding track that provides plenty of rapid descents, ups and downs, tight turns technical sections too. All of which you’ll no doubt do with a smile on your face, and probably some mud on there too. Make sure you take some time to admire the wonderful vistas over Ballisodare, Sligo Bay, the Dartry Mountains and Slieve League in Donegal.
There are a variety of different trails of varying length and difficulty but all offer a good time and a good leg workout!
Image via Coolaney National Mountain Bike Centre
Put poetry in motion with a Yeats Society tour
W.B. Yeats is considered one of the greatest poets of the 20th century, and even though he was born in Dublin, he is most associated with Sligo. He immortalised the county and its landscape in his writings and he is buried in the churchyard of Drumcliffe.
The Yeats Society Sligo offers tours so that you can ‘stand where he stood’ and immerse yourself in Yeats. The tours combine poetry, drama, history and the Sligo landscape which help highlight and make a real connection between the man, his work and the area.
Tours start in the impressive Yeats Building in Sligo town centre where you can learn more at the Yeats Exhibition. You can then enjoy a walking tour around the town before taking a drive out into the countryside to visit locations closely associated with W.B. Yeats and his family. There is something very special about hearing Yeats’s poetry being read aloud in the places where it was imagined. It really adds another dimension to the words.
Admire the artwork of Jack Butler Yeats at The Model
W.B. wasn’t the only member of the Yeats family to be inspired by the landscape of Ireland. His brother Jack Butler also captured the beauty of Sligo in his artworks.
The Model in Sligo town is a contemporary art gallery and it has one of the largest public holdings of work by Jack Butler Yeats in existence.
Entry to the gallery is free and you’ll see the J.B. Yeats exhibition which examines the influence the west of Ireland, and in particular, Sligo had on his creative practice. You can admire a huge variety of his artwork including ‘Market Day’, ‘Mountain Window’ and ‘The Crest of the Hill’.
There are other excellent exhibitions on here too and there is also a lovely restaurant, coffee shop and bookshop in the building.
Taste the summer in Shells Café & Little Shop
Shells is a seaside cafe and shop located in Strandhill. Grab a table outside for some al fresco dining with the pounding surf as your soundtrack. The food here is fresh and seasonal with a big emphasis on local produce and suppliers. Come for breakfast, brunch, lunch and an early dinner and enjoy some wholesome dishes which are a mix of international influences and Irish ingredients. There are beautiful Buddha bowls for breakfast, burritos for brunch, a Lebanese platter for lunch and a whole lot more besides.
Step into the Little Shop next door and stock up on Irish-roasted coffee, artisan foods, cool Irish gifts and jewellery as well as the wonderful cookbooks by Jane and Myles, the owners of Shells Café.
Walk or cycle the Gleniff Horseshoe
Take a walk, or a ride on the wild side along the 13.5km Gleniff Horseshoe loop and enjoy rugged and dramatic scenery that stretches all the way up to Ulster and beyond.
The Gleniff Horseshoe is a gorgeous glacial valley on the north side of Dartry mountains, about 22km north of Sligo town. The route takes you along quiet country roads and you'll wander through wonderful woodland beneath the shade of native Irish trees and past some very pretty waterfalls and babbling brooks. If you need to fuel up, this is a peaceful place for a picnic.
Emerging from the woodland, the Cliffs of Annacoona appear and the legendary Diarmuid and Grainne’s cave can be seen high in the hills as too can the old Bartyes mines. Bartyes is a non-metallic ore and mining this mineral was an important industry in Sligo for two centuries until the last mine closed in 1979.
The route is relatively flat and can be walked in around 2.5 hours. You can also cycle and drive the loop and there are some very nice hikes that you can do in the surrounding hills.
Marvel at the Carrowmore megalithic complex
The Carrowmore circles is a collection of thirty megalithic monuments located on the Cuil Iorra peninsula, 5km west of Sligo town. It is the largest complex of stone circles and dolmens from this period of Irish history and one of the largest collection of stone age monuments in Western Europe.
The design and history of these stone monuments are fascinating and it is thought that they were built and used by people from Brittany in France, who came to Ireland by sea, over 6,000 years ago.
Carrowmore number 7, aka The Kissing Stone, is the most intact monument remaining at the complex. It is a stone circle with a perfect dolmen.
Walk around to Carrowmore number 51, a large restored kerbed cairn, and you'll get a wonderful view of Queen Maeve’s cairn on the summit of Knocknarea in the distance. It is a postcard-perfect photo opportunity.
The Carrowmore Complex is free to enter and you just meander and marvel at the megalithic monuments at your own leisure.
As you can see, Sligo is a sensational destination for those who want a coastal break with plenty of culture too. Where you can explore using your board, bike or boots and work up a hunger in the hills before enjoying some fresh local produce.
With 2020 being the year for discovering the best activities and attractions on our island, why not make a break for it to Sligo? Whether you are into walking or waves, art or adventure, poetry or paddling, you can enjoy all of these experiences and more in Sligo and its surrounds.
Limited capacity and procedures may be in place at visitor attractions, sites and restaurants so, you are encouraged to book ahead to avoid disappointment.