Ireland is the third largest island in all of Europe and the second largest in the British Isles. It’s a beautiful place that consists of coastal mountains, low-lying mountains, lush vegetation and numerous navigable rivers. Ireland is also known for its magnificent castles, stately homes and historic monasteries.
The island is made up of 32 different counties, all of which have their own charm. This is one of the many reasons why it’s a tourist hotspot, as well as its beer, whiskey and cuisine. Still, many come here for the sweeping landscapes and stunning natural beauty, which includes its lakes. There are a whopping 12,000 lakes in Ireland (called loughs) that cover an area of more than 120,000 hectare. Of these, here is our list of the 15 best lakes in Ireland.
1. Glendalough Upper Lake; County Wicklow
Although this glacial lake is quite small, it’s one of the most visited destinations in all of Ireland! Once you’re here it’s not hard to see why, as it’s a stunning lake that’s located in the Wicklow Mountains National Park.
The lake sits at an elevation of 130 metres above sea level and is surrounded by the mountains, making it extremely tranquil. Plus, the famous 6th century monastic settlement of Glendalough is just east of the lake and offers incredible views of it, especially from the Round Tower.
The 131 kilometre Wicklow Way hiking trail passes along the eastern tip of the lough. While hiking the trail or just admiring the lake itself you will probably see some lovely plants, like white water lily and broad-leaved pondweed.
2. Lough Leane; County Kerry
The largest of three lakes that are located in the Killarney National Park, Lough Leane literally translates to the ‘lake of learning’. This is believed to be because of its Innisfallen Island, which was a centre of scholarship in the early Middle Ages.
The 1,900 hectare lake is known for its salmon and brown trout fishing, with boat access being very good. It’s also highly recommended to take a boat tour of the lake that will also go to the other two Lakes of the Killarney.
The 15th century Ross Castle can be found along the lake’s eastern shoreline, while the Muckross Abbey sits near the south side of the lake. It’s also worthwhile to explore the actual national park by hiking along its trails and getting the chance to spot the wildlife.
3. Lough Derg; counties Clare, Galway & Tipperary
Ireland’s third largest lake stretches through three counties in the Shannon River Basin and is the southernmost lake on the River Shannon. Historically known as Lough Dergart, Lough Derg boasts a 179 kilometre shoreline that is dotted with lovely towns and villages.
The lake is quite picturesque, what with its surrounding Irish countryside, and is the perfect place to spend a few days. Cycling, hiking and horseback riding can all be enjoyed around the lake, while sailing, canoeing, kayaking, windsurfing, water skiing and wake boarding can be enjoyed on the water.
There are also quite a few castles and historic sites around Lough Derg, including the 17th century Portumna Castle, Brian Borus Fort and Dromineer Castle. A boat trip to Holy Island is highly recommended, which happens to be the home of one of the most famous monastic sites in Ireland.
4. Lough Neagh; Counties Antrim, Down, Armagh, Tyrone & Londonderry
The largest lake in the entire British Isles, the 39,200 hectare Lough Neagh stretches across five different counties of Northern Ireland. The freshwater lake also happens to supply Northern Ireland with 40 per cent of its water.
Lough Neagh is owned by the Earl of Shaftesbury, though it’s open to the public to enjoy. There are marinas and water sports centres around the lake that offer boat hires as well as things like banana boating, canoeing, sailing, windsurfing and wake boarding.
Visitors that would rather not get wet can enjoy cycling or hiking, and can even play golf right along the lake’s shoreline. It’s also a haven for birdwatchers due to the large amount of birds and species that live around the lake throughout the entire year.
5. Lough Ree; Counties of Longford, Westmeath & Roscommon
Like Lough Derg, Lough Ree also sits on the Shannon River within the midlands of Ireland. The lake is Special Protection Area and an Important Bird Area due to its migratory waterfowl.
In addition to attracting birdwatchers, Lough Ree also attracts anglers thanks to its renowned ‘hot water stretch’. Historians also make their way here to visit historic sites on the islands of Inchcleraun and Inchbofin.
Literally translating to the ‘Lake of Kings’, Lough Ree is home to numerous towns and villages, some of which are quite picturesque. Let’s not forget about the historic landmark Rindoon Castle and the Bogwood Sculptures, both of which sit along the lake’s shoreline.
6. Lough Corrib; Counties Galway & Mayo
This 6,800 hectare lake is located in the western part of Ireland just north of the harbour city of Galway. Lough Corrib is the Republic of Ireland’s largest lake and the second largest in all of Ireland.
The lake is home to over 360 islands, including the beautiful Inchagoil Island that’s known for its woods, beaches, and views of the Maumturk range and the mountains of Connemara. Then there is the island of Caislean-na-Circe, which is home to the national monument Hen’s Castle.
Lough Corrib also happens to be both a Ramsar Site and a Special Area of Conservation due to its abundance of wildlife and surrounding areas. Still, fishing is permitted, as the lake is known for its trout, pike and salmon.
7. Lough Allen; Counties Leitrim & Roscommon
The 3,500 hectare Lough Allen sits along the River Shannon near the Iron Mountains. The isosceles triangle shaped lake is believed to date back to Mesolithic times and it later become the site of iron works.
Today, Lough Allen is a popular fishing spot and hosts numerous international angling competitions throughout the year. The lake also used to host regattas, though there are fewer of these taking place on a regular basis.
Nature lovers should not miss the chance to visit this lake and its stunning natural surroundings. It’s also an important bird habitat and birdwatchers may get the chance to spot the red-breasted merganser, heron, jay, common sandpiper or redpoll.
8. Lower Lough Erne; County Fermanagh
Lower Lough Erne sits along the River Erne in a carboniferous limestone plateau of Northern Ireland. The lake is home to around 90 islands and was once an important pilgrimage site.
Today, the lake is used for recreational purposes as well as for just relaxing and taking in the scenery. The woodland growing around the lake’s shoreline is magnificent, as are some of the birds that can be spotted while enjoying the area.
There are a number of walking trails around Lower Lough Erne, some of which are along the shorelines. The Ely Lodge Forest, Castle Archdale Country Park, Castle Caldwell Forest and Magho Cliffs Walk are amongst the best.
9. Lough Conn; County Mayo
Lough Conn is a Gaelic mythological name and is also said to mean the ‘lake of the hounds’, as hounds belonging to the chieftain Modh drowned here. The lake is also home of the ruins of Errew Abbey that sit on a peninsula on the northwest side of the lake.
The 5,700 hectare lake is known for its fabulous brown trout and salmon fishing, attracting anglers from all over the globe. Lough Conn has numerous boat ramps around its shoreline, with the best time to go fishing being between March and July.
A great way to really enjoy the lake and its stunning surroundings is by going on the scenic Lough Conn Drive. This 140 kilometre loop passes through numerous towns and villages, and near numerous ancient ruins.
10. Lough Derg; County Donegal
Not to be confused with the Lough Derg in counties Clare, Galway and Tipperary, this Lough Derg is situated in the very northwest part of the island next to the border with Northern Ireland. The 890 hectare lake is best known for St Patrick’s Purgatory; a pilgrimage site that sits on Station Island.
St Patrick’s Purgatory hosts a 1,000 year old three-day pilgrimage that consists of only one meal, walking around the island and a 24-hour vigil. It’s believed that the island was the entrance point to Purgatory.
Those that aren’t religious can still enjoy the magnificent views of the monastery from afar and especially from the southern tip of the lake. Lough Derg is also a great place to go fishing for brown trout, perch and pike.
11. Lough Derravaragh; County Westmeath
This boot-shaped lake sits on the River Inny and is a popular lake for enjoying recreational activities. Fishing, canoeing, kayaking and boating are the most popular things to do here.
Lough Derravaragh is completely surrounded by the Lough Derravaragh Natural Heritage Area, making it quite picturesque. The heritage area is home to wetland, grassland, and woodland, as well as habitats of these areas, making it a haven for nature lovers.
What people connect the lake most to is the Irish legend of the Children of Lír; when four of King Lír’s children were turned into swans and spent 300 years on the lake. They then spent 300 years on the Straits of Myle and another 300 years on the Atlantic Ocean.
12. Lough Tay; County Wicklow
Lough Tay is a small scenic lake that sits at an elevation of 246 metres in the Wicklow Mountains. It’s a beautiful lake that happens to be one of the most photographed spots in County Wicklow.
The lake is also known as ‘The Guinness Lake’ because the Guinness family owns an estate along its northern coastline. The best way to enjoy views of the lake and the estate is by drinking a pint of Guinness at a pub in the surrounding cliffs.
The lake itself is private property and therefore can only be enjoyed from above. A great place to enjoy these views is on Military Road at the junction with Wicklow Way.
13. Caragh Lake; County Kerry
This large scenic lake is not to be missed, especially if you’re visiting County Kerry. Caragh Lake sits within a large Special Area of Conservation and is surrounded by picturesque country landscape.
There is not a lot to do in terms of activities at the glacial lake other than fishing and boating. Instead, people come to take in all of its beauty, both from within the lake and along its shoreline.
Both the Carrig Country House & Restaurant and Carrig House sit along the lake’s shoreline and are great places to enjoy a meal and take in the spectacular views of the lake and the nearby mountains. There are also numerous places to stay, most of which sit on the northeast shoreline of the lake.
14. Lough Key; County Roscommon
It’s believed that Lough Key was named after a mythical figure named Cé, who was a druid of the god Nuada. Apparently the lake burst out of the spot where his grave had been dug.
The 844 hectare lake is extremely tranquil, being surrounded by hills and greenery. As well, the Lough Key Forest Park is on the south end of the lake, which is a popular spot for walking.
Lough Key is home to numerous islands, including Castle Island and its National Monument McDermott’s Castle. Visit Trinity and Church Islands to see ruins of medieval monasteries.
15. Lough Mask; Counties Galway & Mayo
Lough Mask is a limestone lake that is just to the north of Lough Corrib in the western part of Ireland. The 8,300 hectare lake happens to have the highest water volume of all lakes in Ireland.
Anglers from all over the world come to the lake to catch trout. In fact, it even hosts the World Cup Trout Fly Fishing Championship every year.
There are a number of island on the eastern half of Lough Mask, which is the shallower part of the lake. It is also the best half of the lake for fishing.