10 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Sligo
In recent times, Sligo has become something of a surfers' paradise. It's no surprise, really, with the rollers coming in off the Atlantic and spotless beaches to explore. Sligo is also W.B. Yeats country. Ireland's most famous poet was born here and immortalized the county in his poems, particularly That old grey mansion. As Yeats captured so eloquently, this stretch of northwest Ireland is wild, unspoilt, and decidedly romantic, far removed from the hustle and bustle of Dublin and the larger cities.
History, mythology, music, art, and poetry along with clear lakes, rivers, and dramatic mountains all await visitors to this remote part of Ireland. To make the most of your time here, be sure to refer often to this list of the top tourist attractions in Sligo.
See also: Where to Stay in Sligo
1. Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery
Just under five kilometers from Sligo, this spectacular Bronze Age graveyard consists of some 60 graves. Although many have unfortunately been destroyed and others damaged over the centuries, together they comprise the largest collection of megaliths in Ireland. Most are a mixture of passage graves and dolmens, the oldest dating from between 3000 and 2500 BC.
The whole scene is overlooked by Queen Maeve's tomb on Knocknarea, a 327-meter-tall limestone hill situated just west of Sligo. Hour-long guided tours or self-guiding options are both available at the visitors center. The guided tour and exhibitions explain the story of Irish origins and connections to distant lands such as Sweden, France, Britain, and Spain.
Address: Carrowmore, Co. Sligo
2. Lough Gill
A leisurely 15-minute drive to the east of Sligo lies the scenic Lough Gill, eight kilometers in length and an angler's paradise stocked with salmon, trout, and pike. The picturesque lake is encased by woodlands, which are dotted with nature trails and viewing points. The lush hills of Slieve Killery and Slieve Daean rise above the south shore. Understandably, the area is a bird-watcher's and photographer's dream.
A drive around the lough of some 37 kilometers is an experience and one of the best things to do here. On a peninsula between its northwestern end and the River Garavogue stands Hazelwood House, a beautiful little Palladian mansion built by Richard Cassels in 1731.
3. Sligo County Museum & Art Gallery
On Sligo's Stephen Street, on the north side of the River Garavogue, is the County Museum and adjoining art gallery. The County Museum, located in the old rectory, contains material on the history of the region and mementos of W.B. Yeats, including first editions of his works, letters, and family photographs. The Museum opened its doors to the public in 1955.
The gallery displays an impressive and extensive collection of paintings by Jack Butler Yeats (brother of W.B. Yeats) who's considered to be one of Ireland's greatest artists.
Address: Stephen Street, Sligo
4. Sligo Abbey
Sligo Abbey, a Dominican friary, was founded by Maurice Fitzgerald in 1253 and rebuilt in 1416 after a fire. The church has a double aisled nave and transepts; the choir dates from the original foundation and the transepts are from the 16th century. Notable features are the canopied tomb of Cormack O'Crean, on the north side of the nave, with a crucifixion and other figures in low relief, and the O'Conor Sligo monument dating from 1624 on the south side. Three sides of the beautiful 15th-century cloister have survived, along with the 13th-century sacristy and chapter house.
Address: Abbey Street, Sligo
5. The Model, Home of the Niland Collection
The Model art gallery and cultural center is one of Ireland's premier centers for contemporary art. It takes its name from the "Model School," which the 1862 building once housed. On site, visitors will find a restaurant, performance space, and a bookshop, while the top-floor artist studios afford impressive views over Sligo.
The award-winning building is also home to the Niland Collection of art, one of the most renowned collections in the country. Featured works include John and Jack B. Yeats, Estella Solomons, Louis Le Brocquy, and Paul Henry.
Address: The Mall, Rathquarter, Sligo
Official site: www.themodel.ie
6. Inishmurray Island
Around a 15-minute drive from Sligo town at Grange, a side road runs west to Streedagh, where boats can be hired to visit the tiny island of Inishmurray, just under one square kilometer in size and located seven kilometers offshore. The island was inhabited until the mid 1900s.
Once ashore, visitors can explore a well-preserved monastic establishment founded by St. Molaise in the early 6th century. It was abandoned 300 years later after being raided and plundered by Vikings. Poignantly scattered about the island are the remains of an old school and the former islanders' homes, the last of whom left in 1948. From St. Patrick's Memorial, at the eastern tip of the island, there are fine views of the mainland. Visitors can also access the island from Mullaghmore.
7. Yeats Society Sligo & Visitors Centre
A short two-minute stroll from the Sligo County Museum brings visitors to the Yeats Society Visitors Centre by Hyde Bridge. The art gallery here puts on periodic exhibitions, and in summer hosts an audiovisual show documenting the connection of Yeats with Sligo. The Society offers programs and resources to those interested in Yeats' poetry such as a summer school, an art gallery, a poetry circle, Poets' Parlour, and a reference library. There's also a café where visitors can relax and indulge their poetic leanings if desired.
Address: Douglas Hyde Bridge, Sligo
Official site: www.yeatssociety.com
8. Parke's Castle
This restored plantation-era castle of the early 17th century is a popular tourist attraction picturesquely situated on the shores of Lough Gill and was once the home of Robert Parke and his family. Crafted from Irish oak, traditional methods were used to restore the castle. The courtyard grounds also reveal evidence of an earlier 16th-century tower house formerly under the possession of Sir Brian O'Rourke. Forty-minute guided tours are available, but need to be booked in advance of your visit.
Address: Fivemile Bourne, Co. Leitrim
One of the top places to visit for those who enjoy a little history with their walking is Knocknarea. An easy 10-minute drive due west of Sligo, this unusual looking limestone hill stands 327 meters tall and offers spectacular views over the surrounding countryside and neighboring bays. Another good reason to scale the hill are the Neolithic sites found here, including a large cairn-Meabh's Tomb (also known as Maeve's Tomb)-at the summit that's believed to hide an ancient grave.
A number of smaller tombs are also to be seen, though many have been destroyed due to amateurish excavations. If you're lucky, you may also stumble across evidence of the stone tools that were made here in seemingly large quantities (but please don't remove anything, as the site is the subject of a recent conservation movement).
10. Lissadell House
Although an old and attractive building, it's only in recent years that Lissadell House has become one of Sligo's must-see attractions. Located just seven kilometers north of the town, overlooking beautiful Sligo Bay, the estate was built in 1830 and after decades of disrepair opened up in the 2010s for the first time to the public after a lengthy restoration. In addition to its informative visitor center located in the courtyard (notable for its displays relating to the 1916 Rising), highlights include wandering the property's woodland trails and exploring its gardens.
Afterwards, enjoy an afternoon tea in the tearoom, located in the former stable block. Fans of W.B. Yeats will also be interested to learn that the poet was often a guest here, and a small exhibit in the visitor center commemorates this fact.
Address: Ballinful, Co. Sligo
Official site: http://lissadellhouse.com
Where to Stay in Sligo for Sightseeing
There's a good selection of reputable hotels to stay in when visiting this part of Ireland. Here are just a few of our favorite Sligo hotels located in the surrounding countryside and near the top city sights:
- Luxury Hotels: A great choice for those seeking a reputable brand name at the higher end of the accommodation scale is the Radisson Blu Hotel & Spa, Sligo. This delightful four-star hotel features a bucolic setting, bright rooms with modern décor, along with great amenities including a lovely indoor pool, a spa with a steam room, as well as a hot tub. Another good option is the Clayton Hotel Sligo, a great family location dating from 1842 and featuring updated rooms and amenities.
- Mid-Range Hotels: Leading our selection of mid-range priced accommodation options is the Riverside Hotel. In addition to its wonderful river views, this fine hotel is located in a convenient location and boasts extremely friendly staff and an excellent free breakfast. Also worth considering is The Glasshouse. In addition to its affordable rates and pleasant riverside location, this great hotel offers colorful rooms, a well-equipped fitness center, plus a fine-dining restaurant. Popular for its location adjacent to the town's train station, Sligo Southern Hotel features comfortable rooms in a historic building constructed in the 1920s.
- Budget Hotels: At the lower end of the scale but certainly worth a mention is the Sligo City Hotel. This budget-friendly hotel is set in a handy central location and has a variety of room configurations from which to choose, including spacious family rooms (and the reception staff are extremely friendly!). A fun and affordable option for those who enjoy company is The Beehive, located downtown and featuring mixed dorms and a number of simple hotel-style rooms.
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Great City Destinations: The Irish capital of Dublin is an exciting city that needs to be included on your Ireland travel itinerary. Boasting everything from a vibrant entertainment and cultural scene to great shopping and dining (especially along Grafton Street), it also serves as a great jumping-off point to explore other cities. Be sure to add the seafaring city of Cork to your list-it's popular for the historic English Market and St. Patrick Street shopping opportunities-as well as beautiful old Galway, considered one of the best preserved medieval cities in Europe.
Ireland Vacation Ideas: One of the great pleasures of an Ireland vacation is to rent a car and see the country's top tourist attractions by enjoying a road trip. A must-do is to take the wonderful Ring of Kerry, a 179-kilometer adventure that not only takes in Sligo, but other top sights, including the beautiful seaside villages of Kenmare and Sneem, as well as the larger town of Killarney. The pretty riverside city of Limerick is also worth the drive.