Drinking Guinness in a pub. Eating potatoes. Wandering through rolling green fields. Seeing sheep. Maybe even dancing a jig. This is what’s top-of-mind when people envision a holiday in Ireland. “Kayak Ireland” likely doesn’t register or even make the list—but it should.
From its whitewater rivers and coastlines punctuated by sea caves, to lakes with islands and ancient castle ruins, Ireland offers paddling that would impress any level of kayaker. Heck, there’s even a bioluminescent saltwater lake, which lights up with glow-in-the-dark blue under the dark of the night’s sky.
On a kayaking trip to Ireland, you can do it all—and maybe even sample some whiskey in the process.
Best kayaking in Ireland
It may be a relatively small country, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to figure out the spots with the best kayaking in Ireland on your own.
We’ve made it simple by rounding up a few of our favorite locations, along with the best tours from inland and around the coast.
Kayaking near Dublin, Ireland
As the largest city in Ireland and the country’s capital, Dublin isn’t exactly known for its kayaking. But water is integral to its history; the city’s name comes from the word “duibhlind” (or “black pool”) for the tidal pool that was once where Dublin Castle’s gardens are now. The River Liffey (“River of Life”), which flows through the city, has lived up to its name for centuries as a means of transporting goods.
Today, visitors kayaking in Dublin, Ireland can paddle along the Liffey, including under the famed O’Connell and Ha’penny bridges. But for those wanting a bigger dose of adventure, Dalkey—a seaside suburb about 30 minutes southeast of the city center—is where you can paddle out to see Dalkey Island’s seal colony, as well as a defensive tower dating back to the Napoleonic wars.
Best Dublin kayak rentals and tours
City Kayaking specializes in kayaking tours of the Liffey, departing daily from the Dublin City Moorings.
If you’re headed toward Dalkey, look up Kayaking.ie; the award-winning tour operator runs guided excursions to the seal colony, as well as rents out tandem kayaks from its Leixlip Confey location.
Kayaking in Killarney, Ireland
Just over an hour northwest of Cork, the town of Killarney sits on the shores of Lough Leane, the largest of three lakes in the region. With the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve of Killarney National Park and its lakes just a short drive away, it’s no surprise that kayaking is a well-established pastime.
The most well-known excursion on the Lough Leane is to Ross Castle, a 15th-century tower house located within the national park boundaries. Although Killarney kayak rentals are possible to find, it’s worthwhile signing up for a tour to avoid bureaucracy, as you must apply for a permit to kayak or canoe within Killarney National Park.
Best Killarney kayak rentals and tours
Mór Active Tours and Irish Adventures’ highly-rated kayaking tours start at Ross Castle, with an option to visit a 6th-century monastic site on Innisfallen Island. A bit farther afield, Irish Adventures also offers sea kayaking tours of Dingle Harbour’s sea caves.
Kayaking in Cork, Ireland
The southernmost county in Ireland, Cork is one of the country’s most-visited tourist destinations, known for its rugged coastline and the prehistoric stone monuments scattered across the countryside, including tombs and stone circles.
Kayaking in Cork, Ireland means a chance to explore the city of Cork’s River Lee or the whitewater rapids of Bantry’s Owengar and Coomhola rivers. The highlight of this region, though, is the glowing waters of Lough Hyne.
Ireland’s first marine reserve isn’t just the only inland saltwater lake in Europe—it’s also bioluminescent, thanks to the plankton that reside there.
Best Cork kayak rentals and tours
Atlantic Sea Kayaking offers urban kayaking trips under the city of Cork’s bridges. But they’re best known as one of two operators to offer nighttime bioluminescent kayaking tours on Lough Hyne; the other operator being Bantry Bay Boat Hire. As the latter’s name implies, this is also where you can rent kayaks for tackling the class III, IV and V rapids of Bantry’s rivers.
Kayaking in County Clare
One of the most buzzed-about destinations in Ireland, County Clare—located between Galway and Limerick on the west coast—isn’t just home to the iconic Cliffs of Moher and countless sea caves. It’s also where you’ll find the newly developed Lough Derg Blueway.
A 160-kilometer water trail with sections that will appeal to any skill level of kayaker, this is where you’ll have the chance to spot wildcats, eagles and swans.
Best County Clare kayak rentals and tours
Lough Derg Watersports are specialists on the Blueway trail, with tours typically ranging in length between two and three hours.
North Clare Sea Kayaking runs a tour where you can explore the rugged sea caves of Liscannor Bay, but its most popular excursion is the Wild Burren tour, where you paddle to the ruins and ancient grounds of Gleninagh Castle.
For kayak, canoe or standup paddleboard rentals, Clare Kayak Hire will kit you out, in addition to running tours on nearly every lake in the region.
Meanwhile, NevSail Watersports offers a unique kayak combo package, where you can learn to “coasteer”—a sport that involves jumping off rock formations into the sea, while exploring seas and gullies.
Kayaking in Northern Ireland
On the northeastern corner of the island you’ll find Northern Ireland, which is a region all of its own—both culturally and politically.
This is where you’ll find the North Coast Sea Kayak Trail, countless ancient castles and the famed Giant’s Causeway.
Best Northern Ireland kayak rentals and tours
Strangford Lough Activity Centre operates tours and offers rentals primarily along Northern Ireland’s Strangford Lough, where you may encounter seals or otters. If you’re in Belfast, you can also contact Mobile Team Adventure—they’ll come to you regardless of whether you want to explore Strangford Lough or Lagan Valley Regional Park.
Derry’s Far and Wild is based on the edges of the River Foyle, where it rents out standup paddleboards. But if you want to kayak to the Giant’s Causeway, see animals foraging along shorelines under the full moon, or learn about the region’s wild Atlantic salmon, then book one of its tours.
Kayaking in County Mayo
Northeast of Galway, Mayo has the longest coastline of any county in the country, which includes the stunning Clew Bay.
The bay has a rumored 365 islands—including “Hippie Island,” once owned by John Lennon—which are actually partly drowned drumlins formed by moving glaciers. The bay is also home to rich marine life, including seabirds, seal colonies and dolphins.
Best County Mayo kayak rentals and tours
On the north side of Clew Bay is where you’ll find Achill Island and tour operator Achill Surf. Its sea kayaking tours follow the extensive coastline, where you’ll find sea caves and hidden beaches.
Near Galway on Ashford Castle Estate, Ashford Outdoors runs tours of Lough Corrib’s islands, with views of the castle itself.
The Adventure Island‘s center on Collanmore Island in the heart of Clew Bay offers sit-on-top kayak rentals and guided sea kayak tours, as well as accommodation at a private island lodge.
Bioluminescent night kayaking in Ireland
Nighttime kayaking is an increasingly popular activity in Ireland, but two operators stand out above the rest, both at the same location: Lough Hyne. This is where plankton light up the water with their bioluminescent glow.
Sea kayak around Ireland
The first sea kayak circumnavigation of Ireland’s 1,500-kilometer perimeter was made in 1978. For the adventurous, the journey is comparatively short; the record for fastest time is 23 days, with the average being somewhere close to 60 days.
Sound doable to kayak around Ireland? This isn’t a trip to take lightly. Owing to the exposed conditions, including the force of the high Atlantic swell, it’s arguably more difficult than circumnavigating the U.K. In the last four decades, only 84 paddlers have managed to complete the feat, the majority of whom did so as part of a team.
Kayak shops and rentals in Ireland
It doesn’t matter whether you’re looking for something specific (like inflatable kayaks for sale in Ireland) or just a general kayak shop in Ireland, one of these outfitters will be able to set you up with everything you need for your journey:
When to kayak in Ireland
Like many other European destinations, Ireland’s peak season is during the summer school holidays between mid-June until the end of August.
This is also the best time to kayak on many of Ireland’s waterways, but the full season generally runs from March through to October. Some operators will also conduct tours in the off-season, weather conditions dependent.
What to wear kayaking in Ireland
The average temperature during the Irish summer sits between 16 and 20°C—but you’ll want to dress for the water, which will be less than 15 degrees. Layers, which are key at the best of times, will be vital when it comes to kayaking here. Other than that, don’t leave it to the luck of the Irish—it’s best to stick to all the basic rules of what to wear kayaking.