Don’t you just love the feeling of discovering a new little spot, off the beaten track? Dublin, Belfast and Kerry are big hitters on the tourist trail, but venture a little further onto a less-beaten path and you’ll find a hideaway of inviting countryside and twinkling adventure. The Northwest, that’s counties Sligo, Leitrim and Donegal, is a pocket of great outdoors, cracking cuisine, and kicking culture, and all at costs that are a downright steal.
Our guest blogger Nicola Brady packs just a few coins on her adventure in the Northwest.
As soon as you set foot in the Northwest you’ll pause, and gasp, at the breathtaking mountains that make up the illustrious surroundings. Of course the best way to make the most of the scenery is to scramble up to the top! A good place to start is Knocknarea in . Overlooking Strandhill beach, the peak of the mountain offers views up into and across into , with surprisingly little effort (the climb takes around 30 minutes and you’ll see many a small child managing it with no problems). Legend has it that the mound on top of the mountain holds the tomb of Queen Meabh.
Once you’ve descended, spend a little time in and watch some of the best surf in the world. Surfers flock from around the globe to the beaches of Sligo and Donegal, so wrap up warm and enjoy the show from dry land!
Amount spent: Nada! We’re off to a good start.
Whilst you’re in Strandhill, pop into quirky Shell’s Café on the seafront. This gem is new enough to the village, but locals now wonder how they ever did without the beautiful homemade cakes and dishes, served with a uniquely Australian twist.
Heading into Sligo town, there are plenty of choices for the budget traveller with a rumbling tummy. Kate’s Kitchen is the choice for a cheap lunch among office workers, with sandwiches and wraps at €2.75 and a pot of gorgeous soup just €2.50. Throw in a coffee for €1.80 and you’re set for the afternoon.
If you’re planning a picnic, be sure to call into the French Bakery on Tobergal Lane for some of the most authentic (and tasty) breads and pastries this side of Paris.
Amount spent – Less than €5, depending on how much of an appetite you’ve built up!
A Spot of Culture
There are plenty of fantastic galleries, museums and heritage sites around the Northwest, and we’ll let you into a little secret – on the first Wednesday of every month in 2011, you pay absolutely nothing to get in. This includes , , and . Check out Heritage Ireland for more information on all of the sites. If you can’t make it on a Wednesday, then regular admission still won’t blow the budget. Each site is just €3 for an adult, or €1 for a child or student (Donegal Castle is slightly higher at €4/€2).
For art, there are two galleries well worth a visit. The Model in Sligo has just been renovated, and is home to some beautiful pieces and exhibitions. Films are also screened in their theatre, as well as plays and gigs. The same is true of The Dock in Carrick on Shannon. A beautiful old building in a pretty market town, the Dock also has a fantastic shop featuring the work of local artists. If you’re dead set on sticking to a budget, walk past that with your eyes closed!
Amount spent – The grand sum of €4 if you’ve pushed the boat out at Donegal Castle, but if not it’s zero yet again.
You can’t escape music in the Northwest. It seems that every pub has a session of some kind, and gigs and festivals take place throughout the year. Keep an eye on Sligo Music to see what gigs are coming up. Highlights include regular sessions from No Crows in bourgeois pub Shoot the Crows, in Sligo every Monday night.
McGarrigle’s is another good pub to keep an eye on for some rowdier choices, or visit Source for some classy jazz in their tapas bar. All sessions are free, but it would be rude not to have a pint of the black stuff in your hand.
Before your visit, check to see if there are any festivals happening in the region. Music features heavily at these festivals, and gigs are often free. Good ones to keep an eye on are the ,Cairde and Sligo Live. The Dromahair Demons Festival takes place each June in a gorgeous Leitrim village, with great music into the night and all gigs completely free.
Amount spent – The price of a pint (around €3.60). And as you’ve done such a good job, why not treat yourself to another?
Where to stay
After such a jam-packed day, you’ll need somewhere to rest your head and there’s plenty of top-notch accommodation in the Northwest. options in Sligo continue the money saving trend but for some real luxury visit just outside Sligo town. in Donegal dates back to 1891 and is the perfect way to combine some r n’r with a round of golf. And Leitrim’s beautiful looks on to the serene shores of Lough Rynn.
About the guest blogger:
Nicola Brady is a travel and cycling writer based in Leitrim. If she had her own way, she’d spend her days on her bike and her nights eating her way through the kitchen. She’s passionate about the Northwest and wants as many people as possible to see what the region has to offer. Read more of Nicola’s writing on her website.
The savings don’t end there! We’re went all over the island in pursuit of budget guides for our readers, including a great value city break in Belfast, walking in Wonderful Wicklow, and cheap eats in Dublin.