Renting a houseboat in Ireland has been on our wish list for a while, and I am so happy that this was the year we finally got to do it! I decided to write a post all about houseboating in Ireland because a lot of followers on Instagram reached out with questions – and honestly, it was one of the best holidays we have done. When most people think of visiting Ireland, they often think of the popular spots along the coast; Wild Atlantic Way, Ring of Kerry, Cliffs of Moher, Dublin – what most people don’t consider is the midlands of Ireland. The midlands is the heart of Ireland, and it has many rivers and mountains, and there are truly magical places to explore within the middle of Ireland.
Firstly, where can you hire the house boat?
There are various marinas along the Shannon river. The Shannon is the longest river in Ireland and runs from from Limerick, all the way up to Northern Ireland. We hired the houseboat from Carrick-on-Shannon in county Leitrim. The company we used was called Shannon River Cruises. Once we had our dates sorted, they came back with various rental options through various companies. The one we chose was called Locaboat. The reason we went with Locaboat was for the type of houseboat they offered us (it was a nice size for two people; with a bathroom and kitchen); plus they offered the best rate to allow us to bring Jack (35 euro, where other places charged 100 euro).
How did we get there? Where did we park?
So most of you know that we don’t own a car, so there were a few options for getting to Carrick-on-Shannon. We looked at taking the train there (which is easy enough), however since we went away for 4 nights, and wanted to bring all our food (and Rob’s beer) plus the rest of our gear – taking the train felt like a bit of a hack to be honest. So we opted for renting a car. A nice tip for renting cars in Ireland is the cheapest rental we have found is to rent a small van, so that is what we did. It meant that we could transport all the things we needed and wanted with us, plus there is free parking at Carrick-on-Shannon which was safe for us to leave the rental while we were on the boat. When we rent cars, we always use Enterprise, they just seem to be the most affordable, plus their deposit is on 250 euro, which is the cheapest we have found. You can read more about renting a car in Ireland here.
How long can you hire the boat for?
You can rent a houseboat for 3 nights, or longer. We chose to rent one for 4 nights and it was perfect, possibly could have stayed longer! Remember that the houseboat doesn’t go very fast, so depending on where you want to travel along the Shannon river you will need a few days to get there and then some time to get back to drop off the boat afterwards. *Just a note that we could only pick up the boat after 2pm; and you need to drop off the boat at 9am the final day.
How much does it cost?
To be honest, it is a bit more than what we would usually budget for a weekend away in an airbnb, but you are paying a bit extra for the unique experience. Remember that it is not only the cost of the rental, and the deposit you will need to account for. You will also need to pay for the fuel you use (we spent 100 euro for 4 nights but this was because we travelled quite far in the end), cost for bring a pet (35 euro), your food and drinks (a lot of the places we stopped along the way were small towns and not a lot of stores or restaurants were open over Easter weekend so it was handy we brought our own food), plus locks and showers etc. Locks cost 1,50 each, and the number of locks you go through will depends on your route. There were shower facilities at some of the stops, and for these you can use a ‘smart card’ which we bought when we got the houseboat, it is loaded with credits and each access to the shower costs 2 credits.
What time of year can you rent a houseboat?
Houseboat renting season is from March to October. We rented over Easter weekend in April, and it was a bit of a gamble in terms of the weather that time of year. The rental company said the weekend before us had ice on the boat in the mornings, however we were blessed with unusually sunny weather. I can imagine that in the middle of Summer it might actually be too hot, because the houseboats don’t have very large windows or aircon.
Do you get training or need a license to drive the houseboat?
This was a hot question most people asked on Instagram – and the answer is, we did a short training on the boat with an instructor where they showed us how to drive the boat, and follow the markings. We had to drive the boat out of the marina, under a bridge and back – and that was it. No license is needed to drive the houseboat! To be honest it was a bit nerve wracking at first, when you are out there on your own, but the houseboat doesn’t move very fast and as long as you follow the guidelines they give you – it is relatively fool-proof.
What about locks?
As I said before, it costs 1.50 to open the lock. Some locks further north of Carrick-on-Shannon are automatic locks where you use your smart card to open them. Others are manned locks, and you have to call the lock keeper in some cases when you arrive at a lock to open up. Once the lock is open and the traffic light is green, you drive the boat through. The lock opens on the one side and is closed on the other side. Once you are in the lock, you hand your ropes to the lock keeper. They have a hook where you give some of the rope to them, whilst you hold the end of the rope – the lock keeper then ties the rope to the side to secure the boat. Once the ropes are secure, they will close the open side so now you are in the middle of the lock – they then raise or lower the water depending on the side you are planning to exit. It is such a cool experience! The first few times there were soggy wet ropes, and awkward clumsy passing to the lock keeper but they were all so helpful and patient with us and by the end of it, we were pros! *Note there maybe bridges you might need to get lifted (at a cost) but that was the other handy thing about our boat, it was small enough to fit under all the bridges we travelled under.
How do you park the boat?
One of the rules about houseboating is that the boat needs to be moored (parked) before sunset. You cannot travel on the rivers after dark. So you will need to plan your route carefully so that you are not stuck between marinas at sunset. Also some stops are small, so they fill up pretty quickly, On our first stop, we arrived just before sunset to find the dock was full. This was when we learnt that you are allowed to tie up to another boat if the dock is full – we met a seasoned couple who let us attach to their boat and that was incredibly helpful for us to know! Most of the mooring stations are parallel making it easy to drive the boat into a spot. Once you find a spot, you will need one person to drive, and one person to handle getting off the boat and securing the ropes to secure the boat to the side – usually a rope at the front and back on the one side. We also learnt to travel during the morning, and park in the afternoon instead of the evening, it meant we got a good spot, and could relax on the boat or explore the town before sunset each evening.
What are the facilities like on the boat and at the marinas?
Think of it like glamping. You have a bathroom on the boat, and a basic kitchen, but for the most part, it is a little like camping, just you get a proper bed to sleep in. The shower facilities on the boat were somewhat lacking, so we used the facilities at the stops – however these were sometimes a bit of a a hit and miss. At some stops the water was cold, or the facilities were out of order. The toilets were public and free, and surprisingly well looked after. If you prefer luxury holidays, this might not be the kind of holiday for you, however if you are a regular camper – this will be like luxury for you!
What should you bring?
Lifejackets, linen and towels are provided, along with basic kitchen equipment (plus oven/stove and fridge). It is a good idea to bring sunglasses and caps for the glare – it might not be super hot but can still be sunny. Try pack all the food, water and drinks you may need as some of the stops don’t have stores along the way. We brought our kindles and books to read plus our bluetooth speaker for music, but we should have also brought a pack of cards or games to play in the evening.
So, what was our route?
We headed south from carrick on shannon for a few days, our furthest stop was just before Athlone, and then we turned back and traveled a bit North on the last day before returning the houseboat. We stopped at Dromod our first night. There is a great pub which we enjoyed a few sunset drinks but the food menu looked good too. Then we stopped at Lecarrow the second night, which I found to be such a beautiful spot. There is a dolmen which you can walk to from the dock, as well as a small grocery store and pub. On day three we started travelling back, but took a detour along the Camlin river and stopped at Richmond which is the start of the Royal Canal. There was a nice pub, which I am told does a great sunday lunch, we unfortunately thought they did dinner too but the kitchen closed at 3pm. On our last day we travelled past Carrick-on-Shannon and headed north on the Boyle river stopping at Cootehall. It was a 45 minute drive back to Carrick-on-Shannon early in the morning to drop the boat off by 9am.
HAVE YOU RENTED A HOUSEBOAT? WHAT WAS YOUR EXPERIENCE?
Live Simply & Travel Slow,
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Brian Downey says
This is a really great article and something that all first-time cruisers should read. I’ll add some links to my site over the next few days – keep up the good work!
Thanks Brian, we are just waiting on our daughter to get a bit older and then we want to do another boat trip with her!