1. Lough Boora Parklands
Much of County Offaly's once-extensive boglands were stripped of peat for electricity generation during the 20th century. Lough Boora, is the focus of a scheme for bog restoration. There are more than 50km of walking and cycling trails across the area, with excellent birdwatching, fishing, rare flora and a mesolithic site. Maps are available at the visitor centre, which has a cafe open April to October.
2. Birr Castle
It's easy to spend half a day exploring the attractions and gardens of Birr Castle demesne. The castle dates from 1620 and is a private home, but during May to August you can visit the main living quarters on tours (which must be booked in advance). Most of the present building dates from around 1620, with alterations made in the early 19th century.
The 50-hectare castle grounds are famous for their magnificent gardens set around a large artificial lake.
Gloriously placed overlooking the River Shannon, Clonmacnoise is one of Ireland’s most important ancient monastic cities. The site is enclosed within a walled field and contains numerous early churches, high crosses, round towers and graves in astonishingly good condition (although several gravestones incline to the ground at under a 45-degree angle). The Clonmacnoise Visitor Centre provides an introduction to the site as well as containing several highly important and original stone crosses, along with explanations of their iconography.
4. Clara Bog Nature Reserve
Clara Bog is one of the few great expanses of classic bogland in Western Europe to escape being stripped for fuel. Deceptively flat and seemingly lifeless, it offers a fascinating window into the natural world. At this magical preserved 464-hectare raised bog landscape, you'll hear water coursing, birds chirping and insects buzzing but the most memorable impression is the sense of quiet. A 1km-loop boardwalk leads from a parking area 2km south of Clara village (7.5km southeast of the M6).
5. Slieve Bloom Mountains Nature Reserve
A 2300-hectare nature reserve with a mountain range in the middle, full of walking and biking trails. A visit to Slieve Bloom is the perfect excuse to explore this often overlooked area of Ireland.
Straddling Offaly and Laois, there are a number of walking trails ranging from easy 4km loop walks to the multi-day 75km Slieve Bloom Way. The walks are all color-coded according to difficulty. Walking is probably the best way to spot some of the reserve’s rare species of birds and appreciate the wide variety of wildflowers.
Slieve Bloom is also a really popular spot for mountain biking. It has 35km of dedicated trails with plans to eventually expand them to 100km. If you prefer slow wandering, there are plenty of concrete roads to cycle on too. The mountains themselves are one of the oldest in Europe and once stood 3,700 metres tall.