48 Hours in Athlone and Offaly

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Duration of Itinerary: 2 days      

Highlights: Athlone Castle, Baysports, Luan Gallery, Old Rail Trail, Sean’s Bar, Viking Tour.

MORNING

Athlone Castle, Athlone, Co Westmeath
Athlone Castle, Athlone, Co Westmeath

Start your two-day adventure with a visit to the 13th century Athlone Castle. The castle's keep is a national monument, and the visitor centre brings to life the stories of the town and its people from ancient through to modern times. Allow between 60-75 minutes for a complete visit and remember that opening hours are seasonal, so check the website for times and admission prices.

Across the road form Athlone Castle is Luan Gallery, easily one of Ireland's best provincial art spaces. With floor-to-ceiling windows you can catch luminous views of the River Shannon while enjoying the works by national and local artists. Admission is free, as are one-to-one tours of the gallery artwork. Just opposite the gallery you’ll find St Paul’s Church with gorgeous stained glass windows from the Harry Clarke Studio and by Sarah Purser.

Make your way around the back of the castle to an equally historic part of Athlone – Sean's Bar. The Guinness Book of Records has it down as Ireland's oldest pub: its documented history dates to 900AD. The bar itself is a joy to behold, with its mix of antiquity and craic. There is an historical tour of the pub daily at 11am.

Attentively overseen by husband and wife duo, Feargal and Fiona O'Donnell, Michelin-listed The Fatted Calf is a great spot for lunch with its locally sourced ingredients cooked to order. It's closed on Sundays and Mondays, so pick your days carefully because the cheese board, which comes with irresistible homemade stone-fruit chutney and crunchy cheese biscuits, is a must.

AFTERNOON

Afternoons are perfect for exploring, stretching the legs or hiring a bike. A course through rural Ireland, the Old Rail Trail is a designated cycle path that starts at Garrycastle (on the eastern edge of Athlone) and continues for 40km to the market town of Mullingar.

Combine history with fresh air by taking a trip downriver with Viking Mike on a replica Viking longship. As you soak up the untouched beauty of the waters, hear tales of Viking hoards and epic battles from 795AD when these Norse seafarers sailed our coasts and rivers.

EVENING

In the evening make you way to Custume Pier for a visit to Dead Centre Brewing where you can enjoy one of Ireland’s leading craft beers, fresh pizza and epics views of the Shannon. (Brewery tours commence Summer 2019.)

Athlone and the village of Glasson have a good choice of hotel and guesthouse accommodation for your overnight stay.






MORNING

A twenty-minute morning cycle takes you to Lough Ree (known as the Lake of Kings), which offers a charming backdrop to a whole host of different water-based activities. Take to the water in a pedal boat for a casual meander or try kayaking or stand up paddle boarding. If you enjoy a spot of angling there’s plenty of peaceful places all along the lake to cast a line and spend a few quiet hours. The lake is home to Ireland’s largest inflatable water park at BaySports!

Athlone Town, Athlone, Co Westmeath
Athlone Town, Athlone, Co Westmeath

Be sure to sign up in advance for the Whiskey Walking Tour in Athlone. Once a busy hub of distilling (the earliest record can be traced as far back as 1740), Athlone's distilleries used to produce up to 50,000 gallons of whiskey per year.

The tour takes 90 minutes and is a fascinating trip through the town's distilling traditions. Participants will sample four local whiskeys (two of which come with handcrafted local chocolate pairings, courtesy of Kilbeggan Handmade Chocolate company).

AFTERNOON

A quick 15-minute spin in the car will take you to the quaint village of Ballinahown for a tour of Celtic Roots Studio. Hear the fascinating history of bogs when Ireland was covered with trees and try your hand at carving, or fashioning your own personal wish stone out of bogwood that is over 5000 years old.

From here, it’s just an 18-minute drive – 1-hour cycle – into the county of Offaly to Clara Bog Nature Reserve. Skylarks, newts, dragonflies and kestrels all call this 464-hectares of protected peatlands home, so you’ll be sure to see and hear the wonderful creatures of this rare and vibrant habitat.

After the nature reserve, travel to the past with a visit to Derryglad Folk Museum in Curraghboy, County Roscommon. The museum pays tribute to the region by showcasing rural life in Ireland's Hidden Heartlands from the 18th century to the not-too-distant past with a treasure trove of some 6,000 artefacts.

Athlone Streetscape, Athlone, Co Westmeath
‘Having the chat’ on Main Street, Athlone, Co. Westmeath

EVENING

Round off your 48 hours in Athlone by heading to Thyme Restaurant, nestled along the banks of the River Shannon where John and Tara Coffey showcase local producers with a seasonal menu.

The number of heritage and cultural sites dotted around Athlone as well as the beauty of its waterways keep visitors coming back to this historic town. And with more to discover around Athlone why not combine this itinerary together with our 2-day itinerary of Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands – Longford, Roscommon and Leitrim.






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