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Reviewed on 23 May 2018
Pocket Guide: Athlone
Lying at the very heart of Ireland, the town of Athlone in Westmeath provides a great base to set off exploring the country. Athlone’s location in the centre of Ireland has you well placed to visit the cities of Dublin, Galway and Limerick, which are all less than a two-hour drive from the town, while both Cork and Belfast are around a three-hour trip.
Things to Do in Athlone
The heart of Ireland, Athlone is one of the more popular stops along Ireland’s Ancient East driving route, offering a great variety of things to see and do for all visitors to the area. Athlone town has plenty to explore, while the surrounding area has some of the most impressive monastic sites anywhere in Ireland.
One of the biggest attractions for visitors to Athlone is Ireland’s oldest pub, Sean’s Bar, which has been welcoming customers since 900 AD. The jewel in Athlone’s crown, though, is the spectacular Athlone Castle, a 12th-Century Norman castle that has been beautifully restored in recent years to tell the story of Athlone Town and, in particular, the 1691 Siege of Athlone.
There are lots of activities to try out in Athlone with the Athlone Equestrian Centre, Athlone Golf Club and Adventure Athlone providing an array of land- and water-based activities for visitors to try out. The Golden Island Shopping Centre and vast high street shops in the town centre offer plenty of variety for retail therapy, while the town has several popular boutique and antique stores to allow you to pick up something a little different.
Lough Ree Drive
Staying in Athlone has you well placed to drive the scenic Lough Ree Drive. The lough borders the counties of Longford, Roscommon and Westmeath, with Athlone being the perfect start and end for exploring this picturesque part of Ireland. A popular spot for angling and walking, some of the highlights along the drive include Saints Island, Rindoon Castle and Hare Island. The Lough Ree Drive has several popular walking routes along the way, and if you want to leave the car behind, the best way to explore the lough is by hitting the water and enjoying a boat tour.
Things to Do near Athlone
Thanks to its central location, Athlone will have you well placed to start exploring the history and heritage of many of Ireland’s ancient inland sites. The famous monastic site of Clonmacnoise in Offaly is a short drive away, while Birr Castle, Lough Boora Parklands and the Drum Heritage Centre are all less than one hour from Athlone.
Whiskey lovers can also rejoice, as two of Ireland’s best-known whiskey distilleries are about 30 minutes from the town with the Kilbeggan Whiskey Distillery and Tullamore Dew Distillery welcoming visitors on distillery tours throughout the year.
Athlone may be considered by many as the centre of Ireland today, but the ancient centre of Ireland lay at the Hill of Uisneach, which is a 30-minute drive from Athlone. The mythological and sacred centre of Ireland is a must see when visiting Athlone, and it is here where Éiru, the goddess after whom Ireland was named, is buried. This is the spot where the ancient five provinces of Ireland met, with the summit of the hill some 600 feet above sea level. It is said that on a good day you can see 20 counties in Ireland, taking in all four provinces.
Athlone is the ideal base to set off and explore the lands that influenced ancient Ireland, and shaped the lands we live on today. With a variety of accommodation options including budget and family hotels, Athlone is perfect for a mini break to explore Ireland’s midlands and the popular Ancient East Driving Route.