Athlone is located in the very centre of Ireland in County Westmeath and is a great home base for exploring Ireland's Midlands. There are a variety of things to do in Athlone that we'll explore in this post as well as Athlone day trip ideas. Hop in the car or jump on the train and head for the River Shannon and Ireland's Hidden Heartlands!
Things to do in Athlone at a Glance
Wondering what there is to do in Athlone before you plan your trip to the Midlands? Here are my quick picks for what to see in Athlone and the surrounding area. Athlone day trips are all located within a 45 minute drive of Athlone Town.
- Visit the River Shannon Statue
- Explore Abbey Graveyard
- Grab a Pint at Sean's Bar
- Take an Athlone Photowalk
- Go Boating on Lough Ree
- Visit Shannonbridge
- Tour Clonmacnoise
- Marvel at Corlea Trackway
- Pick up some Lough Ree Gin in Lanesborough
- Explore Roscommon Town
- Discover Georgian Birr
- Visit Tullamore Town
- See Clonaslee and the Slieve Bloom Mountains
- Hike Kinnity Forest Recreation Area
- Make a Whiskey Pitstop in Kilbeggan
Getting To Athlone
What's the best way to get to Athlone from Dublin? You could head to Heuston Station to catch the train. Athlone is located about 90 minutes from Dublin by train. Traveling Ireland by train is one of my favorite ways to get around. If you are planning a longer trip to Ireland's Midlands, I strongly advise you to go by car for maximum flexibility. There are some things to do in Athlone and nice places to eat. However, you'll miss out on all the nearby attractions on the River Shannon and Lough Ree if you don't have a car. There are also a variety of quaint towns within driving distance of Athlone that you may want to check out. How far is Athlone from Dublin? Athlone is 125 km away from Dublin and you can get to Athlone by car in about an hour and a half. Athlone is also a good pitstop on a Dublin to Clare road trip.
Fun Things to do in Athlone
The best reason to stay in Athlone is its convenient location in the very middle of Ireland. Athlone's central location makes the town a great place to stay to explore Ireland's Midlands. That said, there are some low key and fun things to do in Athlone Town that we'll explore here.
Visit the River Shannon statue
Just at the edge of Custume Bridge which crosses the River Shannon at the intersection of Northgate Street, you'll find a controversial sculpture meant to represent the River Shannon. The bust created a bit of a furor in Athlone. Some vocal critics think the River Shannon statue should be the bust of a goddess instead of a god. The statue also appears to be more Roman in origin rather than representative of Irish mythology. I thought the statue looked a bit like Neptune rather than a deity of Irish origin.
Explore Abbey Graveyard
I love little delightful detours in out of the way places! I discovered the Abbey Graveyard in Athlone on a walk into town from our Airbnb. Abbey Graveyard consists of a ruined church and some early 19th century headstones lining a tree-shaded path. If visiting Abbey Graveyard is one of the things you plan to do in Athlone, take Northgate Street and follow the brown street signs which point to the graveyard on aptly named Abbey Road.
Grab a Pint at the Sean's Bar, the Oldest Pub in Ireland
Make time for a pint at Sean's Bar in Athlone. The photo of Sean's Bar (see below), believed to be the oldest pub in Ireland, was taken early in the morning. We got lucky a couple days later and got to enjoy a pint of Guinness while sitting by the barrel to the left of the door. At the time we visited, Sean's Bar wasn't serving customers indoors. If you want to get a peek of the historic decor, look around a bit as you walk to the toilets. How old is Sean's Bar? This historic pub situated on Athlone's Left Bank is believed to date back to 900 AD making the bar over 1100 years old! I bet those walls could talk...
Take an Athlone Photowalk
One of my favorite activities in any Irish city, town, or village is to take a photowalk to capture amazing pictures of Ireland. Athlone does not disappoint. In fact, exploring the beautiful colors of the town on foot with my camera was my favorite thing to do in Athlone. I find that early morning walks are best. The light is typically good and you have less people and cars around to block your photos. Some photospots to look out for include Athlone Castle on the banks of the River Shannon and the bright blue Masonic Lodge on Northgate Street. Do a second photowalk at sunset to see the sun go down over Athlone Marina from Custume Bridge.
Athlone Day Trip Ideas
As you can see, there are some small-scale and fun things to do in Athlone Town, but the real reason to stay in Athlone is to avail of all the things to do nearby in the Midlands. Let's review some Athlone day trip ideas to include in this Ireland itinerary.
Boating on Lough Ree
The bottom of Lough Ree is just a short 10 minute drive from Athlone. Lough Ree is one of three major lakes on the River Shannon. You'll find kayaking, jetskiing and other water-based activities in abundance on Lough Ree. One of the most popular things to do on Lough Ree is boating. We rented a small boat from Lakeside Day Boat Hire on Lough Ree at a cost of 160 EUR for a full day plus the cost of fuel. We could have gone anywhere on Lough Ree or taken a ride on the River Shannon to the locks near Athlone. Instead, we dropped anchor and had a picnic in the inlet closest to the marina. Anytime we tried to go further, it started to rain and we couldn't see out the windshield very well which was a bit unnerving. Did I mention that I've never driven a boat before? That day I learned that I am a landlubber and not a boat lover. We dropped off our boat (after three attempts to park and tie up successfully at the pier) after a few hours cruising on the inner lakes of Lough Ree.
Drive Around Lough Ree and Along the Shannon River
The next day, we opted to stick with our car as the primary mode of transportation and admire the waters of Lough Ree from land. One of the best day trips from Athlone involves driving around Lough Ree and exploring the cool villages and historic sites on lake's edge and along the River Shannon. Read on for ideas of where to stop and what to do along the way.
First stop? Shannonbridge. Shannonbridge was a strategic point of defense for the British against an expected French invasion of Ireland in the 18th century. Park at the fort and check out the free exhibit on site. Walk across the historic one-lane bridge across the River Shannon for a coffee at The Hatch then take a quick walk through town (15 min) before heading back to the car.
Next stop? Clonmacnoise. Clonmacnoise is one of the oldest and most important sites for early Christianity in Ireland and is probably the most popular thing to do near Athlone. You'll find the tomb of St. Ciaran and some replica high crosses (originals are in a protected shelter not open to the public during COVID). Spend an hour walking among the ruins and steeping in the atmosphere. Pick up a helpful map at the entrance of the Clonmacnoise Heritage Centre to more easily map the ruins in front of you to key figures throughout history.
If you don't like the idea of driving to Clonmacnoise, you can book a boat ride with Viking Tours and arrive via the River Shannon. We preferred the flexibility of having a car so that we could see other sites in the area at the same time.
Next up, we headed to the Corlea Trackway. The Corlea Trackway visitors centre was simply awe-inspiring! We learned that the Corlea Trackway was a road built during the Iron Age in Ireland (148 BC). The road sank into the bog just 10 years after its construction only to be unearthed in the early 1990s. See an 18 meter preserved section of the ancient road and then walk the boardwalk above outside. Take a quiet walk through the bog along several kilometers of well-marked trails.
Beware Google Maps directions when navigating to Corlea Trackway! The default directions take you down the old bog road which is super narrow with grass in the middle. Take the long way around by following the brown tourist road signs. Of course, there was a silver lining to taking the harrowing bog road: we got to see some fabulous horses when we pulled over to let a car pass.
Take a Walk and Pick up Some Gin in Lanesborough
We continued to circumnavigate Lough Ree on our Athlone day trip. After a stop in Glasson for lunch, we headed onward to check out Lanesborough. We picked up a bottle of Lough Ree Distillery Sling Shot gin and took a walk along the top edge of the lake. Want to know the best part about visiting Lanesborough? It was the community duck pond with all manner of birds (not just ducks) that we discovered in a park near the lake!
Explore Roscommon Town
Roscommon Town is about a 30 minute drive from Athlone. Either add on a short stop in Roscommon Town as a detour on your Lough Ree day trip (Roscommon Town is a less than 15 minute drive from Lanesborough) or plan a separate day trip from Athlone to Roscommon. We visited Roscommon once before on a trip to Strokestown Park House to learn more about the devastating Irish Potato Famine but didn't have a chance at that time to explore the town properly.
Roscommon Castle was an awesome surprise. Set in a large park, the forbidding edifice of the ruins is softened by the flock of sheep grazing just outside. The castle is free and open to the public for a ramble inside the courtyard.
The best surprise of the day on our visit to Roscommon Town was stumbling upon musicians setting up for a traditional Irish music session outdoors in the shadow of Roscommon Castle. It's been so long since I've heard live music. This experience just made my day! I love the spirit of the residents of Roscommon Town!
Explore Georgian BirrBirr is a well-preserved Georgian Town featuring a castle that was once home to the world's largest telescope for more than half a century. If you are going on a longer road trip from Dublin to Dingle or to drive the Ring of Kerry, Birr is one of my top picks for places to stop along the way. We decided to visit Birr again on our travels to Athlone since the town is just 45 minutes away and we could spend a more leisurely afternoon there compared to our first visit.
I've developed a strong appreciation for the doors of Ireland (especially Dublin doors) since our last visit. The doors in Birr Ireland are absolutely spectacular! I could have spent hours wandering around taking pictures. I spotted classic Georgian entrances as well as a dramatic pink door and a door with a rainbow fanlight.
Birr also features some lovely cafes. Sit down for a slice of apple cake and coffee al fresco at Emma's Cafe.
I was absolutely enthralled to see an old-time petrol station in front of a period door facing Cumberland Column in Birr. Birr definitely makes my top picks of things to do around Athlone on a trip to Ireland's Hidden Heartlands!
Tullamore and the Slieve Bloom Mountains
Tullamore and the Slieve Bloom Mountains are another easy day trip from Athlone in Ireland's Midlands. Start in Tullamore Town. Athlone to Tullamore is just a 30 minute drive on the motorway.
We arrived in Tullamore Town around 9:30 am and had the town almost to ourselves. Pay and display to park along the streets. You won't have any issue parking this early. We started with a delicious mini Irish breakfast and Perfection Coffee at Riverside Cafe. We originally planned to visit Tullamore Town and then go to Kilbeggan. The friendly lad who served up breakfast convinced us to go to the Slieve Bloom Mountains instead and wrote up his advice on what to see on a slip of paper.
Make time for a photowalk in Tullamore. Tullamore's door scene is pretty rad! You can also take a walk along the Grand Canal (yes, the same Grand Canal with its origins in Dublin).
Tullamore DEW closed their visitor centre in Tullamore Town which was situated on the Grand Canal. There are plans to open a world-class visitor experience a few kilometers outside of town at their production distillery, but it wasn't open yet when we drove by.
Our new friend from Riverside Cafe pointed us to Clonaslee. The Clonaslee tourist information office is located in a charming old church. Clonaslee is a jumping off point for hikes in the Slieve Bloom Mountains. We weren't really prepared for a strenuous hike so we drove out to Brittas Lake which is just a few kilometers from Clonaslee. Parking was a little confusing. We parked at the gate and realized after we walked to Brittas Lake (I estimate that it was about a kilometer away) that we could have driven on the tiny road to a bigger parking lot. It was good to stretch our legs, but I suspect there are much better hikes nearby. This one was not really worth the trip.
The best part about driving through Clonaslee to Kinnity was passing the ruins of Castlecuffe. Located on private farmland, pull over and take a quick picture. I am grateful to our friend from Tullamore. If he hadn't pointed us toward Clonaslee, we never would have seen these amazing ruins.
Kinnity Forest Recreation Area
There is a small parking lot at Kinnity Forest Recreation Area. We did the Kinnity Castle Loop walk. The best part was a detour to see Kinnity Castle Hotel. We spotted deer grazing among the horses on the property. There was an unmarked stone circle and atmospheric cottage on the property. The rest of the trail was nice for exercise, but there were no real views. Budget about 2 hours for this hike especially if you take the castle detour. If you are into mountain biking, there are also dedicated mountain biking trails that criss-cross with the walking path.
Make a Whiskey Pitstop in Kilbeggan
You can combine Kilbeggan with a visit to Tullamore or plan an independent trip to Kilbeggan. We visited Kilbeggan en route to our next destination at the end of our Athlone trip on the way to Mount Juliet Estate in Kilkenny. Our goal was just a quick stop in Kilbeggan to check out the Kilbeggan Distillery Visitor Centre. I like peaty whiskey so I picked up a bottle of 12 year old Connemara Whiskey. We skipped the Kilbeggan Distillery tour but were able to have a quick look around and take a few pictures en route to the gift shop. If you are looking for an Irish whiskey experience on your trip to Ireland, Kilbeggan Distillery has the advantage of being right in town vs. Tullamore's new visitor centre which can't easily be reached on foot.
Where to Eat in Athlone and Nearby
One of the best thing to do in Athlone is eat! In this section, we'll explore the best places to eat in Athlone and nearby.
Drinks and Comfort Food on the Terrace at Dead Centre Brewing
Book in for outdoor dining on the terrace at Dead Centre Brewing. I could have sworn that I took a picture of our pint of craft beer, but I must have been distracted by the gorgeous comfort food on a blustery summer evening. We enjoyed Marooned, Common Element, and Turquoise Waters on draft to wash down hearty pizzas, fully loaded fries, and gourmet hot dogs.
Breakfast and Coffee at Fine Wine and Food Co.
We stumbled upon the delightful Fine Wine and Food Co. in Athlone which seemed to be the only cafe in town open before 9 am during the week. We enjoyed a well-crafted cappuccino and a protein ball along with blueberry and lemon cake fresh and hot right from the oven.
Eat an Upscale Dinner at Thyme
For a fantastic dinner, make a reservation at Thyme Restaurant in Athlone. We ordered the set menu including lamb and potato terrine, pork belly, delicate hake, plus vegetables and potatoes. We finished off our carafe of wine with rhubarb cheesecake and lemon meringue tart for dessert. Go to Thyme for an upscale treat.
Have Breakfast Al Fresco at Corner House Bistro
Sit down for a quick outdoor breakfast at Corner House Bistro in Athlone and watch the world go by. For me, the sausage roll was the best part. Corner House Bistro also sells artisan foods to go. We picked up some loganberry jam. I've never seen loganberry outside of Buffalo, New York before. Love it!
Enjoy a Light Lunch with Lough Ree Views at Wineport Lodge
Wineport Lodge on Lough Ree is a lovely spot for lunch. We treated ourselves to some cauliflower and coconut soup and a craft beer at Wineport Lodge after our boat rental adventure on the lake.
Lunch at The Villager in Glasson
Make time for lunch in Glasson, one of the small villages around Lough Ree. Grogan's gets all the buzz, but parking on the street is super tough so we opted to try The Villager instead. The Villager has a parking lot that you can pull into which takes some of the stress out of the experience. We enjoyed a chorizo and gubeen burrito plus fish and chips. The Villager earns bonus points from me for its spectacular purple door.
Left Bank Bistro
Left Bank Bistro in Athlone is one of the town's most well-established restaurants. Founded in 1995, this section of town in known as The Left Bank not because of its position on the River Shannon, but because of the restaurant. We ate our final dinner in Athlone at Left Bank Bistro and lifted a glass of rose to toast the occasion. The menu included some imaginative fusion flavors. I tried a spring roll with Madras Indian curry fillings, creamy courgette risotto, and lemon cheesecake for dessert.