Athlone is located in the centre of Ireland in County Westmeath. If driving, it is 1hr 20 min (125km) from Dublin and just over an hour from Galway City. Other towns nearby include Ballinasloe and Banagher.
Athlone is the largest town in the Midlands region and is located at an important and ancient crossing point on the River Shannon. It is a popular destination with sailors and landlubbers alike as there is so much to do both on and off the water. It’s also a great family destination, as there are plenty of kid-friendly activities.
There is a pretty promenade on the River Shannon in Athlone that attracts walkers, swimmers and nature lovers. There are ancient sites and historic castles as well as modern shopping and entertainment centres. And for sure you won’t go hungry or thirsty as there are some great cafes, restaurants and pubs in Athlone, too.
Of course, being on the River Shannon, there are also plenty of water activities including angling, cruising, canoeing, sailing and Ireland’s largest floating park.
So, what are you waiting for? Let’s get planning your visit with our guide to the best things to do and see in and around Athlone.
Looking for a wet and wild time? Then head to Baysports and be prepared for a whole lot of fun. Here you’ll find an adventure playground on the water made up of a collection of inflatable slides. But not just any old inflatables, Baysports is the current Guinness Book of Records holder for the highest inflatable slide. If you aren’t brave enough or don’t have a head for heights, you can also try your hand at kayaking, standup paddleboarding and pedal boats. Baysports is one of the best things to do for families in Athlone.
Dating from 1210, Athlone Castle and Visitor Centre is an informative and family-friendly attraction and a great place to discover more about the town. The castle’s keep is a national monument, and inside there are modern, interactive exhibitions that bring Athlone’s history, its people and the castle to life. This is one of the best things to do in Athlone for kids and great for a rainy day.
Connaught Walk and Leinster Walk Heritage Trails
The River Shannon slices Athlone in two, so there are two heritage trails from which to choose. The Connaught Walk is on the west bank, and this 2.6km trail starts at Athlone’s 19th-century bridge and takes you past Athlone Castle, Sean’s Bar (the oldest in Ireland), St. Peter and Paul’s Church and the photogenic white railway bridge. Don’t forget your camera.
The Leinster Walk is on the east bank, and this 2.9km trail starts along the old town walls and takes you past St. Mary’s Church, a former workhouse, ivy-clad ruins and the birthplace of Count John McCormack, the world-renowned tenor.
Derryglad Folk and Heritage Museum
Step back in time at the Derryglad Folk and Heritage Museum. This fascinating museum has over 6,000 artefacts which help tell the story of rural life in midlands Ireland from as far back as the 1800s. You can see the tools used for various old-time trades and jobs, items from people’s homes, horse-drawn machinery, tractors and a whole lot more. There’s also a detailed re-creation of a shop from the 1930s stocked with authentic produce, cans, bottles, signs and other items.
A short distance upstream from Athlone is Lough Ree, which is the second-largest lake on the River Shannon. Lough Ree is a hive of activity where you can enjoy birdwatching, a round of golf, nature-trail walks, kayaking, sailing as well as exploring a variety of habitats from woodland to bogs and meadows.
If you want to cruise to Lough Ree, you can rent one of our boats from the nearby town of Banagher where Carrickcraft has a marina. We’ll help you choose the right boat for you from our extensive fleet and get you all set up to hit the water for an adventure.
Opened in 2012, the Luan Gallery is a multi-million euro contemporary art space with artwork by local, national and international artists. As you walk around the gallery, you’ll also see magnificent views across the River Shannon from the floor-to-ceiling windows. A visit to the Luan Gallery is one of the best free things to do in Athlone.
The Meehambee Dolmen is a megalithic portal tomb that was most likely the burial place for a chief or king of Ireland. The stone structure is around 5,500 years old and located near the village of Bellanamullia, which is just a short 15-minute drive from Athlone.
Old Rail Trail Greenway
The Old Rail Trail Greenway is a 42km designated cycle path along the old Midlands Great Western Railway. The route begins at Garrycastle in eastern Athlone and finishes in Mullingar. If you don’t have your own bike, you can rent one in Athlone town. The trail sees you cycle under and over arched bridges and through tunnels whilst surrounded by bucolic beauty and the verdant green fields that give Ireland its Emerald Isle nickname.
Located on the west bank of the river, near to Athlone Castle is Sean’s Bar. With a documented history going back to 900AD, Sean’s Bar in Athlone is Ireland’s oldest pub and is listed in The Guinness Book of Records. To find out more about the history of Sean’s Bar, there is a pub tour at 11am every day. A visit to the bar is well worth it as there is a great atmosphere and you can sink a pint of Guinness or sip the signature Irish whiskey by the fire whilst chatting to locals and tourists and listening to some traditional Irish music.
The Fatted Calf
When you have worked up an appetite, dine in The Fatted Calf restaurant. Here you can dine on modern Irish cuisine and enjoy a menu featuring the best, fresh, seasonal and locally sourced ingredients, that the midlands have to offer. We are particularly fond of the Lisduff black pudding bon-bons and the decadent crème brulée. Whilst this restaurant is child-friendly, we think it is one of the best things to do in Athlone for couples.
Plan your next trip to Athlone
Due to its central location and abundance of attractions and activities, Athlone makes a great base for Shannon holidays. Explore Athlone and the surrounding areas by hiring a Shannon-Erne cruise boat with Carrickcraft. Contact us today for more information!
Melanie May spent five years backpacking solo around the world and turned her wanderlust into a career when she became a freelance writer and photographer. She won the ‘Best Newcomer’ award at the Travel Extra Travel Journalist of the Year Awards 2018 and is a member of the British Guild of Travel Writers. She runs her own blog, Travel Eat Write Repeat (www.melaniemay.com) and you can follow her travels over on Instagram @_maymelanie
Athlone Castle “Athlone Castle, Ireland DSC04453” by Joey Studts is licenced under CC BY 2.0
Lough Ree “Sunset” by Bob Fox is licenced under CC BY 2.0 Old Rail Trail Greenway “athlone mullingar greenway” by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0