Situated in the center of Ireland, Athlone has been at the crossroads of many events in Ireland’s history. Today, it’s a must-visit destination for nature lovers, food and drink lovers, and of course history lovers. In the post, we’ll look at some of the best things to do in Athlone including where to stay and where to eat.
Athlone – Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands
From the Irish Baile Átha Luain, or “town of Luan’s ford”, Athlone has been at the center of Irish history and literally the center of Ireland since the Bronze Age. Its key location on the banks of the River Shannon and the bridges that crossed it made Athlone a sought-after prize by Irish Kings, clans, and the English.
Today, Athlone is a sought-after destination on the border between Co. Roscommon and Co. Westmeath. For those looking to explore Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands, Athlone makes the ideal place to base yourself. This unspoiled area of Ireland features stunning lakes, the Old Rail Trail Greenway from Athlone to Mullingar, and loads of outdoor activities.
If you are driving during your holiday to Ireland, Athlone is within easy reach of Dublin and the Wild Atlantic Way. Driving on the M6 Motorway from Dublin to Athlone or from Galway to Athlone only takes 90 minutes. Even from where we live in Limerick it took us less than two hours to drive to Athlone.
For those not driving, Athlone can be reached from Dublin via public transportation. By train, Irish Rail service from Connolly Station to Athlone takes approximately two and a half hours. A round-trip ticket costs approximately 30€ or $33. By bus, a round trip journey from Dublin takes just over two hours and costs around 26€ or $29.
Things To Do In Athlone
Visit The Oldest Pub In Ireland – Sean’s Bar Athlone
With the distinct honor for hold the title of the “Oldest Pub in Ireland”, a trip to Sean’s Bar in Athlone town is a must. With loads of great pubs in Athlone to visit, Sean’s Bar is unlike any other. The pub traces its history back to 900 AD when it acted as an Inn. Historical artifacts and building materials found on site cemented Sean’s Bar in the Guinness Book of Record.
Many come to Sean’s Bar to say they’ve been to the oldest pub in Ireland. But they stay for the great “craic”, cozy atmosphere, and of course the Guinness. In addition to serving up a great pint, Sean’s Bar features a wide array of Irish whiskey including their very own Sean’s Irish Whiskey.
Located in Athlone town centre, just steps away from Athlone Castle, Sean’s Bar is the perfect spot to pop in after a day of sightseeing.
Visit The Oldest Licensed Distillery In Ireland – Kilbeggan Distillery
Located 30 minutes outside of Athlone town in Kilbeggan, Ireland is the Kilbeggen Distillery. Whiskey distilling in Kilbeggan dates back over 260 years ago when in 1757 the first distillery opened. In this time, there have been many ups and down for whiskey production in Kilbeggan.
Thankfully today, Kilbeggan Distillery is in full operation, providing Irish whiskey lovers with an assortment of high-quality Irish whiskeys. The current lineup from Kilbeggans includes their double-distilled blended whiskey, Kilbeggan Small Batch Rye, Kilbeggan Single Pot Still, and lastly, the Kilbeggan Single Grain whiskey.
Whiskey lovers are invited to tour Ireland’s oldest licensed distillery. The tour includes learning about the whiskey-making process, a visit to Kilbeggan’s Ctesiphon warehouse where they age the whiskey, and of course a tasting of three different whiskeys. Booking in advance is required.
Visitors looking for a hands-on experience can fill their own bottle of Kilbeggan whiskey just like experts. Using a valinch, guests can fill either a 20 or 70cl bottle of Kilbeggan’s carefully selected cask strength, single cask, single malt whiskey. Add your own label and away you go with your own hand-poured bottle.
Athlone Guided Tours
If you are looking to learn a thing or two about Athlone while getting a feel for the town, check out Athlone Guided Tours. We’ve always been fans of tours, especially food tours. They allow you to learn your way around a destination while learning a thing or two about it.
Athlone Guided Tours are available Saturdays and Sundays, departing at 11 AM. Beginning outside of Athlone Castle, the 60 to 90-minute tour explores Athlone’s long history on the banks of the River Shannon. Making its way through Athlone town, the tour stops at some of the famous spots in Athone including Sean’s Bar, the oldest pub in Ireland, Custume Barracks, and the Old Town Walls to mention a few.
Private tours can be arranged Monday to Friday with prior arrangements.
The Hot Tub Boat
Easily one of the more unique things to do in Athlone or even Ireland is the Hot Tub Boat. Set sail for a 90-minute voyage around Lough Ree from the cozy and bubbly confines of a hot tub. Accommodating up to six-passenger, the Hot Tub Boat tours around one of Ireland’s most beautiful bodies of water.
The second largest of the three major lakes on the River Shannon, Lough Ree is a nature lovers paradise. And what better way to take in the sights than in a hot tub. All guests have to do is bring a swimsuit, a towel, and to enjoy their voyage.
Captain Shane McCormack is at the helm of his boat “Afterglow” and brings 20 years of experience to the tour. Your ride, the Afterglow, is a 33-foot long passenger charter boat built for comfort on the waters of Lough Ree.
Dead Centre Brewery
You can’t get more centrally located than Athlone, so taking the name Dead Centre Brewery makes perfect sense. What also makes sense is serving great Irish pub grub alongside great Irish craft beer. That’s Dead Centre Brewery.
Led by founder Liam Tutty and head brewer Roger Rotheroe, Dead Centre features an exciting line of great-tasting independent Irish beers. The flagship beer, Marooned IPA, is an easy-drinking oatmeal IPA. The perfect beer to enjoy one of the many handmade pizzas available at their dcKitchen.
The location of Dead Centre Brewery along the banks of the River Shannon in the heart of Athlone town makes a visit an absolute must.
Like many towns in Ireland, the centerpiece of Athlone is its castle. Dating back to 1200, Athlone Castle has been at the crossroads of Irish history for over 800 years. For visitors to Athlone, a tour of the castle is a must.
Located on the banks of the River Shannon, Athlone Castle has a commanding position in Athlone town. It’s within a 15-minute walk to nearly all points in Athlone. Visitors to the castle can learn about its important role during the Siege of Athlone as well as during the Irish fight for independence.
Athlone Castle is open all year round. Visitors are welcomed to explore the castle on a self-guided tour. Groups can pre-book a guided tour of the castle.
Hotels In Athlone
For travelers to Athlone, there are plenty of options when it comes to accommodations. Athlone hotels range from family-friendly to 5-star luxury properties. The size of Athlone shouldn’t factor in when choosing where to stay in Athlone. The city is very walkable, with most sights, pubs, and restaurants within a 10-15 minute walk. Here is a look at some of the best accommodations in Athlone.
If you are a loyal member of Marriott’s Bonvoy program, there’s, even more, to love about Athlone. Located in the heart of Athlone town centre, the 4-star Sheraton Athlone has everything you need and more.
The Sheraton Athlone is a 10-minute walk from Athlone Castle, the Luan Gallery, and other top tourist attractions. Fresh, contemporary rooms provide a place to recharge after a day of sightseeing. The hotel’s upper floors feature some of the most scenic views of Athlone and the River Shannon.
Inside the Sheraton Athlone, guests will find a variety of amenities including a 20-meter lap pool and fitness center. If you are to unwind, the hotel’s Sirana Spa offers a range of treatments, massages, as well as therapy baths.
Finally, the hotel’s La Provence is a brasserie-style restaurant serving up mouthwatering traditional Irish as well as international dishes. For something lighter, the Sheraton’s Harvest Homemade cafe features tasty salads, sandwiches, and snacks.
Check out pricing and availability here.
Located 10 minutes drive from the center of Athlone town, the Creggan Court Hotel is the ideal spot to explore Ireland’s Midlands. Just off the M6 motorway, Creggan Court is a family-friendly hotel featuring contemporary modern rooms.
Pet-friendly, the Creggan Court Hotel has 70 rooms ranging from single to family rooms. Its Granary Gastro Pub and Lemon Tree restaurant serve up classic Irish dishes and pub grub.
Check out pricing and availability here.
You can’t get much better views of the River Shannon than from those at the Radisson Blu Athlone. Located on the banks of the River Shannon, the 4-star Radisson Blu offers unobstructed views of Ireland’s longest river.
In addition to its waterfront location, the Radisson Blu is a 10-minute from the Athlone train station and most tourist sites. The hotel itself has over 120 modern designed rooms. Family-friendly, the Radisson Blu offers family-sized rooms as well as a range of child-friendly activities, making it one of the best family-friendly hotels in Ireland.
Check out pricing and availability here.
If you are looking for a luxury stay outside of Athlone, then look no further than the Hodson Bay Hotel. Only a 10-minute drive from Athlone town center, Hodson Bay Hotel is worlds away on the banks of Lough Ree near Yew Point.
From romantic weekend getaways to those exploring Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands, the 4-star Hodson Bay Hotel goes above and beyond to ensure a memorable stay. With its location just outside Athlone, guests can easily explore all the top sites. Back at the property, a world of pleasure awaits.
Rooms at the Hodson Bay range from family-friend to lakeview to their own Penthouse Suite. Each is pleasantly appointed and modern ensuring a great night’s sleep. For couples on a romantic weekend escape, the Hodson Bay features an adults-only “Retreat Wing”. Here contemporary design meets luxury and quiet.
For guests looking to feed the body and the mind, the Hodson Bay Hotel is here to help. The hotel’s L’Escale restaurant serves up mouthwatering dishes using nothing but the best locally sourced ingredients. The Waterfront Bar is the perfect setting for a light lunch or pint of Guinness or cocktail.
Finally, the Spa at Hodson Bay allows guests to forget about the outside world and simply relax. The Spa features a wide array of treatments and massages. Or simply relax in the spa’s thermal bath or outdoor hot tub.
Check out pricing and availability here.
Where To Eat In Athlone
As our exploration of Ireland continues, one thing is becoming very clear. There are great restaurants and cafes all across Ireland. Many might not be as well known, but the chefs and cooks behind them are serving up great Irish food.
And Athlone is no exception. With access to great local food producers, the restaurants in Athlone don’t have to source very far for top-quality ingredients. The result is incredibly fresh and delicious Irish dishes. If you are heading to Athlone, here are some of the restaurants in Athlone worth checking out.
Located in the heart of Athlone town, Bastion Kitchen is one of those places you hope you discover when traveling. Part cafe, part restaurant, and part health food grocery you can’t help but notice the buzz at Bastion Kitchen.
For the past eight years, owner Ann Sheehy has provided residents and travelers to Athlone with delicious soups, salads, and sandwiches all from locally sourced Irish ingredients. With an ethos of supporting local, visitors to Bastion Kitchen will get a proper taste of the high-quality food products produced in the Irish Midlands.
The Villager Bar & Restaurant
Just outside of Athlone in the village of Glasson, is the family-run Villager Bar & Restaurant. First opened in 2015, the Villager isn’t your typical Irish gastropub. Run by Chef Cathal Moran & Maeve Lennon this husband and wife team has twice won the award for the Best Gastropub in Westmeath.
As any good Irish gastropub should, the Villager serves up classic Irish pub fare including Fish n’ Chips with mushy pea. However, Chef Moran includes some delicious and innovative non-traditional dishes including a slow-roasted duck confit in Cambodian coconut curry. Having lived and traveled extensively in Asia, this was one of the best curries we’ve eaten in Ireland.
The Villager is 15 minutes from Athlone city center and well worth the drive. Bookings are recommended.
The Fatted Calf
One look at the menu for the Fatted Calf and I knew we had to eat there. Anyone who serves a 14 hour braised beef cheek has our attention and our booking. And before you ask, yes I did order it and it was exquisite.
There was no doubt our meal at the Fatted Calf was going to be everything we expected and then some. After all, the Fatted Calf has been garnering the attention of diners in Ireland for years. It’s also brought home its fair share of well-deserved awards.
Led by chefs Julian Pedraza and Feargal O’Donnell, the Fatted Calf use top-quality locally sourced Irish ingredients. From Dublin Bay prawns to Kilmore Quay crabs to Skeaghanore duck, the menu showcases just how good the food here in Ireland is.
The Fatted Calf is located in the middle of Athlone town. And yes, bookings are highly recommended.
Thyme Restaurant Athlone
There are restaurants and then there’s Thyme restaurant in Athlone. A 2020 Michelin Bib Gourmand winner, our meal Thyme left us speechless and wanting more. The flavors and dishes created by head chef and owner John Coffey were extraordinary. And to date, some of the best we’ve experienced in Ireland.
Thyme opened its doors in 2007. Its focus is to highlight the incredible local food ingredients produced in Ireland, especially in the nearby Midlands. Thyme describes their food as “modern Irish”. I don’t disagree. The dishes and ingredients are recognizable as not to be intimidating or off-putting. They just taste a thousand times better.
We don’t often recommend a specific dish, but if you are in Athlone and have the opportunity to dine at Thyme, make sure you order the Ham Hock, Celeriac, & Hens Egg starter. It’s the restaurant’s signature starter and the dish that left us speechless.
Thyme Restaurant is located in the middle of Athlone town. And you guessed it, bookings are highly recommended.
Pubs In Athlone
As you would expect in any town or village in Ireland, there are a few pubs in Athone certainly worth popping into. By no means were we able to visit every pub in Athlone. That said if you are looking for a proper pint of Guinness, traditional Irish music, or the famous Irish craic, we’d recommend the Snug Bar, the Castle Inn, Gertie Browne, or Flannery’s.