Athlone History and heritage

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Athlone, a former garrison town divided in two by the magnificent River Shannon, is chockful of things to do across a two-day break with an abundance of nature activities in walks, cycle trails, and boat trips. Athlone Castle is the obvious go-to, but in its (literal) shadow lies a peaceful town of history and heritage, with easy access to sprawling greenways, watery adventure, and a pace of life that'll help you unwind from the stresses of modern life.

Duration of Itinerary: 2 days      

Highlights: Walking, Horse Riding, Dining out, Kayaking

MORNING

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

Start your two-day adventure with Athlone Castle, a must-visit. Dating from 1210, the structure is key to understanding the town's growth through the centuries. The castle's Keep is a Natijonal Monument, and the Visitor Centre provides scheduled guided tours during peak season. 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.

Next up is Luan Gallery, easily one of Ireland's best provincial art spaces. Situated across the road from Athlone Castle, and with floor-to-ceiling windows that provide luminous views of the River Shannon, the mix of displayed artwork (which alters every two months) is never less than enthralling. Admission is free, as are one-to-one tours of the gallery artwork.

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 claimed it as Ireland's Oldest Pub, while its documented history dates back to 900AD (making it, potentially, the world's oldest). Whatever about age, the bar itself is a joy to behold, with its mix of antiquity and craic. A daily historical tour of the pub starts 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. Lunch nibbles include black pudding bonbons and Bramley apples, so make sure to sample the artisan slow-food Irish cheese board, which comes with irresistible homemade stone-fruit chutney and crunchy cheese biscuits. It's closed on Sundays and Mondays, so pick your days carefully because the cheese board is a must.

AFTERNOON

Afternoons are perfect for exploring, stretching the legs or hiring a bike. A rural course through Ireland's Hidden Heartlands, 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.

A shorter route to Moate (12.3km) provides an option to access Dún na Sí Amenity & Heritage Park, a perfect spot to rest and grab a coffee and a snack at the on-site café. While there, pay a visit to the park's Rural Museum, which displays a wide collection of artefacts once widely used on land and in the home of rural Ireland.

Dún na Sí Amenity & Heritage Park Dún na Sí Amenity & Heritage Park, Co. Westmeath

EVENING

In Glasson village (a 9km spin from Athlone), you'll find Wineport Lodge, which has a renowned restaurant delivering aromatic food with a background of unbroken views of a soothing lake. What more could you want?

Sunset at the Wineport Lodge, Athlone, Co Westmeath Sunset at the Wineport Lodge, Athlone, Co Westmeath



MORNING

Grab a leisurely breakfast in Lowe & Co, an authentic general store and arts café as full of charm as its shelves are stocked with organic breads, cakes, and sandwiches.

After your brekkie, head for the rear of Athlone Castle for the Shannon Banks Nature Trail that takes in about 5km of a circled bi-directional walk along the west banks of the River Shannon and the old Athlone Canal. Along the route, amblers are informed of diverse species of wildlife, fish, flora, fauna and various grasslands by a series of well-positioned information boards.

Combine history with fresh air by taking a Viking Tour cruise on the River Shannon on a replica Viking boat, and hear tales and talks of 300 years of the locale's Viking past. A perfect excuse for kids to dress up and have fun. Water levels and weather permitting, sails depart daily from the quayside at Athlone Castle.

If Vikings aren't quite your thing, take a Romaris Boat Trip and hop aboard an elegantly restored 60ft vintage motor yacht that offers a choice of pleasant journeys, from 90-minute 'standards' and three-hour dinner trips to a six-hour dinner cruise to the preserved monastic site of Clonmacnoise.

Viking Tours Boat, Athlone Quayside, Co Westmeath Viking Tours Boat, Athlone Quayside, Co Westmeath

afternoon

A quick 15-minute spin in the car will take you to Ballinahown Craft Village to visit Celtic Roots Studio, a carefully designed gallery-cum-workshop that skilfully shapes reclaimed bogwood into unique contemporary sculpture and jewellery. Take a tour of the studio, and try your hand at carving bogwood or fashioning your own personal wish stone. It's a take-home gift that's definitely better than a stick of rock!

If you'd rather spend your afternoon in history, travel from the present to the past by visiting 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.

If you're in Athlone on a Friday or Saturday, put a pep in your step and sign up for the Whiskey Walking Tour. 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 Walking Tour takes approximately 1.5 hours and outlines the history of 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). We're drooling just writing about it!

evening

Round up your 48 hours by heading to Thyme Restaurant, centrally situated along the banks of the River Shannon. Overseen by John and Tara Coffey, Thyme adheres to local provenance, with super-fresh produce and a homely approach. All food is cooked fresh to order, so expect a taste explosion.




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