Whether you’re passing through or staying for a holiday, Athlone is a beautiful little town to visit. Located on the River Shannon in the Midlands, Athlone offers visitors a traditional Irish feel with quaint shops, hiking trails, and plenty of unique attractions. We here at Road Affair don’t want you to miss out on any of it, so we have carefully crafted a list of the best things to do in Athlone, Ireland. That way, you can add all the top attractions to your itinerary!
Have a Pint at Sean’s Bar
One of the best places to visit in Athlone is Sean’s Bar, which dates all the way to 900 CE. The bar holds the Guinness World Record for the oldest pub in Ireland and the self-proclaimed record as the oldest bar in Europe.
Sean’s Bar is located at what was once an inn for travelers venturing down the River Shannon. In 1970, the bar underwent renovations, and as the construction workers stripped back the walls, they found wattle and wicker walls that dated to the ninth century. Today, tourists can enjoy a pint in the bar and see the old walls that other bar patrons would have seen drinking hundreds of years ago. The bar also features a beer garden and often has live music.
Explore Athlone Castle
Right in the heart of town sits Athlone Castle Visitor Center, a fantastic tourist attraction in Athlone for visitors of all ages.
The castle dates to the 13th century and held a crucial role in the numerous sieges that Athlone underwent. Visitors can explore the beautiful grounds of this castle and learn about the castle’s history through a series of eight interactive exhibitions. This is a fantastic museum for young children to visit, as they can touch replica artifacts and learn about history through games and video panels. In the castle courtyard, tourists can play 3D chess and enjoy panoramic views of the city and the River Shannon. This is an absolute must-see in Athlone for visitors.
Athlone Castle is open Tuesday to Sunday from March to October and Wednesday to Sunday from November to February.
Walk or Bike Along the Old Rail Trail
Ireland has such breathtaking nature, and one of the best ways to appreciate its natural landscapes is by hiking or biking!
The Old Rail Trail is a dedicated paved road that is 40 kilometers long and winds its way through the countryside and small villages all the way to Mullingar. Hikers can opt to do a shorter eight kilometer walk to the small town of Moate or stroll along until they get tired. The trail is well marked both on the route and on Google Maps, plus there are many stop-off areas where you can take a break and explore the landscapes nearby. It is roughly a 2.5-hour bike ride from Athlone to Mullingar, not including stops along the way. For hikers, it takes about three hours to walk to Moate, and you can take the 190 bus back to Athlone.
Splash Around at Baysports Waterpark
If you’re looking for fun activities in Athlone for kids (or the young at heart), then consider visiting Baysports located just north of Athlone.
Set on Lough Ree, Baysports is Ireland’s largest inflatable water park. It offers plenty of gigantic blow-up attractions, from waterslides to trampolines and platforms to jump into the water. After splashing around for a few hours, visitors can enjoy a bite to eat at the on-site café. The park also holds the Guinness World Record for the tallest floating inflatable slide! Wet suit rentals are included in the ticket to the park, so there is no need to worry about getting too cold in the unpredictable Irish weather.
It is just over a 10-minute drive to Baysports from Athlone, or visitors can take the bus to Barrymore and walk 10 minutes to the park.
Go Back in Time at Derryglad Folk & Heritage Museum
If you’re looking for a fun thing to do in Athlone for the whole family, then visit the award-winning attraction Derryglad Folk & Heritage Museum.
Visitors can step back in time and learn about rural Irish life through a guided tour. See over 7,500 objects from Ireland through the ages and learn all about how the locals used to live off the land. The little village has a sporting section, a medical hall, a schoolroom display, and other exhibits to explore during the tour. Derryglad Folk & Heritage Museum is open from Monday to Saturday.
Hike to Meehambee Dolmen
There are many interesting historical sights surrounding Athlone, and one of the coolest to visit is the Meehambee Dolmen.
Meehambee Dolmen is a neolithic tomb dating to about 3500 BCE, and it’s one of the best off-the-beaten-track Athlone attractions. Over time, the tomb has collapsed, and the portal opening now sits 2.3 meters high at a 45° angle. Many of these tombs have been found across Ireland, and it’s believed they were the burial sites for a singular important chieftain or king. It is also possible that many members of a tribe could have been buried in such tombs. Regardless, this is an impressive site to visit. There is space for two cars to park along the roadside, and the trail to the tomb is well marked on the road. It takes about 20 minutes to hike to Meehambee Dolmen.
Wander the Sculpture Gardens at Dún Na Sí Amenity & Heritage Park
Dún Na Sí Amenity & Heritage Park is a heritage park named after the local fairy lore that aims to highlight rural Ireland’s traditions and activities.
This is a fantastic attraction near Athlone for visitors, offering 27 acres of lush land to roam along with massive sculptures that speak to Ireland’s culture and history. The sensory park is especially enchanting as it aims to engage all the senses, especially for those with impaired senses. Visitors can also interact with the animals at the on-site petting zoo.
Feed the Deer at Glendeer Pet Farm
Another great attraction for families or animal lovers is the Glendeer Pet Farm.
Here, tourists can get up close and personal with many exotic and local animals, such as deer, parrots, pigs, emus, and meerkats. Visitors can even pet bearded dragons, rabbits, and chickens. After playing around with the animals, send the kids off to try the zip line or take the whole family to the maze and try and find the way out. The park also features a soft play area for little ones, a fairy trail, a hobbit village, and a coffee shop.
Visit the Church of Saints Peter and Paul
The beautiful church of Saints Peter and Paul on the River Shannon is a great place to visit while sightseeing in Athlone.
The church was constructed in the early 20th century and features some seriously beautiful stained glass windows. The church’s two tall bell towers create a memorable exterior, and visitors are welcome to come inside and light a candle.
Take a Viking Boat Tour
If you’re wondering what to do in Athlone with the family, then book a Viking Boat Tour. This is a tour that is sure to be memorable.
Visitors hop onboard a replica Viking ship, similar to the ones that would have sailed down the River Shannon many moons ago. A guide will share the stories of Viking hoards, local flora and fauna, and the river itself. On board, there is a range of craft beers, drinks, and snacks to purchase and enjoy while on the journey. Tourists can choose between two tours that each last roughly 1.5 hours. The boat goes to Lough Ree or Clonmacnoise monastery ruins.
Drive Out to Clonmacnoise
Clonmacnoise is a fantastic attraction for tourists interested in Irish history.
The ruins of this monastery, graveyard, and castle date back to 544. It became a major center for learning, religion, and craftsmanship, and many traveled from all over Europe to visit the site. Several of the high kings of Tara and Connaught were also buried here, which indicates how important the site was. Clonmacnoise was abandoned around the 13th century. Today, tourists can explore the ruins of two round towers, the castle, the graveyards, and nine churches. There is also a museum with artifacts and an audiovisual presentation that explains the historical significance of Clonmacnoise.
Browse Contemporary Works at the Luan Gallery
If you are wandering about exploring the town, make sure to head across the River Shannon to the Luan Gallery.
Here visitors can wander and view contemporary works from local and international artists. The museum also houses a gorgeous old section, which was the public library built in 1897. This is a great free thing to do in Athlone.
Well, there you have them, the best things to do in Athlone. We hope you enjoy your trip and get to see as much of this lovely village and the surrounding area as possible because, trust us, it’s worth it!