For such a small island, there's a never-ending bounty of cultural treats to discover in the space of a weekend.
That's the beauty of Ireland - it takes no more than five hours to traverse the country, so there isn't a corner that's out of reach for your precious two days off a week. The island is your oyster. This week, we're shining a light on Athlone.
The Westmeath gem in the very heart of the country can easily be accessed and explored in 24 hours - and you'll be home in time to get the Sunday night washing sorted.
The medieval town is a stone's throw from Clonmacnoise, a 6th Century monastic site on the banks of the Shannon, the Hill of Uisneach, and much more.
However, you won't have to stray far from the town centre itself to get your cultural fix - recently crowned Ireland's most romantic city, Athlone is also home to Ireland's oldest Bar, the marina is a hub of activity and there's art and history to beat the band.
Here's how we recommend you spend a 24-hour escape in the heart of Ireland.
Where to Stay
The Radisson Blu Hotel in Athlone is right on the pulse of the city's cultural heritage. Staying here gives you a feeling of truly being part of the place - the perfect spot for an urban retreat.
With views of the marina, Athlone Castle and battlements, the majestic Peter and Paul's Church and of course the River Shannon, it's an ideal base for any Athlone excursion - and you're never too far from your bed (key for a relaxing weekend break).
10am: Wake up to sweeping views of the town. Each room is equipped with a Nespresso machine, so take some time to enjoy your room after your cosy lie in.
Make yourself a coffee and enjoy watching the sun come up behind the castle while the marina comes to life below you.
11:30am: Brunch in the Quayside Bar and Lounge.
Because a 7am breakfast wakeup call is not everyone's cup of tea - The Quayside Bar and Lounge at The Radisson has recently started a delicious brunch menu for sleepy guests.
We recommend the Hawaiian Brunch - poached free-range eggs, smoked bacon, and avocado on sourdough.
Yes, basic. But if it ain't broke...
1pm: A Viking Tour down the river Shannon.
The Viking Ship tours run from the Quayside at the Radisson to Lough Ree, or further down river to Clonmacnoise.
Viking Mike will regale you with the area's storied past while you float down the river taking in the scenery and nursing an Irish Coffee from the onboard bar service. Heaven.
3pm: A light lunch at The Left Bank Bistro.
This Michelin-recommended deli-bistro is a short stroll from where the Viking Ship docks and the menu is to die for with stunning views of the castle. It's been named one of "Athlone's Culinary Gems" by the Fodor Guide and is a must-visit when you're in the area.
4pm: A tour of Athlone Castle Visitor Centre.
The 13th Century Castle has been brought to life with an immersive tour full of innovative tech including 360 cinematic experience of the Great Siege of Athlone.
If you're lucky you might catch one of the regular talks hosted at the site, or if you're planning a Christmas trip you might even bump into Santa.
5:30pm: A visit to Luan Gallery.
Just across the road from the castle you'll find Luan gallery - a haven of modern art showcasing the most interesting art from the midlands, Ireland and abroad.
No visit is the same as the shows rotate regularly throughout the year. To have a look at the lineup, head here.
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Today is the final post of the Luan’s Nollaig na mbán series, so it seems only fitting to finish out with the images that set this whole series in motion. In 2016 to commemorate the centenary of the 1916 Rising, the Luan Gallery hosted two exhibitions, the first being the ‘100’ exhibition. One of the artists displayed during this exhibition was @emmastroude . Visitors to this exhibitions will of course remember Emma’s striking charcoal portraitures against the red background along our River Gallery space. Seven of the portraits formed ‘The Easter Widows Series’ (2014); portraits depicting seven women widowed by the executions following the events of Easter 1916. The other portrait, ‘Constance’ was a portrait of Countess Constance Markievicz. 2019 has been an incredibly busy year for Emma. Her work embarked on an international tour as part of Hamilton Gallery Exhibition, ‘St.Brigid’s Day’, and was showcased in galleries across NY, Berlin and NY. If that wasn’t enough, she was also featured in the RHA annual exhibition, Cairde Visual at The Model, Boyle Arts Festival, had a solo exhibition at the Kildare Gallery, Maynooth and won the Cosgrove’s Delicatessen Award. We hope you have enjoyed this celebration of female artists, and a brief glimpse into a handful of our past exhibitions. #nollaignamban #luannollaignamban #artgallery #luangallery #charcoal #decadeofcentenaries #easterrising
6pm: A whiskey in Sean's Bar.
It wouldn’t be a trip to Athlone without a visit to Sean’s Bar, Ireland’s oldest pub, where you can settle in to the watering hole for the afternoon sipping on a pint, you’ll find live music seven days a week, or you can give their very own whiskey a taste and learn about the history behind whiskey in Athlone.
8pm: Dinner at Elements Bistro followed by a cocktail in the lounge.
After a day chock full with activity, there's nothing nicer than settling in for dinner and drinks at the hotel and not moving for the night.
Elements Bistro at The Radisson has a concise but impressive dinner menu with something for everyone.
Steak-lovers will be impressed with the juicy rib-eye served with green peppercorn & Jameson Whiskey sauce, grilled field mushrooms, and beer-battered onion rings. Delicious.
Tip in to the lounge for a nightcap and some live music before heading off to bed on a full belly.
If this sounds good to you then now is the time to book into The Radisson. For more information or to book, head here.