County Westmeath is often overlooked by tourists simply because it's tucked away in the exact centre of the country, far from the coasts or the booming cities of Dublin and Galway. But for those with a day or two to spare and the ambition to wander off the main circuit find a few rewarding drives and warm hospitality in Westmeath.
Athlone is Westmeath's principal town. It resides over the county from the very centre of Ireland, balancing capital-city infrastructure and small-town atmosphere. The M6 leads directly in from Dublin, and a network of secondary roads also converges here. To the north, Lough Ree feeds the River Shannon, which divides the town cleanly in half. Athlone Hotels like The Prince of Wales are among the best in County Westmeath. The innovative restaurants and lounges in these hotels drive the local nightlife.
With car rental in County Westmeath, you can escape Athlone by day and explore Lough Ree. It's dotted with dozens of islands that once hosted monastic communities. Ancient Viking settlements are also in the mix. If you'd rather bask in the natural environs, consider booking a room at Glasson Hotel and Golf Club, just a few kilometres north of Athlone. Glasson's spirited pubs, small crowds and lake scenery make it hard to top.
You can also take an afternoon to drive around Mullingar, a regional hub with superb angling and ties to James Joyce. There's no airport in County Westmeath, so you'll have to arrive overland. Trains connect from Dublin (1 hour, 45 minutes) and Galway (1 hour, 15 minutes). County Westmeath car hire can be picked up at the railway station in Athlone.