Take three days to discover the lush countryside, mystical sites and stately mansions along the Royal Canal.
Day 1: Mullingar and beyond
Start your day at Red Earth, a wonderful food hall that also serves great breakfasts. Then it's time to go exploring. Mullingar is almost completely encircled by the Royal Canal and everywhere you go in town, you'll find yourself just a short walk from the water.
Head to the Activity Zone in the fine old canal harbour where you can embark on a guided kayak tour with Outdoor Sports. As you glide through the sun-dappled waters, past grassy banks and beneath old stone bridges, you'll discover a world of tranquil beauty. A few hours will take you as far as Mary Lynch's, a charming traditional pub where you can enjoy a hearty lunch and watch the comings and goings on the canal.
For a change of pace, hire bicycles from Mullingar Bike Hire (you can pick them up outside the pub) and follow the towpath back to town. Then it's time for a relaxing dinner in the Old House Restaurant at Annebrook House Hotel – the steaks are particularly good – before finishing up with a pint and live music in Danny Byrne's pub.
Day 2: Georgian grandeur by the water's edge
There's a reason the locals love Belly Café – the breakfasts are legendary. Choose between huevos rancheros or the Full Belly cooked breakfast and you'll be set for anything the day can throw at you.
The first stop on your tour is Belvedere House, a Georgian villa with a stunning situation on the shores of Lough Ennell. Take a tour of the house, walk the woodland trails and gaze up at the forbidding Jealous Wall – a towering folly created by the Earl of Belvedere to hide his brother's much larger house from view. There's a nice restaurant in the visitor's centre so it's the ideal spot to have some lunch and relax.
Then it's off to Castletown House in County Kildare – the largest Palladian mansion in Ireland and a real showstopper. Castletown's opulent interior is a hymn to 18th century taste and culture – all elaborate rococo plasterwork and silk wall hangings. Its façade, however, is pure classical elegance and the grounds, with walks along the River Liffey, are a joy to explore.
On your way back to Mullingar, stop into another Georgian gem – the Johnstown Estate, a fine country house that is now a luxury hotel and spa. A meal in the Fire and Salt restaurant here is a real treat.
Day 3: Sacred sites and ancient pathways
By now, you've probably realised that there's no better way to start the day than with a good Mullingar breakfast. Try Chocolate Brown, quirkily located in what used to be an old bank – they've even incorporated the old safes into cosy seating areas. Then, once you've loaded up on coffee and pastries you'll be ready for your walking tour of the Hill of Uisneach. Located about 20 minutes drive from Mullingar, this is one of Ireland's most important historical sites. Your guide will tell you about Uisneach's fascinating past as a meeting place for kings and queens and point out its many archaeological features, which include a ring fort and a number of megalithic tombs.
Take a moment to stop at the highest point, known as St Patrick's Bed. On a clear day, it's said you can see 20 counties from this spot.
Once you've descended from the heights of Uisneach, head towards the pretty village of Abbeyshrule in County Longford and enjoy lunch at the Rustic Inn. Your next stop is another ancient wonder – the Corlea Trackway. Housed in a climate-controlled visitor centre, this Iron Age bog road dates from 148 BC and is thought to have been a ceremonial route used by royalty traveling from Rathcroghan in County Roscommon to the Hill of Uisneach.
Follow the Royal Canal to its end at Richmond Harbour in Cloondara and enjoy a quiet pint in the Richmond Inn, the perfect spot for weary travellers to end their journey.