After a stormy summers day when the clouds hung heavy in the sky, and fat raindrops began to fall, the sun was finally glistening, and the horizon could be seen again, offering outstanding views over a Clew Bay – far surpassing anything a tour bus-bound visitor would ever see.
County Mayo holds a special place in my heart and each time we visit, she generously reveals more hidden treasures. This is where my affection for mountains blossomed thanks to Croagh Patrick, and this is where our enduring love story with Ireland began.
By now we have visited Mayo, the third-largest county in Ireland, countless times and I can safely say – you don’t need to travel overseas to see amazing places, they can be found right here, along with the rugged Wild Atlantic Coast. The scenic views in Mayo go on for miles and every twist and turn on the single-track country road leads to more raw beauty.
Last year, we spent 5 full days exploring Achill Island and Mullet peninsula and absolutely loved every minute of it. The time we devoted to driving on far, and endless coastal roads through this part of the country were distinctive from all the other road trips because it thought us to appreciate what we have right on our doorstep.
And it was on this particular trip, captivated by the surrounding ocean and towering cliffs, we fell in love with the people, subtle colours and cold water surfing.
Before we set off from Sligo, we spent hours carefully examining maps, planning the route and various hikes along the coast.
Instead of visiting easy to get to places around Westport – a very charming town that’s alone worth at least a day from your itinerary – we craved to drive down the small coastal roads and wanted to see rural villages with unpronounceable names.
We created the list – a very long list – of the best things we wanted to see and do, packed our schedule as tight as we could and said yes to everything.
We started and ended our adventure in Westport, drove more than 500 km + 120 km back to Sligo, stumbled upon two beautiful lighthouses, hiked Croaghaun sea cliffs and Croagh Patrick mountain, explored and camped on Irelands largest island, had a chance to see Downpatrick Head, visited Ceide Fields and enjoyed Traditional Irish music in a local pub.
Ireland Travel Guide: 11 Fantastic Things To Do In Beautiful County Mayo
Are you planning to put on your walking boots or dust off your bike and indulge in an active countryside break where you can connect to nature? In this blog post, we are sharing a few places to visit if you wish to explore County Mayo.
What is going to make this trip even more exciting – when it comes to properly explore beautiful County Mayo, you have to leave the comfortable cocoon of your car behind and to reach all the mentioned spots in a post below you have to uncover the ground on foot, in a process becoming a more confident and more fearless traveller.
If you are considering a visit to wild and wonderful County Mayo – and you should – here is our pick for the top 10 places you have to see!
#1. Go for a stroll on Bertra beach
There are so many beautiful beaches in Mayo that it could be challenging to narrow it down to the top 5, let alone down to one. Some beaches are literally situated in the middle of nowhere, there are blue flag beaches and ones with a fantastic view of Croagh Patrick.
We picked Bertra beach located 12 km from Westport which is near Murrisk Village as the first stop on our whirlwind trip around Mayo. This beach is popular with bird watchers, kite surfers and there’s a lifeguard on duty during the summer month.
Sun was trying to poke through the white fluffy clouds as we slowly walked along the sandy outcrop and enjoyed incredible views of Clare island to the west and Westport to the east.
If visiting beautiful places in Ireland has taught me anything, it’s to be appreciative of how incredible yet vulnerable the world around us is.
So, why not take up beach clean each time you visit one of Ireland’s beautifully unspoiled beaches? Created by Martin Dorey, #2MinuteBeachClean is a citizen initiative sponsored by the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government.
#2. Explore Achill Island and see the Keem Bay
As we stood in the presence of turquoise blue waters surrounded by Croaghaun Mountain on one and Benmore cliffs on the other side, we realised how fortunate we are to call Ireland our home.
Keem Strand is located on the largest island off the coast of Ireland-Achill Island, easily accessible via a small bridge, and to get to the Keem Bay, you have to drive over a scenic clifftop road while watching out for wandering sheep.
The beach itself radiates pure tranquillity and on a sunny summer day can effortlessly rival those of the Mediterranean. To really appreciate the Keem bay and surrounding area, you can go on a hike to explore nearby Croaghaun cliffs (688 metres or 2,257 ft) where Irelands highest corrie lake Bunnafreva Lough West can be found, because it doesn’t really get any wilder and serene than this.
#3. Admire Blacksod Lighthouse
Situated on the southern end of the Mullet Peninsula and build in 1864, Blacksod Lighthouse isn’t open to the public, but it is still operating today. The lighthouse played a vital role during WW2 and if you plan on visiting this isolated place expect fantastic views – weather permitting – of Achill Islands hills and beyond.
The road from Bellmullet, with the road signs displayed in Irish Gaelic, to a sturdy looking lighthouse makes for a lovely drive if you are in the area – there’s a little fishing harbour with lobster pots stored on one side of it and if you are interested, guided day trips, weather permitting, can be arranged to the nearby Iniskea Islands.
#4. Hike along Carrowteige cliffs
Carrowteige is a very small Irish speaking village situated in the remote northwest corner of County Mayo. One of the main reasons people visit this place is to go on a Carrowteige Loop Walk.
The trail brings hikers all the way to natural sea stacks towering out of the North Atlantic called The Stags of Broadhaven. It is said they are somewhat between 650 and 950 million years old.
This is one of the finest stretches of the coast in Mayo with wild and unfenced cliffs. In total there are three varieties of walks to choose from, and all of them go through boggy terrain and open grassland. Good walking boots with ankle support, a rain jacket as well as water and snacks is a must.
- The blue arrow is the Children of Lir loop walk, one we would highly recommend – 10km in length, very well signposted, takes around 2.5 hours to complete and starts from the car park at Carrowteiges summer school beside Garvin’s store.
- The red arrow is for the 13 kilometres long Black Ditch Loop that is yet another stunning and rewarding wild coastal walk across the windswept landscape. Allow three hours to complete the walk.
- The green arrow walk is the shortest of the three walks yet offer equally stunning views.
#5. Stand on the summit of Ireland’s Holy and Sacred mountain, Croagh Patrick
Every year on the last Sunday in July tens of thousands of people gear up at the foothill of Croagh Patrick mountain soaring 762m above sea level. The Reek Sunday draws in around 25, 000 hikers and pilgrims. Some climb it to be redeemed from the sins, some do it to be part of the tradition and ritual.
Legend has it that after Saint Patrick’s fasting for forty days, he threw a silver bell down the side of the Croagh Patrick mountain knocking the she-demon Corra from the sky into a lake, sited at the base of the mountain on the southern side known locally as Lough na Corra, ultimately banishing all the snakes from Ireland.
By now we have stood on the iconic summit, providing fantastic views of the nearby Clew Bay, five times. The first part of the walk is relatively straightforward: a well-trodden rocky path going uphill. The second part of the trail is much harder as the slope is steep, exposed to wind and covered in the loose shingle.
If you are planning on hiking the mountain, don’t forget to pack enough water and food into your backpack as well as a good rain jacket and hiking boots.
#6. Explore Erris Head
We took advantage of the sunny weather and went for another invigorating walk over a bogland towards masculine-looking cliffs. The signposted trail – tucked away off the beaten track – started at the car park, and we had to climb over a stile to continue on a wet, grassy path.
Erris Head had this other worthy feel to it with subtle colours and incredible sea arches, and by far was one of the wildest and windiest places we’ve visited.
The length of the Erris Head loop walk is 5 km, and it took us just about two hours to complete, and due to the nature of the walk that follows a trail through working farmland where livestock is present, no dogs are allowed on this walk.
The trailhead can be easily reached from Bellmullet, just head north on R313 toward Sráid An Phiarsaigh and onto L1201 and follow the signs from Erris Head.
To manage the mucky trail, wear quality hiking boots with a good grip and wear appropriate clothing.
#7. Be stunned by Downpatrick Head
Nothing really prepared us for when Downpatrick Head came into sight when we cautiously approached the cliff edge. Just a few miles from Ballycastle and Ceide Fields Neolithic Site huge and lone sea stack stands firm and steady in the Atlantic ocean.
It’s a long walk out to the site from the spacious car park, but it’s free, wild and extremely dramatic. Once you arrive, make sure to walk around to see the rock column from different angles.
Called Dún Briste, meaning broken fort, is 45 metres high sea stack and is rather a spectacular site to visit at any time of the year, be it on a crisp and clear autumn day, during the spring storms or on a warm summer evening.
#8. Visit Ballyglass Lighthouse
Seasons come and go, but some things stay the same, like my fascination for lighthouses. I was delighted to find out there is another one in the area. Ballyglass Lighthouse (often referred to as Broadhaven Lighthouse) is situated on the northeastern tip of the Mullet Peninsula.
We hopped out of the car and found the lighthouse hiding behind red gates with a ‘Caution, No Entry’ sign in front of it.
However, there’s a little path that circles along the walls surrounding the lighthouse, but watch your step as it’s quite close to the cliff edge in some places.
#9. Cycle the Great Western Greenway
The longest off-road cycling trail in Ireland, Great Western Greenway is 42 km in length connecting Westport town and Achill Island. Our personal favourite stretch of the trail is from Mulranny to Achill Sound- it’s a very scenic, easy and only 13 km bike ride, that ends on one of the most beautiful beaches in Ireland.
Bike rentals are available in towns along the route Westport, Newport, Mullranny and Newport including which means you don’t have to cycle the whole way and can just pick one section of the Great Western Greenway.
#10. Visit Westport Town
A lovely heritage town situated right on the wild Atlantic way where you can wander little alleyways, peek behind the colourful facades of pubs that hide a sprawling world of late-night Irish music sessions and dimly lit interiors, and walk across the Doris brother bridge that’s named after two brothers who founded the Mayo news in 1892.
The biggest attractions in Westport is Westport House and Grounds, Clew Bay Heritage Centre and many shops specialising in the best Irish Craft and Design.
While in town, make sure you also sample one of Mescan Breweries creations; be it stout, blond beer or red tripel.
#11. Go surfing
Learning to surf is a great and fun way to spend a morning or even half of the day. All you need to do is to bring a towel, swimsuit and your sense of adventure – the rest is provided by the surf school.
This includes suitable board and wetsuit – yes, in Ireland, they are a must – a qualified surf instructor and whenever needed-transportation to the beach. You’ll be able to have fun and also learn about standing up, paddling, wave timing and placement, wave selection and surf etiquette.
You don’t have to be in an excellent physical condition to take up a surfing lesson but learning to surf in the long term, you have to commit to a healthy lifestyle and plenty of exercises to strengthen your physical form.
How to get to County Mayo
County Mayo is located at Irelands West Coast and the driving distance from Dublin to Westport is just over 3 hours (Dublin-Mullingar-Castlebar-Westport, via N5).
In Ireland, driving is on the left side, you must always wear a seatbelt and watch your speed limit. It’s also a good idea to familiarise yourself with the road signs in Ireland.
Travelling around County Mayo – or any other place in Ireland for that matter – with a car is the best way as it gives you an option to make last-minute changes to your itinerary and rewards you with the freedom to travel where you want.
- From Dublin |Driving distance from Dublin to Westport is 253km. Take Chapelizod Bypass/R148 to N4 in South Dublin and then just follow M4, N4 and N5 to Distillery Rd in Westport.
- By public transport | There are no organised tours from Dublin to Mayo, so, if you don’t have a car, public transport is your other option. Trains depart daily for Westport from Dublin Heuston station, and Bus Éireann operates from Dublin city
- To Achill Island | Travelling to Achill Island by public transport will take some time, effort and a little bit of planning. But fear not, Bus Éireann provide service to Achill from Westport (Bus number 440, Monday to Sunday).
- From Sligo | County Mayo can be easily reached from Sligo with Westport town only a 100 km away. Follow the fastest route and get on N4 followed by N17 and N5.
Where to stay in Mayo
If you are looking for a place to stay on your road trip around County Mayo, you’ll be spoilt for choice.
Given Westport’s popularity with holidaymakers and weekend explorers, you’ll find lots of accommodation options including hostels, riverside apartments and family-owned hotels.
Have you ever dreamed about staying the night in a lighthouse? Clare Island lighthouse offers comfy beds and stunning views.
Pure Magic Lodge, situated on Achill Island, is a wonderful place to meet other travellers, have a good nights sleep and learn to kitesurf.
Waterfall Cottage with a fully equipped kitchen, wood-burning stove and comfortable rooms is a beautiful riverside cottage located in a peaceful setting just 20 miles from Westport.
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Now, over to you!
Did we convince you to visit County Mayo? Let us know in the comments below!
Let us know if you are plotting a visit to County Mayo and have travel-related questions!