The stunning Achill Island is one of the most breath-taking places to visit in Mayo.
Achill is the largest of the Irish Isles, located on the west coast of County Mayo, a stone’s throw from the lively town of Westport.
Although it’s an island, it’s easily accessible by road thanks to the Michael Davitt Bridge. It’s a strong Irish-speaking region with breathtaking scenery, beaches and villages.
In the guide below, you’ll discover everything from things to do on Achill to places to stay and much more.
Some quick need-to-knows before visiting Achill
Although a visit to Achill Island in Mayo is fairly straightforward, there are a few need-to-knows that’ll make your visit that bit more enjoyable.
Achill Island is a rural retreat on Ireland’s west coast, in extreme west County Mayo. It is separated from the mainland by the Achill Sound with a bridge. The nearest towns of any size are Westport and Castlebar (50km and 60km away respectively).
2. Endless things to do
It’s surprising how many things there are to do on Achill Island. This remote island is steeped in 5000 years of history with megalithic tombs and forts. High cliffs and peat bogs provide hikers with many spectacular views and wildlife encounters while pubs and restaurants offer great seafood, live music and craic.
3. How to get to Achill Island
You need a car to get around Achill Island but you can get to the area by car (N5 motorway), plane, train or bus. Achill is 75 minutes’ drive from Ireland West Airport Knock (IATA Code NOC). Rail services run from Dublin to Westport and Castlebar and there’s a national bus service.
About the incredible Achill Island
Achill Island has a population of around 2500 in several coastal communities including Keel, Dooagh and Dugort. It’s a wonderful place for hikers, foodies, historians and beach lovers.
Achill topography and terrain
Jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean, this western point of County Mayo covers over 36,500 acres although 87% of it is peat bog.
Achill’s 128km coastline includes stunning sandy coves and the highest sea cliffs in Ireland on the north side of Croaghaun Mountain, 688m above sea level.
These are also the third highest cliffs in Europe, and nearly three times higher than the more famous Cliffs of Moher in Clare.
Achill is a Gaeltacht stronghold with many locals speaking Irish as well as English. Traditional sports abound including Gaelic football and hurling along with golf, fishing, surfing and all types of watersports.
Things to do on Achill
So, as there’s an almost endless number of places to visit here, we’ve created a dedicated guide to the best things to do on Achill Island.
Below, you’ll find a quick overview of what there is to see and do (here’s the full guide!).
1. The Atlantic Drive
When it comes to scenic drives, the Atlantic Drive on Achill Island takes some beating. Ignore the Currane Loop and start from Michael Davitt Bridge. The route is well signposted as you head to Kildavnet church and tower house.
The road from Cloughmore to Dooega offers some of the most spectacular coastal scenery in Ireland and is not to be rushed! View the uninhabited island of Achillbeg, Dún na Glaise promontory fort and Clare Island before ascending steeply to look down on rocky Ashleam Bay, a famous Achill landmark. Atlantic Drive continues through Dooega to Minaun Heights (466m) and dramatic views of Keel before completing the loop.
2. Beaches Galore
Neighbouring Keel Beach (Trawmore Strand) is popular for its surf school and watersports while Dooega Beach is a sheltered summer resort for families.
Dugort is home to two beaches – the main Dugort Beach which hosts the annual New Year’s Day dip for hardy locals and beautiful Golden Strand, 2km east.
3. The Croaghaun Sea Cliffs
The Croaghaun cliffs are a dramatic sight, towering 688 metres above the churning Atlantic waves. The sheer cliffs are the highest in Ireland but are inaccessible by road. You can hike along the cliff top from Keem Bay or view them by boat from the sea.
Look out for the peregrine falcons (fastest diving birds on earth) that nest on the cliffs and the dolphins, whales and basking sharks that inhabit the sea below.
With its sandy beaches, freshwater lake and Blue Flag waters, Achill Island is a great destination for watersports enthusiasts. Keel Strand is the place to head for surfing with easy access, surf school and equipment hire.
The 3km bay is good for windsurfing although novices may prefer the less choppy waters on nearby Keel Lake. It’s a top spot for canoeing, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding and kitesurfing. Snorkellers and scuba divers can explore the Blueway Marine Trails and Achill is known for its sea angling and shark fishing.
5. The Great Western Greenway
Although the Great Western Greenway does not continue onto Achill Island, the 42km rail trail is a fantastic way to reach Achill Island on foot or bicycle. The traffic-free Greenway runs from Westport to Achill.
It’s the longest off-road trail in Ireland, following the former railway which closed in 1937. The trail runs through the pretty villages of Newport and Mulranny offering scenic coastal views for most of the route.
Achill Island accommodation
Achill Island has all types of accommodation for visitors, from village inns and scenic AirBnbs to historic hotels in harbour-front villages.
In our Achill accommodation guide, you’ll find some that should suit most budgets (if visiting during the summer, book as far in advance as you can, as accommodation gets snapped up quickly here).
Places to eat on Achill
Achill Island offers tasty cuisine from cosy cafés and pubs to upscale seafood restaurants. We’ll name-drop a few of our personal favourites here including The Cottage at Dugort for breakfast/brunch and the Hot Spot Takeaway on Main Street, Achill Sound which does pizzas, Indian and fast food for a quick lunch.
Pubs on Achill
Achill Island is worth visiting for the brilliant pubs alone with many old-school pubs racking up rave reviews. Search out brilliant Lynott’s Pub or the mighty Annexe Inn at Keel for Trad Nights.
FAQs about visiting Achill Island in Mayo
We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from can you drive over to Achill to what there is to see when you arrive.
In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.
Can you drive to Achill Island?
Yes! You can drive straight over to Achill Island thanks to a nice big bridge connecting the island to the mainland.
Can you stay on Achill?
Yes. However, accommodation on Achill, particurally during the summer months, can be hard to come-by.
Is there much to do on Achill?
There’s everything from beaches and watersports to hikes, walks and scenic drives that you can head off on.
How long do you need on Achill Island?
A minimum of 2.5 hours is need to see Achill. However, the more time the better. You could easily spend 2+ days here.
Gillian Birch is a travel writer and published author. She has travelled the world and uses her personal journals and memories to write about her many travel experiences, particularly those that involved adventures in Ireland.