12 Unforgettable Things To Do On Achill Island (Cliffs, Drives, Hikes + Pubs)

best things to do on Achill Island
Photos via shutterstock.com

If you’re in search of the best things to do on Achill Island in Mayo, you’ve landed in the right place.

Located on the west coast of island in County Mayo, Achill Island is Ireland’s largest offshore island, connected to the mainland by a bridge over Achill Sound.

The island is home to the incredible Keem Bay along with many other beautiful beaches and some of the finest walks in the land.

Our favourite things to do on Achill Island

Dolphins in clare
Photo by Tory Kallman (shutterstock)

The first section of this guide tackles our favourite things to do on Achill Island, like the hike up to the Croaghaun and the Atlantic drive.

1. Hike up to see the highest sea cliffs in Ireland (Croaghaun)

highest cliffs ireland
Photo by Junk Culture/shutterstock.com

Standing 688 metres (2,257 feet) above the angry Atlantic waves, Croaghaun Mountain has the highest sea cliffs in Ireland, which incidentally are also the third highest sea cliffs in Europe.

This epic cliff face stretches out into the Atlantic Ocean for almost 2000 feet (that’s over 600 metres in new money) and is simply jaw-dropping.

Inaccessible by road, you can reach the Cliffs of Croaghaun from the car park at Keem Bay and it’s a hike for the more experienced walkers (here’s a guide to the climb).

2. And soak up the views of Annagh Bay while you’re there

Achill island
Photo by Magnus Kallstrom/shutterstock.com

Annagh Bay is so off the beaten path, it actually isn’t recognised on most maps, which makes it one of the more unique beaches in Mayo.

It’s located northeast of Croaghaun facing Blacksod Bay and accessible only on foot or by boat. Needless to say the wild coastline and ocean views are unbeatable. There’s a freshwater lake at Annagh (Lough Nakeeroge East), another record breaker.

It’s the lowest corrie lake in Ireland at 16m above sea level. The beach is rocky with grey sand exposed at low tide if you’re up for a paddle. There are also interesting remains of a “booley” village nearby with a “beehive” hut and a megalithic tomb.  

3. Head for a stroll at Keem Bay at sunset

Achill Island beaches
Photo by Fishermanittiologico (Shutterstock)

Back at Keem Bay, the gorgeous clear emerald waters and white sand make it a postcard-pretty spot. Sheltered by the surrounding cliffs and hills, this east-facing beach has its own warm microclimate.

Stroll along at sunset and you’ll see why it’s one of our unforgettable things to do on Achill Island. Incidentally, Keem Bay is ranked #11 on the 50 Best Beaches in the World 2019. 

4. And keep an eye out for dolphins and sharks

Dolphins in clare
Photo by Tory Kallman (shutterstock)

Keem Bay was once the hub for a basking shark fishery and sharks and larger sea mammals still feed in the area.

Basking sharks are the second largest in the shark family and 6-metre-long specimens are frequently spotted by local fishermen and overhead drones.

The calm clear bay waters make it easy to spot these large creatures although, unlike other family members, they actually feed on plankton.  

5. See a good chunk of the island on the Atlantic Drive (or cycle)

achill island
Photo © The Irish Road Trip

Achill Island is an important part of the Wild Atlantic Way and one of the most scenic things to do on Achill is hike or cycle 21km along the southwest coast of the island to Achill Head.

Encounter stunning remote scenery with majestic mountains, clear lakes, long-forgotten crofts and sandy bays along the way.

Other popular things to do in Achill

Great Western Greenway mayo
Photos via Shutterstock

Now that we have our favourite things to do on Achill Island out of the way, it’s time to see what else the island has to offer.

Below, you’ll find everything from hikes and walks to the brilliant Great Western Greenway and much, much more.

1. Spend a rainy afternoon at Achill Experience Aquarium and Visitor Centre…

Photo of sea animal in Aquarium
Photo via Achill Experience Aquarium and Visitor Centre on Facebook

Just after passing Keel Beach, hang a right and visit the Achill Experience Aquarium. You can’t miss it – it’s painted like an underwater world, which indeed it is!

The Visitor Centre is a good place to lose yourself (and the kids) on a rainy day. It is packed with information about Achill’s Island’s past and present and Mayo’s only Aquarium has 16 tanks of colourful marine life. 

2. And a rainy evening at Lynott’s Pub or the Amethyst Bar

2 photos of places to eat in achill
Photo left : By Lynott’s Pub. Photo right : By Amethyst Bar. (on Facebook)

Still raining? Venture into Keel and visit the beautifully presented bar and restaurant at The Amethyst, once visited by John Lennon and Yoko Ono in1967 (not a lot of people know that!).

For a more unusual evening, head to the tiny Lynotts micropub in Cashel. Not for the introverted, the pub has no radio, no TV and no food but the lively music and debate more than makes up for it!

3. Head for an early morning saunter on Keel Beach

keel beach achill
Photo © The Irish Road Trip

Keel Beach (not to be confused with neighbouring Keem Beach) is long, flat, sandy and is a surfer’s paradise.

In fact, if you take a walk along the sand you’ll probably be outnumbered 10:1 by surfers, windsurfers and swimmers. Bring your swimsuit and you’ll fit right in!

Keel Beach was home to artist Paul Henry in the early 1900s and has stunning views of the Mlweelaun Cliffs and the rock stacks known as The Bills. 

4. Admire the mighty Ashleam Bay from the grass above

achill island aerial photo
Photo © The Irish Road Trip

Ashleam Bay is one of the landmark Discovery Points of the Wild Atlantic Way. This pebbly cove, sometimes known as Portnahally, is surrounded by scarred cliffs rising 30 metres.

It occasionally has a sandy beach when tides carry it in (and out again!). The clifftop viewpoint offers panoramic views in all directions and is one of the most memorable things to do in Achill.

5. Cycle the Great Western Greenway back out to Westport

Great Western Greenway mayo
Photos via Shutterstock

One of the legs of the Great Western Greenway is from Achill Island to Westport, a super-scenic 42km on a waymarked off-road cycle and walking trail. It goes through Mulranny and Newport (good places to take a break) and is suitable for those with moderate fitness levels. It’s do-able in one day by bike (4 to 5 hours) but hikers should allow at least 10 hours for the total route, plus stops.

6. Try your hand at watersports

kayaking along the Irish coast
Photo by Sharasaur on shutterstock.com

Packed with things to do, Achill Island is an outdoor adventure paradise with five Blue Flag Beaches and a gorgeous freshwater lake at Keel. Go surfing at Keel Strand (board hire and lessons available, so no excuses) or try sea kayaking.

Keel Lake is perfect for canoeing, windsurfing and kitesurfing as well as stand-up paddleboarding. The ocean is popular for boating, snorkelling and scuba diving, and if you want to stay dry, try sea angling!  

7. See Grace O’Malley’s Castle

castles near galway city
Photo © The Irish Road Trip

You’ll find Grace O’Malley’s Castle (the Pirate Queen) on the south east of the island, where it’s stood proudly since the 15th century.

The tower, which is one of the lesser-known Irish castles, stands at around 40 feet in height and it’s believed to have been built by the O’Malley Clan around 1429. There’s a little bit of parking right next to it.

FAQs about the best things to do on Achill Island

We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from what is there to do on the island when it’s raining to where to get the best views.

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.

What are the best things to do on Achill Island?

Try the Atlantic Drive, ramble along Keem and Keel, soak up mighty views from the hill over Keem, climb over to the Croaghaun Cliffs.

What are the best walks on Achill Island?

It’s very hard to beat the walk up to Croaghaun Cliffs on a clear day, as the views are incredible (these are the highest sea cliffs in Ireland).

What is there to see on Achill Island if you only have half a day?

A half day is a decent chunk of time to see some of the more popular things to do on Achill island, like Keem, Keel, the Atlantic Drive and more.

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.

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