Achill Island is Ireland’s largest island and is one of those places where the sheep outnumber the people, which makes it a true gem in our eyes.
Not to mention, the island offers clean stretches of sandy beaches, including one that often makes the list of top European beaches.
Our visit to Achill Island was part of a longer Ireland trip with Globus Journeys, on their new Green with Envy: Ireland by Design itinerary. A trip that showcases a nice balance of the best places and lesser-known sides of the country.
As this itinerary is part of their Choice Touring line of trips, we had the opportunity to customize our stop in Westport with three different day trip options. One of those was a day of exploring Achill Island.
More from our Globus tour in Ireland:
Are you planning to spend more time in Ireland? Take a look at our comprehensive Ireland Travel Guide!
An Overview of Achill Island, Ireland
Table of Contents
Some Interesting Facts About Achill Island
With a population of almost 2,500 people, Achill Island is home to communities like Dugort, Keel, and Dooagh. The culture and landscape provide a great escape for lovers of food, history, and hiking.
Achill Island spans over 36,500 acres, with 87% of the landscape consisting of peat bog. The 128-kilometer coastline offers sandy covers and, on the north side of Croaghaun Mountain, the highest sea cliffs in all of Ireland.
At 688 meters above sea level, these cliffs are also the third highest in Europe and about 3 times as high as the Cliffs of Moher.
Moreover, Achill Island is steeped in Irish history and culture, being a Gaeltacht stronghold. The language, food, and sport are all a representation of Ireland and its culture and history.
Where is Achill Island Located in Ireland?
HOW TO USE THIS MAP: Above you’ll find a map of our highlights in Achill Island, Ireland. Click on the top left of the map to find separate layers marking the route and points of interest. You can hide and show different layers, or click icons on the map to see the names of places we mention in this travel guide. “Star” the map to save it to your own Google Maps, or open the map in a new window for a larger version.
Achill Island is located on the west coast of Ireland close to the towns of Westport, Newport, and Castlebar, and on the northwest coast of County Mayo. The closest major cities to Achill Island are Sligo and Galway, located about 60 kilometers from the island.
Achill Island forms part of the Wild Atlantic Way, which is a tourist trail that stretches along the Irish west coast from Donegal to Cork.
Key cities are quite far away from Achill Island, such as Galway (140 kilometers), Dublin (300 kilometers), and Cork (330 kilometers).
How To Get There
From Dublin, the drive to Achill Island takes about 4 hours and is reachable via the M6 and N5. The shortest route along the N5 will take you through Mullingar, Longford, Castlebar, and Newport.
From Galway, visitors are looking at a 2.5-hour drive along the N83 or N84. The N84 is slightly shorter, but not enough to make much difference overall. Along the way, tourists will see towns and cities such as Headford, Ballinrobe, Castlebar, Newport, and Mulranny.
If coming in from Westport though, tourists won’t see much of a drive. Located only 51 kilometers from Achill Island, it is an hour’s journey along the N59 and R319 through Newport, Burrishoole Abbey, and Mulranny.
As for public transport, trains will serve tourists as far as Westport only, with the remaining way to be made by bus. No matter which way you come, you’ll have to cross the 740-foot Michael Davitt Bridge to access Achill Island.
What To Expect From Visiting Achill Island?
Experience a magical place on Achill Island, with cascading auburn hills, beautiful beaches, placid waters, and magnificent mountains. The heather-filled fields of Achill Island are rife with megalithic tombs, ruins, peat bogs, and lots of sheep!
You’ll experience a genuine connection with Ireland’s natural beauty and an experience of culture and history like nowhere else.
Learn more about the Best Time to Visit Ireland in our month by month breakdown
How To Get Around on Achill Island
If staying on Achill Island, the best way to get around is to have your own car. While the island itself might not be that big, trekking on foot will take up a lot of time and energy.
Having a car allows visitors to come and go whenever they please and visit attractions and sights at a more personalized pace.
If tourists don’t want to rent a car and drive around themselves, then taxis and car services can be hired on a daily basis to drive you around wherever you want to go.
If personal transport puts too much of a dent in the budget, then tourists can try trekking around on foot and hitchhiking. Other visitors and tourists might help move you around, but chances are that it will be a very inconvenient holiday.
Alternatively, you can choose a group tour itinerary that visits Achill Island. This was how we did it. We booked a longer Ireland itinerary with Globus Journeys that gave the option to spend a full day on Achill.
Tips to Make Your Visit to Achill Island Smoother
Ireland is infamous for its weather! Make sure you’re always prepared with layered clothing, an umbrella or raincoat, a pair of firm comfortable sneakers with adequate ankle support, and lots of water.
It can rain at any time, making the weather cold and windy in a matter of minutes. Make sure your clothing and shoes (sneakers or boots are recommended) remain dry to protect against pneumonia and hypothermia.
The weather also has an impact on the amazing scenic views you find on the cliffs and peaks of Achill Island. Cloudy weather will most definitely block the view, so be sure to keep a close eye on weather reports to ensure that your trip to these spots isn’t in vain.
Best Things To Do on Achill Island, Ireland
You can’t visit Co. Mayo without learning the history and tales of the pirate queen Grace O’Malley. In the early 14th century, the O’Malley clan rose to power. They ruled the shores of Clew Bay and barony of Murrisk for over 300 years.
Grace would become the most famous of the O’Malley’s. She was born on Clare Island and was highly educated for the time. Despite her mother’s wishes, she defied the norms of the time and disguised herself as a man to live a life on the sea.
The 15th-century Kildavnet Tower House once served as home to Grace, and it’s possible to visit the tower that still stands. The tower served as a strategic spot, guarding the waters of Achill Sound that link to Clew Bay. It was one of several strongholds that were used to control the waters in the area.
White Cliffs of Ashleam
Achill Island is loaded with scenic vistas and dramatic landscapes, and one of the best places to take them in is the White Cliffs of Ashleam.
First, take the pullout that offers a scenic view of the white cliffs. here you’ll find an informational display with information about this site. Then you can make your way closer to the cliffs themselves.
Be sure to park at a pullout, not on the road, and then you can meander down closer. There are no marked hiking trails, but it’s a great place to enjoy a nice hike among the sheep.
Achill Island’s shores see a lot of heavy crashing waves, but that brings with it the reputation of a surfer’s paradise. Surfers prefer Keel Beach as the premiere surfer spot.
However, the other beaches also have coves with amazing waves for surfers to ride. Tourists who are into surfing will easily find a spot on the island to enjoy their favorite pastime.
The island also has a surf school called the Achill Surf School & Adventure Centre, located near Keel Beach. There are surf lessons for all experience levels and tourists can even rent wetsuits from the school.
If scenic bike rides are what tourists are looking for, then the cycling path running from the mainland to Achill is absolutely gorgeous. You get a closer look at the coastline than any car, and the unbelievably scenic views make for brilliant photo ops.
There are cycling routes all over the island, with three looped cycling routes, along with the final part of the 42km Great Western Greenway cycling route.
This route runs from Westport all the way to Achill Island. Stop in at Achill Bikes or the Clew Bay bike hire for a rental, maps, and tips to make the most of your bike adventures.
Cruise Along Atlantic Drive
There’s a waymarked road on Achill Island that is one of the most beautiful stretches of the famed Wild Atlantic Way. It is called Atlantic Drive, and it shows tourists the natural beauty of Achill Island in all its glory.
You’ll be visiting the most scenic parts of the island and visiting villages like Shraheens, Derreens, and Cloughmore. But be sure to take it slow and enjoy the scenic vistas and endless herds of sheep along the way.
Minaun Heights is a high peak on the island which overlooks Keel Beach, Keel Lake, and Blacksod Bay. You’ll find more scenic views and photo ops at this location and be able to appreciate the entire island’s beauty in one look.
The drive up to the peak is a bit inconvenient, with hairpin turns and flocks of sheep, but you have the option of hiking up to the top as well.
Kitesurfing and Watersports
Achill Island also has a rich kitesurfing and watersports culture. The water around the island offers some of the best conditions for kitesurfing found anywhere. Consistent winds, a mixture of waves and flat water, and ideal views offer a brilliant kitesurfing experience.
If you’re new to kitesurfing, you can even try it out on Keel Lake. The water is shallow and flat, making it a more comfortable experience for beginners.
If you visit the island and want to get into some kitesurfing, check out Pure Magic Watersports. They have amazing facilities with lessons, gear rental, and even a lodge for guests to stay at.
Keem Beach is located on the western end of the island within Keem Bay and is often named one of the best beaches in Europe.
While it was formerly a basking shark fishery, today it holds the status of being one of the Blue Flag beaches. This is an honor bestowed upon marinas and beaches that practice sustainability.
Keem Beach, with its clear turquoise water and golden sand, seems like a step into a tropical paradise. It is sheltered as well, being flanked by high cliffs on either side.
Tourists get to experience respite from the often blustery weather and take a laid-back beach stroll. Visitors can also pass the time by trying out some paddle boarding, kitesurfing, and many other water sports.
Achill Island and the Mayo Coast were once rife with shark hunting, especially during the 1950s and 60s. The number of sharks caught for their oil during this time period is pretty staggering.
Today, however, that has changed and the island acts as a great spot for watching these magnificent animals. Off Achill Island’s coast, visitors will get to see a great deal of wildlife, including dolphins and basking sharks.
Some great spots for watching dolphins and sharks in the area are Achill Island, Kilcummin Head, Downpatrick Head, Erris Head, and Annagh Head.
See the Slievemore Deserted Village
The island is also home to a deserted village that contains the ruins of 100 stone cottages from the neolithic, megalithic, and Bronze Age settlements. It’s a short walk from Keel Village and you can explore the structures up close.
There are also detailed signposts all around the site, offering a detailed history of the area.
Besides the Deserted Village, there remains of ruins and megaliths located throughout the island. This includes standing stones, like the one pictured above.
Achill Secret Garden
On the Island, tourists will also find the Achill Secret Garden. With 8 themed chambers and a boathouse where you can have something to eat, this beautiful garden is a must-visit location.
The garden is open only during the months of June, July, and August and you can only visit after making an appointment.
Attend the Achill Seafood Festival
With an island that is rooted so deeply in seafaring history, it is no surprise that they have a festival to celebrate it! The Achill Seafood Festival is an annual seafood festival typically held from July 1 to July 24 every year across the island.
Local restaurants that are already well-known for their seafood dishes, will offer up special menus during this time.
There is also a variety of local events such as a gala dinner, the Cailin Acla competition, and a sea angling tournament. The seafood festival also acts to kick off the Achill Yawl Festival which continues to run through September.
Come to Achill Island Hungry
Tourists will find a lot of eating options on Achill Island, from cafes and fast food to high-end seafood restaurants. Tourists will have no difficulty finding a place that fits their budget.
Some popular eateries on Achill Island include The Cottage at Dugort, the Hot Spot Takeaway on Main Street, Achill Sound, and The Diner at Bunacurry. Be sure you don’t leave Achill Island without trying some seafood chowder!
Visit the Pubs
Achill Island, and even Ireland as a whole, has a very rich pub culture. There are many traditional pubs on the island that have amazing reviews, such as Lynott’s Pub or the Annexe Inn at Keel.
The island’s pubs are where you’ll be able to interact with the locals the best. The atmosphere is always friendly, and the people are so friendly that tourists will have no problem making friends and getting the craic rolling. You’re also almost guaranteed to enjoy some live traditional Irish music.
A Few Other Things to Do
Along with the major things listed above, you might also want to check out these other things to do during your visit to Achill Island.
- Dugort Beach
- Camp at Achill Seal Caves – they also have an RV park
- Learn about famed Achill artist, Paul Henry
- Join a long-term program at the Achill Archaeological Field School
Our Green with Envy Ireland itinerary was part of a paid partnership with Globus Journeys. However, all opinions, stories, advice, and insane love for the Emerald Isle are 100% ours, as always.
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