Achill Island is one of the best places to visit in Ireland if you want to experience the beauty of the Wild Atlantic Way, traditional Irish culture and good craic all in one place! Located off the coast of the mainland of Ireland, Achill should be on your travel bucket list when visiting the West.
Achill island in Co. Mayo is a jewel in the crown of Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way. With beautiful secluded beaches, the highest sea cliffs in Ireland, and the iconic Keem Bay, the island is the perfect place for a getaway. One of our favourite locations in the West of Ireland, Achill Island was also shortlisted by The Irish Times as one of the top 5 best places to holiday in Ireland.
Colin Farrell won ‘best actor’ at the Venice film festival for his role in the ‘Banshee of Inisherin’. The movie was filmed on location in Achill island, which certainly added to its charm.
In this article we will explore everything that Achill Island has to offer as well as practical advice for your stay. We will do this by giving you 5 main reasons why you should visit Achill Island.
General Information for your stay at Achill Island
How to get to Achill Island
Achill is accessible by road via the Michael Davitt Bridge so you can drive over at any time. Here are the drive times from popular destinations in Ireland to the island:
- Dublin to Achill Island: 4 hours
- Shannon Airport to Achill Island: 4 hours
- Belfast to Achill Island: 5 to 6 hours
- West Airport Knock to Achill Island: 75 minutes
West Airport Knock is a great destination to fly into if possible. Located in the East of Mayo, the airport is close to all of the best attractions in the West of Ireland. You can organise car rental options before you arrive and you will avoid the busy traffic and motorway journeys from larger cities.
There are also rail services available from Dublin to Castlebar and Westport. You can then get a bus from either town in Mayo to Achill Island. Boats to and from Clare island to Achill can be organised if you wish to do a bit of exploring during your stay!
Getting around Achill Island
It is generally recommended to travel around the island by car, but you can also rent a bike or travel on the bus which operates seasonally. There are taxi services also available. A car will give you the most freedom during your stay, especially outside of the summer season when some public transport services are limited or unavailable.
Where to stay on Achill Island
Accommodation in Achill Island
There are plenty of accommodation options on the island, from an extensive selection of B&B’s, hostels, and guesthouses to self catering options. You may choose to go camping or stay in a caravan during your time in Achill. There are also hotels in Achill Island for those wishing to relax in the evenings. You can find out more about all of the types of accommodation as well as eating and drinking options on the official Achill Tourism website.
Achill is a very tourist friendly destination, the locals are the best guide to any area and make up the majority of the staff working in the service sector. Your barman, receptionist or waiter can give you great tips about the island, such as the best things to do and the best times to visit places of interest.
#1. Why You Should Visit Achill Island – The Wild Atlantic Way
Achill Island is at the heart of the Wild Atlantic Way. If you are taking the coastal road trip I would highly recommend visiting Achill for a day, or even a weekend. The small island encompasses everything that is great about the Wild Atlantic Way including traditional Irish pubs and food, friendly seaside towns, stunning coastal views, the beautiful Irish countryside, historic sites and a magical atmosphere that you can’t get anywhere else in the world.
#2. Why You Should Visit Achill Island – Beaches on Achill Island
On a fine Summer’s day there is nowhere more perfect than Achill’s beaches; the crystal clear water and soft sand will make you forget you’re in Ireland. One of the best things about Irish beaches is that they are much more secluded than in other countries – you may have a whole beach to yourself when you visit!
Achill has 5 blue flag beaches
- Keem Bay Beach
- Tramore Strand beach
- Silver Strand beach
- Golden Strand beach
- Dooega Beach
There is also a sixth blue beach nearby in Mulranny, the village which connects Achill Island to the mainland. The Blue Flag scheme is an international standard that recognises the cleanest beaches with the best water quality, environmental education management and safety services
Keem Bay was named the best Wild Swimming Spot in the UK and Ireland, and is located at the western tip of Achill Island. Nestled in between the slopes of Croaghaun mountain and Moyteoge Head, Keem Bay is the most popular beach for tourists due to its picturesque views and secluded atmosphere.
Keem Bay is almost uninhabited (the only building there is a former coastguard station) and it’s a very peaceful retreat; you’ll feel as though you are sitting on an exotic beach on a warm summers day.
In terms of activities, the bay is very popular for water sports and there are surfing schools in the local area. The beach is lifeguarded during the bathing season and more information can be found on the notice boards located at the beach. You can even try snorkelling on the Bluewater Trail at the bay!
The bay has a strong connection with fishing. It was the location for much of Achill’s shark fishing industry during the 1950s and 1960s. At that time the basking shark was a frequent visitor to the waters around Keem Bay and was hunted for its liver oil. Much of this fishing took place in currach’s, the traditional canvas-covered wooden vessels of the west of Ireland.
One of the best known and most photographed beaches in Achill, Trawmore beach (also known as Keel Beach) stretches 3km and is located at the foot of the Minaun Cliffs. The beach is popular with bathers and for water sports such as surfing and kayaking.
Important to know: The waters on the eastern half of the beach are dangerous due to treacherous local currents. Lifeguards usually patrol during the summer season and there are prominent safety notices that you should read before swimming in the sea. Avoid swimming in the sea if lifeguards are not on duty.
Silver Strand Beach & Golden Strand Beach
On the north side of the island, the village of Dugort has two beautiful beaches. Both beaches face Backsod Bay and the Belmullet Peninsula.
The Blueway kayak trail is located in this area; visitors can paddle from Silver Strand to Golden Strand. You will see seal caves and bird colonies during your stay!
Dooega is a picturesque fishing village which overlooks Clare island and the Atlantic ocean beyond. The beach at Dooega is called Camport Bay. There are many historic sites around the area, including two forts.
#3. Why You Should Visit Achill Island – Historical Sites on Achill Island
No trip to Westport or Mayo in general would be complete without a visit to Achill Island. The island was first inhabited almost 5,000 years ago and is the largest of all islands off the coast of Ireland. The people that have lived here for thousands of years have left their mark on the island. Below we have included some interesting locations you can visit.
Grace O’Malley’s Castle
Grace O’Malley or Granuaile was the pirate-queen of Ireland. Grace was born on the nearby Clare island. The 15th century Kildownet castle became one of the strongholds of the pirate queen. The National monument is a tower house.
The tower house provided protection and defence and was also an important strategic location for the pirate queen.
The castle is an impressive structure of four storeys high that dominates the otherwise untouched area.
Named after St Damhnait who founded a church there in the 7th century, Kildamhnait castle has a rich history. There is a holy well just outside the graveyard of the castle.
You can learn more about the history of Achill on the official tourism website, including a fascinating 17th century prophecy about the island’s former railway system that actually came true.
#4. Why You Should Visit Achill Island: An Island of Arts and Culture
Pubs and Food:
There are plenty of pubs, restaurants, cafés and takeaway options on the island. You will get to enjoy traditional Irish dishes with the best of local produce and catch, as well as all of the modern dishes you would expect. Achill was an island of farmers and fishermen throughout the centuries and the delicious meals in Achill are evidence of Ireland’s firm reputation of producing high quality food.
If you are living in a self-catering accommodation there is a supermarket on the island for your convenience.
To add to its cuisine, County Mayo organises The Achill Seafood Festival in mid-summer around July, which offers the best delicious gourmet seafood in Ireland with plenty of restaurants and pubs participating in events.
Arts and Culture:
Both organised and impromptu music sessions are held frequently in pubs on the island. Scoil Acla is a summer school that has taught traditional Irish music for over a century, so you can be sure to hear some great music during your stay!
If you are an experienced musician you are more than welcome to join in during the session! You can check out the Achill tourism’s weekly event listings to see what’s on during your stay!
#5. Why You Should Visit Achill Island – Things to do on Achill Island
Water Based Activities
Achill Island is most certainly a paradise for lovers of outdoor pursuits and water sports of all types. Popular water sports on Achill Island include swimming, windsurfing, surfing, kite surfing, kayaking and canoeing. Moreover, Achill Island also has Europe’s third-highest sea cliffs on the northern slope of Croaghaun Mountain. While cliff diving is very dangerous, they are simply amazing to just gaze at and admire.
There are plenty of water sport activities on the island, including canoe/kayaking lessons, coasteering, ferries and boat trips, kitesurfing, and surfing lessons.
There are a wide variety of fish species and marine features for scuba divers and snorkelers. The snorkelling experience at Achill is one we can’t wait to try!
With any water based activity make sure to be safe. Don’t attempt to go snorkelling or any partake in any other water based activity without professional supervision and assistance. Check lifeguard schedules and weather conditions before you enter the sea.
Land Based Activities
If you prefer to stay out of the water, why not go fishing or dolphin/shark watching. If dry land is more your style, you can hire a bike or play a few rounds of golf. There are also guided tours, hill walks and horse riding lessons available.
Achill’s Blueway, Greenway & Atlantic Drive
Achill’s Blueway network is a network of water trails at which you can experience a variety of water sports including kayaking and snorkelling.
The Greenway is a world class cycling and walking trail and the longest one in Ireland. The route follows a trail from Westport to Achill. In 2011 the Great Western Greenway was awarded the EDEN European Destination of Excellence Award for Sustainable Tourism.
The Atlantic Drive comprises over 20km of coastal scenery which is a perfect car or bike adventure. On the route for the Atlantic Drive you will spot the tower at Kildavnet, a 16th century Irish tower used by the legendary Pirate Queen Granuaile.
Courses and lessons
You can take surf lessons on the island at Achill’s Surf Activity Centre and there are a range of summer camps in Ireland.
We hope this article has encouraged you to visit Achill Island! There is so much to do in terms of water and land activities. life at Achill is relaxed, you can spend your days exploring the island or strolling the many Blue flag beaches at your own leisure. At night locals and tourists alike will flock into pubs to enjoy hearty meals, plenty of pints and great live music. If you want to experience traditional Irish life at its best, while still enjoying modern comforts, then Achill island is the place for you!
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