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How to visit Croagh Patrick without a car
Pack your hiking boots and brave the heights of Croagh Patrick.
Nicola BradyNicola Brady is a travel writer based in Dublin. She writes regularly for the Irish Independent, The Irish Times and Condé Nast Traveller, and has contributed to books on Dublin and Ireland for DK Eyewitness.
It isn’t the highest mountain in Ireland, but Croagh Patrick may well be the most famous. There are over 3,000 years of history on this peak, dating back to neolithic times when it was considered a sacred site. The Celts worshipped the sun god Lugh here, and in AD 441 St Patrick fasted on the mountain for 40 days and 40 nights, which is why pilgrims still climb Croagh Patrick, or the Reek, on the last Sunday in July, known as Reek Sunday. History aside, Croagh Patrick makes for an excellent hike – on a clear day, the views over Clew Bay are exceptional, with 365 islands laid out before you. While the rough terrain at the summit traditionally made it a tough climb, a brand-new system of steps at the top has made the Reek a lot more manageable.

And it’s easy to get there from Westport without a car, too. If you want to give it a go, here’s how.

Head to Murrisk

The Bus Eireann 450 bus (six a day, 20 minutes) goes from Mill Street in the middle of Westport right to the entrance of the visitor centre at Croagh Patrick. It’s a beautiful drive, going through the harbour and along the edge of the water – sit on the right-hand side of the bus and you’ll get great views of the bay and the gorgeous houses along its edge.

When you arrive at Murrisk, the car park is on your left and the visitor centre is just beyond, where you can buy a walking stick if you need one and use the toilets before you get cracking. Though the gradient makes climbing Croagh Patrick strenuous, there are no issues with navigation – all you do is follow one pathway up to the shoulder and along to the summit. In all likelihood, you won’t be climbing alone, so you can chat with your fellow walkers and encourage each other along.

Hikers on Craogh Patrick in Co Mayo
Start your ascent of impressive Croagh Patrick.

While some pilgrims do still climb Croagh Patrick barefoot, it’s far safer to do so in a sturdy pair of hiking boots. Make sure you bring enough water and snacks with you, and some warm layers – the top of the mountain is a few degrees cooler than the bottom, and the wind brings an additional chill factor. For most people, the full climb takes around three to four hours.

Right at the start of the climb, just after you walk through the gate and past the white statue of St Patrick, you’ll see a series of large rocks with a green tinge – look closely and you’ll see seaweed fossilised into the nooks and cracks of the boulders. This is serpentinite, a mineral rock that indicates this was once the ocean floor.

Hikers at the St Patrick statue on Croagh Patrick in Co Mayo
Stop by and say hello to the St Patrick statue.

The initial section is at a steep incline, but the views are well-worth the thigh burn. The trail runs alongside a babbling stream, with crystal clear water running down the mountain and lush green fields to either side, dotted with boulders and thick heather. You’ll probably see a few straggly sheep at this level, too.

It’s important to go at a pace that feels right for you, and to take regular breaks to catch your breath. It’s also easy to disguise these breaks as photography stops, because the view of Clew Bay behind you is exceptional even at the start of the climb – catch it on a sunny day, and this corner of Mayo could pass for the Caribbean.

Once you reach the top of the shoulder, the ground levels out as you walk over the ridge to get to the base of the peak. To your left, you can see the calm, pond-like Lough Nacorra, with the Nephin Beg mountains further beyond.

Sunset on mountains, forest and lakes at Wild Nephin Ballycroy National Park, Mayo
Spot the Nephin Beg mountains in the distance.

When you reach the end of the shoulder, you’ll see the distinctive peak of the Reek – unless it’s covered in cloud, that is. Either way, this cone-shaped mountaintop looks intimidating, but the final stretch is far easier now that the new steps are in place. Formerly, climbers had to scramble up the loose scree that you can still see to either side of the path, but now it’s stable underfoot as you climb to the top of the mountain. It’s pretty remarkable, too – the team gathered each of the slabs used to create the steps by hand, and the new path not only makes for a safer climb but prevents erosion on the mountain.

When you get to the summit, you’ll (hopefully) have an incredible view of Clew Bay and beyond, with wispy trails of sandy atolls and the rolling green hills and mountains inland. But if you’re standing in the clouds, you’ll still feel the glow of accomplishment (although some of that might be perspiration!) There’s a church at the summit, which is open for viewing on Saturdays, and there are masses held during the week. You’ll also need to get a victorious photo at the Croagh Patrick sign.

The summit of Croagh Patrick in Co Mayo at sunset
Capture the moment you reach the top of Croagh Patrick.

What goes up must come down, but the good news is you’ll likely descend the same path at a quicker pace (though you’ll need to watch your footing as you go) and the views on the way down are just as impressive.

If the feeling of accomplishment isn’t a treat enough, go to the little stand at the base of the mountain, where you can buy a cold drink, a long jelly snake (sold as ‘Patrick’s snakes’) or a 99, which frequent climbers call the best ice cream in the country.

Where to eat in Croagh Patrick

With that climb under your belt, you deserve a slap-up lunch. Luckily, you don’t have to go too far. Campbell’s at the Reek is right by the visitor centre, so you can stroll in off the mountain without breaking your stride. If the weather is nice, there’s a big beer garden, or cosy up by the open fire inside. The menu is ideal for refuelling, so warm up with a bowl of soup or get a pepperoni or chicken and brie pizza. The Tavern Bar and Restaurant is about a five-minute walk away and they serve exactly the kind of stuff you want after a mountain climb – bowls of steaming chowder filled with mussels, salmon and smoked coley, platters of smoked salmon and crab and a beef and Guinness stew.

Explore Murrisk

Cross the road at the bottom of Croagh Patrick and you’ll see the haunting National Famine Memorial, created in 1997 by sculptor John Behan. The bronze monument depicts a famine ship, with skeletons woven throughout portraying those who lost their lives. It’s a moving sculpture to see up close, but it’s also worth sitting a while in the curved seating area a little further downhill, where you can see the ship silhouetted against Croagh Patrick.

People viewing the National Famine Memorial in Murrisk, Co Mayo
Visit the National Famine Memorial statue.

Walk 300m down towards the sea and you’ll reach Murrisk Abbey, founded in 1457 and dedicated to St Patrick. You can stroll around the remains of the friary, with its battlemented walls and grand arched windows, and look at the Celtic crosses and tombstones in the graveyard overlooking Clew Bay. 

When you’re ready, catch the 450 bus back to Westport at the stop opposite the one where you arrived. There are often coaches parked in the bus bay, so keep an eye on the oncoming traffic to make sure you don’t miss the bus – you can get an accurate arrival time by downloading the TFI Live app.

Where to eat dinner in Westport

Feel like celebrating your summit? There are plenty of great dinner spots in Westport, depending on what you’re in the mood for. Sage is an intimate bistro up by the clock tower, with dishes like zingy feta cooked in filo pastry and drizzled in honey, or slow cooked beef cheek with truffle and polenta glazed carrots. They do an excellent value early bird menu and have a great selection of alcohol free wine and beers. The tiny An Port Mór is down an alley off Bridge Street and a favourite among Westport food lovers – expect to see top notch local produce like Achill Island lobster, Clew Bay scallops and Clare Island salmon. If you want something a bit more casual, Westport Woodfire is a great spot for pizza pulled straight from the coals, or a gourmet burger made with local lamb.

Wind down in Westport

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