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Enjoy a relaxing stroll through Westport.
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.
With quaint houses and shopfronts, lively pubs and a tree-lined river that runs right through its centre, Westport is one of the most charming towns in Ireland. It was also one of the first planned towns in the country, laid out in the 1780s in the pleasing Georgian style of the day. Westport is easy to explore on foot, with everything you’d want to see within walking distance.

Here’s how to spend a car-free day discovering all that Westport has to offer.

Get your bearings

You’ll need to charge the batteries before a day of exploration, so head into one of Westport’s cafés for breakfast. If you like to start the day with something sweet, Serv’d on Bridge Street has dishes like Nutella stuffed French toast and apple streusel pancakes with spiced maple syrup. Cornrue is a cult bakery making sourdough used in all the best local restaurants, but they also cook up fresh pastries in their café – visit from Thursday to Saturday and you can snag a warm, sticky cinnamon bun straight from the oven.  

Westport is a lovely town to stroll around, but it’s even better when you have a guide. Take a tour with Westport Walking Tours and you’ll make your way around the town and learn interesting facts along the way. Take the Octagon monument, for example – the statue of St Patrick at the top of the plinth may look like it’s been there for centuries, but it was only put there in 1990 to replace a statue of local agent and banker George Glendenning, originally erected in 1845. Free State troops during the Civil War took to using George as target practice, with the damaged statue eventually removed in 1943 (you can still see bullet holes in the restored plinth).  

A walking tour in Westport, Co Mayo
Learn interesting facts about this colourful town with Westport Walking Tours.

Part of the walking tour includes nibbles from local food spots, so you’ll pop into places like Currys Cottage Tea Room for a lemon apple pie, or Marlene's Chocolate Haven for chocolates made onsite and filled with local honey or Achill Island salted caramel. When the tour wraps up, take a walk around Westport’s independent shops, like West Coast Rare Books, with an excellent selection of first editions and quirky titles, and the local adventure clothing shop Port West.  

Where to get lunch in Westport

This Must Be The Place is right by the art deco-style Clock Tower (which locals refer to as the Four Faced Liar, as it once told four different times). The lunch menu kicks in at noon and features things like ham and Emmental toasties on Cornrue sourdough, or a decadent French onion soup, which arrives at the table bubbling and topped with heaps of melted gruyere. There are loads of sandwiches on offer in Christy’s Harvest, like a tuna melt pan fried in butter, as well as homemade boxty with a variety of toppings.  

A bowl of French onion soup from This Must be the Place café in Westport, Co Mayo

Photo credit: @thismustbetheplace_westport

Get cosy with a steaming bowl of French onion soup from This Must Be The Place.

To the Manor Born

After lunch, take a walk over to Westport House. From the river, make your way along what was once the grand entrance to the house, up St Mary’s Crescent to the back of Hotel Westport, where there’s a pedestrian entrance. This walk to the house is lovely, through the estate woodland and past the 18th century cascade on the Carrowbeg River. You also get one of the best reveals of the house itself from this path, catching your first glimpse as you emerge from the riverside trees.  

There are several tours a day of the house, but it’s a good idea to book in advance. And a tour is well worth it – after all, there are over 300 years of history to get through and that’s before you get to pirate queen Grace O’Malley, who built a castle on this spot in the 1500s. 

Exterior image of Westport House in Mayo
Take a tour of historic Westport House.

One of the knowledgeable guides will lead you through the impressive home, built by the Browne family (descendants of Grace O’Malley) in 1730. The front hall is a showstopper, with hand formed flowers on the barrel-vaulted ceiling, antlers from an extinct Irish elk and a Sicilian marble cantilever staircase. Halfway up the stairs there’s an Angel of Welcome, which the family would shake the hand of when walking past. Take a look at her head, too – what a lot of people think is a unicorn horn is actually a flame.  

You’ll walk through the old rooms of the house, including the portrait gallery and the dining room that’s all set for dinner, before getting some time to explore by yourself. Be sure to go down to the dungeons – this is where you’ll see the ruins of Grace O’Malley’s original castle, the water dripping down the thick stone archways and slivers of light illuminating the spooky crevices (and a model of a shackled skeleton) in the corners. 

Grace O'Malley's castle on Clare Island, Co Mayo
Spot the remains of Grace O'Malley's castle in the distance.

Back outside, head over the bridge and follow the woodland trail out to the Westport harbour, walking through the woodland and around the edges of the lake, until you emerge by the Quay. Just by the estate gates you’ll find the Custom House Studios, an art gallery with exhibitions by contemporary artists and a print room where you can sometimes spy on them at work. From there, walk along the water’s edge up along the Quay to the Point, a lookout spot where you can see the shape of nearby islands or watch the waves lap (or crash) against tiny Roman Island Beach.  

People walking along Westport Quay in Co Mayo
Walk along the Quay in Westport.

There are a few boat companies set up on the Quay, so hop on board for a tour of Clew Bay. On a 90-minute trip with Westport Cruises, you’ll see a healthy number of Clew Bay’s 365 islands (one for every day of the year, as locals will tell you) and get a close up look at the resident seal colony and the island once owned by John Lennon. The tour times change each day depending on the tide, which changes rapidly – sometimes the trips depart in the morning and sometimes in the afternoon. If you head out in the morning, simply switch the day’s itinerary on its head. 

When you’re back on dry land, stick around the marina for dinner, before walking the 30 minutes back to Westport town, up along the Quay Road. If you’re not up for the walk, you can catch the 450 bus (six times a day, 8 minutes) back into town.    

Where to eat in Westport Marina

Unsurprisingly, there are no shortage of great seafood spots in the harbour. The Towers Bar and Restaurant is right on the tip of the marina, with views of the water and Croagh Patrick, as well as outdoor seating for sunny days. They serve up big bowls of mussels caught within eyesight of the restaurant, swimming in garlic and cream, alongside Clew Bay oysters, Clare Island salmon and fish and chips made with a local Mescan beer batter. The Helm is open for dinner and they do a range of seafood classics like chowder, calamari and crab salad, and a mean surf and turf.  

Enjoy the views around you as you feast in the Towers Bar and Restaurant.
Enjoy the views around you as you feast in the Towers Bar and Restaurant.

If you’re at the harbour earlier in the day, The Creel is a good spot for lunch or brunch, with stuff like eggs Benedict, fish tacos and buddha bowls. Just a few doors up, their deli is handy for bites to go, like focaccia sandwiches and paninis, as well as fresh pastries, chocolate brownies and lemon drizzle cake to have with a coffee.  

Travel along the Great Western Greenway

Leave the car behind and cycle along the Great Western Greenway to soak up some lovely sights.

More to discover
Family funHow to see Enniscorthy car-free

In Ulysses, Joyce describes Enniscorthy as “the finest place in the world” – take a day to explore the picturesque town’s colourful streets and you’ll quickly get a sense as to why. If you’re coming from Wexford town, hop on a bus or train and journey half an hour north along the River Slaney and you’ll be set down right in the middle of things, with Enniscorthy Castle, Vinegar Hill, The National 1798 Rebellion Centre and a network of excellent pubs and cafés all within a pleasant walk’s distance.

Free things to doDitch the car and explore Croagh Patrick

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.

The great outdoorsPlan a car-free trip of the Great Western Greenway

When a bike ride includes epic mountain views, oceanside trails and some excellent pubs for refuelling along the way, you know you’re onto a winner. And that’s just what you get on the Great Western Greenway. This 49km off-road cycle and foot path follows the route of the old trainline from Westport to Achill Island, through some of Mayo’s most picturesque scenery. There’s even a brand-new 5km extension, stretching out over the bogland in Achill, so now is the perfect time for a revisit if you’ve cycled it before. And the best news? You don’t need a car to transport your bike back to the start point – you can make use of the local bus or the shuttles provided by the bike hire companies.

Family funSpend a car-free day in Brú na Bóinne

They’re older than the Great Pyramids of Giza and Stonehenge and are probably the most important archaeological landmarks in Ireland. In fact, the prehistoric passage tombs of Brú na Bóinne are some of the most important Neolithic sites in the world and contain the largest collection of megalithic art in Western Europe. The best bit? You can travel back in time and explore the whole site without getting into a car, although you will want to dedicate the best part of day to a visit as there’s so much to see.

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