With just the right mix of real outdoor adventure and fun things to do, a few days in Mayo promises lots of great family memories. Here are some of the places you just can't miss.
Go on an adventure
Famous for its unspoiled beaches and sandy coves, Louisburgh is a dream spot for a dip in the sea, paddling and a picnic. Families love Silver Strand, sheltered by the rocky headlands and high sand dunes, and the views towards Inishturk and Inishbofin are unbeatable.
Once you’ve dried off, one of the most unique landscapes in Ireland awaits at The Lost Valley. Book a guided tour and explore the West’s cultural heritage through the ruined famine village or take on the hike up the steep walking trail with older kids for powerful views of the valley. Time your visit just right and you might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the dolphins who frequent Ireland’s only fjord, Killary.
Climbing Croagh Patrick is a bucket list item for many, but it’s not an easy trail. Though thousands of pilgrims take it on barefoot every year, the rocky, steep climb isn’t suitable for younger kiddies. Teens, however, can lace up their hiking boots, and even if you only get halfway up, the views over Clew Bay are spectacular.
A 15-minute spin away is Westport, the ideal base for a short break in Mayo, with its colourful streets, award-winning restaurants and traditional pubs. A short stroll from the centre is Westport House, where you'll enjoy hours of family fun. Hop on the colourful Westport Train Tour and journey around 46 sights in the town and the house’s grounds discovering the fascinating history dating back to Grace O’Malley, the Pirate Queen.
Kids love the Pirate Adventure Park which has rides for all ages, from the swinging pirate ship to the log flume adventure. Go for a paddle on the Swan Pedalo Boats, take a turn on the bouncy castle, jump in a go-kart, or just let the kids run around in the Pirates Playground. A day pass gives kids unlimited use of the rides and attractions for the day.
With its rich maritime tradition, you can’t leave Mayo without taking to the sea. Get up close and personal with the seal colony in Clew Bay, with Westport Cruises. Departing daily from the harbour from May to October, take a round-trip of Clew Bay’s islands aboard the Spiorad Naomh Phadraig, with its heated lounge and upper outdoor deck and café.
Get a panoramic view of John Lennon’s island, known as The Reek, and sail in the summer months to see the cute seal pups join the 400-strong colony.
Take the family for a cycle
The Great Western Greenway
Hop on your bike, or rent one in Westport, and cycle the incredible Great Western Greenway. A 42km stretch from Westport to Achill, taking in Newport and Mulranny, the route hugs the breathtaking coastline of Clew Bay.
If you’re travelling with smaller kids, jump in at the stretch from Newport to Achill, for a gentler and more accessible cycle – it’s possibly the most beautiful stretch so you won’t feel you’ve missed out. Many bike hire companies offer shuttles to allow you start and stop where you want, and you can also get kids’ trailers and tag-a-longs for the smallies who just want to enjoy the ride.
Feel life slow down as you cross the bridge onto Achill Island. It’s the kind of place where sheep roam freely, and you’re never far from a stunning Blue Flag beach. The jewel in Achill’s crown is Keem Bay, a secluded beach at the western tip of the island. Enjoy the incredible cliffside drive up, before joining the swimmers and snorkelers in the crystal-clear waters.
For adventurous families, drop into Pure Magic on the way back down – they’ll have the adrenaline going with kitesurfing or paddleboarding on the waves of Keel Lake. A firm family favourite, especially for rainy days, is the Achill Experience Aquarium, where kids can meet Dory (blue tang) and Nemo (clownfish), and learn about tropical fish like piranhas. Touch tanks allow them to feel local sea creatures like starfish, urchins and scallops, too.
While you’re in Mayo
Hit the road south through the stunning mountain pass of Doolough, then along the shore of Killary Harbour, Ireland’s only fjord or go north to Ballycastle and the Belmullet peninsula via Castlebar and Pontoon. Drop into the visitor centre at Céide Fields, where you’ll journey back 5,000 years at the most extensive Stone Age site on the planet.
If you have time in Mayo
Hop on the ferry at Roonagh Pier, just outside Westport, over to Clare Island. Half the fun is in the journey, with stunning views of Clew Bay at every turn. It’s a swimmer’s paradise, and the beautiful Blue Flag beach near the main harbour is the most popular spot for a dip. Bring a picnic along and get the kids to spot the puffins and peregrine falcons that call the island home.
No matter where you land in Mayo, kids are guaranteed to enjoy the feeling of being free in its wilds, so the only question is, where do you want to start?