Escape the everyday without leaving the country, with a visit to the Heather County. Here are nine things you absolutely can’t miss while visiting Mayo.
Built on the ruins of the Pirate Queen Grace O’Malley’s castle, Westport House and Gardens is brimming with antiques, artwork and examples of fine architecture. Step into the 18th century with a tour of the house’s historical exhibitions, before exploring the grand grounds.
Wander through forest trails and secret walled gardens, or let the little ones run free at the Pirate Adventure Park. A day pass for the house includes unlimited use of the rides and attractions, including the Cannon Ball Run Slide.
While you’re out west, take a trip to at least one of Mayo’s untouched islands, via ferry from Roonagh Pier, just half an hour from Westport. Enjoy a picnic and a dip off Inishturk or travel across the blue waters of Clew Bay to Clare Island, and head for the pristine beaches first.
One of the top seabird sites in the country, see if you can spot puffins and peregrine falcons overhead towards the northern cliffs.
Back on dry land, rent a bike in Westport and cycle along the Great Western Greenway - a 42km stretch of traffic-free cycle track that follows the old Westport to Achill Island Railway.
Drink in the spectacular views of the Nephin Beg mountains and across Clew Bay to Croagh Patrick as you travel from Westport to Newport, through Mulranny and on to Achill. The route can be done in reverse if you’re starting out in Achill, and you’re free to choose a smaller segment as pre-booked transfers will drop you off and pick you up at various stages along the way.
If you’re not cycling to Achill Island, simply drive over the bridge – no boat needed to get to Ireland’s largest island. Starting at Achill Sound, the 40km Atlantic Drive is the ideal way to explore the island, as it guides you through small villages, around cork-screw bends, past epic seascapes – each one more impressive than the last.
While you’re there, hit the water for a taste of adventure, with surfing, diving, kayaking and kitesurfing or explore Achill’s rich history with a visit to the megalithic tombs, the 15th century Kildavnet Castle or the island’s poignant, deserted village; a mile-long stretch of over 80 ruined stone cottages on the southern slopes of Slievemore Mountain.
Stretching for 3.5km to the cliffs of Minaun, Achill’s Keel Beach is blissfully secluded, surrounded by dramatic mountainous backdrops. Conditions are ideal for surfers and swimmers who find it hard to resist the clear waters on a sunny day. Look to the south and spot The Bill, a legendary arrangement of three rock stacks.
You simply can’t leave Achill without taking in Keem Bay, one of the most special parts of the island. When the iconic view of the beach appears on the cliff-side drive up, you get a sense of the magic of this sheltered spot. You can swim, snorkel or hop in a kayak around the bay, or simply admire from the shore – you might even spot a basking shark out at sea.
Step into the wilderness at Wild Nephin Ballycroy National Park, home to one of Western Europe’s last intact active blanket bogs, Owenduff Bog. With trails to suit every walking level, keep an eye out for the local Greenland White-Fronted geese, golden plover and otters.
If a clear night is predicted, bring your tent and marvel at over 4,500 twinkling stars – this is Ireland’s first Dark Sky Park and wild camping is permitted.
A fisherman’s fancy, the Barony of Erris has extensive sea coasts with over 40 varieties of fish known to inhabit its seas, lakes and rivers. Whether you’re sea fishing or shore angling, landscapes don’t get more rugged than this.
Journey back 5,000 years at Céide Fields, the most extensive Stone Age site on the planet, featuring ancient stone walls and tombs that survived beneath the bog. Before you leave, make sure to step up on the viewing platform with its uninterrupted views of the Atlantic Ocean – you’ll feel like you’re standing on the edge of the world.
Otherworldly views and exciting experiences await you in Mayo – what are you waiting for?