As an iconic stop on the Wild Atlantic Way, there are a number of fantastic things to do on Achill Island that make it an unmissable destination on any trip to the west coast of Ireland. As the nation’s largest island, Achill has a lot to offer visitors but doesn’t attract a large number of tourists – especially when compared to many destinations in the southwest of the country.
Easy to reach from the mainland, Achill is filled with a bucolic beauty and tranquillity that make it the perfect place to get away from it all.
And whether you’re looking for some incredible nature walks, view some interesting historic sites or even try your hand at surfing at one of the island’s beautiful beaches, Achill has something to offer.
So if you’re considering adding Achill to your Ireland itinerary or if you’re stopping here as a stop on the Wild Atlantic Way, use this guide to help you discover this beautiful place.
How Many Days on Achill Island?
Ahill is a small place and many simply treat the island as part of a scenic driving loop before heading back to the mainland. And while you can see a lot around the island in a single day, with 2 days on Achill, you will have the opportunity to take your time at various attractions and really get to know the island.
There are a lot of things to do on Achill that you could definitely spend more than a couple of days, but with 2 days you will certainly have enough time to see all of the major natural sites and also be able to go on a hike and take in everything at a more leisurely pace.
That being said, you also can get a lot out of the island if you’re simply going a day trip to Achill Island or are passing through as a scenic stop while en route to another destination.
You’re not going to have the flexibility to spend as long as you’d like at each individual stop, but you’ll still find an Achill Island day trip to be incredibly worth your while.
Getting To & Around Achill Island
The largest nearby towns are Westport and Castlebar, which are both located about 40 minutes to an hour’s drive respectively from the island. The small town of Newport is also located about 30 minutes from Achill and the town of Mulranny is also close by on the mainland.
Achill is accessible from the mainland via a short bridge over Achill Sound, so there are no ferries required to reach the island, making it incredibly accessible. In fact, if you want to visit an Irish island in County Mayo, then Achill is a great option as opposed to, say Clare Island in Clew Bay, which is only accessible via ferry.
The island isn’t easily reached by bus and, as it’s part of the Atlantic Drive – and offshoot of the Wild Atlantic Way route, it’s a common stop on an Irish road trip.
Having a car to get around Achill is mostly necessary as it’s sparsely populated and quite rural – but this is all part of its charm. In your car, you’ll drive by not only incredible coastal scenery but also peat bogs and plenty of grazing sheep. If you need to rent a car for your trip, you can browse Rentalcars.com to compare prices across companies.
You can also choose to cycle around the island, too, as you will be rewarded with plenty of beautiful views.
It’s worth noting that Achill is not a big place so it doesn’t take long at all to drive between sites and destinations on the island.
Things to Do on Achill Island
These sites are listed in a logical order if coming from Achill Sound. You can definitely see all of these sites within the span of one day, however, you may not have time to do the Valley Loop Walk, for instance. However, this can be split over two days if you want to explore at a more leisurely pace.
Grace O’Malley’s Towerhouse
The official name of this tower overlooking the sea on Achill Island is the Tower House at Kildavnet however, it is known locally as Grace O’Malley’s Towerhouse.
Thought to have been constructed by Clan O’Malley in the 15th century, it is believed to have been a home of Grace O’Malley, who was an infamous pirate queen in the 16th century.
This is a striking structure to see and it’s located right off the road so you don’t have to go on a long walk in order to check it out.
If you’re visiting Achill Island, you’re sure not to be a stranger to the Wild Atlantic Way Discovery Points and a beautiful one of these is at Coughmore.
This is a small little viewpoint off of the road and it is absolutely beautiful. You can enjoy some striking cliffs, gorgeous views over the Atlantic and, almost certainly, plenty of sheep grazing on the green grass.
White Cliffs of Ashleam
Another popular discovery point on the WIld Atlantic Way are the gorgeous White Cliffs of Ashleam. Though these are not the highest cliffs on Achill (that title goes to the Croaghaun Cliffs near Keem, which are only accessible if you hike out to them), they are absolutely beautiful
From the viewpoint just off of the road, you can get excellent views of the ocean along with the charming Dooega Bay Beach tucked in between the cliffs.
Dooega Bay Beach
Not far from the Ashleam Cliffs is the lovely little Doeega Bay Beach. While this is far from the most spectacular beach to visit on Achill Island, it is still blessed with beautiful soft white sand and incredible views of the Atlantic Ocean.
Irish beaches are surprisingly spectacular and you’re not likely going to find an ugly beach on Achill and the beach at Dooega Bay is definitely worth it to see while exploring the island.
If you want to see some incredible views of Achill and the Atlantic, then make sure to drive the steep, winding road up to the Minaun Heights. This road is well maintained, however, it is narrow, quite steep and not lacking in sheep so make sure to take your time as you wind your way up.
You can enjoy a panoramic view from both the drive up and from the top and it’s absolutely spectacular. There is a small car park at the top and you can walk around to get the best view.
There is even an opportunity to hike up another hill to get even higher and get even better view than where your car can reach – which is a great option if you have the time.
Golden Strand Beach
Located at the north of Achill is one of the island’s most spectacular beaches – Golden Strand. As mentioned before, there is not shortage of beautiful beaches here and it’s easy to get beach fatigue, however, a visit to this stretch of golden sand is absolutely one of the best things to do in Achill.
There is a small car park at the beach with a Wild Atlantic Way Discovery Point. There are also some picnic tables there, making it a great place to have a quick snack with a gorgeous view.
Valley Loop Walk
If you have the time and are looking for an easy yet beautiful walk in the nature of the island, then make sure to take on the Valley Loop Walk. This circular hike begins and ends at Golden Strand beach, has very little incline and will loop you all along the spectacular coastline of this area.
This is absolutely one of the best things to do on Achill Island, especially if you’re looking for a bit of peace and tranquillity.
The hike is about 8.5km-long and it will take about 2 hours to finish. It’s flat and there are no places where you really need to climb or go up steep hills, so it’s great for a simple, leisurely stroll with beautiful coastal scenery.
It’s recommended to do this walk in a clockwise direction as this is the way it’s signposted. The path is waymarked with blue arrows that are set every few hundred metres.
Another of the best beaches on Achill island, Dugort Beach is a stretch of soft sand that isn’t to be missed.
Located at the north of the island, it is a bit more remote than some of the other beaches, (notably Keel Beach), however, that only adds to its rugged beauty and charm. Of course, the scenery surrounding the beach and the view of Slievemore mountain is absolutely stunning.
Slievemore Deserted Village
History buffs wondering what to do on Achill Island will want to pay a stop to Slievemore Deserted Village. Located close to Golden Strand and Dugort Beach, this is a ruined village in the hills of Achill that consists of the remains of 80-100 stone cottages.
There is evidence that this area has been inhabited since Neolithic times, however, the cottages that stand are thought to have been abandoned in the mid-19th century following the potato famine, which was particularly devastating to this part of the west of Ireland.
You can see a good portion of the cottages from the hillside, however, if you have more time and are up for it, you can also do a longer walk and spend about an hour winding your way through the whole abandoned village.
Achill Experience Aquarium
If it happens to be raining or if you’re travelling with children, then paying a visit to the Achill Experience Aquarium & Visitor Centre is an excellent idea.
As County Mayo’s only aquarium, here you can see and learn about the local sea life and even see some tropical fish across the 16 tanks on exhibit here.
You can also learn about the history of the shark fishing industry on the island which, until the 1950s, was actually one of the world’s largest fisheries.
Woodland Faerie Trail
Another excellent activity if you have children (or are simply young at heart and partial to a bit of whimsy), is the Woodland Faerie Trail. Located in the woodland surrounding the Valley House Hostel & Bar, this attraction is only open from June through September.
Here, you can wander a whimsical trail filled with fairy houses, rings and leprechauns and learn a bit about Irish myth and folklore. There is also a shop where you can purchase fairy-related gifts and other items.
Winding your way to the west of the island, you will find one of its most striking and iconic beaches, Keem. The drive out to Keem itself is absolutely stunning and the road will provide incredible vistas over striking cliffs and the beautiful Keem Bay. On a clear day, you may even be fortunate enough to see a basking shark or two.
Keem Beach itself is also breathtaking and its wild location only adds to it. The main road going west on Achill ends at Keem, but there are plenty of hiking trails that can take you further afield if you’re up for a very steep climb.
For instance, from the beach, you can hike to the Croaghaun Cliffs which are reportedly the highest sea cliffs in Ireland, though there is some contention about if this title belongs to the Slieve League Cliffs in County Donegal. Regardless, they are significantly higher (and infinitely less busy) than County Clare’s famous Cliffs of Moher.
One of Achill’s most bustling villages is also home to one of its largest and most spectacular beaches. Keel Beach and village is a great place to visit whenever you’re on Achill Island and it’s particularly good if you’re interested in trying any watersports.
Those who’ve ever considered surfing may want to try their hand at it at Keel Beach as there are mellow waves and plenty of surf schools to take you out on the water. For those looking for another action sport, you could also try kitesurfing here.
If this doesn’t pique your interest, the beach itself is vast and there is plenty of room of this stretch of sand to simply relax and take in the incredible scenery.
Keel is also home to a few cafes, pubs and restaurants so it can be a great place to stop for lunch or dinner when on the island. For instance, the Beehive Cafe (which also doubles as a local gift shop) is a great place to grab a bit to eat for lunch.
Achill Island Distillery
After a long day of exploring all of the natural sites on Achill Island, you also may be interested in hearing that the island is also home to its own whiskey distillery – purportedly Ireland’s most westerly distillery.
It’s a relatively new distillery and it is just being able to release whiskeys under its own label. However, you can tour the distillery and have a tasting here if you’d like. Here you can learn about this particular distillery along with how Irish whiskey is made and what goes into it.
Stop at a Pub
Of course, no visit to any place in Ireland is complete without a pub stop and while there are many to choose from on Achill, a great option can be Lynott’s Pub, which lays claim to being the smallest pub on the island.
The pub also is home to the notorious sheers used in the film The Banshees of Inisherin which was filmed, in part, on Achill Island.
However, you can get a great pint of Guinness (or Murphy’s!) at any cosy pub on the island and there are plenty of other options. For instance, Ted’s Bar is another great stop with a good, cosy atmosphere and a warming turf fire on cold days.
Where to Stay on Achill Island
Teach Cruachan Bed and Breakfast – This cosy bed and breakfast in the village of Keel is a great base for exploring Achill. They have a number of lovely rooms on offer and there is also a wonderful breakfast available for guests each morning. Click here to check availability
Ferndale Luxury Boutique Bed & Breakfast – This upmarket boutique bed and breakfast is a great choice for those looking for a more luxurious stay while visiting Achill. They have a number of beautiful rooms available, breakfast and plenty of great amenities for guests to enjoy. Click here to check availability
Cosy Keel Cottage – If you’d like to have your own holiday home while on Achill, then this little cottage in Keel is a great option. It comes fully furnished with everything you may need and has a great location for exploring all this lovely island has to offer. Click here to check availability
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Achill Island hotels!
There are so many things to do and so much to see on Achill Island that you can easily spend a few days here and not get bored. Make sure to take your time and simply enjoy the beautiful scenery and laid-back nature of Ireland’s largest island!
Are you planning to visit Achill Island? Have any questions? Let us know in the comments!