The 20 Best Things to Do On Achill Island​

things to do achill island

Reconnect with the Present while Learning from the Past on Achill Island

One could argue, that if you had to be blindfolded and dropped off at one spot in Ireland for one day only and this place had to offer you as deep an insight into the raw beauty, folklore, people and history of Ireland as possible, spending a day exploring the untouched, wild island of Achill on the rugged West Coast of Ireland would be right up there!


Achill (which aptly means uncertain) is Ireland’s largest island and has an untouched, sprawling natural beauty. 

Its contained Island life, lives as a breathing example of what is important in life. Links to a simpler time are all around you as roam the Island. 


The Island whispers to you the lessons of the past, found in nature, gratitude, family and work and reminds you just how petty you are for constantly looking at your phone. 


The freshest of air fills your lungs, calms your mind and soul and distils in you a feeling of how incredibly lucky you are to be alive.

 

You can feel the age of the island under your feet as it makes you very aware of the now.

There are no distractions, no museums, only the beauty of the Island itself.

From hidden beaches to the tallest cliffs in Europe. World War posts to fresh fish caught that day. 


Breath it all in and enjoy the feeling of uncertainty Achill and life brings.

If history can teach us anything, it is that life is constantly changing and you might as well go with the flow and enjoy the simple things in life.


Achill with a wink and nod subtly reminds you of this.

 

Below is short list of the some of the best things to do and see on Achill Island. 

1. Art on Achill Island 

Numerous talented artists and authors, from Graham Greene to Robert Henri, spent months on Achill, its breath-taking beauty serving as major sources of inspiration.

Artist Graham Greene​
Achill Island was a great source of inspiration for writer Graham Greene​

Writer Graham Greene & Achill Island

Graham Greene, was an English novelist regarded by many as one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. Greene acquired a reputation early in his lifetime and was shortlisted, in 1966 and 1967, for the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Through 67 years of writings, which included over 25 novels, Greene was greatly inspired by the beauty of Achill Island which he mentioned frequently in his letters and notes.

Graham Greene was actually introduced to the Island by his mistress, Catherine Walston, the story of which was chronicled in the book ‘The Third Woman’ which was then turned into a film, ‘The End of the Affair’, by Neil Jordan in 1999.

artist robert henri achill island
artist robert henri achill island
artist robert henri achill island

Artist Robert Henri

Artist Robert Henri came to Achill on a regular basis in the early decades of the 20th century. 


He bought Corrymore House on the hill above Dooagh in 1924.

During his stays on Achill Island, Henri would paint many landscapes, but portraits of local villagers became his passion.

“The Irish children fascinate me,” Henri said later. “I have always been interested in the Irish anyhow; I have always felt the poet in the Irishman.”

artist robert henri achill island
artist robert henri achill island

Activities on Ireland's Largest Island

With Achill Island located on the West Coast of Ireland and being Ireland’s largest islands, it is an outdoor lover’s paradise offering a wide variety of activities both on land and on water.

walks on achill island
Incredible Hill Walking on Achill Island

2. Hill Walking

When it comes to the simplistic beauty of an outdoor stroll in the Irish countryside, you can’t do any better than Achill.

While many isles on the Irish coast have been forced to restrict access to their land for environmental reasons, Achill Island is still largely open to the public.

Achill’s varied topography offers incredible walks for nature-lovers of every skill level as well as stunning 360 scenery.

3. Hiking

Achill’s walks are all open to the public to explore, are well-cared for and allow you to experience the true beauty of Ireland.

Across the island, you will find a wide range of short and long, easy and hard hikes which immerse you in stunning Wild Atlantic scenery which only County Mayo can offer.

horse riding achill island

4. Horse Riding on Achill Island

Walking to boring? What about horse-riding? 🙂

 

I know you have – ‘Gallop a horse on a beach’ on your bucket list! 😀 – we all do.

 

Why not take get it ticked, with Achill being the ideal location for horse riding with over 35,000 acres of beautiful land to roam.

From trotting old bog roads to galloping sandy beaches, being guided through the beauty, wildlife, history and remote spots on horseback in an experience you won’t forget.

Gallop the beaches in Achill Island
horse riding achill
Horse Riding Keel Bay
renting a bike on achill island
Cycling (Rolling) into Keel

5. Renting Bikes on Achill Island

Renting a Bike on Achill is easy and the island offers you many trails precisely suited to your skill level.

From racers to mountain bikes, trailers for children to tag-alongs and electric bikes, you can enjoy the island on 2 wheels in every way.

renting a bike on achill island
renting a bike on achill island
renting a bike on achill island

6. Mountain Biking

With so many mountains and hills to conquer, you will love the challenge of mountain biking on Achill. There are many offroad and bog roads to explore which often pass many historical landmarks and points of interest.

surfing on achill island

7. Surfing on Achill Island

One of the best activities to enjoy on Achill is of course Surfing!

Even if you have never surfed, son’t want to surf or can’t surf! just relaxing out on a board with towering cliffs, seabirds and dark lands all around you is an incredible experience.

If you CAN surf, then even better with Keel Bay being one the bet surf spots in Ireland when the waves are right.

Check out the local surf schools on Achill

8. Boating Trip

It wouldn’t be an island trip if you weren’t taking to the water in some form or other and on Achill you are not short for choice.

Being surrounded by water, Achill is a great place to go boating. There are several ways you can do this. You can take a ferry, or you can charter a boat to explore the water by yourself. Nothing like being out on the water to blow those business cobwebs away and help that calming, de-stress on your holiday to begin.

Of course, if you fancy water, but not in it 🙂 an Achill boating trip around the island’s shores is also easily arranged with many boating tour companies in operation.

9. Kayak Calm Lakes or Rough Seas

Kayaking is another great way to explore Achill Island.

Gain a unique and memorable perspective while exploring the Wild seas or calm lakes.

on this beautiful destination. There are a few options for you to choose from. You can start at Keel lake, which has a soft sandy bottom. It also offers views of the beautiful Achill mountains. Alternatively, you can take a sea kayak and explore the ocean.

kite surfing achill island
Kite Surfing on Achill Island

10. Kitesurfing

If looking for something a little more high-octane, Achill is home to some of the worlds best and best conditions for kite surfing. Due to its location, wind and shore you can enjoy some world class kite surfing.

For visitors who prefer their water-based excursions you can scuba dive on Achill gear and visit the world below.

Surfing on Achill as well as kitesurfing on Achill are of an incredibly high standard in terms of waves, scenery and instructors.

Experience the thrill of riding some of the best waves in Europe on the hidden bays of Keel and Keem Bay.

Local services and businesses have you covered with regards all water activities on Achill Island.

11. Take in 360 Views at the Minaun Summit

If you have been walking or climbing a little too much since your visit to Ireland (which happens regulary 🙂 a leisurely (enough) climb to the top of Minaun could nicely tick your outdoor activity for the day.

At the summit you will enjoy 360 views which take in Croaghaun Mountain to your west, Keel bay and Slievemore Mountain to your north as well as the cliffs south of the summit leading to Dooega Head, the Menawn Cliffs and many islands including Inishturk and Inishbofin.

Quite often you will also see porpoises in the bay and gannets fishing near the cliffs.

12. History of Achill Island

Natural wonders are only half of the beauty of Achill.

The island has played a prominent role in Ireland’s rich history, and many centuries-old monuments still stand.

On the south-eastern shore sits Carrick Kildavnet Castle, Achill

Granuaile's Tower, Kildavnet, Achill Island, Ireland
The Tower at Kildavnet, in the south-east corner of Achill Island, is a perfect example of a 15th century Irish tower house. The Gaelic Chiefs of the time copied a Norman design and constructed many such tower houses. The tower at Kildavnet is thought to have been constructed by the Clan O'Malley in about 1429, but is associated locally with a descendant of the original builders, Grace O'Malley or Granuaile. This legendary pirate queen is thought to have been born around 1530 and died in about 1603. The Tower at Kildavnet is one of a series of such strongholds that Granuaile established along the western seaboard (she is said to be buried in a similar tower on Clare Island) as she dominated the waters during the 16th century.

Carrick Kildavnet Castle, Achill

Carrick Kildavnet Castle was built in the 15th century and was used as a stronghold against the British empire by the pirate queen and iconic figure in Irish folklore Grace O’Malley. 


Nearby also stands Kildamhnait, an imposing stone church built in the 1700s. 

Kill Damhnait church achill
Kill Damhnait church Achill
The Deserted Village, Achill Island​

13. The Deserted Village, Achill Island

Why do we travel?

Why do we go on holiday? 


At the root of this question I believe is to find happiness. 

But we know from every religion, philosopher or enlightened figure of the past that chasing happiness is futile.

Fulfilment is key to happiness and the road to fulfilment is gratitude. 

To find gratitude for what we have in the present we must learn from our past. 


What better way to reconnect with history and gratitude than to visit, touch and experience a Deserted Village from a (very recent) time gone by.

A collection of 100 derelict stone cottages run along the slopes of Slievemore Mountain. These haunting ruins stand as a testament to a bygone era and include the ruins of burial tombs estimated to date back approximately 5,000 years. 


Wandering between cottages, your hands touching cold stone where people stood hundreds of years before is a grounding and moving experience. A brief visit helps reconnect you to a touch past and evokes a pleasant feeling that you have never had a life so good. 


Rest assured, your freshly made meal and first pint after your visit to the Deserted Village will never feel so good. 🙂

Slievemore Mountain​, Achill Island

14. Climb Slievemore Mountain

To experience an unparalleled view of the natural beauty of Achill Island, you might want to climb Slievemore Mountain. Slievemore is at the centre of the northern coastline of Achill Island and will be in view almost constantly as you explore the island.

 

There are two beautiful routes to the top of the mountain.

Starting at the village of Dugort on the east side. 

Starting at the deserted village on the west side.


The history, monuments, villages, wildlife and 360 views you experience during and at the summit of this climb are breath-taking. You really do get that sense of being at the wild edge of Europe with the vast Atlantic Ocean spread out in front of you. Not to mention the breath-taking views of mountain ranges, bays, beaches and islands.

The climbs will take three to four hours, but the incredible views of Ireland will be well worth it. 

gold ball on Slievemore Mountain​
The Gold Ball, Slievemore Mountain​
deserted village on Slievemore Mountain​
Deserted Homes around Slievemore Mountain​
Croaghaun Sea Cliffs, Achill Island, Co Mayo, Ireland
Croaghaun Sea Cliffs, Achill Island, Co Mayo

15. Climb The Third Tallest Cliffs in Europe

The Croaghaun sea cliffs on the northern side of Croaghaun mountain are the highest sea cliffs in the UK and Ireland as well as being the third-highest sea cliffs in Europe. The tallest which are Hornelen in Norway at 860 metres (2,820 ft) and Cape Enniberg on the Faroe Islands at 754 metres (2,474 ft). This also puts them on the world stage with most of the tallest cliffs in the world hovering around the 2500ft to 3000ft. 

 

They are a breath-taking hike and standing at the edge of these wild and rugged cliffs makes you feel you are at the edge of the world.

With ancient lands of Ireland to your side and the teenager of the world America to your front, it truly makes you feel centred at the centre of the world 😉

16. Stroll Blue Flag Beaches

One of the most relaxing experiences on your holiday should be a stroll down one of the Blue Flag beaches that Achill Island has to offer. These beaches have been certified with the Blue Flag because they meet high environmental standards. This means that there won’t be any unsightly rubbish, just the pristine beauty of Achill. This is the perfect place for you to think about your future and reflect on your past.

17. Drive the Wild Atlantic Coast

One of the best ways to explore all that Achill is to drive 🙂 The windy Wild Atlantic coastal roads offer unique and spectacular views of the Island itseld as well as the island of Ireland.

Experience the majestic landscape that has made Ireland famous around the world stooping along the many scenic stops to take it all in.

18. The Achill Mission

An outbreak of famine swept the west coast of Ireland, particularly Mayo and Sligo, in 1831. Moved by the temporal and spiritual destitution of the people, Reverend Edward Nangle returned and laid the foundations for the Achill Mission. This unique location lets you look into the mindset and history of people gone by.

A historic and cultural experiences which offers great insight into the history of Achill Island and Ireland.

Battle for the lake Achill Island
Battle for the Lake

19. Take in a Festival!

Another great way to soak up the culture of Ireland is to take in a festival.

There are many amazing events held each year on Achill.

From the annual Culture Night to the annual kitesurfing and music festival (Battle for the Lake), Achill’s Harp Festival or Food Festival you will surely find a festival to suit your dates and interests.

Battle for the Lake achill
Battle for the Lake
Cycling the Gourmet Greenway
Cycling the Gourmet Greenway

20. Cycle and Feast along the Incredible Gourmet Greenway

To celebrate the incredible food producers around Co. Mayo, the  Gourmet Greenway was established.

 

The Gourmet Greenway promotes the best local food on offer along the Greenway which is a 45km long cycling route between Westport and Achill Island.

The trail consists of approximately 20 local food producers bringing together the area’s best artisan foods.

From the finest fish to the best meats. Amazing cheese to local chocolate the Gourmet Greenway offers something for everyone.

In short, a road trip to Achill Island is an opportunity to immerse yourself in a world of nature and historical wonders. It’s an experience that, in many ways, will define your trip to Ireland as you reconnect to nature, the past and hopefully yourself.

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