My early morning walk was serene. The only sounds were birdsong and the Carrowbeg River as it passed through the town center, skimming plant-covered stone walls and rushing down weirs on the way to Clew Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.
Later, I relaxed with tea and a scone in a town tea shop. The conversations were warm and friendly. Everyone made eye contact and said, “Hello,” or “How are you?” It was easy to see why Westport won the title of Best Place to Live in Ireland.
Westport, a town in County Mayo, sits on Clew Bay. Croagh Patrick, Ireland’s Holy Mountain, is an everchanging backdrop. The first town was settled in the 1700s. Set at a crossroads, Westport became a market town that thrives today.
Westport is a popular tourist destination on the Wild Atlantic Way. It has nature, history, art, music, folklore, traditional food, and lovely libations. It is easy to immerse in the local way of life.
Here are the reasons I fell in love with this charming town.
1. Westport House
In 1780, Westport House was the center of Westport Village. But an enterprising lord had the town moved to a dryer area away from the wetlands and ocean tide. As a result, Westport became the first planned community in Ireland, with Westport House as its crowning jewel.
Westport House history is captivating. From a 16th-century lady pirate’s castle, through 292 years of deeds, titles, additions, and restoration, Westport House is the most enchanting building in Westport. In the 18th and 19th centuries, life in the “Big House” (its local nickname) was much like the grand English costume dramas. Featuring art, music, and extravagant food, gentry of the time partied and played in the great house and 400 acres of woodlands, gardens, and waterfront. An invitation to Westport House was a star on one’s social calendar that elevated your status instantly.
A house tour will set the stage for your visit to Westport, illuminating the fascinating people that have called it home. Guided tours are led by a knowledgeable docent. After the group-guided tour, you’ll have time to wander the dungeons and investigate the downstairs kitchen and larder. Book tickets to Westport House on their website.
Also enjoyed on the grounds are swan boats, picnic areas, disc golf, food concessions, the Pirate Playground, and many more activities. Plan on spending most of the day at the estate. The beauty is unmatchable, and the activities are all family-friendly.
2. Walk In The Town
The small town of fewer than 7,000 citizens is ideal for walking. I suggest a stroll beginning at the Octagon in the town center. From there, head northeast on James Street. Cross the river and wander down the treelined North and South Malls returning to James Street and your starting point.
Along the way, you’ll find lots to explore. Captivating shops, cafes, restaurants, traditional pubs, stone bridges, historic buildings, monuments, churches, parks, horse-drawn carriage tours, cycle rentals, and more are available. You can easily spend the day meandering through the town and having a long leisurely lunch. Use this map (PDF) to plan your walk.
Weekly walks in the summer can be joined in the town. Walks can also be arranged by appointment. Use the Heritage Center’s Historical Walks page for schedules and itineraries.
3. Visit A Pub Or Two
As with many Irish towns, the pub is the center of community life. Welcoming to all, pubs are the place to drop in for a pint of ale, a quick bite to eat, some trad (traditional Irish music), or a chance to chat with locals and hear the latest craic (krak), or fun, entertainment, gossip.
With over 50 pubs in the area, you’ll be spoiled for choice. I recommend a pub crawl starting at the Octagon down Shop Street, heading left on Bridge Street, left on South Mall, left on James Street, and back to the Octagon. Here is a list of pubs in the area. Many have trad each night and some offer early sessions on Sundays.
4. Climb The Mighty Croagh Patrick
Ireland’s Holy Mountain is the reason many folks come to Westport. With a 2,507-foot summit, “the reek” is not Ireland’s highest mountain. However, it is the most climbed. Many climbers are on a spiritual journey; others seek a physical challenge. I admit that I did not climb Croagh Patrick, but my companion and fellow travel photographer, Kevin Scanlon, made the summit.
At the top of the mountain is a small chapel dedicated to Saint Patrick, who is said to have fasted on the mountaintop for 40 days.
Making it to the top isn’t essential, just being there is a lovely experience. Climbers are friendly and supportive of one another. There is a visitor center at the base of the mountain. Across the road, in the village of Murrisk, you’ll find a restaurant and shops. The views and photo ops from Croagh Patrick are unmatched.
5. Heritage Center And Archaeological Trail
The most surprising thing I learned about in Westport was the Archaeological Trail. I discovered it when I went to the Clew Bay Heritage Center in Westport Quay. The heritage center is located in the quay (harbor/marina). The small stone building is packed with artifacts that show the way of life in Westport from the 16th century to present day. It’s fascinating, especially the scale model of the town.
If you are searching for ancestry from Mayo, fill out a form at the center. A local genealogist will search for you and suggest places you might find information.
Beginning at the heritage center is the Clew Bay Archaeological Trail in County Mayo. Man has lived in the area for over 6,000 years. On the trail, you can see thousands of years of heritage in 1 day. From neolithic rock art to the planned town of Westport, the trail is enchanting. In addition to the historical artifacts, you will see some of the most beautiful scenery in all of Ireland.
6. Pedal, Paddle, Hike, And Swim
Biking In Westport
Westport and Clew Bay have been granted Ireland’s first “Cycling Friendly Destinations” by the European Cycling Federation. Cycling is one of the best ways to see the area. Bike paths and bike racks are everywhere.
The Great Western Greenway attracts cyclists worldwide to its 27 miles of paved trail for wheels and feet. You’ll pass through country and waterside landscapes, always free from autos. Find other cycling routes with Westport Tourism’s guide.
Kayaking In Westport
Kayaking in Clew Bay or out to sea is very popular. There’s a location for all abilities to paddle the bay looking for wildlife. Outfitters can be found in the Westport Quay. One of the most popular is the Adventure Islands Center.
Hiking In Westport
Walking for all abilities and schedules is everywhere in the Westport area. Walks short and long within the countryside or town can be found in this Westport Walks Guide.
Swimming In Clew Bay, Westport
Swim in the chilly Clew Bay any time of year. It is safe from boat traffic and has stairs and handrails to help you into the water. Go to Westport Quay towards the Heritage Center. Pass the center and follow the road as it ends in a car park. Continue through the car park around the soccer field to find stairs, picnic tables, and lots of swimmers.
7. Seafood In The Quay
Clew Bay is famous for its bountiful seafood. Scales or shells, you are likely to find it seasonally in eateries, fish mongers, and food shops. In addition to the haul from the Atlantic, aqua-farming is a big business in the region. Lobsters, oysters, mussels, and salmon are sustainably farmed in the bay’s nutrient-rich waters.
The quay has numerous eateries, shops, boat tours, a museum, nature trails, and a park for kids. You’ll find seafood served in every restaurant year-round. Two places we thoroughly enjoyed fish and the atmosphere are:
The Helm Seafood
The Helm Bar and Restaurant, located in the Westport Quay, is a modern pub with a strong emphasis on local food. The atmosphere is family-friendly, warm, and inviting. I tried the fried calamari special one evening. It was cooked perfectly and accompanied by chips and an arugula salad. Those crisp golden rings with the tender creamy calamari have been in my dreams.
The Towers Seafood
My second suggestion is The Towers. The restaurant and bar are popular with locals and visitors. The menu changes daily and includes seasonal fish. Portions are generous and perfectly prepared. There is indoor and outdoor seating. Outside, a playground is located next to The Towers beer garden. You can keep an eye on the kids while enjoying a pint.
8. Hotel Westport
Hotel Westport is the perfect place to stay while visiting Westport. Located on the 400-acre Westport House estate, you are ideally situated in walking distance of the town or the quay. You can relax at the indoor pool, walk the grounds, or indulge yourself at the spa. The family-friendly, four-star lodging has a traditional vibe with all the modern amenities. Rooms are available for solo travelers, families, and those seeking a luxurious getaway. The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Libations are available in the bar and lounge.
Our trip to Westport was from Donegal Town, just over 100 miles. We went to Ballyhaunis by bus, then onto Westport by train. There is a train service from Galway and Dublin. From Shannon, you’ll go by bus.
A car can be helpful if you plan to leave Westport Town. If not, it’s a small, very walkable area, and public transit is reliable and inexpensive.
Pro Tip: I prefer not to drive in Ireland. The left-hand cars and roads make me nervous. I like to leave the driving to someone else. It’s the best way to see the countryside and relax.
For more information on Westport, visit Destination Westport.
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