It is fair to say that if you visit Mayo, you will never be bored. It is the perfect place for global travellers seeking an authentic Irish experience.
Adventurers can visit Achill Island, Ireland's largest island, which offers looming cliffs, striking hills and clean beaches. Meanwhile, Croagh Patrick has been a famous pilgrimmage site for centuries and entices vistors from all over the world.
For tourists just looking for a fun weekend, Westport has some of the most lively pubs in Ireland where traditional music can always be music and craic can always be found.
Food lovers are also encouraged to try the local seafood with Achill Island oysters, in particular, known as very popular local dish.
The Top 10
With all these factors in mind, Hospitality Ireland decided to examine the top ten visitor attractions in Mayo, based on Fáilte Ireland's Visitor Attractions Survey 2019, which was carried out by SRI in the third quarter of 2020.
The year 2019 was chosen as a good indicator because it was pre-covid and so the sample was more in line with tourists behaviour in normal circumstances, rather than during an exceptional event like the coronavirous pandemic.
1. National Museum of Ireland - Country Life, Turlough Park
The National Museum of Ireland - Country Life, Turlough Park is top of the list with 127,127 visitors as of 2019.
Turlough Park House is a Victorian Gothic mansion that was built in 1865. It was the ancestral home of the Fitzgeralds, an influential family of landowners.
The mansion overlooks gardens, parkland and woodland. Visitors can explore the Green Flag award-winning Victorian gardens and can also take advantage of the Castlebar to Turlough Greenway where visitors can start their day with a cycle from Lough Lannagh, Castlebar, along a 10km, mainly off-road riverside route, all the way to the National Museum of Ireland - Country Life.
Afterwards, visitors can enjoy a visit to the café located in the setting of the Courtyard at Turlough Park House, next to the Museum Shop, which offers snacks, lunches, speciality teas, coffees and homemade desserts.
2. Westport House
Westport House is in second place with 123, 975 visitors as of 2019.
It is one of the few privately-owned historic houses left in Ireland, and was built by the Browne family whose connections to Mayo date back to the 1500s.
Visitors who take the guided tour can hear tales of kings, queens and pirates, and slave emancipators.
The estate also has over 400 acres of green landscape which includes walks, forest trails, restored pathways and more. There is no charge as the Hughes family have generously opened their estate and all are welcome.
Other attractions at the estate include a premier Camping, Glamping and Caravan site. There is also Pirate Adventure Park which offers rides, slides, boats, trains and much more.
3. Croagh Patrick
In third place, Croagh Patrick had 113, 540 visitors in 2019.
People have been visiting Croagh Patrick for well over 3,000 years, and even then it had a reputation as a sacred site. St Patrick is said to have fasted at the spot for 40 days and nights before banishing the snakes from Ireland.
Around 20,000 to 25,000 pilgrims still climb the mountain each year on the last Sunday in July (the nearest Sunday to the original pagan festival of Lughnasa).
4. Downpatrick Head - Cliffs
Downpatrick Head - Cliffs are located 5km north of Ballycastle village in Mayo.
The cliffs over excellent views of the Staggs of Broadhaven islands and the Dún Briste sea stack.
Visitors can also take a coastal walk and see the site of a former church founded by St Patrick, along with a holy well and stone cross.
5. Jackie Clarke Collection
Jackie Clarke (1927-2000) was a Ballina Business man and a collector of Irish historical material.
In 2005 his widow, Mrs Anne Clarke, gifted his collection to Mayo County Council for the people of Ballina, Mayo and Ireland. The collection comprises over 100,000 items spanning 400 years. It includes artefacts associated with Theobald Wolfe Tone, letters from Michael Collins, Douglas Hyde, Michael Davitt and O’Donovan Rossa.
It also contains rare books, proclamations, posters, political cartoons, pamphlets, handbills, works by Sir John Lavery, maps, hunger strike material and personal items from Leaders of the 1916 Rising.
6. Achill Experience
The Achill Experience offers Mayo’s first and only aquarium.
It consists of 16 tanks, exhibiting a variety of fish found nearby, plus a selection of tropical fish from around the world. The open top tank allows visitors to get up close with catsharks, crabs, thornback rays, starfish, sea urchins and many more, including ‘Nemo’ the Clownfish, and ‘Dory’ the Pacific Blue Tang.
The history boards detail the history of the shark fishing industry in Achill which, during the 1950’s was one of the largest fisheries in the world.
7. Glen Keen Sheep Farm & Visitor Experience
Number seven on the list is a single family owned sheep farm consisting of a commonage footprint that extends over 10,000 acres, making it one of the country’s largest operating farms.
It is located within a European Union-designated Special Area of Conservation for its unique habitats and wildlife. Found along the Wild Atlantic Way, Glen Keen Farm is County Mayo’s front door to the Delphi Valley, Killary Harbour, and the Connemara region.
Visitors can experience traditional turf cutting, Irish music and dance sessions, and a historical pre-Irish famine walking tours.
8. Ceide Fields
The Ceide Fields are a system of fields beneath the boglands of north Mayo that consist of dwelling areas and megalithic tombs which together make up the most extensive Stone Age monument in the world.
The stone-walled fields, extending over hundreds of hectares, are the oldest known globally, dating back almost 6,000 years. They are covered by a natural blanket bog with its own unique vegetation and wildlife.
The award-winning visitor centre includes a viewing platform on the edge of a 110-metre-high cliff.
9. Mayo North Heritage Centre
The North Mayo Heritage Centre is dedicated to preserving and promoting the heritage of the region.
It been awarded the An Taisce Green Flag every year since 2019 and The Enniscoe Estate was recognised as an Historical site by An Taisce in 2021.
The centre provides genealogical research for the North Mayo Diaspora with access to over 1.2 million records.
Visitors should not miss the chance to visit the certified Organic garden which sells fresh produce, one of the oldest in the country. The Centre also delivers an annual Cultural Programme of events, workshops and exhibitions throughout the year.
10. Wild Nephin National Park
Wild Nephin National Park rounds off the list at number ten.
The park covers 15,000 hectares of wilderness, dominated by the Nephin Beg mountain range. To the west of the mountains is the Owenduff Bog, one of the last intact active blanket bog systems in Western Europe.
Wild Nephin National Park is home to Greenland white-fronted geese, golden plover, red grouse and otters.
Visitors can also witness some of the darkest, most pristine night skies in the world and the Wild Nephin National Park is officially certified as a Gold Tier standard International Dark Sky Park. The Mayo Dark Sky Park extends across the entire National Park, and on a clear night visitors can see thousands of stars, other planets in the solar system, the Milky Way and even meteor showers.