fbpx vie magazine subscribe button

The Ultimate Day Trip

A Jaunt in Westport, Ireland

By Lesley Emerson | Photography by Matt Loughrey

Here’s a piece of friendly advice: don’t miss Westport while you’re in the West! Judged by Irish Times readers a couple of years back as ‘the best place to live’ in Ireland, it must be pretty close to ‘the best place to visit’ as well. Indeed, the route from Connemara is one of the most scenic in the country, passing via the town of Leenane and the shores of Killary Fjord through brooding Doo Lough Valley to Louisburgh and then along the glorious coastline past Croagh Patrick to Westport itself.

Travelling from Connemara to Westport is to move from Joyce Country to the land of the pirate queen Grace O’Malley (or Granuaile), who ruled the waters of Clew Bay back in the 1500s. Several of her castles remain dotted along the coast and on Clare Island, which guards the entrance to the great bay. Her descendants, the Browne family, still live in their Westport House estate on the site of one such castle. The stately home and the Pirate Adventure Park are magnetic attractions, especially for visiting families.

Few towns have the charisma and charm of Westport, and fewer still are as well equipped to host visitors and tourists at any time of the year. ‘Small but perfectly formed’ is an apt description of this designated Heritage Town, which barely has a mantelpiece broad enough to carry its many awards: Tidy Towns, Entente Florale, Best Kept Town, and more.

Carrowbeg River flowing through Westport's city centre Connemara Life 2016
The calm Carrowbeg River flows almost directly through Westport’s city centre and makes for a scenic stroll along the Mall to the north and south. Photo by Richard Semik / Shutterstock

Westport is beautifully laid out as befits one of the few planned towns in Ireland. One particularly picturesque area, the Mall, features elegant tree-lined boulevards and Georgian houses flanking the Carrowbeg River. The key directional markers are a delightful town clock standing alongside an old-style telephone kiosk and the Octagon, or town square, with an appropriate statue of Saint Patrick standing guard. Streets are generally named with charming logic (Shop Street, Bridge Street) or after one of the Browne family members (James Street, John’s Row). Handy town maps are available from the Tourist Office, and regular guided walks will introduce you to some of the history of this enchanting town.

Strict planning has banned neon signage and maintained a traditional look and feel throughout the town. A quirky combination of boutiques, bike hire firms, galleries, pubs, craft shops, and cafes jostle for attention, many with the owners’ names proudly displayed above the door. The slightest hint of sunshine brings tables and chairs outside for continental-style dining at its best, while permanent street furniture means there’s always somewhere for the weary visitor to take a rest. Spacious car parks have a modest charge and are tucked away discreetly. On-street parking is free for an hour at a time—though there’s plenty to keep you occupied for much longer.

Mountain sheep in Connemara with mountain in the background Croagh Patrick Connemara Life 2016
A common sight in Connemara, mountain sheep often dot the grasslands surrounding the foothills of Croagh Patrick.

Behind Westport Leisure Park, an outdoor playground for children is free of charge and open all the time. In the case of inclement weather, there are several indoor options, beginning with no fewer than five swimming pools: one in Leisure Park and four in nearby hotels. The cinema is an excellent family-friendly option, along with an indoor play village with a Wild West theme on Altamont Street (also a Browne family reference).

Bicycle parking, bike lockers, and a wide choice of bike hire outlets hint at Westport’s location on the Great Western Greenway, which runs forty-two kilometres to Achill Island. Rental companies will bus you to Achill so you can cycle back at your leisure. If that’s too ambitious, the Old Railway Line Walk, a beautiful two-and-a-half-kilometre walking and cycling trail, goes from the town down to Westport Quay. There is also a cycle lane all the way out to the mountain of Croagh Patrick in Murrisk, eight kilometres from the town. The Reek, as Croagh Patrick is locally known, has been a site of pilgrimage since pre-Christian times and still attracts around twenty-five thousand climbers on Reek Sunday, the last Sunday in July. It’s a stiff but rewarding climb, offering remarkable views over Clew Bay from Achill to Inishbofin.

If you still have the energy, a swim at Bertra Beach just down the road is a great way to refresh yourself. Alternatively, there are two pubs near the Reek that offer a different style of refreshment. Look out for the National Famine Monument opposite Croagh Patrick car park. It’s a dramatic, thought-provoking sculpture of a famine ship with stylised skeletons forming the rigging. Appropriately, it stares out over Clew Bay where ships, heavily laden with miserable human cargo, sailed in the 1840s to escape the potato famine.

Bustling City Centre of Westport with shops pubs and culture Connemara Life 2016
The city centre of Westport is a charming and bustling hub of shops, pubs, and culture.
Photo by Kellie Diane Stewart / Shutterstock

Don’t miss out on Westport Quay during your visit. Recently upgraded, it has its own distinct character, and restored grain warehouses now house some excellent shops, restaurants, and pubs. Particularly charming is the Towers Bar and Restaurant with its stunning views. The main entrance to Westport House and the beautiful estate leads onto the Quay area. Walking out to the point is a lovely short stroll along the quayside past the fishing and pleasure boats. Keep an eye out for the Clew Bay Heritage Centre on the way; this small museum houses some wonderful local antiquities. If you’d rather get closer to the bay itself, there are a few options for getting afloat. Take a sightseeing tour, go sea angling (for a day or a few hours), or get up-close and personal with the marine life on a kayak tour. Whatever you choose, make sure you have the camera close at hand.

Shopaholics will find that Westport punches well above its weight and rewards browsing on the main shopping streets, at the Quay, or in hidden nooks and crannies. Many shops take pride in stocking local and Irish products rather than following the mainstream. Westport is a great place to buy souvenirs, sports or outdoor clothing, and both the wedding outfit and the wedding present!

Westport is well known as a foodie destination and has an excellent food festival in late June. The quality of restaurants and cafes is very high, and award plaques are commonplace outside the doors. Keep an eye out for artisan butchers and bakers too, particularly if you have a gourmet picnic in mind. Be sure to try one of the local craft beers, such as those from Mescan Brewery, intriguingly named after none other than Saint Patrick’s personal brewer.

Beautiful view of Clew Bay from Croagh Patrick overlooking Dorinish Island Connemara Life 2016
A view of Clew Bay from Croagh Patrick overlooks Dorinish Island (which once belonged to John Lennon), the village of Murrisk, and Bertra Beach.

The food festival isn’t the only event worth attending in Westport; there seems to be something pretty much every week of the year, including cycling and outdoor events, the intriguing Bike Buffet—where participants cycle between each course of their meal—and the Westport Arts Festival and Rolling Sun Book Festival, both in autumn. There’s music on offer every night in one or more pubs, particularly Matt Molloy’s (owned by the world-famous Chieftains musician) and the Town Hall Theatre, which has an excellent calendar of shows and events. Check with the Tourist Office for details on all local events; it is a treasure trove of information and advice.

Westport is a town of charisma and contrasts. It’s a delight to visit and a highly recommended day trip from anywhere in Connemara. Be warned though: once you’ve visited, you could find yourself hooked on its beautiful scenery, year-round calendar of events, and desirable fare!


Read Responsibly

VIE Magazine - Architecture & Design Issue - July 2020
VIE Magazine - Decor and Home Issue - June 2020
VIE Magazine May 2020 Entertainment Issue, Leslie Odom Jr
VIE Magazine - April 2020 Culinary Issue
VIE Magazine March 2020 The Fashion Edit, VONDOM, Alys Beach Fl, Digital Graffiti, Tres Chic, isidro dunbar Modern Interiors, Digital Graffiti Festival
VIE Magazine February 2020 Health & Beauty Issue
VIE Magazine - Travel Issue - January 2020 - Tanzania Safari Cover
VIE Magazine - Women's Issue - December 2019 - Tina Brown Cover
VIE NOV19 Goodness Issue
VIE Magazine, September 2019 Art & Culture Issue, Paul Hanninen
VIE Magazine - August 2019 - The Architecture and Design Issue
VIE Magazine - July 2019 - The Artist Issue
VIE Magazine - June 2019 - Fashion Edit
VIE Magazine - May 2019 - Culinary Issue
VIE Magazine - April 2019 - The Health & Wellness Issue
VIE Magazine - Special Entertainment Edition - March 2019
VIE Magazine February 2019 Luxury Homes & Technology Issue with Robbie Antonio of Revolution Precrafted
VIE Magazine - January 2019 - Southern Sophisticate Issue Cover
VIE Magazine - Special Anniversary Travel Edition - December 2018
VIE Magazine - The Goodness Issue - November 2018
VIE Magazine - The Art & Culture Issue - October 2018
VIE Magazine - Home & Garden Issue - September 2018
VIE Magazine - August 2018 Animal Issue
VIE Magazine - July 2018 Architecture & Design Issue - Subscribe to the magazine!
VIE Magazine - June 2018 Travel & Tech Issue
VIE Magazine - May 2018 Couture Issue
VIE Magazine - The Culinary Issue - April 2018 Cover - Chef James Briscione and Brooke Parkhurst
VIE Magazine - The Entertainers Issue - March 2018
VIE Magazine - February 2018 Destination Travel Issue
VIE Magazine - January 2018 Health & Beauty Issue
VIE Magazine, The Sophisticate Issue, December 2017
VIE Magazine - November 2017 Art & Culture Issue
VIE Magazine - October 2017 Home & Garden Issue
VIE Magazine | September 2017 | The Stories and Storytellers Issue
VIE Magazine - The Adventure Issue - August 2017
VIE Magazine - July 2017 - Art & Artist Issue
VIE Magazine - The Voyager Issue - June 2017
VIE magazine 2017 March-April Cover South Walton Fashion Week
VIE Magazine - January/February 2017 - The Health & Beauty Issue
VIE Magazine - Nov/Dec 2016 The Sophisticate Issue
christian siriano vie magazine september october 2016 vie magazine
the modern minimalist issue
the culinary and couture issue march april 2016 vie magazine
the voyager issue alys beach vie magazine january february 2016
cultural issue vie magazine november december 2015
home and garden issue vie magazine september october 2015
the art and style issue vie magazine july august 2015
the wedding issue 2015 May June vie magazine
the food and fashion issue vie magazine march april 2015
the travel issue vie magazine january february 2015
the music issue vie magazine 2014 november december
The Animal Issue vie magazine september october 2014
the home and garden issue vie magazine july august 2014
the wedding issue vie magazine may june 2014
emeril lagasse food and fashion vie magazine
the men's issue january february 2014
the music issue november december 2013 vie magazine
the home and garden issue 2013 october september
the wedding issue vie magazine july august 2013
the artist issue may june 2013 vie magazine
the food and fashion issue march april 2013
the men's issue january february 2013 vie magazine
The Holiday Issue
the love issue july august 2012
the all american summer may june 2012
the entertainment issue march april 2012
the fashion issue vie magazine winter 2011
the home and garden issue vie magazine fall 2011
the anniversary edition vie magazine summer 2011
the wedding issue vie magazine spring 2011
vie magazine the holiday issue 2010 Dec
vintage swimsuits vie magazine 2010 Fall
judith march designer vie magazine summer 2010
wedding giveaway vie magazine spring 2010
holiday gift guide vie magazine winter 2009
emarketing explosion vie magazine fall 2009
tribute to mother's day vie magazine summer 2009
james and robert redford vie magazine spring 2009
zz top vie magazine fall winter 2008
project dreams vie magazine new york fashion week
Sign-up for VIEmail

Sign up for VIEmail