Dublin may be your first stop when you visit Ireland, but it is mostly in smaller towns that you will experience the warmth of Irish culture.
Small but active communities, charming cottages, and old-school Irish pubs are some of the many reasons why you may just want to live in one of these smaller towns in Ireland. One such town where I urge you to visit is Westport in County Mayo, which has also been incidentally been voted as the best places to live in Ireland.
For those who have not seen my previous blog posts about Ireland, here is a quick catch-up for you – Westport is the gateway to Ireland’s Mayo County and is usually the first place that travelers visit while exploring Mayo. It is a heritage town on the West Coast and on Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way. I visited the Mayo County after spending a few days in Killarney, which is famous for the Ring of Kerry.
Westport, Ireland Travel Video
If you’re feeling particularly lazy to read the entire post, then this short video is for you. It highlights a few [but not all] points that I have discussed in this post.
In all honestly, none of the pictures or videos do justice to the loveliness of Westport, so I will give it a try using words.
Why I fell in love with Westport, Ireland –
Carrowbeg River, Lovely Bridges, the Mall – Westport is Gorgeous
Westport has whatever it takes to be an aesthetically pleasing town. The streets are perfectly tree-lined; the main town is colorfully dotted with delightful shops, cafes, and pubs.
To make things even better, there is the gentle Carrowbeg River that cuts through the town and there are old-fashioned bridges on top of this river with flowers everywhere. The banks of this river are called the Mall and there are benches here. From some spots in Westport, you can even see the holy mountain of Ireland – Croagh Patrick.
Have I painted an interesting picture?
Well, I was impressed to know that the reason why Westport appears to be near perfect is because there is a strong sense of community amongst the locals to keep the town at it’s best. After all, Westport has also won the contest of “Ireland’s Tidiest Town” three times! (Btw, it is hilariously adorable that Ireland has a contest for the tidiest towns.)
Westport House – Ireland’s Most Beautiful Historic House
Often called the loveliest historic house in Ireland, Westport House is the city’s biggest tourist attraction. It was the first place that I visited after reaching Westport and spent several hours learning basic archery and watching “Birds of Prey” demonstration.
One of the first things that struck me about Westport House was the beauty in the simplicity of the architecture. There is a lawn that surrounds this Georgian mansion and there’s also a lake on the other side. If you walk along the lake and look back, you will see a full reflection of Westport House in the water.
I visited Westport at the beginning of autumn and it was lovely to see a little red creeping in the greenness of this lawn. I also got to explore Westport House from the inside and was informed that there are 30 rooms that are on display here. I did not explore them all but only some due to time limitations.
You must be wondering whom the Westport House was originally built for, so here’s a little history for you. It was originally built for Colonel John Browne in the 16th century, but was rebuilt and expanded by his grandson in 1730.
Westport House was the Browne family’s residence for almost 300 years and is now owned by the Hughes family. The Browne family is the descendant of Grace O’Malley – Ireland’s 16th century Pirate Queen. It was built in a way that the views of the nearby Clew Bay, Achill Island, Clare Island, the Atlantic Ocean and the Croagh Patrick Mountain would reward the residents.
Find manors interesting? You should also check out this self drive itinerary with Ireland’s manors and castles.
If you’re visiting Westport, do check Westport House’s event calendar to find out what’s on. I watched the “Birds of Prey” demonstration and archery. If you’re visiting with children, you may want to check out the Westport House’s Pirate Adventure Part too!
Westport has an Interesting History
In the last section, I mentioned the beauty of Westport House’s garden area. In fact, this garden is where the original Cathair na Mart village existed. The Ó Máille’s controlled the Cathair na Mart castle that was built in the 16th century and the surrounding village. Cathair na Mart village was later moved to its present location by the Browne family and renamed Westport. This town originated as a place for mostly his workers and tenants would live.
This town was almost entirely designed and planned in 1780 by an English architect – James Wyatt – who also finished the Westport House. Westport is one of the very few planned towns in Ireland.
Westport is an Amazing Food Destination
One of the things that I love about traveling is experiencing new food that every destination has to offer. I was very excited to visit Westport because it is a thriving food destination.
If you enjoy seafood, then you’re going to have a very good time here because Westport is a coastal town. Be sure to try fresh mussels, hake fish, Dexter beef, soda bread and traditional Irish seafood chowder. For something other than traditional food, you will be surprised to know that you can even find good Indian curries here like I did in Hotel Westport.
While I was here, I did a food tour where I visited some of the finest restaurants and got to eat some really delicious things. Out of all the places, one restaurant that really stood out was the Idle Wall. I have also written a blog post about this foodie trail in Westport and you can read it here.
Cycling here is Fun [+ the Great Western Greenway Trail]
There is something special about exploring a new place on a bicycle. You’re your own master, you can stop anywhere, and you can experience the length and breadth of what the new place has to offer without the protective armor of a car. Also – you don’t have to make an as much physical effort as walking but you get to enjoy literally all its benefits. Besides, it keeps you fit.
Cycling is an important part of Westport’s culture and is encouraged. The town is small enough so it is very easy to cover it by cycling around. You can rent a bicycle from the Clew Bay Bike Hire, which is in the main town. I highly recommend you cover one [or all] of the cycling trails that Westport has to offer.
The Great Western Greenway trail also starts in Westport and goes up to Achill Island via Newport and Mulranny. This 42 KM trail is one of the most famous bicycle and hiking trails of the country and is gorgeous. I did around 20KM of this trail and really enjoyed the experience.
If you’re looking for a shorter bicycle trail, then you can check the National Coastal Trail from Westport to Croagh Patrick.
Little Westport Train
Have you ever explored a small town on a little toy-ish train that you had to yourself? I did for the first time in Westport.
Doesn’t it look lovely? Well, our train had two coaches and we drove around the town and then went to Westport House.
In all fairness – this is a tour that has been specifically designed for travelers. The tour lasts for 45 minutes and shows you the town’s important landmarks and also Westport Quay and eventually goes inside the lawns of Westport House.
Westport Train tour is a fun way to know more about the town. As the train moves, you can hear a recording of Westport’s history, interesting facts and more. It is one of the things that you can enjoy when it’s raining in Westport.
If you’re heading to Ireland, then be sure to include a small town in your itinerary and let Westport in Mayo county be that town. While there, experience the local Irish pub culture along with a glass of Guinness and traditional Irish music in Cobbler’s Bar.
Have I convinced you to visit Westport? Leave a comment and let me know what you think. If you enjoyed this post, be sure to share it with your friends or family members who’re heading to Europe.
FYI: Ireland and Northern Ireland are different. If you’re looking for amazing places to visit in Northern Ireland, why not check this amazing road trip from Belfast to Derry.
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You may also enjoy:
Achill Island – the Gem of Mayo on the Wild Atlantic Way (Ireland)
Disclosure: I explored Westport with Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland on a press trip but all opinions in this article are mine.
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I’ve already fallen in love with Westport without being there yet. The cobbled street and that kind of architecture drive me crazy. Moreover, the Great Western Greenway Trail is the perfect way to see the town and its surroundings and do some physical exercise as well. In the rainy days, I would choose the Little Train, though. I don’t like to get wet and dry my clothes for several hours.
Hey Iuliana 🙂 we’re glad that our post made you fall in love with Westport already. The Great Western Greenway trail is actually not to see the Westport town, but is a trail that goes from Westport to Achill Island. This trail is within Ireland’s county Mayo.
Love this kind of small, historic town when travelling, as a great contrast to the big brash cities. I can see that Westport has a lot to appeal, with the lovely river and riverside architecture, the beautiful streets, friendly pubs and restaurants and that timeless feel that some places seem to exude.
Hi Kavita, yes Westport absolutely has a timeless charm! It is a very cute little town and I’m glad I got to visit it while exploring Mayo County in Ireland. 🙂
You’ve definitely convinced me to check out Westport on my next trip to Ireland. I love exploring small towns for many of the reasons you mention, and I especially love exploring by bicycle. What a beautiful place!
Hi Tara, yes it is surely a lot of fun exploring a small town on a bicycle at your own pace. Not just Westport but the entire Mayo county is perfect for it. Go visit this part of Ireland someday. Cheers!
Looks like a very cosy and charming town. I haven’t been to Ireland yet but would love to go soon and explore towns like this. It really seems like a place that is not a tourist trap which is good and would give you a more authentic experience. Definitely pinning this for later 😀
Hey Vibeke, yes you hit the nail on the head when you said that Westport is not a tourist trap and will give you an authentic Irish experience. And I’d love to go back to Ireland because there is so much to see!
This makes me want to get back on a plane and go back to Ireland right now. We spent about 21 days there recently but didn’t make it to Westport or County Mayo. What a miss! You can’t see it all, but this definitely gives us reason to go back!
This makes me want to see Ireland! It’s easy to see why this is one of the best places to live in Ireland. It’s so quaint and bucolic. And I love that you listed a few of their traditional foods to try – I’ve had soda bread before but I’d love to try the Dexter beef to see how it tastes!
I love that there is a strong sense of community. Having relationships with your neighbors and the people in your community really do make a difference! I really love the how the streets are perfectly tree-lined.
Totally agree that the essence of Ireland is in it’s small communities and towns. I haven’t been to Westport but it does look charming! Old bridge is really picturesque, and such beautiful autumn colors. Can you imagine how incredible it would have been to have once lived in Westport House!
I have read several great stories about Ireland and the colourful culture of irish people. Your blog post about Westport is really interesting as you tackle how their communities work in day to day life. Thank you so much for sharing this with us.
The essence of most countries in Europe are in their small towns which carry forward traditions and community culture from way back. The cobblestone pathways, old bridges, castles and churches and lovely walks (or cycling tours) on roads lined up in autumn finery is something very rare where we come from. Westport house indeed seems like a lovely place and we wonder how great it would have been to live there in its prime.
I just LOVE small Irish towns, I could not get enough of them on my road trip. I wish we had gone here, but I know I would love it from your post. The tasty food, live music and charming streets. Looks like the train will get you around in style too. What a great place to fall in love with.
How charming Sonal. I love the feel of this place. Classic Europe, in so many ways, from the narrow roads and quiet home town and just the vibe you get from your inspired photos. I would have seen the Birds of Prey exhibit too. Right up my raptor loving alley 🙂
I have always been a fan of small historic town and with your blog, Westport is the new addition to my bucket list. the place doesn’t seem like a tourist trap which is a total win-win and your pictures are literally boasting about its serenity. loved it, Thanks for sharing the blog.
My wife and I have visited Westport the last eight summers, with our 2017 visit extending to 10 weeks. Stay away! We want it to ourselves! So many wonderful things to do – shows at the Westport Town Hall, dinner at the Tavern at the foot of Croagh Patrick, riding on the Greenway, playing a round of golf at Westport Golf Club, Father Charlie’s excellent (and brief) homilies at St. Mary’s, the town’s best scone and Irish Coffee at the Clew Bay Hotel (ask for Ger), the 99 (cent) ice cream cone at McGreevy’s, music at McGing’s, pizzas at Il Vulcano and the Woodfire, a pint at Matt Molloy’s, music all over town by the Clew Bay Critters, the Mac Evilly’s (Rocky Top String Band), and the Hip-Pocket Trio, and hell, a festival every weekend (make sure you catch the Folk and Bluegrass Festival in mid-June). Stay away!
Wonderful times you seem to have in my home town Westport ,, as a child growing up their i never thought much about it like that ,,, it as I traveled all over and world ,I now see it through different eyes ,so I return their now many times as we have a farm not far from the Tavern which you said you dined their. I love the the way every says how are you even if you never seen them before , it’s so calming their ,I stay at the (Harbour Mill) apartments at the Quay just as you leave the town heading towards Louisburgh , they are so friendly their and when I check in they welcome home , And if you get one overlooking the harbour it’s bliss ,
Love all the great comments, see you all in Westport very soon 🍀🍷🍷🍷🍀🍷🍀🍷🍀🍷🍀❤️❤️❤️
I am so happy to hear all the wonderful things that all you people Have experienced in My home town ,,I was born their and then in my youth started to travel all over the world, now I return many times a year and its almost the same as 1970,,,time has almost stood still ❤️❤️❤️❤️🍀🍀🍀🍀
My great-grandfather, Thomas Aloysius Tallent, was born in Westport, so I am researching it! Such a lovely town, and full of inspiration for my story that I am inspired to write. Thank you for your lovely story and video!
I’ve been to Westport and it is my favorite place ever. All of Ireland is gorgeous and the people are the best but Westport
is especially charming. I can’t wait to return. I am 100 percent Irish in my heart!
Hi Sonal from India, what a wonder person, you, your husband and child are, just delightful. Love this blog on Westport.
Half English, half Irish, my first memories are Ireland, running wild on my grandmother’s farm just outside Westport. After kicking a Nun in 1954 I was transported back to Cambridge, England…
My hero, Granuaile, (Grace O’Malley the Pirate Queen) 1530-1603 was born near Westport. Croagh Patrick mountain rises over Clew bay and sometimes looking out over the shimmering sea you might catch a glimpse of Granuaile leading her galleys of 300 men to raid British and Spanish cargo ships….
She is also famous for sailing her ships up the river Thames in London to meet with Queen Elizabeth I in 1593.
This was said of her by Sir Henry Sidney in 1577,
“There came to me also a most feminine sea captain called Grany Imallye…with three galleys and 200 fighting men…. she brought with her her husband for she was as well by sea as by land well more than Mrs. Mate with him….This was a notorious woman in all the coasts of Ireland.”
(Quote from back cover of Anne Chambers book, “GRANUAILE.”)
In 1984 I spent a month in Westport visiting the farm, (long sold) neighbors, cousins and aunts. At the bottom of Croagh Patrick I found the gravesite of Grace O’Malley!
Here is an essay about my visit that begins with a fictional meeting with Granuaile on Croagh Patrick then leads on to a delightful meeting I had with two aunts in Westport.
Through the sea, my face would form upon the shore of Croagh Patrick,
“Ceaid Mile Failte Michail O’h Eineachain”
“A Thousand Welcomes, to the holy pagan mountain of Saint Patrick.” Wind sweeping her wild auburn hair, her voice was of an ancient sound, like rain falling upon a distant river. Where her heart beat, a jeweled tara broach sealed her seaweed green cloak.
Granuaille, Grace O’Malley, Pirate Queen of Connaught seas, along this western coast of Ireland. A Celtic warrior woman, her passion feared more than loved. A notorious woman who never bowed to English conquest.
“Grainne Ni Mhalle, you have been sorely missed by troubled Ireland. Tis said you brooked no guff at all from Elizabeth of England, who tried unsuccessfully, by bribe and threat, to get you to keep your hands off British shipping.”
“I had much to contend with when I ruled this land and sea. Oh, but I loved the fire in our bellies, the rush of wind flapping our sails in pursuit of another English or Spanish galleon.”
“I know you have been waiting for my return to the shores of my childhood. First I need to wander among the green dewy moss and purple heather, taste again the moist earth on my face, the tang of salt on my skin, feel the rivers of this land run like blood through my veins.
“Go so, indulge your memories awhile. Be ye not long, for the dust of time is gathering to form new events, and collects in my loins awaiting the rebirth of our land. ‘Tiocfaidh ar la!’ until then Michail O’h Eineachain, fare thee well.”
I followed the single line railway track out of Westport town. The white cottage appeared peaceful as I approached, smoke lazily rising from its chimney. A field of grass sloped down from the cottage to a river sparkling with polished stones. Along a narrow bridge over the river I saw myself, a child racing, swinging his arm like the propeller of an aircraft, yelling: “Bridie, Bridie, see how fast I run.”
Bridie swept him up into her breast, pressing his face into brown curly hair. He loved being crushed to her softness, her smell. “Whist, you’re a fine one to be running so. Will ye ever be still?” The boy pushed himself from her arms, dropping to his feet. “Catch me if you can,” and was gone running wild over the hill. Ah, my aunt Bridie, she spoilt me terrible with love.
Dusk was gathering as I made my way back into Westport. I knocked on a huge green door. A small lady pulled the door open.
“Is it Marion or Rita O’Donnell?” asks I.
“Marion” answers she.
“My name is Graham Hee-ner-hang …. Sonny’s boy, the Hee-ner-hangs on the railway line!”
Shaking hands, “Ahh, come in, come in, delighted to meet you, delighted we are.”
“Have you eaten?” Rita asks.
“No, but a cup of tea will do me fine.”
“Ahh, it will be nothing. I’ll go and make you some dinner.”
Over a good dinner of potatoes and meat, and in front of a blazing fire, the two dear old ladies seated each side of me, filled both my ears at the same time with their musical voices….
“Ahh, it t’was his great aunt.”
“Ah, no Marion, you’ve got it wrong, it was his great aunt on the grandmothers side, Sarah was her name, ah she was a beautiful woman.”
“Ahh, she was, indeed she was,” says Marion. “Oh Lord, I could sit and look at her all day, she was so beautiful.”
Then turning to me, Marion looks closely at my face, “You’re a handsome man yourself Graham.”
“I take after my father.” Says I.
Feeling a warm glow inside, the two white haired ladies see me to the door. Outside it was black with rain lashing down, driving smoke from peat fires over wet slated rooftops.
I made my way back to the sea.