8 Achill Island Beaches: Blue Flag & Hidden Gems

While the world famous Keem Beach will inevitably get all the plaudits, there are numerous other beautiful beaches on Achill Island.

If you wish to try your hand at water sports, take a brisk rejuvenating walk or just have a leisurely swim in calm, clear waters, there really is a beach for everyone on Achill Island.

There’s even a beach so far removed from civilization, it is said the phrase ‘the back of beyond’ originally referred to this exact location. We’ll get on to that one a little later.

Achill Island Beaches: A General Overview

There are a total of 5 Blue Flag beaches on Achill Island. In order for a beach to qualify for Blue Flag status, it must fulfil numerous criteria, from water quality to safety and provision of adequate services.

Judging by official information from the Blue Flag beach website, Achill has the highest concentration of Blue Flag beaches in Ireland.

So, what are the beaches like?

Keem is breathtaking. Constantly cited as one of the world’s most beautiful beaches, it has to be seen to be believed.

Keel is a vast, expansive strand facing directly out into the Atlantic and is famous for water sports.

The beaches at Dugort are set beautifully at the foot of Slievemore and Dooega is a small and often overlooked beach perfect for a paddle on a fine day.

Map of Achill Island beaches

Below, you’ll find an overview of Achill Island beaches, with the blue pointers indicating the Blue Flag beaches on the island.

Our favourite beaches on Achill Island

Keem Beach

image copyright: sweetisleofmine.com

Perhaps unsurprisingly, our pick of the bunch is the blue flag beach of Keem. As a young fella growing up in Mayo, I knew Keem was a very special place. The funny thing is, it was practically unknown outside of the county.

These days, it’s winning accolade after accolade. ‘Lonely Planet’ describes it as “vertiginous yet jaw-droppingly beautiful,” and “one of Ireland’s most glorious, secluded strands”.

It is located on the western end of the island, surrounded by towering cliffs with Ireland’s highest cliffs, Croaghaun located to the north. The beach is no more than 500 metres in length and is backed by rolling green, sheep-dotted hills on each side.

On a clear day, the sand is a blinding white and the water sparkles in hues of emerald green and deep blue. If you’re lucky enough, you may spot a basking shark or a pod of dolphins in the waters of the bay.

image copyright: sweetisleofmine.com

Lifeguards are present in the summer months and you’ll also see a coffee truck for snacks and supplies. On a good day, the beach gets very busy. Parking is available at the beach, or near the public toilets along the approach road.

A large part of the draw to Keem lies in the narrow, cliff-top road you’ll have to navigate on the way to get there. It is worth pointing out that for those with a fear of heights, this high road may be an issue.

Fans of ‘The Banshees of Inisherin’ will recognise this beach as the location of Colm Sonny Larry’s cottage and the beautiful cinematography has certainly put Keem on the map forever. While no longer the ‘hidden gem’ it used to be, Keem is undeniably Ireland’s most spectacular strand.

Check out our detailed guide to Keem here.

Keel Beach (Trawmore)

keel beach
image via failte Ireland

Another spectacular beach located near the village of its namesake, the blue flag beach of Keel has always been the ‘go-to’ beach for anyone visiting Achill Island. This 4 km long strand is set spectacularly against the backdrop of the towering Minaun Cliffs.

If you are looking for a beach on Achill Island that ticks all the boxes, then Keel is your best bet. There’s ample parking, a campsite, numerous surf schools, public toilets, a playground, lifeguards, a food/drinks van and so much space for any beach games/activities your heart desires.

By the way, swimming is only allowed on the Keel village side as the side towards the cliffs is unsuitable.

image copyright: sweetisleofmine.com

Having visited myself numerous times, Keel is an excellent beach for a good long stroll. Towards the dunes, the sand is good and solid underfoot and there’s nothing better that taking in lungfulls of that pure Atlantic air.

Other activities on the beach include kite surfing, sea-kayaking and shore-angling. To really appreciate how vast and spectacular Keel is, take a trip up the steep, windy road to Minaun Heights and experience one of my very favourite views in all of Ireland.

Have a look at our detailed guide to Keel beach here.

Dugort Beach

image via Failte Ireland/Christian McLeod

Ah Dugort…The place where I witnessed my first ever dolphin sighting. Unfortunately this was about 30 years ago, so there is no photographic evidence of the special occasion. Locals will tell you however that dolphin sightings are a common occurrence in the bay.

In any case, Dugort is a very special place. Another blue flag beach with a spectacular setting on the northern shores of the island. Your eyes will be automatically drawn to the steep slopes of Slievemore (671 metres) and it is a popular starting point for the hike to Achill’s iconic peak.

There is ample parking near the beach, and last year there were portable toilets near the dunes. There are also plenty of picnic beaches, along with a quirky sauna on site, which is becoming a bit of a thing on Mayo beaches in recent years!

image via Failte Ireland/Christian McLeod

Due to its sheltered nature, Dugort is very popular for swimmers, along with providing nice calm waters for sea kayaking or paddle boarding. There is a nice stream leading through the beach which will keep the young ones occupied!

Last summer, when I visited, there was a coffee van set up nearby and a nice touch is the GAA goals, so bring a ball or a hurl!

Tip: Take the boat trip from Dugort pier to witness the spectacular cliffs of Croaghaun around the headland!

Annagh Strand: Achill’s hidden gem

image copyright: Achill Tourism

The back of beyond.

A wild storm beach located on the northern shores of the island, this beach is notoriously difficult to get to. I had planned to visit in the summer of 2023 but the weather was so atrocious, I had to cancel on numerous occasions.

How to get there? Achill Tourism informed me ”I would suggest parking at Dooagh beach, or opposite Lourdie’s pub, or the perhaps graveyard at Slievemore as the big roads may be used for access for farmers as all the land is used by commonage holders”

So, all in all, a large effort to get there. The hike from any of these locations is a long slog. You’ll also have to make your way down some very steep slopes to get there, so lots of care is required. This walk is reserved for those with plenty of prior trekking experience.

But it sure is stunning. All around you are steep slopes and directly behind is the large lake of Lough Nakeeroge East, Ireland’s lowest corrie lake at 16 metres above sea level.

Needless to say there are no facilities on site, but it is a popular place for wild camping, especially with some of Ireland’s most spectacular hiking on its doorstep.

Golden Strand/Dooega East/Trá Bhearna na gCapall

image via Failte Ireland

Another blue flag beach located east of Dugort Strand, this beach has a far ‘wilder’ feel to it. Being more exposed to the Atlantic than its sister beach, let this not put you off visiting.

During a recent visit, I noticed wind surfers and kite surfers alike making the most of the windy conditions. It’s also a fine, long beach for a brisk walk with beautiful views in all directions.

The name translates as ‘the stand of the gap of the horses’ and refers to a time when horses were used to transport seaweed from the shore which was then used to fertilize the land. Those of you familiar with the film The Quiet Man will remember this practise being carried out in the opening scenes.

There is parking along the road, although there were no lifeguards on duty during a visit in 2023. Water quality is regarded as ‘excellent’ and it is part of the Blueway kayak trail which takes you to the nearby Dugort beach or for the more experienced, around the headland to the stunning north Achill cliffs.

Dooega Strand

image via Failte Ireland/Christian McLeod

While not as jaw-dropping as Keem or Keel, the blue flag beach of Dooega is well worth exploring. It won’t get the crowds as the 2 mentioned above either, so on a busy day, it’s well worth a stop along the Atlantic Drive.

It’s a beach I am very aware of as it’s the first proper sandy beach you come across after passing a particularly beautiful section of the Atlantic Drive.

The breathtaking Atlantic Drive near Ashleam Bay/image copyright: sweetisleofmine.com

From the beach, there are gorgeous views out towards the cliffs on Clare Island and its sheltered location makes it ideal for swimming.

There is a modest car park on site with a nice info-board giving information about the Achill Maritime History Trail. There’s also a delightful little picnic bench located in a slightly elevated position before the parking area with nice views over the bay.

In summer 2023 there were also portable toilets nearby, but no lifeguard on duty. Dooega is a grand little west of Ireland beach with the stone walls and cottage ruins and nearby greenery adding a nice contrast to its golden sands.

I like to walk down to the nearby pier to get a good view over back over the whole strand and the south coast of Achill.

Other beaches on Achill

Dooagh Strand

Ever heard of the disappearing beach?

Dooagh Beach in Achill, Ireland, gained international attention when it mysteriously disappeared in 1984, leaving behind only rocky terrain. The cause was attributed to a powerful storm that washed away the sandy shoreline overnight.

Locals were shocked as the picturesque beach, once a popular spot, vanished without a trace. However, nature had a surprising twist in store. In 2017, another powerful storm struck the area, and miraculously, the beach reappeared, restoring the stretch of golden sand.

The village of Dooagh saw a rise in the number of visitors to the area and locals began to reminisce about past glorious sunny days on lovely Dooagh Strand.

Unfortunately, the saga didn’t end there as a series of storms towards the end of 2018 and early 2019 saw the beach completely disappear again! Who knows what the next years will bring, as storms have increased in both frequency and intensity in recent years along the west coast of Ireland.

Dooniver Strand

To the west of the island, you’ll find the nicely sheltered Dooniver Strand. Parking is very limited here and it is not a blue flag beach, but it is a great long strand for a stroll. You get great views towards the Nephin Beg mountains and towards Inishbiggle, an inhabited island just off the eastern Achill coast.

Beaches near Achill Island

Clew Bay is known far and wide for its beaches. The nearby seaside village of Mulranny offers 2 beautiful sandy beaches. The village itself is also a great alternative location to stay for a few nights if all is booked out on Achill.

We have a full visitors’ guide to Mulranny, along with its beaches and tons of other helpful info here.

Beach at Mulranny/image copyright: sweetisleofmine.com

On the other side of the bay, you’ll come across the magnificent beaches of Bertra and Old Head, two perfectly sheltered beaches and ideal for kids.

What else to do on Achill Island?

There’s a wealth of activities on offer on Achill, especially if you are fond of the great outdoors. From hiking in the western end of the island to learning to kite surf at Keel, Achill draws a large number of adventure seekers.

But, there are also some fine art galleries, an aquarium, great restaurants and pubs, along with a top class distillery to keep you occupied on those muggy Achill days. Don’t forget, the coastal drives around the island are also spectacular, whatever the weather.

Whatever you may choose, we have a detailed guide of the best things to do on Achill here.

Your questions about Achill Island beaches answered

Recently I have gotten asked some questions regarding the beaches on Achill. Here are the ones that have cropped up the most.

What’s the story with Dooagh beach now?

As of February 2024, there is no sandy beach at Dooagh. The beach disappeared once again following a series of storms in late 2018, early 2019.

How many beaches are on Achill?

You’ll find 5 Blue Flag beaches on Achill island, the highest concentration of Blue Flag beaches in Ireland. There are roughly 4 other beaches on the island, one of which is the spectacular hidden strand at Annagh.

Can you swim on Achill Island?

Yes. The 5 Blue Flag beaches offer excellent water quality and 3 of these strands, namely Keem, Keel and Dugort will have lifeguards on duty in the summer months. Always follow lifeguard’s advice regarding which sections of the beach are suitable for swimming.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *