Keem Bay Achill: Parking, Swimming & 2024 Guide

image copyright: Connaunght Telegraph

Keem Beach on the western end of Achill Island is one of the Wild Atlantic Way’s greatest treasures.

In my view, this is Ireland’s most spectacular strand. Its history, marine life and nearby hikes all combine to create a coastal landscape up there with the finest in Europe.

Oddly, there was a time when Keem Beach on Achill Island was relatively unknown to those not from the local area, due to its isolated location. However, it is now one of the most visited places on the Wild Atlantic Way.

CN Traveller has it listed as the best in Ireland, as well as number 12 in the world and at the start of 2024 ‘Lonely Planet’ also named Keem in the world’s top 100.

To add to that, the wonderful Banshees of Inisherin handpicked this location for some of its most epic scenes. Little wonder, considering the jaw-dropping scenery of the area.

So what makes it so special?

Having grown up in the county of Mayo, Keem Bay is a place I have visited literally hundreds of times. Every time I visit, especially during fine weather, the jagged surrounding cliffs in contrast with the crystal clear water makes it difficult to leave.

Recognise this cottage?!
image via Tourism Ireland/Copright Gareth McCormack

I have witnessed some incredible spectacles of nature, including numerous sightings of 8-metre long basking sharks and multiple sightings of dolphins.

Dolphins Keem Beach
Keem Bay dolphins/image copyright:

I have viewed the beach from 688 metres above sea level from the Cliffs of Croaghaun. I still remember the ‘wow’ moment when the beach came into view for the first time along that infamous winding approach road.

This exact same reaction I have also witnessed every time I have brought guests here.


Where is Keem Bay located?

Keem Beach is an east-facing strand located on the western end of Achill Island, County Mayo. To the north lies the towering cliffs of Croaghaun, standing at 688 metres (2,257 feet) To the west lies approximately 8 km of sheer cliffs, coming to a dramatic end at Achill Head.

The closest major town to Keem Beach is Westport, about 1 hr. 15 minutes away.

Keem Beach/Bay is found at the end of the R319 road i.e. the road runs out at the beach’s carpark!

How to get there

Achill island is joined to the mainland by the short Michael Davitt bridge. Drive past the villages of Keel and Dooagh until you reach the end of the R319 road.

It’s also a wonderful cycle from Keel to Keem strand (although with a steep incline) and when the weather is good we highly recommend this, not just for the views, but because parking will be hard to come by.

A brief history

Archaeological Discovery

In 2009, the Achill Field School discovered around 40 dwellings dating back to the early 19th century. These belonged to locals practicing transhumance, moving livestock to higher ground in summer. Abandoned likely due to the Great Famine (1845-1852), the dwellings were later damaged by the local landlord, Charles Boycott.

Copyright: Achill Field School

Basking Shark Fishery

From the mid-1940s to the 1970s, Keem Bay had a bustling basking shark fishing industry. Local fishermen used traditional boats and harpoons to catch sharks, whose liver oil was used in cosmetics and aeronautics.

Up to 2,000 sharks were caught annually until the industry closed due to dwindling populations. Today, basking sharks are seen again in May and June.


Charles Boycott, an English landlord on Achill Island from 1856, gave rise to the term “boycott” due to his harsh treatment of tenants. The remnants of his cottage overlook Keem Beach. Note, the large white building behind the beach is a former coast guard station, not Boycott’s house.

About Keem Beach

Mesmerizing Natural Beauty

The picture-postcard perfect location of this horseshoe-shaped beach, nestled below some towering mountains and cliffs make for some jaw-dropping scenery.

On a clear day, the emerald-green/deep blue waters in contrast to the surrounding green slopes offers some fantastic colour. As incredible as it looks from these photos, you have to see it to believe it.

image via Failte Ireland/Courtesy Chaosheng Zhang

The Cliff-Top Drive (warning: it’s quite narrow)

The approach road to Keem Bay makes visiting the beach a real adventure. As mentioned, there is only one road in and one road out. After you leave the village of Dooagh, heading west, the road rises dramatically and soon you’ll find yourself on a 200 metre high cliff-edge.

The narrow road adds to the adventure and it’s certainly best for the driver to keep their eyes on the road at all times.


There is a small makeshift pull-in spot near the highest point of the road for that photo, but the road is very narrow. If you get lucky and it’s free, pull in and enjoy the magnificent view. You’ll probably spot some insane sheep rambling along the cliff edge – mad devils.

view from pull-in spot/image:

Then the road will wind its way down towards those crystal clear waters, and you’ll look back the road you came with a certain sense of relief and awe.

 image via Filate Ireland/Courtesy Joseph Carr Photography

The Incredible Hiking

This whole area of Ireland has some truly incredible hiking. If you are up for exploring the highest cliffs in Ireland (and the second highest sea cliff in Europe) then we have all the info you need here. These are located just north of Keem Bay, and you’ll need a good 5-6 hours to explore them properly.

As mentioned earlier, the old look-out house for basking sharks is located on Moyteogue Head. This is a great little hike and offers some phenomenal scenery of the beach and towards Achill Head.

Tip: Don’t go directly up from the south side of the beach, back-track a little and follow the makeshift path: it’s more tiresome than it looks if you go directly upwards!

If you would like to do a moderate hike, we would recommend traversing west of Keem, which includes the mighty Benmore (332 metres) and following this route all the way to Achill Head, which juts out into the Atlantic, reminiscent of a dragon’s tail. Just make sure it’s not too windy and have some good footwear.

Good to know: These cliffs at Keem are not the Cliffs of Croaghaun. Croaghaun lies to the north of Keem (see image below)

view of achill Head from the top of Croaghaun/image:

We advise not hiking to the end of Achill Head, it’s far too narrow and exposed.

The Mighty Croaghaun

The Marine Life

One of the highlights of Keem Bay is the marine life on display here in the late months of spring/early summer.

If you are lucky, you’ll come across a group of basking sharks, wading their way through the crystal clear waters of Keem Bay. Common dolphins are a very regular sight here also.

And remember, if you are out on a paddle-board or a kayak, keep your distance to these animals.

Keem Beach/Bay is also known for snorkelling, due to the clear waters and rocky terrain along the sides of the beach. You’ll need a good thick wetsuit if you venture in for a longer period, but prepare to see plenty of life from starfish to wrasse.

Keem beach is in a remote, yet tranquil location

Many of the photos you will see of Keem Beach exude tranquillity. The bay itself is east-facing, meaning it’s sheltered from any real Atlantic swell, providing a sense of calm as you walk along its shores.

On a quiet day in the off-season, you may have the beach all to yourself, which we reckon is the best time to experience the tranquillity of Keem Beach.

 image via Failte Ireland/Courtesy Christian McLeod

Water sports


Are we allowed to heap any more praise on Keem Bay? Recently it was named as the ‘No 1 wild swimming location’ in the UK and Ireland, due to its ‘ultra clean’ waters. Not a bad accolade and one we can definitely confirm.

The waters here are pristine…but chilly. As it’s surrounded by high mountains, the sun’s rays don’t get a chance to warm up the waters for the whole day.

The warmest time of the year for a swim is around mid-August, with the water reaching a daily maximum of 16 to 19 degrees. During a spell of warmer weather, this will go to 20 degrees easily.

image via Failte Ireland/copyright Chaosheng Zhang

SUP/Paddle boarding

Because of its calm waters, Keem Bay has become popular with paddleboarders in recent times. It’s possible to rent paddleboards from ‘Pure Magic’ on Achill Island.


Sea Kayaking

Again, due to its calm waters, it’s an ideal place for sea kayaking and some incredible videos have been doing the rounds lately, with many having close encounters with basking sharks and dolphins.

Many kayak around the headland of Moyteogue to witness the vast cliffs, but beware, you’re in the more exposed Atlantic now!


For snorkelers, there is a recommended snorkel trail which goes along the southern part of Keem Bay and is doable in either low or high tide, making it suitable for beginners.

Adventure Centres Nearby

Achill Island has a whole host of water adventure experts who provide a wide range of activities, rentals and lessons, so we would highly recommend checking them out. More details are found on the Achill Tourism website.

Practical Info for your Visit


There is a substantial parking area directly in front of the beach, but in recent years, there has been an explosion in numbers visiting in the summer months. During my last visit at around 5pm, some cars were beginning to leave and we got parking in front of the beach.

You may get lucky and get a spot in front of the beach, but otherwise you have 3 other options:

  1. Park at one of the two smaller parking areas a few hundred yards upslope from the main carpark
  2. Park up beside the toilets.
  3. Park along the road if all else fails. This is fine as long as you park well in as there is a good flat green area to the side of the road.

If you must park along the approach road to the beach, make sure to have the handbrake on!


You’ll see many camper vans choosing this paradise location for their stop for the night, which is allowed. Wild camping is also accepted but there’s nothing more annoying than seeing rubbish left over on this protected natural area.

If visiting in the busy months and the bins are overfilled, please bring your rubbish with you and dispose of in the bins in nearby Dooagh or Keel.

image via Failte Ireland/Courtesy Chaosheng Zhang


There are toilets located just above the beach, which incidentally is a remarkable place for a photo!

The most scenic toilets in Ireland? image:


Lifeguards are on duty during the summer months. For the month of June, they are on duty only at the weekend and on Bank Holidays from 12 pm to 6.30 pm.

For the months of July and August, the same times as above and every day. For September, the same times on the first weekend only.

Water Safety

If planning to go for a swim in the colder months, the waters of Keem are cold, so be prepared for cold water immersion/shock. A ringbouy is to be found on the rocks behind the beach. For more detailed info on water safety, inform yourself here.

I love Keem in the off season: image copyright:

Another important safety issue

During my last visit we noticed a potential safety hazard. At the end of the path that leads from the car park to the beach, underfoot was unbelievably slippery. Numerous people commented on this also, including a not-so-impressed mother who was carrying a young child. Beware of this!

Blue Flag Beach

Keem Beach is a Blue Flag Beach, meaning it passes high standards for cleanliness and safety. As of June 2024, the water quality in Keem has been measured as ‘excellent’.


A food and beverage van is parked near the beach during the main summer season, offering warm and cold drinks, snacks and ice cream. The nearby villages of Dooagh and Keel have a selection of good eateries.

Map of Keem Beach & Keem Bay

Where to Stay Locally

If you would like to stay in the local area, then Achill has a good selection of accommodation available. The nearby villages of Keel and Dooagh have the highest concentration of accommodation, most of which are B&Bs or self-catering.

We have put together a comprehensive guide to accommodation on Achill Island, which covers everything from camping to hotels. Our best choices are here.

What to Do Nearby

Achill Island has a great number of things to do, be it exploring the Atlantic Drive, taking in the views at Minaun or surfing at Keel. We have put together an extensive list of things you can see and do on the island here.

The Banshees of Inisherin‘ & Keem Bay House

As many of you will know Martin McDonagh’s The Banshees of Inisherin chose Keem Beach as one of the locations for his latest production.

The house where Colm Doherty resided is located right along the shores of Keem Beach, but is a privately owned. Other locations from the movie are mentioned here.

Copyright: Searchlight Pictures


The nearest major town to Keem Beach is Westport. This is an excellent base for exploring this particular part of Ireland: the wild west coast.

Here is our detailed post outlining our favourite hotels in Westport:

image via Failte ireland/courtesy Michael McLaughlin


Where is Keem Beach/Bay?

Keem Beach is located to the west of Achill Island in County Mayo, Ireland.

Where is the beach from The Banshees of Inisherin?

The beach which features in multiple scenes of The Banshees of Inisherin is Keem Beach, on Achill Island, County Mayo, Ireland.

Can you park at Keem Beach?

Yes, there is a decent-sized parking area in front of the beach. When it gets busy during the summer, you can park along the approach road, but don’t forget to leave your handbrake on. You may also park a little further up, near the toilets.

Are there public toilets at Keem?

Yes, there are public toilets in Keem, which are probably the toilets with the best view in all of Ireland.

Can you wild camp at Keem Beach?

Yes, it’s possible to wild camp, as long as you leave no trace. Bring home your rubbish and leave the nature as it is. Make sure you stick to the Wild Camping Code.

Can you surf on Keem Bay?

No. Keem Bay is an east-facing bay, sheltered from the Atlantic Ocean, therefore gets very little swell. You can do plenty of other activities such as SUP and sea-kayaking. Nearby Keel Beach offers some brilliant surfing.

Can you swim at Keem Beach?

Yes. Because it faces east, away from the Atlantic, you have calm and crystal clear waters to swim in. Keem has also been voted the best place to go swimming in the British Isles. Being a Blue Flag beach, it passes all regulations for cleanliness & safety, and lifeguards are on duty in the summer months.

Are the sharks at Keem Beach dangerous?

Although the Basking Sharks of Keem Bay can grow up to 12 metres in length, they are completely harmless to humans, as they feed on plankton.

Are dogs allowed on Keem Beach?

Dogs are allowed but must be on a leash at all times as there are sheep in the area. Droppings must be removed. A beach ranger has been employed to monitor issues like this in order to protect this sensitive landscape.

Final Thoughts

Keem beach has become very popular in recent years, so if visiting on a warm day in summer, you should be prepared for the crowds.

We recommend visiting in May/June during the week or September after the kids go back to school. The weather is still mild and you’ll have far less crowds.

We believe Keem be be the most beautiful beach in Ireland. We hope you can visit some day for some cracking photos and memories that will last a lifetime.

image via Failte Ireland/Courtesy Christian McLeod

In the meantime, if you have any further questions, we’d be delighted to answer them or if you’d like to leave us a comment, don’t be shy! We’d be delighted to hear from ye!

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