Ballina: 101km (63 miles) N of Galway, 193km (120 miles) N of Shannon Airport, 246km (153 miles) NW of Dublin, 311km (193 miles) NW of Cork

For experienced Ireland travelers, Mayo is the place they escape to after visiting Galway—its rugged coastal scenery is similar, but it has less of the traffic and tourist overload from which Galway suffers in the summer. It’s a delightfully unpredictable place, where the terrain changes at the turn of a steering wheel, from lush and green to stark, desertlike, and mountainous. This region was hit so hard by the Great Famine that, in certain ways, it has never quite recovered. Starvation and emigration emptied it then, and that emptiness is still noticeable.

In 1951, the tiny village of Cong became the setting for the John Ford film The Quiet Man, starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara. Surprisingly, the county still vigorously celebrates this 65-year-old connection to cinematic stardust—the townsfolk of Cong even paid for a bronze statue of the film’s stars in 2013. Younger readers may be more familiar with the area thanks to the CW series Reign, which is filmed at Ashford Castle.

Among Mayo’s other attractions are the mysterious 5,000-year-old settlement at Céide Fields, the religious shrine at Knock, and some of Europe’s best fishing waters at Lough Conn, Lough Mask, and the River Moy. It’s such an angler’s destination that Ballina (Béal an Átha), Mayo’s largest town, calls itself the home of the Irish salmon.

Irish Only: Brush Up Your Gaeltacht -- Parts of Mayo are in the Gaeltacht, or Irish-language section of the country. In some sections, this means town names are in Irish only, so we'll include the Irish names as well as the English names for the places likely to be affected. Confusingly, most maps are still in English only.