A day spent exploring the Ring of Beara is one of my favourite things to do in Cork.
The stunning Beara Peninsula is home to raw, unspoiled scenery and the type of landscape that’ll delight you for the entirety of your visit.
It’s also home to a number of gorgeous little towns and villages that make the perfect base to explore from.
In the guide below, you’ll find a Ring of Beara map with the route and attractions plotted out, along with my favourite trail to follow.
Some quick need-to-knows about the Ring of Beara route
The Ring of Beara is a little less straightforward than the likes of the Ring of Kerry, as it has lots of little gems that lay off-the-beaten-path.
However, it’s in this corner of the county that you’ll discover many of the best things to do in West Cork. Here are some quick need-to-knows.
The beautiful Ring of Beara route circumnavigates the stunning Beara Peninsula in West Cork, just south of the better known (and consequently busier) Ring of Kerry.
This popular cycling and driving route is sandwiched between the Bay of Kenmare and beautiful Bantry Bay. You can see the attraction, can’t you?!
The official Ring of Beara route is 92 miles (148km) in length. A clockwise direction offers the best coastal views for vehicle passengers.
The route straddles two county lines (Kerry and Cork), takes in two mountain ranges (Caha and the Slieve Miskish Mountains) and has some beautiful islands just offshore.
3. How long it takes to drive
The Ring of Beara drive, taking the route outlined below, takes roughly 3 – 4 hours, if you were to drive it without stopping. However, this would be pointless.
The biggest draw of the Ring of Beara are the many incredible stops along the way. Allow at least a day, but much more is needed if you want to visit the islands.
4. The Ring of Beara cycle
The Ring of Beara cycle can be done via a number of routes, depending on time/fitness. The Ring of Beara cycle community have mapped out two different routes that you can suss out here.
Ring of Beara map with attractions plotted
The Ring of Beara map above contains a couple of things – the blue line shows a rough outline of the Ring of Beara route.
Finally, the purple arrows show the different islands. It’s worth taking a bit of time to look at the points on the map above to decide what you want to visit and what you want to leave out.
My favourite Ring of Beara route
The best way to tackle the Ring of Beara route is to do it over a couple of days. That way you’ll have time to tackle the walks and you’ll also be able to visit the islands.
Now, if you only have a day, you’ll have to pick and choose what to see and do. The quickest way to cut down on time would be to stay on the mainland, however the islands really are worth a visit.
Below, you’ll find my favourite way to do the Ring of Beara drive. I’ve popped some info at the end of the guide around where to stay.
Stop 1: Molly Gallivan’s Visitor Centre
There are animals, chickens and antique farm machinery outside while the interior of the cottage depicts a family dwelling around the time of the Great Famine (1845) when the potato harvest failed.
Watch the short film telling how enterprising Molly and her 7 children survived when she opened an illegal pub (Sibheen) and sold moonshine whiskey (Poitín) known as Molly’s Mountain Dew. Walk the Neolithic Stone Row that forms part of a 5,000 year old sun calendar before hitting the road again.
Stop 2: Caha Pass
The Caha Pass is a breathtaking challenge for cyclists (in every sense of the word!). After the winding ascent to 332m elevation, you can look forward to magnificent views from the top.
The hand-carved Turners Tunnels on the N71 leaves Co. Cork in your rear-view mirror as you enter Kerry. With a height limit of 3.65m, these tunnels are too low for modern-day coaches.
The first tunnel is 180m long followed by three smaller ones totaling 70 metres. As you exit the main tunnel, it frames a dramatic view of Barley Lake and Bantry Bay as you descend into the rolling countryside of the Sheen Valley.
Stop 3: Glengarriff Woods Nature Reserve
You’re probably ready to stretch your legs after that epic road which is one of the high points of the Ring of Beara drive or cycle!
And there’s no better place for a ramble than at Glengarriff Nature Reserve. This place offers free admission to a network of trails managed by the National Parks and Wildlife Service.
Gleann Gairbh is Irish for “rugged glen” and all these trails offer wonderful views with woodland glades, birds and wildlife. Take your pick from a gentle River Walk, a climb to Lady Bantry’s Lookout, a longer Esknamucky Trail or the Big Meadow Circuit.
When you finish up at the Reserve, there are plenty of other things to do in Glengarriff to keep you busy.
Stop 4: Garinish Island
Down at Glengarriff Pier, the Harbour Queen Ferry runs every 30 minutes (April through October), transporting visitors to the 37-acre Garnish Island at the head of Bantry Bay.
The island is a garden paradise, lovingly created 70 years ago by owner Annan Bryce and garden designer Harold Peto.
Set in its own microcosm, the colourful gardens are a showcase of subtropical plants and there’s a nice restaurant for light lunches in this magnificent island garden setting.
If you fancy exploring more nearby, hop into our guide to the best things to do in Bantry.
Stop 5: Healy Pass
Constructed in 1847 as part of the job creation scheme, the Healy Pass reaches 334m (1,095 feet), cutting through the Caha Mountain Range and right on the county boundary between Kerry and Cork.
It was named after Tim Michael Healy, first Governor General of the Irish Free State, and is not technically part of the Ring of Beara route, but it’s well worth a detour.
The route is a real challenge for cyclists and is one of Ireland’s greatest drives. This twisting mountain road is narrow, wild and delivers breathtaking vistas at every switch and turn.
Stop 6: Castletown-Bearhaven for lunch
Castletown-Bearhaven is a great spot to stop off for a bite to eat. There’s loads of places to eat here with top-notch reviews. Here are some of our favourites:
- MacCarthy’s Bar
- Lynch’s on the Pier
- Murphy’s Restaurant
- New Max Bite
- Breen’s Lobster Bar
- The Tea Room
Stop 7: Bere Island
The next stop on our Ring of Beara drive takes us off the mainland to the often-missed Bere Island.
Located 2km offshore fromCastletownbere, Bere Island is a small, inhabited island that boasts an interesting history and beautiful scenery.
There’s plenty to see and do on Bere, as you’ll discover here. The ferry to the island leaves from Castletownbere and takes around 15 minutes.
Stop 8: Lambs Head/ Dursey Island
Back on the south coast, Lamb’s Head marks the tip of the Beara Peninsula, although you can take a 10-minute trip to Dursey Island, the most westerly inhabited island in Cork.
The catch is that the tides make boat crossings hazardous so you have to ride a vintage cable car contraption 250m above the waves to make the trip.
Once safely there, visit the 200-year-old Signal Tower, the ruined church of St Kilmichael and the ruins of the castle built by O’Sullivan Beara.
Stop 9: Allihies and Eyeries
Home of tasty Mileens Cheese, you can find welcome food and drinks at several cafes and bars including the Copper Cafe at the Copper Mine Museum and the renowned O’Neill’s bar and restaurant.
Famous as “the last village on Beara Peninsula” the coastal community is the furthest village from Dublin. It’s determined not to be missed with its bold painted cottages.
The village of Eyeries (just up along the coast from Allihies) is another gorgeous little village that’s worth dropping into.
Stop 10: Gleninchaquin Park
Enjoy the changing scenery as you head northeast overlooking Kenmare Bay. There’s one final treat in store at the Gleninchaquin Park.
Set in a magnificent valley, this park delivers more breathtaking scenery, mountain paths with carved steps, tiny orchids, wildlife, lush meadows and an amazing waterfall cascade.
Formed by glaciers over 70,000 years ago, this epic valley also has a trio of lakes including Inchaquin, Uragh and Clonee Lough, all fed by the waterfall.
Where to stay while exploring the Ring of Beara in Ireland
Where you stay while exploring the Ring of Beara route should be determined by 1, how much time you have and 2, what you plan on doing.
If you only have a day
If you only have a day to do the Ring of Beara cycle / drive, I’d recommend either staying in Glengarriff (Cork) or Kenmare (Kerry) as they lay at either side of the entrance points to Beara.
If you’re here for a weekend
If you have a weekend, personally I’d stay in Allihies or Eyeries, based on previous experiences here. However, there are other villages like Castletown-Bearhaven, Adrigole and Ardgroom that are good options, too.
FAQs about the Ring of Beara route
We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from where to find a Ring of Beara map to which route to follow.
In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.
How long does it take to drive the Ring of Beara?
You could do it without stopping in around 3 hours, but that’d be a waste, as you’d miss out on the many great places to stop and explore. The minimum time you should dedicate here is 5 hours. The more time you have the better.
What is there to see on the Ring of Beara drive?
There’s an endless number of things to see and do on the Ring of Beara cycle / drive. If you flick back up to our Ring of Beara map, you’ll find 30+ places to visit.
Gillian Birch is a travel writer and published author. She has travelled the world and uses her personal journals and memories to write about her many travel experiences, particularly those that involved adventures in Ireland.