If you’re debating staying in Skibbereen in Cork, you’ve landed in the right place.
Skibbereen is a vibrant little market town that makes a great base for exploring many of the best things to do in West Cork.
Located on the bank of River Ilen, its convenient location means that you can explore the nearby attractions during the day and enjoy the world class food and live music by night.
In the guide below, you’ll discover everything from things to do in Skibbereen to where to eat, sleep and drink in what is one of the most beautiful towns in Cork.
Some quick need-to-knows about Skibbereen
Although a visit to Skibbereen in West Cork is fairly straightforward, there are a few need-to-knows that’ll make your visit that bit more enjoyable.
Skibbereen is a town in West Cork on the N71 national secondary road. The River Ilen runs right through the middle and continues to the ocean just 12km away. The distance from Skibbereen to Cork City is 82km or an hour and a half drive.
2. A fine base for exploring
Due to its location, Skibbereen is a handy village to base yourself in as it’s very close to some of the best things to do in Cork, including Sheep’s Head Peninsula, Mizen Peninsula and a string of islands off the coast.
The region around Skibbereen was hit hard by the famine from 1845-1852 which is often. The local heritage centre estimates that up to 10,000 people from the area died in the famine there is a permanent exhibition to commemorate the victims at the Skibbereen Heritage Centre.
A brief history of Skibbereen in Cork
Before 1600, most of the land around Skibbereen belonged to the MacCarthy Reagh dynasty. However, the town saw an influx of people fleeing the Sack of Baltimore in 1631.
As mentioned above, the Great Famine reduced the town’s population from 58, 335 in 1841 to 32, 412 by 1861 and was a particularly dark time in the town’s history.
In the 19th century and 20th century, Skibbereen was home to significant political organisations with the Phoenix Society founded in the town in 1856, which became the precursor to the Fenian movement.
There is a statue erected in 1904 which sits on top of a memorial commemorating the four failed uprisings against British rule during the 18th and 19th centuries.
You can still see the original railway bridge in town by the West Cork Hotel. Skibbereen was once a stop on the West Cork Railway which ran from West Cork to Cork City until it was closed in 1961.
Things to see and do in Skibbereen
There’s a handful of things to do in Skibbereen and hundreds of things to do a short spin away from the village.
Both of the above combined make Skibbereen in Cork a great base for a road trip! Here are some of our favourite things to do in Skibbereen.
1. The Knockomagh Hill walk
Just south of Skibbereen town, Knockomagh Hill is a 197m high hill which offers views over Lough Hyne and the surrounding countryside.
There’s a nature trail (follow this Lough Hyne walk guide) that climbs to the top of the hill which takes about an hour. Despite the steep walk, the view makes it completely worth the effort.
You can also learn more about Lough Hyne, Ireland’s first Marine Nature Reserve, at the Skibbereen Heritage Centre.
2. The moonlight kayaking experience on Lough Hyne
Next up is one of the most unusual things to do in Skibbereen. For a completely unique way to experience Lough Hyne, you should try a moonlight kayaking trip on the salt water lake.
The trips start one hour before darkness and last for more than two hours until after dark so you can enjoy the stars overhead. From the beautiful sunset to the complete stillness of the night, it’s a great way to witness the beauty of the lake.
You don’t have to be an experienced kayaker to take part, with the trip being open to beginners and anyone over 18.
3. Drombeg Stone Circle
It’s a collection of 17 standing stones which date back to between 153BC and 127AD. It was excavated in 1958 and is thought that there was an urn burial in the centre.
There is also an old cooking place and prehistoric kitchen nearby which is believed to have been able to boil up to 70 gallons of water for almost three hours.
The midpoint of one of the stones in the circle is set in line with the winter solstice sunset viewed in a visible notch in the distance. It’s one of the most visited stone circle sites in the country.
4. Whale watching
Next up is another of the more unique things to do in Skibbereen. Well, a short spin away! Off the coast not far away from Skibbereen you can catch a glimpse of dolphins and whales swimming in the ocean at different times of the year.
The high season for these tours is from July to August when you can head out on four-hour boat trips either at sunrise or sunset as well as during the day.
However, dolphins are often seen at any time of the year, while minke whales and harbour porpoise can be seen from April to December.
In late summer and autumn, you can also get the chance to see humpback whales and fin whales which come to shore to feed during this time.
5. Mizen Head
Mizen Head is the most south westerly point of Ireland. The rocky tip of the Mizen Peninsula is one of the most spectacular places to visit in West Cork and located just 50km away from Skibbereen town.
The stunning coastal scenery includes the chance to see seals, kittiwakes, gannets and choughs in the blue water below, as well as minke, fin and humpback whales at certain times of the year.
At Mizen Head you’ll find the visitors centre where you can learn more about the geology and history of the place and the Mizen Head Irish Lights Signal Station which was built to navigate and save lives off the coast.
6. Beaches, beaches and more beaches
Surrounded by incredible coastal scenery, Skibbereen is within easy reach of some of the best beaches in Cork. One of the most popular beaches nearby is Tragumna, a small hamlet about 6km away from Skibbereen town.
The beautiful Blue Flag beach overlooks Drishane Island and has lifeguards during the summer months.
Otherwise, you can also head further afield to Sherkin Island’s Silver Strand and Cow Strand, Sandycove between Castletownshend and Tragumna and Tralispean just a 10-minute drive from Skibbereen.
Related read: Check out our guide to the best beaches in West Cork (a mix of tourist favourites and hidden gems)
7. Sherkin Island
For an incredibly memorable day out, Sherkin Island has historical sites, pretty beaches, and an automated lighthouse.
Historically called Inisherkin, the island lies just off the coast of Baltimore in Roaringwater Bay. It was the ancestral home of the O’Driscoll clan and you can still find their castle just above the pier, along with the ruins of a 15th century Franciscan abbey.
It’s one of the most accessible islands to visit in Ireland, with regular ferries departing from Baltimore in West Cork from where you can explore the island and meet the incredibly hospitable locals.
8. Cape Clear Island
Further out in the bay, you’ll find Cape Clear Island which is known as the southernmost inhabited part of Ireland.
The ferry trip is only 40 minutes from Baltimore and the incredibly beautiful coastal views are worth the boat ride alone (we recommend taking the tour that visits Fastnet Rock on the way).
Once you’re on the island, you can explore the bird observatory as well as plenty of historical sites including the 12th century St Kieran’s Church.
You can also stretch your legs on the steep climb from the harbour up to the old lighthouse from where you can enjoy stunning views over the island and sea.
9. Union Hall and Glandore
These two gorgeous fishing villages east of Skibbereen are the perfect little spots to head to spend some time out of town.
The towns are blessed with both countryside and seaside views and small-town friendliness and hospitality.
Glandore Inn is a great place to grab a coffee and enjoy the view of the harbour. The inn is located on a hill with outdoor seating perfect for a nice summer day.
Where to stay in Skibbereen
If you fancy staying in Skibbereen in Cork, you’re spoiled for choice for places to rest your head, with something to suit most budgets.
Note: if you book a stay through one of the links below we may make a tiny commission that helps us keep this site going. You won’t pay extra, but we really do appreciate it.
The original hotel was established in 1902 and the interior still holds on to period décor along with modern facilities.
B&Bs and Guesthouses
Skibbereen has some cute and comfortable bed and breakfasts and guesthouses. With plenty of choices both inside the town centre and outside for more serenity, you can find an option to suit your trip.
Skibbereen has plenty of places to grab a bite to eat. The town is known for its good food and drinks, with many prioritising locally sourced produce.
A long-time favourite is Church Restaurant, located inside an old Methodist Church in the heart of town. The interior still retains its stained-glass windows and high ceilings, and you can find high quality meals on the menu.
For more of a casual café setting, Kalbos Café is an award-winning spot that serves healthy, farm-fresh food. Located in the middle of town, it’s popular for coffee and cake, as well as, full Irish breakfasts.
If you’re looking more for a pub for a pint and bite to eat, then Skibbereen has plenty to choose from.
The Corner Bar, Tanyard and Kearney’s Well are our regular go-to options. All located right in the middle of town, if you’re after a classic Irish pub experience these three are the best.
FAQs about visiting Skibbereen in West Cork
Since mentioning the town in a guide to West Cork that we published several years ago, we’ve had hundreds of emails asking various things about Skibbereen in West Cork.
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.
Are there many things to do in Skibbereen in Cork?
The biggest draw of Skibb is that it’s a great base for exploring this corner of West Cork. There isn’t a huge amount to do in the town itself, but there’s plenty to explore nearby.
Are there many places to eat in Skibbereen?
Yes, you’ve everywhere from the Church and the riverside to An Chistin Beag and more.
What are the best places to stay in Skibbereen?
There are plenty of B&Bs in Skibbereen but, if you fancy a hotel, the West Cork Hotel is a great shout.
Elisha is a freelance writer, content creator and blogger and her work can be read in Lonely Planet, Remote Lands and Matador Network. You’ll usually find her travelling in offbeat places or hiking wherever there are mountains; always with a camera in hand.