There are plenty of things to do in Clonakilty, regardless of when you visit.
The lively little town of Clonakilty in Cork is often referred to as the music capital of Ireland, and if that doesn’t have you itching to visit, nothing will.
Home to the mighty DeBarra’s Folk Club and a stone’s throw from some of the best places to visit in West Cork, this buzzy town is well worth basing yourself from.
In the guide below, you’ll discover lots of things to do in Clonakilty along with heaps of places to explore nearby.
Our favourite things to do in Clonakilty
The first section of our guide tackles our favourite things to do in Clonakilty from live music session in DeBarras to nearby beaches and walks.
The second section of the guide tackles things to do near Clonakilty (within a reasonable driving distance, that is!)
1. Catch a live music session at the famous DeBarras Folk Club
De Barras is more than just a pub with live Irish music. This is THE place to celebrate the local music scene. You’ll find yourself in good company as several international musicians have entertained within these walls.
Noel Redding, bass player with The Jimi Hendrix Experience, played De Barra’s for over 20 years. Sharon Shannon, Roy Harper and Christy Moore have also performed right here.
Whether you want a drink at the lively bar or a seat at the Wednesday Night Sitting Room gigs, DeBarras is the place to head for.
2. Head for a swim on Inchydoney Beach
Five kilometres south of Clonakilty is one of the loveliest beaches in Cork, in my opinion. Inchydoney Beach has a long stretch of golden sand which is divided by the Virgin Mary Headland and overlooked by the luxury Inchydoney Island Lodge and Spa.
The Blue Flag waters are popular for surfing (there’s even a Surf School) and there’s a lifeguard service in summer.
The approach lanes are narrow (no street parking) but there are car parks nearby. Bring the family, a picnic and your body board and enjoy a day at the seaside.
3. And then warm up with a bite to eat at the Inchydoney Island Hotel
When it’s time for a meal or sunset drinks, head to the Dunes Pub and Bistro or the award-winning Gulfstream Restaurant within the Island Lodge – one of the top hotels in Cork.
As well as a diverse menu of bar snacks, Irish ales, wines and more, there are plenty of daily special focusing on seasonal local produce from the West Cork region.
The upscale restaurant has stunning ocean views and serves French and Mediterranean inspired cuisine.
Chef Adam Metcalf and the team thrill diners with their seafood specialities. It’s definitely the best place to enjoy a gourmet meal at the end of a perfect beach day.
Related Clonakilty food guide: Check out our guide to 11 of the best places to eat in Clonakilty in 2021.
4. Spend a day in search of whales and wildlife
You’re never far from wildlife in West Cork and visitors to Clonakilty can try dolphin and whale watching in Cork on one of several tours operating a short spin from the town.
The best months for whale watching are from April through December as they migrate to and from the rich feeding waters further north.
Minke, humpback and fin whales can be seen from the clifftop as they blow jets of water high into the air when they surface. Their cheeky tail fin salutes when they dive. Look out for dolphins, seals and harbour porpoise too!
More popular things to do in Clonakilty (and nearby)
Now that we have our favourites out of the way, it’s time to look at some other great activities and places to visit in Clonakilty and close by.
Below, you’ll find everything from the Clonakilty Black Pudding centre to a distillery, historical sites and much more.
1. Work up an appetite at Clonakilty Black Pudding Visitor Centre
One of Clonakilty’s main claims to fame is their black pudding, originally made by Twomey’s butchers to a secret spicy recipe.
You can pick some up in town or sample them in a local restaurant, but if you’re curious, pop into the Clonakilty Black Pudding Centre on Western Road.
Take a self-guided audio tour (adults €10) around the factory and learn the history of this tasty local delicacy. You can see how it is made before enjoying samples. There’s also a shop and cafe onsite.
Related read: Check out our guide to the best hotels in Clonakilty (a mix of fancy escapes and cheap places to stay)
2. And then quench a thirst at the Clonakilty Distillery
If you’re looking for things to do in Clonakilty with a group of friends, a visit to the brilliant Clonakilty Distillery should be at the top of your list!
The Clonakilty Distillery has been in the Scully family for nine successive generations and it’s one of the most overlooked whiskey distilleries in Ireland.
The distillery is located on the waterfront in Clonakilty but the barley is grown on the family farm near the Galley Head Lighthouse using sustainable practices.
Learn more about this lip-smacking whiskey by touring the distillery and admiring the three huge copper stills which are also used to produce Minke Irish Gin and fruity Sloe Gin.
3. Spend a rainy morning at the West Cork Model Railway Village
The West Cork Model Railway Village combines miniature buildings, streets and figures in a 1:24 scale diorama of the stations and villages along the West Cork Railway Line, circa 1940.
Open daily from 11am to 5pm (and 10am to 6pm in July and August) families can ride the Choo Choo Road Train and have fun in the play areas.
Although the Model Village is mainly an outdoor attraction, there’s a gift shop and a café within an authentic train carriage.
4. Soak up some history at the Michael Collins Heritage Centre
Those with Irish roots, or history lovers wanting to delve into local history, will find the Michael Collins Centre a remarkable place to visit.
An audio-visual presentation presents the life of Michael Collins (1890-1922) as a politician, soldier and advocate for Irish Independence.
It eventually cost him his life. See the museum’s memorabilia and photographs before admiring the replica family vehicles which included a Rolls Royce Armoured Car.
The attraction is in a whitewashed farmhouse at Castleview which was an IRA HQ during the War of Independence.
Adventurous things to do in Clonakilty
The final section of our guide to the best things to do in Clonakilty tackles adventurous things to do in the town and nearby.
Below, you’ll find everything from surfing and scenic walks to beaches, more walks and much more.
1. Head for a ramble around Lisselan House
You might think you’ve strayed across the channel when taking a ramble around the 30 acre gardens of the French-style fairytale chateau known as Lisselan House.
Built on the banks of the Argideen River, the elegant house was built in 1851-53 and is 7km northeast of Clonakilty on the N71.
The gardens include a 9-hole golf course (said to be the most beautiful in the world!) and the historic home of the grandfather of Henry Ford (of motoring fame).
There’s a walled garden and woodland walk along with water features, rhododendrons and a rockery.
2. Hit the water at Owenahincha Beach
Owenahincha Beach is 10km southwest of Clonakilty and is a curving beach backed by windswept dunes just off the R598.
The beach faces southwest and is a mix of sand and pebbles. Brace yourself for the rolling waves of Rosscarbery Bay which can be wicked when the wind is from the southwest.
Wild and exposed, the beach is popular with campers and caravanners staying on nearby sites, but it is rarely crowded. The Blue Flag waters are good for swimming, surfing and kitesurfing. There’s a lifeguard, Surf School, toilets and a beach shop.
3. Or learn to surf with Inchydoney Surf School
Inchydoney is home to an accredited Surf School that overlooks the sands and Blue Flag waters of Inchydoney Beach.
Stretching for a kilometre, the beach generally has good surf breaks for beginner and intermediate surfers.
Owned and run by Colum McAuley, the surf school offers equipment rentals and group and private lessons for beginners to advanced levels.
Believe it or not, they run lessons all year round and are open daily in the summer. If you’re not a wannabe surfer, try stand-up paddleboarding or just watch the surfers riding the waves.
4. Explore Fernhill House and Gardens
One final place to visit near Clonakilty is Fernhill House and Gardens on the outskirts of Clonakilty town.
Now run as a hotel, this Georgian country house sits in acres of lawned gardens and woodland with many delightful features.
The bar and restaurant offer afternoon tea and a high-end dining experience in a hushed atmosphere so time your visit with care.
This historic estate is located on the Wild Atlantic Way and makes the perfect place to visit when staying nearby.
FAQs about the best things to do in Clonakilty
We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from active things to do in Clonakilty to where to visit nearby.
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.
What are the best things to do in Clonakilty?
Catch a session at DeBarras, head for a swim on Inchydoney, visit the West Cork Model Railway Village or the Michael Collins Heritage Centre.
Is Clonakilty worth a visit?
Yes – the lively little town of Clonakilty is well worth a visit. It’s a great base for exploring West Cork and it’s home to some brilliant pubs and places to grab a bite to eat.
Where is there to visit close to Clonakilty?
There’s hundreds of things to do a short spin away from Clonakilty, from hikes and walks to beaches, museums, indoor attractions and much more.