There’s no end to the number of incredible things to do in West Cork.
In fact, this glorious little chunk of the Rebel County is home to many of the best places to visit in Cork.
In the guide below, you’ll discover some of the best places to visit in West Cork, with a little bit of something to tickle ever fancy! Dive on in!
Table of Contents
The best things to do in West Cork (our favourites!)
In the first section of our guide, I’m going to give you a nosey at what we think are some of the best places to visit in West Cork.
When you’re finished, make sure to nip into our 4-day West Cork road trip itinerary that you can follow from start to finish.
1. Pick a base ye’ll love
Before you start diving into the various things to do in West Cork, you need to take a bit of time to decide where you’re going to stay.
If you’re visiting this corner of the county, you’re in luck – it’s home to some of the most beautiful villages and towns in Cork.
Here’s a few guides to nip into that’ll help you decide which West Cork towns to stay in (Uninion Hall and Glengarriff are two I keep going back to every few years!):
2. The Ring of Beara
If you’re looking for things to do in West Cork when it’s raining, hop in the car and head off on the Ring of Beara Drive.
This route around the beautiful Beara Peninsula stretches 137km and takes around 2 hours to drive in total.
However, the beauty of the Beara Peninsula is that there tends to be something to discover down many of the little side roads, so allow plenty of time for discovering hidden gems.
2. Mizen Head
Mizen Head tends to top the lists in many tourist guides to the best things to do in West Cork and, once you’ve visited, it’s not hard to understand why.
I was here for the first time on a mini West Cork road trip in 2019, and it really is an experience and a half (the ice cream is also savage…).
The Mizen Head Signal Station was built to save lives off the treacherous rocks at Ireland’s most south-westerly point. Kick your visit off by spending a bit of time wandering around the Maritime Museum and Heritage Attraction.
From here, take a stroll down towards the Signal Station – it’s a 15-minute walk along a gravelly path, down 99 steps (these were closed on the day that I visited) and across the beautiful arched bridge.
3. Scenic pints
West Cork is home to some mighty pubs. One of my favourite spots when it’s sunny is O’ Sullivan’s Bar in the little village of Crookhaven.
This pub overlooks the beautiful Crookhaven harbour so, when the weather is fine, you can savor a sup by the sea.
4. Gougane Barra
Gougane Barra is an area of immense wild scenery and natural beauty that you’ll find tucked away on 137 acres at the edge of the Sheehy Mountains.
When you enter the park, you’re immediately taken back by the beauty of the rolling hills and the surrounding mountains that stand proudly over the chilly waters of the lake below.
There’s a gorgeous little church here and there’s a number of different walks that you can tip away at. Find out everything you need to know in our guide to Gougane Barra.
5. Dursey Island
One of the more unique things to do in Ireland is to climb aboard the cable car to Dursey Island. It’s been operating since 1969 and it’s the most used means of transport across the choppy waters of the Dursey Sound.
The cable car runs 250m above the sea and takes just 10 minutes to transport explorers from the mainland to the most westerly of West Cork’s inhabited islands.
When you reach the island, have a ramble around and enjoy spectacular views of the Beara Peninsula.
6. Live music at DeBarras
2020/2021 have been a pain in the ar*e, to say the least. Hopefully, when you read this, pubs in Cork will be back open and you’ll be able to nip into Debarras in Clonakilty.
Widely regarded as one of the “finest music houses in Ireland”, this traditional Irish pub and restaurant is owned by the third generation of the DeBarra family.
It has a unique collection of musical memorabilia and, over the years, has been visited by everyone from Christy Moore and Roy Harper to Noel Redding and many more.
7. Unique West Cork accommodation
If you don’t fancy kipping in one of the many West Cork hotels, you’ve some nice, quirky alternatives to choose from.
Places like Chléire Haven (on Cape Clear Island) pack a punch and there are few places to go glamping in Ireland where you’ll be treated to coastal views like the bell tents above.
Related read: Check out our guide to the most unique places to go camping in Cork (from wild camping to glamping)
8. The coastal road to Allihies
I drove from Healy Pass to Allihies very recently, and it’s a drive that I’ll remember for a long time to come. The drive out to Allihies is sensational.
This corner of Ireland possesses the unique ability to make you feel like you’re the only person left on earth. It’s just you, the mountains, the wind and the waves.
The best recommendation that I can give you with this stretch of the road trip is to get lost. Literally. Take the roads that tickle your fancy. Follow your nose and let the Wild Atlantic Way do the rest.
You’ll be treated to the view above as you begin your descent towards the village. If you fancy it, drop into the Allihies Copper Mine Museum to learn about what happened when rich copper deposit was discovered in the area in 1812.
9. Beaches, beaches and more beaches
There are an almost endless number of mighty beaches in West Cork that you’ll discover dotted along its glorious coastline.
Related read: Check out our guide to 13 of the finest beaches in Cork (from tourist hot-spots to hidden gems)
10. Sheep’s Head
You’ll often see Sheep’s Head omitted from many guides to the best things to do in West Cork, which is a shame, as this peninsula is home to some of Cork’s wildest and most unspoiled scenery.
The Sheep’s Head Peninsula is a glorious, often-missed section of the Wild Atlantic Way. There’s a scenic drive here (here’s a map) that takes you on a 70km loop that hugs the coast from start to finish.
Those that spin along this road can expect peace and quiet, endless coastal views and the type of scenery that leaves you questioning what’s stopping you from packing it all in and moving to this glorious little corner of earth.
Unique places to visit in West Cork
The second section of our guide tackles the more unique things to do in West Cork, for those of you that fancy an experience with a difference.
Below, you’ll find everything from ‘hidden’ islands to natural attractions that lay nicely off-the-beaten-path.
1. Ireland’s Teardrop
If you’re looking for off the beaten path things to do in West Cork, climb aboard the ferry to Cape Clear Island from Baltimore.
The ferry takes 45-minutes and, when you reach Cape Clear Island, a shuttle bus will take you from the North Harbour to the islands Heritage Centre for the Fastnet multimedia exhibition.
When you’ve finished up at the exhibition, make your way back down to the ferry. The final lap of the trip takes you around Fastnet Lighthouse, aka ‘Ireland’s Teardrop’.
2. Whale watching
Next up is arguably one of the most unique things to do in Cork – whale and dolphin watching! If you’re after an unforgettable afternoon, book in for a tour with the lads at Baltimore Sea Safari (or one of the tours here).
There’s a 2-hour trip which, according to the organisers is ‘a thrilling fun-packed coastal sightseeing tour of the West Cork coastline, with whale, dolphin, seal and wildlife watching.’
Keep an eye out for Harbour Porpoise, which are a regular sighting during this trip, Basking Sharks, Ocean Sunfish, Sea Turtles and Jellyfish.
Related read: Check out our guide to how to go about whale watching in Cork (you’ll find tours, the best time to do it and much more).
3. Brow Head
In my opinion, it’s places like Brow Head that give our little island its X-Factor’. No fancy visitor centers. No crowds. Just nature, as it was intended.
I was recently perched at the top of the steep hill at Brow Head in West Cork, gazing down the narrow grass-lined road that leads to Crookhaven.
It was my second time here. On the first visit, the sun was splitting the stones. On my second… well, you can see for yourself in the photo above…
4. Healy Pass
Healy Pass is hands down one of the bendiest roads that I’ve ever driven on in Ireland. The road here was constructed in 1847 during the famine.
It looks a bit like a giant snake from above, slithering its way through the two highest summits in the Caha mountain range on the beautiful Beara Peninsula.
Healy Pass is a corner of Ireland that looks like time passed it by and forgot all about it, leaving it untouched and unspoiled.
When I visited recently, I met 2 or 3 other cars, max. Drive the road and pull in (where possible) at the top for a view of Healy Pass on one side, and then Kerry on the other.
5. Bull Rock (one of the most unique places to visit in West Cork)
There are three rocks located off the western point of Dursey Island; Cow Rock, Calf Rock and the one that looks like something from a Pirates of the Caribbean movie – Bull Rock.
Bull Rock is roughly 93m high and 228m by 164m wide. If you’re after a bit of an adrenaline buzz, you can hop on a 1.5-hour tour with the lads at Dursey Boat Tours.
You’ll climb aboard a little boat that takes you through the tiny passageway that cuts through Bull Rock! A very unique experience altogether. Find out more in our guide to Bull Rock.
6. Priest’s Leap
If you’re looking for things to do in West Cork that’ll take you off the beaten track, carve out some time to conquer the often-missed Priest’s Leap Drive.
Priest’s Leap is a very narrow mountain pass that links Coomhola Bridge with the village of Bonane. It’s pretty much a single lane for a good chunk of the drive, which is why it made it onto our guide to Ireland’s craziest roads.
Those that spin along this route will be treated to unrivaled views of everywhere from Bantry Bay to the Caha Mountains.
If you’re a nervous driver, this route will test you a little. If you’re a very nervous driver, avoid this drive when the weather is bad.
7. Islands galore
If you’re in search of places to go in West Cork on a road trip that’ll take you away from the crowds, you should consider hopping over to an island.
There are several incredible islands in West Cork that are often overlooked by those visiting the area. Here are a few of our favourites:
8. Bantry House and Gardens
Bantry House and Gardens is arguably one of the best places to visit in West Cork when it’s raining… maybe stick to the house, though!
Bantry House was built back in 1710, while the gardens were developed by the second Earl of Bantry and his wife Mary in the 1800s.
Visitors can take a tour of the house, explore the beautifully manicured gardens and/or kick-back with afternoon tea.
9. Garnish Island
You’ll find Garnish Island in Glengarriff harbour in Bantry Bay where it’s known and loved by tourists and locals alike for its finely manicured gardens.
You’ll need to hop on a ferry from Glengarriff Pier to get to the island (it only takes 15 minutes to get from A to B). Now, if you take the Garnish Island Ferry, you’re in for a treat.
The journey includes a visit to seal island (yes, seal island!) where you’ll get to see a seal colony. When you land on the island, there’s plenty of things to see.
After you’ve had a ramble through the gardens, head on to the Martello Tower. You’ll get a mighty view from the battlements of the tower!
10. Drombeg Stone Circle
We’re off for a nosey around one of Ireland’s best-known stone circles, next! Drombeg Stone Circle is aligned to sunrise at the Winter Solstice and boasts 13 stones still standing out of the original 17.
During excavations in the late 1950s, cremated bones were found wrapped in thick cloth. Nearby, you’ll find the remains of two prehistoric stone huts, which may have been occupied until the 5th century.
Best places to visit in West Cork if you fancy exploring on foot
The final section of our guide to the best things to do in West Cork tackles walks, hikes and long-distance rambles.
Below, you’ll find everything from the Beara Way and the Baltimore Beacon walk to some incredible places to visit in West Cork that are best explored on foot.
1. The Sheep’s Head Way
One of my favourite things to do in West Cork is a ramble known as the ‘Cahergal Loop’ on the Sheep’s Head Peninsula.
Now, if you’re not familiar with Sheep’s Head, it’s a headland at the end of the Sheep’s Head peninsula, nestled between Bantry Bay and Dunmanus Bay.
The peninsula is extremely popular with walkers, with more than 20 looped walks to choose from. This walk recommended to me by an aul lad that ran a B&B that I stayed in years ago and I’ve done it several times since.
The loop takes around 3 hours to complete and those that saunter along it will be immersed in some of the finest scenery, in my opinion, in West Cork. Here’s a handy guide to follow.
2. The Glengarriff Nature Reserve
The breath-taking Glengarriff Nature Reserve is home to an endless number of adventure opportunities. I’ve been here a couple of times in the past, and I always tend to do the Lady Bantry Lookout Walk.
This is a moderate walk that takes around 30 minutes in total to complete. Now, although this walk is short, it’s no walk in the park… actually, it is technically…
You have a fairly steep climb up through the woods to the top. From here you’ll have an incredible panoramic view of Glengarrif, Garnish Island, Bantry Bay and Whiddy Island.
3. The Beara Way
Located south of the Iveragh Peninsula, the Beara Way is a 152km long circular route around the Beara Peninsula – a place that’s home to some of Ireland’s wildest scenery.
Like the Dingle Way and the Wicklow Way, the Beara Way is one of the longer hikes in Ireland. It’ll take you between 3 and 9 days to conquer this one, depending on how much of the route you aim to conquer.
If you fancy giving this a bash, here’s a guide to follow.
4. Mount Gabriel
Mount Gabriel is another of the many places to visit in West Cork that’s missed by many. It’s roughly 407m high and it is accessible via a road that serves the radar installations at the summit.
When you reach the top you’ll be treated to (on a clear day) views over Schull Harbour, Long Island Bay, Roaring Water Bay (and its many islands).
5. The Baltimore Beacon walk
The now-iconic Baltimore Beacon (on the left above) is one of the better-known places to visit in West Cork, thanks to knock-you-on-your-arse photos like the one above.
You’ll find the beacon standing proudly at the entrance to the Baltimore harbour where it’s been acting as a warning system and guiding sea-farers for many a year.
The beacon was built on the order of the British after the 1798 Rebellion. The current structure is said to have been erected at some point around the 1840s.
There’s a tiny little car park right next to the beacon. Park up and make your way up the steep hill next to it. You can’t miss it.
6. Knockomagh Hill/Lough Hyne
Although you wouldn’t know it from the terrible photo that I took above, the climb up Knockomagh Hill is fantastic. You’ll find the hill a stone’s throw from Skibbereen, where it’s sat right next to Lough Hyne.
The trail here is pretty well maintained (beware of loose gravel!), and there’s plenty of places to stop for a couple of minutes for anyone with low fitness levels.
It took us (myself and the aul lad) roughly an hour to get to the top when we did it recently, but this was due to the fact that we kept stopping to admire the view.
Places to see in West Cork: What have we missed?
I’ve no doubt that we’ve unintentionally left our some brilliant places to visit in West Cork from the guide above.
If you have any attractions, islands, beaches or any other things to do in West Cork that you think we need to add sharpish, let me know in the comments below.
Frequently asked questions about what to do in West Cork
We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from the best things to do in West Cork if you only have a few days to where to visit that’s off-the-beaten path.
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 West Cork?
Although what’s considered ‘best’ will depend on the person, our favourite things to do in West Cork are to: try whale watching in the summer months, ramble along the sand at Inchydoney, spend a weekend exploring the Beara Peninsula, visit Mizen Head and climb Knockomagh Hill.
Where should I stay in West Cork?
You should try and base yourself near the different places in Wes Cork that you fancy visiting. I’ve stayed in Glandore, Skibbereen and Allihies over the years and I’d happily recommend each of them as a base to explore from.
What are the most unique places to visit in West Cork?
Mizen Head, Brow Head, the Beara Peninsula, Glengarriff, Sheep’s Head, West Cork’s island and much, much more.
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