If you’re in search of the best things to do in West Cork, you’ll find plenty of worthy contenders below!
Famous for its breathtaking scenery, a landscape steeped in history and a vibrant culture, it’s easy to see why a West Cork road trip tops many bucket lists.
In this guide, you’ll discover what to do in West Cork at any time of the year. Dive on in!
The best things to do in West Cork
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. 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. Charming towns and villages
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!):
3. 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.
Note: This is one of several West Cork attractions that is closed during December, January and February
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’ll immediately be 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. 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)
6. 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 (affiliate link) 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’.
7. 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 photos above…
8. 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.
9. Bull Rock
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.
This is one of the best things to do in West Cork for good reason!
10. 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.
11. Islands galore
If you’re in search of places to visit 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:
12. 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.
13. An exceptional trad pub scene
After a day spent exploring the various West Cork attractions, you’ll have earned a few hours tucked away in an old-school pub.
Luckily, West Cork has plenty of them. You’ll find one of our favourites, De Barra’s, 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.
14. 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.
15. Knockomagh Hill/Lough Hyne
Knockomagh Hill is one of our favourite places to visit in West Cork. 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.
16. 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)
17. 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.
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.
18. 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.
19. Whale watching
Next up is arguably one of the most unique things to do in West 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).
20. 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!
21. Drombeg Stone Circle
A visit to one of Ireland’s best-known stone circles is another of the more popular things to do in West Cork!
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.
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.
23. 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).
24. The Baltimore Beacon walk
Last but by no means least in our guide to the best things to do in West Cork is the now-iconic Baltimore Beacon (on the left above).
This 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.
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?
Our favourite things to do in West Cork are the Ring of Beara, the area’s many beaches, like Barleycove, Brow Head, Gougane Barra and Mizen Head.
Where should I stay in West Cork?
It’s worth deciding what to do in West Cork, first, and then picking a place to stay within easy driving-distance of the majority of the spots. This will save you hassle.
What are the most unique places to visit in West Cork?
Few West Cork attractions are as unique as Bull Rock, Mizen Head, Brow Head, the Beara Peninsula, Glengarriff, Sheep’s Head and West Cork’s islands.
Keith O’Hara has lived in Ireland for 34 years and has spent most of the last 10 years creating what is now The Irish Road Trip guide. Over the years, the website has published thousands of meticulously researched Ireland travel guides, welcoming 30 million+ visitors along the way. In 2022, the Irish Road Trip team published the world’s largest collection of Irish Road Trip itineraries. Keith lives in Dublin with his dog Toby and finds writing in the 3rd person minus craic altogether.