31 Unforgettable Things To Do In West Cork: Whales, Islands, Hikes And Scenic Pubs

things to do in west cork ireland
Photo on left Hugh O'Connor. Right Kwiatek7 (shutterstock)

There’s no end to the number of incredible things to do in West Cork.

I’ve visited this mighty little corner of Ireland 7 or 8 times over the years and every time I leave I’m left with a lingering feeling that I’ve still only scratched the surface.

From hikes and walks to scenic drives, whale watching and plenty more, there are things to do in West Cork that’ll amaze and delight every type of traveller.

In the guide below, I’m going to give you a nosey at what I think are some of the best places to visit in West Cork. So, g’wan – get scrolling!

Related read: Visiting West Cork soon? Here’s a detailed, 4-day West Cork road trip itinerary that you can follow from start to finish.

Loads of things to do in West Cork (you’ll LOVE!)

west cork road trip
Photo left: Fabiano’s_Photo. Right: RR Photo (Shutterstock)

1. Kick-start your visit with a coffee in Baltimore

Baltimore village cork
Photo by Lukasz Warzecha via Tourism Ireland

Now, obviously you can kick-start your visit to West Cork wherever it’s handiest but, if you can, try and carve out some time to visit the little town of Baltimore at some point.

You’ll find it at the southern tip of Ireland, a stone’s throw from the islands of Cape Clear, Sherkin and Heir.

There are few villages in Ireland as brilliant as Baltimore when the sun is shining bright. If you rock up here on a sunny summers day, point your nose, handlebars or bumper in the direction of Bushes Bar.

On a fine day, you’ll find people plonked down outside. Grab a coffee and fuel up for the days adventure.

Related read: Check out our guide to 47 of the best things to do in Cork in 2020.

2. Follow it up with a trip to Cape Clear Island and Ireland’s Teardrop

fastnet lighthouse cork
Photo by Corey Macri (Shutterstock)

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 the 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’ (here’s how it got the nickname).

Tip: There’s a clatter of different walks that you can head off on if you visit Cape Clear. Here’s a handy resource if you’d like to go for a ramble.

3. Or spend an afternoon whale and dolphin watching

whale watching in cork
Photo by Padraig Whooley via Tourism Ireland

 Hands down one of the best things to do in West Cork is to experience the magnificent wildlife that roams its waters. If you’re after an unforgettable afternoon, book in for a tour with the lads at Baltimore Sea Safari.

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.

4. Kick back for a night camped out by the sea

chlere haven glamping Ireland
Photo via Chlere Haven Camping on Facebook

This next place looks the business! If you fancy escaping to Ireland’s southernmost Irish speaking island for a night or two, then get yourself to Chleire Haven on Cape Clear.

You’ll need to take a 45-minute ferry ride to get here, but when you arrive you’ll be treated to sea views along with seemingly endless tranquil scenery.

Those that visit can spend the night in a spacious circular yurt that’s furnished with double beds, solar-powered lighting, a stove and a mini kitchen.

Related read: Check out our guide to 15 of the best things to do in Kinsale in 2020.

5. Head for a saunter on the sand at Barleycove Beach

Barleycove Beach view from afar
Photo via Google Maps

If you’re visiting Mizen Head, make sure to take the tiny 4-minute (if you’re driving) detour to the often-missed (and very beautiful) Barleycove Beach.

This is one of the best beaches on the Wild Atlantic Way, in my opinion. Now, if you arrive on a dry day, flick off your shoes and socks and head for a paddle or a stroll.

If you want to grab the view in the photo above, take the drive up the hill towards ‘Canawee’, as it’s listed on Google Maps.

6. And then nurse a post-adventure pint with a view at the nearby Barleycove Beach Hotel

barleycove beach hotel
Photo via Barleycove Beach Hotel

How unreeeeeallllll does the scene in the picture above look! Yes, if you fancy sipping away on a coffee or a pint or whatever tickles your fancy, head to the Barleycove Beach Hotel.

You can grab a bite to eat and soak up a view out over the beach that lies right next to it. If you fancy spending a night by the sea, the reviews for the hotel are pretty damn good, also!

Related read: Check out our guide to 10 of the best things to do in Cobh in 2020.

7. Grab some mighty views from Mount Gabriel 

view from mount gabriel
Photo by Corey Macri (Shutterstock)

Mount Gabriel is another place 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).

8. Soak up the scenery at Mizen Head

Mizen Head
Photo by RR Photo (Shutterstock)

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 during the summer of 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.

Take your time walking around and admiring the views that lay as far as the eye can see.

9. Then get battered by the wind on Brow Head

brow head cork
Photo © The Irish Road Trip

In my opinion, it’s places like Brow Head that give our little island its X-Factor’. No fancy visitor centres. 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…

Related read: Check out our guide to 18 of the best things to do in Cork City in 2020.

10. Follow it up with a pint (or a tea) by the sea in O’Sullivan’s

o'sullivan's pub crookhaven
Photo by (and used with the permission of) @bigbadbavs on IG

O’ Sullivan’s Bar can be found at the heart of the little village of Crookhaven, not far from Mizen Head and right next to Brow Head.

This pub overlooks the beautiful Crookhaven harbour so, when the weather is fine, you can savour a sup by the sea. If you visit, give Murphy’s Stout a lash, it’s brewed in Cork and it’s one of the tastier Irish beers out there.

11. Put your tummy to the test on the bendy road at Healy Pass

Healy pass
Photo by Jon Ingall (Shutterstock)

 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.

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.

12. And then head off and explore the fairytale-like Gougane Barra

gougane barra forest park
Photo by silvester kalcik (shutterstock)

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.

13. Spend a night having the buzz in Skibbereen

guinness at the dingle Skellig hotel

I’m a big fan of Skibbereen. Often referred to as ‘the Capital of West Cork’, it’s a lively little town that’s a great base for exploring some of the best that West Cork has to offer.

If you arrive here after a hard day of exploring, nip into An Chistin Beag for a big aul feed. When your belly’s happy, drop into Cahalanes Bar and round the day off in style.

Looking for somewhere to stay in Cork? Check out our guide to 11 of the most unique Airbnbs in Cork City and beyond!

14. Take a spin over to the often-missed Sherkin island

Beach on Sherkin Island
Photo by Sasapee (Shutterstock)

I feel like I’m describing a lot of places to visit in West Cork as ‘often-missed’, however the reality is that in West Cork, as is the case with many places in Ireland, the ‘big’ attractions tend to get all of the attention.

Sherkin Island is a very handy 10-minute ferry ride from Baltimore and it’s the perfect place to explore by foot, There’s a number of different trails on the island that vary in length and difficulty level.

If you’re looking to soak up some history, the island’s home to a clatter of historical sites, like the Franciscan Friary and Dun na Long castle.

15. Take the cable car over to Dursey Island

Dursey Island Cable Car
Photo by Babetts Bildergalerie (Shutterstock)

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.

16. Then take a boat tour out to Bull Rock (one of the most unique things to do in West Cork)

bull rock island cork
Photo on the right: Deirdre Fitzgerald. Left: J.A. Ross (shutterstock)

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.

17. Soak up some well-earned chill time in Glandore or Union Hall

glandore in cork
Photo by Marcela Mul/shutterstock.com

If you’ve yet to visit the picturesque little fishing villages of Glandore and Union Hall then you’re in for a treat! These are two of the very few places in Ireland where I could see myself happily living.

Many people pass through them when visiting West Cork. If you can, try and use them as a base to explore Cork from – you won’t be disappointed.

If you visit Glandore on a fine day, try and nab one of the seats outside the Glandore Inn. The food here is the business and the views out over the harbour make the meal all the more enjoyable.

18. Spin along the coastal road to Allihies

allihies west cork things to do

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.

19. And then spend a night in the very colourful Eyeries

eyries cork
Photo © The Irish Road Trip

Eyeries is one of those places that tend to go viral on social media sites every once and a while. Its colourful streets look like something that was whipped up in photoshop.

I spent a wet and windy Sunday night in Eyeries with my dad last summer. We stayed in a B&B on a hill and we spent an evening drinking and chatting in (I think!) O’Shea’s Bar.

This is a lovely little place to spend a night. If you visit during the summer months, try and angle your trip around the big family festival that takes place in July (Update: it’s not going ahead again until 2021).

20. Test your nerve on the Priest’s Leap Drive

Priest's Leap Drive
Photo by Corey Macri/shutterstock.com

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 unrivalled 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.

21. Take a spin over to Garnish Island

Garnish Island
Photo by Chris Hill via Ireland’s Content Pool

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!

22. Or explore by foot on the Sheep’s Head Way Cahergal Loop

sheeps head drive cork
Photo via Failte Ireland on Ireland’s Content Pool

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.

23. Step back in time at Drombeg Stone Circle

Drombeg stone circle cork
Photo by Brian Morrison

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.

You can find out more about its history from the lads at Megalithic Ireland.

24. Head for a stroll along the sand at Inchydoney

Inchydoney beach cork weather
Photo © The Irish Road Trip

Inchydoney Beach is a lovely little addition to every West Cork road trip. It’s racked up plenty of awards that have crowned it Ireland’s best beach over the years.

Now, I’ve parked in the hotel car park beside the beach before as I wanted to use the bathroom, but there are signs up specifically stating that the car park is for customers use only.

Use it at your own risk or grab a coffee or a bite to eat in the hotel first. When you’re ready to tock, kick the socks off and head for a ramble along the sand.

If you don’t fancy heading down onto the sand, you’ll get a fine view from the grassy verge near the car park.

25. Spend a few hours conquering Knockomagh Hill

Knockomagh woods cork guide
Photo © The Irish Road Trip

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.

26. Head off on Lady Bantry’s Lookout Walk at Glengarriff (Cork)

glengariff forest park
Photo via https://www.glengarriffnaturereserve.ie

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 can’t recommend the Lady Bantry Lookout Walk enough.

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.

27. Spend a week walking the mighty Beara Way (Cork)

allihies west cork
Photo by Hillwalk Tours

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. 

28. Or a rainy day tackling the Ring of Beara Drive (Cork)

ring of beara
Photo by LouieLea/shutterstock.com

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. The Ring of Beara Drive is 137km long 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.

Kick your drive off in either the gorgeous little town in Kenmare or on the opposite side of the peninsula, from Bantry. Here’s a full route to follow.

29. Have post-adventure pints at Bunnyconnellan Bar

Bunnyconnellan Bar
Photo via Bunnyconnellan Bar on Facebook

We’re off to the Bunnyconnellan Bar, next! You’ll often hear this place referred to as ‘The Cottage on the Rocks’. The view in the photo above should give you a good idea why.

The Bunnyconnellan Bar was built in 1824 and you’ll find it perched atop cliffs overlooking the Atlantic, Cork Harbour and Roche’s Point. A fine spot for a post-adventure pint or coffee.

30. Head for a wander around the Baltimore Beacon

west cork attractions
Photo on left Hugh O’Connor. Right Kwiatek7 (shutterstock)

The now-iconic Baltimore Beach (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.

31. Spin along the Sheep’s Head Drive

sheeps head drive
Photo by Phil Darby/Shutterstock.com

You’ll often see Sheep’s Head omitted from many guides to the best things to do in West Cork, which is a disgrace, 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.

Frequently asked questions about visiting West Cork

Howaya! So, we originally published this article several years ago (I’ve given it a recent upgrade!) and since then have had hundreds (and that’s not an exaggeration) of emails asking about places to visit in West Cork.

In the section below, you’ll find some answers to the most FAQs that we receive.

The best things to do in West Cork

  1. Eat and drink your way around Kinsale
  2. Go whale watching in the summer months
  3. Ramble along the sand at Inchydoney
  4. Spend a weekend exploring the Beara Peninsula
  5. Visit Mizen Head (Ireland’s most Southwesterly Point)
  6. Take a boat over to Cape Clear Island
  7. And then check out Fastnet Rock on the way back
  8. Climb Knockomagh Hill for an incredible view

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 places to visit in West Cork are not to be missed?

  1. Mizen Head
  2. Brow Head
  3. The Beara Peninsula
  4. Glengarriff
  5. Sheep’s Head
  6. Allihies

Howaya! Thanks for visiting the Irish road trip! This site exists to inspire and guide you on an Irish adventure that’ll give birth to a lifetime of memories (sounds very arsey altogether, I know!) You'll find everything from things to do in Ireland to where to stay in Ireland (unique and unusual places) if you have a nosey around!

5 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for putting this together, I am moving to the area soon and will enjoy sussing it out – and getting lost – with your guide.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.