Beara Peninsula: The Wild Atlantic Way’s Best Kept Secret (Things To Do + Map)

beara peninsula ireland
Photos via Shutterstock

Tucked away in the southwest corner of Ireland, the Beara Peninsula is often overshadowed by its more famous neighbours.

To the North, the Ring of Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula tend to grab all of the attention while to the South, the Sheep’s Head and Mizen Peninsulas tend get their fair share of footfall.

However, the Beara Peninsula is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Cork, and it has many surprises in store for adventurous travellers.

Some quick need-to-knows about the Beara Peninsula in Cork

ring of beara
Photo by LouieLea/shutterstock.com

Although a visit to the Beara Peninsula is fairly straightforward, there are a few need-to-knows that’ll make your visit that bit more enjoyable.

1. Location

You’ll find the breath-taking Beara Peninsula in West Cork, where it’s sandwiched between the Kenmare Bay and Bantry Bay. Although a good chunk of the peninsula is in Cork, a fair bit of it lies within Kerry.

2. Unparalleled beauty

Although the Beara Peninsula is one of the most beautiful places to visit in West Cork, many visiting the area tend to skip it. Which is a shame for them, and great for those in the know. The Beara Peninsula is much quieter than many of its neighbouring peninsulas and the scenery is just as good (if not better!).

3. The Ring of Beara

One of the most popular things to do on the Beara Peninsula is to explore it on the Ring of Beara drive or cycle – this is a 148km route that takes in many of Bearas’ top attractions. The Ring is best done over a few days, however, if you’re stuck for time you could do it in 5 or 6 hours.

4. The Beara Way

The magnificent Beara Way is one of the best long-distance walks in Cork. You’ll want to allow around 9 days to do the trail justice. You’ll find more info on this below.

5. Gorgeous towns and villages

The Beara Peninsula is home to some of the most beautiful villages and towns in Cork. From Allihies, Eyeries and Ardgroom to Adrigole, Castletownbere, Dursey and Glengarriff, there’s plenty of places to base yourself from while you explore (more on Beara Peninsula accommodation below).

Our favourite things to do on the Beara Peninsula

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

The first section of this guide tackles our favourite things to do on the Beara Peninsula in Cork, with a mix of walks, hikes and historic sites.

Below, you’ll find everything from the Beara Way to the incredible Ring of Beara Drive and much more (you’ll find a Beara Peninsula map with attractions plotted out at the end).

1. Drive or cycle the Ring of Beara

the ring of beara cycle
Photo © The Irish Road Trip

Leave the Ring of Kerry to the tour buses and set off on the equally scenic (and much quieter) Ring of Beara drive. Head around the peninsula in a clockwise direction to ensure you get the full delights of the intricate coastline and dramatic scenery.

Starting from Kenmare, head over the Caha Mountains to Glengarriff, crossing from Kerry into Cork.

Savour glimpses of beautiful Bantry Bay as you drive west to the fishing port of Castletownbere. The unofficial capital of Beara, Castletownbere is a good place for a lunch stop.

After enjoying views of Dursey Island (just off the tip of the Beara Peninsula), return along the top of the 48-km long peninsula beside the Kenmare Estuary. 

2. Or…ditch the car and walk the Beara Way

ring of beara
Photo by LouieLea/shutterstock.com

If you have 9 days or so to spare, consider hiking the scenic Beara Way on a 206km loop which includes parts of the Wild Atlantic Way. The way-marked hike is graded “strenuous”, but “no pain, no gain” as they say.

Start and finish at Glengarriff (book yourself a soft bed and a warm bath as a reward) and tackle this amazing hike that ascends 5,245m in total.

Remote, unspoiled and magical, the Beara Way promises ancient standing stones, lakes, mountains, fishing and farming communities interspersed with bog roads and woodland paths. There’s plenty of overnight accommodation if you don’t fancy camping. 

3. Kayak with the seals at Adrigole

seals on the aran islands
Photo by Sviluppo/shutterstock.com

If you’re looking for more unique things to do on the Beara Peninsula, this next activity should be right up your street. Point your nose in the direction of Adrigole.

It’s from here that you can set off on a kayak and see a colony of 40 seals. The sheltered bay waters are perfect for kayaking. Get a quick lesson in paddling and set off on your own wildlife quest.

Keep an eye out for the seals (you’ll hear them before you see them!), dolphins and seabirds. There have also been many sightings of whales in the waters here over the years.

4. Take a boat over to Garnish Island

garnish island cork
Photo by Juan Daniel Serrano (Shutterstock)

If you prefer someone else to do the skippering, take the Harbour Queen Ferry from Glengarriff to the 37-acre Garnish Island in Bantry Bay.

The island is a horticultural paradise with stunning gardens, pools and shrubs planted 70 years ago by owner Annan Bryce and landscape architect Harold Peto.

It was bequeathed to the Irish people in 1953 and now beautifully maintained by the Office of Public Works. How’s that for a surprise! 

A trip to Garnish also tends to appeal to those in search of things to do on the Beara Peninsula with kids, as the ferry passes Seal Island en route!

5. Whittle away an evening in the colourful towns of Eyeries or Allihies

O'Neill's Allihies
Photo by Chris Hill Photography (via Tourism Ireland)

Two delightful village communities on Beara’s north coast are Eyeries and Allihies. Book an overnight stay and immerse yourself in the local culture and explore the land around you (the Copper Mines Trail is worth doing!).

It’s hard to miss Eyeries with its multi-coloured houses and stunning Atlantic views. It has a cluster of gold and silver awards from the national “Tidy Towns” competition.

Take your pick from two pubs, a cafe and a restaurant (or drop in on them all and meet the whole village!) Allihies, home of Mileens cheese and is the last village on Beara Peninsula.

If you do happen to stay in Allihies, the Allihies Copper Mine Museum is well worth visiting (especially if you arrive when it’s raining and you’re in need of shelter!).

6. Explore the breathtaking Glengariff Woods Nature Reserve

Glengarriff
Photo by Pantee (Shutterstock)

The magnificent Glengarrif Nature Reserve is one of our favourite places to visit on the Beara Peninsula.

This is, in our opinion, the pinnacle of Beara’s natural beauty. Glengarrif boasts 300 hectares of walking trails including the challenging-but-scenic 2.8km Esknamucky Trail, a 1km River Walk and an easy Waterfall Walk.

There’s also a lovely little climb you can do that takes you up to Lady Bantry’s Lookout. This forested area is now managed by the National Parks and Wildlife Service as a haven for wildflowers, orchids, mammals, fish and birds.

7. Get an eyeful of the waterfall in Gleninchaquin Park

Gleninchaquin Park kenmare
Photo left: walshphotos. Photo right: Romija (Shutterstock)

Where better to enjoy woodland walks, log bridges, mountain streams, rock passages, glens and lakes than the magnificent Gleninchaquin Park?

The highlight is the magnificent multi-cascade waterfall down the rock face. More a nature hike than a garden stroll, this idyllic valley park has 6 walks with something for everyone.

Although Dogs are welcome in Gleninchaquin, they must be kept on a lead. Bring a picnic and make a day of it! A very beautiful place to spend a sunny Saturday.

Unique things to do on the Beara Peninsula

dursey island
Photo by David OBrien (Shutterstock)

The second section of our guide tackles the more unique things to do on the Beara Peninsula, for those of you in search of a different type of experience.

Below, you’ll find everything from Ireland’s only cable car and a very mystical island to walks, parks and much more.

1. Spend a morning on Dursey Island (via Ireland’s only cable car!)

Dursey Island Cable Car
Photo by Babetts Bildergalerie (Shutterstock)

Dursey Island, the most westerly inhabited island in Cork, sits at the tip of the Beara Peninsula. The most popular way of getting there is by vintage cable car! The only one in Ireland, as it happens!

It carries just 6 passengers (or one cow or a dozen sheep!) and the 10-minute white-knuckle ride runs 250m above the sea with dizzying views if you dare to open your eyes.

Strong tides make boat crossings hazardous, hence the aerial route. The island is a birdwatcher’s paradise. Landmarks include the 200-year-old Signal Tower, the ruined church of St Kilmichael and O’Sullivan Beara’s castle.

Just make sure to take some drinks and snacks with you if you plan on walking around the island as there are no shops or pubs to drop into.

2. And then an afternoon on a boat tour to Bull Rock Island

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

Even more remote than Dursey Island is Bull Rock Island, 9km off the Beara Peninsula. Race across the waves in a bumpy RIB (rigid inflatable boat) heading for the craggy rock topped with Bull Rock Lighthouse.

Along the exciting journey, look out for whales, dolphins and basking sharks competing with foraging seabirds in these rich feeding grounds.

Travel right under the island via Bull Rock Tunnel, weather permitting, and circle around Calf Rock before returning to port. Definitely one of the most unique things to do on the Beara Peninsula!    

3. Visit Bere Island (a very hidden gem!)

Bere Island Cork
Photo by Timaldo/shutterstock.com

Next up in our guide to the best things to do on the Beara Peninsula is beautiful Bere Island, a quiet place of serenity where you can contemplate life, the world, the view…

Guarding the entrance to Bantry Bay, this proud community of just 160 residents is rich in heritage and archaeological sites.

Enjoy walks, bike rides, sailing, fishing and birdwatching or just soak up the hospitality, warm welcome and great food.  

4. Spin along the VERY bendy road at Healy Pass

Healy pass
Photo by Jon Ingall (Shutterstock)

As great drives go, Healy Pass is one of the best in Ireland. Once a bridleway, the road was created in 1847 as a work relief scheme during the Great Famine.

Cutting through the Caha Mountain Range, the road climbs to a lofty elevation of 334m (over 1000 feet) at Caha Pass on an epic 5-hour journey from Cork to Tralee.

The serpentine R574 (that’s the route number, not the number of bends, you’ll be happy to hear!) is like a giant game of snakes and ladders. 

Our Beara Peninsula map (with attractions plotted)

If you’re looking for things to do on the Beara Peninsula, but you’re not sure where to begin, our Beara Peninsula map should help.

Above, you’ll find the Ring of Beara route plotted out, along with many of the different things to see and do.

Beara Peninsula Accommodation

Eccles Hotel
Photo via Eccles Hotel

If you’re looking to spend a night or three on the Beara Peninsula in Ireland, you’ve your pick of B&Bs and Airbnbs. You just need to decide where to base yourself from.

If you want to see what B&Bs and hotels are on offer, you can browse through plenty on Booking.com here. Note: the Booking.com link is an affiliate links. You won’t pay extra, but we’ll make a tiny commission (that’s very much appreciated).

FAQs about the different places to visit on the Beara Peninsula

We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from what are the best things to do on the Beara Peninsula to where to stay when visiting.

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 is there to do on the Beara Peninsula?

You’ve everything for hikes (like the Beara Way) and walks (like the ones in Glengarrif Nature Reserve) to scenic drives, islands and more (see above).

Where should I stay on the Beara Peninsula?

When it comes to Beara Peninsula accommodation, there’s a mix of places to stay in the main towns (like Allihies, Castletownbere, etc) and accommodation off-the-beaten-path, away from the towns and villages. You’ll find places to stay in the guide above.

What are the more unique things to do on the Beara Peninsula? 

Places like Bull Rock, Dursey Island and Glenchaquin Park are definitely up there with the more unique attractions in the area. 

Gillian Birch is a travel writer and published author. She has travelled the world and uses her personal journals and memories to write about her many travel experiences, particularly those that involved adventures in Ireland.

3 COMMENTS

  1. This article hasn’t included another village in the Peninsula, Ardgroom, which is the first village once you leave Kenmare. It has an amazing Stone Circle and the most breathtaking lake, Glenbeg Lough. There are several Beara way walking routes in and around Ardgroom. It is also a very colourful village, maybe it doesn’t scream and compete for attention like Eyeries and Allihies but it is no less beautiful or important to the Peninsula and deserves a mention in articles like this.

  2. I always have a bone to pick when writers neglect to mention that part of Beara is in Kerry. At the end of the Healy Pass you are in Lauragh, and you can go to Derreen Gardens and then onto Helen’s Bar aka Teddy O’Sullivans in Kilmackalogue for the freshest mussels served with a great pint of Murphy’s Stout. Gleninchaquin is also located in Kerry.

  3. The Beara Peninsula has to be the most beautiful place in Ireland. I was there with my girlfriend last summer. We stayed in Glengarriff for 3 nights Friday to Monday in an airb&b. I have been to many countries across the world and I think this was up there, as one of the best holidays. Not mentioned above are the Ewe Gardens on the kenmare Rd. Amazing sculpture gardens. Also if you are in Glengarriff you have to go on a dolphin tour with Bantry Bay Charters. There was so much to see and we also did some fishing and bought home some Mackerel to cook that evening. The team are great and we had great craic. We drove the ring of Beara and one hidden gem between Glengarriff and Adrigole, is Zetland pier. There is a little beach hidden near the pier that is like a paradise. The buddah centre is another must stop. You can get a nice lunch and look out over the bay. We saw a pod of dolphins passing by while we were there. And finally, I would highly recommend a stop at Garnish Dursey & Allihies. The scenery is just second to none. We didn’t have time to go to Bere island but we will be back this summer. Booked a week this time.

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