The Beara Peninsula: The Wild Atlantic Way’s Best Kept Secret (11 Things To Do)

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.

11 mighty things to do on the Beara Peninsula

The magnificent Beara Peninsula is a bit of a hidden gem which, considering 1, how much there is to see and do on it and 2, how close it is to tourists hotspots like Kenmare, is no mean feat.

You’ll find it in Cork, on Ireland’s well-trodden Wild Atlantic Way, wedged between Kenmare and Bantry Bay. It boasts the Caha Mountains and the Slieve Miskish Mountains, both of which provide ample adventure opportunities.

In the guide below, you’ll discover a number of very worthwhile things to do on the Beara Peninsula, from the wonderful Beara Peninsula drive to the tricky Beara Ring cycle

1. Drive or cycle the magnificent (and often-missed) 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 Co. Kerry into Co. 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 waymarked 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, unspoilt 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. 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 Co. 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.

4. 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!    

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. 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.

7. Take a boat over to Garnish Island

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

If you prefer someone else to do the skippering, take the Harbour Queen Ferry from Glengarriff to the 37-acre Garinish 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!

8. Explore the breathtaking Glengariff Woods Nature Reserve

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

The magnificent Glengarrif Woods Nature Reserve is one of our favourite places to visit on the Beara Peninsula (a visit here is also one of the best things to do in West Cork!).

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.

9. Get an eyeful of the waterfall in Gleninchaquin Park

Gleninchaquin park kerry
Photo by Valerie O’Sullivan (via Ireland’s Content Pool)

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.

10. 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. 

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

Bere Island Cork
Photo by Timaldo/shutterstock.com

The final attraction 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.  

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.

We personally recommend Allihie (make sure to nip into O’Neill’s) and Eyeries as bases. If you want to see what Airbnbs the Beara Peninsula has to offer, you’ll find loads here.

If you’d rather check out B&Bs and hotels, you can browse through plenty on Booking.com here. Note: the Airbnb and Booking.com links are affiliate links. You won’t pay extra, but we’ll make a tiny commission (that’s very much appreciated).

Beara Peninsula Map

We’ve plotted some of the most popular places to visit on the Beara Peninsula on the interactive map above. Is this all there is to see? Of course not!

This just outlines out favourite stop-off points on the Ring of Beara. Have you attractions (manmade or natural) that you’d like to recommend? Let us know in the comments!

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.

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.