If you’re in search of some gorgeous towns in Cork for a break in 2021, you’ve landed in the right place.
Cork excels when it comes to glorious scenery, island communities, colourful cottages and hidden harbours. It also has some exceptional food, pubs and breweries.
In the guide below, you’ll find some stunning Cork towns that make the perfect base for an adventure, from well-known spots like Kinsale, to hidden gems, like Bere.
Our favourite villages and towns in Cork for a weekend break
The first section of this guide is packed with our favourite Cork towns. Below, you’ll find the likes of Kinsale and Union Hall along with the lively town of Clonakilty and much more.
Kinsale is arguably one of the best-known towns in Cork and it has lots to boast about as a famous port, noteworthy battleground and the site of the sinking of the Lusitania.
Don’t miss the Courthouse and Regional Museum with local artefacts including an anchor from the Armada and boots once worn by the “Kinsale Giant”.
2. Union Hall
If you’re searching for the essence of “Old Ireland”, look no further than Union Hall. This quiet, picturesque village is an excellent base for exploring West Cork.
There’s a limited choice of pubs and eateries, but it makes up for it with the freshest seafood at hearty Irish favourites at Dinty’s.
There’s a plethora of archaeological pockets to explore nearby such as Drombeg Stone Circle, the Holy Well and Ceim Hill Museum.
Follow the signs to Ross Pier for a pleasant ramble, terminating at a colourful boatyard with Castletownshend views.
3. Cork City
We’ve slipped in a city (how could we not?) as Cork City is a buzzing hub with plenty to see and do in all seasons.
I’d argue that Glengarriff is one of the most overlooked towns in Cork. Gateway to the Wild Atlantic, Glengarriff sits on world-famous Bantry Bay and is blessed with abundant natural beauty.
This popular tourist destination boomed in Victorian times yet retains its tranquil ambience. Visit in spring to appreciate the hillsides covered in yellow gorse, fuchsia, rhododendrons and camellias that thrive in the warm oceanic climate.
Hop across to Garnish Island with its surprising collection of plants and Italian Gardens, explore the Caha Mountains and cycle the start of the Beara Way to appreciate this charming location.
Known as the “Mighty Clon” by locals, Clonakilty is a sheer delight to visit with its colourful shops, handpainted signs and local specialities.
If the weather’s kind, visit Inchydoney Beach for a scenic stroll, otherwise head to Clonakilty Distillery for a tour and tasting. As well as whiskey it produces gin from wild botanicals (sign up for a masterclass!) and has an excellent restaurant.
Foodies can take a guided walking tour and hear local tales while being introduced to the finest cheese and chocolate shops, artisan markets and ice cream outlets. Yum!
The most beautiful villages in Cork
Section two tackles what we believe are the most beautiful villages and towns in Cork. And, as you can see from the snap above, there’s some tough competition.
Below, you’ll find well known Cork towns and villages like Eyeries and Glandore, to some slightly off-the-beaten-path places that punch well above their weight.
Perched on the Wild Atlantic Way with some of the most amazing coastal views in Ireland, Eyeries is well worth the effort of getting there.
This timeless community has welcoming bars and cosy cafés, a playground and a Sensory Garden. At the heart of the village is St Kentigern’s Church with contemporary stained glass windows which are a riot of bright colour.
Nearby attractions include the Hag of Beara, the goddess of winter turned to stone, and the ancient Ogham Stone at Ballycrove, the tallest of its kind in Europe at over 5 metres high.
As you approach this award-winning “Tidy Town” village, prepare to be welcomed with panoramic views from Barnes Gap that are unforgettable.
Once a copper mining community, relics remain of the steam engine houses on the surrounding hillside.
The white beach provides another surprise with sparkling quartz making it shimmer in the sun. The bright paintwork has earned it the name “most colourful village in Ireland” while stunning natural vistas frequently provide a backdrop for films and TV dramas.
Glandore (Cuan D’Or) means “harbour of gold” and this picaresque harbour village surely deserves that acclaim!
The Dangers Rocks were the undoing of more than one Spanish treasure galleon while local sailors navigating the Adam and Eve Islands regard the sage advice to “avoid Adam and hug Eve”.
Visit the mystical Drombeg Stone Circle with 14 standing stones forming a 9.3 metre circle with a long-forgotten purpose.
Explore local walks, trek down to Prison Cove or watch yachts from the Sailing School tacking around the breezy harbour.
4. Cobh (one of the most popular towns in Cork)
Located on Great Island in Cork Harbour, Cobh (formerly Queenstown) was the departure point for millions of Irish emigrants and the final port of call for RMS Titanic on its first and final voyage.
The deep-water port still welcomes some of the largest cruise ships in the world. It’s a hub for watersports, from sea angling and sailing to harbour boat trips.
There’s no mistaking the Victorian influence in the town’s architecture, overlooked by St Colman’s Cathedral with Ireland’s only 49-bell carillon.
Lovely Baltimore with just 400 residents is in one of the most beautiful parts of Ireland. Warmed by the Gulf Stream, it has a mild climate and a large natural harbour overlooking Carbery’s Hundred Isles.
Take a boat trip from the pier, admire the rows of charming fishermen’s cottages from the harbour and soak up panoramic vistas from the iconic Baltimore Beacon.
The 13th century castle with its tapestries and pirate exhibition is worth a visit with uninterrupted views from the battlements.
End the day in the Square at one of the lively bars and restaurants with sunset views towards Mizen Head.
Often over-looked Cork towns and villages
As you’ve probably gathered at this stage, there’s no end to the number of towns and villages in Cork where you can spend a night.
The final section of our guide contains villages in Cork that often get overlooked by those visiting the Rebel County.
1. Bere Island
Just a 2km ferry ride from Castletownbere, Bere Island is the largest white fishing port in Ireland. But what makes it popular with visitors is its rich heritage, rural charm and tranquil scenery amid an impressive mountain backdrop.
This 11km long island is rich in archaeological sites, standing stones, ring forts, wedge tombs and ancient burial sites.
The Martello towers mark a more recent military history. Nature lovers can expect to see whales, basking sharks, pods of leaping dolphins and many waterfowl. It all adds up to a top place for a weekend escape.
2. Cape Clear Island
Cape Clear Island is Ireland’s southernmost inhabited island and birthplace of Saint Ciarán whose Holy Well is a popular landmark.
A hike through the varied terrain offers megalithic standing stones, a 5000-year-old passage grave, 12th century church ruins and O’Driscoll Castle. Its ivy-covered remains date back to Norman times.
Take a boat trip to the awesome Fastnet Lighthouse after visiting the Fastnet Rock Heritage Centre in the town. Birdwatchers will appreciate the diversity of migrating birds recorded by Cape Clear Observatory and the Goat Farm has the best ice cream on the island!
Picture-perfect Schull is the closest thing to a town on Mizen Peninsula with sheltered waters and hidden coves.
This rugged Atlantic coastline is popular for sailing, surfing, diving, whale-watching, bird-spotting, island-hopping and boating so its a great choice for active adventurers.
Landlubbers may prefer to poke about the quirky craft shops and galleries on the Main Street or sample homemade cakes in pint-size cafés.
There’s more to the town than its rainbow-coloured cottages with a Planetarium, Watersports Centre and Fastnet Marine and Outdoor Centre offering a range of sailing programs in this bay of islands.
Truly a hidden gem, Youghal is a seaside town of great charm with a history shaped by Sir Walter Raleigh and Richard Boyle, who made it an important trading port.
Cruise up the Black Water River and learn about the mansions, castles and monasteries you will see, stroll the Victorian promenade and pass beneath the clock tower, one of 12 mediaeval town gates.
Take a look inside the 1300-year-old St Mary’s Collegiate Church and meet Norman the Cat. Last but not least, enjoy a pint at Paddy Linehan’s Pub, better known as Moby Dick’s We’ll let the barman tell you why!
What Cork towns have we missed?
I’ve no doubt that we’ve unintentionally missed out on some gorgeous Cork towns in the guide above.
If you have any towns in Cork that you’d like to recommend, let us know in the comments section below and we’ll check them out!
FAQs about the best towns in Cork
We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from what are the most scenic towns in Cork to which ones are best for a weekend away.
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 most scenic towns in Cork?
I’d argue that the most scenic Cork towns are Kinsale, Baltimore, Glandore, Union Hall and Glengarriff.
What Cork towns are good for a weekend of exploring?
The West Cork towns, like Glandore, Union Hall etc. are all good places to base yourself for a weekend of exploring the surrounding county.
What are the most beautiful towns in Cork?
You know what they say – beauty is in the eye of the beholder, however, it’s hard to beat Cape Clear and Bere when it comes to beauty.
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.