This detailed road trip guide packs in loooooads of the best things to do in West Cork over 4 long, lovely days on the road.
And I mean long and lovely!
Now, if you’re the type of person that wants to stay in one place for 4 days and explore around you, this road trip isn’t for you.
If you follow this guide, you’ll be moving accommodation each night. Not ideal, I know! However, all of the moving about will be well worth it (promise!).
What you’ll get from reading our guide to West Cork
- A detailed itinerary you can follow from start to finish
- Advice on where to visit each day (along with drive times)
- Loads of off-the-beaten-track spots to visit
- Advice on where to eat, sleep and drink
Day one kicks-off our adventure in style in the buzzy little town of Kinsale (just outside of West Cork).
Your first day on the road is packed with coastal walks, scenic drives, good food, lively towns and villages and plenty more.
A quick note before we dive in: you don’t have to follow the itinerary below to a tee. Chop and change it wherever and whenever it tickles your fancy.
1. Kinsale for coffee and a stroll
I’m going to make an assumption that you’re not living or staying in Kinsale, and that you’re going to have to travel to reach stop 1.
When you rock up to Kinsale, grab some caffeine (the Cosy Cafe is good) and take some time to ramble around this gorgeous little town.
It’s colourful, narrow streets are guaranteed to delight. If you fancy spending a bit of time here, have a nosey through some of our guides below:
- 13 of the best things to do in Kinsale
- 11 of our favourite hotels in Kinsale
- 12 of the best old school pubs in Kinsale
- 9 of the finest restaurants in Kinsale
- A guide to the Scilly Walk in Kinsale
- Our Kinsale Airbnb guide
2. The Old Head of Kinsale
Our next stop takes us to the Old Head of Kinsale. There’s a fine 6 km (roughly 1.5 hour) loop walk here that takes in remarkable views at every turn.
The Old Head of Kinsale is a magnificent, narrow promontory into the Atlantic Ocean which rises hundreds of feet from the sea with craggy cliffs.
Take your time and enjoy the gush of Atlantic wind that’ll clatter you from every angle. Here’s a guide to the walk that you can follow.
3. The sandy shores of Inchydoney
Inchydoney Beach is a lovely little addition to your first day on the road. It’s racked up plenty of awards that have crowned it Ireland’s best beach over the years.
It’s amazing at sunset if you just fancy getting a lungful of pre-bed ocean air (the view from the grassy verge near the car park is cracking) and it’s even better if you want to head off on a stroll.
4. Clonakilty for a spot of lunch
When you’ve finished eating, have a post-feed ramble around the town. Keep an eye out for the gorgeous Teach Beag pub, but don’t let its old-school exterior tempt you in for a pint – we’ve lots more driving to do.
If you fancy lingering on in Clonakilty, here are some guide to drop into:
5. Drombeg Stone Circle
Next up we’re heading to check out one of Ireland’s best-known stone circles. 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.
6. Spinning through Glandore and Union Hall
We’ve no specific stops or places to visit in either town, but you can’t drive through this neck of the woods and not take some time to ramble around.
Give yourself 45 minutes and stop-off anywhere that tickles your fancy.
7. Climbing up Knockomagh Hill
I did this walk up Knockomagh Hill last summer and it was brilliant. It took us (myself and the aul lad) roughly an hour and 15 minutes to get to the top, but this was due to the fact that we kept stopping to admire the views.
The trail is pretty well maintained, and there’s plenty of places to stop for a couple of minutes for anyone with low fitness levels.
Related read: Check out our guide to 41 of the best things to do in Cork at any time of the year.
8. Food, pints and a bed for the night in Skibbereen
I’m a huge fan of Skibbereen. Often referred to as ‘the Capital of West Cork’, it’s a gorgeous, lively little town that’s a great base for exploring some of the best that West Cork has to offer.
Check in to your B&B (I can’t recommend Annie Mays Bed & Breakfast enough) and, when you’re ready, take the 2-minute saunter down to An Chistin Beag and grab a feed.
It’s been a busy aul day. If you’re hankering for a pint or two, nip down the road to Cahalane’s Bar, and spend a couple of hours kicking-back and rounding the day off in style.
I’m a little bit excited for those of you heading into day 2 that have yet to explore West Cork. You’re in for a mighty day on the road… and the water!
Although we’re not going too far in terms of distance, we’re soaking up a tonne of West Cork’s magic. Dive into day 2 below!
1. Coffee in Baltimore
Our first stop of the day, Baltimore, is going to be our buzzy little base for a lot of the day’s activities.
First, we’re going to grab a cup of coffee (or whatever tickles your fancy) to go from Glebe Gardens.
Once you’ve your hand wrapped around something hot, head off on a ramble around the beautiful little village of Baltimore or make your way to the Baltimore Beacon (above).
Related read: Have a nosey at our guide to 31 of the best places to visit and things to do in West Cork.
2. Cape Clear Island and ‘Ireland’s Teardrop’
Our second stop of the day takes us on-board a ferry to Cape Clear Island. Cape Clear is the southernmost inhabited part of the island of Ireland and has a population of over 100 people.
The ferry takes 45-minutes to get to Cape Clear and you’ll pass through the beautiful waters of Roaring Water Bay en route.
When you reach the island, a shuttle bus service leaves from the North Harbour, taking visitors to Cape Clear 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, often referred to as ‘Ireland’s Teardrop’, as it was the last sight of Ireland for many emigrants sailing to America.
3. A bite to eat in Baltimore
We’re on a bit of a tight schedule if we’re going to make it in time for our next tour.
When you get back to Baltimore, head straight for An Sibin Gastro Pub (or wherever you fancy) for a quick bite to eat.
Eat up and get back down to the ferry departure point to catch your second boat of the day
4. Whale and dolphin watching in West Cork (book in advance)
Our 4th stop of the day takes us aboard one of the West Cork whale watching tours that leave from Baltimore.
We’re going to take the 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.’
The tour takes you through areas where they’ve spotted wildlife in the past, so the chances of seeing something are pretty good.
Keep an eye out for Harbour Porpoise, which are a regular sighting during this trip, Basking Sharks, Ocean Sunfish, Sea Turtles and Jellyfish.
5. Gawking at some panoramic views from Mount Gabriel
We’re going to round off today with a spin up around Mount Gabriel. Mount Gabriel is roughly 407m high and is accessible via a road that serves the radar installations at the summit which is open to the public.
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) along with a peek at the mountains of the Beara Peninsula and South Kerry.
Take some time to soak up the views that lay all around you.
6. Schull for the night
When the hunger pangs get the better of you, head on down to Hackett’s Bar and grab some food.
Day 3 takes us into the belly of the Wild Atlantic Way. We’ll be travelling from Schull, our base on night 2, right the way along the coast to Bantry.
Today is packed with lots of active things to do in West Cork that’ll immerse you in a special kind of beauty that this corner of Ireland boasts by the bucket load.
1. Embracing the beauty and remoteness of Brow Head
In my mind, places like Brow Head are what make Ireland an absolute joy to explore. Raw, natural beauty – no fancy visitor centres. No crowds. Just nature, as it was intended.
As you can see from the photo above, 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.
Visit this place. It’s an experience and a half.
2. Having a nosey around Mizen Head
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.
4. Lunch at Mizen
We’ve a long drive and walk ahead of us, so fuel up with a hearty lunch at the cafe at Mizen Head.
If you haven’t packed any snacks or water, grab some here and pop them in your bag.
5. The Sheep’s Head Way Cahergal Loop
The peninsula is extremely popular with walkers, with more than 20 looped walks to choose from. For this road trip, we’re going to head off on the Cahergal Loop.
The lads at the Sheep’s Head Way have created a detailed guide to help you navigate the 3-hour Cahergal Loop walk.
You need to start it at the Black Gate/Alice West Centre (15-minute walk from The Butter House). Here’s a full guide to follow.
6. Bantry for a post-walk coffee and cake
Photo by Phil Darby (Shutterstock)We’re going to refuel with a light snack after the walk in a place called Organico Cafe in Bantry. Grab a coffee and treat yourself to a homemade cake (the Powerball also look delish).
If you fancy lingering in Bantry, here are a few guides to drop into:
- 9 of the best things to do in Bantry
- 6 of the best B&Bs and hotels in Bantry
- A guide to Bantry House and Gardens
- A guide to visiting Garnish Island
7. A walk through Glengarriff Nature Reserve
You’ll be burning some amount of calories today. Our final activity for day 3 is the High Walk in Glengarriff Nature Reserve.
This walk is a 2.8k, 90-minute stroll that takes walkers up through the woods for some fantastic views over the trees to the mountains beyond.
Here are several guides for the various different walks you can embark upon. We’ve recommended the High Walk as you’ve already exerted a good chunk of energy during your walk earlier at Sheep’s Head.
8. Bantry for the night
Tonight, I’m going to recommend that you stay at the Maritime Hotel in Bantry Town. Head on back to your hotel and chill for a while.
When you’re ready to eat, take the 2-minute stroll to Fish Kitchen for a hearty bite to eat.
We’re going to round the evening off with a few pints in Ma Murphy’s pub right across the road from Fish Kitchen.
We’re on to the final day of the West Cork road trip. If you’re still reading, fair play to you! I know the ads are a pain, but they’re a necessary evil!
Today, we’re going to pack in some incredible little villages, a unique experience or two and, of course, loads more.
1. The Winding Road at Healy Pass
Healy Pass is hands down one of the bendiest roads that I’ve ever driven on in Ireland.
The road, which was constructed in 1847 during the years of the famine, looks like a giant snake from above, slithering its way through the two highest summits in the Caha mountain range.
When I visited recently, I met 2 or 3 other cars, max, and from talking to people who live in the area, it’s easily missed/over-looked.
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 (the photo above shows the Cork side).
2. Getting lost near Hungry Hill
For me, a big part of any road trip is taking those random little turns that catch your eye, as they often lead to some unexpected piece of scenery that you never knew existed.
OK, they can also lead to being stuck behind a tractor down some narrow country lane for half an hour, but they’re still worth taking the risk on.
I love the area that leads up to and that surrounds Hungry Hill. Spend some time enjoying the drive, the landscape that envelopes you and take a turn down any random road that catches your eye.
3. Coffee and a bit of breakfast
We’re going to head to Cametringane for coffee (and breakfast if you didn’t manage to get food in Bantry) at The Fuchsia Café.
I visited the cafe earlier this year and can vouch for the coffee and the full Irish (with Clonakilty pudding…) being pretty damn tasty.
Chill for a bit and then get back on the road.
4. Ireland’s only cable car
One of the most unique things to do in West Cork is to jump aboard the cable car to Dursey Island.
Originally opened in 1969, the Dursey Island cable car remains, to this day, 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.
5. The wonderful drive to Allihies
I did the drive from Healy Pass to Allihies very recently, and it’s one I’ll remember for a long time to come. Like Sheep’s Head, 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.
As was the case with Hungry Hill, the best recommendation I can give you with this stretch of the road trip is to get lost (within reason).
Literally. Take the roads that tickle your fancy and just follow your nose. Let the Wild Atlantic Way do the rest.
When you arrive into Allihies, get out and stretch the legs for a bit.
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.
5. The Coastal Drive to Eyeries
I love this drive. It hugs the coast and takes you along many a quiet road en route to the colourful little village of Eyeries.
Take your time on this drive and stop whenever the notion takes you. The photo above is what awaits… if you arrive on a sunny day, that is!
If you fancy spending the night here, I can’t recommend Coulagh Bay House enough. I spent a night here with the aul lad last summer and the service (and the views) are both top-notch.
And that’s a wrap on our 4-day road trip
Our West Cork road trip comes to an end in Eyeries. Now, you could always head into Kerry next (here’s a guide with things to do), if you fancied.
Cheers for reading! If you’re heading to West Cork soon, hopefully this takes some of the pain out of planning your trip!
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.