I‘d argue that a visit to Whiddy Island is one of the most overlooked things to do in Cork.
Cork’s Islands (e.g. Bere Island, Cape Clear Island and Sherkin Island) tend to get overlooked by many visiting the county. Which is a shame!
So, my goal with the guide below is to coax you into visiting Whiddy Island – a wildlife haven and natural paradise in the beautiful Bantry Bay.
In the guide below, you’ll find info on everything from getting the Whiddy Island ferry and things to do, to the tragic story behind the Whiddy Island disaster.
Some quick need-to-knows about Whiddy Island
Just a short ferry ride from Bantry Town, the island makes for a perfect day trip with the family or group of friends.
At just 5.6km long and 2.4km wide, it’s easy to take in most of the island on foot or by bike. Here are a couple of quick, need-to-knows.
You’ll find the picturesque Whiddy Island near the head of Bantry Bay off the coast of Bantry Town in West Cork.
2. Getting there
You need to take a short ferry ride from Bantry Town to reach the island. There is one operator licensed by the Department of the Marine. More on this below.
3. A great place to escape to
There’s plenty of things to do on Whiddy Island and there’s lots of history to uncover, which make it a great spot to escape the hustle and bustle and to soak up a bit of island life for a day.
A brief history of Whiddy Island
I’ll never do Whiddy’s history justice with a couple of paragrtaphs, but I want to give you a sense of how historically important the island is.
Below, you’ll find a brief history of Whiddy Island from the early 1900s up to the present day.
Due to its strategic location in Bantry Bay, the British authorities built fortified batteries on the island during the Napoleonic wars to prevent any invasion of French forces.
Its military importance continued into World War One, with a US naval air station placed there towards the end of war, which was later closed in 1919.
In the late 1960s, a large oil terminal was constructed on the island by Gulf Oil. It was designed to accommodate supertankers sailing directly from the Middle East.
The Whiddy Island Disaster
On January 8, 1979, a French tanker exploded when it was unloading crude oil at the terminal. The explosion killed 50 people and is considered one of the worst maritime disasters in Irish history.
While the terminal was never fully repaired to its full operation, Ireland’s oil reserves are now kept in the terminal.
While the island’s population reached up to 450 in the late 1880s, it has reduced to approximately 20 people today.
The Whiddy Island Ferry
To get to the island, you’ll need to climb aboard the Whiddy Island Ferry (there’s only the one!).
Known as Ocean Star 3, the Whiddy Island ferry is licensed by the Department of the Marine and takes passengers to and from the island.
How long it takes
The trip from Bantry pier to Whiddy Island takes around 10-15 minutes with regular departures throughout the day.
When it runs
From June to August, the Whiddy Island ferry departs 5 times a day each way. From September to May, services reduce a little with five departures per day on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, four departures on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday and three departures on Sunday (note: times may change).
How much it costs and where to get it
The Whiddy Island ferry is pretty good value at €7 return (prices may change). It leaves from Bantry Pier. Get up-to-date info on their website.
Things to do on Whiddy Island
There are plenty of things to do on Whiddy Island that make it the perfect place for a day trip (especially if you want an active day out!).
From the Whiddy Island Loop to great food, cycling and more, there’s things to do on Whiddy Island to tickle most fancies.
1. Do the Whiddy Island Loop
One of the best ways to explore the island is on foot. The Whiddy Island Loop is a relatively easy 5km loop that is registered with the National Loop Walks of Ireland.
It begins from the ferry terminal on the island and is a circuit with a couple of optional side trips. With the side trips included, the walk is around 7.7km in total.
The main trail is well sign-posted and crosses the countryside with beautiful views over Bantry Bay. It should take around two hours for moderately fit people.
The optional side trips include a viewing point over Lousy Castle to the southern side of the island and to the historical Middle Battery to the north.
2. Or hire a bike and cycle
Another way to explore the island is on two wheels. If you enjoy a cycle, you can hire bikes from the Bank House Bar on the island which is directly opposite the pontoon.
You can easily cycle along the paths on the island, stopping at some of the remains of the island’s military history.
Cycling is a great way to cover most of the island in a short time. If you’re lucky enough to visit on a day with nice weather, you can enjoy beautiful views across the bay and towards Bantry Town.
3. Plan your visit around the West Cork Literary Festival
The West Cork Literary Festival is an annual festival in Bantry Town held in July. They have a range of events on at various venues in Bantry, with Whiddy Island being one of them.
There is a talk about the island and guided tour to the battery by Tim O’Leary, a Whiddy native and local postman, publican and farmer.
The festival’s program is published each year before the event with tickets available online.
4. Discover Whiddy Island’s military history
Whiddy Island has an interesting military history thanks to its strategic location in Bantry Bay. To the northern tip of the island, you can visit the remaining batteries built by the British and the old US naval air station from World War One.
Of the three batteries, the Middle Battery is the largest and an interesting place to wander around.
You can reach it by a small bridge across a deep moat. It’s somewhat crumbling and overgrown, but that only adds to the intrigue of the place.
5. Chow down on a seafood platter from the Bank House
The Bank House is the only pub on the island and a must visit during your trip. Showcasing traditional Irish hospitality, the restaurant and bar is known for a friendly atmosphere and great food.
They have both an indoor dining area and outside tables for warmer days. The highlight on the menu is their fresh seafood, so make sure you pick the seafood platter for a memorable meal.
What to do near Whiddy Island
One of the beauties of Whiddy Island is that it’s a short spin away from a clatter of other attractions, both man-made and natural.
Below, you’ll find a handful of things to see and do a stone’s throw from Whiddy Island (plus places to eat and where to grab a post-adventure pint!).
1. Glengarriff Nature Reserve
For some extra time in nature, the Glengarriff Nature Reserve is the perfect place to stretch your legs amongst woodlands. The 300-hectare park is located just outside of Glengarriff village on the northern side of Bantry Bay. It has a range of walking trails and there’s also plenty of things to do in Glengarriff, too.
2. The Beara Peninsula
The Beara Peninsula is an incredibly beautiful slice of coast in southwest Cork. It’s known for its stunning scenery from the Caha mountains down to the sea. The Ring of Beara scenic route is the most popular way to see the peninsula and a popular detour on the Wild Atlantic Way. It follows the coast from Kenmare to Glengarriff with plenty of things to see on the way.
3. Healy Pass
A shortcut across the incredible Ring of Beara, this road pass offers one of the best panoramic views of the Beara Peninsula. Healy Pass crosses the coastal area from Lauragh to Adrigole with a winding road that leads to incredible views over the mountains and coast.
4. Bere Island
Another island in Bantry Bay, Bere Island is located at the entrance to the bay. It too has an interesting military history and beautiful natural environment. It’s reached by a short ferry from Castletownbere, west of Glengarriff village.
5. Bantry House and Gardens
Bantry House and Gardens is a stately home just outside of Bantry Town. It’s conveniently located opposite the Whiddy Island ferry pier, so you can combine a visit to both attractions. The beautiful estate is open to visitors where you can wander through the house and gardens, and then have a drink from the fancy tearoom.
FAQs about visiting Whiddy Island in Cork
We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from are there many things to do on Whiddy Island to how to get there.
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.
Is Whiddy Island worth visiting?
Yes. Whiddy Island in Cork is definitely worth a visit. Cork’s islands are often overlooked, but as Whiddy Island is a short, 15-minute spin from the mainland, it’s easy to reach and it’s worth the visit.
Are there many things to do on Whiddy Island?
Yes – you can head off on the Whiddy Island walk, rent a bike and head for a cycle and soak up some mighty coastal views.
Where do you get the Whiddy Island Ferry from?
You grab the Whiddy Island ferry from Bantry pier.