15 Best Things to Do in West Cork Any Time of the Year (2024)

Best Things to Do in West Cork
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Regardless of how long your Ireland itinerary is, spending some time in the West Cork region is a must. This area boasts green landscapes, dramatic cliffs, and charming towns and villages with friendly faces. Many people tend to go to larger cities like Dublin or Belfast, but I personally love going to smaller areas. That’s why I wanted to show you all the best things to do in West Cork.

You can begin your magical adventure with a drive down the Wild Atlantic Way and a stop at the world-famous Fastnet Lighthouse. Marvel at Mizen Head and have fun on the water in Baltimore. Discover the enchantment of Kinsale town and the old Drombeg Stone Circle. Visit the famous Bantry House and Gardens, learn about Clonakilty’s rich history, and experience the city’s exciting nightlife, which includes a visit to the Model Railway Village. There is so much to do that you won’t run out of activities in West Work.

There are plenty of things to do in West Cork, but I’ve narrowed this list down to the top options. So pack your bags, and let’s find all the stunning landmarks, attractions, and hidden gems. Make sure to take notes so you can pick out your favorite ones to do.

1. Take A Scenic Drive Along The Wild Atlantic Way

Wild Atlantic Way

Discover West Cork’s stunning beauty by hitting the road and traveling along the Wild Atlantic Way. This 2,500-kilometer driving route offers an unforgettable look at Ireland’s western coast and its rugged charm. There’s a reason why I have this on my list of Ireland’s top scenic drives.

West Cork’s portion of this route runs from Kinsale to the Beara Peninsula. You can stop at numerous viewpoints and soak in the scenes laid out in front of you. Marvel at the crashing waves against the cliffs, see the many cozy fishing villages, and admire the golden sand beaches.

If you’re doing this drive independently, just be sure you’re clued up on driving in Ireland and that you have checked the weather reports.

2. Ride Out to Fastnet Lighthouse

Fastnet Lighthouse

Right at the southernmost tip of Ireland stands Fastnet Lighthouse, a historic landmark known affectionately as the “Teardrop of Ireland.” This lighthouse was built in the 20th century after many shipwrecks in the surrounding waters, especially ‘The Stephen Whitney,’ which killed 92 people in 1847. 

The lighthouse is not open to the public because it sits on a rock in the middle of the wild Atlantic Ocean, but you can take a ferry ride out to see the beauty pretty close up. These tours also take you to Cape Clear Island, where you can check out the Cape Clear & Fastnet Rock Heritage Centre.

There are also helicopter tours available for a different view of the lighthouse, which is one of the more unique things to do in West Cork.

3. Experience the Dramatic Beauty of Mizen Head

Mizen Head

Take a trip to this rugged coastline of cliffs towering above the Atlantic Ocean. Start at the Maritime Museum and Heritage Attraction before taking a 15-minute walk along the path, down 99 steps, and across the Mizen Bridge.

Eventually, you’ll reach the Signal Station, where you’ll find the most astonishing views. You may even catch a glimpse of whales and dolphins swimming in the waters if you’re lucky. Just bring a light jacket, even if it feels too hot. The weather can change quickly here.

Mizen Head hours are generally 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., but they shorten during the winter in Ireland, and they stay open an hour longer during the peak summer season. Check the official website to be sure of the hours when you visit.

4. Take Part in Water Activities in Baltimore

Baltimore

What to do on a sunny day in West Cork, Ireland? Put on your bathing suit, of course! 

Baltimore is a charming coastal village perfect for spending time on the water. You can take a sea safari for a relaxing trip to find schools of dolphins, whales, and seals. There are also multiple sailing schools that offer courses and trips out to sea. 

Another fun activity I’d suggest you try is kayaking in the harbor. If you’re more inclined to enjoy life below the water, Baltimore offers some stunning snorkeling spots, and you can go deep-sea diving with a few companies. There are fishing trips you can take if you have the time and patience and want something more laidback.

Of course, all these activities are weather-dependent, so watch for rain or wind when looking for what to do in West Cork.

Make sure to book your accommodations in advance! Here’s a list of places to stay in Cork.

5. Uncover the Drombeg Stone Circle

Drombeg Stone Circle

A brilliant find on a road trip around Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, the Drombeg Stone Circle is a famous archaeological site of 17 stones (although only 13 of them are still standing), measuring about 9 meters (30 feet) in diameter. It is believed to have been used for ceremonies and rituals in the Bronze Age

One of the most intriguing things about the Drombeg Stone Circle is its alignment with the winter solstice. During the winter solstice, the sun sets directly behind the recumbent stone, creating a breathtaking celestial display that would have held significant symbolic and practical importance for the ancient inhabitants.

You can park in the nearby parking lot and then take a short walk to the circle to visit the site. It’s free to see, but there is no cover, so dress for the weather during your West Cork activities.

6. Spend Time in The Town of Kinsale

Kinsale

As one of Ireland’s oldest and most spectacular towns, Kinsale has so much to offer. It’s also known as ‘The Gourmet Capital of Ireland,’ so if I were you, I’d arrive hungry! According to most sources, it’s also the most colorful town in Ireland, so you’ll find plenty of things to do in West Cork here.

Every Wednesday, Kinsale boasts walking trails, beaches, ample restaurants, and the Kinsale Farmers Market. Pay a visit to Charles Fort, browse the Kinsale Museum, and taste traditional ‘honey wine’ on a tour of Kinsale Mead Co.

While here, don’t miss the chance to stroll through Market Street and Newman’s Mall to find the famous colorful houses of Kinsale.

Make sure to book your car rental in advance! I love using Discover Cars when I travel.

7. Visit The Historic Bantry House And Gardens

Bantry House And Gardens
Image Credit: Bantry House And Gardens

Don’t leave a visit to this 18th-century historic estate off your Irish itinerary. Midway through the 1700s, Richard White, the first Earl of Bantry, first acquired Bantry House. It was then passed down through his family, later known as the Hare family. 

This house has seen many well-known figures pass through its doors, and its walls undoubtedly have stories to tell. The striking Georgian architecture draws so many to its grounds, and the gardens are a pleasant bonus to every visit. 

There is an entry fee of €14 for adults and €5 for kids. Guided tours are available, which I’d suggest you try to book in advance. You can follow your guide through the mansion, admiring the grand reception rooms, elegant staircases, and a marvelous collection of artwork and antiques.

8. Experience The Lively Nightlife in Clonakilty

Clonakilty
Image Credit: GG’s Gin Bar 

West Cork is packed to the brim with natural beauty and outdoor fun, but there’s also a bit of nighttime entertainment if you spend a night or two in Clonakilty, which I highly suggest you do. 

This seaside town is in the heart of West Cork and promises captivating beaches, mouth-watering food, and an array of establishments. Pop into De Barra’s Folk Club for a pint of Guinness paired with live Irish music. Or discover local talent at Parish and Shanley’s Bar

The town also has wine bars, late-night cafes, and GG’s Gin Bar for an exclusive experience. Depending on when you visit, you may be able to catch a festival too. 

9. Visit the Clonakilty Model Railway Village

Model Railway Village
Image Credit: West Cork Model Railway Village

You’ll feel like a giant when visiting this miniature world that encapsulates the essence of an Irish town during the 1940s and 1950s. The Clonakilty Model Railway Village is a meticulously crafted replica of what West Cork villages once looked like, complete with its railway system.

The village includes tiny buildings and figurines, all handcrafted. The town is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. from September to June and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. in July and August. While here, you can stop for coffee at the Village Cafe, take a 30-minute audio tour on the Road Train, and purchase a few souvenirs at the gift shop.

Note: Tickets are €7.50 for kids aged 3–16 and €11.00 for adults. There are also family tickets you can buy, starting at €31.50 for 2 adults and 2 children and increasing depending on the number of children you have with you. 

10. Picnic at Barleycove Beach

Barleycove Beach

If the weather is nice, such as during some spring days in Ireland, there is no better way to spend the day than on Barleycove Beach. Pack yourself a picnic and settle in a clear space for a day of sun, sand, and scenery.

Barleycove is on the Mizen Peninsula, near the villages of Goleen and Crookhaven, two hours from Cork City. The beach has safe parking and a restaurant for drinks after your picnic. This is a Special Area of Conservation by the European Union, consisting of diverse wildlife.

This is a completely free activity, and it’s great for all ages. Near the beach, there are also walking trails that you can explore before jumping into the inviting waters for a swim.

11. Hike the Sheep’s Head Way

Sheep’s Head Way

The Sheep’s Head Peninsula boasts incredible views of the Atlantic Ocean, cliffs, hills, and coastal villages. It’s part of the Wild Atlantic Way and is a haven for hikers, cyclists, and birdwatchers. There are also numerous little villages dotted along the peninsula, with quaint eateries and BnBs.

You’ll find the 93 km (58 miles) long National Waymarked Trail along this peninsula, a breathtaking hiking route. It’ll take you around six days to complete the whole trail, but there are lots of shorter loop walks and linear routes that you can do instead.

Take breaks to enjoy the scenery, have a picnic, or simply soak in the serenity of the surroundings. It’s one of the more active things to do in West Cork, and I always love breaking up all that good Irish food and drink with a little exercise.

Looking for more hikes? Check out these hikes near Dublin.

12. Go Night Kayaking in Lough Hyne

Lough Hyne

Dive even deeper into Ireland’s magic by taking a glow-in-the-dark kayak ride in the waters of Lough Hyne. This lake contains bioluminescence that is most visible from April to October. When disturbed, the phytoplankton emits a radiant blue light, creating a magical effect as your paddle, or even the movement of your hands in the water, ignites a trail of sparkling lights.

Apart from the bioluminescence, night kayaking offers a fantastic opportunity for stargazing in the clear night sky. You can also learn about the lake’s diverse flora and fauna from knowledgeable guides, enhancing the experience.

I suggest you book a guided tour for this activity, especially if it’s your first time. It’s best to stay safe and have someone experienced to ensure your trip is memorable in all the best ways. 

13. Shop at Skibbereen Farmers Market

Skibbereen Farmers Market
Image Credit: Skibbereen Farmers Market

Every Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., the Skibbereen Farmers Market comes to life in Old Market Square, Skibbereen. The market has an array of stalls and vendors, from fresh produce to flowers and crafts. 

Grab lunch here, buy a few bottles of honey or jam to take home, or look through the vintage clothing stalls for any items you might still need. This is also a great way to chat with a few Irish locals, and stopping at a handmade soap stall could mean a fascinating conversation and a new friend. 

Don’t miss out on exploring the rest of Skibbereen while here. The traditional rural town has plenty to offer. 

14. Swim at The Blue Pools in Glengarriff

Glengarriff

The Blue Pools in Glengarriff are renowned for their crystal-clear waters and ideal swimming conditions. Located near a tiny harbor, these pools are tucked away, surrounded by forests and rocks. 

To access the pool, you need to walk around the harbor until you reach the big stone steps leading right into the water. You’ll be sharing the fresh water with seals, which may come up to you, but as long as you respect their space, you won’t need to worry about them. 

When you’re done swimming and exploring the surrounding forest, hop onto the Blue Pool Ferry and take a trip to Garinish Island and Seal Island

15. Go Glamping on Cape Clear Island

Cape Clear Island

Cape Clear Island is the largest inhabited island on Ireland’s coast. It offers dramatic coastal scenery, rugged cliffs, and some beautiful beaches. While you can easily rent a fisherman’s cottage or BnB on the island, I suggest booking a glamping stay.

I love that glamping gives you the best of both worlds: open and natural surroundings with modern comforts that won’t make you feel like you’re totally roughing it in the wild. Chleire Haven is a popular choice in West Cork, and they have gorgeous accommodations on offer.

Book one of their yurts overlooking South Harbour and enjoy nights under the stars and days spent exploring the countryside. Rates start at €115 ($122) per night.

You’ll love all these things to do in West Cork the next time you visit!

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