County Kerry to County Cork in 3 days

A peninsular odyssey, this touring route brings you island hopping, whale watching and even teeing off on a golf course peering into the Atlantic.

From the Kingdom of Kerry, the Wild Atlantic Way segues into Cork in a dramatic explosion of isolated islands and jutting peninsulas. Along this winding route from Kenmare to Kinsale, expect culinary treats and plenty of coastal surprises.

Hear tales of shipwrecks, dangle over oceans and explore an underground world of historic hardships. You’ll tee-off, maybe meet Moby Dick and end it all with an award-winning fish supper.

You can find more information on driving in the island of Ireland here.

Day 1

Kenmare to Bantry:120 miles / 3 hours 18 minutes at 30mph

Kenmare to Dursey Island

Leaving behind the boutique charms of Kenmare, follow the road as it weaves and dips along one of the wildest stretches of coastline – the Beara Peninsula. It’s an incredible drive, with craggy hills crashing down to the sea, tiny villages and sheep that seem to cling to the edge of rocky paths. Beara’s landscape offers a proper get-away-from-it-all feel, with scenery that is haunting, dramatic and rugged.

A line of brightly colored houses and lively pubs mark out the village of Allihies, known for its copper mines. You can trace the story of this 19th-century industry and its effect on the village at the Allihies Copper Mine Museum. After that, follow one of the short coastal looped walks, with blasts of invigorating Atlantic air and jagged seacliffs.

From Allihies, sweep out to the tip of the Beara Peninsula and one of the Wild Atlantic Way’s most curious attractions, Dursey Island.

Dursey Island to Glengarriff

Separated by a narrow slice of water known as Dursey Sound, Dursey Island is the proud owner of Ireland’s only cable car (be sure to check running times before arriving). For those visiting, the car is a quirky transportation from Ireland’s mainland to a paradise island and a land that time forgot.

But for visitors to the area, it's the views afforded of the foaming Atlantic waters thrashing below that is the real attraction of this little trip. They're likely to be some of the more memorable images of your Wild Atlantic Way journey.

Dursey Island

The beneficiary of Ireland’s only cable car, Dursey Island sits on the tip of the Beara Peninsula. A haven for ornithologists, the island is easily walkable and boasts vast panoramas, seascapes and a churning Atlantic Ocean soundtrack.

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Dursey itself measures a modest 4 miles long and 0.9 miles wide and is easily walkable, with few climbs. Importantly, the island does not have any shops, pubs or restaurants, but what a perfect place for a picnic!

Say goodbye to Ireland’s only cable car on your return, and point your car towards Glengarriff, along the Beara Peninsula’s wild southern coast. The Wild Atlantic Way continues to zigzag as the landscape slowly changes from rocky and rugged to green and wooded.

Some of the highlights along the way include Castletownbere, overlooking the spectacular Berehaven Harbour, and Bere Island with its rich archaeological history.

This part of the peninsula is well known for its gardens, with the unusual Ewe Sculpture Garden just outside Glengarriff being one of the most intriguing. This verdant Eden high on a hill is a glorious jumble of waterfalls, bridges, sculpture, games and trails.

Glengarriff to Bantry

Off the coast of Glengarriff is another unique spot: the garden island of Garnish. Boats bring visitors from Glengarriff Pier out to explore the Grecian temple, clock tower and beautiful Italian gardens here, and along the way you might even spot some local seals.

Continuing along the road from Glengarriff to Bantry, it’s worth stopping off at Manning’s Emporium in the tiny village of Ballylickey where you can taste some of the local produce that is making West Cork a gourmet heartland.

Bantry itself is an enjoyably busy town, with great seafood restaurants (try the Fish Kitchen), traditional pubs and a lively weekend food market. Undoubtedly, the highlight here is Bantry House, a country home of exquisite grandeur. Wander through the delightful gardens, take in the glorious views over Bantry Bay, and relax with afternoon tea in the elegant surrounds of the library.

Day 2

Bantry to Baltimore:102 miles / 3 hours 18 minutes at 30mph

Bantry to Sheep’s Head

Leaving Bantry behind you, the landscape gets wild and rugged once more with another peninsula that juts out into the wild Atlantic. 

Undiscovered and untouched, Sheep’s Head is the very definition of a hidden gem, with walking routes through some of the island’s most inspirational scenery. The peninsula’s compact size means it’s easy to make your way from Bantry to the tip of the peninsula and back again!

As you’re heading out to the tip of the peninsula, you’ll have to leave the car behind for the last stretch: a hearty walk out to the Sheep's Head lighthouse. After the walk, treat yourself to a well-deserved home-baked scone or slice of apple pie at the little café at the car park – the views are quite incredible.

There are a handful of little pubs that will tempt you in for a gourmet lunch as you skirt the southern side of the peninsula and Arundels by the Pier in the village of Ahakista is one of the best, with a great location facing the village’s tiny harbour.

For something a little grander, keep going towards the village of Durrus (famous for its artisan cheese). It’s a hard choice deciding between Blairscove House and Restaurant and The Good Things Café (check their website for opening times), but you’re guaranteed an exceptional dining experience in both.

Sheep’s Head to Mizen Head

Durrus is the gateway to yet another of Cork’s majestic peninsulas: Mizen Head. Stretching out into the Atlantic in a profusion of sheer cliffs and foaming ocean, Mizen is Ireland’s most southerly point (Donegal’s Malin, also on the Wild Atlantic Way, is the most northerly). There couldn’t be a more dramatic location for a visitor centre than the Mizen Head Visitor Centre, perched high on rocky cliffs with a bubbling ocean below.

Mizen Head

Ireland’s most southerly point, the combination of sheer cliffs, jagged rock and a romantically located signal station add magic to Mizen. Should you need a calming cup of tea after the walk across the Mizen Head Footbridge, there’s a café on hand.

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Sheep’s Head Peninsula

It’s little surprise that this narrow arm of Cork’s coast has been designated a European Destination of Excellence. Surging out into the North Atlantic, the peninsula is a heady collection of sprawling seascapes along the Sheep’s Head Way walking route.

Connecting the signal station to the mainland, the Mizen Head Footbridge is a bracing walk on the wild side. Those with a fear of heights will be reassured by the bridge’s high sides, while those with more acute concerns may want to sit this one out. In the near distance sits Fastnet Rock, a lonely island and lighthouse that has kept sailors safe for generations. Keep your eyes peeled for dolphins, whales and basking sharks – all of which are common to the waters here.

Mizen Head to Baltimore

Move southeast, zigzagging along the Mizen Peninsula and past the mini-archipelago of islands between Mizen Head and Baltimore. Boasting what are some of the finest views along Cork’s stretch of the Wild Atlantic Way, this collection of islands demands attention. Should a photo-stop not suffice, take to the water and visit either Cape Clear (host to a much cherished annual Storytelling Festival) or tiny Heir Island (home to a restaurant run by Paris-trained chef John Desmond) by ferry. Sailings from Baltimore and Cunnamore, respectively, are subject to weather conditions.

Finish this section back on the mainland and head for the village of Baltimore, a haven for sailing enthusiasts.

Day 3

Baltimore to Kinsale: 111 miles / 3 hours 30 minutes at 30mph

Baltimore to Old Head of Kinsale

At Baltimore you come face to face with one of Cork’s coastal icons: “the Beacon”. Overlooking broad swathes around Baltimore Harbor, this conical curiosity was built by the British government following Ireland’s 1798 rebellion. Along with other lighthouses and similar buildings, it formed part of Ireland’s coastal warning system.

A hub for avid sailors, the village of Baltimore has a colorful history thanks to the Sack of Baltimore in 1631. Attacked by North African pirates on 20 June, 108 English settlers and some Irish locals were abducted and sold into a life of slavery in North Africa. Most never saw Ireland again, and you can discover more about the story at the Dún na Séad castle. Finish up with an al fresco pizza at La Jolie Brise overlooking the glittering waters of Baltimore Bay.

From Baltimore, set a course east along the Wild Atlantic Way. There are lots of pretty towns and sights along this stretch. Like the market town of Skibereen, the most southerly town in Ireland. If you fancy a bit of island hopping make a detour to Inchydoney Island, boasting a beautiful Blue Flag beach, and stop off at the bustling town of Clonakilty, known for its quirky musical pubs and artisan food.

Old Head of Kinsale

This headland is as dramatic as they come and surely one of the Wild Atlantic Way’s standout views. A stunningly located golf course that will encourage you to stick around a little longer than planned.

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Whale Watch West Cork

Run by the friendly and knowledgeable Nic Slocum, Whale Watch West Cork is the result of an abundance of whale and dolphin activity off Cork’s coast. At different times of year you can expect to see risso dolphins, and minke, fin and humpback whales playing in the waters along the Cork coast.

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With each passing year, the Old Head of Kinsale seems to become an even more impressive sight. In his book, Jaywalking with the Irish, American author David Monagan describes the Old Head as “a natural treasure that spreads into some of the most stunning and storied vistas that can be created by water, stone, and sun”. We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

Old Head of Kinsale to Kinsale town

You now find yourself making for Kinsale on the final leg, not only of your journey, but of this southbound section of the Wild Atlantic Way. Set into a niche of Cork’s south coast, Kinsale began life as a medieval fishing port. Regularly referred to as one of Ireland’s culinary capitals, the food scene here buzzes throughout the year, with the Fishy Fishy Café a leading light.

Both postcard pretty and practical, Kinsale is equally well known for the 17th-century star-shaped Charles Fort, notably used during the Williamite War. Guided tours are available and the panoramas over the estuary are sublime.

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