Cork, Ireland’s second largest city, has fast gained a reputation as a food-lover’s paradise, with farmers markets, fine dining restaurants and cafés in abundance, as well as fabulous art houses, such as The Crawford Municipal Gallery, and a world class Opera House. Outside the city, there’s an awesome craggy coastline and never-ending beaches, with the well-heeled harbour-side village of Kinsale laying claim to the title ‘Foodie capital of the South'.
The South Coast is steeped in history – prehistoric settlements, castles, abbeys and stately homes dot the landscape, so there’s plenty to discover on your travels. No visitor should miss out the famous Ring Of Kerry, the serene lakes of Killarney and the quaint fishing villages of Wexford and Waterford along the sunny south coast.
Rich in tradition and heritage, there are Gaeltacht (Irish speaking) areas in the South in counties Kerry, Cork and Waterford, where you can indulge your cultural side with a lesson or two as gaeilge (in Irish), or simply marvel at the varied local vocabulary. And maybe take a step back in time with a trip to the ancient city of Waterford – once a Viking settlement. Renowned, amongst other things, for its exquisite hand-blown crystal, why not take some home as the perfect souvenir of your visit.
From Wexford Town, get onto the R733, R737 to Hook Head. The beauty of this wild peninsula finishes at its almost intact medieval lighthouse, one of the world’s oldest still in operation. Enjoy a picnic nearby, then venture north on the R734 to New Ross. Climb aboard the Dunbrody Emigrant Ship, a replica of the original built in 1845 to take emigrants to North America. It’s just a short drive from here via the N25 to Waterford, one of Ireland’s oldest cities. Take a walk around the city walls, and don’t forget to check out the Crystal factory while you’re there!
Total mileage: 40 miles
From Waterford, Kilkenny is an easy journey north on the N9 and N10. Kick back in cosy pubs and restaurants and buy souvenirs in the art and craft galleries. Cashel, County Tipperary, is next – home to the famous 200ft Rock of Cashel, with its medieval castle, cathedral and churches. Then it’s onto Cork via the N8. This lively city has shops, restaurants and bars galore. The English Market is fabulous – with stalls selling tasty local produce and delicacies. And at nearby Blarney Castle, kiss this famous stone and be blessed with the gift of the gab! Overnight in Cork city.
Total mileage: 135 miles
From Cork city, the N27 and R600 lead down to the harbour village of Kinsale. This is the place for a fashionable fresh fish lunch. Afterwards, the N71 will whisk you west along the coast towards Killarney. Just before the town is Muckross House an impressive Victorian mansion with gardens overlooking Muckross Lake. From here, you’re perfectly placed to explore Killarney National Park.
Total Mileage: 95 miles
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When in Killarney 'The Ring of Kerry' is a must (anti-clockwise - N72, N70). Spend the whole day, as you'll want to pull over and admire the views at every turn. One of the most popular and scenic routes in the country, it traces along the coastline of the Iveragh Peninsula, with the combination of ocean, islands, pretty little villages and ancient archaeological treasures making it a joy to discover. Kenmare is your finish point.
Total mileage: 109 miles
From Kenmare follow the coast down to the Beara Peninsula (via the R571), which is wilder and more stark than Iveragh, but its still a joy to travel all around. Glengarriff makes for a good lunch stop - you can catch the ferry to Garinish Island's inspirational gardens. Then take the N71 and R591 to Mizen Head. Your journey ends as it started.... with a lighthouse. This one's at Ireland's mist south-westerly point.
Total Mileage: 53 miles
And if you have more time....
- Pay a visit to the John F Kennedy Arboretum in County Wexford - a great walk and idyllic picnic spot.
- Cashel Folk Village in County Tipperary is a reconstruction of a traditional Irish village, with thatched houses, shops and a blacksmiths forge.
- The dreamy gardens of Altamont, County Carlow, often referred to as 'the jewel in Ireland's gardening crown'.
- Venture into The Irish National Heritage Park, Ferrycarrig, County Wexford, where you can explore over 35 acres of this remarkable heritage trail, including a Ringfort, Viking House and over 9000 years of history.