72 hours in West Cork
Embark on an unforgettable journey to one of the remaining slices of “old Ireland”, West Cork. Explore breathtaking landscapes, chat with the locals, and discover the enchanting towns of Bantry and Kinsale on this awe-inspiring three-day trip
From colourful towns and secluded beaches to rugged coastlines and historical landmarks, West Cork encompasses everything special about the island of Ireland. It’s time to hit the road and find out why West Cork is on everyone’s bucket list.
Start your journey early to make the most of your 72-hour trip. Day one will bring you through the charming towns of Clonakilty and Skibbereen and finishes in the picturesque fishing village, Bantry.Explore Day 1
Welcome to Clonakilty
Hire a car at Cork Airport, and instead of heading straight for Bantry, you’re going to take the scenic route, starting with the multi-award-winning seaside town of Clonakilty. From the West Cork Model Railway Village and Clonakilty Distillery to Atlantic Whale and Wildlife Tours, this buzzy town will have you spoilt for choice.
Food-wise, you’re in for a treat. Head to Field Kitchen, an award-winning, family-run restaurant, which serves home-grown and locally sourced fresh produce. Its authentic “field-to-table” experience makes it a must-visit destination. The menus are updated every Thursday and the staff are brilliantly attentive when it comes to customers’ dietary requirements. Walk past the restaurant and visit Camus Farm, admiring the panoramic views of Clonakilty Bay along the way. While there, introduce yourself to the farm’s residents – Ireland’s native Dexter cattle! These friendly creatures love the attention.
Alternatively, try Casey's Bar and Restaurant for some nourishing pub fare. Awarded “Irish Best Local Pub 2022”, Casey’s is the heartbeat of Clonakilty town – it’s rich with character, atmosphere, and plenty of craic (fun).
We would be remiss if we didn’t mention “The Big Fella” Micheal Collins, Clonakilty's most important son. Visit Michael Collins Heritage Centre and Michael Collins House in town to learn more about how the Cork man became one of the most important figures in the creation of the modern Irish State.
If you have the time, drop into Clonakilty Blackpudding Visitor Centre, and honour the town’s greatest, and tastiest, creation! The family-friendly experience provides an interactive, self-guided audio tour which unpacks how the secret recipe was passed down through the generations. If you’re lucky, you might even get a chance to see how the famous black pudding is made today.
Skip to Skibbereen
Our next stop is the town of Skibbereen. Located on the bank of the River Ilen, this charming town is always a hub of activity. Whether you’re grabbing a bite to eat, visiting historical sites, or simply strolling through the streets, it’s the ideal place to while away an afternoon. Feeling peckish after your travels? Pop into An Chistin Beag, the ultimate brunch spot. The menu is full of tasty Irish dishes, homemade sweet treats, and breakfast favourites. It's the perfect place to try our world-famous, full Irish breakfast.
Go beyond the town centre. The beautiful Lough Hyne is a 10-minute drive away, or rent a bike from Cycle West Cork and soak in the gorgeous Irish countryside. If you arrive later in the evening, explore the glassy waters with Atlantic Sea Kayaking’s unique, nighttime excursion and witness the best sunset in Skibbereen.
Eager to learn more about the town’s history? Follow the Skibbereen Trail, a historical walking tour that guides visitors through ancient sites with connections to the Irish Famine.
We highly recommend checking out Skibbereen Farmers Market, which is held in the town centre every Saturday morning. The stalls are full of handcrafted trinkets, local produce, organic meats, freshly caught fish, and so much more! For dairy lovers, the award-winning Gubbeen Cheese is a particular highlight.
Our last stop for the day is the harbour town of Bantry, so it’s time to unload your luggage and treat yourself to a well-earned feast. Check out The Fish Kitchen for exceptional seafood, The Brick Oven serves delicious artisan pizzas, or the Ocean Restaurant which specialises in creating an unforgettable modern dining experience.
Now that your bellies are full, pop into Ma Murphy's for the warmest of Irish welcomes and a relaxing pint. Don’t be surprised if the locals strike up a conversation or say hello while you’re at the bar
As the sun sets on a successful day of travelling, it’s time to hit the hay because tomorrow you’re exploring the stunning coast of Mizen Head Peninsula.
Your second day will take you across the rugged countryside of West Cork and through the idyllic village of Schull. Hiking, good food, and breathtaking views - that’s a fantastic day out if you ask us!Explore Day 2
Spend the morning exploring Bantry’s quaint streets and locales, while grabbing a coffee at 6 New Street Coffee Shop. Set yourself up for the day with brunch at Mannings Emporium, a popular hotspot on the West Cork food trail. It’s a foodie’s paradise – serving everything from baked goods to delectable wines. We guarantee your bag will be stuffed to the brim with various delightful treats before leaving. It's important to note that Mannings Emporium is a 7-minute drive and 17-minute cycle from the town centre.
No trip to West Cork is complete without a visit to the Bantry Bookshop. As the town’s only independent bookstore, owners, and sisters, Kate Smyth and Marney Smyth Fischer encourage visitors to rummage through the shelves, chat about their favourite authors, and lose themselves in the world of literature.
We recommend putting some time aside for an unforgettable trip to Bantry House and Gardens, a Georgian-era estate, which boasts unbeatable views of Bantry Bay. After exploring the house's historic exterior, stroll through the landscaped gardens, adorned with flowerbeds, sculptures, and manicured hedges. Depending on the season, you’ll be treated to the gorgeous smell of roses emanating from the lush parkland. Guided tours of Bantry House are available at various times during the year.
Follow the trail
It’s time to escape the busy town life of West Cork with a 45-minute drive to Sheep’s Head. Nestled between Bantry Bay and Dunmanus Bay, this headland has become West Cork’s best-kept secret – a place full of beauty and tranquillity. Locals and visitors often spend hours simply listening to the waves lapping against the craggy cliff face as the refreshing sea breeze washes over them.
The Sheep’s Head Way has a wide variety of walking trails for everyone to enjoy, all of which are graded depending on difficulty, distance and duration.
Sheep’s Head is home to the Sheep’s Head Way (93km), a walking trail that can be walked in its entirety or in sections. Either way, don’t miss the end section which reaches out to the tip of the peninsula at the Sheep’s Head Lighthouse.
A wild peninsula
Cap off your coastal adventure with a one-hour drive to Mizen Head. The journey along the winding peninsula is considered one of the most remarkable trips you can undertake on the island of Ireland. Take your time, soak in the sights, and be careful approaching the visitor centre as the road tends to be quite narrow. There are plenty of parking spaces available once you arrive.
It's important to note that the visitor centre’s opening times vary from the winter through to the summer – check out the official Mizen Head website closer to your trip to keep updated about closures and admission prices. Even during the warmer months, the Wild Atlantic Way can be very windy, so make sure you dress appropriately and don’t walk too near the edge!
First off, immerse yourself in the bountiful history of Mizen Head at the visitor centre. Whether it’s the sunken SS Trada or the legendary lightkeepers of Ireland that pique your interest, you'll find them all detailed here.
From the visitor centre, follow the steep path down to the viewing platform and capture photographs to your heart’s content. Cross the Mizen Head Bridge where the views will – literally – take your breath away. Don’t forget to keep an eye out for the local marine life frolicking in the water below: dolphins, whales and seals can all be spotted at different times during the year.
Feel like getting closer to West Cork’s friendly sea creatures? The village of Baltimore has a choice of boat tours for hire. When you reach the Mizen Head Signal Station, look out to the sea and you’ll spot the tallest lighthouse on the island of Ireland, Fastnet. Built on the rocky outcrop in the Atlantic, this beacon is known as "Ireland’s Teardrop", as it was the last part of the island that many 19th-century Irish emigrants saw as they journeyed to North America.
Once you’ve completed your trek, the Mizen Café is ready to welcome you with open arms. Expect delicious pies, homemade cakes, fresh fish and chips, and very welcoming staff.
A quick reminder: Mizen Head can be quite challenging, so it may not be suitable for people with limited mobility.
Dinner in Schull
For those seeking a bit of relaxation after a full day of hiking and sightseeing, we’ve got just the place for you. On your way home, take a detour to the picturesque town of Schull, which brilliantly blends Irish charm and a cosmopolitan community with great outdoor activities. Popular for its natural beauty, maritime heritage, and vibrant arts scene, it’s the perfect spot to relax after a day in Mizen.
Unsure where to go for dinner? Try Nico’s Food and Wine, which serves a Mediterranean-infused menu, full of charcuterie boards, marinated Greek olives, and melted cheese parcels – we’re getting hungry just thinking about it! Schull Street Kitchen is always worth a visit when you’re in town. Gourmet burgers, scampi, lobster rolls, and halloumi fries are just a handful of delicious dishes they have available from their bustling food truck.
If you have the time to spare, you should mosey around town, and browse the magnificent works in Blue House Gallery. It features a diverse range of contemporary art, while regularly celebrating local and regional artists.
Now it’s time to rest up at your Bantry homestead and prepare for the ultimate farewell to West Cork.
Finish your trip by visiting the scenic valley of Gougane Barra; walk barefoot on Inchydoney’s sandy shores and stroll through the colourful streets of Kinsale. Your journey continues…Explore Day 3
Wave goodbye to Bantry and say hello to Gougane Barra! A 30-minute drive later, you’ll find yourself overlooking its picturesque lake, roaming the forested surroundings, and totally mesmerised by the valley’s tapestry of colours.
Check out St Finbarr’s Oratory before you explore the area. Found on a small island in the lake, the historic chapel acts as a sanctuary for those looking for a place of reflection and prayer, while enjoying the tranquillity of nature. The Gougane Barra Hotel here is a great base if you want to stay longer, and they rent out bicycles and boats to explore both the forest and the lake.
Either way, the Gougane Barra Forest Park, is a must-visit destination, with its rich collection of plants and animals. For the photographers or bird watchers, this is the perfect spot. Follow the trail markings and you’ll eventually encounter the forest’s rugged waterfalls, flowing down the cracked terrain. Gougane Barra has a range of walking trails to suit all levels of fitness and mobility.
Take the time to appreciate the flora and fauna, roam the enchanting woodland trails and learn about Gougane Barra’s historical significance at the nearby visitor centre. There's a carpark just outside the woodland trail, but you must pay a €5 charge.
A day at the beach
Our next stop is the golden shores of Inchydoney. Set against the coastal scenery of Clonakilty, this Blue Flag Beach is a favourite among locals and visitors alike. In summer, the sand is awash with avid beachgoers, but don’t be deterred, there’s plenty of room for everybody to enjoy! There are two car parks nearby, one of which belongs to Inchydoney Lodge & Spa, and is reserved for guests. The other, however, is readily available for visitors the whole year round.
Love surfing? You’ve hit the jackpot with here. The local surf school is the longest-running in County Cork and welcomes everyone, regardless of ability. Ask plenty of questions and absorb every tip and trick they have to offer – these guys are some of the best in the business. Equipment rentals are also available on-site.
Hungry for more?
Where better to round off your day than with a visit to one of the most colourful towns on the island of Ireland? With its energetic personality and vibrant neighbourhood, Kinsale is a thriving fishing port that regularly charms people far and wide with its indelible beauty.
The town has a lot going on, so spark up a conversation with the locals, pick their brains about food, history, and their love of the sea. They may suggest a guided walking tour around Kinsale; a short drive to James Fort or for the best views in town or a relaxing round of golf at Kinsale Golf Club.
Hailed by many as “The Gourmet Capital of Ireland”, Kinsale is certainly a great place to enjoy some of the best flavours and produce that West Cork has to offer. The streets are laden with cafés, pubs, and restaurants, so finding a place to eat, regardless of your budget, won’t be a problem.
Can’t decide where to go first? Join Kinsale Food Tours. Suzanne Burns, the town’s resident foodie, guides visitors through Kinsale’s food heritage, while sharing tasty treats. Plus, for an additional fee, the tour provides foraging expeditions and luxury picnics aboard a yacht!
An evening to remember
Awarded its first Michelin star in 2019, Bastion delivers a multi-course tasting menu, expertly complimented by the restaurant’s choice of wines. Everything on the plate is made in-house, from the bread to the pastry crust on your dessert. The staff will sweep you off your feet, creating a once-in-a-lifetime dining experience.
Another option is Fishy Fishy Café. Overlooking the picturesque Kinsale Harbour, the restaurant prides itself on sourcing seafood from local fishermen and suppliers, ensuring that their dishes are as fresh as possible. Over the years, Fishy Fishy has received numerous awards for its cuisine and commitment to sustainable seafood practices.
Close out the night with a final drink and reflect on your travels at Dalton’s Bar. On a cold night, everyone cosies up by the roaring fire, and sips a pint of Guinness, indulging in a traditional sing-along. And with that, let’s raise a glass, and toast 72 hours well spent in West Cork!