County Cork holds an enviable position amongst the counties of the Emerald Isle. As a tourist it offers the best of everything Ireland has to offer in a small neat package. To start with, you’re never far away from Cork city should you want to go out for the craic or duck to Penneys (trust us). An international airport is also a bonus. Outdoorsy mud-behind-the-ears types shouldn’t be put off: Irish cities, and Cork in particular, are so small you can be in remote open countryside within 20 minutes. The biggest plus is the craggy coastline of West Cork, which offers endless opportunities for social media fiends who thrive on holiday envy.
We could seriously make a TL:DR list on County Cork, but we won’t. And since Top 10 lists are overplayed, here are the Top 9 things to do on your next trip to County Cork (in no particular order).
Just 30 minutes east of Cork city, Cobh is a beautiful seaside town made famous by the Titanic’s tragic maiden voyage. On 11 April 1912, Cobh (then known as Queenstown) was the last port of call before the Titanic set out across (and then deep into) the Atlantic Ocean. To celebrate this part of the village’s history visit the Titanic Experience Cobh. Take a guided tour (€9.5 adults, €5.5 child €24 family) through the unique exhibits and hear stories about the passengers and crew on board.
While you’re in town you should see St Colman’s Cathedral. The steep walk up the hill is worth the effort for not only the beautiful views inside the cathedral (be sure to thank the Lord for the craftsman who created the lead-light windows) but also from outside overlooking the harbour. The waterfront is also a great place for a walk and a 99 ice cream to admire the cute buildings and shopfronts.
Another seaside town just 20 minutes from Cork city. A great little place for exploring, with numerous pubs and restaurants, including the famous Black Pig Wine Bar and the Fishy Fish Cafe. Set in a natural harbour on the River Bandon, you can follow the water’s edge in either direction and find something interesting to see. A short drive to the east you’ll find Charles Fort, a 17th century star-shaped fort built in a commanding position looking out to the mouth of the river. A great place to waste a few hours exploring the little buildings and walking the ramparts, not to mention an interesting history lesson. Other ports of call include the Desmond Castle in the heart of town and the older James Fort on the southern bank of the river.
The lazier types among us will appreciate how close you can park to this attraction. An hour-and-a-half from Cork city, at the tip of the Baltimore peninsula, sits The Beacon, a lighthouse perching upon the wild rugged cliffs. While the walk up the hill from the end of the road is short, you get more than your money’s worth with spectacular scenery. A few other short walking trails can be found for those who want a more unique photograph, but beware the steep cliffs.
Few places feel as remote and wild as West Cork. If that’s what you want, put Sheep’s Head at the top of your list. Pass through the village of Kilcrohane (two and a half hours west of Cork) and you’re well on your way to a place time forgot. Park the car near Bernie’s Cupan Tae and you’ll begin the trail walk to the modern lighthouse past Lough Akeen over truly wild Irish terrain.
Be sure to take the southernmost trail on the return walk for a truly spectacular view over the steep rugged cliffs. Allow 2 hours for the 4km loop back to the car park. On the drive home, turn left in Kilcrohane and pass over to the north side of the peninsula for some spectacular views of Bere Island.
Most of Ireland is remote and wild, but Dursey Island is something special. Why? No pubs. No shops. No restaurants. No residents. The only access to the island is by cable car- the only one in the country in fact. In years passed it not only transported people but livestock and supplies. Nowadays the cable car is human only, forcing all but a handful of the hardy farmers and residents to find pastures on the mainland. Nowadays, the island is more popular with hikers.
The walk end to end will take you around 4 hours, but an enterprising local will give you a spin (for a fare) if the long return walk is too much. The now ruined signal tower on the ridge line is a highlight of the journey, though beware of the howling wind. Dress appropriately! Be sure not to leave your departure from the island too late, as the queue for the cable car could be an hour long, made all the more depressing when the locals skip to the front!
As far as roadside lunch spots go, Glandore is right up there. Just an hour and half west of Cork, be sure to plan a stop on your way to Baltimore, Sheep’s Head or Dursey Island. Visit the Glandore Inn for a meal and a pint, and be sure to sit on the roadside tables to admire the beautiful garden and the lovely views out to sea. Nearby sights include the Drombeg Stone Circle and the cute village of Unionhall.
This is a great place to waste an hour with a lazy walk around the woodlands just 20 minutes west of Cork City. The wide flat walking paths are suitable for all comers, and kids will enjoying seeing the ducks and deer. Take a side route along the river and you might catch some of the athletes training at the national rowing centre.
Intrepid kids can also try the Zipit Forest adventure, with 86 activities including zip lines and cargo nets through the trees and even a BMX bridge. There are five circuits ranging in difficulty, with the hardest taking you 15 metres off the Forest floor! All visitors to the park pay a €5 parking fee.
Those looking to enjoy one of the best beaches cork has to offer would do well to stop by Incheydoney. If you’re coming from Australia you’ll be surprised to see such a long flat patch of sand. Beach cricketers will be in heaven! I can assure you the water does get deeper, but it might take you a while to find it!
The quiet nearby town of Clonakilty is a great spot for a walk or meal. Be sure to stop at Twomey Butchers on Pearse Street, the owners of the internationally renowned Clonakilty Black Pudding.
We saved the best for last. There’s little wonder every Cork girl wants to get married at Gougane Barra. The private leafy island, the stunning lake, the vast imposing valley, and the beautiful St Finbarrs Oratory. A thousand postcards can’t be wrong — this is what fairy tales are made of. Just an hour west of Cork City, you’ve plenty of time to wander the tree-lined lake edge, peek inside the little chapel and explore the adjacent 18th century ruins.
The island was settled as early as the 6th century, and its remoteness made it a popular place for Roman Catholic mass held in secret during the English-imposed penal laws of the 17th to 20th centuries. A short drive further west takes you into the forest park, with all manner of wildlife and walking trails worthy of your time.