West Cork is a beautiful and wild place. It might be the best part of Ireland, and the least known to outsiders. It has dramatic sea views, rolling green hills dotted with sheep, and incredible food. Though much of it is on the Wild Atlantic Way, it’s still pretty off the beaten track as far as tourist crowds go. (In fact, right now you might be asking yourself, where exactly is this place? It’s… well it’s west of Cork. Hope that was helpful!)
So if you find yourself in this neck of the woods, what should you do? This is not an exhaustive list by any means as I tend to spend a large part of my visits on the Union Hall playground with my nephew, but it encompasses my favorite spots all over!
Kinsale: A fairy tale of a town
Your tour begins in Kinsale, a beautiful seaside town with loads of Irish charm and lots to see. There’s a perfectly old-fashioned park for kids, and endless views of the dark blue sea for the adults. Head to the Lemon Leaf Cafe and sit in their back garden with some tea and local, healthy dishes.
Clonakilty: Best Town in Europe
Don’t miss Clonakilty, one of my favorite Irish towns. It’s not just me, it was recognized as the “Best Town in Europe” in 2017! Grab some fish & chips at the Chubby Chipper, just to keep yourself going. Their chips are really heaven and so good they almost feel healthy (they’re not but they’re food for the soul).
Next, you’re in for a treat: de barra’s pub. Take in the cozy, unassuming, and quintessentially Irish setting, order a Guinness. It’s just possibly the perfect quiet and unknown pub, right? Then scan the photos on the wall to see all the wildly famous people who have played here: Bowie! Springsteen! McCartney! Jimmy Hendrix’s guitar player owned a house nearby and brought all his friends here.
West Cork is full of these wonderful surprises.
Rosscarbery: Beach life, Ireland style
Next stop: Rosscarbery for some beauty and quiet. Set on an estuary that opens onto a beautiful bay, it’s a quiet but lovely town. For a look at the wild Atlantic (you’re on the WAW, after all!) head to Warren Beach and take in its raw splendor.
Going to the beach in the Irish fashion means you wear a sweater, don’t even pretend to wear a swimsuit unless it’s late July, and shiver violently from both the cold and the overwhelming beauty. Stay twenty minutes until your cheeks are red and your toes are numb (if you were foolish and daring enough to wear a cheeky sandal) and then go inside and drink three cups of tea in short order to recover. It’s invigorating and lovely in its own quiet raw way.
Head over to Skibbereen for some more food (yes I am always eating!) and Irish history. Skibb was one of the towns in Ireland hit hardest by the potato famines, and you can visit the Skibbereen Heritage Centre to learn more. Jeremy Irons lives in the area, and narrates many of the audio tours at the Centre. Stop at Kalbo’s Cafe for tea and lunch.
Finally, if you’re still with me, head to the tiny town of Union Hall! Take in the fishing pier and small, lovely beach and then hit the coffee shop for some good Irish grub. If you’re feeling adventurous, try one of the Union Hall Walks (you’ll see maps all over town) and be rewarded with some incredible views of the countryside. Once you’re back, reward yourself with a few pints at the Boatman’s Pub in town. For a more upscale dinner and some stunning views, head over the bridge to the upscale town of Glandore and order some seafood at the Glandore Inn.
This is a beautiful part of the world, and you’ll have much of it to yourself as the tourist crowds are thin. Sláinte!