What to do in West Cork: Ireland’s Best-Kept Secret

Last updated March 22, 2023

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. What are the best things to do in West Cork? I have some ideas for your next trip there!

map of West Cork region of Ireland

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’re lucky enough to 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 things to do in West Cork!

Sunset with clouds over Union Hall, Ireland
Those views, tho.

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.

A family on a street in Kinsale in West Cork, Ireland
Buy your very cute nephew an ice cream.

Clonakilty: Best Town in Europe

A man outside de Barra's pub in Clonakilty in West Cork, Ireland
debarra’s, one of the finest West Cork hidden gems.

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).

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!

Next, you’re in for a treat and one of my favorite places to visit in West Cork: 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.

This corner of the world is full of these wonderful surprises and hidden gems.

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.

The Wild Atlantic Way, indeed.

Skibbereen: Famine and feast

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.

The town center of Skibbereen in West Cork, Ireland
Going to town.

Union Hall: Time for a cheeky pint

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.

West Cork Ireland vacation: view of the Atlantic Ocean from Kilbeg Pier in Union Hall, Ireland
Sip a Guinness and soak in those beautiful West Cork views.

Now you know exactly what to do in West Cork. This is a beautiful part of the world, and you’ll have much of it to yourself as the tourist crowds are thin. Sláinte!

Getting to West Cork

While West Cork doesn’t have many tourists, that’s partly because getting there is a bit of a hike. It’s at least a 45 minute drive from the city of Cork (which is also well worth a visit).

I’d suggest doing a West Cork roadtrip because public transit is quite thin on the ground. Pick up a car in Cork and drive around for a day or two, basing yourself in Clonakilty so you’re central, and enjoy the quiet beauty of this jewel of a place!

Ireland Resources:

Before you head to West Cork, be sure to check out my favorite books about Ireland first!

Want to get my latest blog posts, news, and updates right in your inbox a few times a month? Sign up for my newsletter!

1 thought on “What to do in West Cork: Ireland’s Best-Kept Secret”

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.