It has 136 kilometres of scenic countryside and coastal views stretching from Kinsale to Glengarriff via Bantry Bay. While the journey can be completed in under two hours by sticking to the main road through the region, the N71, the joy of the journey is found in taking your time and making sure you have plenty of stops to see all that’s on offer. Highlights include Bantry House and the gardens of Garnish Island.
The restaurants of Kinsale are often tiny but the quality of the seafood, in particular, is rarely eclipsed elsewhere in Ireland. There are about a dozen top quality restaurants, unusual given the small nature of the town (just a few thousand people) and a fantastic atmosphere permeates Kinsale during the town’s Gourmet Festival every October. A great food market can be found all year round at Market Square where you can buy smoked salmon, farmhouse cheeses, and more – almost all of which are organic.
The town’s upmarket shops and restaurant are located near the sea, where the River Bandon spreads out into Kinsale Harbour. There are two yacht marinas and day angling trips, races, and cruising events available typically from Match until October.
How to Get Here
Kinsale is located 29 kilometres from Cork City on the R600 and the journey takes 30 minutes or just 15 minutes from the airport and there’s plenty of parking available. There are buses from the airport once per hour no public transport within the town itself.
Kinsale Harbour Cruises – The Spirit of Kinsale cruise of the harbour takes an hour and allows you to take in the scenery and spot wildlife including otters and seals. Tour costs €12.50.
Location: Kinsale Harbour Cruises, Market Square, Kinsale, County Cork
Kinsale Tourist Office – Pier Road, Kinsale, County Cork
Charles Fort –Kinsale may be Ireland’s gourmet food capital, but it’s chiefly famous for the Battle of Kinsale which was fought here in 1601 and was a defining event in Irish history. The battle saw Irish and Spanish forces align against the British, who won the conflict which in turn precipitated the Flight of the Earls – when Ireland’s leading nobles fled to the continent seeking support from Europe’s Catholic monarchs, support which never materialised.
The British built Charles Fort following their victory and today it’s one of the best preserved star forts anywhere in Europe. The fort covers some 12 acres atop the cliffs overlooking the town and most of the buildings are open and many feature exhibits on what life was like for the soldiers at the fort, you can also climb up to top of the broad walls. If the weather’s agreeable, it’s a pleasant walk from town to the fort.
Location: Kinsale, County Cork (three kilometres east of town)
Desmond Castle and the International Museum of Wine – A fortified 15th century townhouse is where you’ll find this museum. The building was used in the 18th century as a prison for French and American sailors captured by the British and later became a workhouse. Today it looks at the history of the wine trade and the key role of Irish emigrants in wine making countries including America, Australia, France, and New Zealand.
Location: Cork Street, Kinsale, County Cork
Kinsale Museum – The museum contains artefacts from the Lusitania and the inquest into the sinking took place in the building’s old courtroom in 1915. There’s a collection of interesting workmen’s tools from the across the ages in the basement. As the museum is operated by volunteers, it’s best to phone ahead and check opening times on 021/477-7930.
Location: Old Courthouse, Market Place, Kinsale, County Cork
Where to Eat
The Bulman Bar and Toddies – While there are plenty of other pub restaurants in town, this eatery is located halfway between Kinsale and Charles Fort at a beautiful seaside location. There are tables on quay outside where food is served during the summer months. From here, you’ll have views of both the town itself and the stunning Kinsale Harbour.
Unsurprisingly, the interior has a maritime theme and there’s a lovely open fire to greet guests most days. The bar food menu has won awards and includes the likes of oysters, half lobster and salad, and lobster risotto.
Toddies is the first floor restaurant and offers fine views and a broader menu including fillet steak and several daily seafood specials.
Typical main: €15
Location: Summercove, Kinsale, County Cork
Blue Haven – A yellow stucco townhouse which is home to a bar, hotel, and restaurant under one roof. This is a popular place for relaxed dining and you can eat in the hopping bistro, quieter restaurant, at the outside patio, or beside the open fire.
The menu serves the likes of Thai red curry, Caesar salad, sirloin steak, and of course, fish and chips. There’s live music every night between May and September and every Saturday throughout the year in the bar, which is a good place to meet locals.
The rooms are small and there is a distinct possibility of noise at night but it’s not a bad place to spend the night.
Typical main: €18
Location: Pearse Street, Kinsale, County Cork
Crackpots – A former grocery but now an refined cage with an open fire, warm yellow walls, and comfortable dining area. The owner has a pottery shop out back and if you like your plate you can always buy it. There’s a wide selection of lighter options and a good range of vegetarian meals as well.
The mussel and leek chowder, baked brill served with tapenade mash, and Tuscan bean cassoulet are all good choices while there’s always steak on the menu, too.
Wednesdays between May and August are Irish cabaret nights while a pianist sometimes entertains throughout the year.
Typical main: €20
Location: 3 Cork Street, Kinsale, County Cork
Fishy Fishy Café –This café started life as part of a fish shop but has since expanded to an indoor-outdoor venue in Kinsale’s park but retains its nautical theme with wooden tables and chairs and large parasols.
The wok fried clams with coriander, ginger, and spring onion; fishy fish pie (containing white fish, salmon, and leeks with mash au gratin and a hot cream sauce), and chili dressing seafood salad are the ones to look out for.
Lunch is the busiest time of the day (1 to 2:30 pm) and there are no reservations for this time of day but you can book for a limited dinner service which is available between March and October until 9 pm most nights. It’s lunch only for the remainder of the year.
Typical main: €23
Location: Crowley’s Quay, Kinsale, County Cork
Jim Edwards –One of the oldest pub restaurants in the country, Jim Edwards serves generous portions of seafood, steak, lamb, and duck. The bar menu is quite a bit cheaper than what you’ll find in the restaurant and offers several daily deals.
If you do eat in the restaurant, begin with the oysters’ au natural or the garlic butter crab claws and then move onto monkfish (usually caught the same day) or a prime fillet steak. There’s always fresh lobster available from the tank as well.
Classic homemade desserts include crème brulee and profiteroles while the Irish coffee has developed quite a favourable reputation.
Typical main: €25
Location: Market Quay, Kinsale County Cork
Max’s Wine Bar and Restaurant – Meals at this charming eatery tend to be light, particularly at lunch. Fresh grilled lobster is served during the summer and owner-chef Olivier Queva brings his French culinary heritage to the fore with meats such as offal, trotters, and oxtail. There is a catch of the day option in summer or daily specials of game such as quail, pheasant, venison, or wild duck in winter.
Though more of a restaurant than a wine bar, the wine list is extensive with offerings from France and North and South America. Max’s closes between mid-December and mid-March.
Typical main: €27
Location: 48 Main Street, Kinsale, County Cork
Friar’s Lodge – This centuries old townhouse has been elegantly transformed into a guesthouse with a level of amenities one would normally associate with a hotel. Friar’s Lodge is located in a quiet part of town and offers private parking with fantastic service though there’s no restaurant or bar.
Location: Friar’s Street, Kinsale, County Cork
Innishannon House –This attractive country house dates to 1720 and sits along the banks of the River Bandon. It’s quite a romantic place to stay and retains its past grandeur. It’s two kilometres to the nearest village, however, and is sometimes host to wedding parties.
Location: Innishannon, County Cork
Kilcaw House – A farmhouse style B&B which is located two kilometres outside of Kinsale on the main road to Cork City and airport. Despite this, it offers a quiet night’s sleep and has friendly owners. Some of the showers are a little small but the main drawback is the commute into town.
Location: Pewter Hole Cross, Kinsale, County Cork
Trident Hotel – This three story building has a fantastic waterfront location on the edge of the town’s harbour. There rooms are large and offer great sea views but the décor is underwhelming and the spa at a sister hotel is a five minute walk away.
Location: World’s End, Kinsale
The Folk House –There are live music performances here every weekend all year and midweek between May and October.
Location: Guardwell, Kinsale, County Cork
Shanakee – A club with well-regarded rock and Irish traditional music.
Location: Market Street, Kinsale, County Cork
Sports and Other Activities
Angling and Nature Watching – The Butch Roberts company offers deep sea angling as well as tours of the local scenery and whale watching opportunities. Roberts organises both half-day and day long tours on his 11 metre boat.
Location: Sundance Kid, The Marina, Kinsale, County Cork
Golf – The Old Head Golf Links offers one of the most dramatic courses you’re find anywhere in Ireland. The course is located on a peninsula some 91 metres above the ocean which surrounds it. There are sweeping views on offer which adds an adrenaline rush to even an average golfer’s game.
There are 15 suites and a spa on the course if you’re tempted to stay.
Location: Old Head, Kinsale, County Cork
The Boathouse Gallery – The art on sale here by local contemporary artists is often small enough to take with you.
Location: 60 Main Street, Kinsale, County Cork
Giles Norman Photography Gallery – This gallery features black and white pictures of Ireland.
Location: 44 Main Street, Kinsale, County Cork
Kinsale Bookshop – Books on local history and Irish poetry are the specialties at this quality bookshop.
Location: 8 Main Street, Kinsale, County Cork
Koko Chocolates – Located across the road from Kinsale’s tourist office, Koko’s welcoming aroma of hot chocolate will lure you in. There are novelty chocolates, such as a chocolate iPhone, and truffles handmade on the premises. Koko’s also sells hot drinks to go.
Location: Pier Road, Kinsale, County Cork
Quay Food Company – This is a great place to pick up the makings of a fine picnic including Irish farmhouse cheeses and other local produce.
Location: Market Square, Kinsale, County Cork
Granny’s Bottom Drawer – You’ll find a broad selection of linen and lace in both traditional and contemporary styles as well as designer knitwear.
Location: 53 Main Street, Kinsale, County Cork
Hilary Hale – Bowls, lamps, and platters crafted using local wood is on sale here.
Location: Rincurran Hall, Summervoce, Kinsale, County Cork
Kinsale Crystal – A family run studio selling hand-blown and cut Irish crystal.
Location: Market Street, Kinsale, County Cork
Kinsale Silver – Fine silver jewellery is handmade and sold right here.
Location: Pearse Street, Kinsale, County Cork
Mary Enright – Gold, contemporary jewellery is handmade on the premises.
Location: Market Quay, Kinsale, County Cork
This small market town is west of Kinsale and is reached via a scenic coastal route and the village of Timoleague.
The town is located on the western end of the Seven Heads Peninsula and is home to many charming old-world style shops and houses. Timoleague meanwhile is dominated by the village’s ruined abbey and the area, around the estuary of the River Argideen, is noted for its birdlife and the migrating winter birds who settle here in particular. There’s also a beautiful sandy beach to enjoy.
Courtmacsherry, another scenic village, is located nearby.
How to Get Here
Follow the R600 for 28 kilometres west from Kinsale to reach Clonakilty while Timoleague is 19 kilometres from Kinsale. The road signs will guide you to Courtmacsherry from Timoleague and there is plenty of parking in all three location. There are buses (the journey lasts about an hour) from Cork to Clonakilty but no public transport to the town from Kinsale and no train service.
Top Reasons to Visit
Timoleague Abbey –The Franciscans built this abbey in the 13th century overlooking the water before the estuary became silted. It was a famous centre for the wine import business, predominantly from Spain.
Parts of the abbey still stand and it’s possible to trace the foundations of the chapel, wine cellar, and various other buildings. While the abbey was razed by the English in 1642, it remained in use as a burial place until the late 20th century which is why you’ll modern gravestones in the cemetery.
Michael Collins Centre – Michael Collins was responsible for the IRA’s spy network during the War of Independence and served as minister of finance for government which set up courts and other civic institutions even while the war was raging. Collins signed the Anglo Irish Treaty which established the Irish Free State and became a general during the civil war before being killed in an ambush.
This cottage museum uses film clips, photos, and slides to tell the story of Collins and includes a reconstruction of the ambush site featuring his actual Rolls Royce and a Crossley tender (armoured car) which was used by the Free State army.
There are guided tours available (booking required) of other sites related to Collins nearby, including Beal naBlath, where the ambush took place.
Location: Castleview, Clonakilty, County Cork (off the R600)
Where to Eat
The Pink Elephant – This restaurant boasts stunning views of the sea and the wooded slopes on the far shore with large windows installed to take full advantage. If the weather’s agreeable, you can also sit outside.
The menu is based around locally produced, organic fare and lunch ranges from open sandwiches, to healthy salads, and a fine beef burger. For dinner, choices such as the roasted lamb shank with balsamic and red wine jus and the monkfish with tomato and mint salsa are top choices. The traditional desserts are generous and include sticky toffee pie and a raspberry and white chocolate cheesecake.
The Pink Elephant also features a popular pub.
Typical main: €21
Location: R600, Harbour View, Kilbrittain, County Cork (between Kinsale and Timoleague)
The Glen Country House –This refined county house is 14 kilometres from both Kinsale and Clonakilty on the R600. It’s a good place to base yourself if touring the region or just looking to enjoy the good walks offered in this sheltered estuary. It’s family friendly and good value with pleasant surroundings but it’s not really feasible to walk to the nearest shops or restaurants.
Location: Kilbrittain, Timoleague, County Cork
Kilbrogan House – Located overlooking the town of Bandon, halfway between Kinsale and Clonakilty, it’s one of the area’s architectural jewels and has been since it opened in 1818. It’s out of the way but a great place to tour beyond the beaten track. Bandon is quiet at night, however, and there isn’t much of a restaurant scene. It also closes between November and February.
Location: Kilbrogan Hill, Bandon, County Cork
Inchydoney Beach – There are two large stretches of white sand on this island which is connected to the mainland by drivable causeways. The dunes on the east side, which is more sheltered, can be walked. The beach tends to be busy in summer but is a great spot to walk, surf, and swim all year. There’s free parking, a hotel, lifeguards, and toilets on-site.
Location: Inchydoney Island, County Cork (three kilometres south of Clonakilty)
Edward Twomey – If Clonakilty is famous for anything, it’s the town’s black pudding and this butcher’s is the place to come to buy it. They also sell black pudding slogan t-shirts, an usual souvenir of your stay in West Cork.
Location: 16 Pearse Street, Clonakilty, County Cork
Etain Hickey Gallery – A ceramic artist who has made a name for herself in Ireland, her shop also sells contemporary local art and works from Fair Trade locations.
Location: 40 Ashe Street, Timoleague, County Cork
Lettercollum Kitchen Project – A fine bakery and deli sells all you need to make a quality picnic including specialty ingredients, breads, sandwiches, and herb tarts.
Location: 22 Connolly Street, Clonakilty, County Cork
Spiller’s Lane Gallery – Formerly a grain store, you can now buy Irish made art, pottery, jewellery, and cutlery here.
Location: Spiller’s Lane, Clonakilty, County Cork
The principal town in this part of Cork and main market town for the region, there’s a country market every Saturday and popular cafes and restaurants which help the town stay somewhat livelier than its neighbours even during the winter months.
How to Get Here
The town is located 85 kilometres from Cork City and the journey takes about 80 minutes on the N71 towards Bantry. Skibbereen is 33 kilometres west of Clonakilty and takes about 30 minutes to get to from there. Free on-street parking is available and there are a few car parks around the town too.
There are buses from Cork but no public transport locally and no rail connections.
Skibbereen is one of the centres of Ireland’s National Cycle Network and there are three signposted routes in the vicinity – each lasting a day and a half. Bikes can be pre-booked at Roycroft Cycles on Ilen Street.
Skibbereen Tourist Office – North Street, Skibbereeen, County Cork
Top Reasons to Visit
Mizen Vision Centre – Follow the R591 west from Skibbereen to the end of the road and you’ll find yourself at Mizen Head, Ireland’s most southerly mainland point. There is a lighthouse, dating from 1910, at the very edge of the ocean which you can reach by crossing over a suspension footbridge. The lighthouse, including the keeper’s house and engine room, has been extensively renovated by members of the local community though the lighthouse itself, like all lighthouses in Ireland, was automated years ago.
The Atlantic smashes against the rocks 50 metres below the footbridge and there are spectacular sea views on offer to ensure a visit you won’t soon forget.
Location: Harbour Road, Goleen, County Cork
Nic Slocum Whale Watch – Some 24 species of whales and dolphins call the waters off Cork home and trips, from both Skibbereen and Baltimore, last three to four hours with additional commentary on local wildlife and birds. It’s €50 per person.
Location: Baltimore and Skibbereen, County Cork
Skibbereen Heritage Centre – A former gas stonework’s building which has been thoughtfully restored houses the Skibbereen Heritage Centre. An audio-visual display relates the story of the Great Famine of the 1840s and there also displays on local wildlife, and access to local census records if you’re looking to trace your routes.
Location: Upper Bridge Street, Skibbereen, County Cork
Where to Eat
Island Cottage – There’s a five course set menu (no choices) on offer which focuses on local produce, some of it is even sourced on this small island. The food is hearty and uncomplicated but well received and you should be prepared to share a table as they sit ten. Seafood is common on the menu.
There’s also the “world’s smallest cooking school” and advanced booking is required for both the restaurant and cooking school. A four minute ferry ride to the island is available from Cunnamore which lies 15 kilometres west of Skibbereen.
Location: Heir Island, Skibbereen, County Cork
The influential Townshend family built the castle here, hence the name of this quaint seaside village, in the 17th century. There’s a number of unusual homes dating to the mid-1700s in the town and the beautiful Gothic Saint Barrahane’s Church featuring an old oak altarpiece and three stained glass windows by noted artist Harry Clarke on the hill overlooking the town, from which you’ll get a great view of the sea.
How to Get Here
Follow the R596 southeast from Skibbereen for eight kilometres in a journey lasting about ten minutes. There are no public transport options.
Where to Eat
Mary Ann’s –One of the oldest pubs in Ireland, Mary Ann’s generally draws an upmarket clientele who mingle with the local in the bar, calmer backroom, and large garden. Bar food is served all day and is rather cheaper than what you’ll find in the restaurant which it would be wise to get a reservation for.
The baked avocado with crabmeat stuffing, shellfish and seafood platter, and T-bone steak are signature dishes. There’s also a great farmhouse cheese platter available as well.
Typical main: €26
Location: Main Street, Castletownshend, County Cork