West Cork Ireland Road Trip Map
Deciding Where to Stay in West Cork
The Maritime Hotel Bantry
In contrast to our experience in Clonakilty, it was clear to us from the start that the Maritime Hotel Bantry was taking COVID-19 safety and hygiene very seriously. Their website featured a comprehensive COVID-19 policy which detailed the exact policies and practices that guests and hotel staff would follow. This included:
- scheduled times for breakfast with socially-distanced seating
- all food service staff were wearing masks
- a one way system to enter and exit the premises with hand sanitizer prominently situated at the entrance
- touchless check-in / check-out
- detailed sanitization procedures posted in the rooms
- a sticker that would break when the door was opened to ensure new arrivals that no one had been in there after the room was sanitized.
The only additional thing that I would have liked to see would be cleaning staff wearing masks and gloves (more in concern for staff rather than ourselves). The Maritime Hotel in Bantry was not doing daily cleanings anyway due to the pandemic and we opted to just leave the Do Not Disturb sign on the door for our entire stay.
It was nice to feel this sense that we'd entered a haven of safety and security after a day out and about exploring West Cork. The Maritime Hotel even had a residents' bar where guests would order freshly pulled pints of Guinness to drink in their rooms (pubs not serving food were still closed across Ireland at the time we took our West Cork road trip).
Other Practical Considerations For a Road Trip During The COVID-19 Pandemic
Clonakilty and Around
We started our trip in Clonakilty, a town of less than 5000 people. Despite its small population, Clonakilty is one of the largest towns in West Cork. Clonakilty is closer to Cork City than Skibbereen or Bantry and thus a good starting point for a West Cork road trip for those traveling from Dublin. We found that Clonakilty is a great home base for exploring the West Cork region.
On our way to Clon, we stopped in Courtmacsherry, just down the coast from Timoleague, and took a quiet seaside walk. We sat by the sea and had a little picnic near a memorial to the Lusitania which was torpedoed and sank just off the coast of West Cork during World War I. Courtmacsherry also featured quaint and colorful shopfronts, and stunning views to photograph.
After we arrived in Clonakilty, we set out for a walk. It takes less than 30 minutes to walk all the central streets of Clon. We joined West Cork shoppers to browse stores featuring local crafts (only entering after donning a mask, of course!). Other highlights of our visit to Clonakilty include trying an oatmilk cappuccino made with beans roasted on the premises at Stone Valley Roasters. Don't be surprised if you see a tractor or two driving through the heart of Clonakilty. This is all part of the charm of the West of Ireland.
We absolutely loved the colorful shopfronts. Of course, it was a bit of a sad sight to see Mick Finn's, a local pub, with kegs out front but the doors closed. I suspect that they had gotten a delivery in the hopes of opening on August 10th. Sadly, pub re-openings have been delayed until at least Sept 1 due to the ongoing pandemic.
Those who follow me on Instagram know that I absolutely love the doors of Dublin. It turns out that Dublin doesn't have a monopoly on beautiful doors. I found an amazing trio of yellow doors in Clonakilty that simply made me smile.
Dinner at Indulge
The pandemic has made things that were previously mundane, extraordinary. Prior to this trip, we had only eaten indoors at a restaurant one time in Dublin (and we were the only ones there). For our vacation in West Cork, we decided that it was clear that Indulge Restaurant was taking things very seriously and their food was highly rated so we decided to vote with our feet and have dinner there. We really appreciated the attention to detail during these challenging times. Our temperature was checked on the way in. There were Plexiglas partitions between tables and the staff were wearing face masks. Oh, and the food was yummy including plenty of Clonakilty black pudding.
West Cork Model Railway Village
West Cork Model Railway Village is within walking distance of the centre of Clonakilty. Experience the trains that connected the towns of West Cork in the mid- to late-19th century in miniature. You'll need to make a reservation in advance and West Cork Model Railway Village operates a one-way system to keep guests safe and at an appropriate social distance. The majority of exhibits are outdoors so dress for the weather. The Model Railway Museum in Clonakilty sits on an inlet that at low tide hosts a variety of birds. Bonus!
A West Cork Beach Drive
Clonakilty is a 30 minute drive on narrow country roads to the South Coast of Ireland and features some stunning beaches. Spend the day taking a relaxing drive. Red Strand Beach in particular offers great views. Sit on the rocks and listen to the wind and waves lapping the shore.
Time your visit to Long Strand Beach to coincide with lunch. Here you'll find The Fish Basket, a delicious chipper great for supplying a scenic outdoor meal. We really appreciated the seriousness of their COVID precautions and felt very safe. The Fish Basket operated a one-way system, only allowed one member per party to queue (and come prepared to queue; this place is popular), and only let a limited number of people inside. You wait in designated areas cordoned off by tape on the floor. The Fish Basket also has a nice, clean toilet which is a plus. There are not many amenities along this stretch of coast on a West Cork road trip.
Drombeg Stone Circle
On the return from the beaches, take a detour at Rosscarbery to visit Drombeg Stone Circle. Getting to Drombeg Stone Circle in West Cork is an adventure in itself. Proceed for 600 m on a very narrow local road and pray that you don't encounter a car coming the other way. The white-knuckled ride is worth it though to see this ancient burial ground. Drombeg Stone Circle is like Stonehenge without the crowds.
Taste West Cork Whiskey at Clonakilty Distillery
Return to Clonakilty after a day exploring the beaches and take a very educational tour of Clonakilty Distillery. We learned about pot still whiskey making, gin distillation, and even saw a tiny gin distillation apparatus that before the pandemic was used for gin-making parties.
Who says there is no craic in Ireland due to COVID? We enjoyed a lovely exclusive whiskey tasting at Clonakilty Distillery, met some lovely people (masked and at a distance, of course), and picked out bottles of whiskey and gin to take back to Dublin.
Tours are limited to 8 people, masks are encouraged, and the tasting is held at tables placed at least 2 meters apart. For the tasting and the video exhibition introducing the distillery, you take a laminated card on the seat and put it on the floor to indicate that the chair needs to be cleaned and sanitized before the next use.
Michael Collins House Museum
We made a date with Irish History with a 10 am appointment to tour Michael Collins House in Clonakilty. Collins is known for the role he played in Irish independence from England and in the civil war that followed in the early 1920s. Michael Collins negotiated the controversial treaty that gave us the political landscape of Ireland that we know today with the island split between the Republic of Ireland (independent) and Northern Ireland (still part of the UK). Michael Collins was assassinated during the Irish Civil War at just 30 years of age in an ambush laid out on the roads of West Cork.
To learn more about the history beyond the museum, watch Michael Collins featuring Liam Neeson and Julia Roberts.
We made a short visit to Rosscarbery on our West Cork road trip. I simply loved the colors of the main square in Rosscarbery. Note that Rosscarbery sits atop a hill so beware if you are driving a car with a manual transmission and if you don't have a lot of experience with a clutch.
Drive Clonakilty to Mizen Head
Mizen Head has the distinction of being the southerwesternmost point in Ireland. It takes approximately an hour and a half to drive to Mizen Head Signal Station from Clonakilty; a great day out.
Altar Wedge Tomb on the Wild Atlantic Way
We stopped to stretch our legs and admire the Altar Wedge Tomb and sea views en route to Mizen Head along the Wild Atlantic Way. Looking for West Cork hidden gems? This is one of them! Where else but Ireland can you find a burial site thousands of years old at the side of the road.
Given how old the Altar Wedge Tomb is, I was flabbergasted when I saw someone cycle up and park their bike against it. I asked them to move it on the pretense that I wanted to take this photo, but I really just wanted to protect the site from clueless people.
In addition to the historic site, you'll also find stunning sea views.
Mizen Head Signal Station
I definitely recommend going to the popular places at Mizen Head first to beat the crowds. You'll need to wear a mask to visit the Mizen Head Signal Station. We really appreciated the COVID precautions which included mask wearing and a one-way system for the indoor attractions.
We were surprised by how. much wildlife we saw at Mizen Head! Keep your eyes peeled! We spotted a pod of playful dolphins, seals, jellyfish, and even a curious rabbit. Unfortunately, we didn't see any whales.
You need nerves of steel to drive to and from Mizen Head. The road is so narrow. On our way out, there was so much traffic coming in that we had to play a sort of Tetris to leave. It was genuinely nerve-wracking! If I leave you with one piece of advice, GO EARLY to avoid the stress.
On the return drive from Mizen Head to Clonakilty, we stopped on a whim for a short and sweet nature hike in Ballydehob. In addition to being a great spot to stretch your legs, you'll also find great photo ops of the old stone railway bridge that now forms part of the trail.
We made a final pitstop in Skibbereen on the way back to Clonakilty. Keep an eye out for some lovely West Cork crafts and plenty of colorful storefronts that are particularly vibrant in the sun. Supposedly there are two kinds of weather in West Cork: raining or about to rain. We most definitely got lucky on our West Cork road trip!
We tried to minimize our risk by not eating out too much on our trip to West Cork. Skibbereen is home to Field's of Skibbereen (now SuperValu). Pick up supplies for cheese sandwich on dense Fields of Skibbereen white sliced pan served up with bottles of Clonakilty craft beer.
Baltimore and Around
Another popular West Cork destination is Baltimore, a tiny seaside village and port for ferries serving nearby islands like Sherkin Island. Baltimore is about a 45 minute drive on regional roads from Clonakilty.
We spent the day in Baltimore as an essential stop on our West Cork road trip. Too bad the castle was closed due to the pandemic. We had been looking forward to learning more about the pirates who sacked the area in the 17th century. However, we did find and buy a book about the sacking of Baltimore at a local craft shop so that's some consolation. We also found some lovely crafts and beautiful flowers lining the footpaths leading to the sea.
It takes about 30 minutes to hike to Baltimore Beacon from Baltimore Village. When you get to the end of the road, the trail isn't well marked. Be prepared to scramble up the rocks. Hiking boots are advised. We absolutely loved the windswept views! Baltimore Beacon was originally built by the British government in the 17th century as part of a series of lighthouses and beacons meant to serve as a warning system in the wake of the 1798 Rebellion.
If you visit Baltimore Beacon in the summer like we did, the wildflowers growing nearby really make it pop on a foggy summer morning. We found so many amazing photography spots in West Cork and Baltimore Beacon was definitely one of our favorites.
A Michelin-star-worthy Lunch at Dede
After our invigorating walk to Baltimore Beacon, we returned to the village and had a scrumptious lunch at Dede at the Customs House. Renowned Chef Ahmet Dede brings Michelin-star skill and Turkish influence to fresh West Cork ingredients. Sit in the courtyard and devour delicious rotisserie chicken, succulent ribs, and fresh salads in the outdoor garden.
While Baltimore was the main attraction of the day, we decided to take a short detour on the return to Clonakilty to see Lough Hyne. The narrow road around Lough Hyne was lined with families and other visitors soaking in the sun and taking a swim. We had a nice socially distant chat with a fellow from Liverpool who has been living in the area for 30 years. His opener: have you taken a dip yet? Us: Nope! Didn't bring our togs.
We took another short detour on the return to Clonakilty: Castletownshend. Beware that the town is hilly if you are not experienced driving a manual transmission. The drive can be unnerving. The castle grounds were closed due to the pandemic but climb the hill above it and wander the grounds of St. Barrahane's Church and cemetery. We took the opportunity to peer into the church windows to see the stained glass illuminated by the sun for a brief moment.
Bantry and Around
We spent the second half of our West Cork Ireland road trip in Bantry, another town of less than 5000 people. Bantry is a colorful and historic town in the far reaches of West Cork. It was here that Wolfe Tone attempted to land French sourced arms and troops in 1796 to support an Irish uprising against centuries of British rule.
Bantry House and Gardens
The main attraction in Bantry is definitely Bantry House and Gardens. Our West Cork road trip coincided with my birthday so we booked in for a picnic. Call ahead to arrange for a picnic basket (27 EUR and worth every penny). Our picnic basket included fresh sandwiches, crisps, and a fresh-baked brownie and lemon square plus two juices or cloudy lemonade. We couldn't have asked for better weather for our picnic.
Work off that rich and decadent lunch by taking a walk through the garden. Ascend steep and uneven staircases through the garden to reach terraces offering spectacular views of the gardens and sea beyond. Bantry House is currently closed for tours due to the pandemic but the gardens are open. There is a 6 EUR entry fee paid into an honesty box near the carpark.
Wharton's Fish and Chips
That evening, we braved the queue at Wharton's Fish and Chips in Bantry. It was clear that this was the place to be. We waited between 20-30 minutes at 8 pm on a Wednesday but it was very worth it for the hand-cut chips and freshly battered and fried fish. There is limited outdoor seating available but we decided we felt safer eating back in our room.
While we waited for our food, we followed the sound of rushing water. Bantry features a re-creation of a historic mill located next to the library. The fast-moving water was just so soothing to listen to.
Bantry Bay Sunsets
The great thing about traveling around Ireland in the summer is the long days. We finished our day with lovely sunset views over Bantry Bay. I knew I would sleep well that night after imbibing all that fresh sea air!
Glengarriff Woods Nature Reserve
We generally got lucky with the weather during our West Cork road trip. The weather was a little iffy on one of our days in Bantry, so we decided to take it easy and just do a hike in Glengarriff Woods Nature Reserve. Beware that there are no facilities but the trails are lovely even in the rain. We took the River Trail to the Big Meadow Trail in about an hour. We were feeling ambitious so we climbed to Lady Bantry's Lookout. We were were surprised and delighted to find a plucky little goat peering back at us at the top. That alone made every step of our hike worth it!
Lunch at Manning Emporium
We made a pitstop between Glengarriff and Bantry for lunch. We enjoyed vegan carrot cake, coffee, and artisanal sandwiches (steak, gorgonzola, and onion jam plus the last Chicken Caesar) at Manning Emporium. We definitely appreciated their stringent COVID-19 safety precautions which included a one way system through the shop and laminated cards to indicate that the table had been cleaned and sanitized. They also took our name and number for contact tracing should the need arise.
Room Service Pints
Pubs weren't open during our trip due to the pandemic so a rainy afternoon was the perfect time to relax back at the Maritime Hotel with a pint of Guinness. You can pick up pints at the Residents' Bar to consume in your room. That Guinness was even more delicious once I realized they are only charging 4.60 EUR a pint. We were definitely not in Dublin anymore!
SIDEWALK SAFARI SPOTLIGHT: Do you have more time to spend in the West of Ireland and are you looking for other nearby Ireland road trip ideas? You could drive the Ring of Kerry or explore Slea Head drive around the Dingle Peninsula in nearby County Kerry. Waterville Ireland is a great home base for exploring this part of the Wild Atlantic Way.
Bantry hosts a weekly market on Fridays on Wolfe Tone Square. The first Friday of the month features additional vendors selling bric-a-brac. We enjoyed a spelt muffin from a local baker. We also spotted a fun and appropo planter in front of the public toilets.
Garinish Island was designed and built in the 19th century so some elements are admittedly over-the-top. We especially enjoyed the views from the marvelous Grecian Temple. The Italian garden is also jawdroppingly beautiful.
Dinner at Ocean
On our final night in Bantry, we treated ourselves to dinner at Ocean at the Maritime Hotel. We enjoyed Irish goat's cheese and poached pear salad plus sea scallops served with a side of ample social distancing. For our mains, we delighted in a pork fillet with mushroom sauce and baked cod with Asian-flavored sides. We managed to save room for dessert: creamy mango cake with cherry stew, and lime and lemon cheesecake with orange brandy. Our dinner reservation also meant that we could spend one hour before and after the meal at the Residents' Bar. We took the opportunity to drink pre- and post-dinner G and T's made with local gins: Beara (regular and pink) and Garinish Island. The Beara pink gin was surprisingly grassy.
Walk the Beicin Loop
The Ring of Beara
We hadn't planned to drive the Beara Peninsula on this West Cork road trip but the weather was just too good not to so we decided to make the foray. The Ring of Beara sits at the border between County Cork and County Kerry. We focused our drive on the Cork side of things to keep the drive manageable in the time we had available.
We entered the Ring of Beara at Glengarriff and stopped for lunch in Castletownbere, a 30 minute drive on smooth and relatively wide roads (by Ireland standards). We took a walk through the colorful town and found picnic tables set up behind the church near the tourism office and ate a pre-packed picnic there.
Our initial plan was just to drive to Castletownbere and back but since the weather was so nice and the scenery so beautiful, we decided to drive just a little bit further down the Beara Peninsula to Allihies. It takes about 30 minutes to drive from Castletownbere to Allihies and the roads are very narrow in places.
Bantry to Macroom
We decided to end our West Cork road trip with a a couple pitstops on the way from Bantry to Dublin.
First stop? Castle Donovan, a 16th century ruin that was heavily damaged by Cromwellian forces in the mid-17th century. Donovan Castle seemed to be built on an uneven slab of rock. The castle ruins are located on a small country road and there is no official parking. Just pull over near the fence and take a look around.
Toons Bridge Dairy
We stopped at Toons Bridge Dairy for an impromptu picnic featuring fresh walnut rye bread, spicy hummus, broad bean salad, and buffalo mozzarella. The dairy is open on weekends and has a beautiful garden with a few tables so guests can sit outside. Toons Bridge limits the number of guests in the shop and operates a one way system to keep their guest safe during the pandemic. They also have a nice, clean toilet giving an added incentive to stop here (not that you need one!)
We drove a little way up a small local road near Toons Bridge to Macroom Buffalo Dairy. We pulled over to let a faster moving car pass us and looked up to see the local cheesemaking herd behind the gate. Just awesome.
Macroom features the remains of Macroom Castle. Did you know that Macroom Castle was granted to Admiral William Penn (his son went on to found Pennsylvania in America) by Oliver Cromwell. The town is bustling but the atmosphere is interrupted by heavy traffic and narrow footpaths. The Macroom Castle Demesne was not what we were expecting. There is a community centre, school, and mechanic behind the walls. We didn't find a place to sit and picnic although perhaps if we'd walked further, we could have sat along the River Sullane.
And with that our road trip to West Cork comes to an end. I hope you've enjoyed our one week West Cork Ireland staycation road trip. We made it safely back to Dublin giving ourselves a day to relax at home before heading back to work on the Monday. Time flies when you are having fun!