Updated on November 16th, 2020
Millions of tourists every year head to Ireland to explore the famous Wild Atlantic Way. Many stick to the well-trodden & often busy roads of the Ring of Kerry or Dingle Peninsula. However, to discover the true Ireland & less travelled path, head south to explore the Ring of Beara route in Cork. You will be rewarded with wild country, breath-taking views & very few other tourists. Here is all you need to know to persuade you why!”
Beara Peninsula, West Cork, Ireland
In November 2019, I had just turned 50. To commemorate this milestone, I embarked on the challenge to take on Africa’s highest peak & climb Mount Kilimanjaro. I was thrilled (& exhausted) to achieve my goal! But, I’m a party girl at heart & also needed a big celebration with my friends. For this, I chose Killarney in County Kerry, Ireland. However, for a committed traveller, what was the point of going to Ireland & not seeing more of it? As a result, I embarked on a girl’s road trip with my ‘old’ university friend Nicky. We had 5 days to explore & were not in a hurry. While many visitors take 1 day for the Ring of Kerry, we did it in 3.
Then it was a decision. Do we head up to the busy tourist trail of the Dingle Peninsula, or venture south to Cork? We did a bit of research & decided that the road less travelled was more our style. As a result, we took 2 days exploring the Cork Wild Atlantic Way. We started by taking on the Ring of Beara route, followed by Sheep’s Head & the spectacular Mizen Peninsula. We were not disappointed.
The Beara Peninsula is situated in West Cork & forms the peninsula just below the Ring of Kerry on the famous Wild Atlantic Way. The full route is around 140 km which you can easily complete in a few hours. But that is without stops. And you will want to make a lot of stops!
The route is stunning, arguably even more beautiful than its much more famous neighbour. This is certainly not a road trip to be rushed. In addition, much of the route is on small, single track or winding roads which you are advised to take slowly & safely.”
A trip like this is about enjoying the journey, detouring when you like the look of a sign, a view or just feel in the mood to. If the weather is kind, there are plenty of places to lace up your boots & go for a hike. I didn’t take advantage of this but have included lots of options for you.
What to expect on the Ring of Beara Route
In terms of weather, prepare for it to change in a minute, in either direction. It rained a lot during our visit. It is Ireland & we expected nothing less! However, that was when we were in the car. Each time we got out to admire the view or take some photos, the sun came out. We felt very blessed in many different ways! In addition, I was there in November & our biggest challenge was the cold & very strong winds. For some classic, ‘battling with nature entertainment’, check out my video of the journey!
No coaches take the Ring of Beara route so this has a big impact on the number of tourists. When I was there visitors were low to non-existent. This is partly also due to the time of year. It suited us fine but if you choose to go in November as well, then you may also find many places closed for business. Where possible I have included links so please make sure you check the websites before your trip. I would hate for you to be disappointed once you do decide to discover this hidden gem.
The Ring of Beara Route. A Road Less Travelled on the Wild Atlantic Way in Cork
There are a number of places to base yourself as you explore the Ring of Beara route. Much will depend on how much time you are dedicating to the area & where you are coming from or going next. For me, starting the drive after the Ring of Kerry meant staying at Kenmare the night before.
A walk around the pretty town rewarded us with a Bronze Age stone circle comprising of 15 stones placed around a central ‘Boulder Dolmen’ (unique to this part of Ireland).
Kenmare is the biggest example of over 100 circles in south-west Ireland. It is believed that the monument was built & orientated around solar & lunar events for ceremonial purposes.”
We stayed at the Kenmare Bay Hotel which is a large hotel with plenty of rooms, a good location & friendly staff. PF McCarthys is a great place for dinner & a drink in a traditional pub setting (the meatloaf was delicious!). We also enjoyed listening to some live music at Kenmare Brewhouse.
Before we reached our first stop at the pretty & colourful village of Eyeries, we had already taken a couple of detours for photos. From a misty, moody & perfectly still lake we headed to a derelict church & graveyard overlooking the water. The sun was low & the setting was the perfect resting place. Eyeries is a great place for a first stop. Take some time to explore this pretty village with cottages painted in all colours of the rainbow…or copy us & just stop for a quick break at the public toilet!
The road from Eyeries to Allihies is spectacular. Winding, baron but with views that will take your breath away. For us in November it was even more beautiful with tempestuous skies, autumn hues on the hillsides scattered with sheep & rough, foamy seas. In addition, along the way, you will see the remains of the old copper mines. Before they were closed in 1962 the mines exported 30,000 tonnes of copper a year.
Lambs Head & Dursey Island
From the tip of the peninsula at Lambs Head you will discover the famous Dursey Island Cable Car. The only one in Ireland. Check the website for the timetable although due to COVID it is currently out of action.
When we were there it wasn’t running & would have been a very hairy ride with the wind we had that day. Be aware that livestock takes priority over people if you do want to ride. I love that fact!”
Love a scenic road trip? Check out Scottish Highlands Itinerary – A Perfect 10 Day Road Trip for the Highlands & Islands
By this time, we were in need of refreshment & a break from driving. We gratefully discovered the gem that is this Buddhist & meditation retreat. A serene, peaceful & relaxing café awaited us with magnificent views out to the sea. We had tea & carrot cake & could have stayed for days! It was a completely unexpected place to find in such a wild location but also totally perfect.
If you love yoga & meditation, see my posts on my experiences in Cuba at 7 Days of Self-Discovery at a Yoga Retreat in Cuba
This is the capital of the Beara Peninsula & home to a bustling fishing port. If you want to stop for a bite to eat, then Castletownbere would be a great place. I hear that the Breens Lobster Bar serves fantastic food.
I didn’t make it to Bere Island but if you have time, it looks like a gorgeous place to take a day or so to explore. Outside summer season, there are only 200 inhabitants & the island is steeped in military history. A short ferry ride takes you into the main village of Rerrin. Once there you can fill your days with hiking the Beara Way (around the island is 19km) to visit ruins, a lighthouse or just admire the beauty of this isolated part of the world.
Adrigole is another picturesque harbour village with colourful houses & pretty blooming flowers. It is backed by Hungry Hill, the highest in the Caha range of mountains which forms the spine of the Ring of Beara route. It is also close to the highest waterfall in Ireland in terms of the Mare Tails Waterfall.
From Adrigole you can also drive over the Healy Pass to Lauragh which is supposedly one of the greatest drives in Ireland. But strap yourself in & prepare for a bit of a wild adventure if you do!”
The road is single track but with spectacular views either side. There thankfully isn’t much traffic but the weather can be unpredictable. I would only tackle it if you are a confident driver.
Glengarriff lies between Kenmare & Bantry, on Bantry Bay & is famous for its natural beauty. For me, it was a tranquil & beautiful spot for our last (almost) glimpse of the Beara Peninsula. The morning we left it was a sunny, tranquil day & the water was like a mirror reflecting the silence of this stunning place.
If you visit during the warmer months (March – Oct) & love a bit of horticulture then definitely take a trip to Garnish Island. You can get a ferry to the island from Glengarriff across the sheltered bay & the trip includes a visit to the local seal colony where 250 seals call home.
Heading north from Glengariff takes you up over the Caha mountains. The views as you climb are just spectacular. We were in awe & just wanted more stopping points along the journey as we admired the vista from various heights.
Following our day around the Beara Peninsula, we stayed overnight in Bantry. I would recommend it as a great central spot to discover the Wild Atlantic Way around West Cork.
Bantry is a great place in its own right as it’s home to a bustling town with plenty of bars & restaurants to keep you well fed & watered. You may also want to visit Bantry House for its pristine gardens.
In addition, if you are here in the summer or early autumn, then keep your eyes peeled on the coast for seals. They have one of the largest populations of harbour seals in the country.”
Unfortunately, where I stayed in Bantry is no longer in operation but you may like to try The Maritime, Doireliath, or Strelitzias (for a self-catering option). All are centrally located with good ratings & most importantly an excellent cleanliness score! Or check out the other options using the search box below:
For food & drinks, I would recommend Ma’ Murphys. It is perfect for that feeling of real Irish hospitality over a pint of the black stuff. So much so, we felt like we were sitting in a film set! For dinner, we chose the Fish Kitchen which I would highly recommend for excellent seafood.
From here we spent the next day exploring more of the Cork Wild Atlantic Way, in the guise of Sheeps Head & Mizen Peninsulas. If you choose to do the same, you are in for a treat of more amazing wild landscapes, lighthouses, scenic bridges & beautiful beaches.
To read all about it check out: Misadventures on the Mizen Peninsula, The Joys of Travel Out of Season
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