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Ireland’s ‘rebel county’ has a wealth of natural scenery to offer and plenty of unique ways to experience it. From moonlit kayaking to surfing the Atlantic to bracing walks along plunging sea cliffs, here’s our guide to great outdoor activities in and around Cork.
Cork provides ample opportunities for scenic cycling, where you’ll glide by freshwater lakes and craggy mountains, stopping for replenishment at a cosy rural pub or local café.
The stand-out route for tough-road cyclists is the Wild Atlantic Way, one of Ireland’s most popular long-distance tracks. A seaside trail that stretches along 470km (292mi) of coastline, it embarks from the quaint fishing town of Kinsale and finishes at the Beara Peninsula. Straddled by two mountain ranges, it’s a rewarding landscape both during and at the end of the journey.
Whether you’re seeking challenging climbs or long meandering walks, Cork offers an abundance of coastal treks to choose from. The Tourism Board provides a great up-to-date resource on the county’s official walking routes, which vary in distance from 3km to 200km (2mi to 124mi).
A hike is a great way to experience the immensity of Cork’s natural landscapes, but dedicate some time to researching your trip before embarking. The best trails require a car or local transport from the city of Cork. The coastal settlements of Kinsale, Clonakilty and Allihies are reliable favourites among hikers, with a broad range of treks to suit all abilities.
The ruggedly beautiful, windswept island of Inchydoney provides ideal conditions for surfing. Located amongst rolling hills and hidden coves, East Beach offers a long stretch of sugary sand, 4km (2.5mi) from the town of Clonakilty.
This is one of Ireland’s best locations for water sports, thanks to the pounding surf of the Atlantic Ocean and its safe, clean waters. It’s also incredibly scenic, with dunes to the north and plummeting cliffs to the east. Hire a board at the wooden shack on the beach, or book a lesson – you’ll be riding the waves in no time.
The only inland saltwater lake in Europe, Lough Hyne offers pristine waters that are perfect for wild swimming. A fresh current of cold seawater pours in from the Atlantic, culminating in this vast lough, surrounded by evergreen trees.
The water is invitingly clean and calm – but the temperature can be bracing, so be prepared for the chill. Afterwards, warm up with a stroll along the lake’s shore, or scale the forested foothills to admire the lough from above. It’s a steep 2km (1.2mi) climb to the top.
Atlantic Sea Kayaking in Lough Hyne runs a brilliant tour, so grab a paddle and take part in this one-of-a-kind experience. Guided by the moon, splash your way through the inky, black expanse of water by night.
There are two locations to choose from: the sheltered bay of Reen Pier, located 2.4km (1.5mi) from the village of Union Hall, or the salt-water lake of Lough Hyne. Both tours offer similar water conditions and wildlife, and they’re equally atmospheric. Set aside two and a half hours for the tour; participants need to be over sixteen years old, and booking is essential.
Dolphins and whales are often spotted frolicking in the Atlantic surf, off the coast of West Cork. The abundance of sea life is outstanding: the list includes fin whales, humpback whales, dolphins, basking sharks, harbour porpoises, sunfish and rare birds, with a scenic backdrop that’s no less stunning.
A handful of local operators are trained to spot whales and dolphins safely, without impacting marine life. The three- to four-hour whale watching trip sets off from the harbour of Courtmacsherry in West Cork.