From ancient castles and quaint fishing villages, to breathtaking fjords and hidden islands spotted with wildflowers, the natural scenery surrounding Cork is as stunning as the city itself. The landscapes of Ireland are incredibly varied, as is the weather, so if you’re planning to visit somewhere a bit further afield, it’s a good idea to check the forecast first. Most day trips will require a car (with the exception of Blarney Castle), and other destinations might benefit from an overnight stay in order to come to grips with the place. Here’s our essential guide to the best day trips from Cork.
One of Ireland’s most iconic attractions, the 600-year old Blarney Castle offers plenty of magic and intrigue. Home to the famous Blarney Stone that, according to legend, endows anyone who kisses it with the gift of the gab, the castle is a medieval stronghold in the village of Blarney. Manicured gardens and rolling meadows surround the castle, dotted with side attractions like the Witch Stone and the Wishing Steps. In the castle itself, you’ll be able to climb battlements and descend to the creepy dungeons. Throngs of tourists visit the castle to kiss the Blarney Stone, so arrive early. Blarney Castle is situated in Blarney Village, 8km (5mi) northwest from Cork city in the South of Ireland.
The chocolate-box town of Kinsale offers scenery in spades. A row of pastel-colored cottages lines the seafront, backed by winding roads filled with cute cafés, seafood restaurants and old-fashioned pubs. Spend a day exploring, before settling down for a delicious local meal. Kinsale’s coastline is just as beautiful, with a mixture of ancient ruins, rugged bays and fine-shingle beaches. Kinsale is a 30-minute drive from Central Cork and an incredibly scenic journey.
Breathtakingly beautiful, Killary Harbour boasts the title of Ireland’s only certified fjord, an inlet that flows for 15km (9mi) from the Atlantic Ocean. The scene resembles somewhere in Scandinavia: a vast, peaceful body of water surrounded by rolling green meadows and grizzled mountains. The area offers excellent hiking trails, and, on a clear day, you can spot the Mweelrea Mountain in County Mayo. Although achievable as a day trip, the four-hour journey from Cork makes an overnight stay in Connemara advisable.
Rolling hills surround Lough Ouler, a glistening lake shaped like a heart. Located in the shadows of Tonelagee Mountain, climb its peak to enjoy impressive views of the heart-shaped lake and the nearby Wicklow Mountains. On a clear day, you can even see Snowdonia. There are a variety of trails that ring around the loch, and many are signposted. The drive from Cork is 2.5 hours, an ideal day-tripping distance.
With enormous cliffs plunging into the surf, surrounded by rolling hillsides of golden tussock, Copper Coast boasts a stunning amount of geological diversity as a result of the Ice Age. Stunningly wild, the park offers plenty of incredible trails for hiking and sea kayaking. The country’s first designated geopark, the Copper Coast stretches for 25km (15.5mi) from Kilfarrasy in the east to Stradbally in the west of Waterford. Copper Coast Geopark is located one hour from Northern Cork.
An island sublimely sheltered from modern life, Garnish boasts its own distinct microclimate. A botanical blend of rare wildflowers and plants are left to grow in the island’s iconic nurseries, all open to the public. On the south of the island, Martello Tower provides breathtaking views of the bay. Set on Bantry Bay, short of an hour’s drive and a ferry hop away, the beguiling island provides the perfect day trip – you could even be back in Central Cork by supper.