The Best Islands to Visit Near Cork

Bere Island is one of the atmospheric islands to explore near Cork
Bere Island is one of the atmospheric islands to explore near Cork | © Michael David Murphy / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Justin McDonnell
5 August 2020

Dozens of atmospheric islands lie off of Cork’s 1,094km of coastline. Some are rugged and uninhabited; others are nestled by coastal settlements, home to traditional Irish communities. The Wild Atlantic Way provides the perfect opportunity for island-hopping, with its myriad of remote landscapes to escape to. Here’s our pick of the best islands to visit near Cork in Ireland.

Sherkin

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Sherkin Island, Baltimore, County Cork, Ireland
© Joana Kruse / Alamy Stock Photo
A ferry hop from the pastel-coloured fishing village of Baltimore in West Cork, the littoral magic of Sherkin is hard to overstate. Long, white beaches with the consistency of granulated sugar define its coastline, with a cooling salt breeze floating in from the Atlantic Ocean. The island boasts some of the finest landscapes in Cork, and as home to just over a hundred inhabitants, this is a place where you won’t struggle to find seclusion. Historically called Inisherkin, the island lies southwest of County Cork in the archipelago of islands that make up Roaringwater Bay. Only 3mi (5km) long by 1.5mi (2.4km) wide, it’s easy to get your bearings. Consider an overnight stay on the island or in the nearby town of Baltimore.

Spike Island

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Brimming with history, the pint-sized Spike Island offers an easy day trip full of scenery and atmosphere. Straddling Cork’s harbour, the tiny island is composed of just 103 acres (42ha). Once the site of an ancient monastery, the island is centrepieced by an 18th-century star-shaped fort called Fort Mitchell. The island’s fortuitous location, nestled within Cork’s harbour, made it a perfect military outpost; it also served as a remote prison. As this is one of Cork’s major attractions, it’s worth taking part in a tour of the island to get your bearings on its fascinating history. This island is uninhabited, meaning no one can stay the night. Instead, consider pitching up in the nearby settlement of Cobh, or in Cork city itself.

Inchydoney

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Inchydoney beach, near Clonakilty, West Cork, County Cork, Republic of Ireland.
© Ken Welsh / Alamy Stock Photo
If you’re seeking rural seclusion, look no further than the windswept island of Inchydoney. Offering two pristine Blue Flag beaches, one of which is composed of golden sand, the island’s pounding surf also provides the perfect conditions for surfing. Head to the wooden shack of Inchydoney Surf School to learn how to tackle the waves. Inland, there are plenty of rolling hills with verdant scenery to explore. Connected to the mainland by two highways, this is an effortlessly accessible island. Inchydoney also enjoys proximity to the town of Clonakilty, which offers daily buses to Cork’s capital.

Garnish Island

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A stunning array of tropical flora and fauna await you on Garnish Island, which enjoys a unique micro-climate, nestled in the protected Bantry Bay. Attractions include the Martello Tower, an original feature of the island from 1805; a Grecian Temple on the western side; and the clock tower. Asian trees, exotic flowers and swaying ferns all add to its magic. For many visitors, the most remarkable part of the experience is Seal Island, which you’ll glide by on the ferry over. Hundreds of seals luxuriate on the island – and if you’re lucky, you might even spot a dolphin or two. As this destination is three hours round-trip from Cork’s capital, consider staying at the coastal village of Glengarriff nearby.

Cape Clear

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Cape Clear Island, County Cork, Ireland
© Alex Segre / Alamy Stock Photo
Lying 8mi (13km) off the coast of West Cork, Cape Clear is Ireland’s southernmost inhabited Gaeltacht island (where the Irish language of Gaeltacht is spoken). For an island of such tiny proportions – only 1mi (1.6km) long and 3mi (5km) wide – it’s bursting with natural beauty. Wild, windswept coves and plunging sea cliffs define the scenery, and the local wildlife includes leatherback turtles, whales, dolphins and sharks. Cape Clear claims a small community of just a hundred people, but you’ll always experience a local’s welcome at Cotters Bar, located in the North Harbour. As it is a two-and-a-half-hour trip to the island from Cork city, an overnight stay is advisable.

Bere Island

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The remote outpost of Bere Island offers dramatic scenery in droves. Bere lies at the entrance to the wild Bantry Bay and guards the harbour of Berehaven in West Cork. The island offers breath-taking views of the Slieve Miskish and Caha Mountain massifs, and there are sandy beaches and remote coves to choose from. Hikers are rewarded with archaeological sites of interest, including ring forts, Martello towers and old military barracks. Occupied by a small community of islanders, Bere Island has patches of infrastructure, with three pubs and restaurants, a museum and B&Bs for overnight stays.

These recommendations were updated on August 5, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.