The Most Beautiful Towns in West Cork

The prettiest towns in West Cork include Glandore, home to a 19th-century pier and plenty of walking trails
The prettiest towns in West Cork include Glandore, home to a 19th-century pier and plenty of walking trails | © Ken Welsh/Universal Images Group / Getty Images
Photo of Kate Phelan
21 August 2020

The cultural region of West Cork is one of the most popular tourist areas in all of Ireland thanks in large part to its rural beauty, but the towns here are beautiful too – particularly those along the coast. Here are some of the most scenic ones, listed from east to west – plus a local Airbnb for each, curated by Culture Trip, if you’re looking for a place to stay.

Kinsale

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© jenifoto / Getty Images
The place to go for insanely tasty seafood is Kinsale, which grew up around its historic fishing port. Now the southerly starting point of the exalted Wild Atlantic Way tourism trail, this charming seafront town features brightly coloured shopfronts, overflowing flowerbeds and heavenly harbour views. The local golf club, Old Head Golf Links, has to be seen to be believed – sitting atop rugged cliffs at the tip of a diamond-shaped peninsula that juts out into the surrounding ocean.

Detached coastal apartment on the water

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Courtesy of Sara / Airbnb

This coastal apartment sits right on the Kinsale waterfront, overlooking swarms of sailboats, 17th-century forts and rolling countryside. Aptly named the Boathouse, the one-bedroom property draws influence from its nautical surroundings, with a fresh white-and-navy palette and ocean-themed art, while a scattering of fluffy sheepskin throws, pouffes and deep rattan chairs keep things homely. Wake up to the lapping waters and watch the boats drift past over a morning tea (cupboards are stuffed with biscuits if you’re a dipper), and wrap up adventurous days with a glass of wine on the idyllic terrace.

Clonakilty

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Named the best town in Ireland and the UK at the 2017 Urbanism Awards, Clonakilty has a population that truly cares about keeping its town beautiful. After winning the overall national TidyTowns competition in 1999, it has since gained a whole host of awards for its dedicated efforts at keeping the local environment looking its best. A few kilometres (a couple of miles) outside town, you will find the Blue Flag-certified beach of Inchydoney, one of the most picturesque in the whole country.

Traditional Irish street house

Short-term Rental
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Courtesy of Ellen / Airbnb

In the heart of Clonakilty, this traditional Irish street house overlooks the town square, where the melodies of harpists frequently fill the air. Inside, you’ll find a monochromatic colour scheme softened by rustic-meets-industrial furnishings and tartan blinds, two bedrooms that can sleep four and a designated reading nook with weathered leather chairs for people-watching. After a day spent perusing boutiques and sipping pints in the town’s characterful pubs, be sure to grab some local produce so that you can cook a meal next to the glow of the kitchen’s old-school wood burner.

Glandore

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Although technically a village, Glandore should be included on a visit along the West Cork coastline. The yachting harbour of the same name stretches inland for approximately 4.8km (3mi), with two islands at its mouth named Adam and Eve. The village is centred around an early-19th-century pier, with sailing and whale watching as some of the main activities on offer. There are two Norman castles in the vicinity, as well as a pleasant walking route to the megalithic Drombeg Stone Circle nearby.

Spacious Glandore coastal home

Short-term Rental
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Courtesy of Barry / Airbnb

This enchanting four-bedroom home, set on the emerald hillside above Glandore village, has breathtaking views of the bay, sprawling gardens and a sun-blessed patio. Behind its stone walls and blue-rimmed windows lies a homely interior, complete with a baby-blue Smeg fridge with plenty of space for food (and wine), shelves stacked with an extensive book collection and a London bus-shaped bunk bed that will delight little ones. The picnic table outside is an open invitation for lunches al fresco and twilight tipples, or you can venture into town to listen to Irish music in one of the cosy pubs.

Baltimore

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Featuring a ferry port serving the Roaringwater Bay – known for its oysters – and many of the islands known as Carbery’s Hundred Isles, Baltimore gets its name from the Irish Baile an Tí Mhóir, meaning “town of the big house”. The big house referred to is a 13th-century castle overlooking the harbour, destroyed several times throughout its history but always rebuilt. Baltimore and the islands off its coast are legendary – but not thought to be the origin of the name of the US city. It’s believed that Baltimore, Maryland, is named after the second Lord Baltimore of the Irish House of Lords, who colonised the area.

Bungalow with extraordinary views in Baltimore

Short-term Rental
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Courtesy of Jeanne / Airbnb

This ’70s-built bungalow makes a charming first impression, with a peach-coloured facade wrapped in thick ivy and a sheltered deck offering picture-perfect views of Roaringwater Bay. Inside, the living room (fittingly known as the sunroom) is drenched in natural light through giant windows, while a striped corner sofa hugs the wall in the TV room, promising snug movie nights alongside the wood-burning stove. Sleeping up to five people, the three bedrooms come with extra pillows and blankets for chilly nights, and the bathrooms are stocked with towels and soap.

Schull

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Schull is the principal village on the peninsula that ends in Mizen Head – Ireland’s most southerly point, and a site chosen as a filming location for the newest Star Wars movies due to its almost mythical beauty. Mount Gabriel presides to the north of the town, meaning it possesses that rare combination of both sea and mountain views. Full of quirky shops and welcoming restaurants, and with a harbour that looks out towards the Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking) region of Cape Clear Island and the Atlantic Ocean, Schull is truly a little slice of heaven.

Harbour View Cottage

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Courtesy of John / Airbnb

With the sea right on your doorstep, the three-bedroom Harbour View Cottage is infused with a salty air that mingles with floral aromas coming from the garden. When you’re not taking in views of the rock-studded shores and sailboats, you can tuck into dinner under the stars on the patio’s mosaic-tiled table. The open-plan living area with a wood burner is an ideal spot for board games with family and friends on rainy days, while bohemian throws and large, cushy armchairs await you in the rooms (that can sleep up to eight people).

Bantry

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The town of Bantry lies at the inner point of Bantry Bay, one of the southwest’s longest inlets at approximately 32.1km (20mi) in length. Flanked by a rainbow of coloured buildings, its large town square is the venue of the weekly Bantry Market, described as “one of the most vibrant markets in West Cork” by Discover Ireland. Other recommended activities here include taking a day trip to the bay’s Whiddy Island – a refuge for vibrant plants, such as fuchsia, because of its Gulf Stream climate.

Bantry luxury townhouse

Short-term Rental
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Courtesy of 14Wolfe / Airbnb

Luxury spills from every corner of this five-bedroom townhouse – from the velvet cushions and glistening chandeliers to the silver vanity tables and marble fireplaces. There’s even an old brass diving helmet doubling as a lampshade – not quite luxurious, but bohemian nevertheless. As it sits a stone’s throw from Bantry Bay, you are a short amble from its many traditional pubs, craft shops and weekly farmer’s market. Once you’ve packed your bags with local treats, head home to relax in the open-plan kitchen and living room before throwing it all together for a memorable evening meal.

Glengarriff

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Situated on the Ring of Beara route along the Beara Peninsula, the gorgeous village of Glengarriff is referred to as “the natural meeting place” because of its plentiful outdoor attractions. It takes its name from the Irish translation of “the rugged glen” – no doubt a reference to the peninsula’s sandstone Caha Mountains. Glengarriff Forest is now a major nature reserve full of paths, picnic areas and lookout points, while Garnish Island in Glengarriff Harbour is home to a famous Italian garden designed by British landscape designer Harold Peto.

Glengarriff Lodge

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Courtesy of Alan / Airbnb

Plucked from a fairytale, this former hunting lodge is sequestered away on a private island just a few minutes’ drive from Glengarriff village. The thatched cottage sleeps up to eight people and sits on hectares of manicured gardens, with three timber bridges that lead to ancient oak woodland, bluebell-clad meadows and a natural pool where you can go for a dip (weather permitting) or try a spot of salmon fishing. Wander back past the orchard, dry off using the heated slate floors and cosy flames of the large sandstone fireplace, and retreat to rooms where famous figures such as William Wordsworth once stayed.

Chloe Byrne contributed additional reporting to this article.

These recommendations were updated on August 21, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.