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Haven Coast Touring Route: 3 Days

Tucked away on West Cork’s most southerly edges, the enchanting Haven Coast is sure to leave a lasting impression on all those who traverse its sea-soaked towns and serene shores. The region is bursting with life; its lush green terrain is complimented by the creative communities who call it home. Inspired by the abundant ocean that surrounds them, friendly locals will no doubt give you a warm welcome, allowing you to relax into the enthralling and unique Wild Atlantic Way of life. The region is well-known for its excellent cuisine, and you’ll savour the delicacies of two of Ireland’s culinary havens, Clonakilty and Kinsale. Cork’s rich affinity with the Irish revolution is a focal point of the journey too – you’ll retrace the steps of Ireland’s most famous freedom fighter, Michael Collins, a native himself of the Haven Coast. There’s also the chance to visit a 2,000-year-old burial ground, spot some surfacing humpback whales off the Baltimore coast and visit some of the best beaches the country has to offer!

 

Day 1

 

Stage 1: Kinsale

Begin your adventure around the invigorating southern coastline of Ireland in the country’s gourmet capital, Kinsale. The town is packed to the brim with cafés and restaurants, sure to impress even the pickiest of eaters! Kinsale is also regarded as an important heritage town, and Charles Fort, the excellently preserved star-shaped fortress on the water’s edge, has featured in numerous sieges and wars throughout the nation’s history. Or if you’d prefer to learn from a local, there are a couple of fascinating walking tours available with historians Don & Barry or long-time guide Dermot Ryan. Both will share with you the compelling secrets that Kinsale has to offer.

 

Colourful shops in Kinsale, County Cork
Colourful shopfronts in Kinsale
 

Stage 2: Kinsale to Old Head of Kinsale (14.9km via R600 and R604)

Heading 22 minutes along the Wild Atlantic Way, cross the River Bandon en route to the famous Old Head of Kinsale, one of the most spectacular natural formations on the Haven Coast. The thin peninsula, jutting far out into the ocean, is home to a breath-taking links course that attracts thousands of golfers every year, thanks to its astounding setting. For golf enthusiasts, a round at the Old Head is sure to be an unforgettable experience. Be sure to also visit the newly-restored Signal Tower, it’s home to a haunting Lusitania exhibition – the ill-fated liner was torpedoed off the Cork coast during World War I by a German U-boat. The Tower also offers panoramic views of the jutting headland. Nearby, Garretstown Beach is ideal for a refreshing stroll, offering magnificent views of the headland. The more adventurous can try surfing the oncoming waves that break here all year round.

 

Stage 3: Old Head of Kinsale to Clonakilty (35.2km via R600)

The final leg of the day sees you leave the wild coast of Kinsale and indulge in the culture and charm of Clonakilty. But first, there’s a variety of interesting stops along the 50-minute stretch! The monastic site of Timoleague Abbey was founded in the 13th century by Franciscan monks, and offers passers-by an intriguing look at Ireland’s medieval architecture. You might decide to take a stroll on what was the old railway line that runs from Timoleague to the pleasant seaside haven of Courtmacsherry along the mouth of the estuary. Courtmacsherry is home to highlights like the Seven Heads Walk and is also a terrific spot for anglers. Afterwards, continue west until you reach the N71 to Clonakilty; the town has plenty of welcoming hotels and B&Bs, so rest up before setting off to explore in the morning.

 

Day 2

 

Stage 1: Clonakilty to Inchydoney (4.3km via Inchydoney Road)

Clonakilty is a truly charming town, and it’s well worth spending a few hours exploring its quirky shops and bustling cafés. If you’re in the area on a Friday, grab breakfast at the farmers’ market, where local foodies showcase their organic goods, artisan breads and fresh fish. Be sure to get your hands on some Clonakilty Black Pudding – the secret spice recipe has been used since the 1880s, and this delicacy is famous around the country! Revered Irish revolutionary Michael Collins was born nearby too, and the Michael Collins Centre in Clonakilty is a fascinating visit for those interested in one of the key figures behind Ireland’s battle for independence. Visitors to the centre can witness a tense outdoor re-enactment of the assassination of Collins, known as the ‘Ambush Trail’. Alternatively, those looking for a more serene activity can take a leisurely stroll on Inchydoney Beach, named by TripAdvisor as the ‘Best Beach in Ireland’ in their 2015 Travellers Choice Awards.

 

Ireland’s best beaches, Inchydoney Beach, County Cork
Inchydoney was named ‘Best Beach in Ireland’ in 2015

 

Stage 2: Inchydoney to Rosscarbery (28.4km via coast roads, R598 and N71)

From Inchydoney, hug the coastal road around the craggy inlets of the Haven Coast – the route provides an unmissable showcase of all the diverse Wild Atlantic Way has to offer. There’s a wealth of incredible landscape to relish; no less Galley Head, though not accessible to the public, lies a little over 30 minutes into the journey. Drive towards the commanding lighthouse, which sits at the edge of the long peninsula, and make sure to capture a photo of the amazing view! Continue along the shoreline, passing Long Strand, a fabulous beach and dune walk, and popular surfing spot, Owenahincha Beach, before joining the N71 just outside the town of Rosscarbery. There’s a number of options for lunch there, so take a break and refresh before continuing on to Skibbereen.

 

Stage 3: Rosscarbery to Skibbereen (46.6km via R597, N71 and R596)

After your pit-stop in Rosscarbery, drive a short distance to the ancient Drombeg Stone Circle, believed to be over 2,000 years old. 17 large standing stones enclose a small area believed to have been used for urn burials, while nearby fulacht-fiadh (Bronze-age cooking structures) can be examined by visitors. Continuing on through the lovely towns of Glandore and Leap, rejoin the N71 and turn left towards Castletownshend. Wrap your way along the coast by Toe Head Bay, before continuing on to the much-loved town of Skibbereen. Its Old Gasworks Building houses an enthralling Heritage Centre; be sure to check out the Great Famine Commemoration Exhibition there. Later, if you fancy a really unique Haven Coast experience, then set off on a magical moonlight kayak trip on nearby Lough Hyne. During your guided paddle out onto the lake’s calm water, you’ll encounter silhouetted seabirds, fascinating bio-luminescence and if the night’s clear, a beautiful pink sunset.

Ancient Stone Circle, Drombeg, County Cork 
Drombeg Stone Circle is believed to be over 2,000 years old

 

Day 3

 

Stage 1: Skibbereen to Baltimore (13.2km via R595)

When you’re ready to leave Skibbereen, follow the R595 approximately 20 minutes south along the River Ilen until you reach the enchanting town of Baltimore. It’s certainly one of Ireland’s most picturesque communities, situated at the very edge of the Cork peninsulas. Whale-watching is must-do activity here; adventurers can spot such incredible sea creatures as humpback whales, basking sharks and risso dolphins. Nic Slocum, a qualified zoologist, leads tours which usually include a trip to the sparsely-inhabited Cape Clear Island.

 
If you’re more of a land-lover, Baltimore throws up fantastic options for the day’s entertainment – particularly Inishbeg Gardens and Glebe Gardens. The former is a private island estate with beautiful gardens and woodlands where visitors can relax and explore the idyllic surroundings. The latter, Glebe Gardens, is an award-winning restaurant that produces delicacies derived from their own harvest as well as various other local artisan sources.
 

Humpback whale at Baltimore, County Cork
An extraordinary shot of a humpback whale submerging near Baltimore

 
Stage 2: Baltimore to the Beacon (2.8 km via Beacon Road)

For an extra special treat, wait until just before sunset to visit Baltimore’s iconic Beacon, a stone pillar sitting atop a mound of earth at the edge of the town. The Beacon is an extraordinary viewing point; on a clear day visitors can look out at the waves crashing against Cape Clear Island, Sherkin Island and the wondrous Fastnet Rock. Return to the town centre and settle down in a nearby pub for a night of music, culture and chatter with locals.

 

Related activities

  • Those interested in fishing can spend some time catching trout and salmon in either the River Ilen or River Bandon

  • There are excellent diving conditions off the coast at Baltimore, due to the warm Gulf Stream that enters from the Atlantic

  • SUPs (stand-up paddleboards) are great way to explore the beauty spots of West Cork

 

Nearby highlights

  • Kinsale Ghost Tours takes visitors on a spooky  journey through the supernatural history of the town

  • Skibbereen is a much-vaunted starting point for a range of scenic looped cycles

  • Ireland’s only planetarium is located in the village of Schull, located 30 minutes from Baltimore

 

Haven Coast Signature Points

 

From the craggy clifftop of Mizen Head in Cork (Ireland’s most southwesterly point), you can see imposing Fastnet Lighthouse. It sits on a rock known as ‘Ireland’s Teardrop’, since it was the last sight of Ireland emigrants had as they left during the Great Famine (1845 – 1849).

 

This scenic headland in Cork is home to a picturesque 17th-century lighthouse and juts more than two miles into the Atlantic. If you fancy a round, visit the world-renowned golf course. A gourmet haven, Kinsale’s vibrant streets and atmosphere are utterly charming.  
 
There are five more stunning regions along the Wild Atlantic Way, each with their own unique charm, character and landscape. Whether you’re looking for a rejuvenating break or a wild adventure, we’ve got the itinerary for you.