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Haven Coast Touring Route: 5 Days

The tranquil Haven Coast marks the most southerly stretch of the Wild Atlantic Way, and this lush green garden is the perfect region for rejuvenation, relaxation and respite. Zigzagging gently along the sea-sculpted Cork coastline, the Haven Coast moves from dreamy Bantry Bay towards the striking Old Head of Kinsale, passing through charming little towns like Ballydehob, Skibbereen and Clonakilty along the way. The Cork people are a friendly, fun-loving bunch; incredibly proud of their county and always happy to welcome visitors! They’re creative too, and indeed, West Cork is a famed hub of artists, craftspeople, musicians and food producers. Dotted along this region you’ll find a whole host of galleries, artisan cafés, restaurants, independent boutiques and quirky shops, all inspired by the landscape around them and each offering you an opportunity to relax into the unique and captivating Wild Atlantic Way of life. Embark on a five-day Haven Coast touring itinerary – you’ll experience a laidback pace, thriving culture and tasty culinary offerings, all set against some of the coast’s most dramatic scenery.

Day 1 

Stage 1: Kinsale

This epic five-day tour of the Haven Coast kicks off in Kinsale, a town so inviting you’re going to spend the whole first day there! Its medieval roots are evident in its narrow, winding streets, now home to buzzing bars and gourmet restaurants serving up fresh catch of the day. Indeed, take a stroll down to the town’s pretty harbour and you’ll see fishing boats bobbing in the water. A walking tour of the town is highly recommended; a heritage town walk or a historic stroll are both great ways to learn about Kinsale’s rich history. Charles Fort is worth a visit too – this military fortress dates back to the 17th century and was used during both the Williamite War in 1690 and the Irish Civil War of 1922. You’re in for a treat when it comes to lunch afterwards, since Kinsale is known as the Gourmet Capital of Ireland. The Good Food Circle is a collective of local restaurants who collaborate to offer food events and innovative dining experiences for locals and tourists alike. Take your pick for a delicious and memorable lunch!
Once you’ve had your fill, try your hand at an outdoor pursuit in the afternoon. Ocean Addicts will take you for an exciting ‘Rib Ride’ or snorkel off the town’s coast. Under the watchful eye of your experienced guide, you can dive into Kinsale’s crystal-clear waters and enjoy the vivid sights there, from colourful anemones to starfish and crab. There are fun options on dry land too – cycling is a great way to explore the surrounding countryside. Wild Atlantic Sports’ Wild Coastal Tour is a half-day trail that runs from Garretstown Beach in the town and takes in the splendid Cork countryside.

Or if you’d prefer a gentler activity, Kinsale Gourmet Academy is a great way to improve those cookery skills! Housed in gorgeous Ballinacurra House (less than ten minutes from Kinsale), this cookery school offers guests the opportunity to prepare tasty dishes under the guidance of their award-winning Head Chef, David Rice. 

Boats in Kinsale Harbour, County Cork
Kinsale Harbour


Back in the town centre, an atmospheric ghost tour is a great way to learn about the region’s more supernatural history! Brian O’Neill of Kinsale Ghost Tours takes groups out for just over an hour, and starting at the town’s famous Tap Tavern, you’ll be brought on a spooky trail through its winding streets. You’ll learn all about the ‘White Lady’, the ghost of a grieving young bride who’s said to wander the town! When you’re done, choose another Good Food Circle restaurant for dinner. Finish the evening with a lively Irish trad music session at the Blue Haven Hotel, before spending the night in one of Kinsale’s many welcoming accommodation options.


Day 2


Stage 1: Kinsale to Old Head of Kinsale (14.9km via R600 and R604)

Kick off your second day with a scenic drive along the Wild Atlantic Way to the Old Head of Kinsale (22 minutes). This remarkable piece of land protrudes more than 3km into the crashing Atlantic, and is home to both a world-class, 18-hole golf course and a lighthouse dating back to the 17th century. Be sure to visit the newly-restored Signal Tower; it’s one of 81 towers built over 200 years ago in response to the threat of French invasion. Inside, you’ll find the Lusitania Museum, which tells the tragic story of the ill-fated liner, torpedoed by a German U-boat during World War I. Continue to the top of the Tower for magnificent views of both the Old Head and the vast ocean. Enjoy a tasty seafood lunch when you’ve finished exploring at the nearby Speckled Door and Bar Restaurant.


Stage 2: Old Head of Kinsale to Clonakilty via Timoleague Abbey (36km via R604 and R600)

The next leg of your journey is towards the charismatic town of Clonakilty (51 minutes), but there are lots of interesting stop-offs along the way. One local highlight is Timoleague Abbey, founded in 1240 by the Franciscan order, but built on an even older monastic site dating back to the sixth century. Today visitors can wander through the ruins of the Abbey’s long church, nave, cloister and tower. If you fancy a pleasant stroll in idyllic surrounds, there’s a charming route that runs 5km along an old railway line from Timoleague to its neighbouring seaside village of Courtmacsherry. Another recommended stop en route is the Michael Collins Centre. Here you’ll find a spectacular exhibition of photos, letters documents and military items relating to Collins – an Irish soldier and politician known as the ‘Big Fella’ and heavily involved in the Irish fight for independence in the early 20th century.


Ancient crosses at Timoleague Abbey, County Cork
Crosses at Timoleague Abbey


Day 3


Stage 1: Clonakilty to Inchydoney (5.4km via Clogheen Cottages)

Finally, to Clonakilty! You’ll fall in love with this colourful town as soon as you arrive – from its brightly painted shop fronts to blooming flowers dotted around its streets, ‘Clon’ (as it’s known locally) is brimming with character and charm. Enjoy a stroll through its streets and soak up the thriving cultural offering; Spiller’s Lane Gallery showcases the work of Deirdre Crowley, a talented artist inspired by the ever-changing West Cork landscape. If you happen to be in town on a Friday, be sure to also visit the weekly farmers’ market. Clonakilty is famed for its delicious artisan produce, and at the market you can sample the mouth-watering black pudding that this region is famous for! It’s just a ten-minute drive from the town to gorgeous Inchydoney, one of the country’s most family-friendly beaches. Enjoy a refreshing stroll along this sandy strand, or if you fancy a little splurge, treat yourself to the spa at Inchydoney Island Lodge. The treatments there use seawater, mud and seaweed, all of which provide a truly rejuvenating and therapeutic experience.


Stage 2: Inchdoney to Roscarberry (24.9km via R598)

Next up, it’s Roscarberry (42 minutes), an incredibly popular resort town thanks to its three golden, inviting beaches. Take in the epic views en route; Galley Head, a 100m high rocky headland boasting views of the ocean below, and the unspoilt beaches of Long Strand and Owenahincha. Enjoy lunch in Rosscarbery, before hopping back in the car – there’s plenty more to see!


Stage 3: Roscarberry to Skibbereen (39.6km via R597 and R596)

Your final destination on day three is the delightful West Cork haven of Skibbereen (an hour’s drive). Along this part of the route the area is steeped in history; just outside the endearing harbour village of Glandore, you’ll find Drombeg Stone Circle. These 17 standing stones (known locally as the Druid’s Altar) date back to 150BC. Gorgeous Toe Head Bay Discovery Point is another bracing highlight as you travel towards Skibbereen, from this elevated platform you can gaze out to the seemingly endless and hypnotic Atlantic. On arrival to Skibbereen, make your way to the beautifully restored Old Gasworks Building, which houses the Skibbereen Heritage Centre, a perfect place to while away an afternoon. Enjoy a tasty dinner in Skibbereen, known for its mouth-watering seafood offering, before making your way to Lough Hyne (13 minutes) for a very special experience. The friendly team at Atlantic Sea Kayaking take guests out onto the lake for an unforgettable moonlit kayak. As you gently paddle across the water beneath the stars, your guide will point out various species of marine life, vegetation, seabirds and, if you’re lucky, twinkling bio-luminescence in the water. Back on dry land, settle down for the night in Skibbereen.

A night time kayak on Lough Hyne, County Cork

A night-kayak on Lough Hyne


Day 4


Stage 1: Skibbereen to Baltimore (14.8km via R595)

Your next destination is Baltimore (22 minutes), a fishing village with a truly swashbuckling history! Learn about the great pirate invasion of 1631 at Dún na Séad Castle’s Pirate Exhibition, before immersing yourself in what’s known as the West Cork Garden Trail. Take a tranquil stroll through the lush and leafy Glebe Gardens, before sampling the tasty treats in its café. All food on the menu is prepared using fresh produce from both the garden and local producers, and is highly recommended. The Inish Beg Estate meanwhile is located on magical Inishbeg Island, just 13 minutes from Baltimore, and accessible by car via road bridge. On the Estate’s splendid grounds, you’ll find beautiful gardens, wooded areas, park and farmland, all just waiting to be explored.


Stage 2: Baltimore to Sherkin Island (via ferry)

If you’d prefer to hit the waves, Baltimore is also a great base from which to head out on a seafaring adventure. 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. Alternatively, hop on board the ferry from Baltimore for a ten-minute journey to Sherkin Island. This inspiring, inhabited retreat was once home to the O’Driscoll clan, whose castle can still be seen just above the island’s pier. Enjoy a refreshing walk from Harboursmouth to Clomacow on the other side of the island. En route, you’ll see ruins of a 15th century Franciscan abbey, as well as a lighthouse dating back to 1835. Finally, return to Baltimore for dinner in one of the town’s charming restaurants before spending the night locally.


Day 5


Stage 1: Baltimore to Heir Island (28.6km via R595, N71 and ferry)

Before you say goodbye to Baltimore, make sure to visit its famous Beacon. Built by the British government following the famous 1798 Rebellion, it offers fantastic, panoramic views of both Cape Clear and Sherkin Islands. When you’ve taken in this pretty scene, drive towards Ballydehob, your final destination on this tour. Again, the route offers terrific views of the vast bay, and you’ve got the opportunity to visit another island too. From Cunnamore Pier (45 minutes from Baltimore), it’s just a five-minute ferry journey to Heir Island, an inhabited but sheltered getaway, with beaches perfect for sailing, windsurfing, swimming and diving. It’s home to a host of artists too, all drawn to the island’s tranquil setting.


Stage 2: Heir Island to Ballydehob (13.8km via N71)

Back on the Wild Atlantic Way, return to Ballydehob (19 minutes). There’s a certain bohemian vibe to this laidback village – dotted along its winding streets you’ll find antique shops, galleries, bookshops and cafés. You can also take in panoramic views of epic Roaring Water Bay from the disused 12 arch bridge that crosses the estuary. Finish your five day itinerary with dinner, drinks and a live music session in one of Ballydehob’s welcoming restaurants of pubs.


Related activities

  • Find out even more about the ‘Big Fella’ at the Michael Collins Museum

  • Take a surf lesson on idyllic Garretstown Beach

  • The Clonakilty Distillery & Black Pudding Visitor Centre is set to open in 2017


Nearby highlights

  • Boasting ancient ruins, rugged scenery and secluded harbours, Cape Clear Island will captivate all those who visit

  • This gorgeous waterfall in Leap is called Léim Uí Dhonnabháin (O’Donovan’s Leap), after the local Irish chieftain who jumped the ravine while being pursued by British soldiers!


Haven Coast Signature Points


From the rugged 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).


From the Signal Tower on this scenic headland in Cork, you’ll be afforded fantastic views of the ocean, Kinsale’s picturesque 17th-century lighthouse, and Kinsale’s world-renowned golf course.
There’s plenty more adventure along the Wild Atlantic Way. You’ll find a whole host of itineraries here, while our online Trip Planner allows you to plan your own unique and exciting journey.