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Kinsale: See, Eat and Explore

Posted on May 12, 2014 by Darragh Devaney

West Cork is a whirlwind of rolling hills, ancient sights and picturesque towns. It is an ancient place dipped in tradition, mythology and legend.

The gem of West Cork is the town of Kinsale, a colourful bohemian hotspot and long-time magnet for artists and chefs. Quaint and picturesque, Kinsale is the perfect outdoor lover’s base to explore West Cork.

People come from every corner of the globe to call Kinsale home, turning the little town of Kinsale into a bubbling mix of culture and tradition. The remoteness of West Cork’s peninsulas (Mizen Head, Sheep’s Head, Beara Peninsula) and its islands (Cape Clear, Skerkin Island, Garnish Island) connected by meandering country lanes, overgrown farmers’ tracks and narrow rural paths, all combine to make this the perfect region to explore the great outdoors in Ireland.


What to do in Kinsale

Kinsale is a place known as the gourmet capital of Ireland – so you’ll definitely have to indulge your tastebuds while you visit this happy little coastal town!

Here are a few suggestions from a local on the best way to spend your time in Kinsale.

Start your morning with….

  • If you happen to be in Kinsale midweek, go for a hearty breakfast at the farmer’s market on Short Quay every Wednesday. Here you can sample anything from aromatic Italian coffee to Mediterranean olives to local West Cork cheeses and creams
  • Wander the cheerful streets of Kinsale, weaving in and out of art galleries, artisan’s shops and craft stands.
  • If you’re in an educational mood, make your way to Desmond Castle and the International Museum of Wine. Here, you’ll learn the story of the Wild Geese – soldiers and emigrants who fled Ireland in the 17th century aboard French ships smuggling wine.
  • Ireland is renowned for its wools and textiles. If you’re like most people, having a lovely woollen item is the perfect Ireland souvenir! Shop to your heart’s content for soft wools at the cosy little Granny’s Bottom Drawer


In the afternoon…

  • Hungry? Try a seafood lunch at the local icon, Fishy Fishy restaurant on Main Street. We recommend you order a bowl of hearty chowder, smoked salmon or some perhaps some of Western Ireland’s famous shellfish!
  • Ahoy mate! For a jaunt into Kinsale’s maritime history, hop aboard the Spirit of Kinsale with Kinsale Harbour Cruises to view of the town from the water
  • If you have time, stop at the Kinsale Museum and old courthouse to look at the Giant of Kinsale’s huge boots (he was said to be 8’1!) among other local quirks. In fact, it was here not far from shore that one of the most famous shipwrecks still rests on the ocean floor. The ocean-liner RMS Lusitania was sunk off the coast of of Kinsale by German u-boats in 1915…
Kinsale Port, Cork

The bustling port og Kinsale

After the sun sets…

  • If you’re not quite finished learning about the history of Kinsale (and you like a good haunting!), head to Tap Tavern at 9pm to join the local Ghost Tour to meet the spookier residents of Kinsale. (The tour is a little over an hour and is family-friendly)
  • Kinsale has a number of pubs, each playing traditional Irish music. Check the local newsletter for updates.

Now that you’ve visited the town of Kinsale, i’s time to explore its amazing surroundings. Here are a few fascinating places to visit nearby.

West Cork

Rolling emerald hills and glittering azure waters of West Cork

1. Charles Fort

Distance: 10-minute drive from the centre of Kinsale – or 90 minutes walk along the Scilly Walk

The Charles Fort is perhaps one of Kinsale’s most impressive sights. This star-shaped fort was built in the 17th century for military defensive purposes, and the seaside path along the Scilly Walk is both lovely and rewarding. If you haven’t yet gotten your fill of ghosts, keep your eyes out for the ghost of the White Lady on stormy days as she searches for her lost lover.

You can also continue on your walk on the Lower Cove along the sea and rugged headland. If all that walking has worked up an appetite, we recommend the Bulman Pub. Enjoy the lovely seaside views and delicious seafood dishes!

2. The Old Head of Kinsale

Old Head of Kinsale - Wilderness Ireland

Aerial view of the Old Head of Kinsale stretching into the Atlantic Ocean

Distance: 20 minutes drive south of Kinsale

The Old Head of Kinsale is a narrow promontory that juts over 3 kilometres into the swirling Atlantic waves off the south coast of Ireland and Kinsale. A 17th century lighthouse was built at the end of this narrow headland, though humans have inhabited this promontory for years. Today it is home to the pristine grass of the Old Head Golf Links, a world-renowned 18 hole gold course.

Amateur ornithologists will love this area as it is a known nesting ground – in fact, possibly the only mixed seabird colony of its kind in this region of the continent. For a pint and a chowder, head to the the Speckled Door pub (they do an unusual but tasty mushroom chowder).

3. Adventure Water Sports at Coolmain Beach

Beaches of Cork

Cork’s beaches are perfect for enthusiasts of water sports!

Distance: 20 minutes drive west of Kinsale

It’s said that West Cork has a micro-climate – resulting in some of the best weather in Ireland. If you’re here on a good day, you’ll have to hit the beach! Not far from the town is the white sand strands of Coolmain Beach, a hotspot for water sports of all kinds. Of course you can go swimming or surfing, but you can also try kitesurfing, wake-boarding or even paragliding. If waves aren’t your thing, head to the local favourite, the Pink Elephant, a pub overlooking the beach at the top of the hill.

4. Seven Heads Peninsula

Distance: 40 minutes drive west of Kinsale

Though a little further afield, the Seven Heads deserves a mention. One of southwest Ireland’s best-kept secrets is the remote, windswept headland of the Seven Heads. The entire trail is 42 km long, from Timoleague village and along the coast around rugged cliffs towards Dunworley Bay, finishing up in Ballinglanna. From sandy coves to wind-beaten cliffs, the area is both breath-taking and alive with a plethora of flora and fauna. Of course, the walk can be shortened into bit-able chunks, though we recommend that you do this walk with a hiking guide.

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Fun Festivals & Events

Kinsale gourmet capital

Kinsale, often called the gourmet capital of Ireland for good reason!

Kinsale Arts Weekend Festival. Annually held in July, the Kinsale Arts Weekend turns the town into a lively, open-air gallery combining cultural events that encompass visual art, music, dance, comedy, literature, film, theatre, family events, workshops and outdoor spectacles.

In April, check out Kinsale’s Street Feast foodie festival, celebrating the town’s long love of cuisine. This is an annual festival that takes place on the downtown streets of Kinsale. This is coupled with the All Ireland Chowder Cook off!

Interested in visiting this lively place? Check out some of our southwest tours here:

Self Drive - Kerry, West Cork & The Haven Coast

West Cork and Kerry
Location: Ireland;South West – Cork & Kerry
  • Explore Killarney National Park, one of Ireland's most beautiful parks
  • Try foraging & gourmet fishing for an off-the-beaten-path Ring of Kerry experience
  • Kayak the little-visited West Cork coastline& listen to tales of pirate invasions

Price: from €1,800

View Trip Details

Hiking and Island Hopping Cork and Kerry

Skellig Islands tours, Kerry, hiking and island hopping in Cork and Kerry
Location: South West – Cork & Kerry
  • Guided gentle hikes & island hopping along the spectacular coastline and islands of southwest Ireland
  • Climb Skellig Michael, UNESCO World Heritage, and now a Star Wars filming location
  • Explore remote islands where the Gaeltacht (Irish speaking) culture & tradition is still strong

Price: from €1,795

View Trip Details

Family Adventure - Legends of the Southwest

Family tour of Southwest Ireland Cork and Kerry Kayaking
Location: South West – Cork & Kerry
  • Your own private guided trip, each activity tailored to match your family's preferences
  • Create hand-made toys & learn about the past on a ghost tour
  • Climb Skellig Michael, ancient home to monks and Star Wars Jedi
  • Hike and kayak in the shadow of smugglers and pirates

Price: from €1,950

View Trip Details

About the author

Darragh Devaney

Joining Wilderness Ireland in 2015, Darragh is our Trip Operations Manager. He's also Wilderness Ireland's resident cycling expert! Darragh has travelled throughout the world - cycling across France, living abroad in South Korea, travelling through Canada and the US, but still prefers cycling in Ireland to anywhere else!

Read more articles by Darragh | View Darragh's Profile

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