The peninsulas of West Cork are an ancient place dipped in tradition, mythology and legend.
The gem of West Cork is the town of Kinsale, a colourful bohemian hotspot and a 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.
Kinsale is a small town in West Cork. It is often considered the start of the Wild Atlantic Way, an epic coastal driving route that takes in some 2,500 km of Ireland’s west coast from Kinsale in Co. Cork to Malin Head and the Inishowen Peninsula in Co Donegal.
There is no train station in Kinsale. The closest train station is in Cork, which has regular connections to Dublin. The closest airport is Cork Airport. Many visitors arrive at Dublin Airport and choose to drive.
The drive from Dublin to Kinsale is 3.5-4 hours. Some buses connect rural Ireland but they are not the most convenient way to explore West Cork and southwest Ireland. To properly get a sense of this wild and windswept corner of Ireland, a car is best. Kinsale is a great place to start any West Cork adventure.
Strategically positioned along the southern coast, trace Kinsale’s roots back to the medieval era when it served as a bustling trading port. Over the centuries, Kinsale played pivotal roles in significant historical events – most notably, the Battle of Kinsale in 1601, a decisive conflict during the Nine Years’ War. The town’s architecture reflects its diverse history, with a charming mix of medieval, Georgian, and Victorian styles lining its narrow streets. Tales of Ireland’s maritime and military history echo along its coastline dotted with crumbling forts.
As a gateway to the Wild Atlantic Way, Kinsale not only embraces its maritime past but also celebrates its cultural heritage. The town comes alive with various festivals and events, showcasing Ireland’s artistic spirit through music, literature, and the visual arts. Local galleries and studios exhibit the work of talented Irish artists, providing visitors with a glimpse into the contemporary expressions that thrive within this historical setting. Kinsale’s commitment to preserving and sharing its history ensures that every visitor can immerse themselves in the rich heritage that has shaped this charming coastal town.
Nestled along Ireland’s captivating coastline, Kinsale beckons travellers with its cosy charm and rich history. Recognised as the “Gourmet Capital of Ireland,” the wee town of Kinsale offers a delectable culinary experience, boasting everything from award-winning restaurants to “chippers” (for steaming fresh fish ‘n chips) and artisanal cafes.
From vibrant streets in a rainbow of colours to the imposing Charles Fort, Kinsale sits on a postcard-perfect backdrop of the picturesque West Cork coastline with its serene harbours, undulating shores, and breathtaking views.
The Wild Atlantic Way
Kinsale marks the beginning (or end) of the Wild Atlantic Way, a scenic coastal route that winds its way through rugged landscapes, showcasing the untamed beauty of the Atlantic Ocean. This charming town, with its artistic flair, warm hospitality, and bustling streets, makes it an ideal gateway to experience the authentic spirit of small-town Ireland.
Whether strolling through its narrow streets, savouring local delicacies, or immersing in its vibrant culture, Kinsale promises a delightful escape that captures the heart of Ireland’s coastal allure.
If you happen to be in Kinsale midweek, go for a hearty breakfast or scrumptious lunch 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. A fun and creative way to have a delicious meal chocked full of local produce.
Any coastal region of Ireland is going to have great fish. From fish and chip shops to traditional pubs to high-end seafood restaurants, there is no end of fishy options in Kinsale. One place that we love is the award-winning seafood establishment Fishy Fishy on the main street. With so many dishes, how do you choose? Some local favourites include a bowl of hearty seafood chowder, a plate of flavourful smoked salmon, or some of the west coast’s famed shellfish.
Dairy in West Cork is to die for. Between the salty air and the rich grasses, local cows are well-fed and therefore produce some of the most exquisite cheeses in Ireland. Some of the top cheeses are the long-established Gubbeen, known for its woodsy and smoky notes, the award-winning mellow semi-ripened Durrus cheese, or for something different, Toons Bridge mozzarella made from Italian water buffalo. Other nearby cheeses are Knockatee from the Beara Peninsula and Cleire Goat’s Cheese from Cape Clear Island.
The town of Kinsale is a lovely place to visit but it’s also a great jumping-off point. Once you’ve wandered its quaint streets to your heart’s content, it’s time to explore its amazing surroundings. Between the sea, the hills, the villages and the islands, Kinsale is set in a beautiful, if remote, part of Ireland that merits exploration.
See below for a few of our recommendations of fascinating places to visit nearby.
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!
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.
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 breathtaking 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.
Love events? Why not check out the Kinsale Arts Weekend Festival? Held annually 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.